Authors: Sue MacKay
There it was. As clear as an autumn sky.
Her stomach clenched, squeezed, made her catch her breath. How could she not have known her own feelings? Love was a huge emotion. She should have been aware of it, should have felt it in her bones, in the very air she breathed.
What now? She loved this wonderful, caring man, and on Saturday she’d have to walk away from him. Again. She couldn’t do it.
Hanmer Springs is a beautiful alpine village set north of Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island. The hot pools that feature in these pages are a well-known tourist attraction and, for me, very soothing for sore muscles after enduring a gruelling mountain bike race in the region.
I have family living in Hanmer Springs, and on one of my visits there the idea of snow-covered mountains and warm pools intertwined with a love story began to grow. There are many community-minded people living there who have snuck into the background of my story. It is the perfect locale for a specialist children’s hospital.
Tom and Fiona are city-dwellers who have both learned to appreciate life away from high-rise buildings and a fast pace of living. But the journey hasn’t been easy for either of them, and there is still a long way to go. The past looms large between them, and in Hanmer Springs they find the courage to deal with it. Only then are they able to move forward to the future together they both desired when they were first married eight years earlier.
I hope you enjoy Tom and Fiona’s story.
With a background working in medical laboratories, and a love of the romance genre, it is no surprise that
writes medical romance stories. An avid reader all her life, she wrote her first story at age eight—about a prince, of course. She lives with her husband in beautiful Marlborough Sounds, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, where she can indulge her passions for the outdoors, the sea and cycling. She is currently training as a volunteer ambulance officer.
For Lindsay and Hannah. Your unfailing support has been awesome.
shivered. It wasn’t the unfamiliar ice and snow covering the tiny Hanmer Springs airstrip that sent a chill down her spine, but the battered four-wheel drive approaching along the grass runway. More particularly, the driver of the vehicle.
She leaned back against the Cessna for support. Heaven knew she needed it. Her legs were quivering.
Oh, for goodness’ sake, get a grip. You’ve had ten days to be ready for this.
Her mouth dried. No amount of preparation could have stopped the butterflies now batting around in her stomach. It had been six long, distressing years since she’d last seen Tom.
At least try to look calm.
She shoved her shaking hands in her jacket pockets and crossed her ankles. An old pose Tom would recognise as nonchalance. She hoped.
A car skidded to a halt five metres from the tail of the plane and the door cracked open. Fiona’s eyes were fixed on the space behind that door, watching the man straightening up as he stepped down on to the ice-encrusted grass.
The ground rolled under her feet. Her shoulderblades dug into the metal body behind her. Tom looked so—good. So Tom. Lean and tall, strong and loose-limbed, tanned. The door slammed shut, giving her a bigger picture. He was dressed in his usual butt-hugging jeans and open-necked shirt, with
the addition of a thick ski jacket. His unruly black curls had fallen prey to a very short cut. Those steely grey eyes held the same alluring temptation she’d once fallen in love with, despite the way they now appeared hard and uncompromising as they focused on her.
A breath trickled through her dry lips. No turning back now. She pushed away from the fuselage and stepped out to face him. ‘Hello, Tom. It’s good to see you.’ If ever there was an understatement that was it. ‘I’m glad you came to pick me up and not one of your staff.’
He held her gaze, just for a moment, the tension electric between them. ‘Fiona, it’s great to see you, too.’ He strode across the gap separating them and placed his arms around her in a brief, barely squeezing hug.
She gasped. He smelt the same. That freshly shaven male scent that seemed peculiar to Tom. She jerked away, striving for control over her highly sharpened senses.
‘It’s been a long while,’ he said.
A mental shake and she managed a reply. ‘Yes, and I hear you’ve been busy in that time. Your own specialist children’s hospital, no less.’
‘We have got a bit to catch up on, haven’t we?’ He stepped back. ‘How was the flight down from Auckland?’
‘Moderately turbulent over the Cook Strait and the South Island. There’s a storm on the way, due to hit this area late tonight.’
‘So I saw on the weather channel. Not unexpected in the middle of winter.’ His gaze slid over her, unreadable. ‘Thanks for stepping into the breach. I had a mild panic when Jerome had his accident, poor guy. I thought I’d have to cancel the surgery roster for the week.’
He seemed so relaxed, unperturbed at her presence here. How could he be like that after all this time? After the awful way they’d separated? Damn it, but she was about to move
into his hospital to work with him and he didn’t appear at all flustered.
Take a leaf out of his book. Don’t show him the turmoil going on inside.
