I’m so excited that this book has finally made it. This is the third in my “Tempted & Tamed” series which started in 2014 with ‘Doctor by Day…’ and ‘Tamed by the Renegade’. These are the stories of the Anderson sisters, Scarlett, Ruby and Rose, and Rose is finally getting her turn in ‘A Mother to Make a Family’. It might have taken me a while but I’m happy with how things have turned out for her 🙂 Hope you enjoy it, Emily.
A scream split the air, cleaving through the thick muggy silence that suffocated the land.
Mitch recognised the sound and it sent a shiver of fear down his spine.
The hairs on the back of his neck rose up and the wrench fell from his hand as he sprinted from the machine shed.
He was halfway to the horse yards before the scream ended and the silence that followed stabbed at his heart. He’d never known silence to be so terrifying. It was ominous. After thirty-nine years he knew the sound of trouble.
The sound of his boots as they slapped the dirt echoed across the ground and the pounding of his feet imitated the pounding of his heart that had lodged somewhere in his throat. He listened for more noise, another sound, anything, as he ran, anything would be better than the oppressive silence.
Time stood still. Red dust flew from under his boots but the red dust might as well have been quicksand. The horse yards weren’t getting any closer.
He rounded the corner of the staff quarters and almost collided with his six-year-old son.
‘Dad, Dad, come quick. It’s Lila.’ Jed grabbed Mitch’s hand but Mitch didn’t slow his pace and his hand pulled out of his son’s grasp. Mitch still didn’t stop. He would make better time without him. He kept running, knowing Jed would follow.
He had to get to Lila. He had to get to his daughter.
He skidded into the horse yards and felt Jed come to a stop beside him. He scanned the enclosures, searching for his two other children.
Charlie was standing still. He was holding Ruff, their Australian terrier, in his arms. The little dog was squirming and wriggling, desperate to get down. Ruff wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near the horse yards but Mitch didn’t have time to think about that now.
His daughter lay flat on her back on the hard, red ground. Her face was ashen and she lay as still as a corpse, her eyes open. His heart was lodged firmly in his throat now and he fought to breathe. The air was thick and muggy, choking him as he tried to force it into his lungs. He’d already lost one daughter. He couldn’t lose Lila too. His children were all he had left.
And then he saw her chest move. Rising and falling as she breathed.
She was alive.
The lump in his throat dislodged and he sucked in a breath.
Ginny was kneeling over her and Mitch crouched in the dirt beside her.
He wanted to gather her into his arms, to pick her up and carry her away but he didn’t dare move her. He knew it wasn’t safe.
His daughter’s lips were parted, her eyes huge and dark in her pale face. They brimmed with tears and her bottom lip wobbled.
Mitch could hear the catch in her voice and it was almost more than he could bear. ‘Where?’
‘You haven’t moved her, have you?’ he asked Ginny. He hadn’t acknowledged the governess until now. He was far too intent on Lila.
‘No.’ Ginny shook her head. ‘She fell like this.’
The ground was a hard as concrete. They’d had no rain in this distant corner of Queensland for three years, even the river was dry. The station was relying on water from the artesian basin for the cattle, there was nothing spare to soften the ground or water the gardens. Who knew what injuries Lila might have sustained? What damage had been done?
Mitch slipped his fingers into Lila’s palm. ‘Can you squeeze my hand?’
He relaxed ever so slightly as he felt the reassuring squeeze.
‘Don’t move your legs,’ he told her, ‘but see if you can wriggle your toes.’
Lila was wearing elastic-sided riding boots. He couldn’t see if she was moving but she winced.
‘Could you do it?’ he asked.
‘Yes. But it hurts.’
That was a good sign, Mitch thought. Not that he wanted his daughter to be in pain but pain was often absent in serious spinal injuries. ‘I know, sweetie, you’re being very brave.’
Tears spilled from Lila’s lashes onto her cheeks.
Mitch wiped the tears from her face. ‘It’ll be alright, Lila.’
