Maid for the South Pole - Demelza Carlton - ebook
Opis

Hotel maid turned meteorologist Audra is determined to make her mark on the world without a man getting in her way. Seizing the chance to join an expedition to the South Pole, she thinks all her Christmases have come at once. Until she returns to the research station and meets her new roommate. When Jean-Pierre's wife broke his heart, he swore off women, vowing to spend his holidays in Antarctica for one final season. He didn't count on sharing a room with an Australian woman who hates him for something he can't even remember. Will the heat of a South Pole summer be enough to thaw two icy hearts?

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Contents

Title Page

Copyright

Free books

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Part 35

Part 36

Part 37

Part 38

Part 39

Part 40

Part 41

Part 42

Part 43

Part 44

Part 45

Part 46

Part 47

Part 48

Part 49

Part 50

Part 51

Part 52

Part 53

Part 54

Part 55

Part 56

Part 57

Part 58

Part 59

Part 60

Part 61

Part 62

Part 63

Part 64

Author's Note

About the Author

Maid for the South Pole

Demelza Carlton

Book 7 in the Romance Island Resort series

Can you resist summer love in the snow with penguins?Hotel maid turned meteorologist Audra is determined to make her mark on the world without a man getting in her way. Seizing the chance to join an expedition to the South Pole, she thinks all her Christmases have come at once.Until she returns to the research station and meets her new roommate.When Jean-Pierre's wife broke his heart, he swore off women, vowing to spend his holidays in Antarctica for one final season. He didn't count on sharing a room with an Australian woman who hates him for something he can't even remember.Will the heat of a South Pole summer be enough to thaw two icy hearts?

DEDICATION

This one's for Opa, in the hope that he has enough time left to read this.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 Demelza Carlton

Lost Plot Press

All rights reserved.

Click here to get started – http://subscribe.demelzacarlton.com/RIR8

ONE

Nothing brought a smile to Jean's face like penguins. There was just something about them that could make anyone happy. Here on Heard Island, there were hundreds of them, waddling around Wharf Point without a care in the world. Triumph exploded in Jean's chest. He'd found them! Now, all he needed to do was find a high vantage point where he could see if there were any babies in the colony.

A moss-covered mound looked to be the highest point on this part of the Azorella Peninsula, so Jean scrambled across the dark volcanic rock toward his own, personal grassy knoll. Once he reached the top, he'd see...

The cushion plant beneath his feet compressed under his weight.

Sinkhole.

One word was all Jean had time to think before the fragile net gave way. Falling into darkness. One second. Two. Three? Was it eternity, or did it just feel that way?

The impact jarred every bone in his body, forcing the breath from his lungs. He lifted his head to watch the cloud of condensation whoosh upwards, a smoke signal to mark his location, but there was no sky to be seen above. The traitorous bush had covered its trap, Jean realised. Damn Australian territory, even if it was part of Antarctica and not the Aussie mainland. Even the plants were trying to kill him.

But he was a goddamn Canadian biologist, and not city-bred, either. He'd grown up next door to the Arctic and he wasn't about to be outsmarted by a plant on the wrong side of the world.

Jean extended his arms, reaching for a wall or a rock or something else to haul himself up on. He couldn't have fallen that far. A couple of metres, maybe. No more than three.

His fingers touched cool, smooth stone. Huh. He must've lost his glove on the way down. Just one, though – he still wore the other one. He ran his bare hand over the rock, looking for a ledge or bulge big enough to wrap his hand around to take his weight. He found a hole big enough to fit his whole hand inside, then another, and that was enough.

Under his breath, he muttered, "One, two, thr...ungh!"

The moment he put weight on his leg, pain knifed through him.

Much like space, in a lava tube on Heard Island, no one could hear you scream.

Breathing hard, Jean leaned on his other leg instead.

This time, he didn't get to scream. The pain was so bad, it stole all of his senses as it knocked him out.

