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'Would you come and take a look at this young lad for me, Katie?' There was a faint note of unease in Colin McKenzie's voice, and Katie glanced up at him, wondering what could have happened to disturb the usually relaxed, easygoing police sergeant.
'Of course.' She'd been busy checking the cupboards for medical supplies, to see if there was anything she needed to reorder, but now she stopped what she was doing and turned to face him. 'What's the problem?'
She was on call at the police station a couple of evenings a week, one early, one late, which fitted in well with her shifts as a paediatrician in the emergency unit at the local hospital. Nothing much happened around here as a rule.
Being a relatively small Scottish island community, crime wasn't a major problem in the area, and Katie's role as police surgeon was generally limited to treating minor ailments, such as the occasional graze, or assessing the condition of youngsters who had drunk too much alcohol.
'It's John McGregor's boy.' Colin pulled a face. He was a tall man, with dark hair greying around the edges, the wisdom of years as a police officer weighing on his broad shoulders. 'He's been hurt. We picked him up in a raid on the Old BakehouseLizzie keeps petty cash in the office there, and a gang of teenage boys were after stealing it once it got dark. The lad was acting as a lookout.'
'Finn was the lookout?' Katie sucked in a sharp breath. She'd known Finn McGregor all his life. He was a long, lanky boy, just sixteen years old, and up to now he'd managed to steer clear of any major trouble, getting off with a caution or two for things like trespass or disturbing the peace. It seemed to Katie that most of his misdeeds stemmed from youthful exuberance. Surely he couldn't have fallen in with the local troublemakers?
'How bad is it? I mean, how did he come to be injured?' She followed Colin out of the room that had been set aside as her surgery and headed with him towards the waiting room.
'It's a dog bitenot from one of our dogs, thankfully.' The sergeant looked uncomfortable. 'It was a difficult situation. He was injured, but we had to put him in the van with a police constable while we rounded up the rest of the gang. They ran off in all directions and it took us a while to catch up with them.' He grimaced.
'Anyway, in the first instance we thought about sending the lad to A and E, but that would have meant even more delay, a journey by ambulance to the hospital, and seeing as how you were on duty here '
She nodded. 'I'll see what I can do.'
Finn was sitting on a bench at the far side of the room. He was ashen faced, blood trickling through his fingers and down his cheek as he held a thick wad of tissue paper to his ear. His grey eyes were blank with shock and his body was trembling, so that Katie's first overwhelming instinct was to go and put her arms around him and hold him close.
This was Ross's baby brother, after allor half-brother, in truthand she'd watched him grow from a tiny baby. Right now he looked lost and alone, and no matter what he'd done she had a compelling urge to reach out and protect him.
Sheer professionalism made her hold her instincts in check, but she went over to him and laid an arm gently around his shoulders. 'Let's go to my surgery, Finn, and I'll see if I can clean you up a bit and sort out what's to be done.'
'Oh, Katie, it's you ' Relief swamped his voice as he looked at her. 'I didn't do anything wrong, Katie, honestly.' His voice started to shake and his eyes glistened with moisture as he replayed in his mind what had happened. 'I wouldn't I was just And then this dog came from out of nowhere he sank his teeth into me and wouldn't let go.' He broke off, clamping his lips together as he fought for control of himself.
'You can tell me all about it while I take a look at you,' Katie said gently. 'One thing at a time. You've had a nasty shock and we need to get you settled.'
She led him towards her medical room and sat him down on the examination couch. 'Okay,' she murmured. 'We'll just get rid of those tissues and see what's going on here. So you don't know where the dog came from?'
'No. He was just there, staring at me.' Finn let her take the blood soaked wad from him. His hands were trembling. 'I was on top of a wall,' he said, 'looking into the yard at the back of the bakehouse, when the police started shouting at me. They came for me and
I jumped down.' He gulped, his voice catching with emotion. 'The dog started growling and I just froze for a moment. Then I started to run, and he leaped at me.'
