Authors: Meredith Webber
The thing about Kate, he’d discovered, was that she refused to be beaten by what life threw at her. She kept going, kept smiling, always positive, always upbeat, seeing the best in situations, the best in people.
Angus was not sure where all this rational thinking was getting him, although he now had a much fuller picture of the woman he loved.
He set the cup back carefully in its saucer, certain it had been about to slip from his grasp.
How could he love her? He barely knew her. But even as this excuse sprang from his brain, another part of his mind was denying it. Of course he knew her.
He pictured her on the yellow sofa, an arm around his son, and remembered the stab of jealousy he’d felt. But what he should have felt was pleasure—that finally he’d found a woman who would make the ideal mother for his son…
Emily dropped a kiss on her mother’s cheek. ‘Isn’t it fun having Dad around?’ she whispered, and suddenly Clare’s spring of happiness wasn’t bubbling quite as high.
She knew it wasn’t jealousy she was feeling, but disappointment of some kind—disappointment that the life she’d been providing for her daughter hadn’t measured up…
‘You need my pearls—the ones Gran gave me,’ Emily declared as she inspected her mother for the last time. ‘Wait here.’
She ran off to her bedroom and returned with the pearls that had been her great-grandmother’s, making her mother sit on the bed so she, Emily, could fasten them.
‘There,’ she said, ‘you’re beautiful. Dad will surely want to marry you now.’
Clare knew the words were nothing more than childish enthusiasm, but once again the joy of the morning dimmed, and despair wormed its way into her heart.
How could she resist if it became a matter of two against one?
At Jimmie’s Children’s Unit, miracles don’t just happen at Christmas time—babies are saved every day!
But this year there are two children with some big wishes for Santa…
BACHELOR OF THE BABY WARD
—little Hamish McDowell wants a new mummy…
FAIRYTALE ON THE CHILDREN’S WARD
—all Emily Jackson longs for is to see her mum and dad reunited…
Will Hamish and Emily get the greatest Christmas gifts of all?
Find out in Meredith Webber’s heartwarming linked duet, out this month!
says of herself, ‘Some ten years ago, I read an article which suggested that Mills and Boon were looking for new Medical
Romance authors. I had one of those “I can do that” moments, and gave it a try. What began as a challenge has become an obsession—though I do temper the “butt on seat” career of writing with dirty but healthy outdoor pursuits, fossicking through the Australian Outback in search of gold or opals. Having had some success in all of these endeavours, I now consider I’ve found the perfect lifestyle.’
Recent titles by the same author:
DESERT KING, DOCTOR DADDY
GREEK DOCTOR: ONE MAGICAL CHRISTMAS
CHILDREN’S DOCTOR, MEANT-TO-BE WIFE*
THE HEART SURGEON’S SECRET CHILD†
Jimmie‘s Children’s Unit
A quick frown from her boss, Alex Attwood, failed to halt Kate Armstrong’s angry protest.
‘—that when Phil and Maggie left to go back to England, I’d take Maggie’s place as anaesthetist on
team, not be working with some total stranger.’
Alex’s frown turned to a sigh.
‘Have you any idea how hard it is to juggle so many new people on the two teams?’ he asked, only slight exasperation showing in his voice. ‘I’ve left you in the second team—and you know darned well that doesn’t mean second in importance—because you know the ropes and you’ll be a help to Angus, whom, by the way, you should meet!’
Alex paused to grin at her.
‘That way he won’t be a
stranger!’ He turned towards the door behind Kate and added, ‘Come on in, Angus. We were just discussing you.’
Kate was torn between wishing the floor would open up and swallow her, and wondering why a quick, embarrassed glance at a tall, dark-haired stranger should make her stomach feel uneasy.
Angus McDowell had more on his mind than some redheaded termagant—one of his mother’s favourite words—who obviously didn’t want to work with him. Hamish had thrown out a rash, the quarantine kennels had phoned to say McTavish was sick and, as he’d left the house, Juanita had given him a shopping list a mile long, telling him that as she didn’t know where the supermarket was—he’d have to find one.
But apparently the termagant was going to be working with him whether she liked it or not, so he offered her a practiced smile, and held out his hand, politely ignored the fiery blush that had swept into her cheeks.
‘Angus McDowell,’ he said as she slipped fine-boned fingers into his clasp, then quickly withdrew them, tucking her hand into the pocket of her jacket as if to save it further contamination.
‘Kate Armstrong,’ she said, her voice deeper than he would have expected in a small, slim woman. Slightly husky, too, the voice, although maybe that was a hangover from the argument she’d been having with Alex. ‘I’m to be your anaesthetist.’
It had to be jet lag that made Angus feel a splinter of ice run through his veins—she wasn’t talking about anaesthetising
! He pulled himself together and managed another smile.
‘Great,’ he said. ‘Most important part of the team, the anaesthetist—well, alongside the perfusionist—’
‘And the second surgeon, and the surgical assistant, and the scrub nurse, and the circulating—’
He held up his hands in surrender.
