Twelve years is a long time to hide a secret…or two.
Forced from his self-imposed exile, Doctor Morgan Cavanaugh must face his demons and confront the girl he left behind. Becca Walters became a woman in that time with life-altering revelations of her own.
Becca fought her way to respectability, but it came at a cost. With Morgan’s return she must face the consequences of long-ago decisions, made without his knowledge.
Together they have to face the past; in order to make a future.
A moving contemporary romance about facing past regrets and the search for belonging from a fabulous new talent. Perfect reading for anyone who loves Mandy Magro.
Two weeks to D-day. Or M-day. Rebecca Walters glanced at the calendar on her laptop with the staff shifts colour-coded. She hadn’t put a code for Doctor Morgan Cavanaugh on yet.
Her own code as practice manager blinked at her and she couldn’t help wondering how long it would stay.
Would Morgan be willing to work with her?
Especially once he found out the truth about the past. She couldn’t afford to go back to her old job at the nursing home. Not with the mountain of debt her parents, mainly her stepfather, had left behind. Once her mother died, it had been a relief to repossess her birth father’s name, leaving Bujold in the past where it belonged.
‘Becca?’ The clinic nurse hovered at the door of her office behind reception. ‘The pharma rep is here.’
‘Thanks, Karen.’ With a sigh, Becca closed the laptop. She could finish it later. Normally she loved her job, loved the challenge, but with the date of Morgan’s arrival looming, it made her edgy.
The rep was easy to deal with. He flirted as usual. It was a game he played but he knew Becca wasn’t up for a night out. Not on a school night. Not with the responsibility of two children and a step-cousin with a brain injury to keep her busy. At least Dan would be moving to his own place in neighbouring Bialga with some friends soon. It would make it easier, especially for the twins.
Another problem she’d have to deal with. She couldn’t use Morgan’s parents for childcare once Morgan came home. Grace had made her position clear at the start when the twins were born and they’d made the deal.
Help in return for silence.
It had hurt, but not as much as believing Morgan had deliberately turned his back on his children. Lately, Grace was oddly reluctant for Becca to find alternative arrangements. After all this time, Morgan’s mother had become fond of the children and they adored Grandpa Ned. Grace’s cooking was the drawcard in the relationship. Sometimes Becca wondered if Grace regretted the deal as much as Becca did. Neither of them expected it to last all this time. Except Morgan never came home and things drifted into an uneasy peace.
The twins were used to their current routine and would miss the daily contact with Ned and Grace. Free or cheap childcare for two eleven-year-olds was hard to find when she had no vehicle to do pickups and drop-offs. She’d planned on buying a small second-hand car soon, but with her job no longer secure, she’d been too uncertain to make such a large financial commitment.
Frustrated at her unusual distraction, Becca glanced at her watch. Time for her meeting with Doctor Farrell. He was usually happy to leave the running of the clinic to her, with the assistance of the staff. This close to retirement, he was pretty much cruising until his replacement arrived. He at least was happy it was Morgan. He’d been Morgan’s mentor during high school when he’d first shown an interest in medicine, rather than following Ned Cavanaugh in farming his family’s block of land.
‘All ready for the transition?’
Becca nodded, checking the to do list on her tablet. ‘Prescription and pharmaceutical software is all up to date. Client database is stripped of any patients who’ve left and all current records were checked for accuracy. We had a few incorrect addresses but mostly it’s been running properly.’
He rested his clasped hands on his ample waist. ‘I’m looking forward to not having to worry about these things.’
In reality, he’d never worried. He left the technical side of things to Becca and focused on the medicine. Which suited her fine. ‘You’ll enjoy the warmer weather when you move down to the coast.’
‘It’ll be a change. I’ll probably get down there and miss the cool nights.’
‘Air conditioning will do the job.’ She braced herself. ‘Have you been in contact with Doctor Cavanaugh?’
