Read an Excerpt
'What's so interesting out there, Abby?'
'Nothing.' Abigail Miller jerked her gaze away from the window, sending an apologetic smile to the young woman who'd asked the question.
It wasn't a completely truthful response. There was a lot to be seen out of the window of this consulting room in Kaimotu Island's medical centre. The modern building that housed the consulting rooms and surgical facilities was attached to the old wooden cottage hospital that had been built many years ago on a prime piece of land.
Being on top of a hill, they had one of the best viewsencompassing the township where most of the permanent community lived and the small, sheltered harbour against a backdrop that had ragged bush-covered slopes created by an ancient volcano on one side and a seemingly endless ocean on the other.
She could see a gorgeous, fresh-out-of-the-box April autumn day for one thing, with the intense blue of the sky only surpassed by the deeper blue of the sea. A stunning stretch of golden sand on a beach bordered by huge pohutukawa trees. She could even see the red stars of their flowers, which were unusually long-lasting this year. She could see people on the main street of the village, stopping to talk to each other as they went about their tasks for the day, the pace of life here encouraging them to take their time and stop to smell the roses.
It was a view Abby adored but she'd seen it many times a day for more than five years, now. There was no excuse to be caught staring out the window during working hours. Especially right now, when she was in the middle of a heavy outpatient clinic and the island's only doctor at the moment, Ben McMahon, was out on a house call.
She'd been actively trying to persuade mothers to bring their children to this clinic for weeks, determined to make sure that every baby and preschool child on the island was up to date with their vaccinations. She had a responsibility to keep things moving as efficiently as possible because she'd hate Ben to come back and find chaos.
Ruth had her six-week-old baby, Daisy, in her arms and a very active toddler, Blake, who was trying to climb up onto the examination couch.
'You want to sit up there?' Abby scooped up the little boy and sat him on the bed. 'Don't move, okay? We'll both get into trouble if you fall off.'
Coming up to two years old, Blake was overdue for his protection against some of the more dangerous childhood viruses like measles, mumps and chickenpox. Baby Daisy was due for her polio drops as well as an injection. Right now, Blake was grinning up at Abby but he'd be crying very soon, unfortunately. It was never enjoyable having to inflict pain on small children, even if it was for the greater good. Ignoring the ping of a heart-string, Abby reminded herself that she could at least cheer the older children up pretty fast with a bright 'I've been brave' sticker and a sugar-free jelly snake.
Maybe that reluctance to inflict pain could explain the procrastination of getting caught by the view.
Except it was more than that. Abby had been the clinic's senior nurse for years now. She was experienced and professional, and personal feelings were not allowed to interfere with her job. What was bothering her so much? She couldn't help another frowning glance outside as she went to the fridge to collect the vaccines she needed.
Ruth removed her breast from Daisy's mouth and got up from her chair to have a look out the window herself, rocking baby Daisy when she started grizzling about having her feed interrupted. A moment later, she was also frowning.
'You're right,' she told Abby. 'Something doesn't feel quite right, does it?'
'You feel it, too?' Abby was holding the small glass vials in her hand, warming them up so the injections might be less painful. 'It's weird, isn't it?'
'There's nothing out there that I can see.'
'No. It's kind of like that feeling you get when you've gone on holiday and you're on the plane and then you suddenly wonder if you've left the iron on, or a tap running or something.'
Ruth laughed. 'Can't say I've ever worried about an iron. We're lucky to get enough hot water from solar power. Clothes stay wrinkly in my house.'
The laughter broke the shared unease.
'My mother used to tell me off for worrying too much,' Abby confessed. 'She said I was a born worrywart and I was never happy unless I had something to worry about and if there wasn't anything real, I'd just make something up.'
And that was definitely a truthful statement.
Of course she was an expert in the mental game of finding potential causes for a premonition that something bad was going to happen. She'd been doing this kind of thinking since she was three years old. Imagine a disaster, think of every possible reason for it to have happened and then take steps to make sure it didn't actually happen.
It was why she'd come to Kaimotu Island in the first place, wasn't it?
Why she hadn't even tried fighting to keep the man she absolutely knew would prove to be the love of her life.
'Maybe it was that earthquake a few weeks ago,' Ruth suggested. 'It was enough to get everybody a bit on edge and old Squid hasn't helped with his forecasting doom and gloom about the "big one" being so imminent. There's a few people upset at the way he chased off the last of the summer tourists.'
