The Most Magical Gift of All (8 page)

BOOK: The Most Magical Gift of All
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

He glanced up, his eyes questioning. ‘That's a long time. I would have thought seeing as your last job just finished you would have gone home to your family for Christmas.'

‘I told you, I don't celebrate Christmas.' The words rushed out overly hasty.

Jack didn't blink. ‘Hanukah, then?'

She shook her head, not wanting to answer his question. ‘Surely I've stopped bleeding now.'

He gave her a long look and her heart hammered so hard against her ribs she felt certain he'd hear it. Finally he dropped his gaze back to her palm.

He eased the gauze back. ‘Not good, Soph; I see the distinctive white of tendon. You're going to need stitches.'

‘It can't possibly be that deep!'

‘Take a peek yourself, then.' His sounded bemused. ‘I think you'll agree that I'm one-hundred-percent correct.'

He lifted the gauze and her stomach rolled.

Imogen wandered in, her dark curls pressed to her cheek from sleep, and she clutched her emu tightly in her arms. She sidled up next to Jack. ‘What are you doing?'

‘I'm going to sew up Sophie's hand. Do you want to be the nurse?'

‘She might want to be an assisting doctor,' Sophie snapped, challenging the stereotype that just because Imogen was a girl she'd want to be a nurse.

Jack's black brows rose. ‘Point taken, but Imogen told me yesterday she wanted to be a nurse, so I thought she might like to try by holding your hand.'

Imogen smiled and grabbed Sophie's non-injured hand. ‘Like this, Jack?'

‘Perfect, sweetheart.'

Sophie's head started pounding. ‘My medical bag is in the truck.'

‘Way ahead of you there, Soph. I've got one in my room. Back in a jiff.'

‘I'm helping.' Imogen squeezed her hand again, her expression desperately seeking approval.

Sophie's eczema itched. ‘I really don't need you to hold my hand.'

‘Of course you do.' Jack's voice brooked no argument as he returned to the kitchen and organised Sophie to sit at the table. He washed his hands, set out the suture kit and drew up local anaesthetic.

Sophie watched the methodical way he did every
thing, finding a reassurance in the process and trying to focus on that to keep calm.

‘I got a lollipop when I got a 'jection.' Imogen continued to stand next to her, holding her hand, and pressed her leg against Sophie's thigh.

Jack grinned. ‘Good idea, Im, and if Sophie's brave we'll give her one too.'

He pulled up a chair and covered Sophie's arm with a sterile drape. ‘Small jab, and it will sting.'

She wanted to be anywhere but here. ‘I know it will sting!'

He smiled a knowing smile. ‘You're a grouchy patient, Dr Norman.'

Imogen swung around to Sophie, her small face creased in worry. ‘You got to be good, Sophie, or Jack will go.'

Something inside her hurt and she tried to smile at the little girl. ‘I promise I'll be good.'

Jack shot her a look that said thanks, but it was backlit with the swirling emotions of restrained anger, sadness and frustration. She remembered how angry he'd been when he told her about Imogen's mother.

He switched his attention to the little girl. ‘Immy, I'm not going anywhere. I have to look after Sophie even if she's a bit grumpy, naughty or sad, and even if she cries. Just like I look after you. I'm staying right here, OK?'

Imogen nodded slowly, as if she wasn't certain she believed him, and edged even closer to Sophie so her bottom rested on her knee.

Rising panic stormed through her. She had a child on her knee and Jack touching her hand—a war zone was safer.

Jack tested the local anaesthetic with a needle. ‘Can you feel that?'

Sophie shook her head, feeling woozy. ‘No, it's all numb. Do your worst.'

His gaze flickered over her face. ‘For you, I'll do my best.'

In that brief moment all his personas fell away—the duty-bound doctor, the foster carer, her one-time lover—and for the first time she saw the real Jack, a man of great heart. It scared her witless.

Imogen looked on fascinated as a tiny trail of black stitches marched across her hand and she peppered Jack with questions. Jack answered every one of them without the slightest trace of irritation. Sophie knew she wouldn't have had the same tolerance. Right now, the way her head was spinning, she was having trouble concentrating full-stop.

