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Josh swung himself out of the ocean and onto the back of the pontoon. Slipping his dive fins from his feet and his mask from his face, he held them in one hand as he used his free hand to haul himself into a standing position. The air tank on his back was ungainly, making his balance awkward, but he was used to the sensation and after more than two hundred dives he knew better than to try to lean forward while changing position.
He dropped his fins, mask and snorkel into his dive bag and checked his watch, noting the dive time and depth. It had been a fairly standard dive, pleasant but certainly not the best. The visibility had been reasonable but aside from a few eels and one huge Maori wrasse he hadn't seen anything spectacular.
He was disappointed. He'd hoped the easy access to the world-renowned Great Barrier Reef dive sites off the coast of Cairns in northern Queensland would make up for the fact he'd had to transfer to this country town. He unclipped his buoyancy vest and slung it from his back. Okay, to be fair, Cairns was a large regional centre, not a typical Australian country town, but it definitely wasn't a big city. He'd spent the past two and a half years in Brisbane, a city of two million people, working his way up to a senior position, or so he'd thought, only to find himself banished to the sticks for six months.
But he'd survived smaller towns before, much smaller, all for the sake of experience, and he just hoped this move would pay dividends too. Besides, it wasn't like he'd had much of a choice. His six-month stint started tomorrow and he'd have to make the most of it.
He would take the opportunity to have one last holiday before he prepared to knuckle down and work hard to achieve the goals he'd set himself. He would be free to do as he pleased on his days off but once he returned to Brisbane he imagined days off would be few and far between.
Have fun, he told himself as he pulled his thin dive shirt over his head before running his hands through his hair to dry it off, but remember to think of the bigger picture and of what you stand to gain, that was the way to get through the next six months.
Georgie pushed herself out of the warm water and onto the ledge at the back of the pontoon that was moored permanently at Agincourt Reef. She removed her mask and snorkel as she dangled her legs in the ocean and watched the myriad holidaymakers splashing around, enjoying the beauty of the reef.
Her stomach rumbled as she basked in the afternoon sunshine, reminding her that she'd skipped lunch in favour of a longer snorkel. She pulled the flippers from her feet so she could stand and threw her borrowed diving equipment into the containers at the back of the pontoon. The deck was almost deserted now that most of the day-trippers had consumed their lunches and returned to the water, so she'd go and see what remained of the buffet.
She hung her life jacket on the rack and let her eyes roam over the handful of people gathered on the pontoon. Her gaze lingered on the starboard side where a group of scuba divers had just emerged from the water and were now laboriously removing their equipment. She searched the group for her brother Stephen and his girlfriend, Anna, who were visiting from Melbourne and had come out to the reef to go scuba diving, but she didn't see any familiar faces. They must still be in the water.
They'd tried to talk her into doing an introductory dive and initially she'd been keen, but she'd chickened out when they'd reached the pontoon and she'd seen the huge expanse of empty ocean. Who knew what was lurking under there? She decided she felt safer splashing about with all the other snorkellers. Being able to lift her head out of the water and see the pontoon and the catamarans that had ferried them to the reef gave her a sense of security out in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.
She continued to watch the group of divers, smiling at their attempts to shed their equipment. They'd looked so graceful under the water when she'd seen them from her snorkelling vantage point but out of it they looked ungainly. She was glad she'd changed her mind about the introductory diveshe wasn't sure she could be bothered with all the paraphernalia and the air tanks looked awfully heavy.
There was one man, however, who managed to make the tank look as though it weighed no more than a sleeping bag. Georgie watched as he unclipped his buoyancy vest and slung it and his air tank off his shoulders before he removed his thin dive shirt by pulling it over his head. His torso was bare and she was treated to a rather attractive view of a smooth, lightly tanned back and rippling muscles as he stretched his arms overhead. His dark blond hair was cut short and when he ran his hands through it the salt water made it stick up in all directions. He had the physique of a man who worked out. He had broad, square shoulders that tapered nicely into his waist and the muscles on his arms were well defined.
He threw his shirt over his shoulder as her eyes travelled down his back. She could see the two small dimples at the base of his spine just visible above the waistband of his shorts. His shorts hugged the curve of his buttocks and were patterned like the Australian flag. If all divers looked like him, perhaps she would take up the challenge.
'Help, somebody, please, help us.'
Georgie spun around, her meandering thoughts interrupted by a woman's cries. The sound came from her right, out in the ocean. She searched the water and it took her a second or two to locate the woman. She was about fifty metres off the back of the pontoon in one of the snorkelling areas marked out by floating buoys. The woman was waving one arm and hanging onto someone else with her other hand. From the corner of her eye Georgie saw a flash of movement as someone dived off the starboard corner of the pontoon. She turned her head. The guy in the Australian flag board shorts had disappeared. In the time it took her to process the cries for help and to find the source of the sound he had dived into the water and was now swimming strongly towards the distressed woman.
