Alison Roberts’ 100th book! Read a Sneak Peek from The Vet’s Unexpected Family


Alison Roberts’ 100th book! Read a Sneak Peek from The Vet’s Unexpected Family

A baby…to change the vet’s life!

When a baby is left in celebrity vet Finn’s waiting room, he can’t believe that it’s his granddaughter and that he has a secret daughter! With his emotions running riot and feeling utterly out of his depth with a newborn, Finn needs help…and kind-hearted colleague Hazel is the perfect candidate! Hazel has always been ‘just a friend.’ Now, she might be becoming someone that he can’t live without…

The Vet's Unexpected Family


About to walk into the waiting area of Coogee Beach Animal Hospital and summon her first patient for the afternoon clinic, Hazel Davidson stopped in her tracks. She took a step backwards, in fact, which put her behind the half-open door.

How had she forgotten it was Wednesday? One of the days when she had to be careful that she didn’t end up being caught on camera by the television crew who had a weekly episode of Call the Vet to pre-record? Or rather, it had been Call the Vet in Series One. Now, halfway through Series Three it was more like Call Dr Finn, Australia’s Favourite Celebrity Vet—Not to Mention the Country’s Most Eligible Bachelor. And maybe that was why she’d forgotten to keep her head down today. Lately, there hadn’t been as much filming happening in this veterinary clinic because the female fan base that gathered outside was starting to become a problem.

Maybe Hazel could catch the new receptionist’s attention and get her to find the sixteen-week-old puppy waiting for its final health check and vaccination and bring it into the consulting room? That way, Hazel could stay completely below the radar, which was what she’d managed to do ever since that unfortunate appearance she’d been persuaded to make in Series One.

‘I need you, Hazel,’ Finn had said, and who could ignore a plea like that when it came with a smile that had always made her melt? ‘It’ll be fun,’ he’d said. But it hadn’t ended up being fun at all, had it?

Kylie, the young receptionist, was watching Finn get some makeup brushed onto his face and then some hairspray on that floppy, sun-streaked hair, with the kind of dreamy expression that he probably inspired in all his biggest fans. It wasn’t the first time that Hazel felt grateful her childhood had taught her the self-defence mechanism of hiding that kind of personal reaction—she would have looked like that herself in the early days of being around Dr Finn. Whatever… Kylie wasn’t about to notice Hazel hovering behind the door.

She knew she should just go out there and find her patient herself. Except that one of the two cameramen had his camera secured on his shoulder and looked as though he could be filming already, even though Finn was deep in conversation with the person who seemed to be in charge, while he was getting the attention of the makeup artist, and there were three or four other people busy setting up equipment. She couldn’t see an adorable puppy being cuddled anywhere, either, unless it was inside that solid, plastic pet carrier tucked in beside the wall display of dog toys and treats. The temptation to go back to her consulting room in the hope the television crew might have vanished by the time she came back was strong enough to really annoy her.

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake,’ Hazel muttered. ‘This is ridiculous.’

Lifting her chin, she pushed the door fully open and stepped into the waiting area, only to find that nobody even noticed her entrance. They were all turning in the opposite direction, at exactly the same time, as the automatic glass doors were sliding open and they could all hear someone calling for help.

‘Oh, no…’ Hazel pressed her fingers against her lips as she saw what they were watching. ‘No, no, no…’

Someone was coming into the reception area at speed, holding what appeared to be a dog in their arms. A middle-aged woman, who was clearly distressed, her clothes streaked with blood.

‘Please…can someone help? It just ran out in front of me…’ The woman was sobbing. ‘There was nothing I could do…’

Hazel was already halfway across the large room, oblivious to the fact that there were now two cameras trained on her. She reached the woman and took the dog as gently as possible from her arms, but it yelped in agony and Hazel could already see that its hind leg was deformed enough to be badly broken.

‘This way…’ Finn was guiding her towards his consulting room with a hand on her shoulder. The television crew scattered to create a clear path but, even as Hazel rushed past, she could feel their excitement. This was the kind of drama that couldn’t be faked. It would have viewers on the edge of their seats and push their ratings sky high.

