Bound by their little girl
Leaving Anahera Kopu was the hardest thing Dr Luke Wilson ever did. He was torn by duty and desire, and his decision devastated them both…
Now Luke's reappearance on Wildfire Island threatens to turn nurse Anahera's life upside down. She lost her heart to him before, but now she has something even more precious to guard. Their young daughter!
Luke doesn't know he's a dad, but their child holds the key to unite them. This time…forever?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Stepping off a plane could be more than stepping onto unfamiliar ground.
Sometimes it was like stepping back in time.
The heat of the early evening was the first thing that Luke Wilson noticed. The kind of heat laced with moisture that felt like the anteroom of a sauna. Why on earth had he chosen to fly in a suit?
Because that was what internationally renowned specialists in tropical diseases wore when they were invited to be a keynote speaker at an exclusive conference?
The smell was the second thing that hit Luke as he walked from the plane towards the golf cart that was clearly waiting to transport him to his accommodation at Wildfire Island's newest facilitya state-of-the-art conference centre.
He'd already shed his jacket on the small private plane that he'd boarded in Auckland, New Zealandthe last leg of a very long journey from London. Now he loosened his tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves as he breathed in the scent of fragrant blossoms like frangipani and jasmine being carried on a gentle, tropical breeze.
And it was the smell that did it.
It smelled like
Oh, man it smelled like Ana.
The emotional reaction slammed into him with far more force than he had anticipated. A mix of guilt. And loss. And a longing that was still powerful enougheven after so many yearsto make him wonder if his knees were in danger of buckling.
He shouldn't have come back here.
'Let me take that for you, Dr Wilson.' The smiling young island lad held out a hand to take his small suitcase. 'Hop on board and I'll take you to your bure. You've got just enough time to freshen up before the cocktail party.'
Cocktail party? For a moment, Luke hesitatedhis brain fuzzy from a mixture of displacement and the opposing time zone.
Oh, yes this was the 'meet and greet' session before this exclusive conference started tomorrow. A chance to reconnect with his esteemed colleagues from all over the globe who shared his passionthe ambition to make a real difference in the world. Harry would be there, too, of course. More formally known as Sheikh Rahman al-Taraq, Harry was a patient turned friend who was bringing that ambition close enough to touch.
Luke's suitcase was strapped onto the back of the cart and the young man was giving him a curious look, clearly aware of his hesitation.
'You ready, Dr Wilson?'
Luke gave a single, curt nod, defying jet lag as he focussed on what lay ahead for the next couple of days. The nod dispelled any ghosts as well. Anahera didn't live here now. She'd moved to Brisbane almost as soon as he'd left Wildfire Island nearly five years ago. The weird sensationa curious mix of opposite ends of the spectrum between dread and hopewas nothing more than a waste of mental energy.
'I'm ready.' He climbed onto the cart, smiling at his chauffeur.
* * *
'I just don't get it.' Sam Taylor, one of the permanent doctors at Wildfire Island's small hospital, shook his head as he stirred his coffee. 'All the comings and goings and the research centre being fenced off for so long. Now we have private jets coming in and it seems that we have a boutique international conference venue on Wildfire Island. Why here?'
Anahera Kopu shrugged. 'It's a gorgeous place. Different. Exotic enough to attract people who might need an inspiring break as a background to sharing knowledge and doing the kind of networking that's important in the scientific world.'
'I get that. But I still don't understand why someone would choose a place as exotic as the M'Langi Islands. How did they even know about us? And can you imagine how much it has cost? Who's behind it and why has it been such a secret?'
Anahera shook her head. 'I have no idea. But it's not the only secret on this island, is it?'
Oh, help what an idiotic thing for herof all peopleto say. She had been keeping something huge a secret from all the people who meant the most to herher mother and her colleagues and friends who were her wider family.
Sam grinned. 'Do tell, Ana you must know a few more than me. You grew up here and I'm just a newbie.'
Anahera kept her tone light enough to make the conversation impersonal. She'd had plenty of practice at steering conversations in a safe direction.
