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'Something's wrong, isn't it?'
Midwife Chloe MacKinnon unwrapped the bloodpressure cuff from around Avril Harvey's arm and tried to offer the anxious woman a reassuring smile. 'Your blood pressure is rather high,' she admitted, masking her own growing concern as she rechecked the notes and previous readings.
'What about the other things?' Tears glistened in Avril's pale blue eyes, while her swollen fingers nervously shredded a paper tissue. 'I've always suspected things weren't right but the people at my previous practice in Birmingham told me not to worry. They said they were normal signs of pregnancy.'
Chloe took one trembling hand in hers and squeezed gently before returning to her chair. This was the first time she had seen Avril. The woman had moved to the small Cornish town of Penhally Bay in the last couple of weeks with her husband, Piers, both determined that their longedfor child would grow up in a better environment than the inner city. But this was Avril's first baby. And at thirtynine, being short in stature, underweight and with a history of migraines, she had a few of the risk factors that warned Chloe to be on her guard. Add in the symptoms she had presented with that morning, and Chloe was worried about Avril's wellbeing as well as for that of her baby, suspecting that she had developed preeclampsia.
'I always saw my GP at my old practice as well as the midwife.' Avril paused and bit her lip. 'Could I see one of the doctors here today?'
'We're more midwifeled here ' Chloe hesitated as fresh tears spilled down the mothertobe's cheeks.
'I don't want to be a nuisance, and I don't mean to doubt your expertise. It's just that I don't know anyone and I don't know what to think. I'm so scared.'
Chloe smiled, wanting to put her at ease. 'I understand, Avril, don't worry. I'll ask one of the doctors on duty to see you.'
The GPs left straightforward cases to Chloe and her colleague, Kate Althorp, but if it would set the distressed woman's mind at rest to have the second opinion, Chloe wasn't going to be awkward about it. Avril was alone in a strange place and feeling vulnerable, clearly on edge, her pale skin sallow, her short blonde hair lank. Time was of the essence. All that mattered was the safety of both mother and baby.
'Thank you, Chloe.' Avril gave a weary sigh, pressing the fingers of one hand to her temple. 'I wish my husband was with me.'
'Would you like me to call him for you?'
'No, it's all right. After dropping me here, Piers had to make the halfhour drive to St Piran for a meeting at the secondary school. He's an art teacher and he'll be working there when the new term begins,' she explained tearfully. 'We were looking forward to the summer to settle into our new home first and prepare for the baby. He won't be back for another couple of hours.'
Nodding, Chloe reached for the phone and keyed in the extension number for Reception. She watched as Avril turned her head to stare sightlessly out of the window of the room on the first floor of the expanding Penhally Bay Surgery. Chloe had tilted the blinds to keep out the full effects of the merciless July sunshine and was grateful for the coolness inside the building.
'Hello, Sue,' she said when her call was answered by the head receptionist. 'I'm with Avril Harvey for her antenatal appointment. Would you ask one of the doctors to pop upstairs for a few minutes? Thank you.'
The tone of Sue's reply assured Chloe that the woman had grasped the seriousness of the situation and would respond swiftly to the request. Hanging up, Chloe returned her attention to Avril.
'What made you choose to settle in Penhally Bay?' she asked, trying to distract the woman from her worries.
'We've been here several times for weekends and holidayswe even spent our honeymoon here ten years ago.' A reminiscent smile lightened Avril's expression. 'We both love the friendly, peaceful atmosphere, and Piers finds inspiration here for his painting.'
'Cornwall has always drawn artists. One of my friends, Lauren, is physiotherapist here, and she's an avid painter, too. Some of her work hangs on the wall in the waiting area downstairs.'
Interest momentarily chased the shadows from Avril's eyes. 'I noticed those. She's very good. Piers's paintings are more abstract. He's hoping to have time to develop and sell his work alongside the teaching.'
'So your move was both personal and professional?' Chloe encouraged.
'It seemed ideal when the job came up in St Piran. We never expected to have a child after such a long wait, but when we discovered I was pregnant, we both wanted a different kind of life for our family. I don't know what I'll do if anything happens to my baby.' A sob escaping, she rested one palm over her stomach.
Rising to her feet, Chloe pulled another tissue from the box she kept handy, then rounded the desk, squatting down to put a comforting arm around Avril's thin shoulders. 'Try not to imagine the worstcase scenarios. Even if there is something amiss, it doesn't mean you won't have a perfectly healthy baby. We're going to do all we can to help you,' she said reassuringly, handing over the fresh tissue.
'Thank you.' Avril blew her nose and dabbed at her tearstained cheeks. 'I'm sorry to be so silly.'
'You're not being silly. It's an emotional and worrying time.'