‘I spoke to him late last week. He has a few medical check-ups to complete before he leaves Brisbane. I imagine he’ll want plenty of time to settle in and catch up with his parents.’
In other words, he might get here before the two weeks stated on the contract. She’d need to speak to Grace sooner rather than later about the twins. The moment he saw Gabby, he’d know the truth. She didn’t want to think about how angry he’d be. She remembered his temper, though it had been rarely displayed.
Returning to her office, she mired herself in the staff shifts, clearing her head of the fears and uncertainty. She’d talk to Grace this afternoon when she picked up the children. The rest of it would have to wait. This job was vital to her children’s future. She couldn’t risk it. Not now.
Becca was tidying up, ready to lock the front door when one of the regular patients burst through the door, a bellowing youngster clutched to her chest. At the sight of blood on the child’s clothes and bare legs, Becca grabbed a dressing pack from the storeroom behind the reception area and almost ran to meet them.
‘You should have bandaged Craig’s leg before you brought him into town, Kaylee.’ Shifting her grip on the dressing pressed over the wound, Becca contemplated the simplest way to remove the sobbing child from the hysterical young mother. The woman had frozen the moment she’d made it through the door.
She glanced towards the back of the reception area. ‘Karen?’
The clinic nurse poked her head out of the treatment room. ‘Nearly finished.’
‘Can you come as soon as you’re done? We’ll also need Bert to clean up ASAP.’
Carefully Rebecca eased the shaking woman down onto one of the chairs in the waiting room. Kaylee was a good mother, despite her youth, but she tended to panic at the sight of blood. Craig was the kind of rough and tumble boy who managed to shed a lot of it. Becca could empathise with nineteen-year-old Kaylee. She knew what it was like to feel the town’s judgement on her capacity to mother her children.
Thank goodness the clinic was almost clear of patients this late in the afternoon. She averted her eyes from the bloody mess on the linoleum floor. It was near the automatic door at the front of the medical clinic and therefore an immediate hazard. The priority was the child but preventing an accident came close. This was the part of the job she was good at. Seeing what had to be done and expediting it. Fortunately, she had a great team.
In minutes Karen joined her, helping to secure the dressing. Rebecca was able to pry the three-year-old from his mother’s arms, while Karen soothed her. Once in the treatment room, Craig settled down, his fears more due to his mother’s emotional reaction than any pain from the cut.
The bleeding had slowed to a sluggish trickle. Quickly cleaning the wound and surrounding skin, Rebecca contemplated the evidence proving a little blood could go such a long way. Several smears marred the pale blue skirt of her uniform where his leg had brushed against it, but it was neither here nor there at this stage of the day. She’d be changing into jeans and a warm jacket to go home, once the clinic closed. Responding to Craig’s chatter, she assured the boy he’d soon be mended as good as new.
As if on cue, a noise at the door told her help had arrived but she kept her eyes on what she was doing.
‘Karen? Could you tell the doctor we’ll need some stitches in treatment room two? Then you can finish with Mrs Cordery’s dressing and we’ll be done for the day. Barring another emergency.’ There was a pause and she was about to repeat herself, when a voice spoke from the doorway. Most definitely not Karen.
‘I think we can do better than stitches.’
Rebecca stiffened, then straightened, preparing to turn and face the intruder. There was something heart-stoppingly familiar in the low tones and for a few seconds she’d had a déjà vu moment. But this voice was deeper and rougher than the one she remembered.
‘I beg your pardon?’ It was him. Morgan Cavanaugh, two weeks early, and larger than life. If you could call six foot four of skin and bones in a loose grey sweater and faded jeans larger than life. His red hair was a beacon above the paleness of his skin, cut severely short, the slight curl hardly visible. Her eyes wanted to drink him in but she couldn’t, wouldn’t, give in to the urge, so she turned back to the boy. ‘This is Doctor Cavanaugh, Craig. He’s taking over here when Doctor Farrell goes to live on the Gold Coast, near his daughter.’
