The Doctor's Proposal
Tragedy has left Dr Kirsty McMahon afraid to fall in love. So when she meets commitment-phobic single father Jake Cameron - Dolphin Bay's gorgeous doctor - she assures herself that the chemistry between them will never amount to anything...
Kirsty busies herself with caring for her patients, getting to know the people of Dolphin Bay - and generally doing all she can to keep her mind off the handsome single dad. But when the attraction between her and Jack becomes too strong to ignore they find themselves having to reconsider the rules they've made for themselves.
HOW did you knock on the front door of a medieval castle? And what was such a castle doing in a remote Australian fishing community?
Dr Kirsty McMahon was worried and tired and it was starting to rain. The castle doors looked as if they'd take a battering ram to open them, and using the incongruous intercom-thing produced nothing. Her tentative knock sounded ridiculous. She knocked harder and gave a hopeful shout but there was no response.
Enough. She'd been stupid to come. Susie was complaining of cramp. She and her twin would find a hotel in Dolphin Bay and broach the castle walls in the morning. If she could get Susie back here.
Then she paused as a sudden flurry of barking sounded on the other side of the gates. Was someone coming?
The vast timber doors opened an inch, and then wider. A lanky brown dog of indiscriminate parentage nosed its way out. A hand gripped its collar. A man's hand.
She took a step back. This place seemed straight out of a Gothic novel. The castle was set high on the cliffs above the sea, with purple-hazed mountains ringing the rear. In the mist of early evening, Kirsty was almost expecting to be met by a pack of ancient hunting dogs, anchored to armoured warriors with battle-axes.
"Boris, if you jump up on anyone you'll be toast." She blinked. The owner of the voice didn't sound like an axe-toting warrior. The voice sounded...nice?
The doors swung wider and she decided the adjective nice wasn't strong enough.
Her warrior was gorgeous.
Six feet two. Mid-thirties maybe? Aran sweater, faded jeans and battered boots. Deep brown, crinkly hair, ruffled just the way she liked it in her men.
Her men? Robert? The thought almost made her smile and she had no difficulty at all turning her attention back to her warrior.
What else? He had a craggy face, strongly boned and weathered. His eyes smiled at the edges even when he wasn't smiling. His body was...excellent.
Oh, for heaven's sake, she was standing outside a ridiculous Australian castle thinking lustful thoughts about a strange man's body?All her life she'd fought to stay in control, and now, when everything was teetering, the last thing she needed was the complication of a male. Back home she was dating nice, safe Robert, who'd stay being nice and safe for as long as she wanted. She was in control. She was married to medicine.
But her warrior was definitely gorgeous. "Um...hello," she tried.
The stranger was hauling his dog back, giving her a chance to catch her breath. Behind the man and dog she could see the castle forecourt. This, then, was why there'd been no response. She'd knocked on what was essentially the fortress gates.
And behind the gates... The castle was a lacy confection of gleaming white stone, turrets and battlements. Kirsty was practically gaping. It was so ridiculously seventeenth-century-meets-now that it was fantastic. It was also set so far back from the gates that, if the intercom wasn't working, it must have been sheer luck that anyone had heard her call.
She needed to stop gaping. "What can I do for you?" the man asked, and she attempted to sound coherent. Sort of.
"My sister and I have come to see Ang — the earl." 'I'm sorry, but His Lordship isn't receiving visitors.'It was a brisk denial, made in a hurry as he pushed the gates closed again.
She stuck her foot forward.
Mistake. These gates weren't built so that a five-feet-four doctor of not very impressive stature could block them with one toe.
She yelped. Her warrior swore, and the gate swung wide again.
"Did I hurt you?" 'Yes." 'You shouldn't have put your foot there." 'You were closing the gate in my face."
He sighed. They both inspected her foot for a moment, waiting for it to do something interesting, but she was wearing solid trainers. And she'd hauled her foot out fast. Maybe she'd suffered nothing worse than a minor bruise.
"I'm sorry," the man said, and as his voice softened she thought again just how gorgeous he was. His voice was deep and resonant, with the lazy drawl of an Australian accent. Well, what had she expected in Australia? But he did seem to be...caring.
And his caring tone tugged something inside her that hadn't been tugged for a long, long time.
She must be more tired than she'd thought, she decided, surprising herself with the depth of her reaction. Caring? She was the one who was doing the caring.
"His Lordship isn't up to seeing visitors," he was saying, still in the gentle, reasonable tone that did weird things to her insides. "And he doesn't see tourists at any time."
