Flirting With The Socialite Doc
The new doc in town…
Accepting a GP sting in a remote Australian town seems like the perfect opportunity for Lady Isabella Courtney to mend her broken heart. But keeping a low profile is easier said than done when she mistakes the—incredibly hot—local cop for a stripper!
Zach Fletcher is back in Jerringa Ridge to take care of his injured father. And new doc Izzy is a delicious distraction he doesn’t need. But something about her gets under her skin, and soon Zach finds himself flirting with trouble…!
An Excerpt from Flirting With The Socialite Doc
Even the distance of more than seventeen thousand kilometres that Izzy had put between herself and her best friend was not going to stop another Embarrassing Birthday Episode from occurring.
‘I’ve got the perfect present winging its way to you,’ Hannah crowed over the phone from London. ‘You’re going to get the biggest surprise. Be prepared. Be very prepared.’
Izzy gave a mental groan. Her closest friend from medical school had a rather annoying habit of choosing the most inappropriate and, on occasion, excruciatingly embarrassing birthday gifts. ‘I know you think I’m an uptight prude but do you have to rub my nose in it every year? I’m still blushing from that grotesque sex toy you gave me last year.’
Hannah laughed. ‘This is so much better. And it will make you feel a little less lonely. So how are you settling in? What’s it like out there?’
‘Out there’ was Jerringa Ridge and about as far away from Izzy’s life back in England as it could be, hot and dry with sunlight that wasn’t just bright but violent. Unlike other parts of New South Wales, which had suffered unusually high levels of flooding, it hadn’t rained, or at least with any significance, in this district for months.
And it looked like it.
A rust-red dust cloud had followed her into town like a dervish and left a fine layer over her car, her clothes, and had somehow even got into the small cottage she’d been assigned for her four-week locum.
‘It’s hot. I swear I got sunburnt walking from the car to the front door.’ Izzy glanced down at the tiny white circle on her finger where her engagement ring had been for the last four years. Not sunburnt enough.
‘Have you met any of the locals yet?’
‘Just a couple of people so far,’ Izzy said. ‘The clinic receptionist, Margie Green, seems very nice, very motherly. She made sure the cottage was all set up for me with the basics. There’s a general store run by a husband and wife team—Jim and Meg Collis—who are very friendly too. And the guy who owns and operates the local pub—I think his name is Mike something or other—has organised a welcome-drink-cum-party for me for tomorrow night. Apparently the locals grab at any excuse to party so I didn’t like to say I’d prefer to lie low and find my feet first.’
‘Perfect timing,’ Hannah said. ‘At least you won’t be on your own on your birthday.’
On your own…
Izzy was still getting used to being single. She’d become so used to fitting in with Richard Remington’s life—his meticulously planned life—that it was taking her a little while to adjust. The irony was she had been the one to end things. Not that he’d been completely devastated or anything. He’d moved on astonishingly quickly and was now living with a girl ten years younger than he was who had been casually employed to hand around drinks at one of his parents’ soirees—another irony, as he had been so adamant about not moving in with Izzy while they’d been together.
This four weeks out at Jerringa Ridge—the first of six one-month locums she had organised in Australia—would give her the space to stretch her cramped wings, to finally fly free from the trappings and expectations of her aristocratic background.
Out here she wasn’t Lady Isabella Courtney with a pedigree that went back hundreds of years.
She was just another GP, doing her bit for the Outback.
‘Have you met the new doctor yet?’ Jim Collis asked, as Zach Fletcher came into the general store to pick up some supplies the following day.
‘Not yet.’ Zach picked up a carton of milk and checked the use-by date. ‘What’s he like?’
He turned from the refrigerated compartment with raised brows. ‘No kidding?’
‘You got something against women doctors?’ Jim asked.
‘Of course not. I just thought a guy had taken the post. I’m sure that’s what William Sawyer said before he went on leave.’
‘Yeah, well, it seems that one fell through,’ Jim said. ‘Dr Courtney stepped into the breach at the last minute. She’s from England. Got an accent like cut glass.’
Zach grunted as he reached for his wallet. ‘Hope she knows what she’s in for.’