‘Becca? Becca Bujold?’ Morgan couldn’t believe his eyes as he took in the petite figure in the neat blue uniform with navy trims. Where was the wild child with the long, dark mahogany hair and bewitching smile? Where were the sparkling brown eyes, the colour of his mother’s best sherry? This uptight looking woman with the severely cropped hair looked like her, but not quite. The primly pursed mouth in a thin tanned face, eyes hidden behind narrow glasses, seemed like a woman with all life and joy sucked out of her.
Her voice came out flat and businesslike without the musical lilt he remembered. Walters. She must have married Dan and this was presumably what life with him had made of her. In those early years when the bitterness had eaten at him, he’d speculated on revenge, but it seemed fate had taken care of it for him. He wouldn’t wish this result on his worst enemy, and whatever the past, Becca was too important to him to be considered an enemy.
She raised an eyebrow. ‘You said something about doing better than stitches? Doctor Farrell usually puts a couple of stitches in a cut like this.’ She was all business and he moved forward to look closely at the injury, thrusting aside his discomfort.
As he thought, it was a neat slicing cut, and not deep. ‘I’ve been using a skin glue I find works well on this kind of wound. It’s more expensive but will give a cleaner result. If you don’t have any in stock I’ve a few samples in the car.’
‘We do have some. We had a young locum the last time Doctor Farrell was on holiday, and she liked to use it for children. They use it all the time at the Mater Hospital apparently, but Doctor Farrell doesn’t like it. Says he’s too old to learn new tricks.’
Was there a slight twitch to her mouth at her last comment? He wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t given an opportunity to study her. She stepped briskly past him to open the cabinet, retrieving the Dermabond and selecting a fresh, disposable dressing tray. Watching her set up for the treatment, he had to admire her economical movements and neat manner of working. When she finished setting up, she stood aside to allow him room to manoeuvre, remaining within easy reach.
With a smile and quick word with the child, he pulled on the gloves laid out for him. After swabbing and drying the wound, he guided Becca’s gloved hands into place to hold the sides of the cut together. He released them rather abruptly, oddly affected by the contact, and she looked up at him, brows wrinkling at his action. Morgan ignored the look, preparing the glue, but out of the corner of his eye he saw her shake her head slightly, as if clearing it. Almost immediately she focused on her job, watching carefully as he pinned the neatly joined skin with the glue.
Instructing her and the boy to hold still for a minute, he pulled off the gloves and disposed of them. ‘When did you finish your RN training, Becca?’ It was a courteous enough question so why did she flush scarlet under his glance? She’d always planned to become a nurse so it was hardly something new.
With a quick look at the child, who was studying the glued portion of his anatomy with great interest, she shook her head. ‘I didn’t do RN training. Just my Cert IV in Aged Care at the nursing home. Later on, I did business studies externally.’
‘So why are you working as a clinic nurse?’
‘I’m not. Karen’s the clinic nurse. I help her out when it’s busy.’
‘You’re a casual?’
‘No. I work here full-time.’ She seemed, if anything, more embarrassed. ‘I’m the practice manager.’
He knew he was staring. Practice manager. Doc Farrell had mentioned how lucky he was with his staff. It hadn’t occurred to him it would be Becca. He’d have to work closely with her every day. He’d go insane. Totally, mind bogglingly, insane.
Morgan stretched his legs out as he settled into the armchair in Doctor Farrell’s office. It was good to relax, half the relief produced by the absence of Becca from the room. He was still stiff from the journey and standing hunched over the child while fixing the cut had made it worse. Or had it been the proximity to Becca tensing his neck and shoulders? He rubbed them, conscious of the intent look from the older man.
‘Getting right into it already, Morgan.’
The rich rolling tone with the faintly Scottish accent was so familiar. Donald Farrell had delivered him, and most of the locals born in Maiden’s Landing over the last forty years. Doc Barrell, he’d been called irreverently by the young people in sly reference to his shape, but with a fondness that recalled his patience and the store of sweets he kept in a jar on his desk. The jar was still there, but with stickers instead of the sugary treats. Becca’s doing?
