Being reunited with her childhood sweetheart is quite a surprise for pediatric consultant Jessica Rae. Especially as the boy she once knew is now a sinfully sexy, lifesaving firefighter! Even now, single dad Callum Kennedy still makes her heart go boom—something this grieving doctor thought never again possible…. For Callum and his gorgeous son, Drew, Jessica could be just what this heartbroken little family needs. And he'll do anything to convince her that he's just what she needs, too…starting with a heart-stopping Christmas kiss!
The noise jerked Jess out of the delicious tranquil state that had been enveloping her.
Her eyes blinked at the bright light outside, the fuzziness of her brain trying to adjust and make sense of it all.
Her pager usually woke her in the dark of the night – just like it had three times last night. Having it wake her in the middle of the day was an entirely new experience.
A baby with RSV had kept her awake most of the night in paediatric ITU and when the ward had finally quietened down around an hour ago, she’d brought her coffee in here to do some paperwork.
Fat chance. She touched the coffee cup on her desk. Stone cold. Had she even managed a sip before she’d wiped out?
How long had she been asleep? She wriggled in her chair, rolling her shoulders back and trying to ease the knots out of her back.
She glanced at the number. A & E. Another admission. Probably another respiratory problem.
Glasgow, the start of November, but it felt like the middle of winter. The temperature had dropped dramatically in the last few days and the paediatric emergency admissions had soared. Trips and falls on the slippery pavements had resulted in a whole host of strains, fractures and head injuries. Asthma and respiratory complaints were through the roof. Infections and non-descript viruses were causing mayhem with new babies and toddlers.
Just as well she didn’t have anyone to go home to. She hadn’t seen the inside of her house for days.
She picked up the phone and dialled A & E. “It’s Dr Rae. You were paging me.”
The voice was brusque, skipping over any pleasantries and getting straight to business. “Assemble a flying squad. Nursery minibus in the Clyde on the city outskirts. Unknown amount of casualties. We’re waiting for more information from emergency services. You need to be ready to leave in five minutes.”
She was on her feet in seconds and throwing open the door. Her tiredness, sore muscles and fatigue instantly forgotten. “I need a flying squad,” she yelled, glancing down the corridor as the sister of the ward hurried towards her, “Where’s Jackie, I want her with me.”
Jackie appeared at her side in an instant. “What is it?”
“Nursery minibus in the Clyde.”
The experienced nurse’s face paled, “In this weather? In these temperatures?”
“Go!” The ward sister waved her hand at them. “Leave everything else to me.”
Jess started jogging down the corridor, heading for the stairs. It took less than a minute to reach A & E and one of the staff thrust a green suit into her hands. She climbed into it immediately, noting the fluorescent doctor sign on the back. It was essential all staff could be picked out easily in an emergency. One of the paramedics thrust a pair of gloves towards her. “Take these, you’ll need them out there.”
She glanced at her watch. It was only two-thirty in the afternoon. At least a few hours of daylight left. She prayed they wouldn’t need more than that.
The shout came from the front doors. Jackie appeared at her side again, similarly clad in a green jumpsuit with nurse emblazoned across the back. They picked up the pre-packed paediatric emergency kits and headed outside.
Jess climbed into one of the emergency vehicles and fastened her seatbelt as the sirens sounded and they headed out onto the motorway. She turned to the man sitting next to her, “I’m Jess, paediatric doctor. Have you heard anymore?”
He nodded. “Stan, emergency service co-ordinator. Lots of problems. Someone side-swiped the minibus and sent it down a 30ft slippery banking and straight into the Clyde.”
Jess tried to stop the sharp intake of breath. Her brain was into immediate overtime, imagining the types of injuries the children could have sustained.
He shook his head. “Still waiting for confirmation. Three adults, at least ten kids.”
“From two to five. We’re getting more information all the time. The other nursery minibus missed everything. They didn’t even know there was an accident. The police are there now collecting details of all the kids.”
Jess swallowed, trying to ignore the huge lump in her throat. The flying squad wasn’t called out too often. She was the consultant on call – it was her job to be here. But that didn’t mean her stomach wasn’t churning at the thought of the scene she was about to face.
Yes, she could appear calm. Yes, she could use her skills and clinical expertise. Yes, she would do everything that was expected of her and beyond.
But would she sleep tonight?
