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Sienna Torrance packed her bag and prepared to farewell her patient for another day but Finn McLeod had other ideas.
He watched her out of dark blue moody eyes.
They both wore skin-tight stretch track suits and they were both drenched in sweat. But whereas she bent to zip her bag and straightened to wring out her honeycoloured pony-tail with lithe movements that showed off a compact, leggy figure with delicious hips, he was confined to his wheel chair.
That wasn't entirely true. On his better days, since a car accident had seriously injured his left leg, he could get about with a walking stick. But Sienna, his physiotherapist, always insisted he use the chair after a session with him. She even made a practice of ceremonially wheeling him out of his private gym back to the house and handing him over to Dave, his nurse, although the chair was motorized.
Not, for that matter, that he needed a nurse now, but Dave was also a trained masseur and he doubled as his valet and driver.
'Come in and have a drink,' he said abruptly as she started to push him.
'Oh, no, thanks, Finn, I do need to be off,' she repliedshe had a fascinating, rather husky voice.
'Where to? Another patient? It's nearly six o'clock. A boyfriend?'
Sienna hesitated. 'No, but it's been a long day.'
'Or do you have something against fraternizing with me?'
Sienna grimaced as she manoeuvred the chair down a ramp and outside to a path that ran between thick, rich green lawns and riotously colourful flower beds. There were bees humming, birds calling and butterflies hovering.
It would be hard to find a lovelier property than hilltop Eastwood, she thought as they approached the mainhouse. It followed the Queensland tradition of wide, covered verandas, steep roofs and double outside doors to capture the breeze, but rather than being wooden it was built of honey-coloured sandstone with a sage-green roof. It also had marvellous views down to the Brisbane River.
'I don't fraternize with patients,' she said carefully. 'Nothing personal!' she added on an upward beat. 'I'm also a working girl with a million things to do.'
'If you don't come in for a drink and a chat,' he said ominously, 'I'll put this chair on auto and drive myself into the river.'
Sienna stopped pushing and slammed a brake on. 'Finn,' she said quietly, however, after taking a deep breath, 'don't be silly. Look, I know how frustrating this must be. But you've done so well, I'm full of admiration for you! And the end is in sight now.'
It was true, she did admire Finn McLeod for his pain-filled perseverance towards regaining his mobility after the tragic accident that had claimed the life of his fiancée.
She'd rarely seen such will-power, and she had seen him often with his knuckles white and his teeth almost driven through his bottom lip as he'd doggedly pursued his rehabilitation.
She'd also acknowledged that through all this, he was still dynamically attractive even when he could be cutting and moody. Not that, for professional reasons, she'd ever allowed herself to dwell on it. Anyway, she regarded herself as fireproof when it came to men.
'Silly?' he reflected. 'I've got a business proposition to put to you, Ms Torrance, so I don't see anything silly about it at all.'
Sienna stared down at the top of his head. His thick dark hair was tousled and damp. She frowned. 'What kind of a business proposition could there possibly be between us?'
'You're going to have to wheel me on to find out.'
Sienna clicked her tongue in annoyance. She was used to humouring men, she often turned down outrageous propositions with a kind but funny retort, but it was the last thing she'd expected from Finn McLeod. What else could it be, though?
'Tell me now, Finn, then I'll be the judge of whether I have a drink with you or not,' she said coolly.
She saw his shoulders lift as if he was laughing inwardly.
Some minutes later, she was sitting on the veranda with a soft drink in a tall glass in front of her and he had his longed-for beer. There was a silver dish of olives and nuts on the table between them.
The drinks had been served by a middle-aged man he'd introduced as Walt the butler. They were now alone.
'Let me get this straight,' Sienna said. 'You want me to come out west with you so we can continue your treatment on aon a cattle station?'She blinked several times, she had grey eyes and naturally dark lashes.
'Yep.' Finn McLeod sipped his beer.
'But why do you need to bury yourself' she broke off and bit her lip because he hadn't that long ago buried his fiancée, 'uhneed to be on a cattle station out west anyway?'
He eyed her, then looked around. 'I'm going crazy up here. I need a change of scene. I was born out there and I like it.'
'Has it occurred to you that I only spend a couple of hours a day with you? That I might go insane on a cattle station for weeks on end? Or, that you most probably don't have any of the equipment needed? Not only that but you'll be away from your doctor.'
He shrugged. 'I've got his go-ahead and I can fly him out if necessary. Ditto all the equipmentthere's already a gym and there's a pool.'
Sienna sank back and took the first sip of her soft drink; it was delicious, a blend of mango and orange with a dash of mint. Her thoughts were slightly bitter, however.
The McLeod family, now headed by Finn, was extremely wealthy and had diversified from cattle into many areas. She'd never doubted that, it was well known, as were some other facts about the dynasty.
Finn's parents had divorced and his father had remarried. The new Mrs McLeod, Laura, had presented Finn's father, Michael, with another son, eight years Finn's junior. The first Mrs McLeod had, according to popular belief, never recovered from the divorce and pined away. Some years later Michael and Laura had been killed in a plane crash. The pilot had been Michael's brother, Finn's uncle Bradley, who had perished too.
Alice, Finn and Declan's aunt on their father's side, had brought the boys up.
So it was a colourful dynasty with a tragic background, now added to after that terrible car crash when a drunken driver had ploughed into them and his fiancée had been thrown clear but killed instantly and Finn had been trapped in the car. But that didn't alter the fact Sienna found herself somewhat annoyed that Finn McLeod could virtually wave a magic wand to achieve his goals and, on top of that, expect everyone to jump to his tune.
