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It was June and the hot summer sun above made the confines of the car feel restricting as Leo Fenchurch drove along the road at the top of the cliffs in Bluebell Cove, a coastal village in the Devonshire countryside.
It had been a long morning. The first surgery of the day had been followed by home visits to the patients of the Tides Practice, where he was employed as one of the two doctors there, and now every time he glanced down at the sea, blue and dazzling as it danced onto the sandy beach, his collar felt tighter, his smart suit more a burden than an asset, and the yearning to pull into a deserted lay-by and change into the swimming trunks he always carried in the car was strong.
But needless to say he couldn't give in to the temptation. After a hasty lunch there would be the second surgery of the day to cope with and by the time that was over it would be half past six, so any sun-worshipping and bathing would have to wait until a summer evening unfolded.
The practice was on the road he was driving along, past the headland overlooking the sea, and situated in the centre of the village. As he drove onto the forecourt the red car belonging to Harry Balfour, the senior partner, pulled up alongside.
As the two men walked towards the main entrance to the surgery Harry said, 'There is something I need to discuss with you, Leo, before we grab a bite of lunch, so let's go to my room, shall we?'
'Yes, sure.' The fair-haired six-footer, who was top of the list of Bluebell Cove's most eligible men, had no problems with that.
The two of them worked well together, especially since Harry had recently married Phoebe and now seemed in a permanent state of bliss. He was a changed man from the brusque widower who'd returned from Australia to take over the practice. And the change in him was all due to meeting the love of his life after a marriage that had not been the most satisfying of relationships.
Phoebe Morgan had been the district nurse attached to the practice but was now no longer employed there because she was expecting their first baby, a brother or sister for Marcus, her son from her own disastrous previous marriage and a child that Harry loved as if he was his own.
A carefree playboy himself when he wasn't at the surgery, Leo had thought a few times when observing his partner's contentment that maybe he was missing out by never committing himself to any of the opposite sex who were ever ready to be in his company given the chance.
But the woman had yet to appear who could make the most attractive man in Bluebell Cove want to settle down. Once long ago he'd thought he'd found her, but a force stronger than either of them had decreed that it was not to be.
'I had a phone call from Ethan while I was out on my rounds,' Harry explained once they were seated in his office.
Leo observed him questioningly. It had only been a few weeks since Ethan Lomax, who had been in charge of the practice before Harry had come and now lived in France, had brought his family over for the wedding of the man sitting opposite, so what was it now?
He was soon to find out. 'As you know, Ethan is working in a French hospital,' Harry explained, 'and has been approached by a junior doctor who is keen to get some experience of general practice, British style. Willing to assist if possible, he rang to ask if we could fit this person into the practice here for a few months. I told him I couldn't just say yes on the spur of the moment without discussing it with you, and would get back to him. So, what do you think?'
'An extra pair of hands would come in useful,' Leo said slowly, 'but how experienced is this guy?'
Harry was smiling. 'What makes you think it's a man?'
'So it's a woman?'
'Yes. Her name is Amelie Benoir. She's twenty-six years old and was top of her course at medical school, so I feel that an extra doctor in the practice for a while and one of such promise is too good an opportunity to miss, but first I want your opinion, Leo.'
'I feel the same as you,' Leo told him, 'and if this Benoir woman is what Ethan says with regard to ability and is as chic as his French wife, Francine, it will be a double bonus.'
'You never change, do you?' Harry commented with wry amusement, but Leo didn't rise to the bait. His mind was on the practicalities of the idea.
'So where would this French doctor stay?' he questioned, and then reverting back to form, went on, 'How about the apartment next to mine above the surgery? It worked for you and Phoebe when the two of you lived up there, didn't it?'
'I thought you weren't the marrying kind,' was Harry's reply to that.
'Who said anything about marrying? But I have to admit I envy you sometimes.'
'That is because I've found the right one,' he was told, 'and, having said that, going home to Phoebe and Marcus is the highlight of my day, so if this Amelie Benoir does come to join us here, I'd be obliged if you would go to the airport to meet her if she arrives in the evening. If it's during the day I'll do the honours, though evening would be better all round, I feel.
'Besides, with only the two of us as GPs, it's tough when one of us is missing, so I'll mention that to Ethan when I return his call and suggest she flies in after the surgeries, unless she's already found herself a niche over here by the time he speaks to her again. If she hasn't, and does come to join us for a while, I'm afraid she won't be living in the apartment across from yours.
Ethan has offered to let her rent his house in the village at a nominal sum for however long she stays.'
The following morning Harry announced that he and his predecessor had spoken the night before and arrangements were already in hand for the temporary addition to the practice to join them the following week.
She was to arrive next Friday evening, which would allow her time to get used to her new surroundings before presenting herself at the surgery on Monday morning.
Leo would meet her at the airport and give her the keys to Ethan's house, and Harry and Phoebe would make sure that a bed was made up and there was food in the fridge.
Having taken note of the arrangements, Leo put the new arrival out of his mind until such time as it had been arranged he should be at the airport to meet her. He carried on with his leisure pursuits as normal, which included swimming at every opportunity, tennis, and taking part in the village's social life in the form of dining out and attending local entertainment.
When Lucy, the elderly practice nurse who had worked at the surgery for as long as anyone could remember, asked him one morning if the trainee doctor was married or single, coming alone or accompanied, Leo had to tell her that he didn't know, hadn't thought to ask. Neither, it seemed, had Harry.
