Noah Jackson just wants to be a surgeon, and he's a GP placement away from fulfilling his dreams. Being in Turraburra, even temporarily, is way out of his comfort zoneand he doesn't need (admittedly gorgeous) midwife Lilia Cartwright lecturing him about his bedside manner!
But Noah discovers that Lilia's feistiness belies the most compassionate woman on earthand if there is one person who can reach into this delicious but brooding doc's locked-away heart, it's Lilia. If she succeeds, can he also heal hers?
About the Author
Fiona Lowe is a RITA® and R*BY award-winning, author. Whether her contemporary books are set in outback Australia or in the USA, they feature small towns with big hearts and warm and likeable characters that make you fall in love. Sign up for her newsletter at http://bit.ly/1FmSvHN All social media links are at fionalowe.com
Read an Excerpt
'Want to close?'
Noah Jackson, senior surgical registrar at the Melbourne Victoria Hospital, smiled behind his mask as he watched the answer to his question glow in the eyes of his surgical intern.
'Do I support The Westies?' Rick Stewart quipped, his eyes alight with enthusiasm. His loyalty to the struggling Australian Rules football team was legendary amongst the staff, who teased him mercilessly.
'For Mrs Levatti's sake, you need to close better than your team plays,' Noah said, knowing full well Rick was more than capable.
There'd be no way he'd allow him to stitch up his patient unless he was three levels above competent. The guy reminded him of himself back in the day when he'd been an internkeen, driven and determined to succeed.
'Thanks, team.' Noah stepped back from the operating table and stripped off his gloves, his mind already a long way from work. 'It's been a huge week and I've got the weekend off.'
'Lucky bastard,' muttered Ed Yang, the anaesthetist. 'I'm on call for the entire weekend.'
Noah had little sympathy. 'It's my first weekend off in over a month and I'm starting it at the Rooftop with one of their boutique beers.'
'I might see you there later,' Lizzy said casually.
The scout nurse's come-hither green eyes sparkled at him, reminding him of a previous good time together. 'Everyone's welcome,' he added, not wanting to tie himself down to anyone or anything. 'I'll be there until late.'
He strode out and headed purposefully towards the change rooms, savouring freedom. Anticipation bubbled in him as he thought about his hard-earned weekend of sleeping in, cycling along the Yarra, catching a game at the MCG, eating at his favourite café, and finally seeing the French film everyone was talking about. God, he loved Melbourne in the spring and everything that it offered. 'Noah.'
The familiar deep voice behind him made him reluctantly slow and he turned to face the distinguished man the nursing staff called the silver fox.
'You got a minute?' Daniel Serpell asked.
No. But that wasn't a word an intern or registrar ever said to the chief of surgery. 'Sure.'
The older man nodded slowly. 'Great job on that lacerated liver on Tuesday. Impressive.'
The unexpected praise from the hard taskmaster made Noah want to punch the air. 'Thanks. It was touch and go for a bit and we almost put the blood bank into deficit but we won.'
'No one in this hospital has any doubt about your surgical abilities, Noah.'
Something about the way his boss hit the word surgical made Noah uneasy. 'That's a good thing, right?'
'There are nine areas of competency to satisfy the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.'
Noah was familiar with every single one of them now that his final surgical exams were only a few months away. 'Got them all covered, Prof.'
'You might think that, Noah, but others don't agree.' He reached inside his jacket and produced a white envelope with Noah's name printed on it.
'Your solution to competency number two.'
'I don't follow.'
The prof sighed. 'Noah, I can't fault you on technical skills and I'd trust you to operate on me, my wife and my family. You're talented with your patients when they're asleep but we've had complaints from your dealings with them when they're awake.' He cleared his throat. 'We've also had complaints from staff.'
Noah's gut clenched so tight it burned and the envelope in his hand suddenly developed a crushing weight. 'Is this an official warning?'
'No, not at all,' the prof said genially. 'I'm on your side and this is the solution to your problem.'
'I didn't know I had a problem,' he said, not able to hide his defensiveness.
The professor raised a brow. 'And after this, I hope you won't have one either.'
'You're sending me on a communications course?' The idea of sitting around in a circle with a group of strangers and talking about feelings appalled him.
'Everything you need to know is in the envelope. Just make sure you're ready to start at eight o'clock on Monday morning.' He clapped a hand on Noah's shoulder. 'Enjoy your weekend off.'
