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Authors: Alison Roberts

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BOOK: Wishing for a Miracle
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‘We got the call about 2 p.m.,' she told her sister. ‘And when we spotted the target, I really couldn't believe what I was seeing…'

CHAPTER FOUR

T
HANK
heaven for uniforms!

If she didn't have a uniform to put on, Julia might have had the entire contents of her admittedly meagre wardrobe strewn over her bed this morning, thanks to a bad dose of what could only be described as ‘first date' nerves.

She hadn't seen Mac for two days.

Two days of worrying about how it would be when they saw each other for the first time in the wake of
that
kiss.

Two nights of reliving said kiss and her imagination hadn't held back in exploring what might have happened if they'd been somewhere other than an open car park. Or if she hadn't pulled away and then done her best to dismiss the moment by cracking a stupid joke about it.

The night time was manageable. Private. A guilty but irresistible pleasure.

It was the day time workings of her overactive imagination that was causing the nerves. So many scenarios had presented themselves. The worst was an awkward coolness between herself and Mac that everyone would
notice and would make working together a misery instead of a joy.

At the other end of the spectrum, she could imagine an escalation of attraction which drew them together like human magnets. And that would probably have exactly the same effect due to the kind of tension it would create.

The best she could hope for was something in the middle. A return to the status quo but with a connection that had been deepened. A step towards a genuine friendship perhaps.

That
was what Julia really wanted.

‘Who are you trying to kid?' she muttered at her reflection, pausing in disgust as she realised what she was about to do.

In disgust, she threw the mascara wand back into the drawer. Make-up was an occasional indulgence and only ever used for a night out. Never for work. What
was
she thinking?

As if she didn't know!

‘Focus,' she ordered herself, tucking the black T-shirt with the red SERT insignia into her black trousers.

‘On your career,' she specified, lacing up her steel-capped black boots. ‘Like Anne does. It's all you need to do.'

She tied the knots in the laces tightly. ‘You're going to be the best you possibly can be in a job you absolutely love,' she said aloud.

The determined talk to herself was helpful. It worked right through the fifteen-minute drive from the farm cottage she was leasing and got her through parking
close to that big, black vehicle and the stone wall that marked the spot where the kiss had happened.

The flashback was so powerful she actually raised her hand to touch her lips, convinced she could feel the pressure of his all over again. Impossible not to push that mental rewind button as she had so many times already. Back to before the kiss had happened. To that delicious
waiting
. Knowing what was about to happen and experiencing a more intense anticipation than she would have believed anything could engender.

Julia tore her gaze away from the wall. She could stop doing this. Stop thinking about it. She couldn't stop that odd kick in her gut, though, or the tingles that shot out from it to spread throughout her entire body but she could—and did—ignore their significance. It was nothing more than a physical thing. She could deal with this.

At least, she could until she walked into the messroom and saw what it was that she
really
wanted, standing there beside the bench, making coffee.

Mac.

Tall. Solid. Julia eyed his back cautiously, hoping like hell he wouldn't turn around until she got her errant mind—and body—back under control.

He's not even that good looking, she thought somewhat desperately. He's…rugged. His nose and mouth are a bit big and he's got that odd dimple in the middle of his chin. And he looks older than he is. Kind of weathered.

And he's got some other woman he cares about. One with long, blonde hair.

Yes. Maybe this was the track to take. It certainly felt like a splash of cold water. Julia poked her fingers through her own hair, making the spikes more prominent.

A pixie cut, the hairdresser had promised, but it looked more like a hedgehog now that it had grown out a little. Appropriate, really, given her short, little legs.

That blonde woman was probably tall. And beautiful.

And that was fine, because she wasn't interested in Mac as anything other than a colleague.

Oh, Lord. This was going to be every bit as dreadful as she'd feared. That kiss had unleashed something that had to be chained up again. Currently it felt like something far too wild to even begin trying to handle. It was too hard to move her feet and take the first step in any attempt. Her heart was thumping and her stomach was tying itself into a painful knot.

