Her Mediterranean boss’s proposal!
Gorgeous French doctor Xavier Laurent arrives in the beautiful coastal town of Amaroo determined to live by his new rule - never mix work with pleasure. However, On meeting passionate community midwife Charlotte Buchanan, Xavier suddenly finds his resolution very hard to stick to!
Xavier has caused a stirring in Charlie’s heart - the well-and-truly-trampled-on heart she’s vowed never to open up again. But working together, delivering babies and saving tiny live, has the power to melt even the strongest of resolves. And it’s not long before Xavier’s warm charm begins to work its magic.
To Pam who supports me and my family in so many special ways, and enjoys nothing better than curling up with a great romance. Thank you!>
Why I Wrote the Book
The original idea for this story hit me back in 1995 when I was pegging out nappies/diapers for my first-born. It was special because it was the first book I ever wrote. I loved the idea of an independent midwife who balanced her time between community midwifery and hospital midwifery. I loved Xavier and Charlie but the story wasn't quite good enough so I put it aside, waiting until I had the skills to tell their story.
When I peeked back into the lives of Xavier and Charlie I asked them this question. "What if everything you ever believed in suddenly changed?"
Xavier, my deliciously gorgeous French doctor, with an accent that makes your knees go weak, has just realized the women he thought he would spend his life with has been using him to gain a career advantage. He's packed his bags and come to Australia to restart his life and he is determined to give all career-minded women a wide berth.
Charlie is a passionate midwife and believes that delivering babies and living in Amaroo is all she needs to be happy.
Suddenly, with Xavier's arrival her independent midwifery program is under threat.
Set in a fictitious town in southern Australia where the whales come each winter and give birth, Xavier and Charlie battle their attraction for each other and eventually learn there is more to life than work and yet work is a vital part of their life.
I hope you enjoy their story and meeting the wonderful people of Amaroo.
The French Doctor's Midwife Bride
Excerpt from Chapter One
Charlie Buchanan, outreach midwife, made it to her next appointment with barely enough time to catch her breath. But this time she wasn't catching a baby.
She sank into the soft leather chair immediately regretting it. The cloying tendrils of fatigue took advantage of her the moment she sat still, wrapping themselves tightly around her. Her shoulder ached from changing her flat tyre on the way into town. She'd give anything for hot food, a warm bath, and much needed sleep.
But it would all have to wait.
'Doctor Laurent is ready to see you now.' The new Chief of Medicine's secretary spoke in clipped tones, casting disapproving looks toward Charlie.
She instinctively ran her hands down her skirt to straighten it, as memories of boarding school washed through her. Charlotte needs to take more care with her appearance.
Why hadn't she taken a moment to tame her unruly hair into a neat, thick braid instead of frantically rushing to be on time? She resisted the urge to slap her forehead with her palm. Of course the new doctor would be running late!
The new French doctor had arrived in Amaroo a week ago. According to the hospital grapevine, the dust he'd raised didn't look like it would be settling any time soon. The words 'review' and 'budget' had been muttered a lot in corridors and the cafeteria, along with 'economic rationalist' and 'despot'.
She blew out a breath, letting her body relax. Applying logic, none of this should affect her. Her program was well established with its own approved budget. This meeting wouldn't be any more than a 'get to know you' session.
She opened the familiar door and stepped into the office.
Standing behind a large desk, talking on the telephone, but waving her into a chair was, Charlie assumed, Dr. Xavier Laurent. All six feet of him, and probably more.
An immaculately cut charcoal suit moulded to his body, emphasising broad shoulders and a narrow waist. The open jacket moved as his arm rose and fell, revealing flashes of a vivid crimson and emerald tie lying against a white shirt.
A 3D image of a solid, muscular chest burned into her mind. Horrified at the unexpected mental picture she moved her gaze up the length of the tie rather than down. Black hair streaked with silver caressed his temples adding to his aura of model good looks overlaid with natural authority. His ebony eyes, ringed with thick dark lashes gazed at her, their look both charming and scrutinising at the same time.
The butterflies in her stomach fluttered faster, her unease going into overdrive on the back of another sensation she didn't care to examine closely.
She forced herself to meet his penetrative gaze. But looking into those eyes was like falling into the great unknown and she quickly glanced away. The very last thing she needed was to be attracted to the new chief. Not a smart move, professionally or personally.
