After five years of working for Doctors Without Borders, Nathan Banks is close to burnout. He's ready for a fresh start, and taking a job in the stunning Whitsundays couldn't be more perfect! That is until Nathan discovers his new colleague is his exRachel Johnson!
Stranded with Nathan in an island paradise, Rachel finds her painful reasons for leaving him are increasingly difficult to hide especially when he's as irresistible as ever!
Could this twist of fate finally make these docs confront their past and face their futuretogether?
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'You really think this is a good idea?' Nathan Banks shook his head. Nothing about this sounded like a good idea to him.
But Lewis nodded. 'I think it's a great idea. I need a doctor. You need a job.'
'But I already have a job.' He lifted his hands. 'At least I think I do. Is my contract not being renewed?'
His stomach turned over a little. Last night had been a particularly bad night in A & E. His medical skills were never in question but his temper had definitely been short. It hadn't been helped by hearing a car backfire on the walk home and automatically dropping to the ground as if it were gunfire. His last mission for Doctors Without Borders had been in a war zone. Dropping to the floor when you heard gunfire had become normal for him. But doing it in the streets of Melbourne? Not his proudest moment. Particularly when a kid on the way to school had asked him what was wrong.
Lewis smiled. The way he always did when he was being particularly persuasive. Nathan had learned to spot it over the years. 'The last few days in A & E have been tough. You came straight out of Doctors Without Borders after five years and started working here. You've never really had a holiday. Think of this as your lucky day.'
Nathan lifted the buff-coloured folders. 'But this isn't a holiday. This is a form of torture. My idea of a holiday is walking in the hills of Scotland somewhere, or surfing on Bondi Beach. Being stranded on an island with nine B-list celebrities? I'm the least celeborientated person on the planet. I couldn't care less about these people.'
Lewis nodded. 'Exactly. That's what makes you perfect. You can be objective. All you need to do is supervise the fake TV challenges and monitor these folk's medical conditions for the three weeks they're on the island. The rest of the time you'll get to sit around with your feet up.' He bent over next to Nathan and put one hand on his shoulder, waving the other around as if he were directing a movie. 'Think of itthe beautiful Whitsunday islands, the surrounding Coral Sea, luxury accommodation and perfect weather with only a few hours' work a day. What on earth could go wrong?'
Nathan flipped open the first folder. Everything about this seemed like a bad idea. It was just a pity that the viewing public seemed to think it was a great one. Celebrity Island had some of the best viewing figures on the planet. 'But some of these people shouldn't be going to a celebrity island, let alone doing any challenges. They have serious medical conditions.'
Lewis waved his hand. 'And they've all had million-dollar medicals for the insurance company. The TV company needs someone with A & E experience who can think on their feet.'
'I hardly think epidemic, natural disaster and armed conflict experience is what a TV crew needs.'
Lewis threw another folder towards him. 'Here. Read up on snake bites, spiders and venom. The camp will be checked every night but you can't be too careful.'
The expression on Lewis's face changed. The hard sell wasn't working and it was obvious he was getting desperate.
'Please, Nathan. I agreed to this contract before I knew Cara was pregnant. I need to find someone to replace me on the island. The last thing I want is to end up sued for breach of contract. You're the one person I trust enough to ask.'
Nathan took a long, slow breath. Working for a TV company was the last thing he wanted to do. But Lewis was right. He was close to burnout. And in some ways he was lucky his friend had recognised it. How bad could three weeks on an island in the Coral Sea be? The celebs might have to sleep by a campfire but the production crew were supposed to have luxury accommodation. He shook his head. 'Why didn't you just tell me this was about Cara's pregnancy?'
Lewis looked away for a second. 'There have been a few issues. A few complicationsa few hiccups as we've got closer to the end. We didn't really want to tell anyone.' He slid something over the desk towards him. 'Here, the final sweetener. Look at the pay cheque.'
Nathan's eyes boggled. 'How much?' He shook his head again. 'It doesn't matter what the pay cheque is, if you'd told me this was about Cara I would have said yes right away.' He lifted his hands. 'I would have volunteered and done it for nothing. Sometimes you've got to be straight with people, Lewis.'
