A Mother's Secret May 2014
After a spectacularly public custody battle for her precious daughter, Isla, Dr Gemma Halliday is determined that their new life on the Isle of Arran will be safe, secure and - for Gemma - single! Except sexy island bachelor Dr Logan Scott quickly breaks down all her resolve...But when her deepest secret comes to light, will Logan be the one man to stay by her side?
“Look Mummy, that’s our island!”
Isla was bouncing up and down and pointing through the ships railings. Gemma put her bags at her feet and rested her elbows on the railings. “Yes,” she said quietly, “It is.”
The ship gave another shudder as it moved away from Ardrossan Harbour and out into the Firth of Clyde. Arran looked so close she could almost reach out and touch it. But then it had looked that way the whole time they had driven along the Ayrshire coast.
Her stomach gave a little flip – and it wasn’t from the choppy waters. Her hand settled on Isla’s shoulder next to her little red curls – the only permanent reminder of her father. This would be better. This would be safer for them both.
A chance for a new start. A chance for some down time.
A chance to meet some new friends who knew nothing about her past and wouldn’t stand in judgement of her. Glasgow and the surrounding area had been just too small. Everywhere she’d gone someone had known Patrick or Lesley. They’d gone to medical school together, or been on a course with one of them, or knew a neighbour. The list was endless.
As was the whispers. The bad surrogate. The woman who’d made the papers when she’d ‘stolen’ another couple’s baby. Not strictly true. But true enough that it had caused her a world of pain, a court case and five years of sleepless nights.
But now it was finally over. Now, she could finally move on.
Now, in accordance with the law, Isla was officially hers.
She stared out across the water. Arran. Twenty miles long and ten miles across. A population of five thousand that swelled to twenty thousand over the summer holidays.
It was perfect. Even down to the cottage she’d purchased over the internet for her and Isla to stay in. Two days work as a paediatrician all year long and one days work as a GP over the busy summer months. That, along with an occasional emergency shift in the island hospital would be more than enough.
Some of her friends thought she was crazy. Moving to a place she’d only ever visited on summer holidays as a child and making a new life there. Taking up a new job with some extra part-time hours when she hadn’t even sorted out her child care for Isla yet.
That did make her stomach give a little flip. But she’d had long conversations with the head of the GP practice, he’d assured her he had a few people in mind he could vouch for to help with Isla’s care.
Time with Isla was precious. She was starting school in August. And although properties on the island could be expensive, the sale of her flat in Glasgow had given her a healthy profit. She didn’t need a big income. She wasn’t looking to be millionaire. She just needed enough to keep her and Isla comfortable.
“Mummy, can we look at our new house again?”
The brisk sea wind was whipping their hair around their faces. The sun was shining brightly but the wind was cutting straight through the thin material of her summer dress. Maybe she’d been a little over optimistic when she’d dressed this morning. It was always the same in Scotland, the first glimmer of sunshine and the entire nation pulled out their summer clothes in case it was the only chance they got to wear them. Gemma held out her hand, “Let’s go inside and get something to drink. We can look at the pictures again then.”
They settled in with tea, orange juice and two crumpets with jam. Isla pulled the crumpled piece of paper from Gemma’s bag for the hundredth time. She flicked over the pages, her little finger stroking down the paper over the pictures. “My room’s going to be yellow isn’t it mummy? It will be sooo beautiful.”
She had that little wistful tone in her voice, with the slightly dreamy edge to it. Isla hadn’t wanted to move at first. She was only five but the thought of starting school without her nursery friends had caused her lots of sleepless nights. It had almost been a relief when she’d started to romanticise about their new house and her new bedroom – all set on a Scottish island.
The extra expense of buying her a whole new range of bedroom furniture, along with letting her pick her own curtains and bedding had been worth every penny.
Gemma had arranged with a local contractor to paint the inside of her house before they arrived. The removals van had left a few hours before them and caught the earlier ferry. Hopefully, by the time she got there most things would be unpacked and the new carpet she’d bought for the living room would be in place.
She was trying not to concentrate on the fact that the contractor hadn’t answered her emails or phone calls for the last few days. She’d more than enough to think about. He was probably busy – busy in her new house making it ready for their arrival. At least she hoped he was.
