Fiona McArthur
Fiona McArthurFiona McArthurFiona McArthurFiona McArthur

Excerpt: Midwife in the Jungle

Book 9: Aussie Outback Medical Romance Series

Jonah

‘Jonah. Can you hear me?’

Jonah Armstrong groaned as he surfaced through the fracturing thinness of his delirium towards the distant sound. There was something about the cadence in her voice that calmed him. Something that made the ghosts fade and lose potency.

The nightmare receded as he eased out of the strangling mists and opened his eyes a sliver as he tried to focus. Even his eyelids hurt when he cracked them and the struggle with their weight felt too great. The face of the speaker hung surrounded by a halo of light, which seemed reasonable for an angel, and she must be an angel because he didn’t recognize her.

And he was dead.

Jonah’s tongue shifted stickily on the roof of his mouth as he tried to speak. His lips opened and closed. The halo approached as she brought her face closer to catch his words.

‘Melinda’s ring.’ His voice came out barely a whisper, fractured and uneven.

‘There is a ring on your finger, Jonah.’ Softly. Calmly. Her voice.

He sent the message to his brain to lift his eyelids again, but the synapses weren’t listening. The peppermint of her breath touched his face. Did angels chew peppermint?

‘Jonah, the airline ticket in your wallet says you flew in from New Guinea two days ago. Are you taking antimalarials?’

This time his muscles obeyed, and he could discern her eyes were dark and caring. His sluggish brain finally articulated his answer. ‘Last night. In pocket.’

The angel slid her hand into his trouser pocket, retrieved the tablets and read the label. Then she stepped back from the bed and spoke to someone. ‘If it’s malaria, presumably this strain is resistant to Doxycycline. We’ll just have to try something else,’ she murmured.

Everything went black. Time passed. The ghosts returned.

When Jonah regained consciousness, he accepted he hadn’t died. Too many aches for death. Close thing. Eyes forced open, he stared at the tiny square of light coming from behind the edge of the curtain as if it were a signpost to the normal world. Tentatively he stretched his legs, and although the ache pulled and resisted in his muscles, the flooding pain of movement from yesterday had subsided.

Warily he turned his head on the damp pillow as someone approached his bed. Still fuzzy, he squinted to bring the woman’s two heads together. Once they’d fused, he could see she had the darkest brows he’d ever seen above brown eyes filled with the compassion he’d heard yesterday.

So, she wasn’t an angel. Angelic, but real.

‘Good morning, Dr Armstrong. I see your fever’s broken.’

Jonah swallowed and licked his lips as he tried to form the words his brain had trouble framing. She must have noticed because she moved swiftly to the bedside table, picked up a plastic tumbler of water and directed the straw into his mouth before he even figured out his desperate thirst.

He sighed as the coolness slid down his throat and the roof of his mouth no longer tasted like the entrance to a bat cave.

‘Thank you.’ His voice cracked with weakness and he despised the sound. Still, it was better than being dead.

‘Your strain of malaria was a particularly vicious one and I thought for a while we were going to lose you.’

He could tell she was genuinely glad he was awake, and the knowledge warmed the last of the cold spots in his body. Being alive was good. He’d survived tropical snakes, spiders and crocodiles in the depths of New Guinea only to succumb to a mosquito in the height of civilization. The idea vaguely amused him.

‘And you are...?’ He could feel the strength seeping back into his limbs and there was sweetness to the feeling. A stark reminder that he shouldn’t take his body for granted. He’d done that for far too long.

‘Jacinta McCloud. I’m one of the doctors from the emergency department here at Pickford.’

She smiled and suddenly he felt light-headed again, but this time for a different reason. The old barriers refused to assemble as he’d trained them. Blame the malaria – or fate, or timing – because there was something about this woman that slid like a stiletto straight to the core of him in a way he hadn’t experienced before.

His life did not include women you couldn’t leave behind!

Almost as if she sensed his panic, she turned away and walked to the window. He watched the way she moved, her back ramrod straight like Sister Angelina, the solitary missionary nun he’d grown up around in New Guinea. Yet somehow, it didn’t come off. She couldn’t hide the fact she was unmistakably a woman.

And there he was again, speculating about someone outside the parameters of his life, and he didn’t do that. Angry with himself, he pulled his disgustingly weak body upright past the pillow until the cold backboard of the bed was hard against his spine, and he had control.