Thankfully she’d been wearing her helmet. Thank god she’d had some protection. He didn’t remove it. He couldn’t risk the movement. Not until her injuries had been assessed. He knew what to do but she needed more attention than he was able to give her and somehow, when the situation was personal, it became harder to remain objective. He didn’t want to do the wrong thing. And that was the trouble – he didn’t trust his own judgement anymore. Lila needed medical attention but they were in outback Queensland, hundreds of kilometres and a five-hour drive from the nearest hospital.
‘Go to the house,’ he instructed Ginny. ‘Call the flying doctor on the satellite phone and bring it back to me along with the medical chest.’
She stood up and Mitch noticed that her knees were shaking, her hands too, and her face was ashen. Everyone was on edge. ‘Take the dog,’ he called after her as she hurried away. Ginny came back and took Ruff from Charlie’s arms. ‘And make sure he’s tied up.’
‘Do you know what day it is, Lila?’ he asked.
‘Wednesday,’ she replied, and Mitch breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Do you know what happened?’
‘I came off Fudge.’
As far as assessments for concussion went it was as basic as they came but hearing the correct responses was a positive sign. Her eyes were open, she wasn’t confused and she could move independently even if it hurt. Fourteen points out of a possible fifteen on the Glasgow coma scale, Mitch thought automatically, although that was only part of the story.
He sat in the dirt and held Lila’s hand as he waited for Ginny to return. Waiting was the hardest thing. He was useless until he had the medical chest and even that wouldn’t be enough. He was pretty certain that Lila had sustained some fractures and there was the risk that she had also suffered some internal injuries but he didn’t want to start an assessment. He didn’t want to be the one to cause her pain. He’d wait for the medical chest, at least then he’d be able to check her blood pressure which would give him a bit more of an indication as to what they were dealing with but he was convinced Lila would have to be evacuated. They needed the flying doctor.
He kept talking to her. Soft, nothing words, just sounds really, letting her know he was there, that he wasn’t going to leave her.
Her eyes fluttered closed and he fought back another wave of panic while he reminded himself that she didn’t seem concussed. She seemed alert enough, even if she was in pain.
‘Is she going to be okay, Dad?’
Jed stood beside him and Mitch noticed that he had his arm wrapped around his little brother, comforting him. Mitch should be doing that but he found himself stretched to the limit, as had been the case so often in the past two years. There just wasn’t enough of him to go around.
‘She’ll be fine,’ he replied. He had no other answer. He didn’t want to lie but he had to believe she would be okay. He had to believe his own words.
‘You can fix her, can’t you, Dad?’
‘I’m going to need some help, Jed, but the flying doctor will be here soon. Why don’t you and Charlie go down to the kitchen for smoko?’
He hadn’t heard the bell for smoko but it must be nearly time for morning tea. The station staff would all converge on the kitchen and a drink and a piece of cake would keep the boys occupied.
Ginny returned on one of the quad bikes. She had the medical chest strapped to the back of the bike and a blanket thrown over her lap. She carried the medical chest over and put it down beside Mitch before draping the blanket over Lila. Mitch hadn’t thought of the blanket, the temperature was nudging thirty four degrees Celsius, but if Lila went into shock he might need it.
‘The plane is on its way and the base is holding for you,’ Ginny said as she handed him the satellite phone.
Mitch knew that depending on where the plane was coming from it could take an hour to reach them. He took the phone as he instructed Ginny to get his head stockman and pilot to prepare the runway for the plane.
He spoke to the doctor at the Broken Hill base and relayed the little information they asked while he opened the medical chest and found the few things that he needed. He checked her blood pressure, kept her warm and gave her some pain relief and then he waited.
Time stood still as his daughter lay in the dirt, in pain.
Lila looked so like her mother that Mitch’s heart ached every time he looked at her. Dark hair, dark eyes. All three of the children had his dark eyes but the boys were much more like him. They had the same white blond hair he’d had as a child. His hair had darkened with age. And had even gone a little grey with stress.
