Bride By Accident
Dr Devlin O'Halloran never knew his brother had married. Now his widow, seven months pregnant and stranded in Australia, seems determined to turn Dev's life updside down!
He's intrigued by this beautiful young doctor, but Devlin doesn't believe in happy endings any more, especially under these circumstances. A future for them seems impossible, ridiculous, improbable. Except, against all the odds, lovely vibrant Emma is bringing the joy back into his world...
He was here.
Just as she saw him in her dreams, he was beside her. His face was more deeply tanned than she remembered. Laughter lines were deeply etched at the corners of his eyes.
She couldn’t remember laughter lines.
He had a lovely face, she thought mistily, struggling through the fog of returning consciousness. Strong. Seemingly almost chiselled. His eyes were the same deep, impenetrable grey she’d fallen in love with the moment he’d smiled at her. And his gorgeous mouth. He’d kissed so well, before... before...
The fog receded. He couldn’t be here.
But he was. His eyes weren’t smiling, but she hadn’t expected that. Not any more. She could scarcely remember the time when those eyes hadn’t been clouded in despair.
But something was different. He was looking at her in concern. As if it was possible for him to care.
It was she who should be concerned. She was the one who cared. She’d loved him to despair and back again.
But now, magically, he was here. His hands were gripping hers as he tried to make her focus. She could feel the warmth of him. The strength.
`Corey,’ she murmured but his face didn’t change. Still there was a concern that she didn’t recognise – didn’t understand.
`Is your breathing okay?’ he asked. `Does it hurt to breathe?’
It wasn’t Corey. The voice wasn’t the same. It was deeper. Older?
What cruel joke was this?
She was so confused. She tried to make herself speak, but it was so hard.
`Let me be,’ she murmured. `I’ll be fine, Corey. I’m always fine.’
A voice called then from behind them. It was another voice she didn’t know, loud and male and fearful.
`You’ve gotta come, Doc.’
It was over. The dream was receding as she knew it must. Corey – her Corey – put a hand on her forehead and smoothed her dark curls back from her face.
`Lie still,’ he told her. `Help’s coming.’
It was the sort of disaster every doctor dreaded.
Dr. Devlin O’Halloran rose from the woman he’d been checking and stared around, trying desperately to decide where to go next. The woman was dazed but her breathing was fine, which was all he had time to check. Everything else had to wait.
Triage. Priorities. The problem was there was only one doctor – him – and this disaster may well need a dozen.
This place was so isolated.
Karington National Park , a Queensland paradise where rainforest met sea, was said to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The locals who lived here loved it. Tourists thought it was magic.
But the steep cliffs and high mountains meant that the roads here were treacherous, especially at the end of the rainy season when the roadsides were sodden and liable to crumble. The logging truck had come around the bed too fast. One logging truck with unstable load meeting one school bus with twenty kids on board.
And one tiny, two-seater car with a pregnant driver.
These trucks weren’t supposed to use this route, Dev thought savagely. It might be more direct than the inland road, but it was far more dangerous. By the look of it, the truck had swerved to miss the car. It hadn’t, quite. It had clipped the front, then slammed into the cliff. The logs had been thrown off with force, and they’d rolled down against the school bus. The logs were vast eucalypts from the farmed timberlands north of the National Park. They’d crushed the side of the bus. They’d pushed it sideways off the road.
Toward the sea thirty feet below.
They were desperately lucky that the bus hadn’t slid right down. Now the bus was lying on its side, balanced precariously on the cliff face.
Likely to slide further.
This was chaos.
He couldn’t cope.
Dev had been at a house call only minutes from here when the call came. An emergency transmitter on the bus console - installed because one of the school-kids was a severe asthmatic – was linked directly to Dev’s cell-phone. Jake had obviously hit the transmit button and yelled that he was needed. Nothing else. The transmission had ended before he’d got details. So Dev had headed along the bus route, expecting an asthma attack, swearing at Jake for not telling him more.
And found this.
There was no one but him.
The truck driver was sitting on the roadside, shocked to immobility. Jake, the local bus driver, was staring at the bus as if he couldn’t believe what was happening.
Children were clambering out the back window of the bus – using it as an emergency exit. Someone seemed to be lifting them out from the inside. They were helping each other down.
Jake was useless.
The bus could slide at any minute.
`Jake, will you help get these kids out,’ he snapped. I want everyone off the bus, now.’
Why hadn’t Jake already done it? It had been almost five minutes since he’d called.
There were ten or twelve kids on the verge now, clustered in a shocked, confused huddle.
There were still more on the bus. If it slid...
It mustn’t slide. Not yet.
He was helping the kids down from the back windows now, hauling them out, swinging them down to the roadside, giving each a cursory check as he went. The children were battered, bleeding, crying, but there was no time for comfort. He’d practically fallen over the young woman so he’d checked her first, but getting the kids out had to be the highest priority.