Jacinta

Jacinta McCloud, Director of Emergency at Sydney’s Pickford General, a mid-size teaching hospital, could see in her mind the man’s large, capable hands and the finely wrought signet ring on his little finger. Yesterday she’d seen the tiny butterfly fashioned from gold on the signet. She shivered at the memory and rubbed her shoe over her ankle where her own tiny tattooed butterfly hid unnoticed.

She felt as agitated as this patient had been yesterday, and impulsively she swept back the curtains to allow the morning glow to flood the room. When she slid the window open, cool air damped the heat in her cheeks, and memories of her first sight of Jonah Armstrong ran through her mind.

Pushed through the casualty doors by the ambulance personnel, he’d been agitated by the movement of the trolley and she’d spotted him immediately. He’d mumbled semi-audible phrases and the depth of his despair had radiated from him like an aura. Compelled to comfort, Jacinta had slipped her fingers into his hand to ease his trip to the assessment room. An action odd and personal, something she couldn’t remember doing before with an adult.

Strangely, he’d seemed to rest more easily on the bed at her touch, and when the stretcher stopped and she’d retrieved her hand, he’d twisted his head on the pillow as if searching for the respite he’d known too briefly.

The imprint of his long fingers on hers had burned with more than the man’s fever. Not the sort of fanciful notions she was known for.

Then, last night at home when she’d turned out the light to go to sleep, his tortured blue eyes had haunted her. Almost as if she’d imagined they had some deep connection, which was bizarre, as she was the least fanciful person she knew. Whims and past lives had no place in Jacinta McCloud’s busy schedule and neither did malarial-stricken mystery doctors who blew into the Emergency department. It was probably just the lure of tropical medicine that piqued her interest, not the man.

The breeze from the window tickled her face and brought her back to the present. She’d needed to open the window to create space between them, but now the strength of the sun made her wince. And goodness knew what it would do to Jonah if his eyes were still sensitive to light.

Funny how she thought of him as Jonah and not the Dr Armstrong on his file. Her fingers balled to pull the curtains again, confused by the thoughtlessness of her actions.

‘Leave it open.’ His voice held a tinge of harshness that made her turn and face him. He sat upright with his broad chest facing towards her like a teak tree-trunk dissected by a curling trail of fine dark hairs that disappeared down under the sheet. If she was noticing things like that, it was time for her to leave.

She moistened her lips. ‘Well, I’m glad you’re feeling better. You probably won’t see me again as I only dropped in on my way to work to find out how you woke this morning.’

How inane. Jacinta winced and her voice trailed off. This was unlike her. She smiled in the general direction of the bed and averted her eyes as she walked towards the door.

‘Call me Jonah.’ His voice followed her, the rough edges softened, and she was drawn against her will for one last look. ‘Thank you for looking after me, Jacinta.’ His voice softened, teased her with tendrils of humor and friendliness, and she couldn’t look away.

He was smiling and she hadn’t seen that before. Wished she hadn’t seen it now. He changed completely when his white teeth flashed and his square chin softened; crinkled eyes and the self-mocking amusement in his eyes circled her in his warmth. She couldn’t help smiling back. A smile that took flight like a bird out of her serious mouth.

She needed to fly away, not genuflect like an idiot at him.

‘You’re welcome.’ Thankfully her voice came out calm. She focused again on the door because she had to get out of there before she sank into a chair and just stared at him, dribbling.

‘And is there a Mr. McCloud?’

Good grief. Was it mutual? ‘I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. You’ve been my patient.’ She glanced back. A beam of sunlight glinted off the butterfly on his little finger, and with his tousled hair he looked a little like a pirate. The wicked satire in his eyes amused Jacinta and she looked away to stop herself from laughing out loud. She felt like she’d just downed a glass of champagne – or two.

‘I see you’re feeling much better,’ she murmured.

He persisted. ‘And the answer would be?’

She looked back at this man who should be barely conscious, flirting with her as if it were his last two minutes on earth.

‘Yes, there is.’ She paused. ‘My father. Though technically he’s a doctor and not a mister. Now I must go.’

‘At least drop by this afternoon, Jacinta, and tell me how you treated my illness.’

To create a reason to return tempted mightily and she should be confident she was level-headed enough to be intrigued without danger. ‘Perhaps. I may be running late. We’ll see. Goodbye, Dr Armstrong.’

‘Dr McCloud.’ He returned her formality and nodded with that supreme confidence good-looking men had. You knew, they knew, they’d made an impression.

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