Jim took the money and put it in the till. ‘Mike’s putting on a welcome do for her tonight at the pub. You coming?’
‘I’m on duty.’
‘Doesn’t mean you can’t pop in and say G’day.’
‘I’d hate to spoil the party by showing up in uniform,’ Zach said.
‘I don’t know…’ Jim gave him a crooked grin. ‘Some women really get off on a guy in uniform. You could get lucky, Fletch. Be about time. How long’s it been?’
Zach gave him a look as he stuffed his wallet in his back pocket. ‘Not interested.’
‘You’re starting to sound like your old man,’ Jim said. ‘How is he? You haven’t brought him into town for a while.’
‘He’s doing OK.’
Jim gave him a searching look. ‘Sure?’
Zach steeled his gaze. ‘Sure.’
‘Tell him we’re thinking of him.’
‘Will do.’ Zach turned to leave.
‘Her name is Isabella Courtney,’ Jim said. ‘Got a nice figure on her and pretty too, in a girl-next-door sort of way.’
‘Give it a break, Jim.’
‘I’m just saying…’
‘The tyres on your ute are bald.’ Zach gave him another hardened look as he shouldered open the door. ‘Change them or I’ll book you.’
Zach’s father Doug was sitting out on the veranda of Fletcher Downs homestead; the walking frame that had been his constant companion for the last eighteen months by his side. A quad-bike accident had left Doug Fletcher with limited use of his legs. It would have been a disaster for any person, but for a man who only knew how to work and live on the land it was devastating.
Seeing his strong and extremely physically active father struck down in such a way had been bad enough, but the last couple of months his dad had slipped into a funk of depression that made every day a nightmare of anguish for Zach. Every time he drove up the long drive to the homestead his heart rate would escalate in panic in case his dad had done something drastic in his absence, and it wouldn’t slow down again until he knew his father had managed to drag himself through another day.
Popeye, the toy poodle, left his father’s side to greet Zach with a volley of excited yapping. In spite of everything, he couldn’t help smiling at the little mutt. ‘Hey, little buddy.’ He crouched down and tickled the little dog’s soot-black fleecy ears. He’d chosen the dog at a rescue shelter in Sydney when he’d gone to bring his dad home from the rehabilitation centre. Well, really, it had been the other way around. Popeye had chosen him. Zach had intended to get a man’s dog, a kelpie or a collie, maybe even a German shepherd like the one he’d worked with in the drug squad, but somehow the little black button eyes had looked at him unblinkingly as if to say, Pick me!
‘Jim says hello,’ Zach said to his father as he stepped into the shade of the veranda.
His father acknowledged the comment with a grunt as he continued to stare out at the parched paddocks, which instead of being lime green with fresh growth were the depressing colour of overripe pears.
‘There’s a new doctor in town—a woman.’ Zach idly kicked a stray pebble off the floorboards of the veranda into the makeshift garden below. It had been a long time since flowers had grown there. Twenty-three years, to be exact. His English born and bred mother had attempted to grow a cottage garden similar to the one she had left behind on her family’s country estate in Surrey, but, like her, none of the plants had flourished in the harsh conditions of the Outback.
‘You met her?’ His father’s tone was flat, as if he didn’t care one way or the other, but at least he had responded. That meant it was a good day. A better day.
‘Not yet,’ Zach said. ‘I’m on duty this evening. I’m covering for Rob. I thought I’d ask Margie to come over and sit with—’
Doug’s mouth flattened. ‘How many times do I have to tell you I don’t need a bloody babysitter?’
‘You hardly see any of your old mates these days. Surely a quiet drink with—’
‘I don’t want people crying and wringing their hands and feeling sorry for me.’ Doug pulled himself to his feet and reached for his walker. ‘I’ll see people when I can drive into town and walk into the pub on my own.’
Zach watched as his father shuffled back down the other end of the veranda to the French doors that led to his bedroom. The lace curtains billowed out like a ghostly wraith as the hot, dry northerly wind came through, before the doors closed with a rattling snap that made every weatherboard on the old house creak in protest.
