Well, it’s finally here, the publication of my 100thbook!!!! And for anyone who knows my books and has been loyal enough to read them for the last 28 years, there’s a little surprise in store, because my heroine, Livvy, is the daughter of my first hero and heroine in Relative Ethics, Oliver and Bron Henderson, and she’s amazingly old enough to be a doctor in her own right!
I’ve been a bit mean, in the way of these things, and played God by giving both Livvy and Matt a lot to deal with, but Matt’s two little children bring a little sweetness and light into the story, and Amber, his daughter, is quite the matchmaker and a real little heartbreaker in the making. Will I still be writing when she has her own story? Who knows!
Here’s a little taster for you. If you enjoy it, I’d love to know!
‘Wow, look at that glorious view!’
Stifling her impatience, Livvy glanced back across the scree slope to the valley floor stretched out below them, the late spring grass a splash of vivid green. In the distance Buttermere lay like a gleaming mirror, the bleak slate hills behind it rich purple in the sun.
And between her and the view – admittedly glorious – was Matt, dawdling his way up the winding, rocky path and driving her nuts because it was the last day of their team-building exercise in Cumbria and there was a trophy at stake.
They’d been there since Friday, four teams all in some way connected to the Emergency Department of Yoxburgh Park Hospital; Sam and Vicky from the ED, Dan and Lucy from Orthopaedics, and Ed and Beth from Paediatrics, which had left her and Matt as the Trauma team.
She’d only started at the hospital a few weeks ago and she’d met him a few times fleetingly when he’d come down to the ED, but ever since they’d arrived at the lodge and sat down together to decide who would be in each team, she and Matt had seemed a natural fit.
‘Are you OK with that?’ she’d asked at the time, and he’d nodded, his grin a little cheeky.
‘Yeah, suits me. You’re small enough that I can pick you up if you dawdle.’
‘I don’t dawdle, and you’d better not!’
‘Don’t worry, Livvy, I think I can just about keep up with you,’ he’d said drily, and he had, seemingly effortlessly. They’d tackled all manner of challenges, and he’d been witty, mischievous, not above cheating and game for anything Sam threw at them.
Until now. Now, with everything to play for, he was stopping to admire the view?
Yes, it was beautiful, and if they had time she’d stop and drink it in, but they didn’t because so far the four teams were neck and neck, so the first to the summit of Haystacks would take the crown. And Matt was trailing.
‘Are you dawdling on purpose or just studying my backside?’ she asked, hands on hips and her head cocked to one side, and he stopped just below her, a smile playing around that really rather gorgeous mouth that she was itching to kiss.
He took a step closer, curling his hands around her hips and sending shivers of something interesting through her. They were standing eye to eye, and his mouth was so close now…
His smile widened, crows’ feet bracketing those laughing eyes the colour of the slate that surrounded them, and he shook his head slowly from side to side.
‘Cute though it is, and it has been worth watching, I’ll admit, I was actually studying the scenery then.’ The smile faded, replaced by awe. ‘Stop and look around you, Livvy, just for a moment. It’s so beautiful and you’re missing it – and anyway, it’s only supposed to be fun!’
She sighed, knowing he was right, but still impatient. ‘I know, but we can’t let Sam catch us now, we’ll never hear the end of it. We can look on the way back when we’ve won.’
He shook his head again and laughed. ‘You’re so competitive. Just be careful, that edge is unstable. Why don’t you let me go first?’
She laughed at him and took a step backwards out of reach. ‘What, to slow me down? No way. And besides, I’m always careful,’ she threw over her shoulder as she turned, and then she took another step and the ground vanished beneath her feet…
He lunged for her, his fingers brushing her flailing arm, but she was gone before he could grab her, her scream slicing the air as she fell. And then the scream stopped abruptly, leaving just a fading echo, and his blood ran cold.
She was below him, lying like a rag doll against a rock, crumpled and motionless, and for a moment he was frozen.
No. Please, God, no…
‘Livvy, I’m coming. Hang on,’ he yelled, and scanned the slope, found a safe route that wouldn’t send more rocks showering down on her and scrambled down, half running, half sliding across the shale. Fast, but not too fast. Not so fast that he’d put himself in danger too, because that wouldn’t help either of them.
