They’re saving lives in the outback, can love save them …?
Pilot Jess Pearson is running away from a broken heart and a terrible burden of guilt. A new job flying an air ambulance in outback Australia is a lifeline, after the headlines claimed she betrayed her lover to escape a prison sentence. That was all lies, and in Coorah Creek she has a chance to start over. She’s not hoping for forgiveness or love, just to escape from the past. But no matter how many people she helps save, can she ever atone for a lost life?
Dr Adam Gilmore is a brilliant doctor who wants only two things-to work and to be left alone. Unwilling to let any woman past his well-built barriers, he gives everything of himself to his patients. But when the new pilot comes to his small town, with a dedication to the job that matches his own, he starts to wonder if maybe he doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone …
Can these battered souls learn to take strength from each other? Or will their desire to deal with their demons alone keep them apart forever?
‘It’s no big deal.’
The loud voice and angry tone suggested it was in fact a very big deal.
‘Honestly! She’s only a bridesmaid for goodness’ sake. It’s not her decision to make,’ the woman almost shouted into her mobile phone.
Jessica Pearson shifted uncomfortably in her seat, moving an inch or two further away from the woman sitting next to her. From all parts of the airport lounge, eyes began to turn in their direction. Jess felt the first small twinge of fear. What if someone recognised her? A man seated opposite sighed very loudly. He glared at the woman on the phone, who either didn’t see him or chose to ignore him. He caught Jessica’s eye and shook his head, his mouth fixed in a disapproving line. Jess avoided his gaze and ducked her head to stare at the page of the book she wasn’t reading.
‘I know she’s his sister, but this is my wedding … And before you ask, I will not talk to her.’
The woman was becoming even more strident. Was she totally unaware of the looks she was getting from her fellow passengers? Jess was tempted to move, but that would only draw some of those eyes her way – and the last thing she wanted to do was to attract any attention. Right now she was just an anonymous face in the crowd, another nameless passenger in Sydney’s busy airport. And that’s just what she needed to be.
‘Excuse me, miss?’
The voice caused Jessica’s heart to leap. Had she been recognised? Slowly she looked up into the face of a uniformed airline agent.
‘Is this yours?’ the agent asked, indicating a black bag on the carpet near Jessica’s feet.
‘No.’ She shook her head.
‘It’s mine,’ the woman next to her said, without removing the phone from her ear. ‘Is there a problem?’
Jess ducked her head, glad to be out of the spotlight – but she wasn’t that lucky. More eyes turned her way as the passenger snapped her phone closed and began to argue with the airline agent over whether her bag was carry-on size.
Oh, no! Jess thought. Please!
She risked another quick glance around the lounge. Two men sitting on the other side of the room were looking directly at her. One said something in a low tone to his companion.
Jess felt her heart clench. She couldn’t hear their voices and she wasn’t even sure they were discussing her, but her mind filled in the words she’d heard so many times over the past few days.
Gave up her lover to escape jail. Turned him in to save her own skin. Just as guilty as the others. A drug runner who should be in prison.
She wasn’t a drug runner, but neither was she entirely innocent.
The speakers overhead crackled into life announcing that it was time to board the flight. Jess leaped to her feet. She was in no great hurry to board the plane, but she was eager to be out of the curious gaze of her fellow passengers.
The flight attendant smiled mechanically as he checked her boarding pass.
‘Welcome on board, Miss Pearson.’
He didn’t recognise her name. Jessica nodded briefly and quickly moved towards her seat at the back of the plane, hoping that her fellow passengers would be too busy settling into their seats to notice her. She reached up to touch the ends of the hair that feathered around her face. She still wasn’t used to this new super-short haircut. She wasn’t hiding her identity as such, but all the press photos and the TV footage taken outside the courthouse during the trial showed her with long dark hair. Her new hair was simply a symbol of her new life. That life was starting today.
It felt so strange to be a passenger and not in the pilot’s seat. Not in control. But she hadn’t had much control over her life during the past few months. This flight was the first step in getting it back.
As she settled herself in the last row, Jessica sent a brief plea to whatever deities were responsible for travellers and people starting over: if she had to have a travelling companion in the seat next to her, could it please be someone willing to sit in silence. Above all, could it please not be the annoying bride-to-be from the lounge! The gods were kind and the seat beside her remained empty as the aircraft doors were finally closed, and the plane taxied for take-off.
Jessica’s every sense was tuned to the moment the wheels left the runway and the plane soared free of the earth. Ever since she had been a child watching the birds in the clear blue skies, she had wanted to fly. There was a lot of hard work involved in becoming a pilot, but that hadn’t deterred her and the day she got her wings was one of the happiest of her life. More than anything else in the world, she loved to fly. Every time she left the ground behind, her heart sang.
