Authors: Amy Andrews
‘What’s the name of that agency you were telling me about?’
Finn frowned. ‘The medical staffing one? Why?’
‘Hamish’s father-in-law had a heart attack and died two hours ago. He’s taking two weeks off. I’ve been ringing around everywhere but no one’s available and I can’t run this place without a medico on board, it’s a government regulation.’
‘For God’s sake, Ethan,’ Finn said, his voice laced with exasperation, having had this conversation too many times before. ‘
Ethan shook his head firmly. ‘You’re a client.’
Finn shoved his hand on his hip. ‘These are extenuating circumstances.’
Ethan chuckled. ‘No dice, buddy. Them’s the rules.’
‘You never used to be such a stickler for the rules.’
Ethan clapped him on the back. ‘I wasn’t running my own business back then.’
Evie was surprised at the obvious affection between the two men. Surprised even more at the spurt of jealousy. Finn wasn’t the touchy-feely kind. He maintained professional relationships with his colleagues and he’d been known to sit at the bar over the road from the hospital and knock back a few whiskies with them from time to time but he was pretty much a solo figure.
He and Ethan, a big bear of a man with a grizzly beard and kind eyes, seemed to go back a long way.
‘Problem?’ she asked, at Finn’s obvious frustration.
Finn shook his head then stopped as an idea took hold. He raked his gaze over her and knew it would probably be something he would come to regret, but choices were limited in the middle of nowhere.
Maybe the current pain in his butt could be Ethan’s silver lining. ‘Evie can do it.’
‘What?’ she gaped, her pulse spiking. ‘Do what?’
Ethan smiled at Evie apologetically. ‘I’m sorry. He’s not very good with social nuances, is he?’
‘She’s a fully qualified, highly trained,
emergency doctor,’ Finn continued, ignoring Ethan’s remark.
‘You can’t just go springing jobs on people like that and acting like they have no choice but to take them,’ Ethan chided, his smile getting wider and wider. ‘Not cool, man. Maybe you should try asking the lady?’
Finn turned to Evie, his palms finding her upper arms, curling around her biceps. ‘I’ll come back and do Khalid’s surgery. But only if you do the two weeks here first.’
Ethan crossed his arms. ‘That’s not asking.’
Evie felt her belly plummet as if she’d just jumped out of a plane. She wasn’t sure if was due to his snap decision, his compliment over her medical skills or his touch but she couldn’t think when he looked at her with need in his eyes.
Even if it was purely professional.
‘C’mon, Princess Evie,’ Finn murmured, trying to cut through the confusion he could see in her hazel eyes. ‘Step outside your comfort zone for a while. Live a little.’
‘You suck at asking,’ Ethan interjected.
Evie swallowed as she became caught up in the heady rush of being needed by Finn. Not even the nickname grated.
It would kill two birds with one stone—Khalid got his op and she bought herself some time. And her father had told her to do
to get Finn back.
‘Okay,’ she said, hoping her voice didn’t sound as shaky as it felt leaving her throat.
Finn nodded and looked at Ethan. ‘You’ve got yourself a doctor.’
Ethan looked from one to the other, his bewildered look priceless. Like he couldn’t quite believe that in less than a minute his major problem had been settled.
Neither, frankly, could Evie.
EVIE CLIMBED ONTO the back of the four-wheeler behind Ethan the next morning for the grand tour.
retreat covered a couple of hundred acres and wasn’t something that could be quickly traversed on foot. Finn, who had disappeared shortly after he’d bribed her into staying for two weeks, was still nowhere to be seen. She didn’t ask Ethan where he was and he didn’t tell her.
Her father hadn’t been happy with the two-week delay but as the prince’s blocked arteries had been found on a routine physical and hadn’t been symptomatic, the surgery wasn’t urgent.
Their first port of call was the clinic. It could be seen from the homestead and she’d be able to walk easily to and from along the track, but as it was just the first stop of many today Ethan drove them across.