Abby laughed. 'And then all we get is that tiny tremor the other day that most people barely noticed. I hear that poor Squid's been getting a hard time about that being the "big one".'
Ruth grinned. 'Squid says they'll all be laughing on the other side of their faces soon enough.'
Abby shook her head. Even the larger of the two tremors had been pretty minor. Certainly not enough to make anyone take any more notice of what the island's oldest fisherman, Squid Davies, had to say about it being a warning of the kind of quake his grandfather had experienced here. It had just been a bit of a rattle. The kind anyone who'd grown up in New Zealand was familiar with.
'Jack said it was really fun at school the next day. They got to practise their "Drop, Cover and Hold" emergency drill. I think the kids all thought it was just as good as a game of sardines, squeezing in under their desks.'
She snapped off the top of an ampoule and put the needle of a tiny one-mil syringe in to suck up the contents.
'Ahh .' Ruth was nodding. 'That's what it is.'
'What what is?'
'Why you're on edge and staring out the window so often.'
Abby raised her eyebrows. She was all set to give Daisy her shot now but she stood there for a moment, holding the kidney dish, waiting for Ruth to elaborate.
'Jack's only just started school and he's your only child. I remember what that was like, wondering if anyone else could take care of your baby as well as you could.'
'I've been working since Jack was three. He's been in day care and play groups for half his life, just about.'
'Yeah, but he's off on the big junior school trip today, isn't he? My Brooke and Amber have gone, too. The hike to the shipwreck this morning and then the visit to the old copper mines after the picnic?'
'Mmm.' Abby bit her lip. 'I would have gone as parent help but I'd already organised this clinic and I couldn't postpone it when I was out there trying to persuade everyone to come.'
Ruth was right. Anxiety about her precious little boy was undoubtedly the cause for her underlying sense of unease.
Abby's sigh was part relief, part exasperation. Enough of this.
She could hear a child crying in the waiting room outside and had to hope people weren't getting too impatient. It would be disappointing if some of them changed their minds about being here after all her hard work of talking to parents at the local schools and playgroups recently. Ben's younger sister Hannah was in charge of keeping them all organised and entertained but there was only so much a seventeen-year-old could do to manage a room full of youngsters.
Ruth was exactly the kind of result Abby had wanted when she'd embarked on this project. Kaimotu Island, being so isolated from the mainland, attracted people who wanted to live an alternative lifestyle and Ruth and her husband Damien lived with their six children in a converted train carriage out on the edge of the bush. They supplemented their self-sufficient lifestyle by making pottery that they sold to the influx of visitors in the summer months.
Totally against the idea of vaccination, Ruth and Damien had had a huge fright last year when one of their older children had needed urgent evacuation to a large hospital after developing complications from measles.
Thank goodness they weren't so isolated that evacuation wasn't a viable option in emergencies. Abby had been in the early stages of pregnancy when she'd first arrived here and potential complications for herself or her baby had been a real worry, to put it mildly. Mix some medical knowledge in with the fervent imagination of a born worrier and obsession was well within grasp.
Reassurance had come from both the impressive skills of the doctor here, Ben McMahon, and how well the clinic was set up to either cope with a serious emergency or stabilise a patient for evacuation. And it wasn't so far by small plane or helicopter. Only a couple of hours. There was usually an abundance of private aircraft available, too, in case the mainland rescue chopper was otherwise engaged.
Thanks to the stunning scenery and the facilities that some of the vineyards had developed, Kaimotu Island was becoming an increasingly sought-after venue for weddings and honeymoons.
Predictably, Daisy's eyes widened in outrage at the prick of the needle and then she erupted into ear-splitting wails. Seeing Blake's bottom lip wobbling, Abby sighed. Why hadn't she done Blake's vaccination first? Daisy wasn't old enough to put two and two together and realise that the nurse was torturing small people in here.
Ruth was offering Daisy her breast in the hope of consoling her by finishing her interrupted feed. Abby took the jar ofjelly snakes and put it on the edge of her desk.
'Me?' Blake asked hopefully.
'Very soon,' Abby promised.
'No,' Blake shouted. 'Now.'