A couple of crew members had raced to the back of the pontoon, one unhooking a lifebuoy and the other carrying a first-aid kit. Seeing other people in action galvanised Georgie. She made her way across the pontoon, past stunned tourists, to offer her assistance as the crewman with the lifebuoy jumped overboard and struck out towards the woman, trailing in the other guy's wake.
Georgie followed him with her eyes. She could see that the diver in the Aussie flag shorts had almost reached the woman but it was getting difficult to see everything that was happening as the swell had picked up and the small waves breaking on the top of the reef were obscuring her vision. With two more over arm strokes, the guy in the board shorts had reached the woman and taken over control of the person she was supporting. He had hold of the person's chin and Georgie could see him making his way back to the pontoon with a strong sidestroke action, dragging the person with him. The woman was doing her best to follow but she was being rapidly left behind. The crewman with the lifebuoy swam up to her, slipped the lifebuoy over her head and under her arms and started towing her back to the pontoon.
The guy in the board shorts was already back at the pontoon with the rescued man in his grip. One of the crewmen knelt down at the edge of the pontoon and hooked his hands under the distressed man's armpits and hauled him onto the deck.
'He's complaining of chest pain,' the diver in the board shorts told the crewman as he helped to lift the man's legs out of the water, 'and I suspect he's aspirated some salt water.'
What sort of person used the term 'aspirated'? Georgie wondered. It was a medical term but perhaps it was common in diving as well? She watched the diver as he hoisted himself up onto the deck. His biceps and triceps bulged as he lifted his weight clear of the sea. Salt water streamed from his body as he stood. His chest was smooth and tanned and despite having just swum a fast fifty metres while towing a heavy body, he was breathing normally. He didn't appear to be even slightly out of breath.
There were now several people gathered around the back of the pontoon and Georgie was able to blend into the crowd. The guy seemed oblivious to her scrutiny so she let her gaze travel higher.
She was pleased to see that he had a face to match his body. He had an oval face with strong features that complemented his chiselled physique. He had full lips set above a firm jaw, which had a day's growth of beard and perfectly symmetrical, sandy brown eyebrows that framed his eyes. His nose was straight and narrow and his teeth, when he spoke, were even and white. He was rather cute.
'Let's clear the area and get him comfortable. We don't want to encourage extra blood flow to his heart. I don't want to stress it more than necessary.'
The cute guy, as Georgie now thought of him, continued to issue instructions as he directed the crew to reposition the man where he wanted him. Because of the board shorts he was wearing she'd initially wondered if he was an overseas tourist but he spoke with a definite Aussie twang. Foreign or not, the cute guy was sounding more and more like he had a medical background. Which reminded her of why she'd crossed the deck in the first place. It hadn't been to ogle a complete stranger, she'd meant to offer assistance. There were more important things to focus on than an attractive scuba diver.
She took a couple of steps away from the cute guy and towards the crew member who was standing nearby, holding the first-aid kit.
'Have you got a towel or something we can use to dry him off and keep him warm?' she asked.
He nodded and Georgie took the kit from him so he could go and find what she'd asked for. She squatted down and spoke to the cute guy. 'I'm a paramedic. Can I help?'
He nodded in acknowledgement but kept his head down and directed his words at the patient. 'I'm a doctor so between us we should be able to get you sorted.' For a moment Georgie thought he was going to ignore her but when he finished reassuring the patient he looked across at her. His eyes were an unusual shade of grey. Silvery grey, almost metallic in colour, they reminded her of the paint the Navy used on its ships. 'Can you have a look and see what's in the first-aid kit?' he asked.
She flipped the catches open as she listened to the conversation going on beside her.
'Can you describe your pain to me?'
'I feel like someone has punched me in the chest.' The man spoke with a British accent and he sounded out of breath, as though each word took great effort. He was going to have a holiday to remember, Georgie thought, assuming they managed to pull him through this crisis.
'Have you had chest pain before?' Cute guy had his fingers on the man's wrist pulse and his eyes on his dive watch, counting the seconds. His fingers were long and slender, his nails shortly clipped and nicely shaped.
The patient nodded but the woman, whom Georgie assumed was his wife, and who was now back on board the pontoon thanks to the efforts of the crew member, elaborated. 'His doctor said it was angina.'
'Is he on any medication?' Cute guy quizzed the man's wife.
Georgie made a concerted effort to turn her attention back to the contents of the first-aid kit and away from the cute doctor's hands.
'The doctor gave Nigel some tablets.'
'Have you got them with you?'
The wife shook her head. 'We forgot to pack themthey're in our hotel room.'
Fat lot of good they were going to do there, Georgie thought. She looked up from the first-aid kit and caught cute guy's eye. It was obvious from his expression he was thinking along the same lines.
'There's nothing useful in here,' she muttered as she finished searching through the kit. The crewman had returned with a towel but Georgie had another assignment for him now. 'Do you have a medical cupboard that would have any drugs other than mild analgesics? Painkillers,' she clarified, when all she got was a blank look.
He nodded. 'Yes, we've got a sick bay. If you want to come with me, you can see if we've got what you need.'