Fiona tugged her shoulders back harder, lifted her chin in an attempt to negate the effect of the flood of anxiety pooling in her stomach, and stretched a smile over her lips.
‘It was a bit of luck that I approached the agency when I did.’ The medical personnel agency in Auckland had been quick to respond to her initial enquiries about locum work when she returned to New Zealand. Never in a million years would she have expected her first job to be working for Tom.
‘I guess it was.’
Was that disappointment lacing his words? Of course he’d have preferred another plastic surgeon to her, but there hadn’t been anyone else. ‘I’m looking forward to working with you and learning more about your hospital. And to spending some time catching up on what else you’ve been doing since I left.’
A grimace this time. ‘Let’s keep everything on a professional level and I’m sure the week will be problem-free.’
‘We can’t avoid the fact we had a life together.’
He had to have heard the strain in her voice, but he only said, ‘You’re right. We can’t. But it doesn’t have to take over and dominate the reason you are here—which is to perform plastic surgery on my young patients.’
Right, I get the message.
She wouldn’t avoid trying to broach the past with him—they’d been married after all—but she’d let it go for now. ‘Do you come into Theatre to observe the operations done by your specialists?’
‘More than that. I assist whenever I can so I know what’s going on with each child. And, on a more basic level, it saves me having to employ another surgeon.’
‘That’s great.’ She gulped. Working with Tom this week had just taken on a whole new meaning.
He lifted his sleeve to check his watch. ‘Nearly four. We’d better get moving. It’ll be dark soon.’
‘I need to tie down the plane.’ Striding back to the Cessna, Fiona yanked the hatch open and reached inside for the ropes and steel pins required to hold the aircraft on the ground in case the wind got up. So Tom wasn’t going to make this week easy. Well, if he thought he could brush her off with a few terse words he’d forgotten just how determined she could be. She wouldn’t be leaving until they’d talked about their relationship. It needed sorting out once and for all.
Fiona’s heart lurched as she tossed the equipment out. Then again, this week might turn out to be her biggest mistake ever.
Behind her, Tom spoke as though there wasn’t any problem. ‘I’ll do this.’
He reached around her for the mallet, and again that male scent assailed her, stole her voice away so that she couldn’t answer him.
Not that he seemed to expect an answer. He began pounding the pegs into the hard earth, adding, ‘I still remember the routine.’
So Tom really wasn’t at all fazed by her arrival. Shrugging away her disappointment, she reached for her pack, briefcase and laptop, and hauled them across to Tom’s vehicle. How long could one week last anyway? Seven days, right? Too long, if the last ten minutes were anything to go by.
She hadn’t been expecting Tom to turn up with roses, but she hadn’t expected the totally ‘let’s be professional’ bit either. Which just went to show how much she’d deluded herself. She should have known he’d take that stance. It had always been his way of dealing with anything that disturbed him.
How had he reacted when he’d learned that she’d volunteered
to take the temporary job? Surely he’d felt something? Anger or warmth? Trepidation or excitement? Maybe he truly didn’t care one way or the other. Then again, he’d had days to adjust to the idea. Guilt squeezed her. Six years ago she’d treated him appallingly, leaving as she had. But at the time she hadn’t been able to think straight. Through her lawyer she’d made sure he knew she was all right. Hardly the action of a loving wife, but the only way she’d known how to hold on to what remained of her sanity at the time.
She’d often wondered how Tom had dealt with her disappearance. He certainly hadn’t broken down any doors looking for her. But had he missed her? Or had he been glad of the quiet, without her there to badger him into talking about the tragedy that had overcome them? Looking at him now, he seemed fine, in control, but he’d always been very good at hiding his feelings. Since she had walked out on him, breaking her marriage vows, he certainly wouldn’t trust her on anything these days. Apart from looking after his patients, that was. She’d become very good at plastic surgery, and he’d want the best for his patients, so he’d be prepared to overlook her transgressions of the past for them.
Could he listen to her explanation and forgive her? Let her win his trust back? Only one way to find out, and that did not involve tackling him with a barrage of questions within minutes of seeing him, no matter how hard it was to keep her tongue still.
It had taken her all morning to get up the courage to lift off from Auckland Airport and head this way. But the time had come to clear the air with Tom so she could move forward. Something essential was missing from her life, and she believed that talking to Tom about the past might help to bring final closure so she could stop running away from what had happened.
Apprehension gripped her. What if he clung to keeping
the week on a completely professional footing and they never talked about the reasons behind their defunct marriage? That was what she half expected.
So be patient with him.
Huh! If anything would surprise him about her that would, patience having never been her strong point. But the first hurdle of fronting up to him was over. It hadn’t been easy. The moment she’d seen him her heart had squeezed with remembered love for this man she’d shared a short marriage with—this man who had been the father of her son.
