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'There's someone here to see you, Gemma,' Narelle, the receptionist at the clinic, informed her as she popped her head around the consulting-room door.
Gemma looked up from the patient notes she was filling in before she left for the day. 'Not another last-minute patient?' she asked, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach. She had been working twelve hours straight and could think of nothing better than driving back to Huntingdon Lodge to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
'No,' Narelle said, and cupping her hand around her mouth in a conspiratorial manner added in a stage whisper. 'It's a police sergeant.'
Gemma straightened her slumped shoulders like a puppet suddenly pulled up by strings. 'A sergeant?' she asked. 'Why? What's happened?'
Narelle's eyes danced. 'He's the new cop. You know, the one we've been waiting for to replace Jack Chugg? He's in the waiting room. I guess he just wants to make himself known to you. Do you want me to hang around while he's here?'
Gemma pushed out from the desk and got to her feet. 'No, you go on home, Narelle. Ruby and Ben will be missing you. You've already stayed way past your usual time. I didn't realise Nick Goglin's transfer to Brisbane would take so long.'
'You think he's going to make it?' Narelle asked with a concerned frown.
Gemma hiked her shoulders up and down. 'Who knows? With head injuries it's always hard to predict the outcome. The neuro team in Brisbane will let us know as soon as he is assessed. All we can do at this stage is hope and pray he comes out of the coma with all his faculties intact.'
'Yes, well, all of Jingilly Creek is behind him, and of course Meg and the kids,' Narelle said. Her hand dropped from where it was holding the door ajar. 'I'll send your visitor in on my way out. Have a good one, Gemma.'
'Thanks,' she said as she quickly straightened the files on her desk. 'You too.'
Gemma heard firm footsteps moving along the corridor and then there was a brief hard knock on the consulting-room door a moment or two later.
'Come in,' she said, fixing a pleasant but professional smile on her face.
As soon as the door opened she felt her eyes widen involuntarily and her smile falter. For some reason she had been expecting a slightly overweight, close-to-retirement-age cop, someone who would take up the remote Outback post until they finally hung up their badge for good. She had pictured in her mind's eye a mid-height man with a balding pate and a belly that overhung his belt, similar to the recently retired Jack Chugg. She hadn't for a moment conjured up a tall, broad-shouldered, slim-hipped, dark-haired, gorgeous-looking man in his early to mid-thirties with a body that looked as if it would look even better without the covering of the blue denim jeans and white casual shirt he was wearing.
'Dr Kendall?' He moved across the floor to her desk in a couple of stridesmost people took at least three or fourand held out his hand. 'I am Sergeant Marc Di Angelo.'
Gemma put her hand in his and immediately felt as if he had zapped her with a Taser gun. Electric jolts travelled from her palm along the length of her arm. And even more shocking, disturbing and totally inexplicably, her heart gave a funny leap and skip and trip movement behind the wall of her chest. 'Umhi,' she said, feeling her professional front peeling away like shedding skin as she met his dark-as-espresso, coffee-brown eyes.
'I'm sorry to disturb you at the end of the day,' he said. 'But I have not long arrived in town and thought I should drop by and introduce myself.'
'Um would you like to sit down?' she asked, waving a hand towards one of the two chairs she had positioned beside her desk so as not to intimidate her patients. Now she wished she had the barrier of her desk between the sergeant's long legs and hers. It seemed far too intimate a distance when he sat down soon after she had taken her own chair. If he moved his legs even a fraction, they would touch hers. He had powerful-looking legs, long and strong with well-developed muscles. She tried not to look at his quadriceps as they bunched beneath the fabric of his jeans but her gaze felt drawn to them as if pulled by some invisible force. She quickly fixed her gaze on his and her heart did another funny little stop-start. His eyes were so dark she felt compelled to stare at him. They were so dark and secretive, mysterious, closed off, locked down, as if he had seen too much and was not prepared to let anyone else catch even a glimpse of what it had done to him. 'Welcome to Jingilly Creek,' she said, working extra-hard at keeping her professional poise on track. 'I hope you enjoy your time here.'