Jack finally snipped the last black thread and surveyed his handiwork. ‘That should be a very neat scar as long as you keep it clean and dry this coming week.'

‘A big piece of opsite should do the trick.' She sighed in relief that the stitching was over and in a moment she could make an excuse, leave the room for a few minutes and pull herself together. Jack opened up the clear, adhesive, second-skin-style dressing. ‘Opsite will certainly help, but with the amount of times you have to wash your hands at work each day the best solution is for you not to work this week.'

‘That's probably good advice, but who'd look after Barragong?'

He stared at her for a moment, his eyes twinkling, purple on blue, and then he leaned back and roared, laughing. ‘Poor Sophie, that cut's really put you in shock. I'll work next week for you.'

Her head pounded, trying to keep track of everything. ‘But you're on holidays.'

‘Yeah, right.' His head inclined toward Imogen who still sat on her knee. ‘I think this comes under your codicil of an emergency. We're
working, and next week we need to swap jobs.'

Swap jobs. Take care of Imogen.
Silver spots danced in front of her eyes as the past came rushing back.
You're useless, Sophie.

She couldn't mind the child.

Jack's eyes bored into her, his expression uncompromising. She hated that he was right about work. She'd be limited in what she could do while protecting her hand, so she really had no choice. But the fear of being home alone with Imogen made her bargain. ‘We'll reassess the situation in three days.'

He shrugged as if her words hardly made an impact. ‘Fair enough, but you know as well as I do you're out for a week.' He smoothed the plastic dressing over her hand, making a firm seal over the stitches, his touch totally professional. ‘So, we're all done.'

Imogen shifted on her knee. ‘Jack, you didn't kiss Sophie's hand better.'

He grinned at Imogen and gave her a wink. ‘Well, I better fix that, then.'

Sophie went to pull her hand away. ‘I really don't need—'

But his eyes darkened to navy, hypnotising her with the same need that simmered in her own veins. He raised her hand to his mouth and kissed her fingers, trailing his lips along their length with a touch so gentle and yet so erotic she thought she'd die on the spot.

Why had she ever thought coming to Australia would be safe?


‘Sophie, make another one.' Imogen pushed the pile of plastic building-bricks towards her.

Sophie stifled a groan at the thought of building one more plastic tower. She looked at her watch. Five o'clock. Did that mean Jack was seeing his last patient for the day? If he was, and there was no one to check on in the hospital, he'd be home by six. She bit her lip at the irony of how she'd spent last week avoiding him, and now she wanted him here in the house as a buffer between her and Imogen.

She sighed and regrouped. She just had to get through one more hour.
Only four more working days to go.

Jack had left her a list of suggested activities, things she might like to do with Imogen, and it had been the first list of his that she hadn't laughed at. Instead, she'd clung to it like a lifeline, and they'd done almost everything on it. The last thing was a bath.

‘I think it's time to pack up and have a bath.' Sophie started to gather up the blocks.

Imogen got up and wandered over to the train set that circled the base of the Christmas tree.

Sophie stayed on the floor with the blocks and calmly tried again. ‘Imogen, did you hear what I asked you to do?'

The usually compliant child squatted and turned on the train, completely ignoring Sophie. As the train chugged around the track, the tinny sound of Christmas carols blared out loudly.

A cold blast of dread ran along Sophie's spine and she took in a deep breath. ‘Imogen, please turn off the train and come and help me pack up the blocks.'

Imogen clapped and sang to the train's tune.

Chris will hear the music and come home.
Sophie's temple throbbed as the incessant music kept playing, and
she wanted to put her hands over her ears and drown it out. With superhuman effort she held onto her composure by a thread and spoke slowly and clearly. ‘Imogen, turn the train off

The little girl didn't move but the volume of her singing increased.

Don't turn off the music, Sophie, don't touch a thing
. Old memories combined with the music, all booming in her head until she couldn't stand it a moment more. She jumped to her feet and grabbed the train engine, her fingers fumbling to find the off-switch that would stop the jarring sound of the music.