To his credit, however, Finn seemed just as disinterested as Hazel about who was watching. Their focus was entirely on a little black dog who’d just been hit by a car. A dog who was clearly shocked, whimpering in severe pain and breathing too fast as they laid him on the table as carefully as they could.

Hazel unhooked her stethoscope from around her neck but took a moment to lay her hand on the dog’s head. He was mostly spaniel, by the look of those ears and the feel of his silky hair and he was no youngster, judging by that white muzzle.

‘It’s okay, pupper,’ she said softly. ‘We’ll look after you…’

‘No collar…’ Finn noted. ‘And he looks a bit under nourished. Could be a stray.’ He ran his hands gently over the body of the dog, looking for the source of the bleeding as well as any obvious internal injuries. ‘No life-threatening haemorrhage. Or not externally, anyway. There’s a couple of lacerations that will need cleaning and suturing. Abdomen seems okay.’

‘He’s tachycardic.’ Hazel held her stethoscope with one hand on the side of the dog’s chest, where the beat was most prominent. She had the fingers of her other hand on the femoral artery. ‘Pulse is weak. I’d say his blood pressure’s too low.’

‘I’ll get an IV in.’ Finn nodded. ‘And put some fluids up.’

‘I’ll get some pain relief drawn up. We should get some oxygen on, as well.’ Hazel looped her stethoscope back around her neck. ‘We could do with another set of hands in here. Where’s Anna?’

‘I’m here.’

Hazel looked up to see their senior vet nurse, Anna, squeeze past a cameraman and a sound technician who was holding a fluffy microphone on a pole but she pushed aside the unwelcome realisation that she was being filmed. She was still too concerned for this dog’s welfare to allow any distractions.

Finn picked up some clippers and Anna moved in without being asked to hold the dog’s front leg still as a long patch was shaved to make it easy to find a vein.

Hazel opened drawers and swiftly found the IV supplies that Finn needed, putting them on the table beside him. A disinfectant wipe, cannula and plug, tape and bandage. Turning back to open the drug cabinet, she paused to unhook some tubing from the side of the anaesthetic trolley and turned on the oxygen cylinder. She put the end of the tube on the table near the dog’s face.

‘Flow-by oxygen at six litres a minute,’ she told Finn, who nodded his approval. ‘Anna, can you keep the tube as close to his nose as you can while you’re holding him?’

Finn slid the needle into a vein, inserted the cannula smoothly, capped it and unclipped the tourniquet in the space of seconds.

‘Sorry, doggo,’ he said. ‘You’ll feel better soon, I promise.’

Hazel had drawn up an opioid analgesic ready to inject by the time Finn had secured the IV firmly in place with tape and then a bandage on top. It seemed like it had been far too long but in reality it had only been a few minutes before they could all breathe a tentative sigh of relief. The injured dog was visibly relaxing as his pain level dropped, closing his eyes as the panting slowed so that he looked almost as if he was peacefully asleep. Now they could get on with the real business of stabilising their patient and potentially going ahead with emergency surgery to save its leg, if not its life.

Finn was drawing a blood sample from the IV line. He handed the syringe to Hazel. ‘Can you run a CBC and electrolytes, please?’ he asked. ‘And do a catalyst chem seventeen. I want to know what the liver and kidney function is and whether it’s safe to go ahead with anaesthesia if it’s indicated. Which is very likely, going by that obvious fracture in his hind leg. That could well need some complex surgery.’


But Hazel couldn’t help a tiny head shake as she turned away to take the sample to the small room next to the X-ray suite that housed their state-of-the-art analysis technology that provided an in-house laboratory. While Hazel’s reluctance to appear on the popular television show meant that they very rarely worked on the same patients these days, he knew that she knew exactly what blood tests were called for in an emergency situation like this and what the results could tell them. This was his television-speak, wasn’t it? Demonstrating his expertise at the same time as explaining things for an audience that had no medical background?

‘I could do that,’ Anna said. ‘And then make sure Theatre’s good to go?’

Hazel shook her head. ‘I’ve got a full clinic,’ she said. ‘The waiting room will be getting backed up.’

‘No…’ Finn glanced up swiftly from assessing the nasty leg fracture. ‘Don’t go. I need you, Hazel.’

There was no charmingly persuasive smile to go with the plea this time but a direct glance like that from those dark eyes still never failed to melt something in that hidden space.

