Falling for the brooding doc… Top-notch plastic surgeon Luke Stanley left Gold Coast City Hospital a proud family man -- and returned from his vacation a widowed single father. Now Nurse Chloe Kefes is the only one brave enough to get close to darkly brooding Luke. Chloe has been through much in life herself, and knows falling for Luke and little Amber is asking for a bundle of trouble. But if she can help bring that laughing, easygoing man back, perhaps Chloe can bring the sparkle into all their lives again.
Book Four in the Gold Coast Angels Series
To Kath for sharing her story and to Christine for telling it.
Wishing you both good health and happiness.
Why I Wrote the Book
Almost everyone in Australia associates the Gold Coast, Queensland with theme parks, beaches, holidays and fun. Everyone except of course the people who live there. For them it's just home. They get to enjoy the lovely beaches and the tranquility of the rainforest in their own back gardens. Last year when I was at a conference of romance writers on the Gold Coast, I often wondered what it would be like to live in a tourist town because every day life isn't vacation, it's everyday life! How often do the residents get to the beach or the rainforest?
So when my editor asked me if I would like to be part of the Gold Coast Angels series, I leaped at the chance because this was my opportunity to explore living and working in a place that ticked 24/7 with a holiday vibe but was still home to so many people.
Chloe hasn't really ever had a vacation even though she's lived on the Gold Coast for a decade. She's been too busy supporting her brother, Nick and getting her own life back together after being abandoned by her parents at sixteen. She's just turned thirty and she's reflecting on her life and where it's headed. Have the sacrifices she's been forced to make been worth it?
Luke loved the casual Gold Coast lifestyle in the huge house on the canal that he shared with his wife and daughter but one moment in time stole all that from him. Now he's living in a town known for its fun and yet he's cloaked in sadness and not able to see a way out of it.
I hope you enjoy Chloe and Luke's story set against the backdrop of sun, surf and life lived to the full, and how they manage against the odds to find their place in it and each other.
For photos that inspired the story go to my Pinterest page!
Gold Coast Angels: Bundle Of Trouble by Fiona Lowe is everything a medical romance should be about and I would recommend it to everyone who loves medical romance. Harlequin Junkies
In her newest book, Fiona Lowe has once again managed to bring me to tears and touched on emotion so strong in left me in awe of her writing skills. GoodReads
Gold Coast Angels: Bundle of Trouble
Excerpt From Chapter One
The cheers rained over Chloe Kefes and she didn't know if she wanted to laugh, cry, or run. Truth be told, she wanted to do all three as she stared in shocked surprise at the smiling faces of her colleagues.
Somehow she managed to get her legs to move and as she stepped forward into the meeting room, the staff enthusiastically rushed her with balloons and hugs before pressing a polystyrene containing a small drop of champagne into her hand. So much for this being a vital patient review meeting on the busy Gold Coast City Hospital's plastic surgery ward-instead it was a well meant ambush.
'To Chloe.' They raised their cups.
'Many happy returns, Clo.'
'Have a good one.'
Her shoulders were squeezed, she was patted on the back, and her arm was pummelled with birthday bumps as half the room-the afternoon shift-rushed passed her, dashing back to work.
'Don't let Richard eat all the Tim Tams,' Julie, the radiographer called out over her shoulder.
Their departure left behind the now off-duty day staff, which comprised a student nurse, a medical student and the plastic's registrar, Richard, who had a reputation for eating all the chocolates.
Chloe finally found her voice. 'Oh, you guys, you didn't have to do this.' Really, I wish you hadn't.
Keri Letterman, the unit nurse manager, gave her a wide smile. 'You didn't think we'd let the big three-O go past without acknowledging it, now did you?'
'Wow,' muttered the barely twenty-year-old student nurse to the twenty-one-year-old med student, 'I didn't think she was that old.'
Chloe tried to give the bright and breezy smile she was known for but despite her very best attempt her, 'I guess not' came out a tad strangled.
Up until a few minutes ago, she really thought she'd managed to slip under the birthday police's radar-otherwise known as Keri and Kate. Given the fuss they'd made of Lizzie, the ward clerk, on her fiftieth birthday, Chloe probably should have known better. Except that unlike the rest of the staff, she hadn't spent the preceding days giving a birthday countdown to anyone who'd listen. In fact, she hadn't told anyone it was her birthday and she certainly hadn't told them it was the dreaded thirtieth.