These days it seemed every conversation he had with his dad ended in an argument. Moving back home after five years of living in the city had seemed the right idea at the time, but now he wondered if it had made things worse. It had changed their relationship too much. He’d always planned to come back to the country and run Fletcher Downs once his father was ready to retire, but the accident had thrown everything out of order. This far out in the bush it was hard to get carers to visit, let alone move in, and without daily support his father would have no choice but to move off the property that had been in the family for seven generations.
The day Zach’s mother had left had broken his father’s heart; leaving Fletcher Downs before his time would rip it right out of his chest.
Popeye gave a little whine at Zach’s feet. He bent back down and the dog leapt up into his arms and proceeded to anoint his face with a frenzy of enthusiastic licks. He hugged the dog against his chest as he looked at the sunburnt paddocks. ‘We’ll get him through this, Popeye. I swear to God we will.’
The Drover’s Rest was nothing like the pubs at home but the warm welcome Izzy received more than made up for it. Mike Grantham, the proprietor, made sure she had a drink in her hand and then introduced her to everyone who came in the door. She had trouble remembering all of their names, but she was sure it wouldn’t be too long before she got to know them, as she was the only doctor serving the area, which encompassed over two hundred and fifty square kilometres.
Once everyone was inside the main room of the pub Mike tapped on a glass to get everyone’s attention. ‘A little bird told me it’s Dr Courtney’s birthday today, so let’s give her a big Jerringa Ridge welcome.’
The room erupted into applause and a loud and slightly off-key singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ as two of the local ladies came out with a cake they had made, complete with candles and Izzy’s name piped in icing over the top.
‘How did you know it was my birthday?’ Izzy asked Mike, once she’d blown out the candles.
‘I got a call yesterday,’ he said. ‘A friend of yours from the old country. She gave me the heads up. Said she had a surprise lined up. It should be here any minute now. Why don’t you go and wait by the door? Hey, clear a pathway! Let the doc get through.’
Izzy felt her face grow warm as she made her way through the smiling crowd of locals to the front door of the pub. Why couldn’t Hannah send her flowers or chocolate or champagne, like normal people did?
And then she saw it.
Tall. Muscled. Toned. Buffed. Clean-shaven. A jaw strong and square and determined enough to land a fighter jet on. A don’t-mess-with-me air that was like an invisible wall of glass around him. Piercing eyes that dared you to outstare him.
A male stripper.
Dressed as a cop.
I’m going to kill you, Hannah.
Izzy went into damage control. The last thing she wanted was her reputation ruined before she saw her first patient. She could fix this. It would be simple. Just because Hannah had paid the guy—the rather gorgeous hot guy—to come out all this way and strip for her, it didn’t mean she had to let him go through with it.
As long as he got his money, right?
‘I’m afraid there’s been a change of plan,’ she said, before the man could put a foot inside the pub. ‘I won’t be needing your…er…services after all.’
The man—who had rather unusual grey-blue eyes—looked down at her from his far superior height. ‘Excuse me?’
Izzy had to speak in a hushed tone as she could feel the crowd starting to gather behind her. ‘Please, will you just leave? I don’t want you here. It will spoil everything for me.’
One of the man’s eyebrows lifted quizzically. ‘Let me get this straight…you don’t want me to step inside the pub?’
‘No. Absolutely not.’ Izzy adopted an adamant stance by planting her hands on her hips. ‘And I strictly forbid you to remove any of your clothes in my presence. Do you understand?’
Something in those eyes glinted but the rest of his expression was still deadpan. ‘How about if I take off my hat?’
She let out a breath and dropped her arms back by her sides, clenching her hands to keep some semblance of control. She had to get rid of him. Now. ‘Are you listening to me? I don’t want you here.’
‘Last time I looked it was a free country.’
Izzy glowered at him. ‘Look, I know you get paid to do this sort of stuff, but surely you can do much better? Don’t you find this horribly demeaning, strutting around at parties, titillating tipsy women in a leather thong or whatever it is you get down to? Why don’t you go out and get a real job?’
‘I love my job.’ The glint in his eyes made its brief appearance again. ‘I’ve wanted to do it since I was four years old.’
‘Then go and do your job someplace else,’ she said from behind gritted teeth. ‘If you don’t leave right now, I’m going to call the police.’
‘He is the police,’ Mike called out from behind the bar.