The Doctor and the Princess May 2017
Her very own Mr Darcy….
As a rule Gabrielle Cartier prefers the title ‘Dr’ to ‘Princess’. And when sexy surgeon Sullivan Darcy joins her humanitarian mission in the jungle, she’s desperate to explore their chemistry. Until sudden news of her brother’s abdication means that Gabrielle must return home to rule!
Sullivan longs to offer Gabrielle the support she needs but the pain of loss haunts him. Yet she stirs long-dormant feelings in him, feelings that give him the courage to confront his demons…and the determination to win his princess!
“It’s an emergency, Sullivan, I swear.”
Sullivan let out a wry laugh as he shook his head and ran his fingers through his damp hair. “It’s always an emergency, Gibbs.” He stared at the inside of the khaki tent.
Gibbs laughed too. “Well, this time it is. Asfar Modarres collapsed. Some kind of intestinal problem. He was lucky we got him out in time.”
Sullivan started pacing. “Is he okay?” He liked the Iranian doctor. He’d joined Doctors without Borders around the same time as Sullivan. They’d never served together but he’d known him well enough to see his commitment and compassion for the job.
“He should be fine. He had surgery a few hours ago.” Gibbs sucked in a deep breath. Sullivan smiled. Here it comes.
“Anyway, there’s two weeks left of the mission with only one doctor on site. We’re at a crucial stage. MDR TB is up to 12% in Nambura. We need another pair of hands.”
Sullivan shook his head as he paced. “I’m a surgeon, Gibbs. Not a medic. Last time I learned about TB I was in med school. I know virtually nothing about it. Let alone the multi-drug resistant strains.”
He wasn’t kidding. Ask him to wield a scalpel and he wouldn’t hesitate. As an army surgeon he’d operated on the most harrowing injuries, in the most dire of circumstances. No one had ever questioned his surgical abilities. He prided himself on it. But put him in a situation where he wasn’t the expert?
“You’re a doctor, Sullivan – and that’s what I need. Anyway, there’s no one else I can send.” Gibbs hesitated, “And there’s another issue.”
“Nambura can be….difficult.”
Sullivan frowned. “Spit it out, Gibbs.”
“The medic is Gabrielle Cartier. The two nurses Lucy Provan and Estelle Duschanel. The onsite pharmacist Gretchen Koch.”
Sullivan sucked in a breath and groaned. Four females on their own. Nambura tribes were very traditional. Some of the tribal leaders probably wouldn’t even talk to four western women. Equality issues hadn’t quite made their way to Nambura yet.
A female colleague had reported minor hostilities on a mission a few months ago. There was no way he’d leave them there for the next two weeks with no back up. His father would never have left fellow team members at risk and the same principles had been ingrained into Sullivan all his life.
“Okay, you got me. When can you arrange transport?”
Gibbs started talking quickly. “I’ll send you our latest information and protocols on MDR TB. You can read them en route. The helicopter will pick you up in fifty minutes.”
The line went dead as Sullivan stared at the phone. Fifty minutes. Gibbs had already sent the transport before he’d made the call. It was almost as if he knew Sullivan didn’t have anything to go home to.
His Top Gun father had died while Sullivan had been on his final tour of duty in Helmand Province. He’d flown home, watched his father buried with full military honours, completed his tour, then signed up with Doctors Without Borders.
Three years later he’d only managed to go home for nineteen sporadic days. He still hadn’t emptied his father’s closets or packed up any of his things.
He flung the phone onto his bunk as he pulled his bag from the top of the locker.
Just as well he travelled light.
The music met his ears as the chopper lifted back up into the black night sky, flattening the trees all around him.
He tilted his head as he tried to recognise the tune and the direction from which it was coming. There was only one path from the landing spot leading through the trees.
He wound his way along it, the music getting louder with every step until eventually he emerged into a clearing filled with the familiar khaki tents he’d left a few hundred miles away and three hours ago.
He glanced around. The set up rarely varied no matter where they were in the world. A mess tent. Bathrooms and showers. An operation centre and the staff quarters.
A flap was pinned back on the tent that seemed to be the epicentre of the noise. His curiosity was piqued.
She had her back to him. Which was just as well – as his eyes were immediately drawn to her tanned bare legs. She was wearing a rose pink t-shirt tied in a knot at her hip, revealing the curves of her waist. Her dark hair was in a ponytail that bounced along with her movements. But it was the khaki shorts that had his full attention. They’d obviously once been a pair of trousers judging from the frayed edging and he’d like to shake the hand of the person that had cut them.
On her feet was a pair of heavy black army boots and a pair of rumpled socks. And those legs just kept going and going.