But not anymore. That had been taken from her along with so much else.
Unlike most of the other passengers, Jessica didn’t look down at Sydney’s famous harbour bridge or the glorious beaches. They were a part of the life she was leaving behind. Her eyes were closed. As much as she tried to believe she was starting a new life, deep in her heart she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was running away. Looking for a safe place to hide.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, the seat belt sign has now been turned off and you are free to move around the cabin …’
She was tired. So very, very tired. It seemed like years since she’d had a good night’s sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw the courtroom and the faces of the judge and jury. She heard the crisp clear voice of the prosecutor. And she saw Brian. Brian Hayes – her boss. Her lover. The wealthy jet-setting businessman with the brilliant blue eyes and the killer smile. The man the press had labelled ‘Heroin Hayes’.
They’d had a name for her too. Jezebel, they called her. The woman who betrayed her lover to save herself from prosecution. But that wasn’t how it was. She was the one betrayed, when the man she loved hid those packets of white powder on her aeroplane. All she had done – all she could do when she discovered them – was try to atone by contacting the authorities.
But that hadn’t stopped the accusations. In the media. Outside the courtroom … where she came face to face with a mother’s grief.
My son is dead. The woman screamed over and over again, her brown eyes filling with tears. Because of you. It’s your fault. You brought that poison into the country. You killed my son …
Jessica’s eyes shot open as she suddenly jerked awake. Her hands were clenched around the arms of the seat, her breath coming in short sharp gasps. She wiped a hand over her face.
‘Are you all right?’ The flight attendant leaned over her.
‘I must have fallen asleep,’ she stammered, as she fought to regain her composure.
‘Yes, you did.’ The attendant smiled in understanding. ‘And for quite some time. You missed the refreshments. We’re going to be landing at Mount Isa in just a few minutes.’
As the attendant carried on his inspection, Jessica gathered her scattered wits. She glanced out of the window. The countryside below her was red-brown and looked very dry. They were circling the town. She could see the streets and houses and on the outskirts of the town, the great scar on the landscape that was the mine. She remembered reading about the outback mining towns at school. They had seemed a world away from her safe home in the Sydney suburbs. But today Mount Isa was just the first stop on her journey. She still had further to go.
When Jessica ran away – she went all the way.
Jessica emerged from the terminal building, if such a grand name could be applied to it, and glanced about her. The airport was little more than a runway with a motley collection of small buildings, most of them built of corrugated iron. The arrival of the Sydney flight must have been rush hour. There were three taxis parked outside, the drivers looking her way in the hope of a fare. They were going to be disappointed. To her right she could see a collection of smaller buildings, and a few light aircraft parked on the apron. That was her destination. She shrugged her rucksack higher on her back and started walking, rolling her small suitcase behind her.
It was hot. Within a few moments she could feel the sweat starting to prickle in the small of her back and on her forehead. In Sydney, winter was only starting to fade, but this far north it would always be hot. She had better get used to it.
There was no fence around the apron where the light planes were parked. No security. No guards. The irony of that struck home with some force. All those other airports she’d seen. All the guns and uniforms and checks … yet here she was, free to walk past the parked aircraft and into the dim interior of the hangar.
She let the rucksack fall to the ground, as her eyes adjusted after the brilliant glare outside. ‘Hello?’ she called, her voice echoing a little.
‘Hang on!’ The muffled shout came from inside the aircraft parked a few metres away. Jessica took a closer look at the plane and the green logo emblazoned on its side. ‘Goongalla Mine Air Ambulance’ was stencilled in red under the cockpit window. This, she guessed, must be her new plane. She gently ran one hand along the wing’s leading edge. The Beechcraft was a nice aircraft. Maybe it would give her back some of the things she had lost …
A man emerged from the plane. He wore blue jeans and a stained white T-shirt – but the tools he carried identified him immediately. No doubt he was the one responsible for the aircraft’s good condition.
‘Hi.’ Jessica stepped forward and held out her hand. ‘You must be Jack North.’
‘That’s right. You are …?’
‘Jessica … Jess Pearson.’ She watched his face, waiting for that moment of recognition.
Waiting to feel him draw away. Waiting for the silent accusation. It never came. The man’s brow creased.
‘I’m your new pilot.’
Realisation spread slowly over the man’s face. ‘We were expecting a bloke.’
‘I’m not a bloke.’
Jack North looked her up and down. ‘Yes, I can see that.’ He wiped his hand carefully on his -shirt, adding considerably to the stains, and took her offered hand. ‘Sorry. Pleased to meet you. Welcome on board.’
Flight to Coorah Creek
by Janet Gover
Release date: 2022-07-01