Fiona McArthur Author
Contemporary Medical Romance at its best
Feel good fiction, small towns, outback Australia
all with love, hope, adventure, babies and our medical heroes.
Lyrebird Lake Book 1 Montana
I loved Montana’s story from the first moment I pictured the sunrise scene on the mountain. The idea of Montana and her friends moving to Lyrebird Lake to find their forever homes, in each book, has been such an ongoing pleasure. Revisiting and expanding these stories has been a joy.
I’ve savoured the wonderful people who inhabit the town and the way the town grows, giving me smiles, tears and laugh out loud moments. I hope you, too, grow to cherish the amazing community of Lyrebird Lake and the journeys my caring midwives take to find the happiness they deserve.
Fiona McArthur brings you a fabulous new Series…
The Midwives of LYREBIRD LAKE
Every day brings a miracle...
It’s time for these midwives to become mothers themselves!
In the first book we meet widowed mum Montana Browne in...
Thank goodness Christmas was gone. New Year’s morning began with the faintest hint of grey shimmer on the horizon and Montana Browne gently stroked her fingers across her swollen stomach.
This would be the last New Year she would spend in the mountain hideaway, before the new owners moved in, but more heart-breaking this was the first New Year’s morning since Duncan had died.
Coffs Harbour was a long way off, holding the real world where she’d worked as a senior midwife in the busy midwifery unit. Somewhere below the white fluffy quilt thrown over the mountains, lay tucked her real house in town, shrouded like the future she couldn’t see but had to have faith in.
In Coffs she had her midwifery friends, Mia and Misty and her life without Duncan.
Here at Eagle’s Nest Retreat though, she was on her own. Sitting high and wild as she overlooked the distant valleys of the New England ranges and all the way to the sea. This was her farewell to the weekend retreat.
Now the sky had lightened enough to illuminate the deep drifts of mist in all the lower valleys across from the house, and she sat symbolically alone, forced to accept the empty seat beside her would always be so. Duncan was gone.
Had been gone for eight months now.
The first contraction strained gently, like the tendrils of dewed spider webs that stretched the tops of the stumpy grass, and she nodded when she felt the mysterious child within herald her intentions.
She should have listened to Misty last night when her fey friend had rung to persuade her to head home early.
Montana had agreed with her two best friends that, for her child’s sake, she would be safer to avoid the mountains for the last two weeks of her pregnancy but that didn’t start until a few more days.
It seemed her baby had decided to come even earlier than that, as foreseen by Misty.
Back in the tiny mountain house, Montana dialled Misty’s number on the landline. Her friend might remind her of the foolishness of coming here but it would be good to share her news. And safer if things became interesting.
The phone rang three times. Then clicked. ‘Hi. This is Misty. I’m out. Leave a message.’
Montana sighed. ‘Misty. It’s me. I’m leaving now, it’s five-thirty, and I’m in early labour. Just letting you know I’m on the way in.’
She closed the house, gathered her shawl and water bottle in one hand and grasped the rail on the stairs with the other to make her way slowly down to her vehicle.
To climb into the four-wheel drive proved much more difficult than she’d expected and she chewed her lip as she started the vehicle.
The chug from the diesel engine scared a flock of lorikeets into flight, a little like the flutter of apprehension she fought down while she waited for the engine to warm up. Two more waves of discomfort came and went in that time.
‘We will be fine,’ she murmured to the child within. ‘Your mother is a midwife but I would prefer you wait!’ How ironic was that.
As the contractions grew closer and fiercer a tiny frown puckered her forehead. It might not be as easy as she’d thought to drive the vehicle in early labour.
After thirty minutes of careful navigation down the misty mountain, sweat beaded her forehead, and Montana’s breath fogged the windscreen with the force of the contractions. Though still focussed on what lay around the next corner, she found it more difficult to divide her thoughts between road and birth.
The dirt track twisted and turned like the journey her baby would make within her. On an outflung clearing overlooking more mist-covered valleys she had to pull over to rest and shore up her reserves.
