Read an Excerpt
Abby sank onto the sofa transfixed by what was happening on the TV screen. At the end of a rope, a man was being lowered out of a Royal Navy helicopter. Abby held her breath as the figure swirled precariously in the buffeting wind. She had put on the TV to catch the weather report but now she couldn't tear her eyes away from the drama unfolding in front of her.
Beneath the helicopter a boat was listing dangerously to one side, obviously in serious trouble. The reporter covering the story was telling the viewers that the Royal Navy rescue service had been called out to the stricken vessel. 'The family of four were on a sailing trip when they got into trouble off the Cornish coast. Heavy seas pushed their boat onto rocks and it is now taking on water rapidly. We have heard that the helmsman took a heavy blow to his head and is unconscious. His wife, who radioed for help, and their two young children, are still on board.'
Although the newscaster's expression was calm, Abby could detect suppressed tension in her voice. 'The helicopter crew has only a short time to get everyone off before the boat sinks. We understand that there is a doctor helping from the Royal Cornwall Air Ambulance Service.'
The man at the end of the winch dropped onto the listing boat, unhooked himself from the line and slithered his way across the deck. Within minutes he was being lifted back on board the helicopter, with two small figures attached to him like clams.
He swiftly dropped down to the boat again, retrieving another person from the stricken yacht. Heart in her mouth, Abby leaned forward. The injured skipper was still on the boat! Could he be rescued before the yacht sank, taking him and his rescuer along with it? If he had a head injury, as the newscaster was suggesting, then it would be dangerous to move him. But what other option was there? To leave him would be unthinkable.
The downdraught from the helicopter whipped the sea into a frenzy. Nearby, a coastguard rescue boat was making valiant attempts to approach the yacht but the heavy waves were preventing it from getting anywhere close. Abby squeezed her eyes closed. She could hardly bear to watch.
'A second man is being lowered onto the boat.' The newscaster's voice dropped to a whisper. 'We understand he's a doctor.'
Abby opened her eyes. Sure enough, she could just make out the letters on the fluorescent jacket of the second man.
The line attached to the helicopter was swinging wildly as the pilot struggled to keep the aircraft level. The small boat rose up to meet the man on the end of the winch then dropped away again. The figure swung first to the right then to the left as the deck kept veering away. Abby knew there was a real possibility that the rescuers might lose their own lives in the attempt to reach the injured skipper.
Suddenly the doctor was on the deck. Quickly he released himself from the harness and the line was reeled back into the helicopter.
Almost unable to breathe, Abby watched him pick his way across the slippery deck, almost losing his balance as the boat shifted wildly in the heavy seas. Moments later another man dropped down from the helicopter, this one with a stretcher. Abby lost sight of the first man as he disappeared from view. Had he slipped overboard?
While she'd been watching, Emma had come into the room. Seeing Abby staring at the screen, she unplugged herself from her MP3 player and sat down next to her.
'Is that what you're going to be doing?' Emma asked. 'In your new job?'
'Sometimes,' Abby admitted. Although she hoped to hell she wouldn't be involved in anything quite as dangerous as what was going on in front of her. It was one thing being trained to be winched up and down from a helicopter in calm conditionsthis was something altogether different.
Emma looked at her wide-eyed. 'Cool,' she said.
Thankfully her daughter didn't seem to appreciate the danger the men were in. That was good: Abby didn't want Emma worrying about her.
It seemed like hours but it could only have been a few minutes before the stretcher, now loaded with the injured skipper, was being attached to the winch. Abby knew the danger was far from over. The yacht was sinking rapidly. She was amazed that it had managed to stay afloat as long as it had.
Then the men with the stretcher were being lifted back onto the helicopter. As soon as they were on board the aircraft swung away. Seconds later the boat tipped up and with a final surge was engulfed by the waves. Any sooner and it would have taken the three men with it.
'I understand the mother and two children have been taken to hospital where they are being treated for hypothermia and shock,' the reporter continued. 'At this time we have no details about the condition of the skipper except that he is stable. But right now we can give you a live interview with some of the men involved in the daring rescue.'
The drama over, Emma went back to her music and left the room. Before Abby could switch the television off, the camera panned out slightly, revealing two men. One, a man in his fifties, was wearing the jumpsuit of the Royal Navy, the other the fluorescent jacket of a rescue doctor. Both men were smiling broadly, as if what they had just done had been exhilaratingand no more dangerous than a routine training exercise.
But as the camera zoomed closer, it was the younger man, the doctor, that made Abby's heart leap in her chest. Underneath his five-o'clock shadow there was something disturbingly familiar about his hooked nose and wide grin. But before Abby could get a better look at him the camera, frustratingly, focussed solely on his colleague.
'I have Sergeant Lightbody with me, who was the winchman involved in the rescue,' the reporter said.
The older man shifted slightly, looking uncomfortable to find himself on TV.
'Sergeant Lightbody,' the newscaster continued, 'can you tell the viewers at home what it was like out there today? From what I could see, it seemed that you just managed to get the victims off the boat in the nick of time.'
Sergeant Lightbody looked even more ill at ease. 'It was certainly a little breezy out there. I guess it was one of the more difficult situations we've been involved in for a while.'
'A little breezy? A bit of an understatement, surely? If you and your men hadn't been able to get these people off, it could've ended in tragedy. That all the family members survived is testament to the skill and courage of your team.'
'It's what we do.' Sergeant Lightbody shrugged. 'Anyway, if it hadn't been for Dr MacNeil here, we might not have got the skipper off without further injuryif at all.'
The camera shifted to the younger man. He was shaking his head. Despite the hat pulled low on his brow, shadowing his eyes, Abby realised with a jolt that she did recognise him. She didn't need to check the photograph she had kept for all these years to know that Dr MacNeil was Macher dead sister's lover and Emma's father!
