It's a glorious summer's day when Jenna Balfour returns to the enchanting Devonshire village of Bluebell Cove. Watching the hazy sunshine glinting off the ocean with its whitecaps, Jenna knows she's home for good.
She's welcomed back by the local community with open arms. The only person who keeps his distance is enigmatic Dr. Lucas Devereux. But kindhearted Jenna longs to soothe the pain she glimpses beneath his abrupt exterior.
Captivated by Jenna's warm, beautiful smile, Lucas feels the ice imprisoning his guarded heart begin to thaw….
About the Author
Abigail is a widow who lives alone in a Cheshire village close to the Pennines, the range of peaks described as "the backbone of England."
The settings of her books cover hospital care, general practice, the Port Health Officers of the Manchester Ship Canal, and recently, a remote area of Newfoundland. Also in the pipeline is a book taking readers high into the sky with the helicopter emergency services covering the inner city; as always, there will be a strong romantic background.
Ever an avid reader of romance, she began writing some years ago at the suggestion of her sister--already an established author--and once her first book, Joel's Way, was accepted by Mills & Boon she continued to write.
A member of a local church, she is heavily involved in its activities and appreciates the fellowship to be found there.
She is blessed with three sons. The eldest is a clinical services manager with the NHS, residing near the Lake District, and the other two live close by in the same village as Abigail. They have given her three grandchildren to complete a close-knit family.
Read an Excerpt
When Jenna Balfour looked out of the window of the taxi as it cruised along the coast road on a Sunday afternoon in midsummer it was there down below, beautiful and changeless. A strip of golden sand where Atlantic breakers, white edged and powerful, forever staked their claim, and today, as was often the case, surfers were there to challenge them with boards at the ready.
It had been her favourite place while she'd been growing up and nothing had changed while she'd been studying nursing at a London college. Every time she'd been home on vacation she'd gone down to the beach to surf within minutes of arriving home.
But all that had changed. She hadn't seen the house on the headland where she'd been brought up and the beach below for two years—ever since she'd insisted she wanted some time out to see the world before falling in with her mother's wishes for her to join the local practice that Barbara Balfour ran with brisk efficiency.
Her father had understood how Jenna had felt. A retired solicitor who'd had a practice in the nearby town, he was easy to talk to and treated his bubbly only daughter, who had eyes blue as the sea below and hair the colour of corn at harvest time, with a whimsical affection.
Her mother rarely had time for family discussions and preferred results to rhetoric. Both father and daughter had cause to think that the practice came first, family second, with her, and for the main part they accepted it in the knowledge that Barbara Balfour was held in high esteem by patients and staff alike.
Eventually there had been a row, a big one, with Keith Balfour in the middle trying to keep the peace between the wife and daughter he loved, but it hadn't worked and Jenna had gone to follow her dream in angry rebellion instead of with her mother's blessing.
She'd regretted it as soon as she'd gone, but her mother wasn't the only one with a mind of her own and she'd stayed away until the day that a phone call from her father had wiped out all the anger and she'd found herself getting an early flight home from the French town where she'd been doing some bank nursing.
He'd sometimes rung her for a chat, but his tone on that occasion had been serious, and she'd listened to what he had to say in shocked amazement. Her mother had been forced to take early retirement from the practice that was her life's blood because of severe rheumatoid arthritis.
'She needs two sticks to get around and it is difficult because her hands are so swollen. Sometimes we use a wheelchair,' he'd said.
There had been silence while Jenna had digested that and then she'd said slowly, 'Was this coming on when Mum was so keen for me to join the practice as soon as I'd qualified?'
'She'd seen a rheumatologist, yes, but wasn't expecting such a fast deterioration and now in spite of the fact that you quarrelled she needs you, Jenna, though she won't admit it.'
'Yes, of course,' she'd said immediately, thinking tearfully that her mother being the needy one would be a first. 'Give me a couple of days to sort things out at this end and I'll be with you as soon as I can.'
'Shall I tell your mother you're coming?'
'It's up to you, Dad. Do what you think best. She's never been keen on surprises, you know.'
'She'll like this one,' he'd promised reassuringly, and that had been it.