Before she could continue, a brief knock sounded and the door opened. Chloe glanced up, barely suppressing a groan as Dr Oliver Fawkner strode into the room with his customary swagger, exuding selfconfidence and blatant sex appeal. Oh, no! Why did it have to be him? Dressed in dark grey chinos and a crisp white shirt, he looked cool and unruffled, the shirt's short sleeves showing off tanned, olivetoned skin and leanly muscled forearms dusted with dark hairs. Straightening, Chloe stepped round the far side of her desk, selfconsciously putting a solid barrier between them.
Oliver had been working as an extra GP at the practice since midJune as cover for the surgery's increasing workload, the busy holiday season and while Lucy Carter continued her maternity leave. No one could deny what an excellent doctor Oliver was. But for reasons she couldn't explain, he made her feel acutely nervous. He was just too everything. Too masculine, too much the playboy, too outrageous, too sure of himself. And far too devastating in the looks and charm departments for any woman's peace of mind. Especially a woman like her. One who shied away from male attention and anything that made her feel uncomfortable.
Nothing and no one made her feel more uncomfortable than bad boy Oliver Fawkner.
'Chloe. I heard you wanted me.'
The roughedged, smoky voice sent a shiver rippling down her spine. Despite being five feet seven, Chloe had a long way to look up Oliver's ruggedly athletic sixfootthreeinch frame before she met the gleam of amused devilment in brown eyes as sinful and dangerous to the health as the finest chocolate. Chloe forced herself not to react when he sent her a cheeky wink. The man was a rogue. And he never missed an opportunity to tease her, flirt with her, disturb her, which only made her more tonguetied and feeling like a gauche country bumpkin.
'Dr Fawkner, this is Avril Harvey,' she said, trying to hide her uneasiness and maintain her cool professionalism as she gave Oliver the personal details he needed about their patient's age and circumstances.
Stepping forward with his trademark smile, Oliver shook the woman's hand. 'Hello, Avril, it's good to meet you.'
'Ththank you, Doctor.' Avril managed a teary smile in response. 'I'm sorry to be a bother, asking to see you.'
'You are not a bother. What seems to be the problem?' he asked, and Chloe tensed as that warm, molten gaze held her captive once more.
Clearing her throat, she dragged her gaze free and stared down at the notes. 'This is Avril's first appointment with us after moving to Penhally with her husband. She is in her thirtysecond week, and until now has been attending her previous practice in Birmingham for her antenatal checks.'
'They said I was worrying for nothing,' Avril commented, continuing to shred the tissue, revealing her anxiety.
'Avril's been experiencing headaches, which are not uncommon for her with her history of migraines, but she has also had episodes with her vision, including floaters. Then there is the oedemaand lack of weight gain,' Chloe explained, meeting Oliver's gaze again, glad to see he was now in full doctor mode and all signs of teasing had vanished.
'I did the routine checks today and there is some protein in Avril's urine. Her blood pressure has spiked, too. The notes show it has been irregular in the past, but while the last reading recorded was 145 over 85, two weeks ago, today it was 190 over 110, the highest ever.'
Oliver frowned with concern, squatting down beside the mothertobe, talking quietly to her as he examined her hands and assessed the level of swelling in her legs and ankles. Gently he rested a hand on her belly, and Chloe suspected that the smallness of the baby and Avril being underweight had not escaped his attention. He was very good with patients. Chloe just wished she felt as secure and untroubled when working with him as she did with the other male doctors in the practice, none of whom affected her the way Oliver did. Her awkwardness around him disturbed her as it was not something she had ever experienced before.
'Avril, I don't want you to worry unduly,' Oliver told the woman, continuing to hold her hand. 'But I agree with Chloe that your symptoms are more serious than your previous practice believed.'
'Oh! I knew it. What's wrong with me, Doctor? Is it the stress of the move?'
Oliver glanced up and Chloe nodded for him to continue. She wasn't territorial about her role when a second opinion was beneficial, and she worked well in partnership with the GPs to deliver the best possible care to her patients. As Avril was new and nervous, and seemed to trust Oliver, Chloe was happy to take a back seat for now.
'We suspect you have a condition called preeclampsia,' Oliver explained, and Chloe, impressed again with his patient care, noticed how he was respectful to include her and not take over completely.
'That's dangerous, isn't it?' Avril's voice rose with alarm. 'Is my baby going to die?'
Oliver was swift to reassure her, without scaring her unduly, about the dangers to her own health, which Chloe knew was of concern at this point. 'Not if we can help it, Avril. Preeclampsia affects about one in ten pregnancies and is caused by a defect in the placenta.' He glanced up and sent Chloe a quick smile, inviting her to participate.
'That's right. The baby receives nutrients and oxygen from the mother through the placenta,' she explained to Avril. 'That's why it is so important to have regular antenatal checks because the symptoms don't always show up in the early stages. Today we've seen signs that you could be affected. You have protein in your urine, your blood pressure is considerably elevated, and you have swelling in your hands, legs and feet, plus the headaches and visual problems. If we catch things straight away, there is every chance that both you and your baby will come through this without further illeffects.'
Avril was clearly struggling to absorb all the information. She turned her anxious gaze back to Oliver. 'What will happen? Can you give me something to make it go away?'