Her legs shaking, Abby got up and retrieved the remote then froze the screen. She was breathing rapidly as she studied the fuzzy picture. It was him! He was older, yes; there were faint smile lines on either side of his mouth and radiating from the corners of his ice-blue eyes. He had filled out a little, and his hair was shorter, although still sun-bleached at the tips. Still, she would know that wide smile and glinting, expressive gaze anywhere.
She pressed the remote and the picture moved again.
'Dr MacNeil, could you tell us what happened back there? I understand you work with the Royal Cornwall Air Ambulance team. Is this just another typical day for you?'
Abby's heart was pounding so hard she could almost hear it. She had found Mac! And not just found him, she was actually going to be working with him. She sank back down on the sofa as her legs threatened to give way beneath her. Thank God Emma had left the room. She would have known immediately that something was wrong, and right now Abby needed to make sense of what she was seeing.
Mac grinned into the camera. Unlike Sergeant Lightbody, he seemed completely at ease. 'Not exactly a typical day but, yes, the Royal Cornwall Air Ambulance teams up with other rescue services when required. We believe that having immediate medical attention on the scene can often make the difference between life and death.'
'Even if it means putting your own life at risk?' The stunning blonde reporter was almost whimpering with admiration.
'I'm pretty certain the Royal Navy wouldn't let anything happen to me,' Mac replied lightly. 'Besides, they are the real heroes. They do this sort of thing day after day. If it wasn't for the pilot of the helicopter and his team, we would have never been able to get to the casualties.'
Abby still couldn't believe what she was seeing. It was ironic, really. Abby had tried desperately to find this man years before without any success, and now he was here, in Pen-hally, and she'd be working with him!
Incredible to think that the reason they were here in the first place was because Emma didn't have a father.
A few months ago, just before Emma's eleventh birthday, Abby had asked her whether she wanted to invite her schoolfriends over for a party. To Abby's horror, Emma had burst into tears. When she'd eventually managed to calm her down, Emma had admitted that the children at the school had been ostracising her for the last couple of weeks. Only her best friend had still talked to her.
'But why, darling? Has something happened? You used to have loads of friends.'
Between tears and sobs of anguish Emma had explained that one of the girls had started taunting her about not having a dad.
'I told them that of course I had a dad,' Emma had said, indignant. 'So they asked where he was. When I told them I didn't know, they made fun of me. They said that I was lying or else I must be a rubbish daughter that my dad didn't want to know me. I tried to ignore them but they kept coming after me, saying these horrible things.' She'd looked up at Abby, her blue eyes swimming with tears. 'I know you're not my real mum, Mum.' She'd smiled, realising what she'd said. 'I mean, you're my real mum, but not my birth mum. But you've never told me who my father is. Why doesn't he care about me? Why hasn't he ever come to see me?'
Abby's heart had ached for her child. Although, as Emma had put it, she wasn't her biological mother, Emma was hers in every way that counted. She couldn't love her more had she given birth to her, and Emma being her twin sister Sara's child simply made the bond closer.
'I want to know who my dad is,' Emma had continued quietly. 'All the other girls at school know who their dad is, so why can't I?'
Abby had looked into the stormy blue eyes that were so like Sara's and a lump had formed in her throat. She'd known only too well how Emma had felt.
'My darling, he probably doesn't even know you exist.'
'How can he not know? How could my real mum not have told him?'
Abby winced before she'd begun speaking. 'Sara was very happy you were going to be born. I guess she didn't want to share you.'
The truth was that Sara hadn't wanted Emma's father to know about the pregnancy. At least not until she discovered that she was going to die. It was only then that she told Abby that Emma's father was Mac, the windsurfing instructor they had met while on holiday in Mykonos. When Emma was just three months old Abby went back to the Greek island to try to track him down, but it was hopeless. The summer season was over, and the visitors as well as the instructors had long since packed up and left. No one could tell her anything about Mac. Who he was or where he'd gone.
Before Sara died, Abby promised she would raise her daughter as her own. She had kept that promise and even though it hadn't always been easy, Abby had no regrets. Emma brought such joy to her life.
'I don't want to stay at that school, Mum. Please. Can't I go to a different school when I go to secondary?'
'It's not that easy, sweetie. Here in London it's difficult to find a good school within walking distance. Let me try and sort things out with the school first.'
But despite several visits to the school, the bullying continued. It both angered and saddened Abby to see Emma withdraw more and more into herself, so when Abby saw an ad for an experienced paramedic for the Royal Cornwall Air Ambulance Service, after talking it over with Emma, she decided to apply. Cornwall would be perfect for them. It was near the sea and would suit Emma's love of the outdoors much better. They were both thrilled to leave London and its sad memories behind. Abby had promised Emma that as soon as they were settled in their new home and she in her job she would continue the search for her father. Little did Abby know then that fate was going to throw them directly in his path, sooner than either of them could possibly have imagined.
Abby retrieved the tattered holiday snap from the sideboard drawer. It had been taken on the last night of her and Sara's holiday on Mykonos and Abby studied it for what must have been the hundredth time. It was a group photograph, taken on the beach. Mac had his arm draped around Sara, who was laughing up at him. She herself was at the end, a solemn figure with mid-length hair, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses. She doubted if Mac had even been aware that she was there. They had been introduced, of course, but his glance had slid almost immediately straight past Abby to her much more glamorous and fun-loving sister.
She turned to stare at the TV again, almost expecting him to reappear. She still had a week of training to complete before she started her job, so she had some time to think before she came face to face with Dr William MacNeil.
What was she going to tell Emma?
What was she going to say to Mac when they met?
What the hell was she going to do?