The doctors unexpected f.., p.1

  The Doctor's Unexpected Family, p.1

The Doctor's Unexpected Family
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The Doctor's Unexpected Family


  “You and me, Caroline.”

  “You and me?”

  He stayed silent for a moment, straightened carefully from leaning on the bench, watching her. “Have I been reading you wrongly all this time, then?” he finally said. “Are you interested, Caroline?”

  “Yes!” she answered wildly. “Of course I am. You know I am. Isn’t that why you backed off for the last six weeks? You knew how I felt.”

  “Six weeks isn’t long.”

  “Do you want longer?” she offered, hardly knowing what she’d said. “Because if—”

  “No. I do not want longer.” He reached for her and wrapped his arms around her waist, looking down into her face with eyes like the sun on the sea. “I do not want one second longer, Caroline.”

  Medical Romance™

  is proud to present another emotionally gripping duet by talented author

  Lilian Darcy

  Caroline and Nell work at

  GLENFALLON HOSPITAL.

  Glenfallon is a large rural community in the beautiful wine-making region of

  New South Wales, Australia

  Also in the duet is Nell’s story, coming soon!

  The Doctor’s Unexpected Family

  Lilian Darcy

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  CHAPTER ONE

  ‘I CANNOT emphasise strongly enough how important it is that we hang onto this man.’

  Dr Robinson—dear Tom—never seemed able to emphasise anything strongly enough, Caroline mused, although he certainly tried. Having gathered the staff of his small department for an informal Friday afternoon meeting in his office, he now sat on the corner of his desk, with his thick, greying brows knitted and a fist pounding into his palm at rhythmic intervals as he spoke, in quest of that ever-elusive emphasis.

  As usual, Caroline’s fingers itched for a pair of tweezers with which to permanently unknit the brows, and she thought guiltily, My mind is wandering.

  It wandered a little more as Dr Robinson spoke of signing Declan McCulloch up for tennis, inviting him over for meals and befriending his girlfriend on the weekends when she came down from Sydney to stay.

  ‘And, of course, Caroline—’ Dr Robinson’s emphasis suddenly switched to her and she twitched and sat up straighter ‘—you’ll have a particular role to play in this.’

  She blinked. ‘Oh, I will?’

  ‘Isn’t he renting your parents’ house?’

  ‘Um, yes.’

  ‘Presumably they’ve left it in immaculate condition.’

  ‘Well, yes, Tom…’

  ‘But if are any problems—appliances breaking down, and so forth…’

  ‘Yes, of course. I’ll be the one to call a repair man.’

  ‘Promptly.’

  ‘Promptly,’ she agreed. She was very fond of Tom Robinson, but he had an increasing tendency to paw at a subject like a dog pawing at a bone.

  ‘And I think it would be an excellent gesture if you’d bring a casserole to welcome him, and perhaps stock the pantry with some basic supplies.’

  ‘Right,’ she murmured. ‘I suppose I could.’

  Natalia shifted and fiddled with her rings. Steph yawned, and surreptitiously checked a note scribbled in her diary. Mary took a look out of the window at the weather.

  Tom frowned again, and looked sincerely anxious. ‘Please, take this seriously, everyone,’ he said.

  Caroline took a deep breath and stepped into the breach.

  ‘I think we are, Tom,’ she said, ‘and I take your point about making him and his girlfriend welcome. Glenfallon is a welcoming sort of place by nature, I always think. But we have to be realistic, don’t we? He’s here because, as a non-Australian doctor, the only way he can practise before he sits his Australian exams is by working in a designated Area of Need, which means the country, not the city.’

  ‘If we can settle him thoroughly enough here. He’s thirty-six. Ready, you’d think. To put down roots, start a family…’

  ‘He’s not the only one we have to consider, that’s the problem. His girlfriend works in television, my mother says. There won’t be any employment prospects for her here, which means that, no matter how much he warms to the place, he’s highly unlikely to stay beyond the year, or at most the two years, he’ll spend preparing for the exams.’

