Authors: Serenity Woods
The Perfect Gift
Three Wise Men Book 1
by Serenity Woods
Copyright 2015 Serenity Woods
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is coincidental.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
It was early December, supposedly the start of summer in New Zealand, but clouds had covered the sky for weeks, and spring still gripped the country with cold, gray fingers.
Brock’s waterfront apartment was as dark, cool, and unwelcoming as a mortuary. He dropped his keys onto the table by the door and stood with hands on hips for a moment, hanging his head.
Two years ago, he would have been walking into his house on the outskirts of Auckland. He could still picture it—the living room glowing with Christmas lights, Fleur in the kitchen, making mince pies and singing carols, his dog curled up in his basket, soaking up the last dregs of sunlight.
Jeez, how much life could change in twenty-four months. His wife had finally succumbed to the cancer that had tortured her for years, and then—shortly afterward, as if from a broken heart—his dog had also died.
Brock was left with a depressing apartment, a cold bed, and the prospect of a microwave meal to look forward to.
Life truly sucked.
He blew out a breath and massaged the bridge of his nose. He’d fought against the despair that had threatened to overwhelm him for two years, but it continued to cling to him, like a piece of plastic wrap he couldn’t shake off no matter how hard he tried.
Dispiritedly, he walked across to the large windows overlooking the City of Sails. On a Saturday night, the waterfront was always busy, and tonight so near to Christmas was no exception, the streets of Princes Wharf filled with couples and groups on their way out for the evening. Reflections of the red, gold, and blue lights from the restaurants and clubs shimmered on the water like sequins. Half of him wanted to go down and join the throng of partygoers, force himself to shake off his depression. The other half wanted never to set foot out of his apartment again.
Of all nights, he supposed, the anniversary of his wife’s death would be the most likely to break through the iron barrier he’d erected around his heart and emotions. As he wasn’t on call, he was going to allow himself the luxury of a fair portion of a bottle of Islay malt whisky and some melancholic playing of his guitar before he passed out on the sofa. But he wouldn’t succumb to his grief completely. Fleur wouldn’t have wanted him to. For that reason, if nothing else, he wouldn’t give in.
So he switched on a few lamps throughout the apartment to give it a warm glow, changed out of his suit into a sweatshirt and a pair of tracksuit bottoms, put some folksy jazz on his iPod, and stared into the fridge for a whole minute as he decided what to have for dinner.
His heart told him to cook something healthy, while his tired brain demanded he stick a frozen ready meal in the microwave. He compromised by taking out of the freezer a portion of spaghetti Bolognese he’d made a few weeks ago, and reheating it. While he waited for the microwave to ping, he tipped half a bag of prepared salad onto the plate and poured a glass of red wine. After adding the pasta to the plate when it was done, he took it and the glass to his favorite chair by the window.
For a while he just ate, looking down at the lights and the people, letting his mind and body settle after his busy day. The Bolognese wasn’t bad and the wine warmed him through, and he began to relax for the first time that day as the alcohol threaded through his veins.
After a while, he leaned forward and picked up his laptop from the table, balanced it on the arm of the chair, and opened it up.
As chief consultant pediatrician at Auckland Hospital, he always had a batch of emails waiting in his inbox, but as he scanned through the twenty or so messages currently sitting there unread, he decided they could all wait until the next day.
Shoveling another forkful of spaghetti into his mouth, he paused the cursor over the icon of a crown on his desktop. He debated whether to load up the forum for We Three Kings, the charity side of the business he ran with his brothers making medical equipment for children. The website had online forums and chat rooms for concerned parents to talk to each other about their sick kids. They could also ask questions of the group of doctors who volunteered spare time to help out. Barely a day went by when Brock didn’t go on there, but he wasn’t sure he had the energy tonight.
At that moment, a message popped up on Skype.
Yo bro. Wassup?