‘You’re right, we’re a team, and every member of it is equally important, although your job carries a lot of pressure, because you have more pre- and post-op contact with the patient and his or her parents.’
She looked at him then—really looked—pale green eyes meeting his, offering a challenge.
‘Soft-soaping me?’ she said, softening the challenge with a slight smile. ‘You obviously heard the argument I was having with Alex.’
She shrugged, shoulders in a crisp white shirt lifting slightly.
‘It was nothing personal—not against you. I’d just been looking forward to working with Alex. Not that I haven’t done ops with him—we all switch around from time to time—but I find I learn different things from different surgeons.’
It sounded weak and Angus wondered if there was some other reason this woman wanted to be on Alex’s team—a personal reason. But he couldn’t be worrying about such things when he had enough personal problems of his own to sort out.
Hamish for one, even apart from the rash…
He shut off the dark cloud of the past, concentrating on the present. He said, ‘Then I hope you will find working with me as instructive.’
He moved away from her as other members of the team filtered into the room.
Kate looked around at the newcomers. She’d met Oliver Rankin, the new paediatric surgical fellow who would be working with both teams, a few months ago when he’d spent several weeks with the paediatric cardiac surgical unit at Jimmie’s—as the St James Hospital for Children was affectionately known. But this was the
first time she’d seen Clare Jackson, the new perfusionist, and from the way every male eye in the room turned to Clare as she walked in, the perfusionist was going to cause a stir in the tight-knit unit.
Admittedly it wasn’t Clare’s fault that she was tall, dark-haired and strikingly beautiful. Kate tugged at her scraggly red locks which, no matter how she tried to tame them, were always breaking out of their confinement, and wondered what it would be like to be beautiful, to be so much the centre of attention…
Not that she’d like the attention part.
The talk had turned to patients, those who had been operated on and their progress, before moving to a rough plan for the operations for the week. Rough because no-one ever knew when some baby would be born with a congenital heart defect that would need immediate attention.
‘Angus, we’ve been advised of a baby with a TGA coming down from a regional hospital on the north coast hopefully tomorrow,’ Alex said. ‘They want to stabilise him before the airlift. I know you’ve made something of a speciality of transposition of the great arteries so I’d like your team to take him when he comes.’
The new surgeon nodded, though Kate noticed he looked worried at the same time. Surely he couldn’t be concerned about the operation, not if he specialised in it and when it was one that was performed successfully so often these days.
The little frown between his eyes made him more human somehow, Kate decided, studying the face that had at first appeared stern and unyielding to her. Was it the darkness of his hair and eyes that made him seem that way, or the strong bones beneath olive skin
that stretched tightly over them so the long nose between broad cheekbones and the firm jawbone were accentuated?
‘Kate, you with us?’
She looked across at Alex and nodded, though she’d have liked to bite him for drawing attention to her momentary lapse in concentration.
‘Of course!’ she snapped.
‘Then off you go. Take Angus down to the childcare centre, and when you’ve finished there, give him a general tour of the area. Apparently he’s got some shopping to do.’
She looked from Alex to the stranger with whom she was going to be working, really regretting now that she’d missed the bit of the conversation where she’d been stuck with being his tour guide. Angus was on his feet and coming towards her, smiling again…
The smile, though it seemed practiced and didn’t quite reach his eyes, caused another weird sensation in the pit of her stomach. Although maybe that was the slightly mouldy bread she’d used for toast that morning. But just in case, she turned away from the smile and hurried out of the room, assuming he would follow.
‘You’ve children yourself that Alex appointed you to show me the childcare centre?’
If she’d been a sucker for accents this one would have won her over, a soft Scottish burr overlaid with a little bit of North American. The effect in the deep voice was totally enthralling.
‘Children?’ he repeated, and she knew she had to pull herself together.
‘Not yet,’ she said, ‘but I’d like to have a family and I’d also like to keep working, at least part-time, so somehow I became involved—’
She was used enough to this conversational subject to be able to keep her voice casually light, but they’d reached the elevator foyer and she could no longer pretend she had to look where she was going, so had to turn to face him.
‘—with a move to expand the hours of the centre. It made sense to me to have it open twenty-four hours a day, so people on night shifts, or staff called in unexpectedly at night as our team often is, have somewhere to leave their children.’
Definitely too much information but the uneasiness in her stomach—not to mention the disturbing shadows she now saw in his dark eyes—had her prattling on.
The elevator arrived and they crammed inside, the conversation, fortunately, ceasing as they rode down to the ground floor where most of the passengers exited.
‘It’s in the basement?’ Angus queried, wondering about the reasoning behind keeping children in a dingy, dark environment.
His reluctant guide—he’d seen her sigh when Alex suggested she take him around—smiled, small, even white teeth gleaming in her pale face.
‘Ah, but there are basements and basements?’
