After five years of working for Doctors Without Borders, Nathan Banks is close to burnout. He's ready for a fresh start, and taking a job in the stunning Whitsundays couldn't be more perfect! That is until Nathan discovers his new colleague is his ex—Rachel Johnson!
Stranded with Nathan in an island paradise, Rachel finds her painful reasons for leaving him are increasingly difficult to hide…especially when he's as irresistible as ever!
Could this twist of fate finally make these docs confront their past and face their future—together?
“You really think this is a good idea?” Nathan Banks shook his head. Nothing about this sounded like a good idea to him.
But Lewis nodded. “I think it’s a great idea. I need a doctor. You need a job.”
“But I already have a job.” He lifted his hands, “At least I think I do. Is my contract not being renewed?”
His stomach turned over a little. Last night had been a particularly bad night in the ER. His medical skills were never in question but his temper had definitely been short. It hadn’t been helped by hearing a car backfire on the walk home and automatically dropping to the ground as if it were gunfire. His last mission for Doctors Without Borders had been in Afghanistan. Dropping to the floor when you heard gunfire had become normal for him. But doing it in the streets of Melbourne? Not his proudest moment. Particularly when a kid on the way to school had asked him what was wrong.
Lewis smiled. The way he always did when he was about to manipulate his friends. Nathan had learned to spot it over the years. “The last few days in A & E have been tough. You came straight out of Doctors Without Borders after five years and started working here. You’ve never really had a holiday. Think of this as your lucky day.”
Nathan lifted the buff coloured folders. “But this isn’t a holiday. This is a form of torture. My idea of a holiday is walking in the hills of Scotland somewhere, or surfing on Bondi Beach. Being stranded on an island with 9 b-list celebrities? I’m the least celeb-orientated person on the planet. I couldn’t care less about these people.”
Lewis nodded. “Exactly. That’s what makes you perfect. You can be objective. All you need to do is supervise the fake TV challenges and monitor these folk’s medical conditions for the three weeks they’re on the island. The rest of the time you’ll get to sit around with your feet up.” He bent over next to Nathan and put one hand on his shoulder, waving the other around as if he were directing a movie. “Think of it, the beautiful Whitsunday islands, the surrounding Coral sea, luxury accommodation and perfect weather with only a few hours work a day. What on earth could go wrong?”
Nathan flipped open the first folder. Everything about this seemed like a bad idea. It was just a pity that the viewing public seemed to think it was a great idea. Celebrity Island had some of the best viewing figures on the planet. “But some of these people shouldn’t be going to a celebrity island let alone do any challenges. They have serious medical conditions.”
Lewis waved his hand. “And they’ve all had million dollar medicals for the insurance company. The TV company need someone with A & E experience who can think on their feet.”
“I hardly think epidemic, natural disaster and armed conflict experience is what a TV crew needs.”
Lewis threw another folder towards him. “Here. Read up on snake bites, spiders and venom. The camp will be checked every night but you can’t be too careful.”
The expression on Lewis’s face changed. The hard sell wasn’t working and it was obvious he was getting desperate.
“Please Nathan. I agreed to this contract before I knew Cara was pregnant. I need to find someone to replace me on the island. The last thing I want is to end up sued for breath of contract. You’re the one person I trust enough to ask.”
Nathan took a long, slow breath. Working for a TV company was the last thing he wanted to do. But Lewis was right. He was close to burn out. And in some ways he was lucky his friend had recognised it. How bad could three weeks on an island in the Coral Sea be? The celebs might have to sleep by campfire but the production crew were supposed to have luxury accommodation. He shook his head, “Why didn’t you just tell me this was about Cara’s pregnancy?”
Lewis looked away for a second. “There’s been a few issues. A few complications – a few hiccups as we’ve got closer to the end. We didn’t really want to tell anyone.” He slid something over the desk towards him. “Here, the final sweetener. Look at the pay cheque.”
Nathan’s eyes boggled. “How much?” He shook his head again. “It doesn’t matter what the pay cheque is, if you’d told me this was about Cara I would have said yes right away.” He lifted his hands. “I would have volunteered and done it for nothing. Sometimes you’ve got to be straight with people, Lewis.”
Lewis blinked, as if he was contemplating saying something else. Then he gave his head a little shake. “Thank you, Nathan.” He walked around and touched Nathan’s shoulder. “I need a medic I can trust. You’ll have back up. Another doctor is flying out from Canberra to join the TV crew too. Last year I was there I worked twelve hours – tops – over three weeks. Trust me. This will be the easiest job you’ve ever had.”
Nathan nodded slowly. It still didn’t appeal. He had a low tolerance to all things celebrity. But three weeks of easy paid work in a luxury location? He’d have to be a fool to say no. Plus, Lewis had helped him when he’d landed in Australia straight out of Doctors Without Borders and with no job. Of course he’d help. “What happens when I get back?”