‘Orthopaedic stuff like this is as much up your alley as mine,’ he added. ‘And I know just how talented you are.’

Anna was nodding her head to back him up. ‘I’ve sorted the clinic,’ she said, taking the blood sample from Hazel’s hands. ‘Nigel finished his surgery and he’s taken your afternoon list. I could see that Finn needed you. And, even if people are waiting a bit longer, they understand when an emergency like this comes in.’ She was halfway out the door, now, and Hazel had lost any opportunity to escape.

Part of her didn’t want to, anyway. The dog’s eyes were open again, although it was still lying calmly on the table and it was watching her with big, brown spaniel eyes. Finn might have tugged at her heartstrings by saying he needed her but this dog was telling her that his need was far more genuine. Desperate, even. And it felt like he was trusting her to stay close. She’d promised to look after him, hadn’t she?

Hazel might have learned, over the last few years, to brush off any visceral response she still had to Finn’s charisma but there was no way she could resist this dog. Her hand was already reaching out to stroke its ears again.

‘We need X-rays,’ Finn said. ‘But I’m thinking that it could be a mission to save this leg, especially in an old fellow like this. Can you top up his pain relief and then I’ll carry him next door so we can see exactly what we’re dealing with?’

Hazel’s thoughts were racing as she drew up some more medication. She had to stay now. To fight in this old dog’s corner. What if it really was a stray and there was no one to pay what could end up being an exorbitant bill for medical treatment and rehab? What if the surgery was going to present such a challenge that would make it far easier to simply amputate the leg? Or, worst case scenario, would someone suggest that euthanasia was the sensible option?

Hazel closed her eyes as she drew in a slow breath, suddenly grateful that this emergency was being filmed. She didn’t actually give a damn what people might say about her this time. She could ask the hard questions and make it impossible for easy decisions to be made too quickly. She could not only help to save this dog’s life, she might get an opportunity to tell a lot of people about the passion in her life that had led to her becoming a vet in the first place and what she did in her time away from work. She could tell them about the Two Tails animal refuge up in the Blue Mountains and—who knew?—it might even lead to some badly needed financial support for the niche refuge run by Hazel’s best friend, Kiara. The place that she headed for whenever she could, to do whatever she could to help.

Dealing with any fallout from a nationwide television appearance would be a small price to pay for being able to do something potentially more significant than simply turning up to help clean out dog runs or work alongside Kiara in her small veterinary practice.

Wouldn’t it?

This was great.

Like the old days, when Hazel had first come to work at the Coogee Beach Animal Hospital. The days before Call the Vet became such a huge part of Finn’s life, when almost every waking hour—and a few when he really should have been asleep—had been spent at the veterinary clinic he’d poured his heart and soul into building up after he’d come back home to Sydney.

He’d recognised the same passion in Hazel when he’d chosen her for the new position of a permanent veterinary surgeon at the hospital and it had been the best decision he’d ever made. Her glowing references hadn’t been exaggerated and they’d quickly formed a partnership in the operating theatre that was second to none. Finn hadn’t realised quite how much he’d missed working with her, though, until they were deep into the intricate work of repairing the fracture on this emergency case that had come through the doors of the clinic this afternoon. He’d almost forgotten how clever her fingers were, how she could make thoughtful, balanced, major decisions in what seemed like the blink of an eye and…how much she cared.

He was watching her now, as she painstakingly picked out every tiny piece of shattered bone from the opening she had carefully created to expose this dog’s serious leg fracture. Finn was happy to be Hazel’s assistant as she tackled the delicate task of exposing and then repairing a complex fracture. Not only was he enjoying watching her skilled work, he knew that being this focused on the task at hand would make her forget she was being filmed.

Finn was very aware of what else the show’s creative director would want, however, which was why this programme had become so astonishingly popular. He spoke quietly to the camera crew positioned on the other side of the clinic’s main operating theatre to include the people who would, no doubt, be watching this procedure with fascination.

‘So this is what we call a comminuted fracture,’ he explained. ‘Which means that the bone is broken in more than two places. Hazel’s removing tiny shards of bone that could create problems for this dog down the track and then she’ll decide the best method for stabilising the fracture so it can heal.’ He adjusted the overhead light a fraction to put the brightest point above the hole in the sterile drapes covering their patient. He really wanted to draw Hazel into talking about what she was doing. If she enjoyed this, maybe she would consider being on the show on a regular basis.