He had been trying his best not to let his feelings show over the past two years. He didn’t want the children to grow up sensing his pain. His loss. It was their loss too but he knew they felt it differently. They were so young, so much more resilient than he felt, but he had vowed to do his best by them.
He had become very good at disguising his feelings, an expert at pretending everything was okay. But he didn’t know if he had the strength to get through another tragedy. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that but if it did he’d have to find the reserves somewhere. The children were all he had and he was all they had.
He knew he had to keep his composure, had to stay calm, and he was grateful that no one else had been injured. He’d seen more than his fair share of injuries, and even a couple of fatalities, from accidents with horses. But being around horses was a way of life on the station and Mitch knew it was important that the children were familiar with them. But he had always insisted that they wear helmets when they were riding and fortunately that was a rule they had never broken. Lila’s accident could have been much worse; it wasn’t as bad as it got but it was close.
In the distance he heard the sound of an engine. The familiar whine of the flying doctor plane. He heard it coming from the west and he looked to the sky, searching for a flash of silver and white. There. The plane was silhouetted against the endless, clear blue sky. He watched as it dropped lower, heading for the dirt landing strip behind the out buildings and waited again for the doc to get to the stables.
Darren, the head stockman, pulled up in a dusty four-wheel-drive and the doc and the flight nurse piled out. He recognised Doc Burton. Mitch reckoned he’d worked with all of the doctors over the years. He nodded in acknowledgement and then relayed what he knew of the events, what he’d given Lila for pain relief and her medical history which was pretty minor, he knew she had no allergies but had to guess her weight, and then he stepped aside to let them examine his daughter. He wasn’t one of them anymore, he was just Lila’s father.
Lila was alert and talking as they checked her pupils, got her to move her fingers and toes and gradually worked their way up her limbs. She seemed to be able to move her upper limbs reasonably comfortably but her legs were a different story. Doc Burton gently palpated Lila’s neck before removing her helmet. He moved to her abdomen as the nurse retested her blood pressure.
Lila cried out in pain as the doc pressed on her pelvis and Mitch had to restrain himself from leaping in and stopping the doc’s examination right there. He couldn’t stand to see Lila in more pain.
‘Temp 36.2 degrees, pulse 100, respirations 22, BP 90 on 60, oxygen 98%.’ The flight nurse relayed Lila’s vital statistics.
‘Can you run 500mls of normal saline and draw up 5 milligrams of morphine? I want to give her a shot before we move her,’ the doc finished speaking to the nurse before turning to Mitch.
‘I agree with you,’ he said, ‘there’s no apparent head injury and her spine seems okay but it looks like she has a fractured pelvis so we’ll need to take her with us to the Base.’ Back to Broken Hill, to the hospital. ‘I don’t think she has major internal injuries, her observations are quite reasonable, which suggest that there’s no excessive internal bleeding but I won’t really know until we get her to Broken Hill for scans. She may need to go to Adelaide but you know the drill.’
The doc took the syringe from the nurse and injected the morphine into Lila’s abdomen. ‘This will sting a little, Lila, but it will work fast to take the pain away,’ he told her.
Mitch knew the drill all too well. Doc Burton would take away the pain and then he’d take Lila. Mitch had known that would be the case. He’d known her injuries were too severe to be treated out here. He’d known she would need to go to hospital and he would follow. He hadn’t set foot in a hospital for two years but that was all about to change. He’d known the day would come when he’d have to face up to the past and that day was now. He would have to cope, for Lila’s sake.
He picked up Lila’s hand, holding it, not sure whether he was comforting her or himself.
‘Alright, we need to get her in the plane.’ Doc Burton looked at Mitch and Mitch knew his face would be pale under his tan. ‘You’re coming?’
Mitch nodded as the doc and the flight nurse wrapped a brace around Lila’s pelvis and rolled her onto a spinal board. He’d managed to avoid the hospital for two years but he’d wondered what it would take to get him back there. Now he knew. This was it.
He climbed into the plane choosing a seat from where he could keep watch.
Lila was drowsy now, the pain relief was working, and as the engines started up her eyelids fluttered and closed.
