Reunion on Wildfire Island
Returning to her island home is a bittersweet experience for nurse Caroline Lockhart. This paradise is where she spent many happy years, but it stopped feeling like home the moment her first love, Keanu, walked out of her life, breaking her innocent young heart.
Doctor Keanu Russell is stunned to see Caroline again, and distressed to see the pain in her eyes. He can't change the past, but maybe he can convince Caroline that they do have a future...
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Previously a teacher, pig farmer, and builder (among other things), Meredith Webber turned to writing medical romances when she decided she needed a new challenge. Once committed to giving it a “real” go she joined writers’ groups, attended conferences and read every book on writing she could find. Teaching a romance writing course helped her to analyze what she does, and she believes it has made her a better writer. Readers can email Meredith at: firstname.lastname@example.orgExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
As the small plane circled above the island, the hard lumps of pain and worry that had been lodged in Caroline Lockhart's chest for the past months dissolved in the delight of seeing her home.
From the air, the island looked like a precious jewel set in an emerald-green sea. The white coral sand of the beaches at the northern end gleamed like a ribbon tying a very special parcel, the lush tropical forest providing the green wrapping paper.
Coming in from the west, they passed over the red cliffs that lit up so brilliantly at sunset that early sailors had called the island Wildfire.
As they flew closer, she could pick out the buildings.
The easiest to find was the palatial Lockhart mansion, built by her great-grandfather on a plateau on the southern tip of the island after he'd bought it from the M'Langi people who had found it too rough to settle.
Lockhart House—her home for so many years—the only real home she'd known as a child.
The house sat at the very highest point on the plateau, with views out over the sea, ocean waves breaking against the encircling reef, and beyond them the dots of other islands, big and small, settled and uninhabited, that, with Wildfire, made up the M'Langi group.
Immediately below the house and almost hidden by the thick rainforest surrounding it was the lagoon—its colour dependent on the sky above, so today it was a deep, dark blue.
In truth it was a crater lake from the days of volcanic action in the area, but Grandma had loved her lagoon and had refused to call it anything else.
Below the house and lagoon was the hospital her father, Max Lockhart, had given his life to building, a memorial to his dead wife—Caroline's mother.
Around the main hospital building its cluster of staff villas crowded like chickens around a mother hen. And below that again lay the airstrip.
Farther north, where the plateau flattened as it reached the sea, sat the research station with the big laboratory building, the kitchen and recreation hut, small cabins dotted along the beach to accommodate visiting scientists.
The research station catered to any scientists interested in studying health issues unique to this group of isolated islands, and the tropical diseases prevalent here.
The most intensive research had been on the effects of M'Langi tea—made from the bark of a particular tree—and why the islanders who drank this concoction regularly seemed to be less affected by the mosquitos, which carried a unique strain of encephalitis.
As she frowned at what appeared to be changes to the research station, she wondered if anyone was still working there. Keanu's father had been the first to show interest in the tea—
She shook her head as if to dislodge memories of Keanu from her head and tried to think who might be there now. According to her father, a man she knew only as Luke had been working there for a short time but that had been four or five years ago.
Circling back to the southern end of the island, past the little village that had grown up after Opuru Island had been evacuated after a tsunami, she could just pick out the entrance to the gold mine that tunnelled deep beneath the plateau.
The mine had brought wealth not only to her family but to the islanders as well, but the only sign of it was a huge yellow bulldozer, though it, too, was partly hidden beneath a cluster of Norfolk pines and what looked like a tangle of vines.
Dropping lower now, the sea was multicoloured, the coral reefs beneath its surface visible like wavy patterns on a fine silk scarf. Images of herself and Keanu snorkelling in those crystal-clear waters, marvelling at the colours of the reef and the tiny fish that lived among the coral, flashed through her mind.
An ache of longing—for her carefree past, her childhood home—filled Caroline's heart, and she had to blink tears from her eyes.
How could she have stayed away so long?
Because Keanu was no longer here?
Or because she'd been afraid he might be...
'Are you okay?' Jill asked, and Caroline turned to her friend—her best friend—who, from seven hundred miles away, had heard the unhappiness in Caroline's voice just a short week ago and had told her she should go home.
Insisted on it, in fact, although Caroline suspected Jill had wanted to show off her new little plane, and her ability as a pilot.
'I'm fine, just sorry I've stayed away so long.'
'In recent times it's been because you were worried that rat Steve would take up with someone else if you disappeared on him for even a week.'
The words startled Caroline out of her sentimental mood.
'Do you really think that? Do you believe I was that much of a doormat to him?'
Jill's silence spoke volumes.
'I suppose he proved he didn't really care about me when he dropped me like a hot cake when the story about the Wildfire gold mine being in trouble appeared in the paper.'
But it was still upsetting—wounding.
Could the man who'd wooed Caroline with flowers, and gifts and words of love, who'd wrapped her in the security of belonging, really be the rat her friends thought him?
Had she really been so gullible?
'Maybe he did meet someone else,' Caroline answered plaintively. 'Maybe he was telling the truth.'