As he got closer he could see her shoulders heaving, as if she was fighting for breath, and then as he got to her side she sucked in a small breath, rolled onto her back and started to pant jerkily, and his legs turned to jelly.
She was breathing. Not well, but she wasn’t dead…
He took her hand and gripped it gently. ‘It’s OK, Livvy, I’m here, I’ve got you. You’re OK now. Just keep breathing, nice and slow. That’s it. Well done.’
Her eyes locked on his, and after a moment her breathing steadied, and he felt his shoulders drop with relief.
‘What – happened? Can’t – breathe…’
‘Just take it steady, you’ll recover soon,’ he said, his voice calm, his heart still pounding and his mind running through all the things that might be damaged. Starting with her head… ‘I think you’ve been winded. Stay there a minute-‘
‘Can’t. I need to sit up.’
He gritted his teeth. ‘OK, but don’t do it if you think you’ve got any other injuries.’
‘No. Haven’t,’ she said, and she struggled up into a sitting position and propped herself against the rock that had stopped her fall.
She nodded, shifting slightly, her breathing slowing, and she closed her eyes briefly.
‘Yeah. That’s better. The path just – went.’
So she remembered that, at least. ‘“I’m always careful”,’ he quoted drily, and she laughed weakly as relief kicked in.
‘Well, nobody’s – perfect,’ she said after a moment, and then her eyes welled and he reached out a hand and brushed the soft blonde hair back from her face with fingers that weren’t quite steady, scanning her face for bruises.
‘Are you OK now? You scared me half to death.’
She met his eyes with a wry smile, and for once the sparkle in her eyes wasn’t mischief. ‘That depends on your – definition of OK. I’m alive, I can breathe – just, I can feel everything, I can move, so yeah – I guess I’m OK. Do I hurt? Oh, yeah. These rocks are hard.’
‘I’m sure. Don’t move. Let me check you over.’
‘You just want to get your hands on me,’ she quipped, her breath still catching
‘Yeah, right,’ he said lightly, trying not to think about that right now because however true it might be, he could see she was in pain. He simply wanted to be sure she didn’t have any life-threatening injuries and then maybe his heart could slow down a bit. ‘Why don’t you let me do my job?’ he added gently, trying to stick to business.
‘Well, at least you can remember that. How many fingers am I holding up?’
He tried to glare at her but it was too hard so he just laughed, told her to cooperate and carried on, checking her pupils, making her follow his finger, feeling her scalp for any sign of a head injury.
Please don’t have a head injury…
‘My head’s fine. It’s my ribs that hurt.’
So he turned his attention to her body, checking for anything that could be a worry because she’d hit that rock hard and a punctured lung could kill her. He squeezed her ribcage gently.
‘Does that feel OK?’
‘Sort of. It’s tender, but it’s not catching anymore when I breathe and I can’t feel any grating when you spring them, so I don’t think I broke any ribs,’ she said, taking it seriously at last. ‘I thought I had an elephant on my chest. I had no idea being winded was so damn scary.’
‘Oh, yeah. I’ve only ever been winded once, when I fell out of a tree. I must have been six or seven, but I remember it very clearly. I thought I was dying.’
She nodded, then looked away again, just as they heard a slither of shale and Sam appeared at their sides.
‘How is she?’ he asked tightly.
‘Lippy and opinionated but apparently OK, as far as I’ve checked. She was winded. At least it shut her up for a moment.’
Sam chuckled, but Matt could see the relief in his eyes. ‘Now there’s a miracle.’
‘Excuse me, I am here, you know,’ she said, shifting into a better position, and Sam looked down at her and grinned.
‘So you are. Good job, too, we don’t need to lose a promising young registrar, we’re pushed enough,’ he said drily, and sat down. ‘Why don’t you shut up and let him finish so we can get on?’ he added, and Matt laughed. As if…
‘Any back pain?’ he asked, but she just gave him a wry look.
‘No more than you’d expect after rolling down a scree slope and slamming into a rock, but at least it stopped me rolling all the way down,’ she said, trying to get to her feet, but he put a hand on her shoulder and held her down.
‘I’m not done-’
She tipped her head back and fixed him with a determined look. ‘Yeah, you are. I’m fine, Matt. I just need to get up because there are rocks sticking into me all over the place and I could do without that. You might need to give me a hand up.’