Through the window Mitch watched the station fall away as the pilot lifted the plane into the air. Red dirt, chestnut cattle, the dry, stony creek, grey-green trees and the silver, corrugated tin roofs of the buildings that glinted in the sunlight. He looked down onto Jed and Charlie as they stood at the edge of the runway and watched him leave.
He could see it all laid out before him, his entire life, and he wondered when it would get back to normal. Would it ever?
The past two years had been the most difficult of his life. How many more traumatic events could they be expected to endure?
The last time he was in the flying doctor plane on his way to Broken Hill he’d been with his wife and unborn child.
He turned away from the window, his gaze seeking Lila. He was determined to come back with his daughter. He couldn’t bear the thought of returning alone again.
‘Is she asleep?’ Rose asked as her sister walked into the kitchen.
Scarlett had been settling her daughter, Holly, for her afternoon nap while Rose had chopped what felt like a mountain of cabbage and carrot to make coleslaw. But she’d been glad to have a job to do. She was hoping it would keep her mind busy which would leave her no time to think about gorgeous men with kind faces and daughters in hospital. Lila’s father had unsettled her. Her reaction to him had her on edge but she found if she kept herself occupied she could almost manage to push him to the back of her mind. Wielding a sharp knife was making sure she stayed focussed on the task at hand. She scraped the vegetables into a bowl and started tossing them together to make the salad.
‘Yes,’ Scarlett replied, ‘but she was fighting sleep every step of the way. I think she has too much of her father in her – she knows there’s a party going on and she doesn’t want to miss out!’
Rose smiled. Her brother-in-law did like a party.
Like Jake, the old Rose had loved a party too. She enjoyed attention and she knew she got more than her fair share but now that attention made her uncomfortable. Now it made her more aware of everything that had happened to her. Aware of the contrast between the pretty Rose of her youth and the new Rose. She felt much, much older than her twenty-three years. She been through a lot in the past two years and had come out the other side a lot less positive about the future. She knew now that some things were out of her control and just because she had a plan didn’t mean that life had the same one for her.
Things were different now.
Rose had been avoiding parties but Scarlett had refused to listen to any of her excuses and the only reason Rose had agreed to come to the barbeque was because Scarlett had threatened to withhold time spent with Holly if she didn’t attend. It was emotional blackmail – Scarlett knew Rose couldn’t bear to think of being separated from her niece. Holly was one of the few highlights in her life. One of the things that Rose had fought so hard for. She adored Holly and Holly adored her.
Having a family of her own was all Rose wanted. It had been all she’d wanted since she was eight years old. Her dreams had been so different to those of her two elder sisters yet now they were both married and Scarlett had a daughter. Scarlett and Ruby were living Rose’s dream and Rose couldn’t help feeling a tiny pang of jealousy when she thought about it. Scarlett had professed that she was never going to have kids, she always intended to focus on her career, yet look at her now; a qualified anaesthetist and mother to the most adorable little girl.
Ruby, the middle of the three Anderson sisters, was a different kettle of fish altogether. She was nomadic, nothing remotely like Rose who was the epitome of a homebody, and marrying Noah was the first ordinary thing Ruby had ever done and even then she’d gone for the unusual. Not too many people were married to professional race car drivers. Ruby always had a point of difference, whether it was her dress sense, her living arrangements or her boyfriends, no one could ever accuse her of being ordinary whereas Rose longed for an ordinary life; a husband who adored her, perfect children and her own happily ever after.
She wanted to recreate that perfect world she used to live in. The world she’d inhabited until the age of eight. She wanted to fall in love and have her own family. She believed in true love and part of her still hoped it would happen for her. She still imagined her white knight would come and sweep her off her feet. He would give her the world and would be so blinded by love that he wouldn’t notice all her flaws.
The Anderson sisters had grown up with their own labels. Scarlett was the clever one, the career girl, Ruby was the fun one, the slightly wild and offbeat sister and Rose, not overly ambitious, had been content to be the pretty one. Until recently.