'No, I'm sorry, Avril, but there isn't a medical cure as such.'
'But my baby!'
Chloe handed over another tissue, which the woman took in her free hand, the other one still clasped within Oliver's. 'I know it's distressing, but you need to keep as calm as you can. Chloe will refer you to the hospital in St Piran and'
'Is that really necessary?' Avril interrupted.
'I'm afraid it is.' Oliver's tone was firm but gentle. 'They'll monitor your symptoms, keep a close eye on your blood pressure and the levels of protein in the urine. It may be that after a day or two you can go home on strict bed rest, but they will advise you what is best.'
'Once you are lying down, especially on your left side, it is possible that your blood pressure will come down. It's a question of how effectively they can keep you settled and stable,' Chloe added.
'And if they can't?' Avril fretted.
Oliver remained calm and persuasive. 'They'll do some tests, check your blood, and they'll listen to your baby's heart with a foetal monitor. You'll also have an ultrasound to check on the condition of your baby. Depending on what they find, they may suggest you have a steroid injection to help the baby's lungs, and you may have some other drugs for your blood pressure, and maybe some magnesium. Ultimately, the best way to protect you both would be to carry out a Caesarean and deliver your baby straight away, but that is something your doctor and midwife at the hospital will discuss with you.'
'Oh, my goodness.' Tears trickled from Avril's eyes as she sat back on the chair. 'I'm only thirtytwo weeks along.'
'Everything will be done in the best interests of your baby's health and your own,' Chloe reassured her.
Oliver released Avril's hand and rose to his feet. 'Can your husband come and collect you to drive you to the hospital?'
'He's already gone to St Piran. I don't know what to do,' Avril cried.
'I can take you.' Chloe glanced up from writing a note to the midwife and doctor at the hospital. 'I'm free until after lunch when I have a couple of house calls to make before my afternoon clinic. One of those calls is halfway between here and St Piran, so it won't be a problem. We can phone your husband, Avril, and have him meet you at the hospital.'
The woman sank back in relief. 'That is so kind of you. I wouldn't like to go on my own in a taxi or something. Are you sure you don't mind?'
'Not at all,' Chloe assured her with a smile.
Her nerves tingled as she felt Oliver watching her, and her gaze was drawn to his against her will. Dark eyes focused intently on her making her shift uneasily on her chair. How did he do that? What was it about this man that made her so edgy? Thick, lustrous, overlong dark hair brushed the collar of his shirt and framed a face that was far too handsome. The straight, wellproportioned nose, sensual mouth and chiselled, masculine jaw, combined with those wicked chocolate eyes to complete the playboy package the wealthy, devilmaycare doctor who, according to rumour, loved to surf and live the high life. A life totally opposite from her own. Shaking her head to rid herself of her unwanted thoughts about him, she mustered her reserves and kept her voice controlled.
'Thank you for your assistance, Dr Fawkner.'
A knowing smile curved his mouth. 'Always a pleasure, Chloe. I'll organise an outside line so Avril can contact her husband while you write your notes for the hospital. Then I'll help her downstairs.'
Chloe wanted to decline, to send him away, but she had to place Avril's needs above her own. 'All right,' she conceded, her evident reluctance widening Oliver's smile, a boyish dimple appearing in his left cheek.
Focusing on her task, she tried to ignore the masculine rumble of his voice, followed by Avril's tearful but brief conversation as she explained developments to her husband.
'He's going directly from the school to the hospital,' Avril confirmed, once again holding Oliver's hand as he helped her to her feet.
'That's good news. Chloe, I'll take Avril down in the lift and meet you by your car.' 'Thanks.'
Chloe gathered up her things and hurried down the stairs, stopping at Reception to explain what was happening and to collect the notes for her home visits. She was ready to head outside when the lift doors opened and Oliver gently guided Avril towards the exit. Once Avril was settled in the car, her seat belt in place, Chloe walked round to the driver's side, disconcerted when Oliver followed her. She opened the door, but the light touch of his fingers on her bare arm made her jump, and she paused, looking at him in confusion, alarmed at the way her skin burned from his touch.
'Let me know how things turn out?' he asked, and his genuine concern warmed her.
'Of course. I can check in with you later.'
'I'll look forward to it.' He hesitated a moment and Chloe fought not to reveal her discomfort when he leaned across her, making her all too aware of him as he ducked his head through the open door to talk to their patient. His body brushed against hers, and she sucked in an unsteady breath, only to find herself inhaling his unfamiliar, earthy, male scent. 'Good luck, Avril. I wish you and your husband a healthy baby. Now I'll leave you in Chloe's capable hands. She's a terrific midwifeyou can trust her to give you the very best care and advice.'
Chloe was still reeling from Oliver's praise when he straightened, held her gaze for an endless moment, then stroked one finger across the tip of her nose. 'Drive carefully, babe,' he instructed, his voice soft but husky, before he stepped back to let her slide behind the steeringwheel and close the door.