Fiona McArthur
Fiona McArthurFiona McArthurFiona McArthurFiona McArthur

Excerpt: Midwife on the Orient Express

Book 12: Aussie Outback Medical Romance Series

Prologue

Lucas

The seagulls were screaming – or maybe it was Lucas. 

Twelve-year-old Lucas Larimar saw the blue-green wave hit the rockpool wall and engulf his mother before tumbling her over and over like a doll – smashed like the broken shell he’d cast earlier into the waves – until her body fell back onto the rocks outside the pool.

Sand flew from his feet and his hands pumped at his heaving sides but it took too long to get there. His dread grew along with his gasps. He should have pleaded with her not to go back. The words had wanted to come.

He should never have held them back.

‘A quick look for Daddy’s ring,’ she’d said. ‘I must have dropped it in the rock pool.’

But he’d known the tide was coming in. They both had. The last wave had made them run from the rocks. And now…

‘Look after your mother,’ Dad had said as he’d left that morning. ‘You be the man of the house when I’m at work.’ 

But Lucas hadn’t looked after her. He’d stayed by the car as she’d told him.

More waves... And then another...

People were shouting, running, reaching his mother as he couldn’t. They’d get her.

But no. 

A man dragged her from the water and as Lucas gasped and fell down on the sand his mother lay limp like the seaweed that curled dry and dead beside her face, and her eyes changed as the light went out of them. Her long hair trailed the sand and he reached for her face before someone pulled him back. 

Nothing would ever be the same.

Her eyes weren’t seeing him… He knew. 

His mother lay dying and it was all his fault.


Kelsie

Venice. Two days before Christmas. 

Kelsie Summers floated past St Mark’s Square nestled in her ornately carved and gilded gondola and thought of last night’s Christmas-themed mass at St Mark’s Cathedral. 

When she closed her eyes the lights and sounds seemed still to float in the air, and prickling goose-bumps made her rub elbows and upper arms as she sighed happily and leaned further back in her red cushioned seat. 

Strings of Christmas fairy lights over the Bridge of Sighs had winked last night, and now, though extinguished, hundreds of strings of sleeping bulbs decorated the canals and bridges of Venice like spiderwebs as she made her way to the station. 

The station. She couldn’t wait.

Her suitcase lay on the bottom of the gondola packed full of nativity scenes in glass, tiny gilt trees, and Murano glass Christmas ornaments for her friends.

Another crumbling mansion on the Venice waterways had sun-catching crystal mangers and cherubic angels in its lower windows and as she watched the last of them fade into the distance her strapping gondolier ducked under the final bridge. Two men, in the gondolier’s black hats with red ribbon, stood with their backs to the canal, in iconic stance, and behind her a tunnel of criss-crossing bridges wove over the waterways.

The end of two weeks of magic, starting with a cruise into Venice, the trip of a lifetime, and she’d done very well on her own. She’d made this long-time dream come true. And there was more to come.

The bow of the long black boat kissed the wharf and the gondolier swung Kelsie’s bag up onto the narrow boardwalk the same way as he held the craft steady, with little effort and studied Venetian nonchalance. 

She’d chosen the strongest-looking gondolier for just that reason. She’d hoped he’d hop out and drag her bag up to solid ground, but she feared that was not to be.

Her not-very-sensible shoes touched the planks of the jetty and she swayed for a minute but she’d chosen her more formal attire for a reason. In honour of the coming journey. Heels would be worth it. 

She pulled her soft overnight bag higher up her shoulder, and when she turned, her tassel-hatted hero waved cheerfully as he pushed off, abandoning her and her suitcase where it stood, one wheel jammed in the rickety planking crack a dozen feet from solid ground. 

No gentlemanly assistance then. Right. 

Kelsie carefully dislodged the caught wheel – not a good time to snap off the saving grace of mobility on her bulging monstrosity of a bag – before dragging it up the boardwalk to the concrete. Ground as solid as she could get in Venice. 

Her lifelong travel dream was coming to an end.

Modern-day women didn’t need male help, Kelsie told herself, but the Stazione di Venezia and the Santa Lucia steps mocked her as she glanced down with a grimace and contemplated a step by step, drag and pull of her bag times twelve, while wearing high heels.

A passing Venetian ‘gentleman’ flicked his nicotine-stained finger at the tiny alley that ran up the side of the building for those who didn’t want to hump their belongings up the mountain to the station and she smiled her thanks. 

She’d arrived in Venice in a blaze of anticipation via the front entrance to the railway station and it seemed fitting, she wasn’t sure why, to be slipping home to the real world of work and her solitary flat in Sydney, in the back way.

Her spirits soared again. 

Once she’d dragged this bulging brick of a suitcase inside here, her train would be anything but the back way. 

The last part of her journey – the expedition she’d dreamt of since her long-ago boyfriend had mentioned that his English grandmother embarked on it nearly every year. As a small town Australian, the idea of a train journey through the Austrian Alps all the way to Paris, then on to London, had captured her imagination. 

Back then it had seemed impossible to ever make that trip. Another goal reached. Venice to London via the Orient Express – the world’s most glamorous train – and she would be one of those passengers.

Hence the reason she wore her second-highest heels and her new cream Italian suit. Maybe not so romantic doing it by herself, she conceded, but still very glam. Kelsie straightened as she entered the cavernous world of departures through a small doorway and popped out beside a tourist shop adorned with miniature gondoliers’ hats. 

She searched the signs. 

Platform One. 

Kelsie glanced around. Remembered the inside of Saint Lucia from arrival – and yes, still it presented like any other railway station – grey concrete, cold underfoot, traveller-filled bench seats, matching-luggage families huddled together. 

She’d entered at the correct platform, arrived at the specified time, so where was the blue and gold emblazoned wagon of the Orient Express?

Tucked in a corner she spotted a small white sign, ordinary, unostentatious, a few fully occupied seats positioned around it. 

The sign read, ‘Meeting Point for Venice Simplon Orient Express’.

Return to Midwife on the Orient Express

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