‘It seemed logical when everyone was busy. I hope you didn’t consider it encroaching.’
The other man laughed. ‘I’m not likely to complain if it means I get to sit at my desk instead of chasing after newfangled glue to put the lad together.’ He sobered. ‘Seriously, I’m glad of it. I’m seventy next month and more than ready to retire.’
Morgan was aware of the doctor’s upcoming knee surgery, but he respected his reticence. ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get here sooner.’
‘The important thing is you’re here now. Still not looking fit, but I suppose it will come.’ The shrewd eyes rested benevolently on Morgan’s face, seeing more than Morgan wanted him to see.
‘I’ll be settling in over the next week or two, but I would like to come in each morning to familiarise myself with the practice.’
‘By all means. Becca will be your main man to get you up to speed. She runs the computer system and the business side of things. I’d have been still using the old filing system but she nagged me into upgrading.’ There was an element of satisfaction in the old boy’s expression. He had always been fond of Becca, letting her do work experience at the practice during her last few years at school. It meant Morgan would be stuck with her.
As if he’d read Morgan’s thoughts, Doc Farrell cleared his throat. ‘All the staff are excellent. I hope you aren’t planning any sweeping changes. Bert and Karen have been here for well-nigh twenty years and Becca’s been running the place for eight years or so. Young Laureen on reception is new, but she fits in with the team. They all need the work. Not too many jobs available locally unless you’re in agriculture and they mostly want backpackers for picking.’
‘I didn’t expect to see Becca still in town.’
There, he’d said it.
With a vague wave of a hand showing its age, the doctor smiled. ‘With two kiddies to look after, she needed the support of the community. She’d have been a fool to move to the city where she knew no-one and everything is dearer. She’s got her mother’s old place still, out your way.’
‘What about Dan?’ Surely he’d be helping out financially. With two children. She must have had another child later.
‘He’s there with her. Works in Bialga so you won’t see too much of him. Although you’ll be neighbours, so to speak. Local gossip tells me you bought the property next to your parents. I think your mother was hoping to take you back under her wing and get you fattened up again.’
‘I’m too old to go back to living with my parents. It’s been close to fifteen years without counting boarding school. I like being on my own.’
A small crease marred the plump smoothness of the older man’s forehead. ‘I’m surprised you didn’t bring a wife and family back with you.’
‘I’m sure my mother would have been happy to see me settled before this. I liked my work and it wasn’t conducive to relationships.’ He didn’t want to talk about himself, but his respect for the man he’d known all his life kept his resentment under control.
‘I suppose not.’ Doc Farrell steepled his fingers thoughtfully. ‘Yes, I suppose it must be close to thirteen years since you were last home. I don’t think I’ve seen you since the night of the tragedy.’
Something tightened in Morgan’s chest. ‘I did come back for the police interviews in Bialga, but only stayed overnight with my parents.’
‘And we haven’t seen you until today.’
‘There was no reason to come back. My career was elsewhere.’
‘Of course.’ Those shrewd eyes were delving into his soul again. ‘I think you’ll find a lot of things have changed. You missed a lot while you were away. Maybe you’ll find more than one reason to stay.’
Morgan wondered at the slow deliberation of the words. He couldn’t help feeling the other man was trying to tell him something. A shiver prickled his spine. He’d had good reasons to leave and some of those reasons still existed. What on earth did the doctor think would encourage him to stay? He was committed to the practice and the contract with the local hospital was for three years. Enough time to get his own health back up to scratch. Unless he was concerned about Morgan’s parents’ health. But he already knew about his father’s heart condition.
He had a feeling there was something else. An image of Becca flashed into his mind, the new Becca, so restrained and prim. He dismissed it. There was nothing here for him. Not anymore.