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TOM JAMIESON reached into the cabin of his four-wheel drive and slotted the handpiece of the police radio back into its cradle. He straightened, stripped off the yellow reflective safety vest and tossed it on the passenger's seat. The perspiration that had made his black T-shirt cling had begun to cool. Flexing his tired shoulders, he ran a hand over his face and felt the stubble rasp across his palm. It had been a long day and a longer evening but, for all the frustration, it had been oddly satisfying.
He smiled wryly as he listened to frogs croaking in a distant chorus. His city colleagues wouldn't believe the action that made up his average working tasks these days.
He breathed in a deep lungful of fragrant eucalyptus, the clean tangy oils still heavy in the air after a hot day. In the nearby trees, a lone magpie chortled, its diurnal senses confused by the brightness of the full moon. The gentle night sounds and scents gathered around him like a cloak of serenity.
Coming back to Dustin had been the right choice for him.
In the paddock beside him, a dozen bovine silhouettes munched contentedly on the pasture in their temporary new home. Moonlight gleamed off the black hides of the now-sedate Angus yearlings. A far cry from the fractious cavorters that had led him and his helpers on an hour-long chase along the roadside.
He shifted, reaching for the vehicle door. Time to go home, get out of clothes that carried the aroma of cowpats and get clean. His stomach growled.
Shower. Food. Sleep. In that order.
A set of approaching headlights stabbed the night to form a weird hazy glow in a patch of low-lying mist. Tom glanced at the clock on the dashboard. Nearly one in the morning. An odd time to be travelling into Dustin on a Sunday night. He watched with reluctant curiosity as the car drew nearer.
A few seconds later, he recognised the shape of the small car. He frowned as his heart thumped hard.
Dustin's new doctor.
And currently the woman he fancied more than common sense dictatedespecially given that she barely acknowledged his existence.
As the car zipped across the end of the side road where he was parked, Kayla's pale face was illuminated briefly in the side window. She glanced his way and for a second her eyes seemed to look right at him. His hand lifted in an automatic salute even though he doubted that she'd looked long enough to see him let alone identify him. Pretty much par for the course with their social interaction to date. He huffed out a self-mocking snort.
He, on the other hand, noticed every minuscule detail about her. From the top of her honey-blonde head to the cheeky pink-tinted toenails that peeped out of the sandals she'd worn to the hospital barbecue when she'd first arrived in town two months ago. Even her eye colour.. .he'd never been fanciful about eye colour. Irises were blue, brown, green, hazel standard cop's vocabulary. But not when it came to Kayla. Nope. She looked straight through him with eyes the colour of polished pewter.
She made him want things more in keeping with the old Tom Jamieson. The live-hard, play-hard party animal. The man he'd been before a bullet had stopped him in his tracks a little over two years ago. His near-death experience, the time in hospital and then the months of rehabilitation afterwards had forced him to reassess his priorities. Made him realise he wanted to go home to his roots, build his future there.
Start a family.
To do that he needed a wife and he knew what he was looking for. A down-to-earth woman, someone loving and generous. Someone with a sense of humour.
Not someone like Kayla. She was a city girl through and through. Polished perfection, dressed to the nines, designer labels, never a hair out of place. Positively stingy with her smiles.
Cool, reserved, fastidious.
For all that his brain knew what he needed, his body wanted otherwise. Kayla made him want to howl, beat his chest, risk potential frostbite to get close to her. He didn't much like this glimpse of his old self. That harder, hungrier, edgier man who wanted nothing more than to get Kayla Morgan into his bed.. .even when she flicked her unusual silver eyes over him as though he was invisible.
He frowned as he yanked open the car door and slid behind the wheel. What the hell was she doing in Dustin anyway, besides upsetting his equilibrium? He knew the short answer. She was working at the hospital and ultimately filling in as a medical locum for Liz Campbell's maternity leave.
But what had made her want to come all the way out here, to his country town, when she so obviously didn't belong?
And now she was returning after another weekend in the big smoke. Had she been getting a fix of civilisation, something to sustain her for her sentence in rural purgatory? Or did she have a man tucked away down there?
Someone happy to have a long-distance relationship with her?
Someone as controlled and contained as she was?
An image leapt into his mind. Male hands other than his touching her, sliding over that perfect, creamy skin. He cursed under his breath.