‘What are you thinking, Hazel?’ he asked. ‘Pins and cerclage wire? External fixation? Or plates and screws?’

‘Plates and screws.’ Hazel didn’t look up from her work. ‘We’ve got enough bone length both distal and proximal to the fracture to allow for the minimum three screws in each fragment. It’s going to be the most stable solution.’

Finn smiled at the cameras. He knew the smile wouldn’t be seen beneath his mask but it made a difference to the tone of his voice. It could make the audience feel as if they were sharing privileged information.

‘As vets, we have what’s called the “fifty/fifty” rule,’ he said. ‘You have to have at least fifty per cent of the ends of fractured bones in contact with each other and that fifty per cent reduction is the absolute minimum for bone healing to be possible. It has to be stable, too. Something like a splint or an external cast is the least stable method to reduce a fracture. Internal fixation using things like plates and screws is the most stable. Plus, it’s the best choice for restoring length to a bone where there are lost pieces like the ones Hazel’s removing.’

He paused, knowing that the camera would be zooming in on the stainless-steel kidney dish that Hazel was dropping the small bone fragments into. He was still doing too much talking, wasn’t he? He needed to come up with a way of getting Hazel really engaged and hopefully wipe out the bad memories of the aftermath of appearing on the show for the first and only time.

Even now, well over a year later, it could make Finn cringe. Not that he’d been present when that unpleasant woman and her daughter had brought their Persian cat in for an appointment but he’d heard all about how unhappy they’d been when Hazel had arrived to welcome them. He’d read about it, in fact, when it got splashed over social media.

‘Nah…’ The woman had made sure everyone in the crowded waiting area could hear her. ‘Like we said when we rang up, we want to see the TV vet. That’s why we’ve come right across the city.’

‘Dr Davidson is one of the TV vets,’ the receptionist had told them. ‘She was on the show only last week.’

‘It’s the guy we came to see. The good-looking one.’

The daughter had been even more blunt than her mother. ‘That’s right. We don’t want the fat vet.’

So Hazel was curvy? So what? As if that made a difference to her amazing skills and an awesome personality? Finn considered Hazel to be one of his closest friends and he’d been mortified on her behalf.

‘It’s the camera,’ he’d told her. ‘Everyone knows it adds a heap of weight. Good grief… I’m sure I look like the Hulk sometimes.’

But Hazel had refused to talk about it. And now she was simply doing her job and not talking at all if she could help it. She might be doing an amazing job but even if viewers could recognise that, Finn wanted more. He wanted people to respect her. To like her—as much as he did.

‘So…did you catch up on that guy who came into reception while we were doing the X-rays on this leg? The one who works at the Brazilian barbecue restaurant?’

Hazel shook her head. ‘Have we got a two-point-five-millimetre drill bit on the trolley?’

‘It’s right here. Hiding beside the lag screws.’


‘This guy heard about the accident and came in to talk to Kylie. He reckons he’s been feeding this dog meat scraps for a week or so now. He’s been trying to get close enough to catch it and take it to a refuge ever since but, while it’ll take a bit of food, it always runs away if he tries to touch him.’

‘Really?’ This time, Hazel looked up. ‘I forgot to ask when I got busy scrubbing in but did Anna check for a microchip, too?’

‘There isn’t one. We decided to go ahead with the surgery, though. As you know, we’ve got a fund to cover the occasional emergency like this.’

He could hear the way Hazel snatched in a quick breath. ‘I know who can help after we discharge him. I’ve got a friend I’ve known for years—since vet school—and she runs the most amazing refuge centre up in the Blue Mountains.’

‘Oh? Can they cater for a dog that’s going to need intensive rehab? An old dog? Judging by his teeth and eyes and all that grey hair, this one could be well over twelve years old. Maybe fourteen or fifteen.’

‘It can cater for any animal in an emergency but it specialises in rescuing cases exactly like this. Dogs or cats who are too old for most people to consider rehoming because they might not live that much longer and they often have expensive health care needs. The kind that vets get asked to put down all the time because their owners have died or gone into care themselves and there’s nobody else to take on their pet.’