  ‘Let’s take a more positive attitude than that, Caroline,’ Tom answered with spirit. He slid off the desk and stood up, and Caroline realised for the first time that his tall, gangly body had begun to stoop. He was growing old. ‘Perhaps their relationship won’t last!’

  Everyone laughed, as if Dr Robinson had been joking, but Caroline thought, No, he means it. I know him too well! He’s not going to let it go, he’s going to fret over it, and his perspective is too narrow. I hope I’m not going to regret that Mum and Dad rented Dr McCulloch the house. Could I get Chris to do the liaising?

  She suppressed a sigh. No, that wouldn’t be fair. Her brother had married a sheep farmer’s daughter, and was settled on the huge property that Sandie had inherited from her parents, which lay a hundred and twenty kilometres to the north-west. Chris or Sandie came into town fairly often, but Caroline didn’t want to add to the long list of errands they always had when they were here.

  Tom had a couple more items to cover on his informal agenda, then his staff scattered to tidy their desks for the weekend. Tom presided over a group of six women at the moment—a secretary, three lab technicians and two cyto technicians. Caroline was one of the latter, along with Natalia, who worked only part time. Declan McCulloch’s arrival, as a much-needed second pathologist, would shift the gender balance just a little in Tom’s favour.

  Caroline’s phone rang just as she was about to switch off her microscope. Probably Josh, she thought as she picked it up. At the beginning of the school year, six weeks ago, he’d announced that he wasn’t going to after-school care any more. He wanted his own house key, and he’d ride his bike home and look after himself, on the days he wasn’t invited to a friend’s.

  She had been a little nervous and a little sceptical, but had agreed to give the plan a trial run. She had a reliable neighbour to keep an eye on him, and so far she was pleased and proud at the way he handled his new independence. Josh was eleven, a little vague and disorganised at times, but basically sensible.

  A couple of times a week, however, she’d get a phone call from him at around this hour. ‘Can I have an ice cream from the freezer? It’s really hot!’ was the usual reason for the call, and it was hot again today, so…

  She had a smile in her voice as she put the receiver to her ear and said a warm and casual, ‘Hi.’

  The resonant silence at the far end of the line told her this wasn’t Josh even before an unfamiliar male voice asked cautiously, ‘Am I speaking to Caroline Archer?’

  ‘Oh. Yes. You are. I’m sorry.’

  The voice might be unfamiliar, but she had little doubt as to who it was. That Irish accent was as curly and intricate to her ears as lines of a handwritten musical score. It had to be—

  ‘Declan McCulloch, phoning from Sydney. Your parents gave me this number.’

  ‘Of course they did.’ Mum and Dad had already left for the Gold Coast, and she would be acting on their behalf in matters concerning their house from now on. ‘I’m sorry, I thought it would be my son. Please, tell me how I can help you, Dr McCulloch,’ she finished, with a passable degree of courtes
y and calm.

  ‘I’m hoping to arrange a time tomorrow when my partner can look over the house with you. Would that be possible?’

  ‘Yes, it would be fine.’ The Irish accent threw her more than it should have.

  ‘Unfortunately, I can’t be there myself, but Suzy was hoping to meet you at the house at around nine-thirty or ten, if that suits.’

  ‘Yes, OK, nine-thirty…’ Caroline frantically tried to remember what time Josh’s soccer game started. Eleven? ‘Nine-thirty would be fine.’

  If the game was at ten, she’d have to—

  ‘And I should be arriving in the late afternoon with our things.’

  ‘So you’re actually moving in tomorrow?’

  Go shopping. Make casserole. Stock pantry. She’d have to do all this tonight. Tom was right. Make both of them as welcome as possible, so that when the new pathologist did leave after a year or two it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault, and especially not hers.

  ‘Hoping to, if that’s all right,’ Declan McCulloch said. ‘Technically, our lease started today, I believe.’

  The tone had a tiny bit of a tease in it, as if he was the kind of man who used humour and warmth to get what he wanted, never anger or the leverage of power. The lease started today, so he could move in whenever he wanted, could he not? And couldn’t he get her to agree to this fact without a fuss?

