Fiona McArthur
Fiona McArthurFiona McArthurFiona McArthurFiona McArthur

Excerpt: Medivac Midwife

A Contemporary Medical Romance

Prologue

Dubai—United Arab Emirates

THE crack of the starter gun echoed across the desert. For a heartbeat the sound silenced the rowdy crowd...until noise erupted from those watching the inaugural 'doctors versus nurses' camel race.

Hunter Morgan, contestant for the doctors' side of the neonatal nursery, kicked his camel into a gallop as the larger than expected throng roared. You could tell that ex-patriot medical staff didn't get out much, he thought with a wry grin, though he noticed even some black-robed locals were among the throng. He wondered fleetingly what the attraction was in the hospital games for them.

To be honest, he wouldn't have been here himself if Kirsten Wilson hadn't dared him. A determined woman, she'd cornered him in the neonatal unit and he could still remember her enchanting tenacity as she'd ensured his participation. She'd promised to pound on his door in the dark if he didn't show, to let the tyres of his car down, to tell everyone she was pregnant with his baby, and he stifled a laugh at what a frenzy of gossip that would have caused.

It was his own fault people took bets on any sign that his immunity to women was failing—he'd never weakened before. Still, Kirsten had made him laugh more in the last few months than he had in the last five years.

Hunter clamped his lips shut to stop the flying sand from coating his tongue and pulled his scarf more closely into his face despite the early heat. He also wiped his eyes so he could focus on the delicate shoulders of the woman riding in front.

Kirsten was tall for a woman. He knew because standing behind her in the unit, he could only just see over her head. He used that trick to keep the mental distance between them. He'd discovered if he spent too long looking into her expressive face, he'd lose track of what she was saying and just enjoy the show.

He didn't think she was aware that she threatened his peace of mind. He hoped not; they were working together – nothing unprofessional for either of them.

The first marker grew closer, and she still sat lightly, and delightfully, on her throne-like seat as if she'd grown up on a camel's back. He wasn't quite as comfortable but that didn't mean he couldn't win.

Dormant competitiveness surfaced where it had been lacking for far too long. 'Second really isn't good enough,' he said to himself as he urged his camel on, tapping with his crop to let the beast know it was time for more effort.

Kirsten only held the lead because of her lighter weight and those strange encouraging noises she was making to her camel, but he had to admit she could ride. Her white burnoose billowed out behind her and the sun glinted off the flying cloud of red hair which she usually kept confined. His brow furrowed. She'd attracted the attention of the raucous local contingent.

The corner barrel arrived and he almost checked the gait of his animal until he saw she wasn't going to slow down. She skidded around full pelt, and he held his breath as her camel swayed unsteadily until she hauled on the reins to direct it into the turn. The woman was mad—and scared the bejesus out of him when she was like this—but he felt his own blood begin to pound.

Incredibly, still mounted, she flashed back past him towards the winning post and, as usual, her eyes were wild with exhilaration and the joy that seemed to shine on everything she did. In that instant, the barrier he'd erected against the entire female race five years ago splintered into a thousand pieces of flying sand and he woke up to life again.

Which was even more reason why he couldn't let her win. If she could send the safety factors to hell, then so could he.

Hunter and his camel rounded the barrel at a gravity-defying angle and for a moment he thought he was going down with his mount, but his camel strained to keep its feet. Swaying high above the sand, Hunter urged his mount to greater speed. The beast responded to the command in his voice. This wasn't a charity race day any more. This was a personal struggle for supremacy between him and that alluring woman.

He charged her down with sand flying and the other contestants fell behind. The cheers from the hospital crowd receded to a distant buzz in his ears.

'Come on, you crazy animal,' he encouraged, and the camel flicked its ears as if understanding this was praise. Amazingly it slid into another gear and the ground blurred below him. Ahead he focussed on the the red hair in front drawing closer. Inch by inch he gained on her until he passed her camel's tail and then its bony rump and finally, he drew level with Kirsten's shoulder.

She laughed at him, tucked in her chin and slapped her camel on the rump with her tiny crop, and pulled away for a moment. But her camel had given much, tiring finally, and Hunter edged back level so that right at the end they crossed the finish line together.

Both camels slowed to a trot and then finally stopped, their hairy sides heaving and breath snorting from their huge nostrils. 'Well ridden, Sister Wilson,' Hunter conceded as they pulled up.

'Well ridden yourself, Dr Morgan.' She laughed back at him, barely breathless. Then she slid lightly down the great height from her camel without waiting for the boy who was running towards her. Kirsten moved to the camel's face, stroked the giant's neck and whispered something in its ear. For a horrible moment there, Hunter thought she was going to kiss the disgusting beast.

His own camel turned and nipped at his leg as if to say, I've given you all I've got—now get off!

He tapped behind its knobby knee with his crop and the camel knelt down to allow him to slide off.

The other riders began to dismount around them and he shook hands with the contestants and accepted their plaudits. Hunter drew a deep breath and smiled. His skin tingled and the day seemed louder.

The flags fluttered in the morning air and the colours of the barrackers suddenly seemed brighter than he'd noticed earlier. It really was the most beautiful morning and he couldn't remember the last time he'd noticed something as mundane as the weather. His eyes were drawn to Kirsten, surrounded by her fellow nurses, and he forgot the weather to appreciate the woman.

Later, on the winner's dais, when Kirsten stood beside him to share the trophy, Hunter frowned down the calls of their fellow medical staff to kiss her. Unexpectedly, she stretched up and kissed his cheek before he anticipated her action.

A drift of some herbal shampoo and a whiff of camel tickled his nose, while the feather-light feel of her lips against his cheek slid by as more delightful than he was prepared for. His hand lifted of its own accord and caught her chin as she started to turn away, and he tilted her face back towards him. When he swooped to steal his own kiss, he wasn't sure who was the most surprised—him or her.

Hunter hadn't realised how much he'd wanted to do this. How overwhelming the need. She felt perfect in his arms, as if she belonged there. It had been so long since he'd held any woman and now he knew why. He'd been waiting for Kirsten.

The feel of her lips against his created an unexpected magic and when he released her, he could see the surprised recognition of something special mirrored in her beautiful green eyes. Then she was swept away by an admiring crowd of mostly male hospital staff. This time he followed.

And so it had started—eight weeks of joy and delight and magic. Silly, inconsequential conversations about stars and myths and unlikely scenarios that made him laugh in the cool of the evening after their shifts. Rendezvous at breakfasts, eating fruit and rolls under a tree in the courtyard while she fed the birds. Hilarious trips into the bazaars where she would haggle fiercely with wizened street vendors as he watched in almost embarrassed awe until she'd won her bargain. Slowly, incrementally, they came to spend most of their off-duty time together.

At work, they concentrated on their jobs, and she remained Sr Wilson, Nursing Unit Manager of Neonatal Intensive Care, and he, Dr Morgan, consultant paediatrician, because that was how Hunter wanted it.

He edged towards commitment, terrified to rush or be sidetracked by the fierce ache to possess her, a trap that had snared him into foolishness and disaster in his marriage. The simmering sexual tension between them only added to the intoxication of Kirsten. Hunter finally began to trust again.

Until the morning his world shattered when he saw Kirsten in the arms of Jack Cosgrove, the senior consultant, and he knew with impossible certainty that the woman he loved was just like his ex-wife. The darkness surrounded him again and he couldn't believe he'd been such a fool. But he wouldn't be one again.

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