And now in a few moments she would be back in the place that was so dear to her heart. The countries she'd visited had been interesting. She wouldn't have wanted to miss the experience, but the grass wasn't always greener on the other side of the fence, she'd found. It had been more a case of her wanting to stretch her wings a little before returning to her beloved Devon.
There was no car on the drive when the taxi turned onto it and her heart missed a beat. Her dad knew she was coming even if her mother didn't, so where were they?
As she put her key in the lock of a front door that had weathered many a storm in its exposed position, the phone rang and when she picked it up her father's voice came over the line in a whisper.
Ah, Jenna, you've arrived,' he breathed. 'I haven't told your mother you're coming home. I wanted it to be a complete surprise. When she suggested that we drive out into the countryside for a cream tea this afternoon I couldn't very well drop it on her at the last moment, knowing what a stickler she is for everything being cut and dried.
'We are in the tearooms now, waiting to be served. It's quite a long drive back, so it could be a couple of hours before we return, but it will at least give you time to get settled before the two of you meet.'
'Er yes, I suppose so,' she said weakly into the anticlimax. 'I'll see you later, but what do we do if Mum doesn't want the joyful reunion bit?'
'I suggest we worry about that when it happens' were his parting words.
It had taken just a matter of minutes to make herself a coffee and a sandwich, then she went upstairs to unpack. As she crossed the landing the door of her parents' bedroom was open and they were all there, the aids to mobility that were the lifesavers of those who had very little of it.
How could it all have changed so suddenly? she thought dejectedly. Her mother had always seemed invincible, nothing ever pierced her armour of capability, but something had, a creeping painful illness that was attacking her freedom of movement and the amazing energy she'd always had.
In her own room, overlooking rocky cliffs that descended to the seashore, there was comfort to be had. It was exactly as she'd left it, with her surfboard propped up in the corner, and as she stroked it lovingly it seemed to be just the thing to take away the hurt of arriving to an empty house with so much worry on her mind.
A summer sun was beating down and the sea was so blue she gave in to temptation. Deciding there was no need for a wetsuit, she fished out a bikini and once she'd changed into it tucked a towel under her arm. With sandals on her feet she picked up the surfboard and after locking the door behind her began to walk down the road that led to the beach.
She usually clambered over the rocks as a more speedy way of descending but today, wanting to savour every moment of her return, she used the slower and more sedate pathway.
'Hi, Jenna, where've you been?' a male voice cried as she hit the beach. 'Haven't seen you in ages.'
It was Ronnie, one of the lifeguards out on patrol, and as he came loping across she laughed up at him, the reason for her being there forgotten in the pleasure of the moment.
He was a muscular thirty-six-year-old, married with a wife and children he adored, living in a cottage at the other side of the bay, and always had a cheery greeting for Dr Balfour's daughter when she came surfing.
'I've been taking some time out,' she told him, 'and am now back for good.'
'Great!' he enthused. 'We've been short of glamour on the beach since you went.'
'Yes, I'll bet,' she joked, 'and where is everyone on a sunny day in the height of the holiday season?'
She'd seen a few surfers in the water when she'd been looking through the window of the taxi, but now there was only one and he was on the point of coming out, carrying his board as he strode towards them.
'They've all gone to the opening of a new theme park not far away,' he replied, 'or disappeared earlier on fishing trips.'
Out of the corner of her eye Jenna saw that the man who had just come striding out of the surf had stopped beside a folded towel and was now drying himself briskly. As she observed him she thought with a body like that he put Ronnie's bronzed biceps in the shade.
He was half-turned away from them and she registered a thatch of dark hair, flat and glistening wet against his head, and hands with long supple fingers holding the towel. The vivid scar that she'd noticed across his chest as he'd moved in their direction was no longer visible, but there had been time for her nurse's practised eye to observe that it was red and jagged as if from a recent injury.
'Not good about your ma, is it?' Ronnie was saying sympathetically.
'No,' she replied glumly, taking her glance off the man with the scar and feeling that until she'd seen her mother for herself she didn't want to talk about it.
'Cheer up, Jenna,' the amiable lifeguard said, sensing a drop in spirits. 'How about a kiss to celebrate your return?'