He appeared at that moment and when consulted merely said, 'Ethan's house is big enough to accommodate eight to ten people comfortably, so there won't be a problem regarding anyone she brings with her.'
'Especially if she's got lots of attractive sisters,' Leo joked, and Lucy smiled. She liked Leo Fenchurch, liked his easy manner, which some people misread. In reality he was a caring and experienced doctor who often concealed his feelings behind a casual bonhomie, which could be the reason why so many of the local female population sought his company.
Leo set off for the airport the moment the surgeries of the day were over on the Friday of the following week. It was a lengthy drive and he had no wish for the new arrival to be without someone to greet her when the aircraft touched down, which meant that he was still wearing the suit he wore for the practice, having had no time to change, and was hungry into the bargain, again because of the time factor.
Amelie Benoir's name was printed in large capitals on a piece of cardboard beside him on the passenger seat of the car and he was hoping that she would be one of the first off the plane so that he could take her for something to eat to appease his hunger.
The traffic wasn't good, but Friday nights never were, he thought as he watched the minutes ticking by. He strode into the arrivals lounge holding his piece of cardboard aloft with only seconds to spare as the first passengers from the French flight began to filter through.
His eyes widened. It looked as if his wishes were going to be granted. This had to be her, he thought as a tall, elegant woman with a sweep of shining blonde hair appeared amongst the first of the arrivals.
He reached out over the barrier as she drew level and held the card out for her to see, but there was no reaction, just a rather surprised smile and then she was gone, moving in the direction of the taxi rank. So much for that, he thought wryly. He'd been too quick off the mark there.
Passengers kept coming and no one stepped out of line and claimed to be Amelie Benoir. Eventually he was the only one there with his piece of card. As the last two, a rather nondescript couple, appeared, he was on the point of turning away when the woman called, 'Wait, please. I am she. I am Amelie Benoir.' As he observed her in dismayed surprise, the man that he'd thought she was with proceeded to the nearest exit.
He almost groaned out loud at the idea of mistaking the other woman for this untidy creature, but pulling himself together he said smoothly, 'Welcome to Devon, Dr Benoir. I am Leo Fenchurch, one of the doctors in the practice. If you will walk to the end of the barrier, I will take charge of your luggage, and then perhaps you would like some refreshment before we embark on what is quite a long drive to Bluebell Cove.'
It had been a shift like most of the shifts for junior doctors at the busy hospital where Amelie had first met the friendly Ethan Lomax. Who had set her imagination on fire when he'd spoken of the beautiful village on the coast of Devon where he'd lived before moving to France.
She had been allotted to Women's Surgical and had been nearing the end of what should have been a twelve-hour shift, but as sometimes happened it had been twice as long for various reasons, and for the last couple of hours Amelie had cast frequent glances at the clock because she hadn't wanted to miss her flight to the UK. If its relentless hands hadn't messed up her arrangements, there had always been the chance that exhaustion would.
But release had come at last and hurrying to her flat, which fortunately had been in the staff accommodation part of the hospital complex, she'd thrown off her hospital garb, showered, and replaced the clothes she'd taken off with the only jacket and trousers she possessed for travelling in.
Picking up her case, which fortunately she'd packed previously, she'd hailed a taxi from the rank outside the hospital gates and the last thing she remembered after settling into her seat on the plane had been wishing that it wasn't going to be such a short flight as the exhaustion that she'd had to fight to get there on time had taken over and even before take-off she'd been asleep.
It was why she was one of the last off the aircraft, drowsy and disorientated. She saw the card in the hand of a man who looked like the angel Gabriel in a suit and wished that she'd managed to find time to brush her hair properly instead of just rubbing it dry with the towel after she'd showered.
She was discovering that his likeness to an angel wasn't just in the golden fairness of him. He was offering her food and as it had been hours since she'd eaten, she would have kissed his feet if he'd asked her to. Yet there was nothing angelic about the hand that he'd extended to shake her ringless one. The contact was brief, but she felt a firmness and sense of purpose in its clasp.
'Yes, please,' she said in reply to his offer of food. 'I'm famished. I came straight off my shift with only a short time to spare before my flight was due to leave, and have slept all the way.'
He nodded. At that moment she looked like what she was, an overworked, underpaid junior doctor with the white mask of exhaustion that most of them wore.
The rest of her was made up of hair that was black as raven's wings in a short cut that would have looked stylish if she'd taken the trouble to run a comb through it, and there was a snub nose in the centre of a face with a wide mouth that looked as if it might smile a lot under other circumstances.
She was of average height, average weight, everything about her was average, except for her eyes. They made up for it, blue as the bluebells that the village got its name from, and as their glances met, his keen and perceptive and hers still verging on sleep, he thought that maybe she wouldn't be such a disappointment after all. If nothing else, she would be an extra pair of hands.
He took her to eat in a restaurant on the airport concourse and as she enjoyed the food he reflected it was only the smell and sight of it that was keeping her awake.
A visit to the powder room followed the meal and Amelie sighed at the vision she presented in the mirror there. A quick flick of a comb through her hair improved it slightly, but the overall effect was far from how she would have wanted to appear on arriving in the UK for the first time to be met by a man who on closer inspection was more like a Greek god than an angel, but so what? She was off men, had been ever since she'd given Antoine his ring back.