As his boss walked away, Noah's anxiety ramped up ten notches and the pristine, white envelope now ticked like an unex-ploded bomb. Not wanting to read it in public, he walked quickly to the doctors' lounge, thankfully finding it empty. He ripped open the envelope and scanned the brief letter.
Dear Dr Jackson
Your four-week rotation at the Turra-burra Medical Clinic commences on Monday, August 17th at eight a.m. Accommodation, if required, is provided at the doctor's flat located on Nautalis Parade. Collect the key from the real estate agent in Williams Street before noon, Saturday. See the enclosed map and tourist information, which we hope will be of assistance to you.
Enjoy your rotation in Turraburrathe sapphire of South Gippsland. Nancy Beveridge
Surgical Trainee Placement Officer.
No. No way. Noah's intake of breath was so sharp it made him cough. This could not be happening. They couldn't do this to him. Not now. Suddenly, the idea of a communications course seemed positively fun.
Relax. You must have read it wrong. Fighting the red heat of rage that was frantically duelling with disbelief, he slowly reread the letter, desperately hoping he'd misunderstood its message. As his eyes scrolled left to right and he slowed his mind down to read each and every word, it made no difference. The grim message the black and white letters told didn't change.
He was being exiledsent ruraland the timing couldn't be worse. In fact, it totally sucked. Big time. He had less than six months before he sat his final surgical examinations and now more than ever his place was at the Victoria. He should be here, doing cutting-edge surgery, observing the latest technology, attending tutorials and studying. Always studying. He should not be stuck in a country clinic day in, day out, listening to the ramblings of patients with chronic health issues that surgery couldn't solve.
General practice. A shudder ran through him at the thought. There was a reason he'd aimed high and fought for his hard-earned place in the surgical programme, and a large part of it was to avoid the mundane routine of being a GP. He had no desire at all to have a long and ongoing connection with patients or get to know their families or be introduced to their dogs. This was blatantly unfair. Why the hell had he been singled out? Damn it, none of the other surgical registrars had been asked to do this.
A vague memory of Oliver Evans bawling him out months ago flickered across his mind but surely that had nothing to do with this. Consultants yelled at registrars from time to timeusually during moments of high stress when the odds were stacked against them and everyone was battling to save a patient's life. Heated words were exchanged, a lot of swearing went down but at the end of the day it was forgotten and all was forgiven. It was all part of the cut and thrust of hospital life.
Logic immediately penetrated his incredulity. The prof had asked him to teach a workshop to the new interns in less than two weeks so this Turraburra couldn't be too far away from downtown Melbourne. Maybe he was just being sent to the growth corridorthe far-flung edges of the ever-growing city, the outer, outer 'burbs. That wouldn't be too bad. A bit of commuting wouldn't kill him and he could listen to his training podcasts on the drive there and back each day.
Feeling more positive, he squinted at the dot on the map.
His expletive rent the air, staining it blue. He'd been banished to the back of beyond.
Lilia Cartwright, never Lil and always Lily to her friends, stood on a whitewashed dock in the ever-brightening, early morning light. She stared out towards the horizon, welcoming the sting of salt against her cheeks, the wind in her hair, and she smiled. 'New day, Chippy,' she said to her tan and white greyhound who stared up at her with enormous, brown, soulful eyes. 'Come on, mate, look a bit more excited. After this walk, you'll have another day ahead of you of lazing about and being cuddled.'
Chippy tugged on his leash as he did every morning when they stood on the dock, always anxious to get back indoors. Back to safety.
Lily loved the outdoors but she understood only too well Chippy's need for safe places. Given his experiences during the first two years of his life, she didn't begrudge him one little bit, but she was starting to think she might need a second dog to go running with to keep fit. Walking with Chippy hardly constituted exercise because she never broke a sweat.
Turning away from the aquamarine sea, she walked towards the Turraburra Medical Centre. In the grounds of the small bush nursing hospital and nursing home, the glorious bluestone building had started life a hundred and thirty years ago as the original doctor's house. Now, fully restored, it was a modern clinic. She particularly loved her annexethe midwifery clinic and birth centre. Although it was part of the medical centre, it had a separate entrance so her healthy, pregnant clients didn't have to sit in a waiting room full of coughing and hacking sick people. It had been one of the best days of her career when the Melbourne Midwifery Clinic had responded to her grant application and incorporated Turraburra into their outreach programme for rural and isolated women.