Damn, why hadn’t Jake done this before anything, he thought, as he realised just how precariously the bus was balanced. The man must be more shocked than he thought.
Maybe he was lucky Jake had had the capacity to call him at all.
The kids were still emerging, sliding out into his arms as he lifted them down. Some were crying, but most were so shocked they were simply following instinct. They were from the local primary school - kids aged between six and twelve.
He needed help. He had to get more help.
He had to keep pulling kids out. The bigger ones were out now but someone inside was handing the littlies out to him. The teacher?
`Come on, you can do it. You must.’
Yeah. The teacher. Colin Jeffries. Devlin recognised his voice, giving shaky directions from inside.
`I think... I’ve got all I can,’ Colin called, his voice wavering. `There’s a couple more trapped but I can’t... I can’t... And Jodie’s in real trouble.’
`Okay, come out yourself,’ Dev called.
Colin did, sliding awkwardly backwards out the bus’s back window - the emergency exit that was the only way anyone could get out. Dev moved to help him. In his mid fifties, his suit ripped and spattered with blood, Colin was bleeding profusely from a deep gash on his face, and he was hauling a kid out after him.
`Jodie needs help,’ he told Dev, and he laid Jodie down at Devlin’s feet before sitting – abruptly – himself.
There was blood everywhere. Far too much blood.
Some of it was the school-teacher’s. More than enough to tip him over into unconsciousness, Dev thought grimly.
But the child’s blood was pumping. Triage. Jodie.
`Get some pressure on your head,’ Dev snapped at Colin. `Put both hands against the bleeding and push, hard.’
He was doing the same himself, pressing hard against Jodie’s shoulder. Hell, he had to stop this.
But there was so much need.
There were kids all around him, milling, seeing him as the only authority figure.
`Jake?’ he called but the bus driver didn’t respond. The driver was staring at the bus as if he was seeing something he’d never seen before.
Dev didn’t even have time to shake him back to reality.
Okay. There was only him. He raised his voice as he worked over Jodie. Most of these kids had been his patients for the three years he’d been practicing medicine in the town. He knew their parents from childhood. They knew him.
`Can the oldest... Katy and Marty, that must be you... can you collect the kids together. Sit everyone down well away from the bus. We’ll get your parents here soon. But first, Marty, can you run and get my bag from the back seat of my car? It’s not locked. Run.’
That was all he had time for. He wasn’t looking at the kids. Or at the teacher. This was Jodie – Jodie McKechnie, a tiny ten year old who he knew well, and her situation was desperate.
There was blood pumping from her shoulder. Bright arterial blood.
It had to be a torn artery.
Jake was still standing, immobile. Helpless.
There was no time here for helplessness.
`Jake, grab my phone.’ He gestured to his belt and then as Jake stared at him as if he didn’t know what he was talking about, he yelled. `Jake, grab the phone. Now!’
Jake moved. Trancelike.
There was no time for sympathy. `Call the hospital,’ he snapped. `I want every available person at the hospital out here now. Tell them that. And then help get those kids clear. Colin says there’s still kids on the bus. You have to get them off. You must.’
But that was all he had time for. Jodie. He was losing Jodie.
Hell, he needed pressure. He’d have to clamp blood vessels. He had to stop this bleeding.
There was still chaos around him.
But he could only do what he could manage now. If he didn’t stop the bleeding within minutes then Jodie would be dead.
Marty appeared at his side with his doctor’s bag – already open – and Devlin blessed him.
`Help Katy now,’ he told him.
That was all he had time for. He blocked out the remaining chaos. He had one child to care for.
He had one life in his hands and he could think of nothing else.
Emma lifted her head with extreme caution. What on earth had happened?
Where was she?
She stared around her, stunned. Cautiously she pushed herself to a sitting position, willing the fog to clear so she could finally figure what must have happened.
There’d been a crash. There must have been a crash.
But she couldn’t remember. All she knew was that she was sprawled on the road. She remembered lying still, trying to make her head work, exploring every piece of her body, unable to believe that she was still alive.
Until the voice arrived. The face. She remembered the face.
The face above her had cemented her feeling that she was in some other space. Not here. Not in reality. The face was her husband’s. And Corey was dead.
No. He wasn’t dead. He was here.
Maybe she was dead.
No, she told herself fiercely, trying hard to get a grip on reality.
Corey was dead. She wasn’t.
Someone was snapping orders, fast, harsh. The man she’d thought was Corey?
Someone was crying. A child. It was a thin, fragile sobbing and it helped her haul herself together. It helped ground her.
The fog receded, just a little.
She’d definitely been in a car smash.
This was real.
Somewhere a child was terrified. Did that mean she had to pull herself together and do something about it?
She put her hand to her head and felt, gingerly, all over. Ouch. Okay, she’d been hit on the head and maybe she’d been out to it for a minute or so. But she was okay. She was fine.