‘Mostly, in hospitals, used for the morgue,’ he reminded her, while he wondered why small, even teeth should have made such an impression on him.
Surely he wasn’t developing a tooth fetish.
‘Not here,’ she said cheerfully, leading him out of the elevator and along a wide corridor decorated with a bright mural depicting zoo animals.
She pushed open a door and they entered a small, fenced-off foyer, beyond which Angus could see a big, bright room, bright because the whole of one wall was glass, and beyond the glass was a playground—a sunlit playground!
‘We’re in a basement?’ he queried as he took in the children in groups around tables in the big room, and beyond it another room with a wide window so he could see cots set up within it.
‘The hospital is built on a hill. It wasn’t hard to excavate a little more on this side so the children had an outdoor area.’
A woman came towards them, greeting Kate with genuine delight.
‘You’ve been a stranger,’ she said. ‘After you did so much to help get the after-hours arrangement set up, we all felt you were part of our team.’
To Angus’s surprise, Kate Armstrong looked embarrassed by the praise, but she rallied and introduced him.
‘Mary is the director of the centre,’ Kate explained, ‘so if you want to get your children in, she’s the one you need to talk to.’
‘Of course, the children of hospital staff get priority but we do take in children from the local area, as well,’ Mary explained. ‘You’ll be looking for something—for how many children and what ages?’
‘Just the one,’ Angus replied. ‘Hamish is four and moving to Australia is a big change in his life. I feel if he can make some friends here, he’ll settle in more easily.’
‘Of course he will,’ Mary assured him. ‘And we can take another child in our four-year-old group. In fact, we’ll be particularly happy to have a boy, as we’re a bit top-heavy with girls in that group. Would you like to come in and look around now, or would some other time suit you? Perhaps a time when you can bring your wife?’
Angus closed his eyes briefly. There always came a moment! He shored up the defences he’d built around his heart and answered calmly.
‘I’m a single parent,’ he said, happy the phrase was so familiar these days that no questions followed it. ‘But as Kate’s been seconded to show me where the supermarket is, and I don’t want to take up too much of her time,’ he added to Mary, ‘perhaps I could come back this afternoon?’
‘Any time,’ she said. ‘And you’re in good hands with Kate. If anyone knows her way around a supermarket, it’s our Dr Armstrong.’
‘Why would she say that?’ he asked his guide as they walked back to the elevator.
The redhead shrugged, looking thoroughly embarrassed once again. He knew it must be her colouring but it was unusual—refreshing?—to see a woman blush these days. But as they waited for the elevator, she shook off her embarrassment and explained.
‘When the childcare centre first asked the hospital powers that be about extending hours, the usual objections were raised—costs, and where would the money
come from, et cetera—so a few of us, mostly parents and childcare centre staff, began to fund-raise with the aim of getting enough money to trial the idea. We baked a lot of cakes over a couple of months, selling them within the hospital to patients, visitors and staff. We used the kindergarten kitchen after hours and as my hours were fairly erratic—and to be perfectly honest I’m not much of a biscuit or cake cook—I was the chief shopper.’
‘And you don’t have children?’
The elevator had arrived but she didn’t move, looking at him again, the defiance in her eyes echoed in the slight tilt of her chin.
‘No, but that’s not to say I won’t ever have them.’
Did she feel she’d been too adamant that she added quickly, ‘And a lot of the people involved in the fund-raising were my friends.’
They rode back up to the ground floor, the questions he’d have liked to ask—was she married, did her husband work at the hospital—were too personal when they’d just met. There was something about her—pale skin, delicate features and a slim dancer’s body, straight-backed, head held high—that reminded him of the delicate porcelain figurines his mother collected, so he kept sneaking looks at her.
At least, he thought that’s why he kept looking at her. It had to be; he didn’t look at women any other way these days—well, not often, and definitely not at women who were colleagues.
Yet he was intrigued enough to ask the questions anyway.
‘You seem positive about the children in your future. Are you already married to their father? Engaged?’
They were walking through a fairly crowded foyer so someone bumped into her when she stopped abruptly and he had to put out his hand to grab her shoulder and steady her. But the people around them didn’t seem to bother her as she studied him for a moment, then gave a rueful smile, cheeks pink again.
‘Not married, not even engaged, but all I’ve wanted to be since I was eleven is a grandmother, and, being a doctor, I do understand I’ll have to be a mother first.’
She’d made a joke of it, but underneath her light-hearted confession, Angus sensed a deeper emotion and wondered if this was a stock answer she gave to fend off further questions. It must have some basis in truth, so what had happened when she was eleven?
And why was he wondering?
Then she added, ‘Maybe,’ and the word had such sad undertones he wanted to hug her—a comforting hug, nothing more, but not something he made a habit of doing with colleagues.
It was strange that the man’s questions had Kate coming out with something she’d never told a soul, not even her best friend. And while it was true it
been an ambition since childhood, she’d blurted it out it because the pang she always felt when the question of children arose had surprised her today with its intensity.