Pregnant with his child, p.1

  Pregnant With His Child, p.1

Pregnant With His Child
 

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Pregnant With His Child


  CROCODILE CREEK: 24-HOUR RESCUE

  A cutting-edge medical centre at the heart of a community. Fully equipped for saving lives and loves!

  Crocodile Creek’s state-of-the-art Medical Centre and Rescue Response Unit is home to a team of expertly trained medical professionals.

  These dedicated men and women face the challenges of life, love and medicine every day!

  An abandoned baby!

  The tension is mounting as a newborn baby is found in the Outback whilst a young girl fights for her life.

  Two feuding families!

  A long-held rivalry is threatening the well-being of the community. Only hospital head Charles Wetherby holds the key to this bitter battle.

  A race to save lives!

  Crocodile Creek’s highly skilled medical rescue team must compete with the fierce heat of the Australian Outback, and the scorching power of their own emotions.

  PREGNANT WITH HIS CHILD

  is the third of four continuing stories from Marion Lennox, Alison Roberts, Lilian Darcy and Meredith Webber. Join them at Crocodile Creek every month until December in Mills & Boon® Medical Romance™

  Dear Reader

  Sometimes writers are asked to do a series of linked stories with a group of other writers, using a basic idea created by our editors which we then expand. I’ve had great experiences with these twice in the past, both times getting to write a story I never would have thought up on my own. One had a strong fantasy element involving mermaids, and the other was set in the world of professional yacht racing, so I got to relive my childhood Little Mermaid dreams as well as vicariously strapping myself to the rail of a maxi yacht in a storm while the waves threw me around like a rollercoaster. This latter experience was definitely better in the imagination than it would have been in real life!

  With our CROCODILE CREEK: 24-HOUR RESCUE series, however, we four writers came up with the idea of working together ourselves, and we generated the basic storylines as a group before taking each individual book away and writing it on our own. We had several cosy and excitable sessions in a hotel suite during a writers’ conference, brainstorming characters and ideas—I can neither confirm nor deny that chocolate and champagne were involved in the planning process—and here is Book Three in our four-book series.

  If you like our fictional town and its characters, please let us know, because we would love to have a good reason to return, in our imaginations, to Crocodile Creek.

  Lilian Darcy

  PREGNANT WITH HIS CHILD

  BY

  LILIAN DARCY

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ONE

  DR CHRISTINA FARRELLY had only one significant item left on her ‘to do’ list for today. She hadn’t written it down. It wasn’t something she was likely to overlook.

  Dump Joe.

  Driving to the airport to pick him up in the sweet, warm darkness of a typical North Queensland autumn night, she felt sick about it.

  Heartsick.

  Sick to her stomach.

  She didn’t want to do this.

  And even this early in the piece it wasn’t working out according to plan, anyhow.

  His flight from Cairns had been delayed and he was getting in six hours late, which meant that the almost bearable scenario of having a private late-afternoon coffee at her place while they talked about it had morphed into the utterly non-bearable scenario of delivering him direct to the doctors’ residence at eleven o’clock on a Sunday night, gabbling at him, ‘Dumping you, sorry, but fixed you up a room here,’ and laying rubber all the way down the hospital driveway as she screeched her car off into the night.

  No.

  She really could not do Dump Joe that way.

  Not when she didn’t want to end their relationship at all.

  Maybe the flight delay was an acceptable reason to put it off.

  The airport was only a few kilometres from her house, an old-fashioned Queenslander a couple of streets back from the commercial heart of Crocodile Creek, which she’d inherited from her grandmother several years ago. The big creek itself flowed in a slow, lazy curve between the town and the airport, while a smaller tributary curved with equal laziness between the airport and the hospital before joining forces with Crocodile Creek just a hundred metres before it spilled into the ocean.

  The main road crossed Crocodile Creek’s wide streambed over a bridge that was slated to be replaced very soon. Construction on the new one, a hundred metres upstream, had recently begun. Christina would be sad to see the old bridge go, but, then, maybe she had a tendency to hold onto things…hopes…relationships…for longer than she should.

  Dump Joe.

  Yes, no excuses, no delaying tactics, just do it.

  To get to the modest-sized passenger terminal, she had to skirt around the emergency services headquarters and the runway for fixed-wing aircraft, with its rows of night-time guidance lights staring at her balefully the entire way.

  The whole place was close to deserted at this hour. Joe’s flight would have been the last one in tonight. She saw it still taxiing towards the terminal, bringing Joe ever closer to an emotional crisis—or merely an incomprehensible, irritating disappointment?—that he had no inkling of as yet.

  Other people did have an inkling. Mike Poulos had guessed that something was wrong last week when he and Christina had flown together in the Remote Rescue chopper to bring in a heart-attack patient from an isolated location, but he wouldn’t have said much to anyone else, both because he was a decent, non-gossipy kind of guy and because—well—he had much better things to think about right now.

  He and Emily Morgan, after knowing each other for a good eighteen months without a ripple to ruffle the surface, had suddenly discovered they were madly, ocean-churningly in love, marriage-mindedly in love.