She moved her head a little and paused.
Alright, not fine. But she was okay, and okay was all she had to be going on with.
But... this wasn’t just her. She put a hand on her bulge and thought in sudden fierce anxiety; my baby has to be okay, too.
As if in response she felt a kick, for all the world like an indignant reminder that she should take more care of her precious cargo.
`Hey, this wasn’t my fault,’ she told her bulge as she pushed herself up onto knees that were decidedly jelly-like.
She used the car – her mangled car - to haul herself higher. To her feet.
Her car was a wreck. She’d been lucky to get out alive.
She was alive. What next?
The face had said lie still.
How could she?
The child’s sobbing was a trickling stream of fear. What had the professor said at the Kids’ hospital where she’d done her medical internship? If a kid comes through the front door screaming, he can usually be put at the end of the queue. It’s the quiet ones you look at first. Don’t ignore the quiet ones.
Did that mean she could ignore the sobbing?
No. This sobbing wasn’t an hysterical scream. It was a sound of pure terror.
Where was the face? Where was the man who she’d thought was Corey?
What had happened?
She stared around her, growing more appalled by the minute.
There were logs everywhere, vast, bare trunks, each maybe two feet thick and twenty feet long. They were sprawled over the road like bowled nine pins.
A guy – maybe the truck driver? – was retching over on the verge.
Another guy – a little man with a white face and a ripped shirt – was frantically punching numbers into a mobile phone.
Another adult was crouched by the lorry, clutching his head. There was a crimson stain blooming under his hands.
And then there were the children.
One of the children was lying on the road and someone else – another man - the face? – was working frantically over him. Over her? Her. A girl.
The little girl was wearing pink tights, stained crimson. There was a medical bag spread open and she could see the face was trying to attach clamps.
He looked so like Corey, she thought, the fog drifting. If he was Corey then he must be a doctor which would explain...
He wasn’t Corey. He was an unknown doctor working desperately to save a life. She was concussed. She was seeing things.
She wasn’t imagining the blood. There was far too much blood.
She could help. She took a step toward him and then she paused, her medical training slamming in.
No. This wasn’t about one child. She had to figure out priorities.
Somehow she forced her attention from the doctor and his small patient. Her eyes started moving methodically from child to child, assessing as she went.
These kids had all obviously clambered or been lifted from the wreck of the bus. Scratches, lacerations, shock. She did a visual check of each child as much as she could. Looking for desperate need.
Damn, why didn’t her legs want to hold her up?
They had to. They had no choice.
The guy with the bloody head – an older guy in a suit - was looking as if he was in real trouble. He was sitting by the bus as if he’d collapsed there.
Maybe she should go to him first.
His situation didn’t look immediately life threatening.
Assess the whole situation.
The kids were all moving. No one seemed to be unconscious. There was lots of blood, but nothing that looked like uncontrolled bleeding. A couple of children were cradling their arms. There’d be fractures, she thought. Lacerations.
Her eyes moved swiftly from child to child. Nothing too urgent, she thought, moving on.
Okay, go to the guy with the suit and the bloody head, or help the doctor.
Maybe that was where she was needed most. She could help the doctor with the clamps. There was so much blood. He was fighting against the odds.
But still she held back. This whole assessment had taken only seconds. She’d checked the people. Now assess the scene for further danger.
Her training – taking in the whole situation before deciding on action - made her eyes move on. To the bus. It lay precariously on the cliff edge, with logs pushing against it. The doctor must have been moving to the bus to check it, she thought – and then been deflected by a need that was even more urgent. A child bleeding to death.
The bus could slide down.
Was it empty? It had to be empty.
How to check?
She forced her feet walk across to the guy with the phone. Somehow. Her legs so didn’t want to hold her up.
The guy looked as if he was trying to make a phone call. He was punching numbers.
`Is everyone out of the bus?’ she asked.
He turned and stared at her as if he didn’t understand what she was saying. As if she was a voice without a body attached. Then, without answering, he turned back to the phone and started punching numbers again.
Too many numbers. The job was too much for him. His fingers were all over the place. Achieving nothing.
He must be in deep shock.
Who was he trying to ring? Emergency services? Surely someone had rung them.
Here was a priority.
There was no time for gentleness. Emma took a deep breath, told her legs to stay working – she felt as if her body belonged to someone else - and she lifted the phone from the man’s nerveless fingers. She didn’t have time here to treat him with kid gloves. The bus could slide at any minute.
`Is everyone out of the bus?’ she demanded, in a voice that could have been heard interstate in the middle of next week. It wasn’t a voice that could be ignored.
Especially when she was two inches from his face.
But he didn’t respond.
She lowered her voice to threatening.
`You want me to slap you? Answer me. Is the bus empty?’