Finn was nodding. He’d had to face requests like that himself in the past and he’d hated it. It hadn’t happened recently, though. Was that because he was more involved in his television work than the day-to-day work of a busy veterinary clinic or had Hazel been quietly rescuing these animals without him knowing about it?

He’d known how much she cared about her patients but his admiration for how much she cared for animals in general had just gone up several notches.

‘And old dogs are so special,’ she added, with a catch in her voice. ‘I grew up with a dog who lived to be eighteen and he was…’ Hazel hesitated and then seemed to change her mind about whatever she’d been planning to reveal. ‘He was the reason I decided to become a vet,’ she added. ‘How could anyone even think of putting them down for the sake of convenience, or worse—dumping them when they can’t possibly understand what they’ve done wrong because they haven’t done anything wrong?’

Wow… Hazel had really come alive. She looked and sounded animated and her eyes were sparkling. The beeping of the heart monitor in the background made for a dramatic pause as she stopped speaking. Finn found himself wanting to know what it was that Hazel had decided not to say but he guessed that asking a question that touched personal ground could be the quickest way to make her back off again and he didn’t want that to happen.

The conversation wasn’t distracting her from the meticulous work she was doing, keeping the slippery stainless-steel plate she had already shaped to fit the bone in place as she drilled holes to take the screws that would secure it and Finn was experienced enough with this television stuff to know when he was onto a good thing. He could sense how clearly her passion would come across and how fast it would draw people in. Listening to this, the last thing anyone would think of would be to tag her with a derogatory physical descriptor like ‘fat’. No…it would be words like ‘passionate’ and ‘kind’ and a ‘totally awesome human’ that would spring to mind. Maybe Hazel would get some feedback that would make her feel as good about herself as she had always deserved to feel. Finn was smiling beneath his mask again.

‘Tell me about this refuge.’

‘It’s called Two Tails.’ It sounded like Hazel was smiling as well. ‘We came up with the name together. Because, you know—you can be as happy as a dog with two tails?’

‘It’s a great name.’

‘It’s two tales, as well. As in stories? Because they have a sad story that brings them into the refuge and a happy story in the end, or that’s what we do our best to achieve, anyway.’


‘I help out whenever I can. That’s why I drive a dodgy old van instead of a proper car.’

‘It’s hardly a dodgy old van. It’s a vintage Morris Minor delivery van.’ He gave one of his trademark grins directly to camera, as if he were talking confidentially to someone who was watching the programme. ‘Bright red. Very cute.’

Hazel snorted. ‘Whatever. What matters is that I can fit a couple of crates in the back and I don’t care if I have to cross the city to pick up a dog or cat from a vet clinic or refuge after work or if the phone goes in the middle of the night because there’s an animal in distress somewhere. Not that I can do everything. We got a call about a donkey who has to be urgently rehomed because it hasn’t had its feet trimmed in so long it can’t walk but I couldn’t have fitted her in the van and, anyway, there isn’t paddock space at the refuge.’

Finn made a sympathetic sound but didn’t want to interrupt. He’d never heard Hazel so eager to talk about something that was part of her private life.

‘I totally love the refuge,’ she added. ‘And I have the greatest admiration for what Kiara does. Some of the stories are heartbreaking but she does her absolute best every single time. Even now, when it’s getting so much harder.’

‘In what way is it getting harder?’

‘Oh, you know…’ Hazel had put the last screw in and was examining the bone and surrounding tissue before starting to close up the wound. ‘Financial stuff. It’s never cheap looking after animals, especially if they’ve got underlying health issues and, sadly, some of them come back or even end up staying at the refuge for the rest of their lives.’ She looked up from her work to let her gaze rest on that sleeping face with the grey muzzle. ‘I would hate that to happen to this old boy. I’d take him myself, in a heartbeat, if I could but I live in a basement bedsit with too many stairs. If he does end up at Two Tails, though, I’ll be there every day.’