There was a crackle of the radio and some voices she couldn’t distinguish. The driver turned his head. “Five minutes. They’ve called out the rapid response and specialist rope rescue team. They should arrive just before us. Let’s hope Callum got out of bed on the right side today.”
“Who is Callum?”
The words were out her mouth automatically, before she even had a chance to think. “And what’s the specialist rope rescue team?”
None of this sounded good. All she could think about was the children involved in the crash. What did any of this mean for them?
Stan’s face was pale. “It means that the banking is too dangerous for our crews to work on, that, plus the added complication of being in water means we need the specialist crew.”
“Will it delay me getting to the children?”
Stan averted his eyes, obviously not wanting to give her the answer. He hadn’t answered the other part of her question. He hadn’t mentioned Callum. And the driver’s comment had made her ears prick up. Let’s hope he got out of bed on the right side.
Last thing she needed right now was a prima donna firefighter getting in her way when she had kids to attend to. “Is Callum a bit on the crabbit side then?” she asked as they pulled over to the side of the road. A bad-tempered man she could deal with. As long as he didn’t interfere with her job.
“Only on a good day,” muttered Stan as he jumped from the rescue vehicle.
Jessica opened the door carefully, to avoid the passing traffic on the busy road. The police had cordoned part of it off, as best they could. But the constant flow of traffic was unnerving.
The cold air hit her straight away. Biting cold, sneaking under the folds of her jumpsuit, making her wish she was wearing a hat, scarf and fleece and not just the thin gloves she’d been handed.
She flinched at the sight of the crash barrier, twisted beyond all recognition and lying like a useless piece of junk at the side of the road.
There were raised voices to her left. She turned just in time to see a broad shouldered man snap on his harness and disappear down the side of the banking, with the vain words “Risk assessment,” being shouted after him by his colleagues.
A sense of unease came over her body. A vague awareness trickling through her. Callum – that’s what they’d said. It couldn’t possibly be Callum Kennedy? She hadn’t seen him since school and had no idea where he’d ended up. But there something vaguely familiar about the body that had just disappeared over the edge.
Her footsteps shortened as she reached the edge of the steep bank. Someone touched her shoulder, looking at the sign on her back. “Oh good, the doctor. Let’s get you harnessed up.”
She lifted her legs as she was clipped and harnessed and talked through the motions of the descent. Her bag was sent down ahead. A burly fire-fighter appeared next to her. “You’ll go down with me. Have you done this before?”
She peered over the edge again. Thirty feet of steep descent. How many times had the minibus rolled on the way down?
She could see it now, lying on its side in the Clyde, the icy cold water surrounding it. There was a flurry of fire-fighters around it. Some on top, trying to get through the windows, some on the banking, surrounded by other pieces of equipment.
“Get me down there.” Her eyes met the fire-fighter’s and the whispered words grew more determined. “Get me down to those children.”
He nodded and spoke into radio clipped to his shoulder. “The doc and I are on our way.”
She took a deep breath and turned with her back towards the water, edging down the side of the bank in time with the fire-fighter. It was slippery work. A thin layer of frost had formed over the mud at the side of the bank, her simple shoes giving her literally no grip. The fire-fighter’s firm hand in the small of her back kept her from slipping completely. Even through her gloves the biting cold was already making her fingers numb. She looked over her shoulder. “How much further?”
“Keep your eyes straight ahead please.”
Her anxiety was building. She wanted to get down. She wanted to help those kids. But she needed to get down there in one piece.
“Who is the Callum? Is it Callum Kennedy?”
The fire-fighter’s eyes gave a spark of amusement. “Know him, do you?”
She wrinkled her nose. “I’m not entirely sure. I think so. I went to school with a Callum Kennedy, but I didn’t get a good look at him before he went over the edge.” She shrugged her shoulders, “I’m not even sure he would recognise me now.”
The fire-fighter gave her a little smile, “Oh, I’m sure he would.”
“What does he do exactly?”
“He’s the head of the Rope Rescue Unit. He’ll be in charge down here.” They were inching closer and closer to the bottom.
“And is he any good?” She bit her lip. It might seem a little cheeky, but Stan had already mentioned he could be crabbit. She needed to know that he wouldn’t get in her way. That he wouldn’t stop her doing her job with these kids.
