City Surgeon: Small Town Miracle
When Dr. Maggie Croft decided to have her late husband's baby, she never envisaged combining pregnancy with caring for a small-town community! Chasing her dreams seems to have led her to a dead end. But all that changes when she crashes into the sophisticated Dr. Max Ashton, rounding the corner in his Aston Martin.
Max had been heading back to the distraction of city life, but there's something about red-haired, irrepressible Maggie that grabs him and won't let go. Under her warm influence he remembers another time, another Max—before he'd deliberately locked his heart away….
The road was narrow, with a sheer cliff face on one side and a steep fall-away to the sea on the other. The scenery was fantastic, but Dr Max Ashton was in no mood to enjoy the view. He'd had enough of this bucolic setting. He'd had enough of holiday. All he wanted was to get back to Sydney, to work and to solitude.
Which wasn't happening anytime soon. As he nosed his gorgeous, midnight-blue sports coupÃ© around the fourth blind bend since town, a cattle truck veered around from the opposite direction. The small but ancient truck wasn't travelling at speed, and neither was he, but the road was too narrow to let them both pass.
The truck jerked sideways into the cliff-face and the back of the tray swung out to meet him. Collision was inevitable, and collision was what happened.
He wasn't hurt—his car was too well built for that—but it took moments to react to the shock, to see past his inflated airbags to assess the damage.
Mess, he thought grimly, but no smoke. The cab of the truck didn't look badly damaged, and his own car looked bent but not broken. Hopefully this meant nothing but the hassle of a probably uninsured idiot who didn't know enough to keep rust-buckets off the road.
But the accident wasn't over yet. There was a bang, like a minor explosion, and the back of the truck jerked sideways. A tyre had just decided to burst. As he stared out past his airbags, the steel crate on the rear of the truck lurched in sympathy—and didn't stop. It slewed off the truck and crashed sideways down onto the edge of the road.
It was as if a bucket of legs was suddenly upended. A cluster of calves, a soft toffee colour, with huge eyes, white faces and white feet, was tumbling out onto the road. He couldn't count them for sure. They were too entwined.
The tangle of calves, all legs, tails and wide, scared eyes, was scrambling for collective purchase, failing and pushing itself further toward the edge of the cliff. Before Max could react, the calves disappeared from view, and from the cabin of the truck came a woman's frantic scream.
Shock and the airbags had kept him still for all of thirty seconds, but the scream jolted him out of his stupor. He was out of the car before the scream had ended, heading for the cab.
The truck's passenger side was crumpled into the cliff but the driver's side looked okay. As he reached it, the cab door swung open and a woman staggered out. A blur of black and white flashed past her. A collie?
'Stop them,' she yelled, shoving past him as if he wasn't there. 'Bonnie, go. Fetch them back.'
And the black and white blur was gone.
She was bleeding. All he noticed in that first brief glance was a slight figure in faded jeans, blood streaming down her face, but it was enough.
He grabbed her arm as she headed past, and tugged her towards him. She wrenched back, fighting to be free, but she was small enough that he could stop her. He reeled her in against him, an armful of distressed woman intent on following her calves over the edge of the cliff.
'Let me go,' she yelled. 'They're Gran's calves. Stop them.'
In answer he held her tighter. No matter how bad his weekend had been up to now, no matter that this woman had just made it worse, he was feeling a certain obligation to stop her self-destructing.
She was. There was blood oozing from a cut on the side of her head, and she was staggering, as if one of her legs wasn't doing what it was supposed to.
She was also pregnant. Seven months or so. Apart from the pregnancy she looked like a kid, scruffy, dressed in worn jeans, a blood-spattered windcheater and ancient leather boots. What else? He was doing a lightning assessment as she struggled. Her carrot-red hair was tied roughly into two bright plaits. She had a cute snub nose, freckles and wide green eyes, currently filled with fear.
She was hurt. There was no way he could let her chase calves.
'Sit,' he said, and tried to propel her to the edge of the road, but she wasn't about to be propelled.
'Gran's calves.' She was practically weeping. 'She has to see them before… Please, let me go!' She made to shove past him again, but he wasn't moving.
'Not until I see how badly you're injured. You've cut your head.'
She swiped blood from her face with her sleeve and glared up at him, and he was astonished at the strength of her glare. 'It's not arterial,' she gasped. 'If I'm bleeding out then I'm not bleeding in so there's nothing to worry about. I'm not about to drop dead from raised intracranial pressure, so let me go.'