  Or was this a little too much to conclude about his way of operating from one brief statement?

  ‘Of course,’ Caroline answered him.

  She almost said something about the casserole, but managed to refrain. He rang off, leaving her to realise for the first time that his tenancy of her parents’ house might put her in a very awkward position when they had to work together as well. He’d dialled her direct line and she’d replied with that casual, ‘Hi.’ As a result, Dr McCulloch probably didn’t realise that one of the cyto technicians who’d be reporting to him in his new position at Glenfallon hospital was also, in effect, his landlady.

  Looking up, she found Tom Robinson leaning in the doorway. ‘Was that—?’

  ‘Dr McCulloch, yes.’

  ‘How did he sound? Was there a problem? Did you manage to—?’

  ‘Tom, you have to relax about this!’ she cut in gently.

  He sighed. ‘I can’t. Listen, can I talk to you for a minute?’

  ‘Of course.’

  He came into her office and shut the door. ‘The thing is—and I haven’t told anyone this yet so, please, keep it to yourself—I want to take early retirement within the next year or two.’ He was fifty-eight, Caroline knew. ‘Eileen’s mother in Melbourne is getting very frail, and with three of the four grandchildren down there, too, Eileen is very torn. She’s been spending more and more time there, and I miss her—to a stupid extent, really—when she’s gone.’ His voice went foggy. ‘We can’t go on splitting our energies between Glenfallon and Melbourne.’

  ‘Oh, Tom!’

  ‘But I won’t go—’ he spoke more firmly now ‘—until there’s a second pathologist who is good and competent and committed, and already in place. This Declan McCulloch could be the man, and if there’s the slightest chance we can keep him after he’s passed his Australian exams, then we have to—’

  ‘I understand. I’ll do my best, Tom, I really will.’

  She arrived home twenty minutes later, to find a line of tiny brown ants feasting on the sweet residue left by the ice-cream stick Josh had abandoned on the kitchen bench-top.

  ‘I decided there was no point in bothering you at work about having an ice cream when you always say yes,’ he told her, and they had a little discussion about the problem of the ants when the benchtop wasn’t left clean.

  She flung some frozen fish pieces and shoestring potato fries in the oven, made a salad and composed a shopping list, and Josh accompanied her to the supermarket without protest after they’d eaten. He was a good kid, and old enough now to be much more of a companion and a help to her than he had been when little.

  Caroline had been divorced from Josh’s father for almost ten years. Robert had a distant involvement with his son, and high expectations of him. To what extent Josh would be required to follow in his father’s footsteps was an issue that loomed nearer. He would be starting high school next year.

  The two of them delivered the ‘basic supplies’ for Dr McCulloch and his girlfriend to their rented pantry and fridge, and while Josh was in bed with a book Caroline made the casserole and had it slowly simmering in the oven by the time Josh turned his reading lamp off at nine o’clock.

  Unfortunately, despite this impressive degree of efficiency and organisation, she forgot to check the time of his soccer game until the next morning. The game began at ten, not eleven.

  ‘I’m so sorry I’m late.’ Caroline held out the covered casserole dish to Dr McCulloch’s girlfriend as a peace offering.

  She felt as if Tom were an invisible presence just behind her, listening to everything she said and assessing it for the appropriate degree of welcomingness, so to speak. She was also far too conscious of the house’s dated 1940s red-brick front. The girlfriend had been grimacing at the house, a minute ago, as she’d prowled around the front garden.

  Mum and Dad’s place was a bit of a secret treasure, as it looked bland and boring from the front but was lovely once you got inside. She hoped Dr McCulloch’s girlfriend hadn’t already made up her mind to dislike it.

  ‘Is this for us?’ The girlfriend took the casserole dish. The way Caroline held it out, she had little choice. ‘You didn’t have to.’

  She didn’t look through the glass lid, or display any other sign of appreciation, and Caroline had the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps chicken and mushroom casseroles were very old-fashioned and countrified, and that this one might be discarded tonight in favour of take-away Thai from Glenfallon’s recently opened House of Siam restaurant.

