His Secret Love Child
Cal Jamieson never gets involved. It's why he's a surgeon in isolated Crocodile Creek, why he never wants a family - and why Gina Lopez had to leave him.
Then Gina returns, with the son he didn't know he had. She's only come to tell Cal he's a father, but she's forced to stay when an abandoned baby needs all her medical skills. Can Cal face up to fatherhood? Can he risk losing Gina again? And can he persuade her to stay - this time for good?
THIS old house had seen it all.
He should find somewhere else to live, Cal decided as he sat on the back veranda and gazed out over the moonlit sea. Living in a house filled with young doctors from every corner of the world could sometimes be a riot, but sometimes it was just plain scary.
Like now. Kirsty-the-Intern and Simon-the-Cardiologist had disappeared into the sunset, protesting personal concerns so serious they needed to break their contracts. They'd left a house agog with gossip, two bereft lovers and a hospital that was desperately understaffed.
Crocodile Creek, Remote Rescue Base, for all of far north Queensland, was notoriously short of doctors at the best of times. Two doctors were away on leave, a third had somersaulted his bike last week and was still in traction, and a fourth — unbelievably — had chickenpox. The two doctors who'd left so hastily hadn't considered that when they'd started their hot little...personal concern.
Dammit, Cal thought. Damn them. Now there was a bereft and confused Emily, and Mike, whose pride at least would be dented. Both were wonderful medics and fine friends. In such a confined household even Cal would be called on for comfort, and if there was one thing Dr Callum Jamieson disliked above all else, it was getting involved. All Cal wanted from life was to practise his medicine and commune with his beer.
And not think about Gina.
So why was he thinking of Gina now? It had been five years since he'd seen her. She should be forgotten.
It was just this emotional stuff that was making him maudlin, he thought savagely. The old bush-nursing hospital that now served as Crocodile Creek's doctors' residence seemed to be a constant scene for some sort of emotional drama — and dramas made him think of Gina.
Gina walking away and not looking back. He had to stop thinking of her! Gina had been his one dumb foray into emotional attachment and he was well out of it.
Maybe he should find Mike and play some pool, he thought. That'd clear his head of unwanted memories, it'd stop him swearing at the sea and maybe it'd help Mike.
But there wasn't time. He'd have to take another shift tonight. There might be no surgery to perform, but with the current shortage of doctors Cal could be called on to treat anything from hayfever to snake bite.
That meant he couldn't even have another beer.
Damn Simon. Damn Kirsty, he thought savagely. Their sordid little affair was messing with his life. His friends had loved them and he didn't want his friends to be unhappy. He wanted the Crocodile Creek doctors'house to be as it had been until today — a fun-filled house full of life and laughter, a place to base himself without care while he practised the medicine he loved.
The door opened and Emily, of the now non-existent Simon-and-Emily partnership, was standing behind him, pale-faced and tear-stained. Emily was a highly skilled anaesthetist. He and Emily made a great operating team.
Right now Emily looked about sixteen years old.
He didn't do emotional involvement!
But he moved on the ancient settee to let her sit beside him, and he put an arm around her and he hugged. OK, he didn't do emotional involvement but Emily was a sweetheart.
"Simon's a rat," he told her. "He's not." She hiccuped on a sob. "He'll come back. He and Kirsty aren't really —"
"He and Kirsty are really,'he told her. It wasn't helping anything if she kept deceiving herself. "He really is a rat, and you can't love a rat. Think about the life they lead down there in the sewers. Gross. Come on, Em.You can do better than that."
"Says you," she whispered. "You lost your lady-rat five years ago, and have you done better since Gina left? I don't think so."
"Hey!" He was so startled he almost spilled his beer. How did Em know about Gina? Then he gave an inward groan. How could she not? Everyone knew everything in this dratted house. Sometimes he thought they were even privy to his dreams.
"We're not talking about me," he said, trying to sound neutral. "We're talking about you. You're the one who needs to recover from a broken heart."
"Well, I'm not going to learn from you, then," she wailed. "Five years, and you're still not over it. Charles says you're just as much in love with Gina as you were five years ago, and for me it's just starting. Oh, Cal, I can't bear it."
Gunyamurra. Three hundred miles south. A birth and then...a heartbeat?
No. It was her imagination. There was nothing.
Distressed beyond measure, the girl stared down at the tiny scrap of humanity that should have been her son. Maybe he could have been her son. Given another life.
How could she have hoped this child would live? She was little more than a child herself, so how could she have ever dared to dream? How could she have ever deserved something so wonderful as a baby?
Now what? Living, this child might well have made her life explode into meaning. But now...
It would all go on as before, the girl thought drearily. Somehow.
Her body ached with physical pain and desolate loss. She was weighed down, sinking already back into the thick, grey abyss of the last few months' despair.
She put out a tentative finger and traced the contours of the lifeless face. Her baby.
She had to leave him. There was no use in her staying, and this quiet place of moss and ferns was as good a place as any to say goodbye.
"I wish your father could have seen you," she whispered, and at the thought of what might have been, the tears finally started to flow.
Tears were useless. She had to get back. The cars were leaving. She'd slip into the back seat of the family car and her parents wouldn't even question where she'd been. They wouldn't notice.
Of course they wouldn't notice. Why would they? Her life was nothing.
Her baby was dead.
"There's a baby behind my rock."
Gina closed her eyes in frustration and tried hard not to snap. CJ's need for the toilet was turning into a marathon. The coach left the rodeo grounds in ten minutes and if they missed the coach...