'Lucky for you,' Keri continued, 'I met Nick, Lucy and those gorgeous twins in the cafeteria and they told me it was your special day. If we were depending on you to tell us, we'd never have known.'
That was the general idea. 'Who needs enemies when you've got a big brother, right?' Chloe joked on hearing the slight criticism in her boss's voice. She worked on letting it slide over her. Unlike many of her colleagues, she didn't bring her private life to work-mostly because she didn't have one. Instead, she chatted about her new apartment with the sea view-a ten centimetre glimpse of the ocean from her kitchen sink-her bushwalks in the rainforest hinterland around Mt Warning, and her latest adventures with sea kayaking. All of it kept the conversation firmly off the very personal.
Her reticence to share stemmed from experience. She'd learned a long time ago that the more details you told people about your life, the more questions they asked and she was only prepared to talk about the last couple of years. Any further back didn't bear thinking about.
'So what did you get for your birthday, Chloe?' Richard asked, licking chocolate off his fingers.
She slid a photo out of her pocket and metaphorically crossed her fingers that the sheer cuteness factor of the photo would forestall the inevitable comments. 'Chester.'
'Oh, my God, he's just like the puppy on the toilet paper ads,' Kate, a fellow nurse, gushed. 'How old is he?'
'That's little.' Kate frowned. 'Who's looking after him while you're at work?'
'He's at doggie day care.'
'Doggie day care?' Richard rolled his eyes. 'Showing us photos of a dog is a sure sign you need a man and a baby.' Chloe tried unsuccessfully not to let his words slap her. Richard was a congenial guy who had no idea his off-the-cuff comment encapsulated everything she wanted in her life but could never have. 'Dogs are so much easier ...' she tried to quip lightly, '...and unlike you, my puppy will eventually be housetrained.'
Richard laughed good naturedly as his pager beeped. Grabbing the last two Tim Tams before Kate could stop him, he called the students to follow him and he exited with a wicked grin.
Keri looked at the photo of Chester. 'He is cute. Did I show you the photo of Tahlia dressed up as a cat?'
'You did.' Chloe tried to stop the smile on her face from freezing. She'd seen every photo of Tahlia from a wet, slippery newborn on her mother's chest, right up to the most recent ones taken on her second birthday. Keri, like most proud parents, loved to spread her mother-joy around, sharing every milestone with anyone and everyone who would listen. If they didn't want to listen, she told them anyway.
'Jack's off his training wheels.' Kate pulled out her phone and brought up a photo of her second son.
'He looks so grown up,' Keri said.
'I know, right? I remember the day he took his first step and now he's six and riding his own bike.' Kate scrolled to another photo. 'Chloe, you have to see this one.'
'Lovely,' Chloe said faintly. Chester's photo was supposed to be her weapon against this sort of thing but instead the cuteness of the puppy seemed to be reminding everyone else that their children were cute too.
'You okay, Chloe?' Keri asked
She renewed her smile, putting extra wattage into it. 'Fine, why?'
'You're shredding the rim of your cup.'
'I must need more champagne then.' She picked up the bottle and sloshed in more of the straw-coloured liquid before gulping it down.
Kate held out her cup for a refill. 'What are your plans for tonight?'
A walk along the beach with Chester followed by take-out Indian and then tucking up in bed and watching all four hours of North and South. Only, Kate, who was married with young kids and had rose-coloured memories of being single, would be horrified at the thought. 'I'm hitting The Bedroom with some friends.' It wasn't strictly a lie.
Kate's eyes lit up. 'Oh, I remember nightclubs. Good for you, Chloe.'
'I bet Nick and Lucy have plans to spoil you,' Keri said as she started to tidy up the remains of the food.
She thought of her wonderful and loving brother who'd been her sole supporter since she was sixteen. They'd been through a huge amount together and their joint determination to succeed had kept the other going during the tougher times. Nick's recent marriage was wonderful and she'd been thrilled he'd found such a supportive life partner in Lucy, but as expected, the wedding and the arrival of the twins had changed things between them. His focus was now his wife and children, not his sister, which was right and proper, and as much as she loved the twins, she found it excruiatingly hard to be around them. All of it meant there were times she missed Nick very much.
'Nick organised for Cafe Sunset to open at six and we ate breakfast watching the sun rise-'
'Sorry to interrupt the party.'
Chloe swung around at the deep and slightly disdainful voice that didn't sound sorry at all.
'Luke?' Keri squealed with delight and rushed forward, hugging him hard.