His gaze was unwavering on hers and his expressionlike just about all of the cops snthe had met in the past on businesswas completely and utterly unreadable. 'From what I have seen so far, it is certainly going to be a change from the city,' he said.
In spite of his casual attire, Gemma could see the slick city cut to his jeans and shirt and the totally urban look he had in terms of grooming. The thick dark locks of his wavy hair were controlled by some sort of hair product, and his lean, fashionably unshaven jaw hinted at the potent male hormones surging around his body. She wondered why he of all people had taken such a remote post. She wondered too if he had brought anyone with him, a wife or girlfriend perhaps. She sidestepped her thoughts, annoyed at herself for even thinking about it. His private life had nothing to do with her. 'Yes, well, it's generally pretty quiet out here,' she said. 'But we have our moments.'
'How long have you been in town, Dr Kendall?' he asked, leaning back in his chair slightly, as if settling in for the rest of the evening.
Gemma shifted in her seat, her eyes flicking to those impossibly long, strong legs before returning to his dark, inscrutable eyes. 'I've been here three years,' she said. 'I came up from Melbourne. I wanted to do my bit for the Outback. There's a shortage of doctors in regional areas. It's obviously much the same for your people. We've been waiting for a replacement for Sergeant Chugg for nearly six months.'
He gave a slow nod. 'And what keeps you here, Dr Kendall?' he asked. 'It seems to me to be a rough, lonely sort of place for a young single woman.'
Gemma frowned at him. 'How do you know I'm single?'
His eyes went to her tightly knotted hands in her lap before coming back to hers. Was that a hint of mockery she could see in his darker-than-dark gaze? 'You're not wearing a ring,' he said.
'So?' she said, shifting again in her chair but in an affronted, agitated manner this time. Did she look as desperate and dateless as she sometimes felt? It had taken her the best part of her first year out here to put her heartbreak behind her. She was over it now. Well and truly over it. Or was there something about her appearance that shrieked lonely single woman? She knew she wasn't wearing any make-up to speak of and her blond hair was in need of new highlights, not to mention her roots, and she didn't even want to think about how badly her eyebrows needed a pluck. She would have done it last night but she had fallen asleep in front of the television. 'I might choose not to wear jewellery when at work,' she said. 'A lot of doctors don't.'
An upward movement of his top lip suggested it was about as close to a smile as he was used to giving. 'Point taken,' he said.
The ensuing silence was intimidating but, then, Gemma wondered if he had intended it to be. He was obviously assessing her, summing her up for his mental database. Most cops did it. They were trained to read people, to decode even the most subtle body language and subtext of speech. She suspected he was a master at it. She sat it out as determinedly as she could. She crossed her arms and her legs, a lightning strike of sensation rushing through her when her ankle accidentally brushed against one of his. She thought she saw a flash of primal male interest in his gaze but he just as quickly went back to deadpan.
'You currently live at a property called Huntingdon Lodge,' he said. 'Is that correct?'
'For someone who's only been in town a matter of minutes, you seem to have done your research, Sergeant Di Angelo,' Gemma said with an arch look.
He gave a lift of one shoulder, a careless, casual movement she knew instinctively was a guise. 'In a town this small I don't think it will take me long to get to know everything there is to know about everyone.'
He said it as if that was his goal and Gemma could well believe he would achieve it if he set his mind to it. There was a steely determination to his personality. She could see it in the chiselled strength of his jaw, the Roman nose and in the firm, intractable line of his unsmiling mouth. Here was a man used to getting his own way in every facet of his life, she thought. The hint of arrogance in his persona, the aloof, brooding set to his features and his unmistakable attractiveness was a powerful and deadly combination she would have to take care to guard against.