It looked like an old worker’s cottage from the outside but had been renovated entirely on the inside with a waiting area, a couple of rooms with examination tables and a minor ops room. A small dispensary with common medications, a storeroom, a toilet and a kitchenette completed the well-equipped facility. Thought had also been given to disabled access with the addition of ramps, widened doors and handrails.
‘Clinic starts at ten every morning. First come first served. There’s rarely a stampede. They usually come to see me.’
Evie cocked an eyebrow. ‘For therapy?’ He nodded. ‘I wouldn’t have thought you’d have any takers.’
Ethan shrugged. ‘It’s a pre-req for a place here. Weekly therapy—whether they like it or not.’
She thought not liking it would be the predominant feeling amongst a bunch of battle-weary soldiers. ‘Does that include Finn?’
He nodded. ‘No exceptions.’
Evie absorbed the information. Maybe that was why he seemed so chilled? But … surely not. The Finn she knew wasn’t capable of talking about his issues. ‘I don’t imagine those sessions would be very enlightening.’
Ethan laughed. ‘He’s pretty guarded, that’s for sure. But …’ he shrugged ‘… you can lead a horse to water … I can’t force him or anyone else to open up. I just hope like hell they do. In my opinion, there’s not a man who’s seen active duty who couldn’t do with some therapy.’
‘Is that why you opened this place?’ Evie asked. ‘A ruse to get soldiers into therapy?’
He laughed again and Evie found herself wondering why it was she couldn’t fall for someone like Ethan. He was attractive enough in a shaggy kind of a way with a ready smile and an easy manner.
‘Kind of,’ he said, his voice big and gruff like the rest of him. ‘Returned soldiers have issues. Those who have been physically injured even more so. It’s too easy for them to slip through the cracks. Succumb to feelings of uselessness, hopelessness and despair. Here they’re able to continue their rehab, contribute to society and find a little perspective.’
‘And you’re the perspective?’ she asked, smiling.
Ethan looked embarrassed but smiled back. ‘Anyway …’ he said, looking around, ‘clinic is done by twelve and then your day is your own as long as you stay on the property and have your pager on you in case an emergency arises.’
‘Does that happen very often?’
Ethan shook his head. ‘The last one was a couple of months ago when there was an incident with a nail gun.’
She raised an eyebrow. ‘Do I want to know?’
He grinned and shook his head. ‘Nope.’
Evie nodded slowly, also looking around. ‘So, that’s it? A two-hour clinic and the odd nail-gun emergency?’
Ethan nodded. ‘Think you can cope?’ he teased.
Compared to the frenetic pace of a busy city emergency department Evie felt as if Ethan had just handed her the keys to paradise. And there was a beach to boot! ‘I think I can hack the pace,’ she murmured. ‘In fact, I think I may just have died and gone to heaven.’
He grinned. ‘C’mon, I’ll show you the rest.’
Ten minutes later they pulled up at what appeared to be a massive shed that actually housed an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool and a large gym area where she caught up with Bob, the physiotherapist she’d met last night. He was in the middle of a session with two below-knee amputees so they didn’t chat.
From there it was another ten minutes to a series of three smaller sheds. The side doors were all open and the sounds of electric saws and nail guns pierced the air as Ethan cut the bike engine.
‘This is where we build the roof trusses I was telling you about last night,’ Ethan said as they dismounted.
With a noticeably absent Finn over dinner last night, Ethan had filled her in on the flood-recovery project the retreat participants contributed to during their stay. Several extreme weather events had led to unprecedented flooding throughout Australia over the previous two years and demand for new housing was at a premium. Roof trusses were part of that. It was a small-scale project perfect for Ethan’s ragtag band of clients, which aided both the flood and the soldiers’ recovery.
It was win-win.
They entered the nearest workshop, which was a hive of activity. The aroma of cut timber immediately assailed Evie and she pulled it deep into her lungs. One by one the men stopped working.