  The girlfriend—Suzy—looked very city-ish to Caroline’s eye, which was an idiotic way to look at her, as plenty of women in Glenfallon had short, spiky blonde hair, even if most of them didn’t wear expensive designer casuals on a Saturday morning.

  OK, so Suzy Screenwriter wasn’t city-ish, she was just fashion-conscious and skinny and probably the right side of thirty.

  While I’m not.

  Any of those things.

  Caroline unlocked the front door and they went inside. The house felt a little stuffy, which it wouldn’t have done if she’d been able to get here before Suzy to open up. ‘My son’s soccer game was earlier than I thought,’ she explained, throwing open windows in the lounge-room and bathroom.

  ‘Hmm,’ Suzy Screenwriter said, not interested.

  I mustn’t call her Suzy Screenwriter, Caroline realised, even in my head, because it’ll make me start disliking her, and that wouldn’t be helpful. I have to love her to death. We have to be best friends. She has to be crazy about the whole town.

  ‘You can put the casserole in the fridge,’ she offered. ‘I stocked it last night with a few basics, in case you don’t get a chance to shop for a couple of days.’

  ‘I suppose the shops are all closed on the weekends anyway, aren’t they?’

  ‘Oh, no, we’re quite well catered for in that area. There’s a huge supermarket near…’

  Suzy Screenwriter wasn’t listening. She’d reached the kitchen, which Mum and Dad had had remodelled only last year, opening it up to a new sun-room that jutted into the green frenzy of the back garden. ‘There’s a dishwasher, I hope?’

  Suzy looked around the kitchen, spotted it and looked relieved. Then she smiled, as if realising that she should come across a little more warmly. ‘Could I see the other rooms, please, before we get onto the detail of how everything works?’

  ‘Of course.’

  ‘When I move down here, you see, I’m going to start work on a major novel. Dec has told me there’s a room with a view of the garden for my office. I hope it feels right. I’m so looking forward to the chance of getting some real
writing done. The solitude and lack of distractions in a place like this will be a great discipline for me.’

  ‘I can imagine, yes. Let me show you the room, then. Will you be moving down soon?’

  ‘Not as soon as I’d like. Unfortunately I have a TV drama series I’m committed to in Sydney until later in the year. Dec will come up as often as he can, and I’ll come down here for extended weekends. We’re not looking forward to that, but there’s no choice with these arcane regulations about where foreign doctors can practise.’

  She wandered through the rooms as she spoke, and concluded after a few minutes, ‘Dec’s right. This is perfect.’ Circling back to the room she planned to use as an office, she narrowed her eyes, as if imagining desk and computer and bookshelves in place, then gave another satisfied nod.

  She had a casual air of confidence that Caroline envied, if she was honest—confidence in her own ability to write ‘a major novel’, in her plan to make the six-hour drive from Sydney for frequent weekends, in her relationship with ‘Dec’.

  Did I ever have that? Caroline wondered to herself. Even before things went pear-shaped with Robert, and with my medical career? I’m not sure that I did.

  ‘Right, I’ll have the lessons on the dishwasher and the washing-machine now, thanks, Caroline,’ Suzy said, and Caroline was able to hand over the keys in time to catch the second half of Josh’s game.

  ‘How did it go with the casserole?’ Tom asked at eight o’clock on Monday morning. ‘Did the girlfriend like the house? And the town? And did you stock the pantry?’

  ‘I stocked the pantry and the fridge, although my idea of the basics might be completely different from theirs,’ Caroline told her boss.

  ‘Surely not,’ he answered. He’d summoned her into his office the moment she’d arrived, with an impatient and conspiratorial air that made her want to giggle. Evidently, the new pathologist was expected to darken their doorway at any moment, so there was no time to lose. ‘Basics are basics, aren’t they?’

  ‘Well, you know, they might want pâté instead of margarine, Turkish pide bread instead of sliced white. They could be on some kind of diet.’

 
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