Jaw set tight, he slammed the vehicle door. The fangs of unrequited lust sank deep. He was slowly going crazy.
After clipping the seat belt, he reached for the ignition key.
An unholy shriek of brakes sliced through the air, the brutal noise cutting off the gentle murmurs of the mellow night. For a split second, Tom froze. Then, pulse rocketing, he jerked his head towards the sound. In the distance, a strange light show played erratically across the vegetation. Yellow beams dipped and spun like out-of-control searchlights. A moment later, everything stopped with a sickening crunch of metal.
A shaft of icy dread pierced his gut. With a quick, hard rev of the engine, he accelerated down the short stretch of gravel road to the intersection and spun the steering-wheel in the direction of the now stationary lights. His vehicle leapt forward as the tyres gripped the sealed road.
God, what would he find? The thought of that feminine perfection injuredor worseappalled him.
His low beam cut through the thickening wisps of pale fog. The small jelly-bean-pink car was sitting diagonally across the middle of the road. It looked whole but perhaps the damage was on the other side.
On the driver's side.
He was still too far away to see clearly inside the vehicle, to see if there was any movement. He leaned forward over his steering-wheel, as though that would somehow help his vision.
A moment later, her car moved, headlights swinging around in a U-turn.
He swallowed, shaken by an abrupt wash of relief that left his joints momentarily water weak.
Kayla was all right, the car was whole.
Her headlights kept moving and for the first time Tom noticed a dark blue sedan with its bonnet crumpled against the trunk of a gum tree.
Her car stopped with the beam of lights trained on the wreck.
He positioned his vehicle across the lane to block any oncoming traffic, emergency lights flashing and his headlights adding to the brightness of Kayla's. Her door opened and she scrambled out. He yanked on his handbrake and uttered a pithy curse as she ran towards the wreck.
What was the woman doing? The scene needed to be secured before she went charging in. They'd had no rain for weeks. Fire danger at the moment was extreme. Hot exhaust, long grass. A recipe for disaster.
As Tom threw open his door, a man's guttural cries echoed in his ears.
'Help me! Somebody. Please. Please.'
Fire extinguisher, woollen blanket and torch in hand, Tom ran to the front of the crumpled bonnet. The sweetly nauseating tang of petrol fumes filled his sinuses. In his peripheral vision, he was aware of Kayla swinging the driver's door wide.
'It's all right, we'll look after you,' she said, loudly enough to cut through the man's groans. She sounded firm, confident. Trustworthy. 'What's your name?'
Charred grass smouldered and, even as Tom scuffed dirt into the blackening area, a flame flickered to life in the dry leaf litter around the trunk of the tree. Crisp twigs crunched beneath his boot as he stamped out the fledgling fire. He spread the blanket strategically to smother the tinder dry fuel.'Hello, Andy. My name's Kayla. I'm a doctor.'
With one ear on Kayla's conversation, Tom shone his torch into the engine cavity beneath the buckled bonnet. No obvious hot spots or smoke at this stage but that could change in an instant.
'You're going to be fine.' Her soothing voice continued. 'We'll look after you now.'
Tom placed the extinguisher on the ground within easy access then strode to where Kayla was crouched at the open driver's door. She'd positioned a cervical collar around the victim's neck and was shining a small pencil-slim torchlight into the man's eyes.
Tom leaned low and growled at her, 'This scene is not safe.'
'Then please organise it for us, Sergeant.' She sounded pleasant but remote. Her attention was fixed on her patient and she didn't look up.
Tom smiled grimly as he braced his hand on the top of the door and reached across her towards the steering column. At least she knew who he was. 'I have organised it, Doctor!
'Well done.' The casual, dismissive praise rankled as he watched her twist further into the car and dig her hands down either side of the man in front of her. 'Any pain anywhere, Andy?'
'M-my ankle.' The slurred words were accompanied by a belch of stale alcohol. Tom could smell it even though he wasn't directly in its path. Kayla didn't flinch.
'Okay, I'll have a look.'
Tom gritted his teeth as his fingers found the key in the ignition. It was in the off position. 'We need to get Andy out. Now. There's' His train of thought dried up abruptly as Kayla shifted to the right and the bare skin on her shoulder brushed the sensitive skin of his inner arm. Electricity sizzled along his nerves, making his fingers fumble with the car key. He forced his thoughts back into line. 'Kayla, there's petrol vapour, a hot exhaust, tinder-dry grass. The danger of fire is extreme.'