They couldn't miss the coach. Being stranded at Gunyamurra in the heart of Australia's Outback was the stuff of nightmares. "CJ, just do what you need to do and come on out," she ordered, trying hard for a voice with inbuilt authority. It didn't work. Dr Gina Lopez might be a highly qualified cardiolo-gist who worked in a state-of-the-art medical unit back home in the US, but controlling one four-year-old was sometimes beyond her.
CJ was just like his daddy, she thought wearily. Even though those big brown eyes made her heart melt, he was fiercely independent, determined to follow his own road, whatever the cost.
Like now. CJ had taken one look at the portable toilets and dug in his heels.
"I'm not using them. They're horrible."
They were, too, Gina conceded. The Gunyamurra Rodeo had come to an end, the portable toilets had accommodated a couple of hundred beer-swilling patrons and CJ's criticism was definitely valid.
So she'd directed his small person to where the parking lot turned into bushland. Even then she had problems. Her independent four-year-old required privacy.
"Someone will see me." 'Go behind a rock. No one will see." 'OK, but I'm going behind the rock by myself." 'Fine."
And now... "There's a baby behind my rock."
Right. She loved his imagination but this was no time for dreaming.
"CJ, please, hurry," she told him, with another anxious glance across the parking lot where the coach was almost ready to leave. She was too far away to call out, and she hadn't told the driver to wait. If they missed the coach...
Stop panicking, she told herself. It'd come this way. If the worst came to the worst, she could step down into its path and stop it. She might irritate the driver but that was the least of her problems.
She should never have come here, she thought wearily. It had been stupid.
But it had seemed necessary.
Back in the States she'd thought maybe, just maybe she could find the courage to face Cal. Maybe she could find the courage to tell him what he eventually had to know.
But now she was even questioning that need. Was it even fair to tell him?
She'd started out with the best of intentions. She'd arrived at Crocodile Creek late last Thursday and she'd left CJ with her landlady so she could go to find him. The house she'd been directed to was the doctors' quarters — a rambling old house on a bluff overlooking the sea. At dusk it had looked beautiful. The setting should have given her courage.
It hadn't. By the time she'd reached the house, her heart had been in her boots. Then, when no one had answered her knock, things had become even worse.
She'd walked around the side of the house and there he'd been, on the veranda. Cal. The Cal she remembered from all those years, with all her heart.
But he wasn't her Cal. Of course he wasn't. Time had moved on. He hadn't seen her, and then, just as she had been forcing herself to call his name, a young woman had come out of the house to join him.
Gina had stilled, sinking back into the shadows, and a moment later she had been desperately glad she had. Because Cal had taken the woman into his arms. His face had been in her hair, he had whispered softly, and as Gina had stood there, transfixed, the woman's arms had come around Cal's shoulders to embrace him back.
This wasn't passion, Gina thought as she watched them. Maybe if it had seemed like passion she could still have done what she'd intended. But this was more. It was a coming together of two people who needed each other. There was something about the way they held each other that said their relationship was deep and real. The girl's face looked pinched and wan. Cal cupped her chin in his hand and he forced her eyes to meet his, and Gina's heart twisted in a pain so fierce she almost cried out. This girl had found what she never had.
She'd fled. Of course she'd fled. She'd treated Cal so appallingly in the past. Now it seemed that he'd found love. Real love — the sort of love they'd never shared. What right did she have to interfere with him now?
She'd gone back to her hotel, cuddled CJ and tried to regroup, but the more she thought about it the more impossible it seemed. How would Cal's lady react to her appearing on the scene? How could she jeopardise this relationship for him?
She couldn't. CJ had been born in wedlock. Paul was his father and that was the way it had to stay.
But she'd invested so much. She'd come so far. Surely she couldn't simply take the next plane home, though that was what she frantically wanted to do.
She'd promised CJ they'd see Australia. She had to make good that promise.
So she'd made herself wait a few days. She'd booked herself and her young son onto a crocodile hunt — a search by moonlight for the great creatures that inhabited the local estuaries. Thy hadn't found a crocodile but they'd met a real live crocodile hunter and CJ's wide-eyed enjoyment of his stories had helped ease the ache in her heart. They'd taken a tour out to the Great Barrier Reef and had tried not to be disappointed when the weather had been wild and the water cloudy.
Then she'd heard about the Gunyamurra Rodeo. CJ's passion was for horses. There'd been a coach going via the rodeo to the airport, and the last day of the rodeo was a short one, so they'd decided to spend their last morning in Australia here.
CJ had loved it, so maybe it hadn't been a total waste of time, but now the thought of leaving was overwhelmingly appealing. Crocodile Creek was three hundred miles away. She was never going to see Cal again. Their coach was due to leave to take them back to Cairns Airport, and it was over.
All she had to do was get her son from behind his rock. "CJ, hurry." 'I can't do anything here," he told her with exaggerated patience. "There's a baby."
"There's no baby."
CJ's imagination was wonderful, Gina thought ruefully, and at any other time she encouraged it. Her son filled his life with imaginary friends, imaginary animals, rockets, battleships, babies. He saw them everywhere.
Not now. She couldn't indulge him now. "There's not a baby,'she snapped again, and, dignity or not, she peered around CJ's rock.
There was a baby.
For a moment she was too stunned to move. She stood and stared at the place between two rocks — the place where her son was gazing.
This was a birth scene. One fast glance told her that. Someone had lain here and delivered a baby. The grass was crushed and there was blood...