A pale grey wallaby and her pint-sized joey stood at the edge of the clearing. Their dark pointy faces twitched with fascination at her arrival but they didn’t hop away.
Montana’s labour gathered force and she glanced with despair at the distance to the valley floor. It was impossible to descend the mountain safely when she couldn’t concentrate on the road.
Suddenly the tension drained from her shoulders and she slumped back - letting her hands fall from the wheel she’d been gripping so tightly.
So be it. She could do this. Or Misty would find her message and come.
When the vice across her belly eased she slid from the front seat and spread a rug on the damp grass. Her shawl and water beside her, she eased down to sit with her arms behind to watch the deepening of the horizon.
Montana breathed out and released the tension of the drive.
Pre-dawn colours graduated from coral to pink to cerise as the sun threatened to rise through the cloud below.
When the next surge had dissolved she sighed and gazed skywards. Maybe he was looking down.
‘You should be here, Duncan.’ A single tear held the cold emptiness of her loss, a chill that pierced so keenly. Less than a year. A whole pregnancy since she’d seen him.
She felt the whisper of cool breeze brush the dampness on her cheek. Gossamer soft and with a hint of warmth she didn’t expect. She straightened her neck and inexplicably, she didn’t feel as alone. She didn’t care if she imagined him because the next pain was upon her and she needed his strength with her own to stay pliant on the waves of the contractions.
I am here, the wind whispered.
You are safe.
I love you.
Her shoulders eased and she gave in to the nuances of her body’s prompting. In her mind it was as if she watched the descent of her baby, could squeeze her husband’s hand. The waves of Mother Nature at her most powerful changed in tempo and direction and strength and suddenly the urge was upon her to ease her baby out into the world.
The sun cascaded through the clouds as the gush of water burst and flowed from within. She reached down and her baby’s head glistened round and hard and hot in her hands, and then the next urge was upon her.
Her baby’s head rotated towards her leg, the released shoulder slid down, and then the other. Montana gasped, and breathed, and opened her mouth to moan softly as her body drove itself through the task at hand.
In long, slow seconds, her baby’s body eased into the world, until, in a waterfall rush, legs and feet were followed by the tangle of cord and water.
All into the fresh broken sunlight and the softly warming world.
The unmistakable sound of a newborn’s first cry startled the birds as Montana reached down and gathered her daughter to her, forgetting the cord that joined them, and she laughed at the tug that reminded her that all umbilical cords were not long.
Suddenly she felt empty. Her baby was born. No longer a part of her.
She turned, not expecting to see him yet so grateful she had imagined him in her time of greatest need.
The clearing was empty save for the mother wallaby and her skittish joey, and like the last of the night tendrils they too disappeared silently as the fog rolled away.
She shivered. She’d have to move. They both needed to stay warm until she could drive.
Another hairpin bend. Andy Buchanan couldn’t believe he was driving his sister’s vehicle on this crazy mountain road, in early morning fog, looking for Misty’s widowed friend. Odd way to spend his first holiday in three years.
He’d suggested an ambulance on the phone, but his sister had vetoed that idea. ‘Montana said she’s in early labour. And you’re a doctor. And you work in rescue in Lyrebird Lake. It’s right up your alley.’
‘I’m a GP, not an obstetrician,’ he’d said, but refusing to help was never an option. Someone had to find the labouring woman on the mountainside and his sister had been called in to work.
‘You have your diploma. A GP/OB. I feel she’s fine but she needs support. Take my emergency birth pack. It even has baby wraps. I don’t finish until seven and I’m stuck in labour ward or I’d go.’
Misty had ‘feelings’.
Premonitions that always came true.
Like the one that had told her to check her message bank even though she was on night shift at work. His sister’s friend sounded as otherworldly as his sister. Who thought driving down a mountain road this late in a first pregnancy was a good idea?
He peered through the fog as he crawled around a bend and hoped not to meet any other vehicles - barring the one driven by this Montana he’d heard about for so long.
Every now and then a break in the fog showed a vista stretching all the way down to the ocean. Rolling valleys with pockets of mist, the rising sun dusting it all with gold brilliance as the fog began to break up. Incredible. He had no idea the views would be accessible from the road. Which meant, of course, cliffs where a car could drop off the edge and never be found.