The clinic was her baby and she'd taken a lot of time and effort in choosing the soothing, pastel paint and the welcoming décor. She wanted it to feel less like a sterile clinic and far more like visiting someone's home. In a way, given that she'd put so much of herself into the project, the pregnant women and their families were visiting her home.
At first glance, the birthing suite looked like a room in a four-star hotel complete with a queen-sized bed, side tables, lounge chairs, television, bar fridge and a roomy bathroom. On closer inspection, though, it had all the important features found in any hospital room. Oxygen, suction and nitrous oxide outlets were discreetly incorporated in the wall whilst other medical equipment was stored in a cupboard that looked like a wardrobe and it was only brought out when required.
The birth centre didn't cater for high-risk pregnanciesthose women were referred to Melbourne, where they could receive the high-tech level of care required for a safe, happy and healthy outcome for mother and baby. The Turraburra women who were deemed to be at a low risk of pregnancy and childbirth complications gave birth here, close to their homes and families. For Lily it was an honour to be part of the birth and to bring a new life into the world.
As Turraburra was a small town, it didn't stop there either. In the three years since she'd returned home and taken on the position of the town's midwife, she'd not only delivered a lot of babies, she'd also attended a lot of children's birthday parties. She loved watching the babies grow up and she could hardly believe that those first babies she'd delivered were now close to starting three-year-old kinder. As her involvement with the babies and children was as close as she was ever likely to get to having a family of her own, she treasured it even more.
Lily stepped into the main part of the clinic and automatically said, 'Morning, Karen,' before she realised the receptionist wasn't behind her desk. Karen's absence reminded her that a new doctor was starting today. Sadly, since the retirement of their beloved Dr Jameson two years ago, this wasn't an uncommon occurrence. She remembered the fuss they'd all made of the first new doctor to arrive in townever hopeful he'd be staying for years to comebut he'd left after three months. Seven other doctors had followed in a two-year period and all of the staff, including herself, had become a bit blasé about new arrivals. The gloss had long faded from their hope that this one might actually stay for the long term and grand welcoming gestures had fallen by the wayside.
Turraburra, like so many rural towns in Australia, lacked a permanent doctor. It did, however, have more than its fair share of overseas and Australian general practitioner trainees as well as numerous medical students. All of them passed through the clinic and hospital on short stays so they could tick their obligatory rural rotation off their list before hot-footing it back to Melbourne or Sydney or any other major capital city.
The cultural identity that to be Australian was to be at one with the bush was a myth. Australia was the most urbanised country in the world and most people wanted to be a stone's throw from a big city and all the conveniences that offered. Lily didn't agree. She loved Turraburra and it would take a major catastrophe for her to ever live in Melbourne again. She still bore the scars from her last attempt.
Some of the doctors who came to Tur-raburra were brilliant and the town begged them to stay longer, while others were happily farewelled with a collective sigh of relief and a long slug of fortifying beer or wine at the end of their rotation. Lily had been so busy over the weekend, delivering two babies, that she hadn't had time to open the email she'd received late on Friday with the information about 'doctor number nine'. She wondered if nine was going to be Turrabur-ra's lucky number.
Chippy frantically tugged at his leash again. 'Yes, I know, we're here. Hang on a second.' She bent down and slid her hand under his wide silver and indigo decorative collar that one of the patients had made for him. It was elegant and had an air of Russian royalty about it, showing off his long and graceful neck. She released the clip from the leash and with far more enthusiasm than he ever showed on a walk, Chippy raced to his large, padded basket in the waiting room and curled up with a contented sigh.
He was the clinic's companion dog and all the patients from the tiny tots to the ninety-year-olds loved and adored him. He basked in the daily stroking and cuddles and Lily hoped his hours of being cosseted went some way towards healing the pain of his early life at the hands of a disreputable greyhound racer. She stroked his long nose. 'You have fun today and I'll see you tonight.'
Chippy smiled in the way only greyhounds can.
She crossed the waiting room and was collecting her mail from her pigeonhole when she heard, 'What the hell is that thing doing in here?'
She flinched at the raised, curt male voice and knew that Chippy would be shivering in his basket. Clutching her folders to her chest like a shield, she marched back into the waiting room. A tall guy with indecently glossy brown hair stood in the middle of the waiting room.