TWO

Audra had never been so exhausted in her life, so naturally, she wanted to dance on the ceiling. She wasn't sure how many people had actually seen the South Pole, but now she was one of them. It felt...exhilarating. Hence the need to dance as soon as she could shut the door of her tiny room, where no one would see. The buzzing in her blood was better than sex. Everyone had sex.

Except...her room wasn't hers. Well, it was, but it was someone else's too. The vacant bunk she'd considered her reading lounge was now occupied by a girl with a round, smiling face. "Hi, hi! Finally we meet. I'm Shelley! You must be Audra. The guys told me it's your first trip and you've already seen the pole. Three winters I've spent here and my first expedition out there, I failed the medical and you got to go instead."

"I'm sure there'll be others. Some of the equipment wasn't up to spec, so when the right stuff arrives next summer, a team will need to return." Audra couldn't keep the longing out of her tone. Of course she wanted to be part of it. Who wouldn't? But she was only covering Shelley's maternity leave, after all, and it looked like her time was up. "How's your little girl, anyway?"

Now it was Shelley's turn to look wistful. "She said her first word the day before I left: Mum. It killed me to leave her, but Ross and I agreed that he'd get to be a stay-at-home dad with her while I went off to work. God, I hope he can handle it." She waved at their cramped room. "This'll seem like a holiday in comparison, though."

They both laughed.

"Sorry, you probably want a minute to yourself after all that time in the field. Video calls home and such. I'll go take a shower before the boys use all the water." Shelley grabbed her towel and slung it over her shoulder.

"Watch out for the shower monitor. He's a big Russian bloke named Boris. If you try to take a shower even a second longer than three minutes, he'll bust in and carry you off for torture and whatever else Russians do to traitors. Apparently."

Shelley's face fell. "You mean Bruce left? He's the best plumber on the continent!"

Audra couldn't hide her smile. "No, but he did spend a whole day booming at me in a thick Russian accent until one of the other guys ratted him out. I've never forgotten to time my showers since."

Shelley laughed and headed for the showers.

Alone, Audra decided dancing was probably a bad idea, so she dusted off her laptop and woke it up. Calling home could wait until tomorrow, but she could catch up on news and email in the meantime. Hundreds of unread emails awaited her, so she sighed and sat down to sort the spam from the...sixty-three emails from Jay? More?

Huh. She hadn't heard a peep from him since she left Romance Island, and she never expected to, either. Well...okay, for the first week she'd kind of hoped, and maybe for the second one, too, especially after she'd sent him the photo of them together, and the third week...but by the time she'd boarded the Aurora Australis, she'd barely checked her email at all. And not because of the restricted internet access, either.

So why on Earth was he sending her thrice-daily emails? Curiosity won and she opened the most recent one.

WHY WON'T YOU ANSWER MY MESSAGES?

Another:

WE WERE MADE FOR EACH OTHER. WHERE ARE YOU?

That popped up a lot, though the wording varied a bit, depending on the day.

After the first couple dozen, Audra skimmed to the first one he'd sent.

I'M HOME. WHERE ARE YOU, BABY? WHY AREN'T YOU HERE?

Had he completely forgotten about her new job? The reason she was leaving the island? Maybe he was drunk. It still didn't explain why he thought she should be at the resort.

Exasperated, Audra typed a response:

"I'm at Davis as one of the Antarctic meteorology team this summer. I just got back from an expedition to Dome Argus and the South Pole. It was awesome, thanks for asking." She hit send and scrolled through her emails, looking for anything from her family and friends.

Her laptop chimed, signalling that someone wanted to start a video call. Jay, who else?

She hadn't had a shower in days and her hair had been mashed under an assortment of hats and hoods for weeks. One look at her would scare him off for life. Reluctantly, she allowed the call to connect.

"Where the fuck are you really?"

Jay Felix was all charm.