The ferry journey was smooth enough. Thankfully Isla hardly seemed to notice the occasional wave swell and Gemma finally started to relax.
Isla had started to draw a picture with her crayons. “Look mummy, here we are on our new island.”
Gemma took a sip of her tea. “Who is that?” she asked, pointing to a third figure in the drawing.
“That’s your new boyfriend.”
Her tea spluttered all over the table and halfway down her chin. “What?” She grabbed napkins and mopped furiously.
Isla gave her the glance of a worldly 80 year old instead of an innocent five year old child. “We might be able to find you a boyfriend on the island mummy. We couldn’t in Glasgow.”
There was so much innocence in her words. Isla had never, ever mentioned Gemma’s lack of boyfriend before. It had never been an issue. Never come up. But she’d obviously given it some thought. “Tammy’s mummy at nursery got a new boyfriend. He bought Tammy a laptop and took her to the transport museum.”
Aaah. She was starting to understand. Understand in little girl terms.
“I think they might all be taken. Arran’s quite a small island. And mummy really doesn’t have time for a boyfriend. She’s starting a new job and we need to visit your new school.” She ruffled Isla’s red curls, “Anyway, you’re much too young for a laptop.”
Isla shook her head, her little face instantly serious. “I think I might need one when I go to school. I don’t want to be the only person without one, mummy.”
Her blue eyes were completely sincere. If it was anyone else in the world Gemma would think she was being played. But she already knew that her five year old had concerns about making friends and fitting in at a new school. Sometimes she felt Isla was too old for her years. Gemma tried her best. But the flat in central Glasgow hadn’t exactly been the most sociable area for kids. Isla really only had her friends to play with at nursery, and then again on the odd occasion she’d been invited to a party. Juggling full-time work, child-care and single parenthood wasn’t easy.
And that had been part of the problem. Part of the reason she’d wanted to get away to a different style of life for her and her daughter. Being a full-time paediatrician in a busy city was frantic. Particularly when a sick kid came in minutes before you were due to finish. Thank goodness for an understanding childminder. But even she had her limits and had eventually told Gemma she was struggling.
She gave Isla a smile, “I’ve seen photos of your new school. They’ve got some lovely computers there. I’m sure the teachers will let you work on them.”
Her phone buzzed in her pocket once, then silenced again. Weren’t they still in the middle of the Firth of Clyde? Apparently not. She turned her head. They looked only moments from the island. She pulled her phone from her pocket. It was an unknown number and her signal had vanished. This was supposed to be the best network for the island but it looked as though the coverage wasn’t as good as she’d been promised.
Looked like she still had a lot to learn about Arran.
A loud passenger announcement made her curiosity around the phone call instantly vanish. All passengers please return to your vehicles prior to arrival in Brodick.
“That’s us mummy!”
Gemma smiled and took a last gulp of her tea. Isla’s hand automatically fitted inside her own and she gave it a little squeeze as they joined the queue to file down to the car deck.
Her little red car was packed to the rafters. There was barely room for her and Isla to scramble back inside and get their seatbelts in place. The removal van was similarly packed and the costs of moving to an island had proved much more prohibitive than moving somewhere inland. As a result most of their clothes were squashed into the car around them, along with a large amount of Isla’s toys.
She tried to remember the directions that she’d been given as the cars slowly trundled off the ferry. It wasn’t too far between Brodick and Lamlash – the capital of the island and the place where they would be staying - and the journey was over in ten minutes.
It didn’t take long to find the house and her heart gave a little flutter when she saw it. Their new home.
Gemma spotted the removals van immediately. There were also a number of men, dressed in their uniforms of black t-shirts and matching trousers. They’d been ruthlessly efficient back in Glasgow. Their removal expertise putting her to shame. Trouble was – right now, none of them were moving.
She pulled the car up outside the cottage and couldn’t help the smile that appeared on her face and Isla squealed in excitement. “Is this it mummy?”
Gemma nodded and helped Isla from the car. The cottage was everything she’d hoped for. Two bedrooms, a study and a small conservatory on the back. That, combined with a view over the Firth of Clyde was more perfect than she could have imagined.