  And, oh, lord, she shouldn’t think about it in such a bitchy way, she liked both of them a lot, but…how come everyone else could connect the dots and come up with the obvious answer when Joe Barrett wouldn’t even admit to the existence of dots in the first place?

  Turning into the car park, Christina felt the tears starting and blinked them back. Shoot, if she was crying about this now, before she’d even done it, said it—how bad was the actual conversation going to be?

  And how bad was it going to be when the news had travelled all around the hospital?

  Or had it done so already?

  In a foolish attempt to distance herself from the reality of what she was doing, she’d involved Brian Simmons in his role as hospital administrator, asking him to organise the room for Joe at the doctors’ residence. This was the original bush nursing hospital, over a hundred years old, and it was situated on the grounds of the current, much more modern set of hospital buildings that provided the nexus for Crocodile Creek’s outback air medical service.

  Most of the single doctors lived there, but Christina never had, since she had her grandmother’s house, with its lush jungle of garden screening the cool privacy of a wrap-around veranda, its antique-filled rooms, its peace and tranquillity. And because she had a spare room in that house, and because Joe was only in Crocodile Creek for one week in four, he’d become her part-time boarder two years ago.

  He hadn’t stayed in that limited role for very long.

  The doctors’ residence was a noisy, welcoming and very pleasant place, and Christina dropped in there quite often. She liked most of the medical staff currently living there, but she di
dn’t want them asking questions behind her back, worrying about her, telling each other that they didn’t understand what was going on because Christina and Joe had always seemed so good together.

  They would do and say all of that, of course.

  There was only one factor that might dilute it a little. The past couple of weeks at Crocodile Creek had been pretty dramatic ones, starting with Simon-the-cardiologist and Kirsty-the-in-tern sneaking off into the sunset together, followed by the far more serious discovery of a critically ill newborn left for dead after an outback rodeo, and a head-on collision in the outlying settlement of Wygera which had left four young aboriginal kids dead and others still hospitalised down south.

  ‘People do have other things to think about, Christina Farrelly,’ she scolded herself, punctuating the statement with a wrenching pull on the handbrake of the car.

  The newborn was doing well now. He had a mother, Megan Cooper, who’d almost died herself following serious post-partum complications on top of the traumatic belief that her baby had been born dead. Over the past few days, Megan had slowly begun to recover. And he had a name.

  Jackson.

  He didn’t yet have a known father—Megan wasn’t saying anything on that subject—or grandparents who’d been told of his existence. Meanwhile, the community at Wygera would take months to find its feet again…

  Yes, everyone in Crocodile Creek most definitely had other things to think about.

  But right now all Christina could think about was that mental ‘to do’ list, and the item right at the top of it.

  Dump Joe.

  When she reached the arrivals area of the almost-empty terminal, passengers were just starting to come through the gate. There were no fancy jetways at this airport. Joe would be walking across the open tarmac with the other tired arrivals, while the luggage-cart swung in an arc around them through the humid press of diesel fumes, beating them to the baggage claim area by a scant minute.

  With the flight only half-full, Christina had no trouble spotting him. He stood half a head above the tallest of the other passengers, and he was broader and stronger, with darker skin, a wider smile…He had always seemed to her to have so much more than anyone else she’d ever met.

  More heart.

  More energy.

  More strategies for keeping their part-time relationship in exactly the place he wanted it.

  Which had slowly and inexorably become a place she just couldn’t bear for it to stay.

  Dump Joe.

  ‘Hi,’ she said, her voice wobbly.

  ‘Tink.’ He buried his face in her neck, inhaling the scent of her hair in open appreciation. ‘Oh, Tink!’ He was the only person who ever called her Tink. Tunk, really, with his strong New Zealand accent. ‘Hell, I’ve missed you. Mmm, you smell so good!’ And he was the only person who ever made her feel this way when he hugged her.

  Tingling.

  Exultant.

  Weak with need.

  Where she belonged.

  And, tonight, utterly miserable.

  She felt his mouth press hard against her hair, her cheekbone, the corners of her lips. Hungry kisses, but they promised nothing.

  ‘I am wiped!’ he said. ‘Seven hours in the transit lounge in Cairns.’

  ‘Do you have a bag?’

  ‘Nope. Everything’s here.’ He patted the heavily packed overnight bag that swung on his shoulder. Beneath the white band of his T-shirt sleeve, the smooth skin of his upper arm bulged with muscle, and the thin, braided shape of his blue-black tattoo was visible. It looked like a bracelet, and made a clearer statement about his part-Maori ancestry than did the honey colour of his skin. ‘Let’s go. Are you on flight duty tomorrow?’

  ‘Yes, I’m due back here at seven, for a clinic run.’ On the opposite side of the runway, really, but it counted as the same place.

  ‘And I’m rostered on from eight. Still, we can grab a bit of time tonight, eh?’ His dark eyes flicked down at her, with that familiar sense of a shared secret in their depths, and the total confidence that she wanted exactly what he did. Her body stirred and her heart fell.

  ‘Yes, we need some time.’ The words were neutral. Far too neutral. He should have noticed. Or was he simply too tired to hear them as significant?