She used to be so confident. She used to be able to walk into a room and know that men would look at her. She knew she was pretty and her blonde hair and big green eyes lent her an air of innocence that men couldn’t resist. But Rose didn’t feel pretty any more. She was scarred, emotionally and physically, and she didn’t want anyone to see those scars.
She was also scared. Scared that no one would want her now.
Scarlett kept telling her to give herself time. To get back out into the world without expectations. To relax, have fun and see what happened. Her psychologist was telling her the same thing – give yourself time – but Rose wasn’t convinced that time was the great healer that everyone professed it to be.
She was scared and scarred and she didn’t believe that was a combination conducive to finding love.
Scarlett held out a tray of burgers and shashliks to Rose.
‘Would you take these out to Jake for me please?’
Rose could see her brother-in-law at the barbeque talking to one of his friends.
‘I know what you’re doing,’ she said.
‘What?’ Scarlett replied, all wide-eyed and innocent.
‘You want me to talk to Rico.’
‘He’s a nice guy.’
‘I’m not saying he’s not but-’
‘ “You’re not ready.” Scarlett finished the sentence for Rose with her usual retort but that hadn’t been what she was about to say. ‘I’m worried about you Rose. You need to get out there. You’d have fun with Rico. It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything more than platonic fun but at least you’d be out and about. Working and spending time with Holly isn’t enough. You’re twenty-three, have some fun.’
It was on the tip of Rose’s tongue to say I’ve met someone but that would be a ridiculous admission. Scarlett would want to know who and where and when and Rose didn’t know who. She’d said barely a dozen words to him, he was, quite literally, the tall, dark, handsome stranger she’d dreamt about since she was a teenager but she couldn’t share that with Scarlett. She’d think she’d gone mad.
She reached out and took the tray of barbeque meat, resigned to the fact that she would have to let Scarlett win this round. Scarlett won most rounds. She was the bossy older sister. Rose knew she did it out of love and so she gave in. It was easier that way. ‘Alright,’ she sighed, ‘I’ll go and talk to him.’
‘Could I have your number?’
Rose had been chatting to Jake and Rico for several minutes when Rico asked the question. She was glad he’d waited until Jake had taken a tray of cooked hamburgers inside to Scarlett. She didn’t think she had the heart to turn him down in front of his mate but she couldn’t give him what he wanted. Rico was handsome in a swarthy, dark, Mediterranean way, he had a great body, hours in the gym had toned it to perfection, and he seemed genuinely nice but there was no spark. Rose wondered if she’d ever feel that spark again. Rico was just the type of man she normally fancied, tall, dark, good-looking, a few years older than her but she wasn’t interested. She hadn’t been interested in a long time.
Not quite true she thought as she remembered a man with chocolate brown eyes, a triangular jaw and an easy smile. She might make an exception for a man like him. But that was just a silly fantasy about a complete stranger. She didn’t even know his name.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I’m not dating at the moment.’
She knew she had to figure out how she was going to fulfil her dream of having a family when she didn’t feel ready for a relationship. She still dreamt of finding love but in reality she was scared. She knew she couldn’t wait for ever, she didn’t want to wait for ever, but she was afraid to take that first step back into the dating game. She knew that first step would lead to others which would lead to her having to share parts of herself and that was the part she wasn’t ready for.
Rico looked as if he might be getting ready to plead his case and Rose tried to remember how she used to turn invitations down without appearing rude. ‘Why don’t you give me your number,’ she added, ‘and if I change my mind, I’ll call you.’
‘Great,’ she replied, pleased he wasn’t going to argue with her, ‘I’ll just grab my phone.’
She ducked inside and rifled through her handbag. Her phone was lying in the bottom of the bag under a tin of coloured pencils she had bought for Lila. She pulled the pencils out with the phone. She’d get Rico’s number and then she would go and see Lila. She’d had enough of the party. She knew it would only be more of the same. Talking to Jake’s friends, getting asked for her number. She made her excuses to Scarlett promising to call back later, hoping that Jake’s friends would have left by then and she could play with Holly without interruption.