'I'm sorry' she started to say, but he intervened.
'As for your spare time, I happen to know that the Augathella Hospital would be more than happy to have the extra services of a fully-trained physiotherapist to call on for a few weeks.'
She stared at him incredulously. 'How do you know that?'
He raised an ironic eyebrow. 'I checked it out with them. The hospital is not that far, as the crow flies, from Waterford.'
Waterford was the principal cattle station in the McLeod crown.
Sienna licked her lips. 'I do work, you know. I'm employed by a consultancy so, apart from anything else, they would not be too happy for me to disappear beyond the black stump for several weeks. I do have other patients.'
'Your boss is quite happy for you to do it.'
Sienna put her glass down with something of a rap. 'Now look here, Finn, that's going too far! How dare you do all this behind my back?'
He shrugged. 'Just thought I'd clear the decks of any unnecessary objections you might be likely to make.'
'Well, that may be how you do business but'
'It is,'he drawled. 'You'd be amazed how successful it usually is. Look'he sat forward 'it's actually a feather in your cap. When I discussed it with your senior partner, he told me that you were establishing a growing reputation in accident rehabilitation therapy. I told him I could believe it, you certainly seemed to be working wonders for me and that's why I want you and no one else.'
Sienna blinked, then frowned. 'A feather in my cap? I would call it something else. A subtle way of twisting my arm and, I'm sorry, but I'm not going to do it.'
She regarded him for several moments. His glossy dark hair was still tousled, there were blue shadows on his jaw, he had a decisive mouth and a tapering chin. It was a memorable faceshe thought suddenly that she'd probably remember it for a long timeand it was accompanied by a memorable physique. Finn McLeod was six feet four, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, long-legged and what had undoubtedly helped him along his path to rehabilitation was the fact that he'd been in prime physical shape when the accident had happened.
Why not? she thought. Yes, he was the kind of man many women would wonder about, but she didn't have that problem, did she? So was she worried about his motivation? Because she'd been well taught to be on guard against patient attachment where you became the focus of their lives?
But, from his point of view, was this the same thing or simply the machinations of a wealthy man entirely too used to getting his own way? Much more likely, she suspected.
'Finn,' she said slowly and choosing her words with care, 'any good physiotherapist could have done what I've done. Actually, you've done it. It's been your willpower. You don't need me, per se.'
'Afraid I'm falling in love with you?' he queried.
Sienna took an unexpected breath, then narrowed her eyes. 'Are you?'
'No.' He put his glass down and stretched. 'When you've had the bestno insult intended, Siennaand lost it, you probably don't ever expect it to happen again.'
Sienna stared at him, frowning again. She couldn't take issue with the "best" tag because Holly Pearson, his fiancée, had been, in a word, gloriousand not only to look at. She'd taken the country by storm as a TV weather presenter, then become a TV personality in her own right, frequently appearing on talk shows and capturing audiences with her zany humour and her warmth.
But had Sienna detected a tinge of something she didn't understand in Finn McLeod's voice, something at variance with his words like the prick of a pin you hadn't known was there? Or had it been the bitterness he still felt about losing Holly? Of course, that had to be it, she thought and felt a rush of compassion for him.
Sienna came out of her thoughts and looked at him. 'Am I what?'
'Falling in love with me?'
Her eyes widened and her lips parted. 'Have I ever given you the slightest reason to think that, Finn McLeod?' she retorted.
'On the contrary.' He grimaced. 'Although that doesn't precisely answer the question but, anyway, what is the problem?'
Sienna shot him a dark look. 'I don't like being manipulated. I resent the fact that you imagine I can just drop everything at a moment's notice'
She waved a hand dismissively. 'I'
'Look, think it over, Sienna. You can let me know tomorrow.'
She opened her mouth, then shrugged, finished her drink and got up to go. 'All right, but I don't imagine I'll change my mind. You should shower and change now. I'll call Dave.'
'Yes, ma'am,' he said meekly enough, but his dark blue eyes were full of satirical amusement.
Sienna swished her pony-tail and walked away.
She shopped for fresh fruit and vegetables on the way home.
Her apartment was small but pleasant, a second-floor flat in a two-storey building in the suburb of Red Hill, perched on the northern rim of the city.
It had cool tiled floors, white walls and all mod cons, but the broad balcony was her favourite spot. It was fitted with sliding insect screens, and had grand views of the city below. She had a table and chairs on it and a bevy of flowering pot-plants as well as an array of herbsshe loved growing things.
For the rest of her flat, she'd kept her decorating fairly minimalist to suit the climate. There was a sumptuous corn gold settee and two plain cane chairs in the lounge with moulded Perspex side tables. On one of the white walls she'd hung a large, lovely print of a girl walking on a beach at sunrise beside a calm, shining sea that seemed to draw you into its cool, tinted waters.
A beaten silver urn found in a market in Malaysia stood on her teak television cabinet and on the wall in her small hall a wonderful painting of three elephants, drawn as children might but delicately coloured and captivating all the same, greeted visitors. She'd found it in Thailand.
She'd found her garnet and sapphire rug on the lounge floor in Turkey.
Not bad, she often thought, for a girl who'd moved to Brisbane two years ago at a rather traumatic time in her life.
And now, at twenty-six, she'd had four years of practising as a fully-fledged physiotherapist, and, yes, it was true, she was beginning to make her mark in accident rehabilitation therapy.