Lewis met his gaze. “You’re a great medic. We’re lucky to have you. I’ll give you another six month contract for A & E – if you want it, of course.”
He hesitated only for a second. Lewis was one of his oldest friends and he knew they’d waited four years for Cara to fall pregnant. There was no way he could let him down. Even if it the last place on this earth he wanted to go.
He picked up the pen. “Tell Cara I’ll be thinking about her. Okay, where do I sign?”
Rachel Johnson took a few final moments lying on the sun lounger at the pool. She couldn’t believe for a second she was getting paid for this.
She’d been here two days and hadn’t had to do a minute of work. Apparently her job started as soon as she hit the island. Which was fine by her. From what she’d seen of the nine celebrities taking part inCelebrity Island they ranged from moany and whiny to difficult and impossible. Her old university friend Lewis Blake had persuaded her to take part and the fee was astronomical. But that wasn’t why she was here.
She was here because her Hippocratic oath seemed to have her over a barrel. Her ex – an Australian soap star – was taking part. And she was one of the few that knew his real medical history. It seemed that one of his bargaining chips had been to ask for a doctor he could trust. And even though there was nothing between them any more, part of her felt obliged to help.
“Are you ready Dr Johnson? The sea plane has just landed.”
Rachel jumped up from the comfortable lounger and grabbed her rucksack with her clothes. Two days staying in the luxury five star resort had been bliss. All the medical supplies she would need had already been shipped. Apparently the other medic was already on the island. And since there was no way off the island for the next three weeks she hoped it was someone she could work with. Between the two of them they would be on-call 24 hours a day for three weeks. Lewis had assured her that apart from monitoring the fake TV challenges there really wasn’t anything to do. But, as much as she loved him, Lewis had always been economical with the truth.
Rachel climbed into the seaplane that was bobbing on the blue ocean. She’d never been in one of these before and ride was more than little bumpy. But the view over the island was more than worth it.
The pilot circled the island letting her see the full geography. “This is the beach where some of the celebrities will be dropped off. The beach on the other side is for the crew. It has umbrellas, sun loungers and a bar – so don’t worry, you’ll be well looked after. As he crossed the middle of the island the geography changed to a thick jungle. “Camp is in the middle,” he said. “Don’t tell anyone but they actually have a rain canopy they can pull overhead if we get one of the seasonal downpours. We didn’t have it the first year and the whole camp got swept away in a torrent of water.”
Rachel shifted uncomfortably in her seat. That sounded like a little more ‘Crocodile Dundee’ than she’d expected. “Where will I be staying?”
He pointed to some grey rectangular buildings in the distance. “The three big grey buildings are the technical huts and production gallery. You’ll be staying in a portakabin. The medical centre is right next to you,” then he let out a laugh that sounded more like a pantomime witches cackle, “just next to the swamp and the rope bridge. The celebrities love those.” He gave Rachel a nod. “I won’t tell you how many of them have fallen off that rope bridge.” For a second her throat felt dry. Lewis’s version of the truth was already starting to unravel. A portakabin and a hotel were not the same thing. Her dreams of a luxury bed and state of the art facilities had just vanished in the splutter of a sea plane’s engines. There might be an ocean right next to her but there was no swimming pool, no facilities and definitely no room service. This was sounding less and less like three weeks in the sun and more and more like she would wring Lewis’s neck the next time she saw him. The seaplane slowed and bumped to a landing on the water next to the island, moving over to a wooden quay.
A burly man in a grey t-shirt tinged with sweat grabbed the line so she could open the door and jump down.
He rolled his eyes. “I’m Ron. Welcome to paradise.”
The wooden quay gave a little sway as she landed on it.
They walked quickly along the beach and up a path towards the grey portable cabins. “Kind of out of place for paradise?” she said.
Ron laughed. “Is that how they got you out here? Told the same story to the other doc too. But he’s been fine. Said he’s used to sleeping in camp beds anyhow and it doesn’t make any difference to him.”
A horrible shiver crept down her spine. She’d spent five years at university in London with Lewis and a group of other friends. Then, another couple of years working in the surrounding London hospitals. Lewis knew everything about her. He knew everything about the guy she’d dated for six years. Lewis was the common denominator here. He wouldn’t have done anything stupid, would he?
Ron showed her up to the three cabins sitting on an incline. “The rest of the crew stay along the beach a little. You and the other doc are in here. Medical centre is right next to you. And the one next to that is the most popular cabin on the beach.”
“Showers?” she said hopefully.
“Nope. Catering,” he answered with a broad smile.
“Okay. Thanks Ron,” she pushed open the door to the cabin and sent a silent prayer upwards.
The cabin was empty. There was a sitting area in the middle with a sofa. A bathroom with a shower of sorts, and two rooms at either end. It wasn’t quite army camp beds. They were a little better than that. But the rooms were sparse, with only a small chest of drawers and a few hooks on the wall with clothes hangars on them.