Audra took a deep breath. She'd thought the soundproofing at the resort was bad. Here at Davis, if she raised her voice, the whole building would hear. "Hi, Jay. It's lovely to see you again. It's been months, I'm sure, though I gather you've been busy with your band's tour. I've been very busy, too. First training for my first Antarctic expedition, and then living and working out here for the summer. There are real penguins here, not just a jetty named after one. I must say, the jetty smells better, though."

"Why aren't you here?" Judging by his slurred voice, sobriety had deserted him several hours ago.

"I don't work at Romance Island Resort any more, remember?"

"No. Was it because of me? Did you quit because of me? I told you I was coming back, babe. I own the hotel. Had to come back."

He hadn't known? Then what had he meant that night when they'd... "That last night we spent together. When you answered the door, you said I was just in time and I'd left it until the last minute. You knew it was my last day and I was flying out to Hobart on Monday."

"No, I fucking didn't. You never told me that!"

Audra mulled this over. "So let me get this straight. You spent the night with me, made all sorts of promises you had no intention of keeping, then flew out the next morning to record your new album and go on tour. All the while, not saying a single thing to me. Not a word, a phone call, an email, nothing, until now, when you're demanding to know why I'm not waiting for you with open arms after you deserted me?"

"I didn't desert you! I had to work!"

"And who doesn't? When I got offered the chance of a lifetime, a stint in Antarctica, I took it. I'd have been crazy not to. Especially after dealing with VIPs who threw tantrums, painted the walls with ketchup, and slept with anything in a skirt." She'd never get the image of Jay and Penny out of her mind. It would scar her for life.

"Ooh, is that your boyfriend? Hi, I'm Shelley, Audra's roommate." Shelley smiled and waved over Audra's shoulder before throwing herself on her bed. "Don't mind me."

"Yes, I'm Audra's – " Jay began.

Audra cut in, "No, he's not my boyfriend. Never was, never will be. He used to be my boss." Though it was on the tip of her tongue, she didn't add that he'd once been the bane of her existence. It didn't seem fair to kick a man when he was down.

"What about all the time we spent together?" Jay exploded. "Are you honestly saying everything – the time, the incredible sex – meant nothing to you?"

Audra heard Shelley laugh softly, then whisper an apology.

"It was one night, Jay. One night that you made astonishingly clear meant nothing to you, when you climbed into a helicopter the morning after, then ignored me for months while wrapping yourself in different girls every night. Do you even remember how many? I mean, you did twenty, thirty shows at least, and I know for a fact that you took half a dozen girls back to your hotel room after the Perth concert. Add that all up and I don't need to be a statistician to know you've probably slept with over a hundred women, while you didn't even have time to send me an email saying hi." She drew in a deep, shaky breath. "If it weren't for the other girls, maybe I'd be interested if we were to meet again. But right now, if you showed up in the snow outside my door, I'd kick you right back to the boat that brought your sorry arse to Antarctica."

His eyes got that kicked puppy look that a dog gets when...Audra had never kicked a puppy, but she figured hurt and betrayal and big, wide eyes would feature in there somewhere.

"But...I could fly there now. We can talk about this. I could take you home and...I want to spend the rest of my life with you. How about it? A fresh start with just you and me. I'll marry you if that's what you want. No other women ever again. I swear." That same beseeching look she'd surrendered to before. Never again.

"Jay, you barely know me. Normal people don't marry strangers. Especially not strangers who've slept with a hundred other people in less than six months!"

"Please, baby, give me time to book a flight and – "

Audra's heart nearly broke at the pain in his voice, but somehow she mentally sticky-taped it back together and said, "No. I ship out in a couple of days. Even if you did fly here, I'd be gone, on my way back to Melbourne to finish my training. I told you before, if you want a girl to love you, you have to be more than a rock star. Go back to the hotel library and do some more research. You'll see what happens to guys who cheat. They don't get the girl, that's for sure." She sighed. "I'm sure she's out there, Jay – the right girl for you. But I'm not her. So good night...and good luck." Before he could say anything, she ended the call and slammed her laptop closed.

Shelley whispered, "Was that really Jay Felix?"