His lips curving, Brock clicked the call button and waited for his brother to answer. The button went green, and Charlie King’s face appeared on the screen. As always, he wore an All Blacks rugby top, and his longish hair looked as if he hadn’t brushed it in a week. Which, knowing Charlie, he probably hadn’t.
“‘Yo bro, wassup?’” Brock quoted. “You sound like a parent singing along to his son’s rap music.”
“I was trying to sound cool,” Charlie said, taking off his glasses to clean them.
“It didn’t work.”
Charlie slid his glasses back on. “There’s always a first time.”
Brock gave a short laugh. Their upper class English mother had been determined her boys would speak “properly.” As a result, although they all had a hint of a Kiwi accent, their diction was more refined than rough. Add the fact that Charlie had no interest in anything to do with popular culture and didn’t even own a TV, and it made the notion of him sounding cool amusing to say the least. Luckily, Brock thought, his brother had about forty-five IQ points on most people, otherwise he would have been a hopeless case.
Charlie took a swig from the bottle of beer in his hand. “What are you up to?”
“About to down half a bottle of a forty-year-old Laphroaig.”
Charlie snorted and opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment Skype pinged again showing another caller. “Hold on,” Brock said, “I’ll add Matt to the call.”
Another window popped up with their younger brother’s face. “Evening,” Matt said. His hair also looked as if he’d just rolled out of bed, but Brock knew it would have taken his brother thirty minutes to achieve the same look of casual indifference that Charlie managed with no work at all.
“I’m about to convince Brock to save his forty-year-old Laphroaig until we meet up,” Charlie told him. “He said he’s going to down it himself tonight, but after the first two glasses he won’t remember the rest and it’ll be a waste.”
“Damned straight,” Matt said. “Stick to the ten-year-old and save the forty for Christmas Eve.”
Brock grinned. “Fair enough.” Their father had instilled in them all a love for a good Scotch. Brock was hosting a party on Christmas Eve in a vain attempt to encourage some Christmas spirit in himself, and he guessed it was as good a night as any to share the whisky with his brothers.
“So how’s it going?” Matt settled back, sketchpad in hand, and began to doodle as they talked.
Brock shrugged. “Only just got in.” He checked the clock in the corner of the screen and his eyebrows rose. Ten p.m.? He hadn’t realized it was quite that late. No wonder he was hungry.
“That’s late even for you,” Charlie commented.
“There was a case in emergency that took a while to sort, and then I had to hand over to the night staff.” Because he specialized in respiratory diseases, the emergency staff called Brock whenever children came in with breathing difficulties. Kids always seemed to get sicker in the evenings, so it wasn’t unknown for him to be there until well after dark.
“What are you doing now?” Charlie asked.
“Talking to you.”
Matt gave a wry smile while Charlie rolled his eyes and said, “I meant what are you going to do after you hang up?”
“I told you—down half a bottle of whisky and pass out on the sofa. I’m not on call tonight.”
Charlie ran his hand through his hair, and Matt scratched his cheek with his pencil.
Brock smiled. They were concerned about him but didn’t know what to say. “It’s all right, guys, I’m okay. Yeah, it’s a crappy day, but I’ll get through it.” He decided to change the subject before he started sniveling. “Hey, Charlie, what’s this about Ophelia resigning?”
His brother’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You didn’t know?”
“No, I didn’t know. Who told you?”
“One of the nurses. She gave her notice yesterday. She’ll be leaving in the New Year.”
Ophelia Clark was in charge of
Te Karere Hauora
, the department that connected the hospital with the local community, including the volunteers who ran the hospital radio. Brock had a sneaky feeling that Charlie had a thing for her, which was confirmed by the shocked look on Charlie’s face.
“Why’s she leaving?” Brock asked him.
“I’ve no idea.”
“I thought you two talked.”
“We meet at the breakfast cart in the morning. Job satisfaction doesn’t tend to feature when you’re discussing whether to have a blueberry muffin or a bagel.”