Too focussed to note her unexpected knowledge, Max settled for a calm 'No.'
'Yes.' Then before he could react she kicked out. Her boot hit his shin. Hard.
He was so astounded he let her go, and she was over the cliff like the hounds of hell were after her.
Luckily the cliff wasn't sheer. It was a steep incline, sloping sharply twenty feet down to the beach, so the calves—he could count four now they'd disentangled themselves—hadn't fallen. They looked essentially unhurt, and were heading north along the sand, with the collie tearing after them.
The woman was presumably wanting to tear after them as well, and for a fraction of a second he was tempted to let her go.
That wasn't exactly heroic, he thought ruefully. Neither was it possible. She was battered and torn and pregnant, and she was heading off to rescue calves that he'd been in part responsible for releasing. So he groaned and headed down the cliff after her.
He had no trouble catching up to her, but as he reached her she swiped out at him and kept on going. She lurched as she put weight on what presumably was an injured leg. He grabbed her again—and she kicked him again.
Why was he doing this? Her rust-bucket of a truck had caused this mess. She'd kicked him and her boots packed a painful punch. Women, he thought bitterly. Since his wife's death he'd carefully constructed a solid and impervious armour, and once again his desire to retreat behind it came to the fore. Why worry? She could head off after her calves and her dog, and he could ring a tow truck and wait for her to come to her senses.
But she was bleeding, and she was pregnant.
Personal choice didn't come into this. Doctors didn't sign the Hippocratic oath anymore, but conscience was insidious. Besides, he wasn't at all sure she was bright enough to stop before she passed out from shock or blood loss, and an unconscious woman would complicate his life so much he didn't want to think about it.
So he groaned and headed off again, and snagged her just as she hit the beach. This time he grabbed her by the back of her jeans. She swung back to face him, already lashing out, but he was ready for her. He reeled her in by the waist and swung her up into his arms, tugging her so close she couldn't struggle.
'Let me go. I'll bleed on you,' she snapped, and she had a point. He'd bought this jacket in Italy and he liked it. Ruining it for a woman who didn't have a grain of sense to bless herself with seemed a waste. But it was unavoidable.
'Go right ahead, I'll send you the cleaning bill.'
'Blood doesn't come out of leather.'
'No, it comes out of torn skin, which is why you have to shut up, keep still and let me put something on your head to stop the bleeding.'
'I can fix it myself—when I've got the calves. Do you have any idea how I'm going to tell Gran where her cows are?'
'You could say, “Gran, they're on the beach,”' he said mildly, ignoring her struggles and starting to climb the cliff again. 'Okay, they're important but your dog seems to have their measure. They look unhurt. The cliff gets steeper in either direction so my guess is that they'll stay on the beach until you can organise a muster, or whatever you do with cows. Meanwhile my car's in the middle of the road on a blind bend, blocking traffic, and I don't want what's left of it squashed.'
She glared up at him. 'That's a bit inequitable,' she said, and suddenly he saw a hint of humour in her wide eyes. 'What about my truck?'
'I'll save your truck too,' he growled. 'If you'll let me.'
'Thank you,' she said meekly, and abruptly subsided.
He climbed back up to the road, suddenly aware that his own knees weren't too steady. The airbags had kept him safe but shock was setting in. Plus he'd been kicked.
Almost as he thought it he felt an answering tremor in her body. She wasn't as feisty as she was making out, he thought. Or she was hurting more than she'd admit.
Or maybe she was feeling guilty.
'I'm sorry I kicked you,' she said, and to his surprise she put her arms around his neck to hang on. It kept them both steadier as they climbed. It felt okay, too. His knees didn't shake as much when she held him. 'It might have been a little inappropriate,' she conceded. 'Especially since I think the accident was my fault.'
'I'm sure it was your fault.'
'That's not very gracious.' She pushed her hair back from her face—her braids were working loose—then looked at her hand in disgust. She shrugged and put it back round his neck. 'Gross. Look, okay, I overreacted. Yes, I'm bleeding, so maybe you could lend me something to make a bandage. But then I need to go back down to the beach so I can take care of the calves. Maybe you could drive to my farm and ask Gran to send Angus?'
'How far's the farm?'