“Put it this way – if me, or my kids were stuck anywhere that a rope rescue was needed?” He lifted his eyes skyward, “I would be praying to the man upstairs that Callum would be on duty that night. He’s the safest pair of hands we’ve got – particularly near kids.” He caught her around the waist. “That’s us. Let me just unhook you from this line – but we’ll leave your harness on. You’ll need it to get back up and they’ll hook you up to another one if you’re near the water.”
“Where’s the doc?” came the shout.
Jess swivelled around, looking for her bag. “I’m here. I’m coming.”
Several of the fire-fighters were forming a line, passing two little kids along to the edge of the bank. Jackie appeared at her side. “Let’s go.”
They reached the kids just as they were placed on warm blankets lying on the ground. Jess worked quickly, gently feeling over their little bodies for signs of injuries as she spoke to them in a quiet voice.
“Need some help?”
She nodded at the fire-fighter next to her. “Heat them up. There are no obvious injuries. But they’re in shock.” She turned back to the minibus. Now she was closer she could see every dent, every bash, every hole in the metalwork.
It made the chill seem even worse. “Are these the first two?”
The man next to her nodded. “Do we have a number yet? How many kids are injured?”
“Twelve. That’s the figure we have for the moment. Just awaiting confirmation.”
She moved over to the side of the slippery river’s edge as an adult was passed along and dealt with by the paramedics. She could see the hive of activity going on within the bus, hear the whimpering cries of the children.
“Can I get over there? Do you need me to get to the bus?” Her anxiety was building. She couldn’t stand here and do nothing. It just wasn’t in her nature. She needed to be at the heart of the action. It was her job to prioritise, triage and treat the sickest kids. She needed to be next to those children.
Her voice must have carried in the cold air, because a head whipped up from the bus. The man was lying across the windows, reaching down to grasp a squirming child, his eyes connected with hers.
“Stay exactly where you are.”
Callum. Callum Kennedy. Absolutely no mistake.
She saw him visibly flinch as his brain made the connection of who was standing on the river bank.
He’d recognised her? After all these years? To say nothing of the obvious changes in her appearance.
The cold hard air hit her lungs. She must have sucked in a bigger breath than normal. Her skin prickled. The weirdest of sensations.
How did she feel about seeing Callum Kennedy thirteen years on?
Like a seventeen year old again. Standing in a dark nightclub as they broke up and she willed herself not to cry. It was the right decision. It was the sensible decision. They were both going to university, she in Glasgow, he – after a wait of a few years - in Aberdeen. Their relationship would never work out. It was best for them both.
It just hadn’t felt that way.
She pushed her feet more firmly into the ground, trying to focus her attention. Callum’s gaze hadn’t moved. It was still fixed on her face.
She could feel the colour start to rise in her cheeks. More than that, it was unnerving. But why the flinch? Was she really such an unwelcome sight after all this time?
Or maybe she was imagining this – maybe he’d no idea who she was at all.
Callum couldn’t believe it. His hands were inside the van, holding firmly around the waist of a child. A colleague was underneath, releasing the child from his seatbelt whilst Callum held him fast.
His eyes were fixed.
Fixed on the flyaway caramel coloured hair at the side of the riverbank. Running up and down the thin frame that was in no way hidden by the bright green jumpsuit.
A sight he hadn’t seen in thirteen years.
A lifetime ago.
His childhood sweetheart, here on the banks of the Clyde at the scene of an accident.
He’d always wondered if he’d come across her sometime, some place.
As a fire-fighter he’d been in and out of most of the A & E departments in the city. But in all these years he’d never glimpsed her, never seen her name on any board.
He knew that Jessica had gone to university to do her medical training, but had no idea where she’d ended up, or which field she’d specialised in.
And now he knew. She was somewhere here in Glasgow, specialising in paediatrics. Why else would she be here?
Would she even remember him? It looked as though she had – even though he’d filled out considerably since the last time they’d met. She on the other hand looked as if she’d faded away to a wisp.
And although he could see her thin frame, the most visible changes were around her face line and structure. It could only be described as gaunt. And it wouldn’t have mattered how many clothes she was bundled up in, he would have noticed at twenty paces.
It struck him as strange. The young Jessica he remembered had an attention-grabbing figure and a personality to match. Every memory he had of her was a happy one. And for a second he felt as if they could all come flooding back.
