The Doctor and the Runaway Heiress
Renowned doctor Riley Chase might have literally rescued heiress Pippa Fotheringham from the sea, but he's definitely no knight in shining armour! As a lone wolf, he's trained his heart to let no one in.
On the run from life under the spotlight - and from a near catastrophic trip down the aisle - nurse Pippa has jetted off on her honeymoon...alone! But her working holiday turns out to be far more exciting than candlelit dinners for one - especially when very real, very unexpected sparks start to fly between her and the man who has vowed he'll never love again…
Dr Riley Chase was bored. It was his third night in a row with no action, and Riley was a man who lived on little sleep. His medico-legal bookwork was up to date. He was on his third coffee. He'd even defeated the crossword.
He was checking his email for the tenth time when his radio crackled to life.
Two messages in twenty seconds. One was announcing the arrival of a daughter he'd never met, the other was a suicide.
It was enough to make a man spill his coffee.
Only the headlines of Britain's gossip magazines were stopping her drowning.
Pippa was surrounded by blackness, by cold and by terror. Any minute now something would attack her legs. Maybe it already had—she could hardly feel anything below her waist. The cold was bone-numbing. She was past exhaustion, and there was only one thing holding her up.
'Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham, heiress to the Fotheringham Fast Food fortune, suicides after jilting.'
She would not give Roger the satisfaction of that headline.
'Are we sure it's suicide?' Riley was staring intently down at the blackened sea, feeling more and more hopeless.
'Jilted bride.' Harry Toomey, pilot for New South Wales North Coast Flight-Aid, was guiding the helicopter through parallel runs from the cliff. Harry, Riley and Cordelia, the team's Flight-Aid nurse, were searching north from Whale Cove's swimming beach. Grim experience told them this would be where a body would be swept.
'Do we have a name?' Riley said through his headset.
'Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham.'
'That's a mouthful.' Their floodlight was sweeping the water's surface, but the sea was choppy, making it hard to see detail. Detail like a body. 'Do we know how long she's been missing?'
'Five hours. Maybe longer.'
'There was a party on the beach that went till late,' Harry said. 'Kids everywhere. When they left, one of the security guys noticed an abandoned bundle of clothes. Plus a purse, complete with ID and a hotel access card. She could have been in the water since dusk, but we're assuming later, when it was good and dark.'
'Five hours is about three hours too long for a happy ending.'
Harry didn't bother replying. The crew knew the facts. The worst part of this job was pulling suicides out of the water. The jumpers were the worst—there was no coming back when you went over cliffs around here—but almost as bad were those who swam out from the beach knowing they couldn't get back. Desperate people. Desperate endings.
'So how do we know she just didn't have a good time at the party?' Riley demanded. 'She could have ended up back in someone else's hotel room.'
But even as Riley suggested it he knew it was unlikely. The police had called them in, and the cops around here knew their stuff.
'Logic,' Harry said, bringing the chopper round for the next pass. 'She's thirty-one, about ten years older than the party kids. She's staying at the Sun-Spa Resort, in the honeymoon suite no less. The cop who went to the hotel found her passport in the safe. She's English, and when he phoned the contact number in London, her parents had hysterics. It seems her wedding went up in smoke and our Phillippa fled to Australia with a broken heart. Alone. She arrived late. She booked into her honeymoon hotel with no wedding ring, no groom, and we can assume a decent dose of jet lag. Lethal combination. She headed for the beach, dumped her clothes and out she swam.'
'He's not worth it,' Riley muttered, feeling worse. Any minute now they'd find her. They usually did.
He was a doctor. He wasn't supposed to do this.
But, yeah, he was, he thought grimly. This was his choice. He, Harry and Cordelia did routine work, clinics in Outback settlements, flying in and out at need, but they also took Search and Rescue shifts. Sometimes it was incredibly satisfying, saving people from their own stupidity. Sometimes, though, like now…
Sometimes it was the pits. Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham.
'Where are you, sweetheart?' After this time he knew they were searching for a body, but it was still incredibly important to find her. The parents could bury her, could grieve, could know exactly what had happened.
'So what was happening when the call came in?' Harry asked.
'What do you mean?'
'you read my email?'
'Of course I did,' Harry said, unabashed. Harry was a highly skilled pilot, good-humoured and big-hearted, but his downside was an insatiable nose for gossip. 'You took thirty seconds to put your gear on, and you didn't supply alternative reading material. So someone called Lucy's coming on Friday and can you please put her up. You going to tell us who Lucy is?'
Riley thought of all the things he could say. Mind your own business. A friend. Nobody important. Maybe it was the grimness of the night, the tragedy playing out beneath the chopper, but in the end he couldn't bring himself to say anything but the truth.
The two words resonated through the headset, sounding… terrifying. He'd never said those words out loud until now. He'd never had reason to say them.
'You're kidding us,' Harry breathed, turning into the next sweep. They were over the cliff now, momentary time out while Harry centred the machine for the next run; checking bearings so they weren't covering sea that had already been searched. 'Our solitary Dr Chase… A daughter! How old?'
'Eighteen!' Riley could almost hear Harry's mental arithmetic. Cordelia was staring at him like he'd grown an extra head, doing maths as well.
'You're, what, thirty-eight?' Harry breathed. 'A daughter, eighteen years back. That's med student territory. Man, you've kept her quiet.'
He had. Mostly because he hadn't known she existed. Three months ago he'd received an email, sent via the Search and Rescue website.
Are you the Dr Riley Chase who knew my mother nineteen years ago?
