Midwife Tara Dutton loves her new job and feeling a part of her mums' special moments. The magical festive spirit of Lyrebird Lake has totally charmed her…and for the first time ever, she's actually looking forward to Christmas!
Even more charming — but much more dangerous — is gorgeous Dr Simon Campbell. The heat in his eyes promises Tara the future she's always dreamed of…dare she believe that his Christmas proposal will lead to forever?
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Read an Excerpt
Simon looked away from the road as he drove and across to his sister. Saw the tiny furrow in her brow even while she was sleeping. His eyes returned to the car in front. So she was still angry with him. Where had he gone wrong? All he'd ever wanted to do was protect his family. Protect Maeve from making the same mistakes their mother had made.
Maybe he felt more responsible than other siblings because the day he'd found out he was only a half-brother to Maeve and the girls had been devastating and he did wonder if he'd over-compensated.
But he was concerned about Maeve. About the way she'd been taken for a ride and she still couldn't see it. If Simon was honest with himself, he was just as hurt because he'd thought Rayne was his friend and he'd been suckered in as well. His sister's predicament had been all his fault.
Simon could feel his knuckles tighten on the wheel and he consciously relaxed them. He needed a holiday, and Maeve needed somewhere safe away from the baby's father if he ever came back, so maybe Lyrebird Lake was a good choice, like Maeve said.
And it was Christmas.
Two hours later they drove into the driveway of the Manse Medical Centre, Lyrebird Lake. The long day drive north from Sydney had been accomplished with little traffic issues or conversation. The last hour since they'd turned away from the coast had been unusually relaxing as they'd passed green valleys and bovine pedestrians. It was good to be here finally.
Simon felt that warmth of homecoming he'd forgotten about in the rush and bustle of his busy lifealmost like he could feel one of Louisa's enthusiastically warm hugs gearing upas he slowed the car.
The engine purred to a stop and Maeve woke. She smiled sleepily, then remembered they were at odds with each other, and the smile fell away.
He watched her twist awkwardly in her seat as she took in the dry grass and huge gum trees 'I've heard such a lot about this place over the years. Thanks for bringing me, Simon.'
The tension in his shoulders lessened. At least she was talking to him again. He should never have mentioned his reservations about her idea of giving birth at Lyrebird Lake. That had been his obstetrician's point of view. Life had compartments, or should have, and he usually kept everything separate and in control.
Look what had happened when Maeve had lost control.
Simon's eyes travelled over the familiar sightsthe hospital and birth centre across the road from Louisa's house, the sleepy town just down the road, and the sparkling harp-shaped lake to the left behind the trees.
Unexpectedly, considering the mood he'd been in when he'd started out for here against his will, he couldn't do anything but smile as he eased his car under the carport at the side of the house.
'Curious.' Simon admired the old but beautifully restored Harley-Davidson tucked into a corner and then shrugged. He couldn't imagine Louisa on it but there were always interesting people staying at the manse.
It didn't seem ten years since he'd first come here with his new-found dad, Angus, but this big sprawling house Angus had brought him to all those years ago looked just the same. He'd arrived expecting awkwardness with his fledgling relationship with his birth father, and awkwardness staying with strangers in this small country town. But there hadn't been any.
He glanced at Maeve. 'Louisa will have heard us arrive.'
'Louisa used to be the housekeeper before she married your grandfather? Right?'
'Yep. They married late in life before he passed away. I stay with her when I come at Christmas.'
Simon climbed out quickly so he could open her door, but of course, Maeve was too darned independent. By the time they reached the path out front Louisa stood at the top of the steps, wiping her hands on her apron, and beamed one of Lyrebird Lake's most welcoming smiles.
Simon put his bag down and leapt up the two stairs to envelop the little woman in a hug. She felt just as roundly welcoming as he remembered. 'It's so good to see you, Louisa.'
'And you too, Simon. I swear you're even taller than last year.'
He had to smile at that as he stepped back. 'Surely I've reached an age where I can't keep growing.' He looked back at his sister, standing patiently at the bottom of the steps. 'Though with your cooking there is a possibility I could grow while I'm here.'
He offered a steadying hand but Maeve declined, made her way determinedly balancing her taut belly out front, as she climbed to the top of the stairs, so he guessed he wasn't totally forgiven.
He missed the easy camaraderie they used to have and hoped, perhaps a little optimistically, that Lyrebird Lake might restore that rapport as well. He guessed he had been out of line in some of the things he'd said about her choice in men and choice in birthing place.
'This is my youngest sister, Maeve. Maeve, this is my grandmother, Louisa.'
Louisa blushed with pleasure. 'You always were a sweetheart.' She winked at Maeve. 'Grandmother-in-law but very happy to pretend to be a real one.'
Maeve held out her hand. 'It's nice to finally meet you. Simon's told us a lot about you and everyone here. He says you're a wonderful cook.'
He saw Louisa's kind eyes brush warmly over Maeve and Simon relaxed even further. Of course Louisa would make them both feel wanted. 'Boys need their food.' He smiled to himself because he wasn't sure how he qualified for boy when he'd left thirty behind.
Louisa went on, 'You're very welcome here, dear,' as she glanced at Maeve's obvious tummy. 'It will be lovely to have a baby back in the house again, even if only for a wee while.'
Simon squeezed her plump shoulder. 'Dad and Mia not here?'
'They're coming over for dinner tonight. They thought it would be less overwhelming for Maeve if she had a chance to settle in first.'
She turned to Maeve. 'And we'll take it gradually to meet everyone else. There's a huge circle of family and friends who will want to catch up with Simon and meet you.'