There was a tug at his arms, followed by a sensation of relief and a lightening of the weight in his arms. He pulled upwards automatically. The little guy’s seatbelt had been released.
He pulled him up and held him to his chest, capturing the little body with his own, holding him close to let a little heat envelop the shivering form. The little boy wasn’t even crying anymore. He was just too cold.
He held the boy for a few seconds longer. He looked around four, just a year younger than his own son Drew. He couldn’t help the automatic parental shiver that stole down his spine at the thought of something like this happening to his son. It didn’t even bear thinking about.
His only relief right now was that he hadn’t signed a consent form for the school to go any trips this week, meaning that his little Drew was safely tucked up inside the primary school building.
The temperature in the minibus was freezing, with water half way up its side-on frame. They were going to have move quicker to get these kids out on time.
“Callum! Callum! Pass him over please.”
Oh, she’d recognised him all right. The authoritative tone made no mistake about that.
“Okay little guy, we’re going to get you heated up now,” he ruffled the little boys hair before he passed him over to the outstretched arms next to him. He didn’t have time to think about Jessica Rae now. Too much was at stake.
He thrust his head back inside the minibus. “How are we doing?”
John, one of his co-workers lifted his head. “I’ll have two more for you in a second. But I need some more light in here.”
Another voice shouted from the darkness. “I think I’ve got one with a broken leg and another unconscious. Can we get a paramedic or a doctor in here?”
Callum lifted his head back up. The light was fading quickly, even though it was only afternoon in Glasgow. Winter nights closed quickly – by four pm it would be pitch black. He didn’t think twice, “I need a paramedic or a doctor over here please.”
He could see the quick confab at the side of the river. Jess was issuing instructions to the nurse with her and the paramedics and ambulance technicians at her side. Things were going smoothly out there. Two of the children and one of the adults had already been transported back up the slippery bank. The latest little guy was still being assessed.
Jess moved to the side of the bank. He could see the impatience on her face as she waited for her safety harness to be clipped to the harness point on the shoreline. She shook her head at the waders she was offered, grabbed at a hand that was offered and started to climb towards the minibus.
It was precarious. The Clyde was not a quiet flowing river. It was fast and churning, the icy cold water lapping furiously at the side of the minibus as it penetrated the interior.
The minibus was moving with the momentum of the river and Jess slipped as she climbed over the wing of the minibus, the weight from her pack making her unstable. She was just within his reach and he stretched out and grabbed the tips of her fingers with a fierce claw-like grip.
“Yeowww…,” her other hand flailed up, then closed over his, steadying her swaying body as she thudded down next to him.
The red colour in her cheeks was gone, replaced with the whiteness of cold. “Thanks,” she breathed, her warm air forming a little steamy cloud next to them.
“Fancy seeing you here,” he murmured, giving her a little smile. It had been impossible to spot from the riverbank, but here, up close, he had a primetime view of thing he’d always loved most about Jess – her deep brown eyes.
The smile was returned. That little acknowledgement.
That – in another time, another place…
The memories were starting to invade his senses. Jessica in his arms throwing back her head and laughing, exposing the pale skin of her neck – skin that he just wanted to touch with his lips.
His brain kicked back into gear. This was work. And Callum never got distracted at work.
“Have you done anything like this before?
She pulled back a little, it was the tiniest movement, a flinch almost. As if she was taken aback by his change of tone.
She shook her head and her eyebrows raised, “An overturned minibus, in a fast-flowing river with lots of paediatric casualties?”
The irony wasn’t lost on him. He might do this, day in, day out, but Jess was usually in the confines of a safe, warm, comfortable hospital.
She hunched up on to her knees and pointed at the harness. “I’ve never even had one of these on before, let alone abseiled down a hillside.” She wiggled her hips and tried to move her tethering line, “These things aren’t too comfortable, are they?”
It struck him – almost blindsided him, how brave she was being. The Jessica Rae he’d known at school didn’t even like contact sports. Blood and guts she could deal with, but the physical side of things? He closed his eyes as an unguarded memory of other activities of a physical nature swam into his mind.
Focus. Focus now.
He knelt upwards and grabbed around her waist, trying not to notice how thin she was through her layers of clothes. Trying not to remember how her firm flesh used to feel beneath his fingers. What had happened?