She was bouncing on her toes now. She wasn’t just dancing to the beat of Justin Timberlake. Oh no. She was singing at the top of her voice. And this wasn’t just a casual bop about the place. This was a whole dance routine.
He dropped his bag and folded his arms in amusement as she slid from one side to the other, mimicking the movements the world had seen a million times in the dance video. She had rhythm. She had style.
And she had his full attention.
There was no doubt about it. His blood was definitely flowing through his body a little quicker now. This emergency mission had just got a whole lot more interesting.
Something sparked in his brain. A recognition. He could practically feel the hormones surge through his body. He couldn’t stop the smile dancing around the edges of his lips. For the first time, in a long time, there was a spark. A something. If he could grab this sensation right now and bottle it he would.
Who was she again? Gabrielle somebody? Although he’d been with Doctors without Borders for three years it was impossible to meet everyone. There was 30,000 staff covering 70 countries. They saved lives by providing medical aid where it was needed most— armed conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters, and other crisis situations. There were also longer-term projects designed to tackle health crises and support people who couldn’t otherwise access health care. Every day was different. He’d just spent three months covering a burns unit. The mission before that had been in Haiti offering free surgery. The time before that in a DWB hospital in Syria, dealing with mainly paediatrics.
She lifted her hands above her head giving him a better glimpse of the indent of her waist and swell of her hips in those shorts. He couldn’t help but smile. This girl knew how to dance.
If he’d been home and seen her in a club he would have been mesmerised. Her hips sashayed to the music. Her head flicked from side to side. Her whole body was bouncing. If he’d been in a club, he might even have fought the temptation to step up behind her, press his body next to hers and join in. But they weren’t in a club. They were in the middle of the Narumba jungle.
Her feet crossed in the clunky boots and she spun around. It was obviously meant to be a full circle, but she caught sight of the unfamiliar figure and stumbled midway.
His actions were automatic. He stepped forward and caught her elbow before she landed on the floor, pulling her up against him.
Her eyes were wide. Her skin soft. And the scent of roses drifted up around him. The hand that had shot out to break her fall had landed on his chest as he grabbed her.
For a second they were frozen in time. The music pumping around them, the heat of the jungle rising between them and the darkness of the night enveloping everything.
Her eyes were the darkest brown he’d ever seen. They suited her tanned skin and chocolate hair. It was only a split second, but the heat from the palm of her hand seemed to penetrate through his thin t-shirt straight to the skin on his chest. He sucked in a breath just as she stepped backwards.
As if the stranger standing in front of her wasn’t film star material enough, the deep throaty voice sent a shudder of electrical pulses flooding through her system that started in the palm of her hand and shot on a direct route to her fluttering heart.
It took a second to catch her breath again.
No, it took more than a second.
Darn it. He was smiling at her. A perfect straight white teeth kind of smile.
Her palm was tingling from where she’d made contact with the firm muscles on his chest. He was tall, lean and wide. She’d bet every part of him was as muscled as his chest.
He had a buzz cut – like someone from the army. In fact, she’d put money on it that he’d served. He had that demeanour about him. That aura of confidence. He wore khaki army-style trousers and a thin dark green t-shirt.
He held his hand out to her again. “May I have this dance?” he joked.
She gave an inward shudder as her brain kicked into gear. She spun around and turned the music down on her speakers. What must she look like?
In this area she spent twelve hours with clothes fastened up to her neck, not even revealing a glimpse of her ankles. By the time she got back to camp, it was an instant shower, a quick feed and clothes to relax in.
She took a deep breath and turned around again, regaining her composure and putting her game face into place.
She shook his hand and smiled. “Yes, I’m Gabrielle. But you have me at a disadvantage. We haven’t met before.”
He frowned. “You haven’t heard from Gibbs?”
She nodded and put her hand on her hips. “Oh, I heard.” She lifted her hands in the air and made quote marks, “You girls can’t stay there yourselves. I’ll find you someone.” She tilted her head to the side. “I’m assuming you’re the someone.”
He glanced around the tent as if he were sizing up the place. Then, just to reinforce what she was thinking, he turned around and looked outside at the camp, checking out the surroundings. Once he seemed satisfied he turned back to her. “I guess I am. I’m Sullivan Darcy.”
She couldn’t hide her smile. “Gibbs has sent me my own Mr Darcy?”
He raised his eyebrows as she continued. The accent was unmistakeable. “US army?”
He nodded. “I was. Now, I'm Doctors without Borders.”
She walked over to a table and lifted some paperwork. “What’s your speciality? Medicine? Infectious disease?”
He pulled a face. “You’ll hate this.”
Her stomach clenched. “Why?”
“I’m a surgeon.”
“Oh.” Her stomach sunk like a stone. In some circumstances a surgeon would be great. But it was not exactly what she needed right now. She bit her bottom lip trying to find the right words.