There were even little shutters at the windows. From the look of them they were only decorative and could do with a lick of paint. But they added to the character and she loved them immediately.
Before she could stop her Isla had raced through the open front door.
Gemma gave her hair a shake, pleased to be out of the stuffy car on such a clammy day. One of the removals men approached her straight away. Her stomach was already jittery with nerves, “Something wrong Frank?”
He nodded. “I think so.” He pointed to the front door. There, sitting next to the steps was a row of large paint tins. Gemma walked over for a closer look, pale yellow for Isla’s room, mocha for her own bedroom, magnolia for the hall and living room. There was a tightly wrapped parcel at the end of the row. She peeled back some of the wrapping to reveal the purple wallpaper she’d picked for the feature wall in her living room.
Her brow furrowed. “What’s all this doing here? I’d an arrangement with a local contractor to have painted and decorated for us before we got here.”
Frank shrugged. “He’s obviously bought the materials and intended to do it. Something must have happened.”
Gemma let out a sigh and walked into her cottage. There it was. That instant feeling.
It made her catch her breath.
People said that you made up your mind in the first thirty seconds when you viewed a house. And even though the deal was done Gemma knew immediately she’d made the right decision. She walked around. Some of her furniture and most of her boxes had already been put in some of the rooms.
She ran her finger along the wall. The place looked a little tired. If it had been decorated it would have been perfect. But she could live with it in its current state. If need be, she could do the painting herself.
Frank tapped her shoulder. “There’s another little issue.” He pointed back outside.
Gemma followed him to find her brand new purple sofa sitting in the driveway. “What’s wrong?”
He pointed to the doorway. “It’s too small. We can’t get it in.”
She spun around. “You’re joking, right?”
He shook his head. “Did you ask for the dimensions of the door before you bought it?”
She could feel the colour flare into her cheeks. Of course she hadn’t. She’d fallen in love with the colour immediately, and once she’d sat in it in the showroom her mind had been made up. Dimensions hadn’t even entered her brain. Not once. “Could we take the door off?”
He shook his head. “We’ve already tried that. It’s just too big.”
Just like she thought. Ruthlessly efficient. She’d half a mind to invite these removal contractors to work with her in one of the big hospitals in Glasgow to see what changes they would make. They would probably have the whole rambling hospital running seamlessly in a matter of days.
One of the other men approached. “I’ve checked the back window – the one that’s broken and boarded up. If we take out the window frame we might get it in there.”
“I’ve got a broken window?” She was trying not to let her chin dangle open. This was just getting better and better.
“You didn’t know?”
She shook her head, her long strides taking her back into the house and following the pointing fingers to the window at the back of her living room. There were a few remnants of broken glass caught in the window frame, but someone had done a good job clearing up the floor and ensuring it was spotless. The carpet in this room had been slightly worn and damaged in the pictures she’d seen so she’d given instructions for it to be lifted. Her new carpet was currently rolled up inside the removal van waiting to be fitted – another aspect of the efficient company.
She touched the edge of the window. “I knew nothing about this. I guess I’ll need to phone the estate agent.” She sighed. “If taking the frame out is the only way to get the sofa in then just go ahead.”
Two other men appeared with the underlay and carpet, ready to fit it. One of them gave her a smile, “I take it you just want us to go ahead, lift the old carpet and get the new one laid?”
She gave a little nod. She’d have to worry about paint stains later. The removals company had covered just about every angle. It was just a pity the decorator hadn’t fulfilled his duties.
Her phone rang sharply and she pulled it out her pocket.
“Dr Halliday? Are you here yet?” It was a deep voice and one she didn’t recognise.
“That depends. What ‘here’ do you mean? And who are you?”
“Sorry. It’s Logan Scott. One of the GPs you’ll be working with. I needed to see if you could cover a shift.”
She let out a laugh. “Cover a shift? I’ve just got here. And my house isn’t painted. A windows broken, I haven’t unpacked a thing and I would have no-one to look after my daughter. So Dr Scott, I don’t think I’ll be covering any shifts anytime soon.” She winced at the sarky tone in her voice. She was taking her frustrations out on a perfect stranger – and worse still a new workmate.
