Authors: Teresa Ashby
© Teresa Ashby
Dangerous Love was published as a My Weekly Pocket Novel with the title “Love in Danger”. It will be available in Large Print from March 2015.
Following the daring and reckless rescue of a little girl from a cliff in a terrible storm, Bram Fletcher, vet and lifeboat man bumps into Emergency Nurse Practitioner Regan Tyler. Regan loved him once, a long time ago, but now she wants him gone from her life before he finds out her terrible secret. No matter what she does, their paths seem destined to cross and his presence back in her life threatens to wreck everything.
Also available on Kindle
The Doctor’s Decision
The Call of Home
Love on Ice
Shackled to the Past
Take a Chance on Me
The Love That Heals
Hell and High Water
All at Sea
The Colonel and His Daughter
Buckets and Spades
Short Story Collections
The Mother of the Bride & Other Stories
You Can’t Love a Stranger & Other Stories
A Portrait of Louise & Other Stories
A Friend Like Aunt Buffy & Other Stories
The Painting & Other Stories
Bad Company & Other Stories
Bram Fletcher stood at the edge of the cliff, the wind snatching his breath away as he looked down into a black pit of nothingness. Out to sea, the inshore lifeboat Molly Jane rode the mountainous waves, the spotlight the lifeboat crew were trying to fix on the cliff virtually useless in these conditions. They couldn’t see a thing.
Len would be doing his best out there, but he couldn’t bring the boat in any closer without risking the lives of the crew. One thing Bram knew was that he’d rather be up here than out there, at least here he could do something because unless the casualty was swept into the sea, the lifeboat wasn’t going to have much to do – and he hoped that remained the case. Once in that water an adult wouldn’t stand a chance much less a child. The helicopter would have been useful right now, but it had been grounded by the ferocious storm and so it was down to man against the elements.
Ready? Ready to go over the edge of the cliff on a rope and hope to God he was going down in the right place? The woman walking her dog only thought she saw a kid go over. She admitted it could have been a ragged old bin bag taken by the wind, but she wasn’t certain. It was dark, pitch dark and the torch she carried with her wasn’t very powerful. The woman was still here and she was pretty sure, not absolutely sure, just pretty sure, that the kid had gone over just about here. If it was a kid. She thought she might have heard a scream, but it was just as likely to have been the wailing wind.
Bram hoped she was wrong. Far better that the woman walked away feeling a bit embarrassed for calling them out on a false alarm than he got down the cliff and found a body – or worse, no body at all. A lump lodged in his throat and he swallowed it down. No children had been reported missing which was good.
He had no idea of the condition of the child – if there was one - but if he or she was conscious he could imagine their terror. He turned round and took a step backwards, wedging his feet against the cliff, the torch on his helmet lighting the cliff face in front of him as he began his slow, careful descent. The last thing he saw before he was staring at rock was the huddled shivering form of the dog sitting at the heels of the woman.
He looked up briefly and saw the beams of torches shining down at him.
“Take it easy, Bram!” Malcolm yelled.
Yeah, right, like he was going to go fast and risk ending up on the rocks below? He was known for being reckless, for taking risks, but he wasn’t about to smash himself to pieces for the sake of a few extra seconds. It wouldn’t help the kid and hell, it might hurt just a little – if it didn’t kill him straight away. He didn’t mind that, a quick painless exit, but he was no fool and no stranger to pain so he planned to do everything he could to stay alive and in one piece.
Despite the cold seeping in through all the protective gear, he felt a trickle of sweat run down his spine. It wasn’t fear. Once Bram would have been terrified doing this, worrying about the effect his death might have on those he loved... Oh, quit being coy, Fletcher, when you mean Regan why don’t you just admit it instead of dancing round the safe zone? There weren’t many days in his life that he didn’t think about Regan and on every shout she was there in his mind, but no longer in his life.
Knowing she was sitting at home or waiting at the lifeboat station going through hell had made doing this job hard. So it was a good thing she was no longer part of his life, right? Yes it was. Yet no matter how many times he’d told himself that over the past six years, there was still a part of him that longed to have her sitting at home waiting, ready with her warm arms and her soft lips when he came home. He licked his lips, tasted rain, remembered how it had felt to taste the tears on her trembling mouth and how bad that had made him feel – and yet how good.
How much further? He looked down and could see the white foam on the waves as they crashed over the rocks below lit up by the beam from his helmet. What if he got to the ledge and it was empty and the cries they thought they’d heard up top turned out to be a gull? The ice in the wind was inside him now, chilling him from the inside out. They didn’t have to be out by much for him to be in completely the wrong place. If there was a kid, and it was a big if, he could be anywhere along here.
Then he caught it in the beam, the dip in the rock, the tiny ledge leading in to a shallow hollow, two small feet one with a shoe, one without. There was something so joyful about seeing those little feet and yet at the same time, something so bone achingly sad. The socks were wet – they were ankle socks with little frills around the tops and skinny legs sticking out of them.
“I see her,” he shouted and his headset crackled in response. “It’s a little girl.”
“What’s her condition?”
“Can’t tell yet.”
Lucky to have fallen inwards into the hollow and to find a ledge beneath her, that was for sure. But how far did that luck go? Had she hit the rock and lucked out? Was she where the fall had thrown her or had she got herself into the dip, as far from the edge as she could get? If she had, then she was a pretty resourceful little girl. He reckoned she was about five years old, maybe younger. Finding any resources when you were that age and scared out of your wits was pretty amazing.
“Give me more rope,” he shouted as everything seemed to suddenly slow down and his progress was halted. The rope was played out and he moved down further. His feet found the edge of the ledge and he went down on his knees and found the kid huddled sitting upright with her back against the rock, blood practically obscuring her face.