“I’m going to lower you down Jess.” He peered through the side window that had been removed next to them. “Your feet will get a bit wet because there’s some water in the base. Are you okay with that?”
She nodded. She didn’t look scared. She didn’t look panicked. But there was a tiny little flicker of something behind her eyes. She looked in control.
He shouted down into the minibus. “John, I’m going to lower the doc down. Can you take care of her?”
She started. “Take care of me?” It was almost as if he’d just insulted her. “Don’t you mean take care of the kids?”
But Callum wasn’t paying attention. He was back in rescue-mode. “There are two kids in the back who need your attention. One unconscious, the other with a broken leg. It’s too cramped in there to take your bag down. Shout up and tell me what you need.”
Their eyes met again as she shrugged off her pack. “Ready?” She nodded and he lowered her down slowly into the waiting arms of the fire-fighter below.
Praying that things would go to plan.
“Sheesh!” Her feet hit the icy cold water and it sent the surge of cold right up through her body. No-one could stand in this for long.
It took her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the gloom inside the minibus. The mottled daylight was still sending shadows through one side of the bus, but Callum’s body and those of the other fire-fighters lying across the windows was blocking out the little light that was left.
A flashlight was thrust into her hands. “Here you go doc,” and she turned it on immediately. The first reveal was the way the water was lapping quickly around them. She felt the vaguest wave of panic. “Is the river rising?”
John nodded. “Not quickly enough for us to worry about,” his eyes didn’t quite meet hers.
She noticed his black trousers ballooning around his ankles and gave him a little nod. “Did you say no to the waders too?”
He smiled. “No room for waders in here doc. Space is limited.”
She nodded and she shuffled around him towards the kids. “Are any of the kids in water?” Her feet were already numb. There was a real danger of hypothermia setting in for any kid exposed to these temperatures.
“Four?” She could feel a flare of panic. She was one person. How could she attend to four kids?
Callum stuck his head in the gap. “Start with the two at the back Jess. As soon as you’ve stabilised them and they’re safe to move, my men will get them out. The other two don’t appear injured.” He pointed to the front of the bus. “My men are getting them out as quickly as possible.” He looked towards the back of the bus, “The little girl is called Rosie.”
His voice was calm, authoritative. The kind of guy in an emergency who told you things would be okay and you believed him – just because of the way he said it.
She pushed her way back to a little girl with masses of curly hair, still strapped into her seat. Her leg was a peculiar angle, it hadn’t taken a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis of a fracture. The little boy behind her, strapped into the window seat, was unconscious, but she couldn’t possibly get to him until she’d moved this little girl. She took off her gloves and put her hand round, feeling for a pulse at his neck and checking to see he was still breathing. Yes, his pulse was slowing and his chest was rising and falling. But in these cold temperatures, hypothermia was real risk. She had to work as quickly as possible.
The water was lapping around their little legs, and would be dropping their temperatures dramatically.
She shouted up to Callum, “I need you to pass me down the kit with analgesia – I need to give Rosie some morphine. It’s in a red box, in the front pouch of the bag.” She waited a few seconds until the box appeared then shouted again, “and an inflatable splint.”
She spoke gently to Rosie, stroking her hair and distracting her, calculating the dosage in her head. It was too difficult to untangle the little girl from her clothes and find an available patch of skin. The last thing she needed to do was cause this little girl more pain. She took a deep breath and injected it through the thick tights on her other leg, waiting a few minutes for it to take effect. “Pass me the splint,” she whispered to John.
The positioning on the bus was difficult. “I’m sorry honey,” she whispered as the little girl gave a little yelp as she straightened her leg and inflated the splint around about it to hold her in place.
“Is she ready to be moved?”
“Not quite. Can you get a collar? In fact, get me two. Once I’ve got that on her, you can move her.”
It was only a precaution. The little girl didn’t appear to have any other injuries apart from her leg. She seemed to be moving her other limbs without any problems, but Jess didn’t want to take the risk.
It only took a few seconds to manoeuvre the collar into place and fasten it securely. The cold water was moving quickly. It had only been around the children’s legs – now it was reaching their waists. Time was absolutely of the essence here.
She was freezing. How on earth would these children be feeling? Kids were so much more susceptible to hypothermia because they lost heat more quickly than adults.