He stepped forward. “But, if it helps I did a refresh and read all the protocols on the trip here. Just give me some instructions and a prescribing regime and I’m all yours.”
He held out his hands as if he were inviting her to step into them. For the first time in forever, the thought actually did cross her mind.
Missions were exhausting. The time off in between short and frantic. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt a buzz when she’d met someone. A connection. The chance to tease, the chance to flirt.
Her own Mr Darcy was pretty much looking like manna from heaven right now.
She was lucky. She’d never had the same pressure her brother had – to find the perfect partner, settle down, marry and get ready to run a country.
Sixteen years of spotlight being the perfect princess in Mirinez had been enough. Medicine had been considered an ‘honourable’ profession and she’d climbed on that plane to study medicine at Cambridge University breathing a huge sigh of relief. Since then she’d only returned for weddings, funerals and a few state events. Mirinez had lost interest in her. She hadn’t been in press reports for years. And that was exactly the way she wanted it to stay.
His green eyes met hers again. “That accent? French?”
She shrugged. “Close enough.”
She pulled out a chair at the table and gestured for him to sit down before he quizzed her any further. “Let’s focus on what needs to get done in the next two weeks.”
She shot him a smile. He stepped closer. His chest barely inches from her nose and she caught a whiff of pure pheromones. Oh, she could pretty it up by saying it was a combination of soap, remnants of musk antiperspirant and some subtle cologne. But from the effect it was having on her senses it was 100% testosterone.
He didn’t seem worried about their closeness. If fact, she could almost bet that he thrived on it. The thin material covering his broad chest brushed against her arm as he sat down. “Like I said, tell me what you need, and I’m your guy.”
She pushed away the rush of thoughts that flooded her brain as she pulled forward a map. She circled areas for him. “We’ve done here, here and here. In the next two weeks we need to cover this area, and north of the river. We expect to see around 700 people a day.”
She was glad that he didn’t flinch at the volume of people who still needed to be seen.
He reached over to study the map. “How do you work your clinics?”
She gave a nod as the hairs on his arms brushed against her. Yip.
“The TB regime is harsh. We split our duties. We have two nurses, a few local volunteers,” she frowned, “and only one translator.”
He waved his hand. “Don’t worry about that. My Farsi is passable. The dialect might be a little different to where I’ve been working but I’m sure I’ll muddle through.”
Muddle through. She smiled. It was like something her grandmother used to say in private. Not quite the expression she’d expected from the muscular guy who screamed ‘army’ at her.
“You’re good with languages?”
He looked amused. “You’re surprised?” There was a challenge in his words and a glint in his green eyes.
Her brain couldn’t quite find the words.
He gave a little nod. “I speak ten languages.”
She blinked. “Ten?”
He shrugged. “I was a navy brat. I moved around a lot. I picked up languages easily. It was the only way to fit in.”
She pressed her lips together then rearranged the papers.
Interesting. It was clear he’d hit a sore spot.
She got straight to the point. “Lucy and Estelle deal mainly with the patients who require treatment for their TB. Gretchen dispenses the medicines. The volunteers administer and read the tests.”
He raised his eyebrows and she quickly reassured him. “We train them ourselves.”
She opened a laptop. A spreadsheet appeared on screen. She licked her lips. He was watching her closely. It was a little unnerving. “We’re estimating sixty per cent of the population have TB in one form or another. Some are active, some are latent, and some,” she sighed, “Are multi-resistant.”
She nodded slowly. He must have read at least some of the information that Gibbs had sent to him. She let out a sigh. “Around twelve per cent.”
“That high?” he couldn’t hide his surprise. He’d known that drug resistance was rising all around the world, but the figure was higher than he expected.
“Tell me what you need me to do.” He was unnerved. And Sullivan Darcy wasn’t used to feeling unnerved. He was used to being the expert in the field. He was used to knowing his subject area inside out. And as Gabrielle’s rose-hinted scent wound its way around him he needed to find some focus.
Gabrielle nodded and licked those pink lips again. She pulled open a drawer next to her and pulled out some kind of cool pack. He watched as she unwrapped it and pulled out the biggest bar of chocolate he’d ever seen.
She gave him a cheeky wink. “I hate mushy chocolate,” she broke off a piece and handed it to him. He automatically reached out and took it.
“I didn’t peg you as a choc-o-holic.”
She shrugged, her brown eyes gleaming in the artificial light in the tent. “I have lots of secrets, you’ll just need to hang around to find them out.”
He almost choked on the chocolate he’d just put in his mouth. It was almost like a direct invitation.
He leaned back in the chair, stretching one arm out to press the button to restart the music. “I can see Justin and I are going to become very good friends.”
He folded his arms across his chest and smiled.