Would a woman in the throes of labour veer off the road?
He never used to be a cynic but losing his darling Jess to cancer three years ago had devastated his world and left him with less optimism. He especially didn’t want to deal with an obstetric emergency on a deserted mountain road.
He needed to stop thinking like that.
Montana would be fine.
If only he could find her.
Another bend and another outflung clearing. His breath hissed out. A Landcruiser, blue, parked at an angle, matching the description his sister had given him. He pulled over next to it and straightened his shoulders. Dread pooled in his stomach.
And she’d stopped because…?
Shaking off the dread, he opened his door and walked toward the vehicle picking up speed as he noticed a pale, dark-haired woman in the passenger side. If he wasn’t mistaken she hugged a small wrapped bundle in her arms.
She wound down the window and he saw her shiver as if the last of the warmth in the cabin had escaped.
‘You must be Montana?’ He had to bend down quite a bit to her level and she smiled a little tiredly at him. Soft, rain-cloud grey eyes like velvet. Dark hair tied back. Tiredness under her eyes in a grey smudge. She had a right to be tired. He couldn’t believe she’d birthed here.
On a freakin’ mountain.
‘Yes, I’m Montana. I gather Misty sent you?’
He nodded. ‘I’m Andy, her brother. She’s on duty, in the labour ward. Couldn’t get away.’ He looked across at the top of her baby’s head snuggled into her chest. With blankets over both it made a fair mountain of cloth, yet he still felt the need to ask. ‘Are you warm enough?’
‘Yes. Except for my feet.’
He couldn’t believe her absolute tranquillity. Not all he could expect from a woman who had just given birth. Without support. He tried to see the baby’s face. ‘And who is this?’
She shifted a fold of blanket so he could see a tiny wrinkled face and then Montana smiled. He felt the impact of that smile, that curve of her lips and the adoration of her baby in her grey eyes, sending unexpected warmth right down to his hiking boots. Somewhere inside him a cold clump of ice shifted in his chest like a kicked coal from an outback campfire. A fire someone had thought dead.
‘This is my daughter, Dawn.’ The serenity in her voice wrapped around him like the fog he’d just driven through to get here. Except not cool, not cool at all. She’d come to terms with the unexpected events, he thought with a flash of insight, and so must he. She was alive and the baby had mewled. He leaned forward to see more.
‘Hello, Dawn.’ He noted the thatch of dark hair against Montana, the healthy pink baby cheeks, and the baby snuffled as if in answer. Dawn? ‘I think I can guess what time she arrived.’
His smile faded and his training reminded him this woman had been without assistance at a critical time. He framed the question as delicately as he could. ‘Any problems you need help with?’
‘No, thank you.’ She glanced at him and he heard the humour behind her voice when she spoke. ‘Third stage complete and I’m not bleeding or seem to be damaged. My baby has fed.’
How could she be amused? She should be hysterical. He didn’t like the way he was so conscious of his sister’s friend. He didn’t look at other women; he’d loved his wife. Andy corrected himself. He still loved his wife. Maybe it was empathy. Of course. He remembered now – she was a widow. He understood and felt for her recent loss.
They were on the side of a mountain, for heaven’s sake, and she’d just had a baby. Alone. He felt sorry for her. That was it.
He concentrated on the things he was good at. Practical things. Things that didn’t include analysing his emotions. ‘Right, then. Let’s get you out of here.’ He glanced around to decide where to reverse the vehicle.
Montana’s voice floated across the distance between them, gentle, as if explaining to a child. ‘We have to wait for the fog on the road to clear further down before we go.’
He hadn’t reckoned on resistance to rescue. ‘I managed to get here.’
‘That’s lovely.’ And she smiled that indulgent smile that made his neck prickle under his collar.
She went on. ‘I’m not risking my daughter in a drive down the mountain with a man I don’t know. Or, not until the mist is gone completely.’ She added, ‘Even if the man driving is a doctor and does rescue for a living.’
So Misty had told her about him. What else had she shared with this woman?