And then Mac turned his head. ‘Hey, Jules. Want a coffee?'

It was exactly what he would have said last week. In exactly the same kind of tone. The knot inside began to melt and Julia's heart gave a peculiar kind of wiggle and then settled into a steady rhythm she could ignore. It was going to be OK.

She nodded. ‘Yes, please.'

And here it was. The first challenge. Eye contact that would be far too easy to maintain and allow to continue long enough to be significant. To send messages that Julia had no intention of transmitting. But Mac's glance only brushed hers. Just a whisper of contact. The kind you might make with a complete stranger.

It should have been reassuring.

It certainly shouldn't feel like a physical shove to push her away and even if it did, it shouldn't feel this disappointing.

The Sunday papers were still scattered all over the big table in the kitchen area. Julia made an effort and shifted her focus.

‘They took some great pictures, didn't they? I love that one of you and Carla being winched up. You should contact the paper and see if you can get a copy.'

‘The TV footage was even better.' Mac came towards her, carrying two steaming mugs. He put one in front of Julia and then sat down. ‘They caught you climbing into the carriage. Did you see it?'

‘No.' Julia was happy to follow Mac's example and sit down. Maybe she could relax all those tense muscles now because Mac sounded completely normal. As though the kiss had never happened. Her smile was rueful. ‘I think my sister did, though. She's planning my obituary in case I don't make it back home.'

Mac smiled. Just one of those crooked, half-smiles he was so good at but Julia was aware of that melting sensation inside again. She reached for her mug and cupped her hands around it as though needing the comfort of its warmth.

‘I heard you telling Ken about her. She sounds pretty special.'

Julia risked an upward glance. This was different. A conversation about something personal? But Mac's expression was simply interested. She couldn't read anything more into this step onto new territory.

She shrugged. ‘Yeah…probably not the done thing to share one's life history with a patient but he needed distraction.'

Mac was pulling a section of the newspaper closer, signalling that the personal conversation was over, but then Julia was surprised again.

‘Not many people get raised by a sibling,' he said.

‘No. She's an amazing person.' Julia was happy to talk about this. This was exactly the kind of conversations that colleagues on the way to being friends could have. ‘She was only six and I was a baby when Mum died but Dad always said she grew up overnight and turned into a mother instead of a sister. When she wasn't at school she had to be the one looking after me, and woe betide any nanny who tried to interfere.'

Mac raised an eyebrow. ‘Determination is a family trait, then?'

‘Yeah…' Was that a compliment of some kind? Way too hard to tell and why on earth was she bothered, anyway? She really, really didn't want this kind of emotional roller-coaster going on in her head.

She could ignore it and it would go away. Julia concentrated on her coffee for the short silence that followed. In the normal run of things, they might have a brief conversation but then they'd probably look at the papers while they finished their drinks. Or discuss what the day might bring. There was no one else on station at the moment, which meant the road crews were busy. If there were no callouts for the specialist crews they could be used to help cover other work.

Julia was hoping that the silence was only feeling
awkward for herself but Mac's abrupt question advertised otherwise.

‘She's a doctor? Your sister?'

‘A paediatric cardiothoracic surgical registrar, no less.'

‘That's extremely impressive.'

‘Sure is. I'm very proud of her.'

‘But you weren't tempted to go to med school yourself?'

‘Tempted, yes. But then I thought about being confined in an ED or a theatre or a general practice and I got cabin fever.'

‘You wanted adventure.'

‘Yeah.'

‘A bit of danger.'

‘Too right!'

‘No two jobs the same.'

‘You got it.' They were both smiling now. Of course Mac got it. They shared a passion for this work and it was a connection far too strong to ignore.

We're talking about
work
, Julia reminded herself.
That's
the connection. We're colleagues.

So why did it feel like something else entirely? That rapid-fire exchange seemed to have derailed them both and led them straight back to where they'd been…the moment before that kiss.