She was smiling again. Ronnie was a tease. 'You'll have to get down on your knees and beg,' she told him.
He obeyed with a bellow of laughter and, planting a butterfly kiss on the top of his head, Jenna left him there and began to move towards the water.
The solitary surfer had finished drying himself and as he turned to pick up his board they almost collided as they came face to face.
'Sorry,' he said abruptly.
'It's OK,' she told him easily, meeting the dark hazel gaze that was also part of the package with a sudden feeling of breathlessness and weakness of the knees.
He would be a tourist, she could bet on it, she was deciding, while at the same time registering that there was no responding cordiality in his expression. So with that thought in mind she sidestepped him and proceeded towards a joyful reunion with the pounding Atlantic breakers.
When she turned he'd gone and so had Ronnie. She had the beach to herself and in a moment of wild joy Jenna walked into the oncoming tide with surfboard at the ready.
She could have stayed there for ever, but a glance at her watch said that soon her parents would be back and the moment she was dreading would be upon her.
Had the young blonde in the bikini been the Balfours' prodigal daughter? Lucas Devereux pondered as, with feet slapping wetly against the stone of an old causeway, he walked to where he'd parked his car.
He'd heard the lifeguard greet her and the name had fitted, as had the flippancy she'd displayed. He'd wondered a few times how a daughter could leave her mother in the state that she had been in during her last months as head of the practice and flounce off to do her own thing.
Keith had been there for Barbara, of course, and he was much easier to get on with than his wife. She was a very strong character, while all her husband asked for was peace, and from what he'd heard the man didn't get much of that.
They'd met the other day in the post office and the retired solicitor had told him that their daughter was coming home, that it was going to be a surprise for her ailing mother, and he would be obliged if Lucas didn't mention it to anyone else.
He'd replied grimly that being involved in the affairs of others was not his forte, far from it, and that no one was going to get to know of Jenna Balfour's return from him. No doubt if it had been her on the beach they would find out soon enough. In the close community of Bluebell Cove news got around faster than the speed of light.
As he drove inland from the beach the whitewashed wall of The Tides practice loomed up in front of him with its tubs of summer flowers at the entrance and a long wooden bench for those who preferred to wait their turn outside—weather permitting.
When he'd been discharged from the hospital where he'd been employed ever since qualifying and had ended up as a patient after an incident that had almost cost him his life, he had been persuaded by his friend Ethan Lomax to move into community health care work for a while in a coastal suburb of Devon that was blessed with golden sands and backed on to fertile countryside.
On doing so, he had rented a property called The Old Chart House just a few doors away from the surgery and it was there that he was heading with his expression just as sombre as it had been earlier when he'd seen the girl that he'd surmised might be the Balfours' daughter.
Just as that family were going through a sticky patch, so was he, and the only person who knew about that was Ethan, who had taken over as senior partner in the local practice when the redoubtable Barbara had been forced to let someone else take the reins.
His friend had visited him in hospital a few times after the incident that had nearly killed him and had made him feel like turning his back on medicine for ever. He'd been performing a routine operation, serious enough but not normally life threatening, when the patient, a woman in her thirties, had gone into shock and died almost immediately on the operating table. There had been no response to resuscitation and he'd had the unpleasant task of telling her husband the tragic news.
The man had gone crazy, his outrage outweighing his grief, and as Lucas was turning away he'd lunged at him with a knife that he'd produced from somewhere and slashed him across the chest. The thin hospital gown he had been wearing had been no protection and the wound was life threatening.
Afterwards, on several of his visits, Ethan had mentioned casually that there could be a place for him here in Bluebell Cove if he so desired, in quieter, less stressful surroundings than those of a big hospital.
At the time he hadn't been even remotely interested. The future had loomed like a black abyss with no sense or reason in it. But as his body had slowly healed he had accepted grimly that surgeons at the hospital where he saved lives had given him back his, and he was going to have to drag himself up out of the black void.
In the end he'd listened to what Ethan had to say with regard to life in a place like Bluebell Cove being lived at a slower pace, and his friend's comment that surgeons of his standing were few and far between when he'd said he was thinking of giving up medicine.
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