The inflexible set of her chin and the tilt of her fine-boned face should have exasperated him but inexplicably he could feel himself bend to her wishes, like the tree above him is bent by time spent in the buffeting climate.
Now she wanted to be sensible? Andy shrugged, in the big picture, both were well, the birth was done, if it was important to her. So be it. ‘Fine. We’ll wait.’ He paused while they both pondered how long that would be. ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’
He saw her eyes widen and his mouth twitched as he tried to contain his amusement. Ha!
Deadpan, he gave the choices as he watched her face. ‘Earl Grey, breakfast, peppermint or jasmine tea?’ He did rescue. He’d packed a thermos. Two hot water bottles. And tea bags lived in his glove box. Countless people had blessed him for such items.
‘You have choices in tea?’ A tiny frown marred her forehead as if she wasn’t sure if he was joking. A look of hope. ‘Jasmine?’
‘Fine. I’ll rustle that up shortly.’ He pulled one of the hot water bottles he’d borrowed from his sister’s house from his coat pocket and showed it to her.
‘Perhaps you’d like this. For those cold feet.’ He touched the handle of her car door and raised his brows. ‘May I?’
When she nodded he leaned down and tucked the warm rubber bottle under the blanket against her feet. Such little feet. Perfect and elegant.
Slim, shapely ankles, too, but he liked her feet. He heard her sigh with pleasure as he stepped back, and that dragged his mind away from her toes. He had a foot fetish? What was wrong with him this morning?
The air seemed colder now that he’d moved back away from her. ‘Sure you’re warm enough? I have a great heater in my car.’
She tugged the blanket closer around her neck. ‘That seems sensible. Perhaps you could heat your car first? I could hand you Dawn to keep snug while I do a bit of a tidy with myself?’
A good plan, he thought. As long as she didn’t faint when she stood. He’d make sure she was steady as soon as he had the car warm. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ he deadpanned. ‘I’ll be right back.’
So this was Misty’s big brother from Queensland.
Montana watched him walk away. A tall, lean man even taller than Duncan, he’d towered over her door and now moved away with unusual grace for such a big man.
Andy resembled his sister with his dark auburn hair and green eyes, but there was no doubt he held the Y chromosome. Nothing feminine there. Even to the stubble of red that said he’d had no time to shave before he’d come to rescue her.
His voice was different from Duncan’s - not as deep or careful with enunciation – but it held the same timbre of quiet authority underscored with warmth and caring. That must be why she felt so safe.
Somehow it seemed appropriate that Misty’s four-wheel drive had pulled up next to hers in the early morning light and, strangely, it even seemed right to have her brother come to rescue her. Although they’d never met, he did not feel like a stranger.
Minutes drifted peacefully and then he was back. ‘The car is heating up nicely. Shall I take Dawn?’
He held out his arms and she saw he’d unwrapped a small blanket and a tiny warm beanie from another hot-water bottle.
It didn’t surprise her. Misty being known for her uncannily accurate premonitions. ‘Misty must have suspected Dawn would arrive.’
Andy nodded. ‘Although she told me “early labour”, she then said, “take the baby wraps.”’ He smiled. A nice smile. As warm and open as his sisters but definitely male. ‘I’ve learnt to believe her when she “feels” something.’
‘Is it a family trait?’ Montana could see he was proud of his fey sister. She liked that pride. Another thing she liked about him.
He smiled crookedly and the way he curved his firm mouth made him more a person in his own right and less Misty’s brother. ‘Sometimes I’m accused of uncanny ‘luck’ if we’re searching for someone, but not with the precision and clarity of Misty.’
He pulled the soft bonnet over Dawn’s hair as if he’d beanied a baby many times. He rolled her little body in the blanket as he peeled her away from Montana’s skin so that the cold air wouldn’t distress her. Dawn didn’t whimper.
Even Duncan, an obstetrician, hadn’t been that adept at handling babies. Montana stopped that thought in its tracks with a stern shake of her head. She really had to stop comparing people to her darling Duncan. It was neither fair nor constructive.