His body stiffened and he closed his eyes for a moment, as if he was seeking a way to endure the affection.
Chloe blinked and then gave her glasses a surreptitious polish and took another look. Was this gaunt man with a waterfall of silver at his temples really Luke Stanley? The eminent plastic surgeon who was known for his good humour and easy-going manner? She scanned her memory, barely recognising him.
She didn't know him personally, in fact she'd only ever had one brief encounter with him and that had been well over a year ago. Just thinking about it made her cheeks burn with embarrassment. It had been her first day on the ward. Due to her age, everyone assumed she'd been nursing for years, but her education had been trunkated at sixteen and it had taken her a few years to return to study. Graduating from university at twenty-eight meant she had to work doubly hard to appear totally competent compared with the younger nurses who everyone knew lacked experience and automatically made allowances for youth.
With that in mind, she'd been busy concentrating on preparing a dressing pack by a patient's bed, readying to check the skin edges where his finger had been stitched back in place. As she was mentally checking off all the items she required, she suddenly heard a a deep and booming voice behind her saying, 'Hello, Mr Benjamin.'
Startled, she'd swung around fast, completely forgetting she was holding an open container of iodine. The sudden movement propelled the brown liquid out of the bottle, sending it flying up into the air where it paused for a perilous moment-mocking her and her total lack of control over its trajectory. Gravity pulled it down fast and it landed on Mr Stanley, plastic surgeon, and to all intents and purposes, her new boss.
As the indelible, dark stain oozed down his striped shirt, his crystal-clear, green eyes widened in surprise.
'Oh, God, I'm so sorry,' she stammered. 'Of course I'll replace it.' Exactly how she was going to juggle this month's bills to pay for what was probably a two hundred dollar shirt, she knew would involve robbing Peter to pay Paul, otherwise known as raiding her car fund yet again.
He raised his head-his neatly clipped and styled jet-black curls barely moving-and he smiled. 'This is the third hit this shirt's taken today. My wife frowns whenever I wear it as apparently it's not my color and I shouldn't be trusted to shop alone,' he said with good humour. 'My baby daughter added her opinion by sicking up on it this morning just as I was racing out the door, and now this. I think you may have done me a favour ... I'm sorry, I don't know your name.'
'Kefes. Chloe Kefes. I'm new today.'
Mr Benjamin, bless him, chimed in with, 'She's been taking excellent care of me, doc.'
'I'm sure she has.' Luke tilted his head in contemplation. 'Our obstetrician's surname was Kefes. He works here at Gold Coast City and I think my wife secretly fell in love with him when he delivered Amber.' He laughed and pulled out his phone, showing her a photo of a newborn baby in a bath.
With huge, dark eyes and a thatch of black hair, the baby, like all newborns, looked unmistakeably like her father. Chloe thought of a baby lost in the mists of time and she teetered on the edge of darkness.
'This is Amber an hour after Nick delivered her,' he said fondly. 'Believe me, I was in awe of him as well. I don't suppose he's any relation?'
She grabbed onto the lifeline of a conversation about her brother-one far removed from babies and said, 'Actually, Nick's my brother and he's pretty awe-inspiring.'
Nick had sacrificed a lot and worked really hard to get to where he was today and she loved hearing how well regarded he was in the community.
Luke's smile widened. 'Caring professions must run in your family. Did you grow up in a medical household?'
She shook her head not wanting to go anywhere near that mess of tangled and fraught emotions. 'Are you sure you're okay about the ruined shirt?'
Again his ready smile graced his tanned cheeks. 'Please don't worry about it. Chances are Anna will probably write you a thank you note for making it unwearable.' He turned his attention to his patient. 'So Mr Benjamin, I just want to have a look at your fingers and see if my handiwork has counteracted the impact of the circular saw.'
That was the last time she'd seen him until today. Soon after the iodine debacle, a memo had been sent out from medical administration stating that Luke Stanley was on sabbatical for a year. At the time, she hadn't thought anything of it as consultants came and went and her job was all about the patients. But now, looking at him, she wondered if he'd been on sabbatical in a place that lacked sunshine. The man who once could have been glibly described as tall, dark, tanned, charming and with a ready smile, looked pale, tired and tense.
Keri smiled as she stepped back from the hug. 'I saw your name was back on the surgery list and I was wondering when you'd come up and say, hi.' She extended her arm. 'You remember, Kate but I don't think you've met Chloe?'
Kate raised her hand in greeting. 'Welcome back, Luke.'