Finn made a mental note to talk to the show’s producer. They could put the details for Two Tails up as a subtitle or at the end of this episode, directing people to where they could make a donation, perhaps. Not that it would be on screen for a while, yet, but it could help in the long run. He’d tell Hazel about the plan later. If nothing else, it would ensure that she wouldn’t back out of letting herself appear on screen and Finn wanted this episode to go to air. He had a good feeling about contributing to a rescue case like this and for one of his colleagues to be passionately directing public attention to the welfare of a section of the pet population that many people probably hadn’t considered an issue.

He also had a good feeling about how successful this surgery would be. He leaned closer to look at the result as Hazel irrigated the wound and swabbed it dry.

‘You’ve done an amazing job plating that,’ he told Hazel. ‘I can’t even see the fracture lines.’

‘We just need to close up and splint this leg and then deal with the other lacerations. I’d like to get him out of anaesthesia as soon as we can.’

Finn reached for some sutures. ‘He needs a name. We can’t just put “Old Dog” on his crate, can we?’

‘Ben.’ Hazel’s suggestion was so quick, Finn knew it was significant.

‘Was that the name of your dog?’ he asked quietly. ‘The one you grew up with?’

Hazel didn’t look up. ‘Yeah…he was black, too.’ Her tone was dismissive enough to signal that this topic of conversation was terminated. ‘Now…let’s get this periosteum wrapped back over the bone.’

It was well over an hour later when Ben the old, black dog was finally tucked up amongst soft blankets in the hospital ward, under the care of an expert vet night nurse who was being briefed by Anna. The television crew was packing up their gear, the waiting room had emptied of patients and their owners, Kylie the receptionist was getting ready to head home and Hazel had changed out of her scrubs and into street clothes.

‘I’m just going to grab something to eat and I’ll be back,’ she told Finn. ‘I’m going to stay and keep an eye on Ben for a while.’

Finn nodded. He was with the show’s producer and they were both peering at the monitor attached to one of the huge cameras.

‘That’s a great shot, Jude,’ he said. ‘I should do a voice over to explain what’s happening but I’d hate to cut anything Hazel’s saying about the refuge. That’s gold, isn’t it?’

‘I like it,’ the producer agreed. ‘Might be worth thinking about following up with a visit out there. It’s a cute name, isn’t it? Two Tails?’

It didn’t matter that Hazel had missed lunch. Any urgent need to find something to eat had just evaporated. This was exciting. It might even be a turning point for the refuge. She turned back well before the automatic doors were triggered to open, searching for the right words that might encourage the idea of Finn and the crew visiting the refuge, when something stopped her saying anything at all.

A sound that was so completely unexpected in a waiting area that was empty of any patients, it was shocking. It was a demanding kind of sound, like the yowl of a hungry Siamese cat. Hazel wasn’t the only person bewildered by the noise.

‘What on earth was that?’ Finn asked. ‘There’s no one there.’

Hazel was looking in the direction the sound had come from, over by the display of toys and treats for dogs and cats. Oddly, there was a pet carrier on the floor, which didn’t match the kind that the clinic had for sale and Hazel realised she’d seen that carrier before—when the area had been crowded with people waiting for the afternoon clinic to start. Just before the chaos of the emergency had kicked off.

‘Someone must have forgotten their pet,’ Hazel said. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time. They’ll get home and panic when the carrier’s not in the back of the car.’

Shaking her head, she walked over to the carrier and crouched down to peer through the wire door on the front. Or rather, try to peer past a small sheet of paper that had been taped to the door. She read the words on the paper but they made no sense. So she opened the door and stared inside, as the cry came again. Louder this time.

‘Oh, my God…’ she breathed. ‘It’s a baby…’

‘No way…’ Finn was staring across the waiting area. ‘It can’t be…’

‘It is. There’s a note, here, too.’

Hazel could see the cameraman and the show producer exchanging a meaningful glance as she peeled the paper from the wire door. The camera got swung back into position on the man’s shoulder. There was more drama happening at the Coogee Beach Animal Hospital and they didn’t want to miss a moment of it.

‘What does the note say?’

Hazel hesitated. Finn might not want to make this public. The way his long strides were eating up the space between them, there was no time to keep this completely private but at least she could show him the note rather than reading it aloud. She could also watch the colour drain out of his face as he read it.

To Dr Finn

You look after animals all the time on your show.

So you can look after this kid.

She’s yours.

The Vet's Unexpected Family

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