'I've lived there since I came up from Melbourne,' she said. 'Gladys Rickards was a patient of mine. She ran the homestead as a boarding house and farm-stay property after her husband died. I ended up staying on with her rather than finding my own place. She was lonely and liked the company. We became very good friends. I guess that's really one of the reasons I've stayed on for as long as I have in Jingilly Creek. I didn't want to leave Gladys. She became rather dependent on me towards the end.'
His gaze was still locked on hers. 'Mrs Rickards died not long ago, correct?'
Gemma shifted a little in her chair, her hands untying and then reknotting in her lap. She felt uncomfortable that he knew all that about her already. What else did he know? 'Yes. It was very sad,' she said. 'She was one of the mainstays of this community, everyone loved her. She will be greatly missed.' She let out a sigh and added, 'It's been just over a month and I still can't quite believe she's no longer there when I go home.'
The same brow lifted up, slightly higher this time, interest and intrigue there in that single movement. 'What did she die of, exactly?' he asked.
Gemma felt another frown pull at her forehead. 'She was eighty-nine years old, Sergeant. She had a long history of kidney problems associated with her type-two diabetes. She went into renal failure and at her request died at home.'
Dark, bottomless eyes, steady, watchful, assessing. 'You were with her?' he asked.
The question seemed loaded with something she found disturbing. She felt her back come up at what he seemed to be implying. 'Sergeant Di Angelo, I have been with a number of patients when they die out here,' she said. 'Jingilly Creek is a long way from dialysis and transplant facilities, any facilities, in fact. Even if those were options Gladys could have had, she chose to die at home. She felt she had lived a long and productive life. She wanted no further intervention. I felt it was a privilege to have taken care of her. She had been extremely kind to me when I first arrived in town.'
'She must have thought very highly of you,' he said, still watching her with the gaze of a hawk. 'Huntingdon Lodge is now yours, is it not?'
Gemma sent her tongue out over her lips again. Who on earth had he been speaking to? Ray Grant, the only other cop in town, hadn't even mentioned the arrival of the new sergeant and she had been with him just an hour ago at Nick Goglin's place. The only thing he had mentioned, and that had been at least a couple of weeks ago, had been that he was still waiting to see if the guy in mind was going to take up the position so he could have some much-needed time off. 'Look, Sergeant Di Angelo, I am not sure what you are suggesting, but I had no idea Gladys had written her will that way. It came as a complete surprise to me. I had not expected her to do anything like that. It was certainly never something we discussed.'
'How did her family feel about her bequeathing everything to you?' he asked, still with that cop-like gaze fixed on hers.
'Gladys and her husband Jim lost their only son forty years ago,' she said, trying not to fidget under his unnerving scrutiny. 'There are nieces and nephews and second cousins and so on, but no one who visited or kept in touch regularly.'
'So you were the lucky one to inherit all of her considerable assets.' It was neither a statement nor a question but more leaning towards an accusation, Gemma thought.
'Huntingdon Lodge is like a lot of old properties around herequite rundown,' she said. 'It needs much more money than it produces in order to keep things going.'
'What have you decided to do with it?' he asked. 'Keep it or sell it?'
'II haven't quite decided,' she answered, which wasn't exactly the truth. As much as Gemma loved Jingilly Creek and caring for the locals, Huntingdon Lodge, although beautiful and with masses of potential, really needed someone with a farming background to run it properly. But for the first time since her mother had died she had a place to call home. But selling up and leaving so soon after inheriting the property could easily be misinterpreted by the locals. She had decided to make the best of it until enough time passed to make other plans.
'No immediate plans to head back to the big smoke?' he asked.
Gemma pursed her lips before she responded. He was watching her with that steady cop-gaze, quietly reading her every word and movement to see if they were in sync. 'I am not sure what these questions have to do with your appointment here, Sergeant. I should warn you that if you subject every person you meet in Jingilly Creek to the same inquisition you have given me, you might find your stay here is not as pleasant or productive as you might have wished.'