'No, you're not. You've been here for years now.' She turned on the hot tap and reached for some dishwashing liquid. 'You arrived just after I went off to Brisbane to do my postgrad training, didn't you?'
'Mmm when the research station was just that. A research station. Now we find out it's been added to and turned into some exclusive resort that's going to be used for medical think tanks andnot only thatthere's a rumour that apparently there's been some amazing breakthrough that's going to be announced. Something that could change our lives. Don't you think someone might have told us about that? What do you think it is?'
'No idea. Unless they've come up with a new vaccine, maybe?'
'Doubt it. That takes years and years and more money than anyone would want to throw at an isolated group of Pacific islands. I reckon it's got something to do with that M'Langi tea they make and how it seems to protect some islanders from encephalitis. Did you know that research started on that decades ago?'
Oh, yes Anahera had known about that. Not that she was about to share any details. She didn't want to think about it, let alone tell someone else. Unbidden, a memory surfaced of sitting in a swinging chair as a tropical twilight morphed into night. Of armsheavy but so welcomeresting on her body as she lay back against the chest of the man who was telling about his curiosity regarding the tea. She shook the memory off with a head shake that was visible but fortunately appropriate to a dismissive comment.
'I think they'd decided that the only benefit of the tea was some sort of natural insect repellent so that mosquito bites were less likely and therefore people were less likely to contract encephalitis from them. It's hardly going to change our lives.'
Sam sat down at the table. 'I guess not. What we really need is for the aerial spraying to happen to control the mosquito problem. I wonder if anyone's managed to get in touch with Ian Lockhart yet. He's the person who should be organising it.'
Anahera shrugged. 'Not that I know of. He seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. I wouldn't be surprised to hear he's in Vegas, gambling away any recent profits from the mine.'
'If it doesn't happen soon, we could be in for a few nasty cases this year. We don't want another Hami, do we?'
'Heavens, no.' Anahera could feel her face scrunching into lines of distress. She would be in tears in no time if they started talking about the little boy they had lost to encephalitis a couple of years ago. It had been the most heart-wrenching case of her nursing career so far. Almost unbearable, because the little boy had been the same age as her own daughter.
'Maybe we'll find out at this cocktail party. You all set, Ana? Got a pretty dress?'
'I'm not going.'
'But you're invited. We all are.'
'Doesn't mean I have to go. I want to spend some time with Hana. I haven't seen her all day.' Anahera dried the mug and put it back in the cupboard.
'Bring her, too.'
She laughed. 'Take a three-year-old to a cocktail party? I don't think so Besides, I said I might stay on till ten p.m. if Hettie decides she wants to go before taking over the night shift.'
Anahera could feel a faint flush of warmth in her cheeks as the quirk of Sam's eyebrow made her realise that she had just pulled the rug out from beneath her excuse of wanting to spend more time with her daughter.
'I just don't feel like being social, okay? I had enough of that kind of thing in Brisbane. Not my scene.'
'There'll be interesting people to talk to who'll only be here for a couple of days. Experts on things like dengue fever and encephalitis. I'm looking forward to hearing what the latest research is all about and any improvements to treatment, never mind what the secret announcement is.'
'And I'll look forward to you telling me all about it tomorrow.' Anahera's tone was firm. Clipped, even. She didn't want to hear people talking about research into tropical diseases. It was too much of a reminder of conversations long past. Like the ones about the M'Langi tea. And the dreams of someone who had planned to change the world for the better. She'd bought into those dreams a hundred per cent, hadn't she? Because she'd been going to be by his side while he made them happen. Even now, that sense of loss could tighten her throat and generate that unpleasant prickle behind her eyes.
'There's going to be a hangi. You love hangis.'
'I know. Mum's in charge of it, which is why she's left us to sort the patients' meals tonight.' A quick glance at her watch and Anahera had the perfect excuse to leave. 'I'd better go and get on with the observations and medications round so I can feed everyone before they want to go to sleep.'