He held his hand out but let her do the work. She’d stop instinctively as soon as anything felt wrong, but he was horribly conscious that he hadn’t ruled out all manner of injuries that might be lurking silently, but that was fine, he had no intention of taking his eyes off her for the rest of the day.
She winced slightly, but she was on her feet.
‘How’s that feel?’
‘Better now I’m off the rocks. Did you see what happened? Did I step off the edge, or did it crumble?’
He snorted. ‘No, it crumbled. I told you the edge was unstable, but did you listen? Of course not. You were in too much of a hurry. When you weren’t walking backwards, that is.’
‘Only one step-’
‘I’ll give you one step,’ he growled. ‘So, are you OK to go on?’
‘Of course I am. You seriously think I’m going to give up now just because of this?’
‘You might as well. I don’t get beaten,’ Sam said, getting to his feet, and she laughed in his face.
‘We’ll see about that,’ she retorted, stabbing him in the chest with her finger, then she took a step and yelped.
Matt frowned. ‘What?’
‘My ankle.’ She tried again, and winced. ‘Rats. I can’t weight-bear on it. I must have turned it when the path gave way.’
‘Well, that’s just upped my chances,’ Sam said with a grin, and Matt rolled his eyes.
‘You two are a nightmare. Right, let’s get you off here and have a better look at that.’
Livvy flexed her ankle again and regretted it. She was so mad with herself, and she was hideously aware that it could have been much, much worse. If it had been her head against that rock instead of her chest…
After all she’d been through, that she could have died from a moment’s lack of concentration was ridiculous. She’d meant what she’d said about being careful. She was always careful, meticulous with her lifestyle, fastidious about what she ate, how much she exercised – she woke every morning ready to tackle whatever the day brought, because whateverit brought she had at least been granted the chance to deal with it, and she never stopped being aware of that glorious gift.
And now, after the physical and emotional rollercoaster of the last five years, she’d nearly thrown it all away.
Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
She nodded, her teeth gritted, because her ankle was definitely not OK and the rest of her body wasn’t far behind. She was going to have some stunning bruises to show for this. What an idiot.
They carried her carefully across the loose rock slope to where the others were waiting, clustering round her and looking concerned as they set her on her feet, and she felt silly and horribly embarrassed.
And annoyed, because she’d been really looking forward to climbing up Haystacks and there was no way she was going up it now, and she couldn’t see how she could get down, either, so one way or another she was going to miss out on the climb and coincidentally cause the others a whole world of aggravation.
Either that or just sit there and let them pick her up on the way back.
Whatever, they’d be worried about her, Matt especially since he’d seen her fall, and she felt awful now for scaring him. Scaring all of them, and putting a dampener on the whole trip.
‘Sorry, guys,’ she said humbly. ‘That was really stupid.’
‘It was an accident, they happen,’ Dan said calmly, but Matt just snorted and turned away. Because he was angry with her? Maybe, and she felt like the sun had gone in.
‘Want me to look at it?’
‘It’s fine, Dan, it’s only a sprain and anyway I’m not taking my boot off.’
‘OK. Just keep your weight off it.’
‘I can’t do anything else,’ she said in disgust, and lowered herself gingerly onto a handy rock.
‘So what now?’ Matt asked, still not looking at her.
She followed the direction of his gaze and traced the rough path that seemed to wind endlessly down until it met the track that led to the car park. Funny, it didn’t look so beautiful now. It just looked a long, long way away.
‘We’ll carry her down,’ Sam said.
‘No, you won’t, you’ve got to finish the challenge!’ she protested, but Sam shrugged.
‘Well, we can’t leave you here, Livvy.’
‘Yes, you can. I’ll be fine. I’m not ruining anyone’s day just because I was an idiot. Please, all of you, go on up and I’ll wait here. I might even work my way down. If I take my time I’ll be fine. I can go down on my bottom.’
‘No,’ Matt chipped in, turning round at last, his expression implacable. ‘I’ll take you back. Our team’s out, anyway.’
‘Are you sure?’ Sam asked him, but she shook her head, really unhappy now.
‘Matt, I can’t let you do that. You were looking forward it!’
He just smiled, his eyes softening at last. ‘It’ll keep. It’s millions of years old, Livvy. It’s not like it’s going anywhere. I can climb it another time.’
His tone firmed. ‘But nothing. We’re team mates, and we stick together, and it’s what we’re doing. End of.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Are you always this bossy?’