'Thanks.' The gruff word lacked grace.
Then eyes that Chloe remembered as having been bright and full of fun, swung a dull gaze at her. No sign of recognition registered in their mossy dark depths. He gave her a curt nod of acknowledgment and an unruly curl fell across a slanted black eyebrow, highlighting his general dishevellment. The inky stubble on his jaw had passed the three day requirement of fashionable growth and now cried out for the tidying touch of a razor. Instead of a crisp shirt tucked into a pair of tailored suit trousers, he wore a dark red polo shirt and crumpled chinos that looked as if he'd slept in them. Perhaps he was jet-lagged and had just got off the plane?
He swung his attention back to Keri. 'I've got a complicated surgery this week on a child The Foundation's brought over from Bali. He's got shocking scarring on his neck and face due to the burn of hot oil and he can't close his mouth or move his head. He'll need one-on-one nursing and I want him nursed here by plastic's nurse with him, not in paediatrics.'
Keri nodded, 'What day are we talking?'
The unit manager consulted the nursing roster on the notice board. 'Chloe's rostered on through Sunday.'
'Good,' Luke said, sounding weary and resigned as if everything was an effort but at least one job was sorted out.
No, not good at all. A mild flutter of anxeity batted Chloe's chest. She nursed adults and she didn't like where this was convesation was heading at all.
Luke's gaze raked her again-a desolate look in his eyes calling up a sadness in her that she knew only too well. A sadness she'd learned to avoid thinking about. As she tried to shake off the melancholy his glance had elicited, she caught a momentary flash of something in his eyes which lit up the brilliant green.
A tingle shot up her spine leaving a trail of unsettling effervescence. A tingle she barely remembered and had only ever associated with pain and regret. A tingle that had absolutely no place in this situation. He was married with a child and she wasn't the sort of woman who would ever break up a marriage. Never. Ever.
She tried to throw off the sensation because ethics aside, she didn't even know him, so why a flutter of attraction? Her body, unlike her brain, must have its wires utterly crossed. Empathy was the only thing she should be feeling for this man-empathy generated by the sadness in his eyes-nothing else. Definitely not lust.
'...at eight in the operating theatre, Chloe.'
The way his tongue rolled over her name shocked her back into the conversation and with her heart thumping hard, she threw a beseeching look at Keri. 'Jackie has way more experience than I do working with children.'
'She does,' Keri agreed, 'but she's not rostered on and you are.'
Chloe thought of her empty social calendar. 'I can swap.'
Keri shook her head. 'She's got her sister's wedding, remember?'
She turned to Kate trying to hold her desperation in check. 'How about you, Kate? As a birthday gift to me?'
'Sorry, Chloe, I've got a family thing on. You know how it is.'
She didn't know at all. Apart from meals with Nick, she hadn't had a family thing in fourteen years.
A sigh of frustration hissed from Luke's thinned lips and it bounced around the room loud in it's disapproval. He zeroed his glare onto her. The ominous, dark look made his high cheekbones sharp and stark, which emphasised the charcoal shadows under his eyes. 'I'm sorry if my plans are inconveniencing you.'
His sarcasm-so far removed from the friendly, smiling man she'd met a year ago-bit hard, ruffling her usually calm demeanour. Her chin shot up. 'Your plans are not inconveniencing me in the slightest, Mr Stanley, however, my expertise lies in nursing adults and therefore I may well inconvenience your patient.'
'For heaven's sake, I'm not asking you to play games with him.' He shoved his hand through his hair, the thick curls snagging at his fingers. 'Look, I need a plastic's nurse who's good at her job. Either you fit the bill or you don't.'
'She definitely fits the bill,' Keri interrupted, her voice full of soothing tones as she threw Chloe a look that said, what on earth is the matter with you? 'Chloe will head up a team of three nurses to cover each block of twenty-four hours for as long as the child needs that level of care.'
Chloe gulped in a steadying breath to stop the simmer of panic that was threatening to take off into a full-blown boil. Nursing children wasn't something she did. Even as a student nurse she'd minimised her exposure with a bit of 'dumb luck'. Rostered onto the children's ward during a flu epidemic, she'd ended up nursing more adults under the bright, owl covered bedspreads than children. This time however, her luck had run out.
From "Gold Coast Angels; Bundle of Trouble " by Fiona Lowe
Mills and Boon Medical Romance November 2013
ISBN: Copyright: © 2013 Fiona Lowe
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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