She didn't do relationships. Relationships meant losing yourself. Relationships forced you to be someone you weren't just to make someone else happy, and that never worked. She knew that misery intimately - bitter experience had taught her well. It had taken half her life to work it out but she knew one thing for sure, she was never submerging her own happiness again in an attempt at love.
Dr. Laurent put a large, lean hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, smiled and mouthed the words, 'I will be with you in a minute,' and returned to his call.
His deep smile carved into his tanned face, an arrowhead of creases framing his mouth of white teeth. The rays from that smile seared her.
Unwanted heat swirled inside her.
It's a courtesy smile, get a grip, you're just tired. She shoved the mental picture of his smile away with some righteous indignation. Great, glad I rushed to get here on time.
Breathing out again, she tried to centre herself and push all emotions away including her uncharacteristic irritation. Phil Carson, the now retired chief, had often done the same thing in their meetings and she'd always been resigned, not cross. She swallowed a sigh. Sleep deprivation made her grumpy and she really needed a decent night's sleep. Surely the current Amaroo baby boom would slow soon.
She deliberately glanced around, forcing her gaze away from the tall, dark, handsome and totally unsettling doctor. Surprise jolted her. Gone were the old fishing prints Phil had loved. In their place hung a large still life original- a bowl of yellow pears sitting against a magenta, teal and pacific blue background, the vivid colours contrasting with the freshly painted ivory walls.
A large photograph caught her eye. Pink, russet and yellow low-rise European-style buildings, their windows defined by wooden shutters, nestled between craggy green-grey mountains and shimmering azure blue water. Wooden fishing boats bobbed on the sea in front of a pretty but narrow beach. It looked like the Côte d'Azur in France.
She'd spent a wonderful month there once doing a conversation French course in a small village between Nice and Cannes. She'd loved the area but couldn't help compare the narrow stone lined beaches to the soft, golden sands of Amaroo.
To her left, a French Provincial style conference table sat solidly, the walnut wood gleaming in the reflected sunlight, which poured in through the large windows. In the centre of the table stood a coffeepot and fine china cups, their lip outlined with a fine gold band.
In front of her, and completely unrecognisable, stood the desk Phil had used. Instead of the clutter of patient histories and piles of random papers, a computer purred, its screen saver flashing a geometric design.
The room screamed neat. Nothing was out of place. The pile of files next to the computer sat in perfect alignment, precision in every sharp corner of the brightly coloured folders. The top one read, 'Community Midwifery Program.'
Charlie's project. Her baby. The result of her integral belief in women caring for women in their own environment during pregnancy and labour.
Quelling her agitation with a deep breath, Charlie sat down and crossed her legs. She immediately noticed a splotch of mud on her knee - a legacy from her flat tyre - She hastily re-crossed her legs the other way to hide the mark. Dr Laurent didn't look like mud would ever dare touch him. The butterflies took flight again, her stomach churning.
How ridiculous! She was twenty-eight years old, not twelve. She was meeting a professional colleague, not terror Tompkins her old boarding school principal. She sat up straighter.
He smiled as he dropped the handset back into the phone cradle and strode around the desk, both actions swift and decisive. 'I am sorry to have kept you waiting.' The R's rolled gently on the wave of his French accent. 'A hospital is a series of interruptions, non?' He shrugged, the rising and falling motion of his shoulders travelling the length of his body.
'I am Xavier Laurent, and you must be Charlotte Buchanan. I am pleased to meet you.' He extended his hand forward in greeting, his body moving in fluid motion.
She pushed her hand forward, trying to concentrate on a professional greeting. His large hand immediately engulfed her smaller one, almost a caressing motion, leaving her palm tingling. She hastily withdrew her hand, balling it into a fist to stop the warm feeling racing up her arm.
Focus! First impressions are vital. 'I am, but most people call me Charlie.'
He tilted his head for a moment, as if absorbing this piece of information, his dark eyes never leaving her face.
'Charlotte is a beautiful feminine name and yet you use a man's name?'
She laughed. 'It's an Australian tradition. If the name is long we shorten it, if it's a short name we lengthen it. Charlie was a better option than Blue.'
Confusion creased his brow. 'Blue?'
She smiled. 'It's what Australians call a person with red hair. Crazy isn't it?'
'It's the slang that causes me problems. My time has been spent between two countries and sometimes I am confused in two different languages.' His laughter rumbled around the room, its low timbre warming her.
'But you've spent more in France than Australia?'