‘That's my train!' Imogen jumped to her feet, her small hands firmly on her hips. ‘Give it back.'

Sophie's heart raced and tears pricked the back of her eyes but there was no way she could hear that train again and say in control. She placed the engine on a shelf on the sideboard. ‘Imogen, it's not train time, it's bath time.' She put her free hand out towards the child. ‘Let's go and make bubbles.'

‘No.' Imogen stamped her foot.

‘Yes.' Sophie tried placating. ‘It will be fun. We can wash Sheils.'

‘No.' She clutched her emu close as her voice started to rise. ‘I want Jack.'

I hate you, Sophie.
Her breathing started to come too fast and she fought to control it. ‘Jack wants you to have a bath.'

‘No.' Imogen picked up a footstool and ran to the sideboard. Climbing up, she tried to reach for the train. ‘I want my train. I want my train.'

The sideboard started to wobble and Sophie swooped, grabbing Imogen around her waist and pulling her away
before the child brought the heavy piece of furniture down on top of herself.

Imogen screamed, kicked and howled, her heels hammering hard into Sophie's shins. ‘Go away, Sophie, go away!'

Sophie couldn't get her lungs to move any air and her fingers started to tingle as the edges of her vision blurred.
Get to safety.
She held on tightly to a squirming Imogen and somehow managed to stumble to the couch where she fell onto it, sobbing as hard as the child.


Jack hummed Christmas carols as he pulled up in front of the homestead. He'd had an enjoyable day at the clinic and when his stomach had growled at one o'clock he'd realised that the morning had flown by. Being at work was, in many ways, a lot easier than being a stay-at-home foster carer. But from about four o'clock his thoughts had strayed more and more to coming home to Imogen and Sophie, so he'd finished early, which he never did. But, then again, he was technically on holidays and the paperwork could wait.

He thought about his mother who was blissfully unaware of what was going on in their house. Although he'd shared the house with his mother since Mary had left, they lived very independent lives, and often days passed without them really seeing each other. So this last week with Sophie and Imogen in the house had been unexpectedly pleasant.
He grinned at the word that didn't come close to explaining the complicated house-sharing situation that had him so sexually frustrated, he was starting to have concerns for his testicles. His body hummed constantly for Sophie, and when he'd kissed her hand yesterday the only reason he hadn't trailed kisses along
her arm, across her shoulder, up her neck and into her hot, lush mouth was because Imogen was in the house. But, no matter how hard it was to resist Sophie, no matter how crazy it was making him, he wasn't going to have sex with her again. He'd broken his own rule once and that had got him into this mess. He might be constantly horny but he wasn't stupid.

Yet, given all of the aggravation of his delayed holiday and living with a woman he wanted to bed so badly he could hardly see straight, he was strangely relaxed in a way he hadn't been in years—if ever. Living with Mary had been like balancing on an emotional tightrope, never quite knowing when you were going to fall off, and he had no plans ever to try and live with a woman again. But even though having Imogen and Sophie in the house was problematical it seemed to make the house buzz, something it hadn't done since he'd been a kid chasing his sisters up the hall with his father fast behind.

He hauled the esky out of the boot. He was looking forward to grilling the satay-chicken sticks he'd bought from the butcher and hearing all about Sophie and Imogen's day. As he hadn't received any text messages, he assumed all had gone well. When he'd insisted Sophie have a week off work for her hand to heal, he hadn't been totally convinced she wouldn't fight the idea. When she'd accepted without too much fuss, he'd decided that her initial stand on not wanting to mind Imogen must have stemmed from concerns about being sucked into doing everything at work and at the homestead. Given that a week ago she'd barely known him, that was understandable.

He walked down the side garden and into the courtyard. The pool shimmered blue and inviting, and he tossed around the idea of a swim after dinner. Leaving
the esky next to the barbeque, he turned towards the house and saw Sophie and Imogen on the couch. Smiling, he crossed the deck and walked through the French doors, stating the obvious for no other reason than it felt damn good. ‘I'm home.'

Imogen flew off the couch, her face stained with tears, and threw herself at him, sobbing.

BOOK: The Most Magical Gift of All
11.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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