Katie winced as she saw the result of the attack. The boy's ear had been bitten right through and there were bite marks on the side of his neck. It looked a mess. 'You're going to need stitches,' she told him, 'but first of all I need to clean it up.'
Colin McKenzie hovered in the background, but as she helped Finn to lie down on the couch he said tentatively, 'Do you need any help here, Doc? Only I could send one of the constables in, if you want. Otherwise, perhaps I should go and look into this business with the dog. And there are the other lads to be questioned, paperwork to be filled in, and so on.'
She shook her head. 'I'll be fine, Sergeant. You go and do what you have to, except someone should call Finn's father and let him know what's happened. He'll need an adult to be with him.'
'Not my dad,' the boy said quickly, and Katie guessed he was afraid of how his father might react to finding he was in trouble with the police. 'He's away on business, anyway. And Mum's not well. You can't go worrying her. She's been sick with a virus these last few weeks.'
'Yes, I heard about that.' Katie frowned. Finn's mother wasn't strong, and certainly she was no match for her stern, unyielding husband. She followed his guidance where their son was concerned, and perhaps it was no wonder that Finn had begun to wander from the straight and narrow, in much the same way his half-brother had done, all those years before, though the reasons had been different in Ross's case.
'Look,' she said on a sudden impulse, 'whatever happens, Finn, I'll take care of you. I'll help you to sort this out and be with you when the police interview you, if that's what you want.' She looked at Colin, and after a moment's hesitation he nodded briefly and went out of the room.
'Thanks, Katie.' Finn bit his lip, still looking dazed as Katie began to set up her equipment, getting ready to irrigate the wound.
'I'm going to start by cleaning the wound,' she said. 'Are you okay?'
'I think so.' He frowned. 'I don't know what's going to happen now with the police, I mean. I phoned Ross after they put me in the van. I thought he might be able to tell me what I should do.'
'You did?' Katie shot him a quick look. 'What did he say?'
'Nothing.' His shoulders slumped. 'I didn't get the chance to talk to him because the call went to voicemail and I had to leave a message. I suppose he's busy. He's working on the mainland so I don't get to see him much these days. I just wanted to talk to him.'
She laid a hand lightly on his arm. 'I know, Finn. He seems to be settled there now, doesn't he?' She could understand the sad look in the boy's eyes. He worshipped Ross. Even though there was an age gap of around fifteen or sixteen years between them, the bond between them was very strong. But it worried Katie that the teenager was pinning his hopes on his half-brother. From what she'd heard, Ross was working in Glasgow, and it wasn't very likely that he would be able to be of much help from that distance.
She began to carefully cleanse Finn's wound. She made a thorough and painstaking job of it, and when she had finished and was satisfied with the result, she injected the area with a local anaesthetic and waited for it to take effect.
Her mind wandered, conjuring up images of Ross. All the warnings her parents had issued when she had been a young girl came flooding back to her. 'Stay away from Ross McGregor. He's trouble, mark my words,' her father had said. 'He'll come to no good, you'll see.'
A part of her had never quite been able to see Ross in that light. True, he had been the village bad boy, always up to something or other, and none of it good, but there had been a sparkle in his eyes and a quirk to his mouth that, regardless of her father's warnings, had stoked a fire inside her and made her wish for all the things she shouldn't have.
Finn shifted restlessly on the couch, and she banished those errant thoughts from her mind as she began to prepare the suture kit.
'It'll need quite a few stitches,' she told Finn, 'but I'll do my very best work so that you should be as handsome as ever once it's had a chance to heal.' She smiled, her green eyes softening as she looked at the boy.
'Maybe, when I've finished, I could get you a cup of tea. It'll help to calm your nerves. I'll have a word with Sergeant McKenzie and see if he can put off questioning you until another time.'
Finn gave an involuntary shudder. 'I don't know how I'm going to tell my dad. He won't believe I've done nothing wrong.'