Lewis blinked, as if he was contemplating saying something else. Then he gave his head a little shake. 'Thank you, Nathan.' He walked around and touched Nathan's shoulder. 'I need a medic I can trust. You'll have back-up. Another doctor is flying out from Canberra to join the TV crew too. Last year I was there I worked twelve hourstopsover three weeks. Trust me. This will be the easiest job you've ever had.'
Nathan nodded slowly. It still didn't appeal. He had a low tolerance to all things celebrity. But three weeks of easy paid work in a luxury location? He'd have to be a fool to say no. Plus, Lewis had helped him when he'd landed in Australia straight out of Doctors Without Borders and with no job. Of course he'd help. 'What happens when I get back?'
Lewis met his gaze. 'You're a great medic. We're lucky to have you. I'll give you another six-month contract for A & Eif you want it, of course.'
He hesitated only for a second. Lewis was one of his oldest friends and he knew they'd waited four years for Cara to fall pregnant. There was no way he could let him down. Even if it was the last place on this earth he wanted to go.
He picked up the pen. 'Tell Cara I'll be thinking about her. Okay, where do I sign?'
* * *
Rachel Johnson took a few final moments lying on the sun lounger at the pool. She couldn't believe for a second she was getting paid for this.
She'd been here two days and hadn't had to do a minute of work. Apparently her job started as soon as she hit the island. Which was fine by her. From what she'd seen of the nine celebrities taking part in Celebrity Island, she suspected they ranged from mildly whiny to difficult and impossible. Her old university friend Lewis Blake had persuaded her to take part and the fee was astronomical. But that wasn't why she was here.
She was here because her Hippocratic oath seemed to have her over a barrel. Her exan Australian soap starwas taking part. And she was one of the few that knew his real medical history. It seemed that one of his bargaining chips had been to ask for a doctor he could trust. And even though there was nothing between them, part of her felt obliged to help.
'Are you ready, Dr Johnson? The seaplane has just landed.'
Rachel jumped up from the comfortable lounger and grabbed her rucksack packed with her clothes. Two days staying in the luxury five-star resort had been bliss. All the medical supplies she would need had already been shipped. Apparently the other medic was already on the island. And since there was no way off the island for the next three weeks she hoped it was someone she could work with. Between the two of them, they would be on call twenty-four hours a day for three weeks. Lewis had assured her that apart from monitoring the challenges there really wasn't anything to do. But, as much as she loved him, Lewis had always been economical with the truth.
Rachel climbed into the seaplane that was bobbing on the blue ocean. She'd never been in one of these before and the ride was more than a little bumpy. But the view over the island worth it.
The pilot circled the island, letting her see the full geography. 'This is the beach where some of the celebrities will be dropped off. The beach on the other side is for the crew. It has umbrellas, sun loungers and a barso don't worry, you'll be well looked after.' As he crossed the middle of the island the view changed to a thick jungle. 'Camp is in the middle,' he said. 'Don't tell anyone but they actually have a rain canopy they can pull overhead if we get one of the seasonal downpours. We didn't have it the first year and the whole camp got swept away in a torrent of water.'
Rachel shifted uncomfortably in her seat. That sounded a little rougher than she'd expected. 'Where will I be staying?'
He pointed to some grey rectangular buildings in the distance. 'The three big grey buildings are the technical huts and production gallery. You'll be staying in a portable cabin. The medical centre is right next to you.' He let out a laugh that sounded more like a pantomime witch's cackle. 'Just next to the swamp and the rope bridge. The celebrities love those.' He gave Rachel a nod. 'I won't tell you how many of them have fallen off that rope bridge.'
For a second her throat felt dry. Lewis's version of the truth was already starting to unravel. A portable cabin and a hotel were not the same thing. Her dreams of a luxury bed and state-of-the-art facilities had just vanished in the splutter of a seaplane's engines. There might be an ocean right next to her but there was no swimming pool, no facilities and definitely no room service. This was sounding less and less like three weeks in the sun and more and more like she would be wringing Lewis's neck the next time she saw him.