Rachel dumped her rucksack and washed her face and hands, taking a few minutes to change her t-shirt and apply some more mosquito spray and sunscreen.
Her stomach was doing little flip flops. It was pathetic really. Ron had only made one remark about a camp bed. It was nothing. It could apply to millions of guys the world over. But she had a bad feeling about this. Lewis had been especially persuasive on the phone. He’d given her the whole ‘my wife is pregnant’ and ‘one of the celebrities is being difficult’ routine. When she’d heard who the celebrity was she hadn’t been surprised. She’d met Darius under unusual circumstances. Both of them had been vulnerable. And he’d loved the thought that by dating a doctor he had an insider’s view of treatments.
But dating Darius Cornell – Australian’s resident soap opera hunk had been an experience. They’d dated for just over a year. Just enough to get both of them through. She’d been relieved when the media attention had died down.
Her stomach flipped over one more time as she walked outside and reached for the door handle of the medical centre. She had a bad feeling about this. It was strange to be here at his request. But Darius could be handled.
Her biggest fear was the person behind this door – probably couldn’t.
He was dreaming. More likely he was having a nightmare. He pushed his hat a little further back on his head and blinked again.
No. She was still there.
Rachel Johnson. Brown hair tied in a ponytail, slightly suntanned skin and angry brown eyes set off by her pink t-shirt.
“Just when I thought this couldn’t get any worse.” He pulled his feet off the desk.
Her lips tightened and gaze narrowed. “I’m going to kill Lewis Blake. I’m going to kill him with my bare hands. There’s no way I’m getting stuck on this island with you for three weeks.”
She folded her arms across her chest.
He pointed out at the sky. “Too late, Rach. You just missed your ride home.” The seaplane was heading off in the distance.
Her forehead creased into a deep frown. “No way. There must be a boat. Another island nearby. How do they get supplies?”
Nathan shrugged. “Not sure. I’ve only been here a day. And don’t worry. I’m just as happy to see you. Particularly when I’ve just looked through the medical notes and saw your lovely ex is one of the ‘celebs’,” he lifted his fingers in the air and made the mocking gesture. “No wonder you’re here.”
He couldn’t help it. When they’d split up years ago Rachel had come to Australia and a few months later been photographed by the press with her new boyfriend – an Australian soap star. It had been hard enough to get over the split, but seeing your ex all over the press when you’d been left behind to take care of your younger brother had just rubbed salt in the wounds. She’d gone to Australia. The place they’d planned to go to together.
“What exactly are you doing here Nathan? You seem the last person who’d want a job like this.”
He raised his eyebrows. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
She shrugged. “I’d heard you were working for Doctors Without Borders. Celebrity Island seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination.”
He tried to ignore the little surge of pleasure that let him know she’d been interested enough to find out where he worked. He’d never wanted to ask any of their mutual friends where Rachel was. Everyone knew that she’d gone to Australia without him and were much too tactful to bring up her name.
He folded his arms across his chest. “I think you know exactly why I’m here. At a guess I’d say he hoodwinked me, just as much as he hoodwinked you.” He gave his hands a little rub together. “But don’t worry. I’ve got three weeks to think of what I’ll do to him when I get back.”
She frowned again. “How did he get in touch?”
Nathan’s gaze met hers. “I’ve been working with him.” “In A & E?”
Nathan shrugged. “Seemed the most logical place to work after five missions with Doctors Without Borders. He offered me the job as soon my feet hit Australian soil.”
She gave a little nod. He could almost hear her brain ticking. He’d been the logical one and she’d been the emotional one. He’d thought they’d counterbalanced each other and worked well together. He’d been wrong. “And don’t think I’ve not noticed.”
Her cheeks were flooded with colour. “Noticed what?” she snapped.
“That there’s information missing from his medical file. What does your boyfriend have to hide?”
“Stop calling him that. He’s not my boyfriend. Hasn’t been for more than seven years. It might have escaped your notice now but he’s actually engaged to someone else. There’s absolutely nothing between us.” She was getting angrier and angrier as she spoke. The colour was rushing up her face to the tips of her ears. He’d forgotten how mad she could get about things. Particularly when something mattered to her.
He lifted up the nearest folder. It took both hands. “Look at this one.”
She frowned and placed her hands on her hips. “Who does that belong to?”
“Diamond Dazzle. Model. Grand old age of 22 and look at the size of her medical records. I know every blood test, every x-ray, and every piece of plastic surgery and botox she’s ever had. This one?” He held up Darius’s records. Paper thin. “I know that Darius had an appendectomy at age eight. That’s it.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “And that’s all you need to know. I know the rest.”
“No physician works like that, Rach.”