Another fire-fighter had appeared next to John, holding a type of stretcher between them. Space was at a premium so Jess pushed herself back into the corner of the bus to allow them to load the little girl and pass her up through the window to Callum.
Time was ticking onwards. The sky was darkening and the freezing water level rising. She squeezed her way into the empty seat vacated by the little girl and started to do a proper assessment on the little unconscious boy, held in place by his seatbelt.
“Anyone know his name?” she shouted to the crew.
“It’s Marcus,” the deep voice in her ear made her jump.
“Where did you come from? I thought you were on the roof?”
“The water’s too cold to have anyone in it for long. I told John to go ashore and dry off.”
“Tell me about it. Try being a kid.”
There was an easy familiarity in having Callum at her side. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t seen him years, it almost felt as if it had been yesterday.
Callum had changed, and so had she. The skinny youth had filled out in all the right places. His broad shoulders and muscled chest were visible through his kit. The shorter hair style suited him – even though it revealed the odd grey hair. They were only visible this close up.
“What do you need?”
He was watching as she checked Marcus’s pulse, took a temperature, looked over him for any other injuries and shone a torch in his eyes to check his pupil reactions.
She shook her head. “This is going to have to be a scoop and run. He’s showing severe signs of hypothermia. His pulse is low and I can’t even get a reading with this thing.” She shook the tympanic thermometer in the air. “So much for accurate readings.”
She placed the collar around his neck. “I don’t want to waste any time. I can’t find an obvious reason for him being unconscious. His clothes are soaking – right up to his chest. We can’t waste another second. Can you get me some kind of stretcher so we can get him out of here?”
Callum nodded, “Get me a ferno basket stretcher,” he shouted to one of his colleagues. He gestured his head to the side as the stretcher was passed down. She stared at the orange two piece contraption, watching while he took a few seconds to slot the pins into place and assemble it. It had curved sides, handholds, adjustable patient restraints and a lifting bridle. “This is the only way we’ll get the casualties back up the steep embankment. Jump back up Jess, we need as much room as we can to manipulate this into place.” A pair of strong arms reached down through the window towards her and she grabbed them willingly. It pained her to leave the little boy’s side, but there wasn’t time for egos or arguments here.
The cold air hit her again as she came back out into the open. If she’d thought standing in the icy water was bad enough, it was nothing compared to the wind chill factor being involved. Her teeth started chattering – it was embarrassing.
“How…many more patients?” she asked the fire-fighter next to her.
“We’ve extricated all the adults. There’s another two kids stuck behind the front seat, but their injuries are minor and they’re not in contact with the water. We’ll get to them next.”
“Has someone looked them over?”
He nodded. “Your nurse and one of the paramedics. They had another kid who was submersed. She’ll be in the ambulance ahead of you. We’ve just radioed in.”
The minibus gave another little lurch as the currents buffeted it. “This thing better not roll,” came the mumble next to her.
Jess wobbled, trying to gain her balance. She hadn’t even considered the possibility of the bus rolling. That would be a nightmare. There was a tug around her waist, and she looked to the side of the river bank where one of the rope crew was taking up some of the slack in her line. The stretcher started to emerge through the window. At last. Maybe she’d get a better look at Marcus out here.
Callum’s shoulders appeared, he was easing the stretcher up gently, guiding it into the arms of his colleagues.
The minibus lurched again. Callum disappeared back down into the depths of the minibus with a thud and a matching expletive. The fire-fighter next to her struggled to steady the weight in his arms, the stretcher twisting and it’s edge catching her side on.
She teetered at the edge of the bus, losing her footing on the slippery side, which wasn’t designed to be stood on.
It was slow motion. She felt herself fall backwards, her arms reaching out in front of her. The fire-fighter who’d knocked her with the stretcher had panic written all over his face. It was a fleeting second as he struggled to decide whether to decide to grab her, or maintain his hold on the stretcher.
What was it that knocked the air from her lungs? The impact of hitting the water? Or the icy water instantly closing over her head. Her reaction was instantaneous, sucking inwards in panic, instead of holding her breath.
The layers of clothes were weighing her down, as were her shoes. She tried to reach for the surface. The water hadn’t been that deep, had it? She was choking. Trying to suck in air that wasn’t there – only murky water. Then the overwhelming feeling of panic started to take over.