She glanced around at him then and gave a quick, short nod. 'Of course. I understand. We need to move him.'
Instead of shifting back, as he'd expected, she leaned further into the car. Tom tightened his lips to stop himself from yelling at her. She was doing her job, and doing it well, but that didn't stop him wanting to pull her out of the car, get her to safety.
'Andy, can you move your legs?' Not by the tiniest quiver did her voice betray any concern.
'No.' The word was more of a moan. 'It hurts.'
By the time Tom strode to the other side of the car and wrenched open the passenger door, Kayla had her arm pushed down into the well beneath the dashboard.
'Can you feel that, Andy?'
'Where am I touching you?'
'That's great.' She withdrew her arm and shone her pencil torch into the cramped space.
Newspaper crinkled under Tom's knee as he knelt on the seat and leaned across to reach under the driver's seat.
'Be careful,' Kayla said sharply. A heady mixture of whisky fumes and her light, spicy perfume assaulted his nostrils. 'There's glass from a broken bottle.'
'Thanks.' Tom winced at the gravelly catch in his voice.
'Andy's legs are caught under the dash. Apart from his ankle pain, there's no other obvious injury but visibility isn't great. I can't tell if he's trapped or just wedged forward with the seat.' She looked up, her wide eyes on a level with his for a breathless second. 'We can't shift him until we can straighten his legs and see. Before we try to move him out of the car, I'd like to try and shift the seat back so I can assess any lower limb damage properly.'
'Shift the seat. Right.' Tom drew in a lungful of air when her eyes swivelled back to Andy.
'Can you wriggle your toes for me, Andy?' she said, calmly carrying on with her examination.
'Are you allergic to any medications?'
'Do you take medication for anything? Diabetes? Heart condition?'
'N-no. Need something for the p-pain.'
'Okay. You're doing great, Andy. I'll get you something for your pain now.' She turned away for a moment then was back with a vial and syringe in her hands. With the slender capping sheath clamped between her teeth, she filled the syringe. Tom blinked. He'd seen the paramedics use the same technique countless times. But somehow Kayla's even, white teeth performing the familiar action was unbelievably sexy.
As she plunged the needle into Andy's leg, Tom shook himself mentally and reached across to grope for the lever under the driver's seat. 'I'm going to move the seat back as far as I can, Kayla.'
He jiggled the lever. Nothing. Applied more pressure. Still nothing. The angle was awkward. He moved further forward, closer to Kayla. Closer to her evocative female scent. Concentrate. He braced his knee uncomfortably on the handbrake and yanked directly upward.
The chair slid back with a jerk. Andy moaned.
'Sorry, mate,' said Tom.
Kayla was there in an instant. 'Where is your pain, Andy?'
Tom edged back outside. The deadly petrol fumes were stronger. They had to hurry. He clambered in behind the driver's seat. 'I'm going to lower the seat so we can take him out through the back.'
He wound the reclining mechanism with quick flicks of his wrist. 'Nearly ready to move him?'
She nodded, her mind obviously on the job as her voice sounded distracted when she spoke to him. 'Just let me make sure both his legs are free.'
There was a small popping noise.
'Hell.' Tom was moving as a terrifying whoosh followed. 'Kayla! Get out! Now!'
He scooped up the fire extinguisher, pulling the pin as he ran to the flames that leapt out of the gap between the crumpled bonnet and the front fender.
Aiming the nozzle, he pulled the trigger. The fire retreated, beaten into temporary submission. Moving forward, with a sweeping motion, Tom covered as much of the engine as he could with the foam. As soon as the cylinder started to splutter, he threw it aside and spun back towards the cabin of the car.
Kayla was still there. She hadn't done as he'd asked. Far from it, she'd taken his place in the rear of the car and had finished lowering the driver's seat. She was struggling to move Andy.
'I don't know how long that will hold.' He grabbed her by the upper arm, tugged her aside then slid in to take her place. 'We have to do this now.'
'We really need more hands,' she said, for the first time sounding anxious.
'We haven't got them. Come on, Kayla. Don't fold on me now.' He threaded his hands under Andy's armpits and locked his fingers across the man's chest. 'I'm going to pull him out. You try to ease his legs as they come free.'