Mac's smile faded and he looked away. ‘I'm not surprised she worries about you. She's still being a mother, isn't she?'

‘Kind of.' Julia sucked in a breath, pushing this man and her reactions to him out of her head. Trying to concentrate and think about her sister, instead. It was a com
plicated relationship that had undergone a huge change as she'd left her teens. A rough couple of years, those had been, what with the diagnosis of early endometrial cancer, the surgery and the grief that had accompanied her recuperation with such a huge adjustment needed in what she had envisaged as her future. ‘She's like a mother and a sister and a best friend all rolled into one, I guess.'

Mac was silent for a heartbeat. ‘You must miss her.'

‘I do.'

He cleared his throat. ‘Guess you'll be looking forward to getting home, then.'

And there it was. Challenge number two. Had Mac intended any significance behind those words? If she said she couldn't wait to get back to the other side of the world, she could ensure that any thoughts he might have of following up on that kiss would be buried because she would really be saying she wasn't interested in him.

The split second of identifying that significance was enough of a hesitation. Mac stood up and took his mug back to the sink to rinse it. The question morphed into a statement and left the clear impression that the fact she was looking forward to leaving was acceptable.

A relief, even?

 

He could do this.

That pesky part of Mac's brain that was attached to something much lower on his body just needed a bit more squashing and it would fit neatly into a box that could be locked and then ignored.

He'd managed well so far today, apart from that tiny prod he hadn't been able to resist this morning, asking
if Julia was looking forward to getting home. Alert for a flicker of something other than the impression she was trying very hard to pretend that kiss had never happened. Testing her. Or testing himself?

Whatever. They had both passed.

They'd tidied and restocked the back of the helicopter and then their kits but all they'd discussed had been things like the strength of disinfectant to use or the fact that they were low on IV supplies and morphine. It hadn't helped that the busy start to the day for the road crew had become an unusually quiet day and, once he and Julia had moved inside to do the kits, they were hanging around, keen to hear as much inside detail as they could about the train-crash scene.

‘So how did you tackle the fractured femur?'

‘Usual protocol,' Julia responded as she pulled pockets of the back packs open and laid out their contents to see what was missing. ‘Oxygen, fluids, pain relief and a traction splint. Just the same as you'd be doing.'

‘Bit different, hanging in mid-air with a vertical aisle! Must have been hellishly awkward.'

‘Jules can work anywhere,' Mac told them. ‘She's like a cross between a contortionist and…'

He had to think of something that could describe both her level of endurance and the way she could use her body. Impossible not to let his gaze rest on that body for a moment as he tried to come up with that word. No overalls right now. She was wearing the team T-shirt and it hugged the curves of her upper body. Her arms were bare and he could see the definition of her muscles. She was as fit as he was. If he touched her
upper arm, it would be firm. Those curves on the front of her T-shirt wouldn't be firm, though, would they? They'd be… Oh,
God
! Desire seeped out of that mental box, that wasn't secure enough yet, to tackle him like a solid force. He hurriedly shifted his gaze back to that defined biceps.

‘A weightlifter,' he supplied.

Nobody had noticed his hesitation. Julia was wrinkling her nose at him.

‘Gee, thanks, mate,' she huffed. ‘You make me sound like some kind of muscle-bound circus act.'

Mac grinned. And then quirked an eyebrow, keeping his tone very casual. ‘I only meant that you're supple. And strong. It was a compliment.'

‘Oh-h-h.' The look Julia gave their audience said that this was a one-off, getting a compliment. The look she flashed in Mac's direction said something rather different. There was almost a question there—as though she was puzzled by something.

That kiss was still there. Hanging in the air between them.

‘Not that strong,' she said in a tone as offhand as his had been. ‘I couldn't have got her onto that stretcher without you, let alone up and out of the carriage.'

BOOK: Wishing for a Miracle
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