The man she’d walked out on.
Maybe she needed to forgive herself before expecting Tom to do likewise.
Sliding into the front seat, she hunched her shoulders, not bothering to check that Tom had tied down properly. He’d done it for her often enough in the past to know what he was doing.
But, despite her determination not to watch Tom, her eyes were drawn to him. Did he hold any good memories of her? If so, would they resurface during the next few days? To be so close to Tom after such a long time and not have any real contact could be soul-destroying. From the moment she’d decided to come here she’d known Tom would try to keep her at arm’s length. It was up to her to make this work.
The vehicle rocked as Tom climbed in and slammed his door. His seat belt snapped into place. He twisted the ignition key on, but didn’t move the gearshift, instead turning to study her.
‘You’re shivering,’ he commented, and flicked on the heater.
‘There’s a lot of snow out there.’ She nodded in the direction of the white and grey mountains dominating the landscape beyond the frozen airfield.
‘Guess I’m used to it,’ he noted.
‘Is that the village?’ Fiona pointed through the windscreen. ‘Where those lights are at the base of the mountains?’
‘Yes. And that’s Jack’s Pass behind them. It’s the road in from the high country farms.’
The whole scene couldn’t be any further from where she’d recently been living as it was possible to get. Sand to snow. Roasting temperatures to bone-chilling ice. She tugged her jacket tighter around her. ‘Do you like living here?’
‘It’s where my hospital is.’
‘So you moved wherever you had to for the hospital?’
‘Basically, yes. But the place has grown on me.’ Surprise softened his tight features, as though that idea had only just occurred to him.
‘Very different to Auckland.’ A city with more than a million people didn’t compare to a village of a few hundred.
‘More friendly. Even too friendly at times. Everyone likes to know everyone else’s business. But there are a lot of pluses to that, too.’ Tom still studied her.
What was he looking for? Whatever it was, surely it could wait until they were inside somewhere warm.
‘Can we go?’ she asked in a quiet voice.
‘Sure.’ But still he didn’t drive off.
Squashing a flare of exasperation, she reached across the seat between them and gripped his arm, shook him. But touching him further unsettled her already stretched nerves. The only man she’d ever loved. Tom. And here she was, unable to ignore those old feelings she’d had for him. Unable to pretend she’d got over him completely.
Snatching her hand back, she wrapped her arms under her breasts as she struggled to control the urgent need to throw herself into his arms and snuggle against his chest. A place she’d always felt safe and loved. If only they could go back in time to when they’d been so happy and in love.
‘Fiona? Is there another reason for you coming here?’ At last he began driving.
She blinked, dragged her mind together. He’d dropped the professional approach for a moment. She’d try not to scare him off with her answer.
‘I’ve wanted to catch up with you for a long time, but I haven’t had the opportunity to come back to New Zealand for a few years. When I decided to come home on leave I didn’t want to have nothing to do, so I put my name down with the medical personnel agency in the hope I’d get work as a locum. When this vacancy was mentioned I jumped at it. I thought I could spend a little time catching up with you while at the same time helping out at your hospital.’
Something deep inside had driven her to come to Hanmer Springs, to Tom. The job was an excuse. She’d have come anyway. She’d loved this man with all her heart, loved him beyond reason. Then she’d gone and treated him appallingly, disappearing out of his life without a backward glace. Now it was time to make amends in some way, if he would let her. If nothing else, she owed him an apology for her behaviour.
Tom’s hands gripped the steering wheel, making his driving stiff and jerky. ‘Don’t expect too much of my time, Fiona. We are a very busy hospital.’
She said softly, ‘I’m very glad I can help out.’
The butterflies tripping around her stomach became thundering elephants as her mind refused to consider how she’d survive the coming days if Tom didn’t spend some personal time with her. Though she still believed she’d done the right thing in coming to help, so that Tom’s young patients didn’t have to suffer long delays for their surgery, only now did she understand how high the cost of spending a full week around Tom could be to herself. Enormous, if she wasn’t careful to keep her emotions under some sort of control. The love she’d felt for Tom might not have survived, but there were still a
lot of feelings for him that hadn’t gone away and which she wasn’t prepared to face. The sense of belonging with him, the old need to always tell him everything, the longing for the solidarity she’d known with him. Those were the rocks their marriage had been built on—the things she’d missed as much as his love.
‘We’d better get a move on. Some of your patients have already arrived, and they’re anxious to meet you.’ He braked for the narrow gateway out on to the gravel road.