The seaplane slowed and bumped to a landing on the water, moving over to a wooden quay. A burly man in a grey T-shirt tinged with sweat grabbed the line so she could open the door and jump down.
He rolled his eyes. 'I'm Ron. Welcome to paradise.'
The wooden quay gave a little sway as she landed on it.
They walked quickly along the beach and up a path towards the grey portable cabins. 'Kind of out of place for paradise?' she said.
Ron laughed. 'Is that how they got you out here? Told the same story to the other doc too. But he's been fine. Said he's used to sleeping in camp beds anyhow and it doesn't make any difference to him.'
A horrible shiver crept down Rachel's spine. She'd spent five years at university in London with Lewis and a group of other friends. Then another couple of years working in the surrounding London hospitals. Lewis knew everything about her. He knew everything about the guy she'd dated for five years back then. Lewis was the common denominator here. He wouldn't have done anything stupid, would he?
Ron showed her up to the three cabins sitting on an incline. 'The rest of the crew stay along the beach a little. You and the other doc are in here. Medical centre is right next to you. And the one next to that is the most popular cabin on the beach.'
'Showers?' she said hopefully.
'Nope. Catering,' he answered with a broad smile.
'Okay. Thanks, Ron.' She pushed open the door to the cabin and sent a silent prayer upwards.
The cabin was empty. There was a sitting area in the middle with a sofa. A bathroom with a shower of sorts, and two rooms at either end. It wasn't quite army camp beds. They were a little better than that. But the rooms were sparse, with only a small chest of drawers and a few hooks on the wall with clothes hangers on them.
Rachel dumped her rucksack and washed her face and hands, taking a few minutes to change her T-shirt and apply some more mosquito spray and sunscreen.
Her stomach was doing little flip-flops. It was pathetic really. Ron had only made one remark about a camp bed. It was nothing. It could apply to millions of guys the world over. But she had a bad feeling about this. Lewis had been especially persuasive on the phone. He'd given her the whole 'my wife is pregnant' and 'one of the celebrities is being difficult' routine. When she'd heard who the celebrity was she hadn't been surprised. She'd met Darius under unusual circumstances. Both of them had been vulnerable. And he'd loved the thought that by dating a doctor he had an insider's view of treatments.
But dating Darius CornellAustralia's resident soap opera hunkhad been an experience. They'd dated for just over a year. Just enough to get both of them through. She'd been relieved when the media attention had died down.
Her stomach flipped over one more time as she walked outside and reached for the door handle of the medical centre. It was strange to be here at his request. But Darius could be handled.
Her biggest fear was that the person behind this door probably couldn't.
He was dreaming. More likely he was having a nightmare. He pushed his hat a little further back on his head and blinked again.
No. She was still there.
Rachel Johnson. Brown hair tied in a pony-tail, slightly suntanned skin and angry brown eyes set off by her pink T-shirt.
'Just when I thought this couldn't get any worse.' He pulled his feet off the desk.
Her lips tightened and her gaze narrowed.
'I'm going to kill Lewis Blake. I'm going to kill him with my bare hands. There's no way I'm getting stuck on this island with you for three weeks.' She folded her arms across her chest.
He pointed out at the sky. 'Too late, Rach. You just missed your ride home.' The seaplane was heading off in the distance.
Her forehead creased into a deep frown. 'No way. There must be a boat. Another island nearby. How do they get supplies?'
Nathan shrugged. 'Not sure. I've only been here a day. And don't worry. I'm just as happy to see you. Particularly when I've just looked through the medical notes and saw your lovely ex is one of the celebs. No wonder you're here.'
He couldn't help it. When they'd split up years ago Rachel had come to Australia and a few months later been photographed by the press with her new boyfriendan Australian soap star. It had been hard enough to get over the split, but seeing his ex all over the press when he'd been left behind to take care of his younger brother had just rubbed salt in the wounds. She'd gone to Australia. The place they'd planned to go to together.
'What exactly are you doing here, Nathan? You seem the last person who'd want a job like this.'
He raised his eyebrows. 'And what's that supposed to mean?'
She shrugged. 'I'd heard you were working for Doctors Without Borders. Celebrity Island seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination.'