‘Absolutely. Ed, can I borrow the car?’
Ed nodded and delved in his pocket and tossed him the keys. ‘Mind you don’t crash it. Annie’ll kill us both.’
‘I’ll do my best,’ he said mildly. ‘Go on, you guys, go and have your climb and I’ll take Livvy back and come and get you when you’re done. Call me when you hit the track.
‘Will do – and no more stunts, Henderson, we need you in one piece!’ Sam said as they headed off, leaving her alone with Matt.
He laughed and shook his head in disbelief.
‘I can’t believe I’m so stupid.’
She looked up at him, her face puzzled. ‘You are?’
‘Yes, me. I’ve spent the last three days trying to work out who you remind me of, and it’s just clicked. You’re Oliver Henderson’s daughter, aren’t you? It’s so blindingly obvious I can’t believe I didn’t see it. You’re the spitting image of him.’
‘Do you know him?’
He perched on a rock in front of her so she didn’t have to tilt her head. ‘Yes, I was his registrar, years ago. He’s a great guy. I’m very fond of him, and your mother. How are they both?’
‘Fine. Doing really well. He’s about to be sixty, but he doesn’t look it and he’s got no plans to retire and nor has Mum.’
‘I’m not surprised. They’re very dedicated.’
‘They are. Dad just loves surgery, and Mum would be bored to bits without the cut and thrust of ED, so I can’t see them retiring until they’re forced, frankly! So, when were you at the Audley Memorial? I must have been at uni or I’d remember you, unless you’re much older than you look.’
He chuckled. ‘I’m thirty six now and I was twenty seven, so that’s – wow, nine years ago.’
‘So I must have been twenty, then, which explains it, because I didn’t come home a lot in those days. I had a busy social life at uni, and it was a long way from Bristol to Suffolk.’
‘Yes, it is. Give them my love when you speak to them.’
‘I will. I’ll call them later today.’
‘So, how are we going to do this?’ he asked quietly, getting back to the core business, and she shrugged.
‘I have no idea. I can’t hop all the way down, but I can’t walk on it either, so it looks like the bottom shuffle thing.’
‘Or I can carry you,’ he suggested, knowing she’d argue.
‘How? Don’t be ridiculous, it’s not necessary. And anyway, I weigh too much.’
He laughed at that, because she hardly came up to his chin and sure, she was strong, but she definitely wasn’t heavy, he knew that because he and Sam had already carried her to the path. He got to his feet.
‘Come on, then, sling your arm round my neck and let’s see how we get on with assisted hopping.’
Slowly, was the answer. He had to stoop, of course, because she was too short to reach his shoulder otherwise, and after a while they had to change sides, but she said it hurt her ribs, which left only one option.
He stopped and went down on one knee.
‘Are you proposing to me?’ she joked, and it was so unexpected he laughed. Ish.
‘Very funny. Get on my back.’
‘Because I’m not five and I’ll feel like an idiot!’
He straightened up, unable to stifle the laugh. ‘You just fell off the path!’ he said, and she swatted him, half cross, half laughing, and he couldn’t help himself. He gathered her into his arms, hugged her very gently and brushed the hair away from her eyes as he smiled ruefully down at her.
‘I’m sorry. That was mean.’
‘Yes, it was. I feel silly enough without you laughing at me.’
‘Yeah, I know. I’m sorry,’ he said again, and then because he’d been aching to do it for days and because she was just there, her face tipped up to his, her clear blue eyes rueful and apologetic and frustrated, he bent his head and touched his lips to hers.
It was only meant to be fleeting, just a brush of his mouth against hers, but the tension that had been sizzling between them since they’d arrived on Friday morning suddenly escalated, and when her mouth softened under his he felt a surge of something he hadn’t felt for two years, something he thought he’d never feel again.
Not lust. It wasn’t lust. That he would have understood. Expected, even, after so long. But this was tenderness, yearning, a deep ache for something more, something meaningful and fulfilling, something he’d lost, and it stopped him in his tracks.
‘A Single Dad to Heal her Heart’ is available now, from Mills and Boon UK, Mills and Boon Australia, Harlequin and Amazon. ‘Relative Ethics’ (Oliver and Bron Henderson’s story) is also available in e-book format from Mills and Boon UK and Amazon.