“You have a daughter? I didn’t know that.”
She felt herself bristle. What did that mean? And what business of his was it that she had a daughter? But he continued on, “You’re at the cottage? I’ll be there in two minutes.”
Before she could say another thing he’d hung up. She shook her head and walked back inside, just in time to see the wooden board being taken off the window and the window frame being slid out of place.
The underlay was already down on the floor and was being anchored in place. These removal guys really didn’t waste any time. Then again, she could bet none of them wanted to risk missing the last ferry home and being stranded for the night. She’d been warned in advance that the Arran ferry could be cancelled at the first gust of wind.
She walked along to Isla’s room. Her bed was nestled in the corner with the new bedding and curtains sitting on top of it. Isla was on the floor with one of her boxes upended and toys spread all across the floor. She was already in a world all of her own.
Gemma eyes ran over the room and she gave a groan. No curtain poles. She hadn’t even given it a thought. She’d just assumed there would be some still in place. Another thing to add to the list.
Isla’s oak wardrobe and chest of drawers had been put in place – in the exact spots where Gemma would have positioned them herself. Most of Isla’s clothes were in the car – still on their hangers – it would only take a few minutes to pick them up and start to get Isla’s room ready.
She walked outside and opened her car door. The wind was starting to whip her dress around her legs and she grabbed it as she leaned inside to grab a handful of Isla’s clothes. The last hanger slid from her hands on to the floor between the front seats and the back. She leaned further, her feet leaving the ground as she stretched as far as she could, just as the biggest gust of wind caught her dress and billowed it upwards.
“Well, there’s a sight I don’t see everyday.”
“What?” Panic filled her chest as her cheeks flared with heat. Her left hand thrust out behind her and caught the wayward fabric of her dress, pulling it back firmly over her underwear as she scrambled back out the car, pulling Isla’s clothes with her. Several of the items landed on the ground at her feet. So much for keeping everything on their hangers to save time.
She pushed her hair out of her face. She couldn’t really see properly. The cheeky stranger was standing with his back to the bright sun which was glaring directly at her.
“Look mummy!” shouted Isla. “There’s one! I told you we’d find you a boyfriend on Arran!”
Her eyes adjusted. Oh no. Just what she needed. A tall, almost dark and very handsome stranger with a smattering of stubble across his face. Her biggest vice.
Ground open up and swallow me now. Complete and utter mortification.
What else could go wrong?
Logan didn’t know who to be more amused with. The little girl for just embarrassing her mum to death, or the rogue dress and sea winds which had just given him a glimpse of some lovely pink satin underwear.
He held out his hand. He’d love to stay here all day, but he really needed to get things sorted. “Logan Scott, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” There it was. The light floral scent that he’d thought was floating in the air was actually coming from her. Hmm. He could get used to that.
Her cheeks were scarlet. Her long curly brown hair with lighter tips was flapping around her face like mad, caught in the brisk sea winds and her dress, was once again joining in the fun. He hadn’t expected her to look quite so young. Then again he hadn’t expected her to have a child either. Maybe he should pay a little more attention when his colleagues say they had recruited someone for the summer.
The dress was really playing havoc with her. Now the pink and white material was plastered back across her body, revealing every curve, every slope and the outline of her underwire bra. Having glimpsed one half of her underwear he tried not to wonder if it was a matching set.
It was obvious she was trying to collect her thoughts. She held out her slim hand towards his outstretched one and grasped it firmly – as if she were trying to prove a point. “Are you always so forward with your colleagues Dr Scott?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Only if they look like you. Welcome to Arran Dr Halliday.”
The little girl waved her hand. “Come and see my new room, it’s beautiful.”
Gemma tucked her hair behind her ears and thrust the pile of clothes she had in her hands towards him. Her embarrassment was still apparent, but it was clear she intended to get past it. “You might as well make yourself useful. These are Isla’s. Just hang them up in her cupboard.”
For a second he was stunned. Then a smile crept across his face. It wasn’t anymore presumptuous than he’d just been. Maybe he’d just met his female equivalent?