“Hey,” he said. “My name’s Bram. I’m going to get you out of here, honey, okay? You’re going to be all right and I promise you, going back up is going to hurt a lot less than coming down did.”
She was crying, her tears making trails through the blood. Poor little kid. She must be terrified. And where were her parents while all this was going on? At her age she should be at home tucked up in bed, not sitting halfway down a cliff just feet above the raging water all on her own and scared out of her damn wits.
“Can you tell me your name?” he asked her gently.
It took her a while to speak. “Georgie,” she said at last.
“All right, Georgie. I need to just check out your injuries, then we’ll get you back up the top.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“No,” he laughed. “I’m a vet.”
Amazing kid, she laughed as well and didn’t she have a knockout smile? She thought he was kidding. Everyone did, but first and foremost he was a vet and second to that, a lifeboat volunteer with Advanced Life Support training.
“Can you tell me what hurts, Georgie?”
“Everything,” she said. “But my arm mostly.”
She was holding it, making a sling for it with her other arm. If she’d fallen all that way and just broken her arm and got a gash on her head, then she really was lucky. But kids were unreliable witnesses to their own injuries. He had to be careful.
“Of course you are,” he said as he wrapped her in a blanket and tucked it around her. Her chin wobbled. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, I promise. I’m going to get you out of here. Does it hurt when you breathe?”
“How about your head?”
“Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, Georgie. I’ll get the guys up top to send down a special board which I’ll strap you to, then they’ll pull you up, but don’t worry because I’m going to be right with you. I won’t leave you, okay?”
The blood on her face looked pretty alarming. Her mother should see her right now and get the shock she deserves he thought angrily. She should see how letting a little kid out on a night like this can end up. But the chances were that by the time they located her, down the pub or in a nightclub or wherever the hell she was, Georgie was going to be all cleaned up and looking pretty again.
He relayed the information to the team on the ground including the fact that as they suspected, there wasn’t room for anyone else down there so he was on his own. Getting back up with her wasn’t going to be easy. He’d not only have to deal with being buffeted by the wind, but he’d have to hang on to her as well and make damn sure he kept smiling just in case she could see fear on his face.
It wasn’t fear for himself, but for her. The truth was he had no fear. To fear, you had to love, wasn’t that right? Fear was for those left behind.
“What were you doing on the cliff on your own anyway, Georgie?”
“Walking,” Georgie said, her dark eyes like black pools in the torchlight.
“Did your mother know you were out?”
“No!” she rapped out the word. “You mustn’t tell her.”
She began to sob.
Whoops, maybe the mother was in the dark about all this after all. Right now she might be sitting at home watching TV thinking her daughter was asleep in bed.
“It’s all right, honey,” he said, putting his arm around her and giving her the gentlest squeeze, not enough to hurt but enough he hoped to reassure. “Your mummy will just be glad you’re okay. She won’t be mad.”
“You don’t know my mummy,” she said and again there was that gorgeous smile that lit up her whole bloodied face.
Well if she’s anything like her daughter, Bram thought, then she’s going to be one tough lady!
The tears came again, swift on the heels of the smile. The poor kid was in bits.
“Steady,” he said as the board came down and he retrieved it. There wasn’t a lot of room for manoeuvre on the ledge and the darkness didn’t help, but Georgie was too worried about what her mother was going to say not to be completely cooperative as Bram strapped her to the board.
“It’s not just me holding on to you,” he said. “The guys up the top there are holding you as well. You can’t fall, okay? You’re not going to worry about that are you?”
“I’m worried about my arm,” she said earnestly. “It hurts a lot.”
She seemed a lot older than the estimated five years, but she was a tiny little scrap of a thing. She had an unusual combination of big blue eyes and dark chocolate brown hair and without all that blood on her face, Bram guessed she’d be a pretty little lass.
The journey up was easier. The wind wasn’t any less vicious and the cold was just as penetrating, but all Bram had to watch for was jagged areas of rock where the ropes might snag or even knock into the board. And when he looked up he could see the shadow of an ice blue flashing light. The ambulance had arrived and with it the paramedics who would be able to do far more for this little girl than he could.
He’d cooled down about the mother too, imagining the state she’d be in when she found out. He wouldn’t mind betting Georgie was a bit of a handful.
They reached the top and hands reached out to pull Georgie up onto the land and she was obscured from Bram’s view by the jacket of a paramedic. Another hand reached out and gripped Bram’s wrist, helping him over the lip. It felt good to have solid ground under his feet again. Malcolm got on the radio and told Len to stand the Molly Jane down.
Bram pulled his helmet off and felt the wind and rain rummage through his fair hair, but he needed the air. He felt good. This was the kind of buzz that made volunteering worthwhile. Most of the rescues had happy endings. If only Regan could have seen that.
The paramedics had got Georgie into the ambulance out of the wind and they’d already hooked her up to a drip. They worked fast those guys, but then they had to. The door shut and the vehicle sped away towards the road. Gone but not forgotten. Strange to think he’d probably never see the kid again, unless her mother took her down to the lifeboat station to thank the crew.
And Len would probably pick her up and take her on a tour of the Emerson Fitzgerald – the Severn class lifeboat they used for all weathers which was the pride and joy of the crew. There was also the smaller inshore boat, the Molly Jane which would have been involved in the rescue tonight if things hadn’t gone as well as they had. Georgie might even get a ride on it round the harbour.
“Great work, Bram!” Malcolm’s hand came towards him upraised. He raised his hand in return and they slapped palms and at that point everything went pear-shaped.
Bram felt the earth beneath his feet give way and then the drop, hard and fast, and Malcolm’s bellow before he felt the rope he was still attached to pull taut, jerking his whole body and slapping him back against the rock face, blasting the air out of his body and then… nothing.