Names. Dates. Details. A bombshell blasting into his carefully isolated existence.
And then nothing. No matter how desperately he'd tried to make contact, there'd been no word. Until tonight.
I'm arriving on Friday. Could you put me up for a few days?
But he couldn't afford to think about Lucy now. None of them could. The chopper was centred again. He went back to studying the waves, grimly silent, and Harry and Cordelia did the same.
Despite the bombshell Riley had just dropped, every sense was tuned to the sea. Harry was a flippant, carefree bachelor. Cordelia was a sixty-year-old dog breeder with a head cold. Riley was a man who'd just been landed with a daughter. Tonight though, now, they were three sets of eyes with only one focus.
Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham.
'Come on,' Riley muttered into the stillness. 'Give yourself up.'
The floodlight from their little yellow chopper, a Squirrel AS350BA—the best in the business, according to Harry—kept right on sweeping the surface of the night sea.
There was nothing but blackness. Nothing, nothing and nothing.
'Where are you?' Riley asked, but he was talking to himself. Nothing.
There were lights. The mists cleared for a moment—the fog of fear and cold and fatigue—and let her see further than the next wave.
There were floodlights beaming out from the cliffs, but they were so far out of her reach they might as well be on the moon.
She could see a helicopter moving methodically over the water. Was it searching for her? Had someone found her clothes? It was a long way south. Too far. Was it coming closer?
'Just hold on,' she told herself, but her body was starting to shut down.
She couldn't feel her feet at all. She couldn't feel anything. She was treading water. Up and down. Up and down. If she stopped she'd slip under.
A wave slapped her face and made her splutter.
'I will not give Roger the satisfaction,' she muttered, but her mutter was under her breath. To speak was impossible. Her teeth were doing crazy things. She was so cold.
'I will not be a jilted bride. I will not die because of Roger.' It was a mantra, said over and over.
The helicopter turned.
It was still too far south. So far.
'I will not.'
'If it's suicide she'll definitely be dead by now and probably slipping under.'
'We all know that,' Harry said. 'But it doesn't stop us looking.'
'No, but…' Riley was speaking more to himself than to Harry. 'As a last resort let's think sideways.'
The crew hadn't spoken for what seemed hours. They'd swept the expected tidal path and found nothing. Riley's words had tugged Cordelia and Harry out of their intense concentration, but Harry sounded as hopeless as Riley felt.
'I'm thinking,' Riley said.
'So think away. It's gotta be more useful than what we're doing now.'
Riley thought a bit more and then put it in words. 'Okay. If our Phillippa was a normal tourist with no intention to suicide… What time did she get to the hotel?'
'Let's say she's jet lagged, tired and hot. She walks out to the balcony and the sea looks great. She might take an impulsive dip at dusk. Eightish, maybe? The lifesavers would have long gone home, but it's not so dark that the water's lost its appeal. If she got into trouble at dusk, no one might see.'
'The party started on the beach at ten,' Harry said, hopelessness giving way to thought. 'No one noticed the clothes before then. We're working on search parameters based on an entry at ten at the earliest.'
'Sunday night. The beach was busy. One bundle of clothes might well go unnoticed. An entry at eight, she'd be a lot further north by now. And if it was a mistake she'll be fighting.'
'Her mother's sure she's suicidal.'
'How much does your mother know about you?' Riley demanded.
'I'd hate to imagine,' Cordelia retorted—which was a lot of speech for Cordelia. She was quiet at the best of times, but tonight her head cold was making her miserable.
There was a moment's pause while they all thought this through. Then: 'I guess it's worth a shot,' Harry said, and hit the radio. 'Assuming an eight o'clock entry,' he asked Bernie in their control room, 'can you rework the expected position?'
They did two more unsuccessful sweeps before Bernie was back with a location.
'Half a kilometre north and closer to shore,' Harry relayed. 'Let's go.'
It'd be so easy to slip under.
There will be no headlines. Not. She was so tired.
The light. Had it turned? Was it coming?
She was imagining it. Her mind was doing funny, loopy things. The stars, the fluorescence of the waves and the roar of the sea were merging into a cold, menacing dream.
If this light wasn't really in her head she should raise her hand. If she could summon the energy. She could just…
The Squirrel banked and turned almost before Riley barked the word. Harry was good.
So was Riley. His eyes were the best in the business. But still.the water was so choppy. They were in by the cliffs; any closer and they'd be victims themselves.
'Sure?' Harry snapped.
'No. Ten back. Five left. Hover.'
They hovered. The floodlight lit the water. The downdraught caused the water to flatten. There.
'Got it,' Cordelia snapped.
They both had it. And what's more… There was a hand, feebly raised.
'She's alive,' Riley said, and he didn't try to keep the exultation from his voice. 'How about that? Suicide or not, it seems our bride's changed her mind. Hold on, Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham, we're coming.'
The right…the noise… It was all around her. She couldn't think.
She also could no longer make her feet tread water.
A shadow was over her. Someone was yelling.
She was so tired.
Do not slip under. Do not.
Something was sliding into the water beside her. Someone. She was too weak to clutch but she didn't need to. Arms were holding her. Just.holding. Another human.
She was safe. She could let go. She had to let go. She could slip into the darkness and disappear.
'Don't you give up on us now, Phillippa Penelope Fotheringham,' someone growled. 'I've got you.'
She made one last effort. One massive effort because this was really, really important.
'I am not marrying Roger,' she managed. 'My choice, not his. And my name is not Phillippa. I'm Pippa.'