He followed the little red-haired girl into the house and fumbled with her clothes. Most of the hangers had tangled together and some of dresses landed in a heap at his feet as he tried to slot them in the wooden wardrobe.
“Careful with this one. It’s my favourite.”
She held up a pale blue dress with some obvious netting underneath. A little girl princess style dress. The kind of thing his sister would love.
He took the dress and carefully put it on a hanger. “There we go. Do you want to hang it up yourself?”
She shook her head, her curls bouncing around her. “No. Mum says that’s your job.” Like mother, like daughter.
“How old are you Isla? It is Isla, isn’t it?”
She smiled. One of her front teeth was missing. “I’m five. I’ll be going to the big school after the summer.”
He nodded. “There’s a lovely primary school just around the corner. I’ll show you it later if you like.” He pointed to her tooth. “Did the tooth fairy come?”
She rolled her eyes and planted her hands on her hips. “No, silly. The tooth fairy only comes if a tooth falls out by itself.”
He straightened his back. “Why, what happened to yours?”
She sighed, she’d gone back to her dolls and had obviously lost interest in him by now. “I got it knocked out when I was playing football.”
He blinked. So, the little curly-haired red head who liked princess dresses was actually a tomboy?
Gemma appeared at the door with another pile of clothes she started automatically hanging in the wardrobe. “I can see Isla’s entertaining you with her terrifying tales.”
Logan gave a slow nod. “Football?”
Gemma nodded. “Football. Is there a team she can join?”
“Yes. She was in a mixed team back in Glasgow. They played in a mini-league.”
Logan leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “I think the primary school has a football team, but I’m sure it’s the primary six and sevens. We can ask at the surgery, someone is bound to know.”
Gemma finished hanging her clothes and turned around. “I’m not really sure what you’re doing here Logan. I certainly won’t be ready to start work for a while. Look around. My contractor hasn’t appeared and one of the windows is broken.” She ran her hand through her tangled hair. “And I have no idea where to start with that one. The estate agent isn’t even answering her phone.”
Logan glanced at his watch. “That’s because it’s a Thursday and it’s two o’clock. Nancy Connelly will be getting her hair done.”
Gemma’s chin almost bounced off the ground. What did she expect? Logan had spent most of his life on this island and could tell her the ins, outs and daily habits of just about everyone.
She started shaking her head. “Well, that’s not much use to me is it? I would have thought she would have the courtesy to call me and let me know that my property had been damaged. I’m going to have to find out who can do replacement windows around here, and then I’m obviously going to have to find an alternative contractor since the one I’ve paid hasn’t done his job.”
It sounded like the start of a rant. No, maybe that was unfair. She’d just arrived on a strange island with her little girl and probably wanted to get settled in straight away. At least she’d planned ahead. Her cottage was supposed to be ready just to walk in to, and the reality was, she wasn’t supposed to start at the GP surgery for another few weeks. He was going to have to appeal to her better nature – and just hope that she had one.
He put up his hands. “Whoa. I’m sorry. I should have got to the point but you’re a bit like a whirlwind round here. Harry Burns was your contractor. The reason the work hasn’t been started is because Harry had an MI last week – just after he’d delivered your paint to start decorating. The reason the window is broken is because he was up on a ladder cleaning out your guttering when he fell off.”
Gemma put her hand up to her mouth. “He had a heart attack here? At my house? And why on earth was he cleaning my guttering?”
Logan shrugged. “Because that’s just Harry. He saw it needed doing, and thought he would help out. He was lucky. He usually works himself, but his fourteen year old grandson was with him that day. He called us and we were lucky enough to get him to the hospital in time.”
Gemma took a deep breath. “Do you have facilities for things like that? I thought most of the emergency stuff had to go to the mainland?”
Logan picked his words carefully. He didn’t want to vent his frustration on their new doctor. It often took newcomers a while to adjust to what could and couldn’t be done on a small island. “We can treat MI’s with rtpa – the same as they would get in a coronary care unit. What we can’t do is an immediate angioplasty to find the problem. So, we treat the clot, ensure they’re stable then transfer them to the mainland for further treatment.” He looked at his watch. “Your new window should be on the 2 o’clock ferry. We ordered it last week and they said they would supply and fit it today.”