Cold air whispered against her skin and she hugged the blanket tight as she watched him wrap Dawn in another warm shawl. Then he tucked the baby against his chest, and flattened the blanket back firmly around Montana with his other hand. He must have seen her shiver.
Dawn grizzled and he whispered something she couldn’t catch. His cheek rested against the tiny head while he carried her to the warmth of the car.
Montana frowned at how easy they looked together and decided she’d had enough huddling to keep warm.
Her warm feet felt good and she slipped the bottle up to tuck into her now loose trousers, hot water on tap when she was ready, and would keep her stomach warm until then. She pulled her shirt together where she’d opened it to keep her daughter snug against her skin.
Andy returned without Dawn before Montana could climb out of the car. ‘She’s tucked safe on the seat. Can’t fall. I just want to make sure you’re fine.’ He gestured with his hand. ‘When you stand.’
‘Thank you.’ She slid gingerly out and his hand was close but not touching. She drew in a deep breath and her head stayed clear. ‘Yes. I’m fine.’
He moved back. ‘If you’re sure. I’ll turn my back.’
She laughed softly. ‘You watch Dawn. I’ll go around the other side of the car by myself, thank you.’
Two minutes later, after she’d communed with nature, and had almost groaned with the sheer bliss of hot water from the rubber bottle to wash her face and hands, she’d refastened her clothes and tidied as best she could. She crossed to Misty’s car and her daughter.
Dawn dozed happily tucked into Andy’s arm and Montana stilled him with a raised hand as he went to lean across to open the passenger door. She slid in. ‘Don’t move. She’s settled.’
He had the cup holders out on the dashboard and each held a steaming cup of tea that caused twin puffs of condensation on the windshield.
‘The tea smells wonderful.’ Inhaling the aroma, she gathered the cup in her fingers to divert her silly mind away from the man in the driver’s seat. A man thoughtful and practical enough to bring tea-making supplies. A man who looked totally at ease with a newborn in his arms.
How brilliant that Andy had known instinctively not to fuss about her or about Dawn’s sudden arrival. Even Duncan would have panicked at the thought of birthing here on the mountain.
Montana sipped her tea slowly and let the past hour fall from her shoulders.
They sat silently for some time, quietness easy between them, and Montana may even have dozed.
When she opened her eyes he was looking at her. Not staring, just an appraisal to see if she was fine. She couldn’t remember when she’d felt so comfortable in a stranger’s company.
‘Were you frightened?’ His words were soft and acknowledged something powerful and amazing had happened that morning. And again, for her, there was that pleasure in his lack of censure.
She smiled at the bundle that was her daughter and shook her head. Suddenly it was important he understand that she wasn’t reckless with her daughter’s life. ‘I wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly. I thought I could get to the hospital, but I couldn’t drive any more, not safely anyway, and when I stopped it all happened as it should.’
She paused thoughtfully and then went on. ‘I won’t say I was lucky it all went well, because I have always believed a woman is designed to give birth without complications. I was just not unlucky, as some women are.’
He seemed to be pondering her statement, not quite a disagreement but not sure he agreed, perhaps? He didn’t say anything. Instead he flattened his chin against his chest and squinted at the baby snuggled like a possum into him. ‘What do you think Dawn weighs?’
Montana looked proudly across at her daughter and smiled again. ‘Maybe six pounds. Say two and a half thousand grams. She’s almost three weeks early but she’s vigorous.’
‘I know,’ she said. They smiled at each other in mutual admiration for Montana’s baby. This time Montana was the first to look away, aware of that ease between them, which was unexpected. That was okay. The occasion was special enough for odd feelings.
He reached over the back of the seat and lifted a small lunch holder. ‘Would you like some sandwiches?’
‘Actually, I’m starving.’ The man was so practical. ‘You’ve prepared well.’
‘Least I can do. I’d rather have been here half an hour earlier.’
She unwrapped the sandwich and bit into it with relish. ‘My favourite,’ she said around a mouthful of bread and ham and pickles. ‘Labour is hungry work.’
He smiled at her. A lovely smile and she smiled back.