Simon went back to pick up their bags and followed Louisa and Maeve into the house. The scent of cedar oil on the furniture made his nose twitch with memoriesoverlaid with the drifting promise of fresh-cut flowers and, of course, the tantalising aroma of Louisa's hot pumpkin scones.
His shoulders sagged as his tension lessened with each step he made into the house. He should have come here earlier. Leaving it until now had been crazy but his last two breech women had come in right at the last minute and he hadn't wanted to leave them uncertain about who would be there for them.
But enough. He needed to let go of work for a while and just chill, a whole month to Christmas and his first real break in yearsand maybe the strain wasn't all on Maeve's side because he'd been holding on too tight for a while now.
This was what this place was good for. Finding the peace you were supposed to find as Christmas approached.
Behind a bedroom door in the same house Tara Dutton heard the car arrive and when, minutes later, footsteps sounded down the hall she rolled over in bed, yawned and squinted at the clock.
Two o'clock in the afternoon. She'd had six hours sleep, which was pretty good. Her mouth curved as she rolled back onto her back and stretched.
Last night's sharing of such a long, slow, peaceful labour and in the end a beautiful birth just as the sun had risen made everything shiny new. Babies definitely liked that time just before morning. Man, she loved this job.
She wriggled her toes and then sat up to swing her legs out of bed. Heard calm voices. Relief expanded, which was crazy when she didn't know thembut they were here safely. It would be Angus's son, Simon, and his sister. They arrived today and she admitted to a very healthy curiosity about the man everyone obviously adored, and even more so for his sister.
Simon's arrival had been the main topic of conversation for the last few days but Tara was more interested in Maeve.
Twenty-five, pregnant and a newly qualified midwife. Two out of three things Tara had been before she'd come here. Pregnancy wasn't on her agenda.
But that was okay. She breathed deeply and vowed again not to let the unchangeable past steal her present, and thankfully the calm she found so much easier to find in Lyrebird Lake settled over her like the soft quilt on her bed.
Clutching her bundle of fresh clothes, she opened the door to the hallway a crack to check the coast was clear, then scooted up the polished wooden floor to the bathroom and slipped inside.
* * *
Simon heard the bedroom door open from the kitchen and leaned back precariously in his chair until the two front legs were off the floor, and craned his neck to see who was in the hall. He glimpsed the back of a small, pertly bottomed woman in men's boxer shorts, one tiny red rose tattooed on her shoulder exposed by the black singlet as she disappeared into the bathroom.
His mouth curved as the years dropped away. He remembered arriving here with his father and their first sight of the woman who would later become his darling stepmother.
See! Always someone interesting staying in this place, he thought to himself again with a smile, and eased the front legs of the chair back on the floor.
When Tara stepped out of the bathroom thirty minutes later she felt nothing like the crumpled sleepyhead she'd been when she'd slipped in.
Her glance in the mirror over the claw-foot bath had reassured her. Blonde hair spikily fresh from the shower and her eyes confident and ready to meet the new guy and his intriguing sister.
Tara had experienced a lot of heartache and struggle in her life and it had made her wary of meeting new people. But the shadows of her past had made her who she was todayher T-shirt said it all: 'Woman With Attitude'.
As she walked back towards her room she passed the open door of one of the guest rooms. She couldn't help but have a tiny peek inside.
Simon's bag lay open on the bed, and she blinked at the neatly folded clothes in piles lined up in a row as she drew level, unlike her own 'bomb-hit' room, and she vowed she'd keep her door shut until he left.
Simon came into view, busily unpacking, and must have become aware of the eyes on him from the doorway. He glanced up, smiled, and she faltered. Man, that was some smile, like a warm breeze had blown down the hall and into her face, and Tara nearly tripped on the towel that slipped unexpectedly from her fingers.
'Hi, there. You must be Tara.'
She bent quickly to retrieve the towel. 'And you're Simon.' Tara moistened her lips. Louisa had said he was a bit of hunk like his dad but she'd put that down as favouritism for a relative. She certainly hadn't expected the fantasy that suddenly swirled in her head. Something like inviting him in two doors down for some seriously red-hot tumbling, but, mamma mia, he had a wicked bedroom grin.
Whoa, there, libido, where did you spring from? More to the point, where have you been?
Then he stepped closer and held out his hand and she forgot to think, just responded, and his fingers closed around hers, cool and surprisingly comforting, as he leaned forward with grace and unselfconscious warmth so that she couldn't be offended as he unexpectedly kissed her cheek.
'It's very nice to meet you.'
A cheek-kisser? Her brain clicked in. And nice to meet you, too, mister. There was nothing gushing or sleazy about the way he'd done the deed but she still wasn't quite sure how he managed to get away with it.
It was as if his whole persona screamed gentleman and usually the goody-two-shoes type turned her off. Though she was trying to change her tastes from bad boys to normal men after the last fiasco.
This guy made her think of one of those lifesavers on the beach at Bonditall, upstanding, with genuine love of humanity, careful of other people's safety but perfectly happy to risk their own lives to save yours. She blinked. And rumour said that apparently this guy wasn't even shackled to some discerning woman.
She was not bowled over! Not at all! She liked Angus for his solid dependability but this Simon beat his father hands down on the warmth stakes, that was all.
He was still waiting for her to answer him. Question? 'Nice to meet you, too.' What else could she say except something to get her out of his doorway? 'I'd better leave you to unpack.'
He didn't look like he wanted her to leave but she forced her feet to move. By the time she made it back to her bedroom her neck was hot with embarrassment. With great restraint she closed her door gently and with a sigh leant against it.
Talk about vibration. So much vibration it was lucky they hadn't spontaneously combusted. Holey dooley, she was in trouble if they were both going to live in this house for the next few weeks and react like that. Or maybe it was one-sided and he was totally oblivious to her. She smiled at her feet. Somehow she doubted it.