  Dump Joe.

  She really, really had not wanted to have to do it like this. For his sake, or for hers. They would have to talk at her place. She wasn’t going to say everything here in the airport car park, or with the car engine idling outside the doctors’ residence.

  As they drove past the hospital, he commented, ‘Quite a few lights on there tonight, in the house and in the main building.’

  ‘We’ve had a busy couple of weeks.’ She filled in some of the details. The personal as well as the medical.

  There was Cal’s engagement to Dr Gina Lopez, the American cardiologist he’d known in Townsville five years ago, and who’d turned out to have given birth to his son, CJ, now four years old. There were Kirsty and Simon, Emily and Mike, the car accident at the Wygera settlement, and darling, heroic baby Jackson and his mother.

  ‘He has von Willebrand’s disease, on top of everything else, brave little sweetheart,’ she finished. The rare blood disorder had been diagnosed after Dr Lopez had been alerted by the unusual amount of bleeding from the baby’s cord stump. It was treatable and shouldn’t cause ongoing problems now that they knew about it.

  ‘So the mother has it, too?’ Joe asked.

  ‘No, she doesn’t, and neither do the mother’s parents—although her dad’s health is pretty iffy in other areas, apparently—which means the carrier must be the father. But so far Megan isn’t telling us who or where he is. Dr Wetherby’s father had von Willebrand’s, apparently, but if there’s a family connection he knows about, he’s not saying. It could be a coincidence.’

  ‘Whew!’

  ‘That pretty much sums it up.’

  She hated having so much news to dump…dump…on him all in one big, stodgy mass. It always happened, even when events in Crocodile Creek weren’t nearly as fast-moving as they’d been this time around. Joe spent three weeks out of four at home in New Zealand.

  Or possibly, for all she knew, on the far side of a wormhole leading to a distant galaxy.

  No, OK, that was a slight exaggeration.

  Over the two years they’d been a part-time couple, he had let slip a few salient facts. He lived in Auckland. He’d done his medical degree at Auckland University. He worked in a group general practice. He wasn’t married. (But he could be lying. Was he lying? Would she know?) He had a mother, a younger half-sister, a stepdad.

  But he made it painfully clear how much he hated talking about his life at home. He never phoned her from New Zealand. He’d given her both his home and work numbers there ‘for an emergency’ but the handful of times she’d eagerly dialled those, early on in their relationship, he’d again made it clear that the calls weren’t wanted.

  He didn’t do it nastily. Christina wasn’t convinced he had a nasty bone in his body.

  He did it with an upbeat, warm-voiced energy. ‘Listen, Tink, I can’t talk, OK?’ Didn’t suggest a better time. Didn’t phone her back. Didn’t mention the phone calls the next time she saw him.

  She’d begun to feel that she was the equivalent of a sailor’s girl in every port. True, Joe kept coming back to the same port, and it was apparently a port he really, really enjoyed, but that didn’t change the basic fact about their relationship. Christina’s life was an open book to him. She’d told him anecdotes about her childhood, dreams she had for the future, beliefs about what mattered in life. But in return she was his ‘rest and recreation’, his R&R, as the American navy seamen who occasionally berthed to the south in Townsville phrased it, and that was very plainly all he wanted from her.

  Which did suggest that he might be married.

  No! No…

  She’d never caught him out in a lie, and didn’t want to launch into a paranoid confrontation. It wasn
t her style.

  And it almost didn’t matter if he was married. The point was, for whatever reason—and the fact that she had no real idea of the reason was a problem in itself—this relationship was going nowhere, while her biological clock had hitched a ride on a racehorse some time last year and was contemplating the imminent switch to a faster mode of transportation.

  Christina was thirty-three. She had a sensible head on her shoulders. She wanted marriage and a family with a decent, honourable man. She didn’t want to stay perpetually at the ‘young, in love and having fun’ stage with a man she only saw for a handful of hours each month, no matter how nice that was while it was happening. Joe knew that. She hadn’t said it straight out, or put on any pressure on him, but he had to know it from the way she talked about her brother’s kids in Brisbane, her admiration for her parents’ marriage.

  If there had been any sign of a deepening in Joe’s commitment, if he’d started sharing more of his life in New Zealand with her, if she knew why he kept the boundaries so firmly in place, she would have been prepared to wait a lot longer, but there was none of that. He was a couple of years younger than her, but that was no excuse.

  She was also the faithful type, and if she was ever going to find a man who wanted what she wanted, she was going to have to get Joe Barrett well and truly out of her system before she started looking.

  Which didn’t give her the luxury of putting things off and had thus led her to where she was right now, at eleven o’clock on a Sunday evening, approaching the past-its-use-by-date bridge over Crocodile Creek with a gorgeous man beside her in the car.

  A man who was also past his use-by date.

  A man she was about to dump.

  Even though she really, really didn’t want to do it.

  There was a grey humped shape lying in the road, just a metre before the bridge.

  ‘Kangaroo,’ Joe said, sitting up higher in the passenger seat. He craned to look at it as Christina slowed the car. ‘Was that there ten minutes ago when you came across?’

 
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