"We're not tourists." 'We?"
She motioned to the car where Susie was peering out anxiously from the passenger seat. "My sister and
"You're American." 'Good call,'she told him. "But we're still not tourists." 'But you still can't see His Lordship." Once more the gates started to close. "We're family," she said quickly, and the gates stilled.
The man's face stilled. "What did you say?" 'We're a part of Angus's family," she told him. "We've come all the way from America to see him."
There was a deathly silence. She had been wrong, she thought when she'd decided this man's eyes smiled all the time. They weren't smiling now. He suddenly looked cold, disdainful and very, very angry.
"You're too early,'he told her, and he hauled his dog back behind him as if she was something that might be infectious. "I thought the vultures would be arriving soon, and here you are. But Angus is still alive."
He didn't even look to see where her foot was. The gate slammed shut against her.
Ten minutes and a Thermos of tea later they were still none the wiser. Kirsty had returned to the car and filled Susie in on the details.
"Well, at least we're at the right place," Kirsty told her sister. "But I don't know who the sentry is. A son?"
"I was sure Angus didn't have sons.'Susie wriggled deeper into the passenger seat, trying to get comfortable, no mean feat at eight months pregnant. Kirsty's twin had been sitting still for too long, but she hadn't wanted to get out when they'd arrived. It had been too much trouble. Everything was too much trouble for Susie, Kirsty thought grimly, and, instead of making it better, these last few weeks had made it worse. Clinical depression was crippling.
More. It was terrifying. "So what do we do?" Susie asked, but she asked as if it didn't matter too much what Kirsty replied.
Over to Kirsty. As always.
Obediently Kirsty thought about it. What could they do? Retreat to town and try and gain access again in the morning? Telephone? They should have telephoned in the first place, but she hadn't been sure they'd reach here.
She glanced across at Susie. Exhaustion was washing over her twin's face and she knew she had no choice.
This had turned into a disastrous expedition, she thought bleakly, but back home in New York it had seemed reasonable. Even sensible. For Susie, the last few months had been appalling, and Kirsty had fought every way she'd known to haul her twin out of a clinical depression that was becoming almost suicidal.
Two years ago Susie had married Rory Douglas. Rory was a Scottish Australian who'd decided two minutes after meeting Susie that America — and Susie — was home. It had been a blissfully happy marriage. Six months ago Kirsty's twin had been glowing with early pregnancy, and she and her Rory had been joyfully preparing to live happily ever after.
But then had come the car crash. Rory had been killed instantly. Susie had been dreadfully physically injured, but her mental state was worse.
Psychiatrists hadn't helped. Nothing had helped. "Why not visit Australia?" Kirsty had suggested at last, flailing for answers. "You know so little about Rory's background. I know his parents are dead and he didn't get on with his brother, but at least we can visit where he was born. Dolphin Bay? Are there really dolphins? All we know is that it's on the coast somewhere south of Sydney. It sounds exciting. I can take leave from the hospital. Let's go on a fact-finding tour so you'll be able to tell your baby where his daddy came from."
It had seemed a sensible idea. Sure, Susie was pregnant and the injuries to her back meant she was still using a wheelchair most of the time, but Kirsty was a doctor. She could care for her. Because Susie had been married to an Australian, she was covered for health costs in Australia. At seven months pregnant she had only just been able to make the journey before airline restrictions stopped travel, but Kirsty had decided even if they got stuck it would be no disaster. If the baby was to be born in Australia, Susie would have her own little Australian. It'd be great.
But Susie had been apathetic from the start, and nothing had gone right. Their plane had no sooner touched down in Sydney than Susie had shown signs of early labour. What had followed had been four weeks in Sydney on a medical knife edge, with Susie's depression deepening with the enforced idleness.
But at least the baby had stayed in situ. Now Susie was eight months pregnant, and if she did go into labour it wasn't a major drama. Enough with doing nothing, Kirsty had decreed in desperation. They'd finally headed for their destination, travelling in careful, easy stages so they could see the sights as they went.
But all Kirsty had achieved had been more apathy from Susie. And now they stared at the imposing fortress and Susie's expression of bewilderment echoed what was in Kirsty's own heart.
"Why didn't Rory tell me his uncle was an earl?" Susie whispered. "And to live in a place like this... I never would have come if I'd known this."
It had been a shock, Kirsty acknowledged. They'd arrived in Dolphin Bay that afternoon, tried the local post office for information and had been stunned by their reception.