Sam shook his head, clearly giving up. 'I'll help with the obs and do the meds. We've only got a few inpatients so it won't take long. Then I'll have a shower and get spruced up while you're playing chef.'
The shower was exactly what he'd needed to clear the jet lag and sensation of displacement but, if anything, it only added to Luke's amazement.
Like the rest of this luxurious bure tucked into the tropical jungle edging the beach, this bathroom could have been plucked from a five-star resort. The walls were an almost flat jigsaw of boulder-sized stones and the floor a mosaic of grey pebbles inset with white ones that made a tribal design of a large fish. The soap was faintly scented with something that smelled like the islandjasmine, maybeand the towels were fluffy and soft.
Wrapping one of those towels around his waist, Luke stepped back into the round sleeping area where the mosquito nets, still tied back over the huge bed, rippled gently in the sea breeze coming through the louvered windows. He could hear voices outside. People greeting each other as they made their way from the other bures to the meeting hall where the cocktail party would probably be under way already.
None of these dwellings had been here the last time. There'd been a rustic cabin or two that had been used by visiting marine scientists but they'd been closer to the laboratories and had clearly been demolished to make way for the new meeting hall. Luke had never needed to use one anyway. He'd come here to work at the hospital as part of his specialist training in tropical diseases so he'd stayed in one of the cabins set up for the FIFOFly-In-Fly-Outstaff that provided medical cover and a helicopter service for the whole group of islands and managed to keep a surprisingly excellent, if small, hospital running.
Even the local people who helped staff the hospital had been excellently trained. Like the nurses.
Luke pulled on a short-sleeved, open-necked shirt and a pair of light chinos. He combed his hair but decided not to bother eliminating his five o'clock shadow. This evening, in particular, was a gathering of people who knew each other well and they'd been invited to relax here. For the next couple of days the intention was for them to enjoy a tropical break while they shared new ideas and then brainstormed the best way to use this facility in the future.
Outside, the sun was already low and the heavy fragrance of the lush ginger plants screening his bure from the next one made Luke draw in a deep breath. He'd only taken a couple of steps before he turned back, however. How ironic would it be to come here and end up as a patient? Digging into his bag, he found the tropical-strength insect repellent he'd brought and gave himself a quick spritz. He slipped the slim aerosol can into his shirt pocket to take with him in case one of his colleagues had not been so well prepared.
Like the accommodation bures, the meeting hall had been designed to blend with island style. It had a thatched roof and was open on all sides with polished wooden benches and woven mats on the floor. A table had been set up as a bar, and a man peeled away from the group gathered in front of it.
'Luke. It's so good to see you.'
'Harry.' Luke took the outstretched hand but the greeting turned into more of a hug than a handshake. They were far more than colleagues, thanks to what they'd gone through together years ago. 'I can't believe what you've achieved here.'
'It was your idea.'
'Hardly. I suggested using the laboratories as a base to attract new research. I didn't expect you to run with it to the extent of creating the world's most desirable conference venue.' Luke shook his head. 'You don't do things by halves, do you, Harry?'
'I needed a new direction. Or maybe a distraction.'
Luke's gaze dropped to his friend's hand. 'How is it?'
'Oh, you know I won't be stepping back into an operating theatre any time soon.' Harry turned away with a smile. 'Let me get you a nice cold beer. Unless you'd prefer something else? A cocktail, perhaps?'
'A beer would be great. But don't worry. I'll get it myself. And I need to say hello to people.' Luke followed Harry towards the bar but got sidetracked on the way when he noticed an acquaintance. 'Charles it's been far too long. How are things going in Washington, DC?'
'It was snowing when I left.' Charlesan American expert on dengue fevergrinned broadly as he gestured towards their stunning view of the beaches and sea beyond the jungle. 'Have to say, this is a bit of a treat.'
'It's a great place. If you walk past the rock fall at the end of the beach in front of the bures you'll get to Sunset Beach. On an evening like this the cliffs light up like they're on fire. That's how this island got its name.'