'I came first to Australia when I was nineteen. My Sydney Uni friends tried to teach me the Aussie accent and I can say "G'day Mate".' He spoke the two words in the broad, flat Australian accent and grinned. 'But I think my accent is again stronger as I have been working in the Côte d'Azur for the last three years.'
She smiled. 'That sounds like a tough gig- all that glamour and money, the jet-set lifestyle.'
'I was working in arrière-pays, the backcountry, the small villages in the hills. Although I did enjoy to visit Monaco and Cannes on my weekends. Who would not?' He grinned, his eyes sparkling with devilment, the hint of a man who enjoyed the good things in life.
His grin sent a helix of heat spiralling through her. How could one smile from a man she'd only just met make her cheeks burn? She tried to sound professional and gain back her equilibrium. 'Amaroo is a different planet from Monaco. I bet there are a few cultural shocks in store for you.'
He shrugged again, the relaxed movement flowing from head to toe. 'It makes for an interesting time and I can practice becoming an Aussie again. May I offer you coffee, Charlotte?'
'That would be lovely. Black, please.' The coil of tension inside unwound completely. All her fears were unfounded. He was charming, could laugh at himself and this was, as she has expected, a casual 'get-to-know-you' session.
He poured the coffee and carried two cups back to the desk.
'Thank you.' She took the proffered mug, breathing in the spicy aroma of the fresh brew. Xavier rounded his desk. As he sat down he deftly slid the top folder from the pile. 'Charlotte, I called you in today to discuss the Community Midwifery Program.' He pulled open the blue folder. 'I believe you're the midwife in charge of this project?'
'Actually, I'm the only midwife involved in the project. However, the plan is to extend the program at the end of the financial year and employ another midwife.'
'I see.' He took a sip from his coffee, his lean fingers wrapping themselves around the mug. 'As you are probably aware, part of my brief as the new Medical director is to review all the hospital's programs.'
She nodded. 'It's a great way to become familiar with the hospital.'
'And after reading all these files,' he tapped the top of the stack, 'your program stands out.'
Pride and satisfaction bubbled up inside her. 'Thank-you.' She sat forward enthusiastically, always ready to talk about her program, her passion. 'I'm really proud of what's been achieved. It's innovative and cost effective.'
He put his fingers and thumbs together creating a diamond and rested his forefingers against his lips. His head moved in an almost imperceptible nod. 'Innovative perhaps, but these women could come into hospital and have their children here where all the facilities exist, oui?'
Magnetic dark eyes, warm with persuasion, gazed at her. For the first time she glimpsed in their depths a flash of steely determination.
The rumours she'd heard about this man suddenly jelled in her mind. A bitter taste scaled the back of her mouth.
Keep calm. 'I don't agree. Have you read the mission statement?' Charlie reached over and slid the folder off the desk. She quickly located the paper she was looking for and pushed it back toward him.
She didn't have to read it herself. She'd written every word and they were engraved on her memory. 'To provide women with birthing options. To offer a safe childbirth environment in non-medical setting to women who satisfy the stringent criteria. To reduce hospital costs and reduce in-patient stays.' She crossed her arms against her thundering heart but kept her voice even. 'You seem to have missed the point, Dr. Laurent.'
A muscle twitched in his jaw but his face remained calm and the expression friendly. 'I think, Charlotte, perhaps you have missed my point.' His rich voice, contained a slight coolness, which hadn't been there before. 'Your program is a duplication of existing services. Which means "cost effective" it is not.'
Her fatigue instantly disappeared. Indignation kicked in. 'How can it be a duplication of services when it isn't copying a service provided by the hospital?'
His hand tensed against the held pen. 'Women have a service. They have an obstetric unit geared to cope with all the complications that can occur in childbirth.'
'They have a medical model which isn't what all women want!' The words shot out sharp and loud, despite her dictum to keep calm. She must make him understand.
Rising quickly from her chair she strode across to the large bookshelves that lined one wall. 'Here.' She grabbed a thick volume from the shelf.
Turning back toward the desk she almost collided with him. The plush carpet had absorbed any noise made by his footsteps when he'd followed her to the bookshelves. Close up his height dwarfed her, her head barely reaching his shoulder. His aromatic citrus after-shave swirled around her, filling her nostrils. She stifled the urge to breathe in deeply.
She quickly stepped around him, needing to put a great deal of space between them. Needing to get her hammering heart under control. She'd never reacted to a man like this before. It had to be exhaustion.