Katie didn't know how to respond to that.
She wouldn't have thought Finn was capable of such an unlawful act, but the sergeant must have been very sure of his misconduct to bring him in to the station.
'Well,' a familiar male voice, deep and reassuring, cut across the brief silence, 'we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.' Katie gave a small start of surprise. Neither of them had heard the surgery door open, but now they both stared in disbelief as Ross McGregor came into the room.
Katie's heart lurched inside her rib cage, making her catch her breath. He was as heart-stoppingly good looking as ever, over six feet tall, ruggedly masculine, his strong frame clad in dark chinos and a combat jacket that could have been left over from his army days.
'I did knock,' he said, 'but perhaps you were both too engrossed to hear.' He shrugged his backpack off his shoulders and let it drop lightly to the floor. Then, as Katie turned fully towards him, his blue eyes widened. He exhaled slowly, his glance trailing in a lingering exploration of her face and the cloud of bright chestnut curls that tumbled over her shoulders.
'Wow it's great to see you again, Katie,' he said. 'I'd no idea I'd find you here. You look terrific.' He gave her a bemused nod of recognition before turning his attention to Finn.
Finn's face lit up with joy. 'You came,' he said in astonishment. 'How did you manage that? I didn't think you'd get my message, and I never expected you to turn up here.'
'You sounded really down, so I knew I had to come,' Ross said evenly. 'As luck had it, I managed to get the last train from Glasgow and then I took the ferry the rest of the way.' He went over to him and inspected the gaping wound left by the dog and turned to Katie. 'It looks as though you have your work cut out here. Is it all right with you if I stay and talk to Finn while you get on with the sutures?'
'That'll be fine.' She waved a hand towards the kettle on the worktop across the room. 'You could make us a hot drinkI expect you could use one after your journey, and I know Finn would appreciate one when I'm done here. He can have a couple of paracetamol tablets with it to help with the pain.'
'Will do.' He strode over to the sink and filled the kettle. 'We'll get through this, Finn,' he said. 'But first you have to tell me what happened. How did you end up in this mess?'
Finn told him his story while Katie set to work. It had been so long since she'd seen Ross, several years, in fact, but she'd heard rumours about what he'd been up to. It seemed he hadn't really changed. He was still as big and bold as ever, and the instant he'd walked into the room he'd seemed to take in the situation and assume control. He'd always been that way. He knew what he wanted, where he was headed, and nothing ever stood in his path. Not for long, anyway.
The only person who had ever had any influence over him had been his father, but Ross had put paid to any hold he'd had over him by leaving home to join the army as soon as he had been old enough. Those years had certainly left their mark on him. Now, he appeared confident, capable, and if the tales she'd heard were correct, it seemed that nothing was beyond him.
She finished the sutures and began to clear away her equipment. 'I'll put a dressing on it,' she told Finn, adding with a smile, 'I'm afraid you're going to look a bit like an Egyptian mummy for a while, with all the bandaging to hold it in place.'
'It'll just add to your street cred,' Ross told him. He waited until Katie had finished the dressing and then handed her a cup of coffee. 'Do you still take cream and sugar?' he asked, his interested gaze drifting down over her slender figure.
'Yes, please,' she murmured, his warm glance making her suddenly conscious of her feminine curves, outlined by the dress she was wearing, a simple sheath with a bodice that swathed her breasts in gentle folds of material.
To calm herself, she suggested to Finn that he should lie back against the pillows and rest awhile. 'I'll give you an anti-tetanus injection and prescribe some antibiotics in case of infection.'
Ross placed the sugar bowl and jug of cream on the table beside her. 'So, what are you doing here, Katie? Is this your regular job these days?'
She shook her head, making the soft curls quiver and dance. 'I sort of fell into this job, really. They were pushed for someone to take over when the regular surgeon had his days off, and I just happened to be in the vicinity at the time. Nowadays I fill in for the times he can't manage.'