“I thought you liked her,” Matt said.
“Have you asked her out?”
“Because she’s married,” Charlie stated.
“Not anymore. They separated about six months ago.”
Charlie’s eyebrows rose so fast that Brock had to hide a smile. “What? How did I not know that?” Charlie asked.
“Everyone was talking about it,” Matt said. “I assumed you knew.”
“Is Summer okay?” Charlie was referring to Ophelia’s daughter, who was also Brock’s patient. The six-year-old girl suffered from Cystic Fibrosis and came into the hospital for intravenous antibiotics and other treatment from time to time.
“She’s living with Ophelia, I think,” Matt said. “I have a feeling she might have jacked the job in so she can focus more on her daughter.”
They were all silent for a moment. Brock himself had given Ophelia all the platitudes after he’d diagnosed Summer—the medical world was progressing all the time, new cures were always being invented, survival rates had quadrupled over the last century… But Matt and Charlie were as aware as he was that the average life expectancy of CF sufferers was only between thirty-seven and fifty in the developed world.
He was hopeful that medical research would continue to advance that figure, though. Charlie had recently requested extra funding from Three Wise Men for a new research project into CF, which Brock had been certain had something to do with Ophelia and her daughter.
“Ask her to the party,” Brock said.
Matt snorted. “It would mean having a conversation with a woman that wasn’t about muffins. Charlie doesn’t do conversation about real stuff.”
“Damn straight,” Charlie said.
Brock rolled his eyes. “You’re six-foot-four, smart, mildly amusing, and rich as Croesus. How come you’re so bad with women?”
The other two laughed. “Ask her,” Matt said with more kindness than he usually had in his voice. “What have you got to lose?”
Charlie blew out a breath. “Good point.”
Brock chuckled and promised himself he’d call Charlie in the morning to talk him into it. “What about you?” He directed the question at Matt. “Are you bringing anyone?”
Matt’s expression turned gloomy. “Probably not.”
“Georgia still resistant to your advances?” Brock knew Matt had his eye on the girl who ran the Northland office of their business.
“I don’t know about resistant—more like immune. I’ve tried everything.”
“I didn’t know there was such a thing as a woman who was impervious to your charms,” Charlie said.
Matt scratched his cheek. “Neither did I.” Of the three of them, Matt was the only one who could have been considered a womanizer, and his girlfriends rarely lasted longer than a few months before he got bored and broke up with them. He’d been after Georgia for ages, but Brock wasn’t sure whether he was truly crazy about her, or if he only wanted her because he couldn’t have her.
“Have you asked her to the party?” Brock queried.
“What did she say?”
Brock grinned. “Keep trying.” He sighed. “I thought it would be reassuring to know I won’t be the only sad loser this Christmas, but it makes me kinda sad.”
Charlie cleared his throat. “Have you been on the forums this evening?”
“Not yet. Not sure if I have the energy.”
“You should,” Matt said. “Ryan’s in hospital again.”
Brock placed his plate on the nearby table with a clatter and sat up. “Erin’s boy? Shit. What happened?”
“Another asthma attack. Don’t know much more than that—she left a brief message on the asthma thread. I think she was looking for you.”
“Fuck.” Brock leaned back and frowned. About a year ago, he’d started talking to a young mum called Erin on one of the forums. Her son had been hospitalized after having an asthma attack, and she’d wanted to tell them that the revolutionary inhaler they’d developed had saved Ryan’s life.
Through Three Wise Men, the guys developed medical equipment designed with babies and young children in mind. Charlie had invented a more effective asthma inhaler with Brock’s help, and they’d decorated it with the Ward Seven characters from Matt’s series of children’s books. It had proved so popular that Charlie and Brock had since invented a whole range of medical equipment featuring Ward Seven toys, such as tiny animals that could be clipped onto pulse oximeters to encourage the children to sit still while they were being monitored.