But right now, there was somewhere else she’d rather be. Someone else she’d rather talk too.
He was there.
He was sitting beside Lila’s bed, his long legs stretched out in front of him, feet crossed at the ankles, watching as his daughter scrolled through what appeared to be photos on his phone.
She couldn’t deny she’d been hoping to see him but now she was ridiculously nervous. What had she expected? That she could just feast her eyes on him from a distance, hiding in the shadows without being seen herself?
That was exactly what she’d hoped. She hadn’t thought about the reality of seeing him. Of talking to him. She wasn’t ready to make scintillating conversation. She had nothing to say. She was completely out of practice.
But she couldn’t stand in the doorway for ever. She crossed the room and the movement caught his eye. He lifted his head and his chocolate eyes followed her progress. He stood up as she got closer and Rose put another tick in the box that would be beside his name if only she knew what it was. He had manners. She adored men with manners. Having someone who would open a door for her or pull out her chair at dinner and seat her first, not because he thought she was incapable, just because it was a nice thing to do, always made her go weak at the knees. She always thought it gave a little glimpse about what he would be like as a husband or a lover. A mark of consideration and kindness. A man with manners would treat a girl properly.
‘I didn’t mean to interrupt,’ she said. ‘I just brought some drawing things for Lila.’
He smiled at her and Rose’s knees wobbled as the ground tilted a little under her feet. She’d liked his smile yesterday when he had smiled at his daughter but that was nothing compared to having his smile directed at her. His face brightened and his brown eyes warmed and darkened like melted chocolate as he looked straight at her. ‘You’re not interrupting, Rose.’
A rush of pleasure flooded through her and she could feel a faint blush stealing over her pale cheeks. He remembered her name!
She stopped next to Lila’s bed before realising she should have continued to the opposite side. She was standing far too close to him. Her head barely reached his shoulders, if she turned her head towards him all she could see was the powerful breadth of his chest, if she looked down she got an eyeful of a narrow waist and long, lean legs. If she breathed in she could smell him. He smelt clean and fresh as if he’d not long been out of the shower, and his scent overrode the antiseptic smell of the hospital.
Her heart was racing, making her hands shake. She wasn’t sure why but he really unsettled her and she was unbelievably nervous. As she reached forwards to pass the pencils and sketch pad to Lila the tin slid from her moist hands. The lid popped off as the tin hit the ground and pencils spilled across the floor around their feet.
His reaction time was faster than hers. He crouched down and gathered the pencils up as she stood there trying to work out what had just happened. His head was level with her knees and she could look down onto the top of his head. His hair was cut short but thick and she had a sudden urge to reach out and thread her fingers through it. She curled her fingers into a fist at her side to resist the temptation.
He stood and handed her the pencils but the touch of his fingers sent a jolt of awareness through her that was so strong she almost dropped the pencils a second time.
Maybe it had been a mistake coming here. She was well and truly disconcerted and had lost all trace of coherent thought.
‘I can’t stay,’ she said as she finally managed to put the pencils and sketch book on the end of Lila’s bed. ‘These are for you,’ she said before she bolted for the door.
Lila’s father followed her from the ward. She didn’t turn around but she could feel him behind her. Her whole body was tense, her nerves taut, fighting against her as she tried to walk away.
Her steps slowed of their own accord as he called to her and then he was beside her, his hand on her elbow, sending her heart crazy. She turned to face him.
‘Thank you for getting those pencils for Lila.’
She was looking into a pair of eyes that were so dark she could see her own reflection. Her eyes were wide, startled, and she knew that he had caused that look, his touch had sent her body wild.
‘I meant to bring her things with me,’ he said. ‘She asked me to, but with all the other hundred things I had to organise to get away I forgot. Her brothers have been acting up, they’re missing Lila and upset with me for leaving them behind, and with all their carry-on I got completely distracted and forgot to pack Lila’s things.’ He paused to take a breath and gave her a half-smile along with a slight shrug of his shoulders. ‘But you don’t want to hear about all of that.’
Oh, but she did. She wanted to know everything.