Clutching the bound copy of the report to her chest she marched back to the desk. 'Are you familiar with the state review of Birthing Services? I think perhaps you were in France when it was conducted.'
She restrained herself from slamming it down on the desk. Instead she clung to every shred of reason and logic she could muster, desperate to keep a lid on her ever-growing fears for her program. 'Much of Michel Odent's philosophy became the benchmark for the recommendations of the report. 'As a fellow Frenchman, I'm sure you're completely au fait with his work. Here in Amaroo we started putting the recommendations into action.' She sat down.
Xavier followed suit. 'Charlotte, I can see you are passionate about your project and passion is a wonderful thing.' His eyes sparkled and a hint of a smile tugged at his mouth giving it a sensual look.
Her gaze zeroed in on his lips, almost mesmerised. She forced herself to blink and swallowed hard. What the hell was wrong with her?
Enough! She squared her shoulders. 'I've worked very hard this last twelve months to get this project off the ground. I really believe in it.'
'I'm sure you do.' He leaned back into his black leather chair. 'Was this project a board initiative?'
'No, I approached Dr. Carson with the idea and he took it to the board under his recommendation.'
'I see.' He ran his long fingers across his jaw.
Panic started to build. 'I'm not sure you do.' She took in a deep breath and tried to speak calmly. 'Based on the review, interviewing the women of the community and taking into account Dr. Carson's workload, this program filled everyone's needs.' Her patients deserved this program. All her hard work, the long hours, everything she did, she did with her patients' well being in mind.
He pulled out a piece of paper covered in figures. 'It does not matter how much you believe this program is needed, if there is no money available to run it.'
Economic rationalist, the hospital gossip ran through her head. 'Dr. Laurent, there's a lot more to running an obstetric unit than financial figures on a page. In Amaroo people matter, they are not just numbers and through-put. Since you arrived have you spotted a patient? Spoken to any pregnant women and heard what they want? Or are you so engrossed in your precious figures that you've forgotten the whole point of why the hospital exists?'
She heard his sharp intake of breath. Had she touched a nerve? Good.
He suddenly sat forward, and drummed his fingers against the notepad on the desk. The noise echoed around the office, bouncing off the suffocating tension that hung in the air.
He finally spoke, weariness tinging his words. 'I have taken on this job only to discover the hospital has a huge financial deficit. If this community is to continue to have a hospital we have to rein in spending. I'm sure you agree with me that the loss of the hospital would be tragique.'
'Absolutely.' At least they agreed on one thing.
'You seem so certain in your belief that the Outreach Midwifery program is vital to the women of this community. I am yet to be convinced.' A look of irony crossed his face. 'However, as you so eloquently point out I am yet to fully investigate the program.' He leaned forward, his elbows resting on the desk. 'So, as from today, your program is under review.'
Charlie's coffee turned to acid in her stomach. 'Exactly what does 'review' mean?'
He raised his brows. 'It means detailed reports, regular meetings and close supervision.'
Her heart banged against her ribs in agitation. 'And who is going to work the crazy hours I do and supervise me?'
His dark gaze found hers, creating a hypnotic effect. 'Moi. I will.'
Her breath stalled in her throat, trapping all words.
'Believe me, Charlotte, this is the best way. By the time I have finished examining this programme I'll know everything there is to know. And then I will make my decision about the future of community midwifery. This is a fair solution, is it not?'
Her heart pounded. Her brain struggled railing against this pronouncement. Hating his logic and yet knowing that it was eminently fair. 'I…yes, I guess it is.'
'Bien. I look forward to seeing you at nine tomorrow morning.' He gave a quiet yet determined smile. 'Unless of course there is bébé between now and then.'
'You wish to be called at two am?' Disbelief laced her words.
'Certainement. My secretary will give you my pager and mobile phone number.'
He stood up, his height unfolding and filling the room.
She stood as well, trying to match his power play.
He walked around the desk, his arm extended as if to say 'after you.'
She walked toward the door, her mind racing, trying to anticipate his next move.
'Until tomorrow, Charlotte.'
Suddenly she was on the other side of the door facing the severe glare of the secretary. Frustration collided with admiration. She'd just been dismissed in the most charming possible way.
She was on the back foot. She hated that.
From "The French Doctor's Midwife Bride" by Fiona Lowe
Mills and Boon Medical Romance July 2007
ISBN: 13 978 0 263 85251 6 Copyright: © 2007 Fiona Lowe
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
For more romance information surf to: www.millsandboon.com.au.