It worked. Sort of. She’d shocked him out of his stupor, but he was still no use. `N... no,’ he whispered. `I can’t... I don’t know.’
He reached for the phone again, as if that was all he could think of to do.
Maybe he didn’t know whether the bus was empty. Maybe he couldn’t even manage a phone call. Emma took a step back, held onto the phone, punched the emergency code and waited until a female voice responded.
`Emergency. What service do you require?’ The voice was clinically efficient and Emma blessed her for it. Maybe this call had already been made but she was taking no chances.
`All of them,’ she snapped. `A school bus has been crushed by logs two miles north of Karington on the coast road. The bus is threatening to slide off the cliff. This guy will give you details but we need every service now, including cranes to secure the bus. I want ambulances, medics, police, heavy machinery to stop the bus from sliding. There may be kids trapped on the bus. Get out the army if you must, but get help for us now.’
She’d done something at least, which was almost amazing in itself. Her body didn’t feel as if it belonged to her.
But she had to go on. She handed the phone back to the dazed bus driver and instructed her legs to walk forward a bit further. To the bus.
That meant she had to pass the guy on the ground treating the little girl. The doctor.
He didn’t look up. She looked down and saw what he was doing.
So much blood.
He needed help. To apply pressure and clamp arteries himself... he needed someone else.
But the bus could slide.
He was searching desperately searching for blood vessels.
Priorities. Too many children.
She didn’t stop. She couldn’t. Triage. If there were still kids on the bus and it slid...
She couldn’t let herself be deflected.
She’d reached the guy with the bloodied face now – the middle-aged man in a suit. Maybe a school teacher? There was blood streaming from a gash on his forehead and she stooped to see, hauling her jacket off to form a pad as she knelt.
`You were on the bus?’ she asked, pushing the pad hard over his face. `Lie down flat.’ She pushed him down and started pressing. `Is everyone off?’
He groaned. `There’s still a couple... I think.. I’m not sure but there were a couple of children I couldn’t reach. Before... before...’
He wavered. He was suffering from blood loss as well as shock, Emma thought, and he was close to sliding into unconsciousness.
`Stay still,’ she told him again, propelling him backward so he was lying flat. She pushed hard on the pad but she was already looking around to find someone who could take over. It was an ugly gash, deep and ragged, but she had to move on.
The two drivers were useless. Which left only the kids.
He’d have to do this himself.
She guided his hands up to the makeshift pad. `Push down on this and don’t let go,’ she told him. `Push hard.’
It was the best she could do. She straightened – and there was a child beside her. A little girl, who only reached her shoulder. Skinny. Pig tails. Really thick glasses.
`What do you want us to do?’ the girl said, matter of factly, and Emma could have kissed her. The bus driver and the lorry driver were worse than useless. The teacher was too badly injured to help. She had to use this child.
`What’s your name?’ she asked.
`Katy, you’re doing great,’ she told her. `I need a leader and you’re it. Can you organise the big kids to check the little ones. Tell everyone that they need to cuddle anyone who’s hurt. Gently. Lie anyone down who needs to lie down and tell other kids to stay with them. Organise everyone into pairs so that everyone has someone who’s looking after them. If I find anyone else on the bus can I send them out to you?’
`Sure. Me and Marty will look after them,’ Katy said. `Do you want someone to push down on Mr. Jeffries’ pad?’
If there was a medal to hand, Emma would have pinned it on her right then.
`Yes,’ she told her.
`I’ll call Chrissy Martin to look after Mr. Jeffries while I look after the others,’ Katy said. `She reckons she’s going to be a doctor and she doesn’t get sick when anyone bleeds.’
`Are all the kids out of the bus?’ Please....
`There’s two still left,’ Katy told her, and Emma forgot about medals. `Kyle Connor and Suzy Larkin. I was just coming to look for them.’ She looked dubiously at the bus. `You reckon it’s safe to go back inside?’
`I’ll look for you,’ Emma told her, staring with her at the bus with a sinking heart. `You have work to do.’
So did she.
Someone had to climb into the bus.
Kyle and Suzy. Two children. Two children on the bus.
There was sea under the bus. Thirty feet down. What was stopping the bus from sliding into the sea?
She looked back at the rest of the adults, seeing if there was anyone who could possibly help her.
Not the doctor. If he left what he was doing... well, he couldn’t.
The other adults... One sick, one too stunned to be any use at all, one injured.
Not a snowball’s chance in a wildfire of any help from this lot.
She couldn’t ask the kids.
Which left her.
`Don’t slide,’ she told the bus. Stupidly. Inconsequentially. `Don’t you dare slide. I haven’t come all this way to get squashed.’
Squashed wasn’t a good thought and she couldn’t afford to think it. If she hesitated any more she wouldn’t do it. There was no choice.
She reached up, grabbed the top of the window frame and hauled herself up and inside the bus.