'Angus will rescue you?'
'Angus will rescue the calves.'
'Sorry,' he said, setting her down on the verge. 'I don't know what fairy-tales you've been reading, but in the ones I read heroes don't put calves before fair maidens.'
'I'm not exactly fair,' she retorted. 'I'm red.'
'So I've noticed.' But she was wilting, he thought, and it worried him. 'So let's stop you getting redder.'
Before she could protest he tugged off his bloodstained jacket, grabbed the sleeve of his very classy shirt—bought in Italy at the same time as his jacket—and ripped it from the shoulder. He folded the linen into a pad, placed it over her forehead and applied pressure.
'That was a very nice shirt,' she said, sounding subdued.
'I'll send you a bill.'
'Do heroes say stuff like that?'
'I believe I just did,' he said, and grinned, and she managed a smile back. Whoa.
She was older than he'd thought—and she was a lot more attractive. Compellingly attractive, in fact.
Her smile was just plain gorgeous.
'I can do that,' she said, and put her hands up, grabbed his shirt-pad and pressed.
As well as being attractive, she was also a lot less stupid than he'd first thought, he conceded. She'd talked about raised intracranial pressure. Did she have medical training?
No matter. She was in no state to practise any medicine right now, and he had no time to concentrate on her smile.
Her head was okay for the moment. But he stood and looked down at her and thought, There's more here than scratches. She was trying to make light of her injuries, but he recognised pain when he saw it.
She'd been limping. One knee of her jeans was shredded and bloodstained, though not nearly as dramatically as her face. Still…
He bent, carefully took the torn part of the leg of her jeans in both hands and ripped it to the ankle.
How had she managed to climb down the cliff? How had she stood up at all?
She'd cut her knee—it was bleeding sluggishly—but that was only part of it. Already it had swollen to almost twice its size. There was a massive haematoma building behind.
'Yikes,' she whispered, pushing herself up onher elbows to look. 'Why did you do that? It was better when I couldn't see.'
'Let's get it elevated,' he said, and mentally wished his jacket farewell. He folded it then wedged it under her bloodied knee. A spare tyre had spilled from the cattle crate. He put that under her feet, so her legs were raised on an incline as well.
She needed X-rays. Both leg and head, he thought. No matter what she said, he wasn't about to let her die of an intra-cranial bleed just because she was stubborn. And there was also the biggie. The baby might have suffered a blow, and even if it was okay the impact could cause problems with the placenta. She needed an ultrasound, and bed-rest and observation.
Her baby needed attention. That meant he needed to hand her over and get away. Fast.
'We need an ambulance,' he told her, tugging his cellphone from his pocket. 'You need X-rays.'
'You can give that up as a joke,' she said wearily. 'Even if there was reception out here—which there isn't—you're looking at Yandilagong's only ambulance right here.'
'It's not usually the truck. I have a decent-sized estate wagon, only it blew the radiator hose this morning.'
'What are you talking about?'
'My truck's the local ambulance until I can get a new radiator hose,' she said patiently, as if talking to someone who wasn't very bright. 'And there's not one to be had locally for love or money. I'll get one from Gosland tomorrow—if I can leave Gran for that long.'
'There's no ambulance?' He didn't have time for the extra information she was throwing at him. He needed to ignore what wasn't making sense and concentrate on essentials. 'Why not?'
'You try attracting medical staff or funding for decent equipment to a place as remote as this,' she said bitterly. 'This weekend there'll be a couple of first-aiders with the music festival, but that's all the help I have. If I can't get an ambulance from other areas then I use my own vehicle to take patients to Gosland. That's our nearest hospital, about an hour away. There's basic stuff here, like an X-ray machine, but that's in town, and getting through the crush of the festival isn't going to happen. But it doesn't matter,' she said resolutely. 'I'd like to check my baby's heartbeat but I'm sure I'm fine. I just need to get home to Gran. It's Gran who's the emergency and she doesn't need an ambulance. She needs me.'
Was she some kind of volunteer paramedic? This was sounding crazier and crazier.
He turned away and surreptitiously checked his phone. Sure enough, no reception. Okay, he conceded. No ambulance.
'What's your name?' he asked, trying to figure where to start.
'Maggie. We're wasting time.'
'How pregnant are you?'
'Thirty-two weeks.'And all of a sudden there was a quaver in her voice. 'He's okay.'