“Bull. You work like that everyday, Nathan. You rarely know the history of the people who turn up in A & E, and I imagine on your missions you must have had patients from everywhere. They didn’t come with medical files.”
He stood up. She was annoying every part of him now. It didn’t matter that the angrier and more stubborn she got – the more her jaw was set – the more sensations sparked around his body. Rachel had always had this affect on him. He’d just expected it would have disappeared over time and a whole host of bad memories. The rush of blood around his system was definitely unwelcome. “So, you’re going to look after one patient and I’ll look after eight? Is that how we’re going to work things?”
She shook her head fiercely her eyes flashing. Rachel had always hated when someone suggested she didn’t pull her weight. After all these years he still knew what buttons to press.
“No, Nathan. I’ll look after all the patients – just like you will – if required.”
But Nathan wouldn’t be beaten. Not after all these years. He folded his own arms across his chest and matched Rachel’s stance. He couldn’t help but smile. It was like a Mexican stand-off. “Well I don’t think I can do that if I don’t have all the facts about the patient.”
The colour of her face was practically matching her t-shirt now and he could see tiny beads of sweat on her brow. It was unquestionably hot on the island. But he was quite sure that wasn’t why Rachel Johnson was sweating.
She shifted her feet. It was unusual to see her in khaki shorts, thick socks and heavy boots. She’d obviously been warned about the island paths. Rachel had spent her time as a student and junior doctor dressed smartly. Always in dresses and heels. This was a whole new look for her. Maybe her time in Australia had changed her outlook on life?
“Of course you can, Nathan. Stop being difficult. Three weeks. I can tell you’ll be scoring off the days on the calendar just like I will.”
She turned to walk away. And it surprised him just how much he actually didn’t want her to. If you’d asked him if he wanted to come face to face with Rachel Johnson again he’d have said not in this lifetime. But reality was sometimes stranger than fiction.
She stopped at the door. “How’s Charlie?”
The question caught him off guard and his answer was an automatic response. “Charlie’s fine. Not that you would care.”
She sighed. “That’s not fair Nathan and you know it.”
He shrugged. “Why? You didn’t want to hang around when I had to look after my little brother for a couple of years. Why bother now?”
She shook her head. He could see her biting her lip. Probably couldn’t find the words for why she’d run out on them both. “I always loved Charlie. He was great. Did he finish university?” A thought must have flickered across her mind. “How was he when you were away?”
“Charlie was fine. He finished his engineering degree and got a job before I left to go to Afghanistan. He’s married now with a two year old.”
She gave a little nod of her head. “Glad to hear it. Tell him I’m asking for him.”
She walked out the door letting it slam behind her. Nathan picked up the bottle of water on the table downing it one, wishing it was a beer. No matter how he tried to avoid it his eyes had settled on her backside and legs as she’d walked out the door. Eight years on and Rachel Johnson was as hot as ever.
And eight years later she still drove him crazy.
I always loved Charlie. The words echoed in his mind. “Just as well you loved one of us,” he muttered.
She’d thought the cabin was hot but outside was even hotter and the high humidity was making the sweat trickle down her back already and probably turning her hair into a frizz bomb.
She stopped for a second to catch her breath, leaning against the metal bodywork and hoping for a little of the coolness to impart to her body.
Trapped on an island with two ex’s. You couldn’t make this up.
A little wave of nausea rolled over her. Nathan Banks. Eight years had done nothing to diminish the impact of seeing him again. Her hands were trembling and every hair on her arms stood on end. She’d never expected to come face to face with him again.
His blond hair was a little shorter. His build a bit more muscular. But his eyes were still the neon green they’d always been. They could stop any girl in her tracks – just like they’d done to her.
They were supposed to be continents apart. What on earth was he doing in Australia? She knew he’d spent the last five years working for Doctors Without Borders. He was still friends with a lot of the people they’d trained with. And even though she’d pretended not to, she’d spent the last five years searching mutual social media sites with her heart in her mouth hoping she wouldn’t ever hear bad news about him. That was the trouble with working in humanitarian missions. Sometimes they took you into places with armed conflict.
Trouble was, five minutes in Nathan Bank’s company could make her mad. No one else in her life had ever managed to spark that kind of reaction from her. But there was just something about Nathan and her alone in a room together. Sparks always flew. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad.
It was clear he still hadn’t forgiven her for leaving. She couldn’t blame him. But if she’d told him why she was really leaving he would have put his life – and Charlie’s – on hold for her. She didn’t want that. She couldn’t do that to them. They’d just lost their parents. They needed to focus on each other and get through.
And if she told him now why she’d left, she would be betraying Darius’s trust. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
She stared out at the perfect blue Coral Sea. It was no wonder they’d picked one of the Whitsunday Islands for this TV show. At any other time, with any other person, this would be perfect.
Too bad Nathan Banks was here to spoil it for her.
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