'That man wouldn't know the truth if it bit him on the butt,' Jill retorted, then fortunately stopped talking.
Caroline wasn't sure if it was because Jill was concentrating on her landing, or if she didn't want to hurt her friend even more.
Although she'd realised later—too late—that Steve had been inordinately interested in the mine her family owned.
The little plane bumped onto the tarmac, then rolled along it as Jill braked steadily.
'Strip's in good condition,' she said as she wheeled the craft around and stopped beside the shed that provided welcome to visitors to Wildfire Island.
But the shed needs repainting, Caroline thought, her elation at being home turning to depression because up close it was obvious the place was run-down.
Although the strip had been resurfaced.
Could things have come good?
No, her father had confirmed the mine was in trouble when she'd spoken to him about the article in the paper. Although all his time was spent in Sydney, working as a specialist physician at two hospitals, and helping care for Christopher, her twin, severely oxygen deprived at birth and suffering crippling cerebral palsy, the state of the mine was obviously worrying him.
He had been grey with fatigue from overwork and his fine face had been lined with the signs of continual stress from the hours he put in at work and worry over Christopher's health, yet with the stubborn streak common to all Lockharts he'd refused to even listen when she'd asked if she could help financially.
'Go to the island, it's where you belong,' he'd said gently. 'And remember the best way to get over pain is hard work. The hospital can always do with another nurse, especially now clinical services to the outer islands have expanded and we've had to cut back on hospital staff. Our existing staff go above and beyond for the island and the residents but there's always room for another pair of trained hands.'
Losing himself in work was what he'd done ever since her mother had died—died in his arms and left him with a premature but healthy baby girl and a premature and disabled baby boy to look after.
'Maybe whoever owns that very smart helicopter has an equally smart plane and needed the strip improved.'
Jill's comment brought Caroline out of her brooding thoughts.
'Smart helicopter? Our helicopters have always been run-of-the-mill emergency craft and Dad said we're down to one.'
But as she turned in the direction of Jill's pointing finger, she saw her friend was right. At the far end of the strip was a light-as-air little helicopter—a brilliant dragonfly of a helicopter—painted shiny dark blue with the sun picking out flashes of gold on the side.
'Definitely not ours,' she told Jill.
'Maybe there's a mystery millionaire your shady uncle Ian has conned into investing in the place.'
'From all I hear, it would take a billionaire,' Caroline muttered gloomily.
She'd undone her seat harness while they were talking and now opened the door of the little plane.
'At least come up to the house and have a cup of tea,' she said to Jill.
Jill shook her head firmly.
'I've got my thermos of coffee and sandwiches—like a good Girl Scout, always prepared. I'll just refuel and be off. It's only a four-hour flight. Best I get home to the family.'
Caroline retrieved her luggage—one small case packed with the only lightweight, casual summer clothes she owned. Her life in Sydney had been more designer wear—Steve had always wanted her to look good.
And I went along with it?
She felt her cheeks heat with shame as yet another of Steve's dominating characteristics came to mind.
Yes, she'd gone along with it and many other 'its', often pulling double shifts on weeknights to be free to go 'somewhere special' with him over the weekend.
The fact that the 'something special' usually turned out to be yet another cocktail party with people she either didn't know or, if she had known them, didn't particularly care for only made it worse.
But she'd loved him—or loved that he loved her.
Jill efficiently pumped fuel into the plane's tank, wiped her hands on a handy rag, and turned to her friend.
'You take care, okay? And keep in touch. I want phone calls and emails, none of that social media stuff where everyone can read what you're doing. I want the "not for public consumption" stuff.'
She reached out and gathered Caroline in a warm, tight hug.
'You'll be okay,' she said, and although the words were firmly spoken, Caroline heard a hint of doubt in them.
Dear Jilly, the first friend she'd made at boarding school so many years ago, now back in the cattle country of Western Queensland where she'd grown up, married to a fellow cattleman, raising her own family and top-quality beasts.
Caroline returned the hug, watched as Jill climbed back into the plane and began to taxi up the runway. She waved to the departing plane before turning to look around her.
Yes, the shed was a little run-down and the gardens weren't looking their best, but the peace that filled her heart told her she'd done the right thing.
She was home.
Bending to lift her suitcase, she was struck that something was missing. Okay, so the place wasn't quite up to speed, but where was Harold, who usually greeted every plane?
Harold, who'd told her and Keanu all the legends of the islands and given them boiled lollies so big they'd filled their mouths.
Her and Keanu.
She straightened her shoulders and breathed in the scented tropical air. That had been then and this was now.
Time to put the past—all the past—behind her, take control of her life and move on, as so many of her friends had advised.
And moving on obviously meant carrying her own suitcase up the track to the big house. Not that she minded, but it was strange that no one had met the plane, if only out of curiosity.
Had no one seen it come in?
Did no one care any more?
Or was Harold gone?
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Book Description Harlequin, 2016. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110373010885
Book Description Harlequin. MASS MARKET PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 0373010885 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1042145