‘Is there anything you don’t have?’ she said just before the next bite, and the words hung in the air between them.
He looked out at the mist below them in the valley and she felt his sudden pain. Heck. He’d lost his wife. She knew now what that felt like. His voice came out a little more brusquely than she expected. ‘I don’t have a trailer to bring your truck down with us, but I’ll come back and get it later.’
Despite that good comeback, an awkward silence hung between them now where before it had been peaceful. The mist had begun to dissipate lower down the mountain. Time to go.
This interlude from the world would be over, and she’d be tucked up in a ward bed with Misty and her other friend, Mia, fussing over her in the maternity section of their hospital. All the staff would pass by and look in, and everything would be as it should be.
Except Duncan wouldn’t be there.
All the things she hadn’t said and couldn’t share with Duncan would never be spoken and she needed to accept that. But she dreaded each day in her home environment, which had become so entrenched in loss and memories.
Her husband wouldn’t be in the ward where she’d first seen him. Wouldn’t be in any of the familiar places where they’d spent the last years of his life together.
How did one cope with this feeling of desolation?
Or of the guilt-ridden feeling that Duncan had let her down somehow by dying? Left her to mother their child and manage everything that comes with.
What of the fact that a stranger had been the first man to see Dawn and not Duncan?
Her eyes stung and a tear rolled down her cheek. ‘I don’t want to go to the hospital.’ The dam she’d been holding back for months, burst. ‘Actually, I don’t ever want to go back to that hospital. I don’t even want to go back to my house in town, which is ridiculous as I don’t have the energy to organise a clean break.’
She bit her lip, swiped at her eyes, and shook her head. ‘This is not like me. I’m sorry. I have no option. Ignore what I just said.’
The understanding in his green eyes nearly triggered the tears again.
‘Anyone would think you’d had a big morning,’ he quipped gently, and the compassion in his voice told her he understood. He really did understand.
Andy slid his arm across the seat and around her shoulder and squeezed.
Despite the fact that she didn’t know him it felt good to be hugged. Comforting.
‘It must be hard without your husband,’ he said. ‘I felt the same when my wife died.’
‘Misty told me.’
‘Did she say how I’d almost gone off the rails? Left everything to get away? Had to escape.’
No, she hadn’t mentioned that. ‘It’s harder than anything in the world,’ she said, ‘and sometimes I’m almost angry with him for leaving.’ Montana lifted her face to his. Her eyes shimmered with loss and she saw the acknowledgment.
‘I remember that feeling,’ he said. He squeezed her shoulder. ‘What happened to Duncan?’
She shook her head. Still barely believing it had happened so fast. ‘The tenth of April. It was an aneurysm. There was no warning. Duncan went to bed smiling and never woke up. He was thirty-five and didn’t even know he would be a father.’
The silence lengthened as they both reflected on their losses. Thank goodness he didn’t rush in with condolences because she hated that. Hated the words and having to respond and each regret underlined her loss for another stab.
Finally, he said, ‘It was a tragedy. Though he has given you a beautiful daughter and he will live on through her.’
She nodded. ‘I know. But I don’t ever want to hurt like that again.’
‘Amen to that.’ Andy sighed, a soft exhalation filled with understanding. ‘People kept telling me that time is a great healer, but the early years are painful and something I never want to do again.’
Months had been bad. Years sounded terrible. She had to do it with a daily reminder in Dawn, but she would survive.
‘I have a direction in my life now with the hospital at Lyrebird Lake. Time has given me that consolation.’
‘And I have Dawn.’ Yes. She had Dawn.
Andy squeezed Montana’s shoulders once more and then let his arm drop. ‘I’ll get your things and put them in my car.’
‘I want to go home.’ Her voice firmed. ‘Not to the hospital.’
He looked at her. Didn’t seem surprised. ‘Fine. I’m sure your own personal midwives will arrive as soon as they hear you are home.’
He smiled and Montana found she could smile, if a little tremulously, back.
He was right.
Of course she didn’t have to go to the hospital.
Mia and Misty would make sure she was well looked after...
end of excerpt
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. If you would like to read Montana's story find it here