There it was. A little colour appearing in her cheeks. She blushed easily – obviously embarrassed about her earlier almost-rant of frustration.
“Oh, I see. Thank you.”
Logan knew he should probably stop there. But he couldn’t. He cared about the people on this island. “Do you have to have the work done straight away? Can you wait awhile? Harry is already upset about the window. If he hadn’t had a heart attack I can guarantee the job would have been done perfectly for your arrival.”
Gemma looked around her. Isla seemed oblivious to the décor. The walls were marked here and there, with the odd little dent in the plaster work – all things that Harry had been paid to fix. Did it really matter if she had to wait a few weeks for the house to be painted, and for her feature wall to be papered in the living room? Who else was going to see the house but her and Isla?
In an ideal world, her room would have been painted before she laid the new carpet, but she wasn’t prepared to wait. Which was just as well – as the men were almost finished. They were poised outside waiting to try and fit her sofa through the window.
She placed her hands on her hips as she took a few steps down the corridor. The place really wasn’t too bad. It just needed a freshen up. “I suppose it’s not the end of the world to wait a few weeks. I guess Harry will need around six weeks to make a full recovery. But I don’t want him to be pressured into working before he’s ready. Maybe it would be less pressure on him if he knew someone else had done the job?”
He understood her reasoning. It was rational. It was also considerate. But this woman obviously had never met Harry Burns.
He shook his head, he couldn’t help the smile appearing on his face. “Actually, if I tell Harry someone else is doing it, his blood pressure will probably go through the roof and he’ll have another heart attack.”
She smiled. A genuine smile that reached right up into her warm brown eyes. “Well, I guess that would never do then, would it?”
He shook his head. She was mellowing. She seemed a little calmer. But then again, she’d just moved house – one of the most stressful things to do. That, along with the fact she was about to start a new job meant her own blood pressure was probably through the roof. He was leaving out the most obvious fact. The one that it seemed highly likely she was a single parent.
There was no sign of any man. And all the clothes packed into the back of the little red car were obviously hers and her daughters.
His curiosity was definitely piqued. But he couldn’t show it – not for a second. On an island like Arran they’d have him huckled up the aisle in the blink of an eye and all his mother’s cronies would have their knitting needles out and asking about babies.
“About work,” he started. That was better. That was the reason he was here.
“What about it,” she said absentmindedly as she opened a drawer and started emptying a bag of little girl underwear into it. “I think I’m supposed to meet Sam Allan next Tuesday. He’s the head of the practice, isn’t he?”
“Normally, he is.” Logan chose his words carefully and let the statement sink in.
Her eyes widened and she turned around. “Oh no, what are you about to tell me?” He could tell from the tone of her voice that she knew exactly where this conversation was headed.
“What about Sam, Dr Scott?” She folded her arms across her chest.
He almost laughed out loud at the expression on her face. Did she have any idea how identical her daughter was to her? Even though the hair and eye colour was obviously different their expressions and mannerisms were like mirror images.
“I think you should start calling me Logan, we’ll be working together enough.”
He could see her take a deep breath. He liked this woman. And as soon as he had a minute he was going to go back to the surgery and read her resume. He could only hope that her paediatric skills would be transferable to their GP practice.
“Sam Allan managed to fall down Goat Fell earlier today. It’s about the hundredth time in his life, but this time he’s been a little unlucky.”
Her eyes narrowed. Goat Fell was the highest peak on the island. “How unlucky?”
“Unlucky enough to break his leg.” He couldn’t keep the sound of regret from his voice. Sam Allan was one of his greatest friends. “Sam’s problem is he’s nearly seventy but thinks he’s still around the age of seventeen.”
Her words were careful, measured. “Then Logan, I guess it will be you I’ll be meeting next Tuesday instead.”
Logan scratched his chin. Stubble. He still hadn’t had time to shave. That must be around two days now. He must look a sight. Time for the bombshell.
“Actually, I was kind of hoping you could start now.”