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The Virgin Bride
By Miranda Lee
Harlequin Enterprises LimitedCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises Limited
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat a glorious day, Jason thought as he stepped outside. Spring had finally come, and with it that delicious sunshine which encompassed just the right amount of warmth. The town had never looked better, nestled at the base of now lush green hills. The sky was clear and blue. Birds twittered happily in a nearby tree.
Impossible to feel discontent on such a day, Jason decided as he walked down the front path and out onto the pavement.
And yet ... You can't have everything in life, son, he heard his mother say.
How right she was, that wise old mum of his. His heart turned over at the thought of her, and of her wretched life: married at eighteen to a no-good drinker and gambler, the mother of seven boys by the time she was thirty, a deserted wife by thirty-one, worn out and white-haired by fifty, dead five years ago of a stroke.
She'd only been fifty-five. He was her youngest, a bright and affectionate boy who'd grown into a discontented and fiercely ambitious teenager, determined to be rich one day. He'd gone to medical school not because of a love of medicine, but because of the love of money. His mother had worried about this, he knew. She'd argued that money wasn't the right reason to become a doctor.
How he would like the opportunityto tell her that he'd finally become a good doctor, and that he was quite happy, despite not being rich at all.
Not perfectly happy, of course. He no longer expected that.
"Morning, Dr Steel. Nice day, isn't it?"
"It surely is, Florrie." Florrie was one of his patients. She was around seventy and popped into the surgery practically every week to discuss one of her wide range of ailments.
"Muriel's having a busy morning, I see," Florrie said, pointing to the bakery across the street. A bus was parked outside, and people were streaming out from the shop's door, their arms full.
Tindley's bakery was famous for miles. It had almost single-handedly put the little country town back on the map a few years ago, when it had won first prize for the best meat pie in Australia. Travellers and tourists on their way from Sydney to Canberra had begun taking the turn-off from the main highway, just to buy a Tindley pie.
In response to the sudden influx of visitors, the once deserted shops which fronted the narrow and winding main street had thrown open their creaking doors to sell all sorts of arts and crafts.
The area surrounding Tindley had always been a haunt for artists because of its peaceful beauty. But before this new local market had become available they'd had to sell their wares to shopkeepers situated in the more popular tourist towns over on the coast.
Suddenly, it wasn't just pies which attracted visitors, but unique items of pottery and leather goods, wood and home crafts.
In further response to this popularity, even more businesses had opened, offering Devonshire teas and take-away food. Tindley now also boasted a couple of quite good restaurants, and a guest house filled most weekends with Sydney escapees who liked horse-riding and bush walks as well as just sitting on a wide verandah, soaking up the valley views.
Over a period of five years Tindley had been resurrected from being almost a ghost town into a thriving little community with a bustling economy. Enough to support two doctors. Jason had bought into old Doc Brandewilde's general practice five months ago, and hadn't regretted it for a moment.
Admittedly, he'd taken a while to settle to the slower pace after working twelve-hour days in a gung-ho bulk-billing surgery in Sydney. He'd found it difficult at first to resist the automatic impulse to hurry consultations. Old habits did die hard.
Now, he could hardly imagine spending less than fifteen minutes to treat and diagnose a patient. They were no longer nameless faces, but people he knew and liked, people like Florrie, here. Having a warm, friendly chat was a large part of being a family doctor in the country.
The bus started up and slowly moved off, happy faces peering out of the windows.
"I hope Muriel hasn't sold my lunch," Jason said, and Florrie laughed.
"She'd never do that, Doctor. You're her pet customer. She was saying to me just the other day that if she were thirty years younger, you wouldn't have to put up with Martha's matchmaking, because she'd have snapped you up already."
Now Jason laughed, though a little drily. Matchmaking wasn't just Martha Brandewilde's domain. All the ladies in Tindley seemed to have got in on the act, his arrival in town causing much speculation among its female population. Apparently, it wasn't often that an attractive unattached bachelor under forty took up residence there. At only thirty, and better looking than average, he was considered ripe and ready for matching.
Not that they'd had any success, despite Jason being invited to several dinner parties where lo and behold, there had just happened to be a spare single girl placed right next to him. Jason suspected he'd been a severe disappointment to his various hostesses so far. Martha Brandewilde was particularly frustrated with him.
Still, he found it reassuring that, despite his apparent lack of enthusiasm for the young ladies served up to him on a platter, there had never been the remotest rumour or suggestion he might be a confirmed bachelor. This was one of the things he found so endearing about Tindley's residents. They held simple old-fashioned views and values.
Florrie gave him a frowning look. "How old are you, Dr Steel?"
"Thirty, Florrie. Why?"
"A man shouldn't get too old before marrying," she advised. "Otherwise he gets too set in his ways. And too selfish. Still, don't be pressured into marrying the wrong girl, now. Marriage is a serious business. But a fine, intelligent man like you knows that. Probably why you're being so choosy. Oh, goodness, look at the time! I must go. The Midday Show will have started and I do so hate to miss it."
Florrie hurried off, leaving Jason to consider what she'd said.
Actually, he agreed with her wholeheartedly. About everything. His life would be complete if he could find a good woman to share it with. He might have come to Tindley disillusioned with a certain lady doctor he'd left behind, but his disillusionment hadn't extended to the whole female race. He wanted to marry, but not just anyone.
He shook his head at how close he had come to marrying Adele. What a disaster that would have been!
Admittedly, she'd been a very exciting woman to live with. Beautiful. Brilliant. Sexy as hell. He'd been blindly in love with her, right up till that awful day when the wool had finally fallen from his eyes and he'd suddenly seen the real woman beneath the glittering façade: a coldly unfeeling creature who'd been capable of standing there and dismissing the death of a child with such chilling nonchalance, taking no blame whatsoever for her own negligence, saying that was life and it wouldn't be the last time such an accident happened.
Excerpted from The Virgin Bride by Miranda Lee Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.