‘I suspect,’ Ethan whispered out of the side of his mouth, ‘you may well see an increase in visits to the clinic in the next few days. Just to check you out. Not a lot of women around here.’
Evie smiled as all but one lone nail gun pistoned away obliviously. It stopped too after a few moments and the owner turned and looked at her.
It was Finn.
Evie’s breath caught in her throat. He was wearing faded jeans and an even more faded T-shirt that clung in all the good places. A tool belt was slung low on his hips. Used to seeing him in baggy scrubs, her brain grappled with the conflicting images.
Her body however, now well into the second trimester and at the mercy of a heightened sex drive, responded on a completely primitive level.
Tool-Man Finn was hot
A wolf whistle came from somewhere in the back.
‘Okay, okay back to work.’ Ethan grinned. ‘Don’t scare our doctor away before her first day.’
One by one they resumed their work. Except Finn, who downed his nail gun, his arctic gaze firmly fixed on her as he strode in her direction.
‘Uh-oh,’ Ethan said out of the corner of his mouth. ‘He doesn’t look too happy.’
Evie couldn’t agree more. She should be apprehensive. But he looked pretty damn sexy, coming at her with all that coiled tension. Like he might just slam her against the nearest wall and take her, like he had their first time.
‘I don’t think happy is in his vocabulary.’
Finn pulled up in front of Ethan—who seriously should know better than to bring a woman into an environment where most of the men hadn’t seen one in weeks—and glared at his friend.
Who had clearly gone mad
doing here?’ he demanded.
Ethan held up his hands. ‘Just showing the lady around.’
‘She only needs to know where the clinic is,’ Finn pointed out.
‘Well, apart from common courtesy,’ Ethan murmured, his voice firm, ‘
really should know the lie of the land in case of an emergency.’
Finn scowled at his friend’s logic. ‘Now she knows.’ He turned and looked at Evie in her clothes from yesterday, her hair loose. ‘This is no place for a woman,’ he ground out.
Having been in the army for a decade and here for almost five months, Finn knew these men and men just like them. Even hiding away, licking their wounds, sex was always on their mind.
Evie felt her hackles rise. Had she slipped back into the Fifties? She glared at him, her gaze unwavering. ‘You ought to talk,’ she snapped, pleased the background noise kept their conversation from being overheard. ‘What kind of a place is this for a surgeon, Finn? Wielding a nail gun when you should be wielding a scalpel!’
Finn ignored the dig. ‘Get her out of here,’ he said to Ethan.
Finn scowled again as Ethan grinned but breathed a sigh of relief when Evie followed Ethan out, every pair of eyes in the workshop glued to her butt.
On their next leg, they passed a helipad and a small hangar with a gleaming blue and white chopper sitting idle.
‘Yours?’ she asked.
He nodded. ‘Handy piece of transport in the middle of nowhere.’
They drove to a large dam area, which had been the source of the silver perch they’d eaten last night. Above it evenly spaced on a grassy hill sat ten pre-fab dongas.
‘Each one has four bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and common area,’ Ethan explained, as he pulled up under a shady stand of gumtrees near the dam edge and cut the engine. ‘They’re not luxurious but they’re better than anything any of us slept in overseas.’
‘So your capacity is forty?’
‘Actually, it’s forty-five if you count the homestead accommodation,’ Ethan said, dismounting and walking over to inspect the water. ‘That’s over and above you, me, Bob and Finn.’
Evie nodded, also walking over to the water’s edge. The sun was warm on her skin and she raised her face to it for long moments. She could hear the low buzz of insects and the distant whine of a saw.
Ethan waited for a while and said, ‘So … you and Finn …’
Evie opened her eyes and looked at him. ‘What about me and Finn?’
‘You’re … colleagues? Friends …?’
Evie considered Ethan’s question for a while. She didn’t know how to define them with just one word. Colleagues, yes. Lovers, yes. Soon to be parents, yes. But friends …?