Abby managed a smile but the tension was skyrocketing. Heading for her desk to collect Blake's file, her gaze snagged on the photo taking pride of place beside the phone.
Taken on the first day of school just a couple of months ago, Jack's proud grin lit up his little face. A cheeky grin beneath mischievous dark brown eyes and a mop of soft, black curls. Something huge and warm welled up inside Abby and she felt some of the tension evaporate. It was always so grounding to be reminded of her love for her son. The reason she'd come here had been to keep him safe and give him the best possible start in life.
It was great that he was out having a real boy's adventure today. The teachers and other parents would be looking after him. He wasn't going to wander off and drown or topple into an abandoned mine shaft. It was ridiculous to even allow the fear of such scenarios to enter her head but they'd been there ever since Jack had started to get mobile and had crawled into his first spot of bother and revealed what a handful he was going to become.
She didn't need the photograph to remind her of what hovered in the back of her mind every single day. It was more than looks. It was a whole personality.
Jack was the spitting image of his father. The man she had loved so much. The man she had chosen to lose.
'Did you get put on the naughty step?'
'Reckon it was worth it.' Thomas Kendrick threw a lazy grin in his colleague's direction as he headed for the comfortable armchair in the staff quarters of the mainland rescue base.
The most recent addition to the elite team of paramedics, Felicity, shook her head. 'I'd heard you were a bit of a cowboy even before I applied for the job here, you know. Yesterday was the first time I'd actually seen you do something so reckless, though.'
Tom shrugged. Okay, the job had been a bit wild. And, yes, he'd taken a fair risk climbing under the unsecured car wreck at the bottom of a cliff as it had teetered on rocks, far too close to the boiling surf, but it had been the only way to get the unconscious driver out.
'You were just as keen as I was, Fizz. You would have been the one to crawl inside if I'd let you.'
'Yeah ' Her grin was unrepentant. 'It was awesome, wasn't it? And we got her out.
They had. But Tom had known there would be repercussions. Felicity had sustained a fairly major laceration to her arm in the process and was now stitched up and in a dressing that had to be kept dry. She was off active duty for a few days. And Tom had received a warning from an exasperated base manager.
'Look, we both know you live for the adrenaline rush, Tank. And we both know you're the best in the business. But there are limits, okay? Start taking notice of the boundaries or I'll have to take this further than a verbal warning. You nearly broke one of the crew. That's not on.'
Fair enough. It hadn't been his fault that Fizz had got injured, though. She had simply refused to do what he'd told her and stay put, off the slippery rocks, until he'd retrieved their patient. She was too young. Too eager. And not just when it came to the job. The look she was giving him now was unambiguous.
'I'm off active duty, Tank. I'm frustrated.'
Tom ignored the invitation in her eyes. It would be all too easy to start an affair with Felicity. The other guys on the base were probably taking bets on how long it would take this time. And they were probably getting a bit puzzled by the fact that Tom couldn't seem to summon the interest.
Maybe the game of starting something he would only want to finish not so far down the track was finally getting old. Been there, done that. Too many times.
'You could come and help me with a a stocktake, maybe '
Counting supplies in the storeroom was not what Felicity had in mind. Good grief at work? Maybe he did push the boundaries when it came to saving lives out in the field but, dammit, he had some personal boundaries. Funny that the prospect of an illicit thrill wasn't even enough to spark real desire, though.
He shook his head. 'I'm going to hit the gym. Doubt if we'll get another job before the shift's over.'
He knew she was watching him as he left the room. He knew he could pretty much click his fingers and get her into his bed if he wanted. Was that the problem? That there was no challenge involved?
The rescue base pilot on duty, Moz, was running on the treadmill. He raised a water bottle in salute as Tom entered the small fitness centre. The paramedic standing in for Fizz was Frank and he was currently using the rowing machine.
That wasn't the name his parents had given him, of course. It was short for Frankenstein and had been bestowed after an accident had given him an impressive facial laceration. The scar from the injury was virtually invisible, now, but the nickname had well and truly stuck.
Stripping off his overalls, Tom moved to the weight machine, wearing only a pair of shorts and a singlet. He flexed his muscles and started to warm up slowly. Keeping in shape was taking more effort these days but it was worth it. He'd earned his own nickname years ago due to his physique, along with his impressive height.
Thomas the Tank Engine. Unstoppable.