Audra nodded.

"And you used to work for him?"

Another nod.

Shelley cleared her throat. "He's always had a reputation for...well, you know. But I've always wondered if it was true or just something the girls made up. What's he like in bed?" In alarm, she added, "I'm only asking in the name of scientific inquiry, of course. Happily married and stored in this fridge and all."

Audra smiled faintly. "Unbelievable."

Shelley inhaled sharply. "I knew it! Wait, in a good way or a bad way?"

"Both."

They both laughed, but Audra's heart wasn't in it any more.

Shelley was sensitive enough to stop. "He seems really into you, despite all his obvious failings. Is there any chance you and him might...you know...reconnect? In some way?"

Audra shook her head. "If he grew up a bit, and maybe turned into a good man instead of a spoiled, selfish arsehole...maybe. But I think hell will freeze over first." She glanced out the window and noticed snow flurrying past the glass, dancing in an evening breeze that she'd never grow tired of watching.

Unseen by anyone, her tears for Jay dropped onto the windowsill. One, two, three, four...the beats of a song that only her heart knew.

"Audra?" The deep voice belonged to Bruce. "I need your help."

Audra wiped her eyes. It was silly to cry over a rock star. Especially if someone needed her. "Mmm?"

"You need to pack your things. The Aurora Australis is here early. There was an emergency at Heard Island, so they detoured to pick up a man who was injured. The doctor's on standby at Casey, but they want someone with medical training to travel with him. Seeing as you're shipping out anyway, you just got volunteered."

No time for tears. Audra had a job to do.

THREE

Freezing water lapping at his legs dragged Jean out of the darkness. He was already waist deep and it was rising. Darkness didn't help him work out where he was, until he remembered the cushion plant trying to kill him.

He reached under the surface, feeling far enough down his legs to determine that they were both broken. Bits bent in ways that they shouldn't be capable of being bent.

Up was out, then, if he couldn't use his legs to climb to the top of the sinkhole. That meant he'd have to follow the lava tube to wherever it went. Wherever the water had come in. Quickly, too, because he already couldn't feel his legs. That's because of the water temperature, he told himself, willing his mind away from what else that could mean. More bones broken than just his legs. If his back was broken and he couldn't walk again, there were other bits of his anatomy that wouldn't work, either.

Dairine. She'd never forgive him if he came back and it was his fault they couldn't have kids. He'd promised to give her children.

If he didn't make it home safely, she'd kill him.

No. He'd never broken a promise to her yet, and this wouldn't be the first.

Jean fought to keep his breathing steady. No panicking. He had to get home to Dairine, which meant getting out of this hole.

The camp wasn't far. He'd seen the penguins from the shore, damn it, on the far side of Atlas Cove. All he had to do was get to where the geologists could see him from camp. He was wearing a standard issue, fire-engine red jacket, for fuck's sake. They couldn't miss him.

Now to get out of this hole.

Jean closed his eyes, trying to trace the sound of the waves. He rolled over onto his belly, propping himself up with his arms so his head was above water. Like a seal. He snorted. He wished there was a seal in the cave with him, to show him the way out.

Without a seal, he did the best he could, angling his body so the wavelets broke against his chest. Fuck, but it was freezing. The sooner he was out of the water, the better.

Jean dragged himself along the cave floor, first one arm, then the other in endless repetition until the ground dropped away and a wave broke over his head. He surfaced, spluttering, wishing he'd thought to bring a radio with him. He could've called for help and told the rest of the team he'd run into trouble a few minutes' walk from camp. Sure, he'd be a laughing stock for the rest of the expedition, but he'd be a warm laughing stock.

Another wave topped him and Jean went under. This time, he didn't surface straight away, because he thought he saw light ahead. He squinted, trying to focus, to no avail. It was a light of some kind, all right, but the rock in front of him told him he'd have to swim underwater to reach it.

He'd need a decent lungful of air for that.

Jean lifted his head above the water, paddling with his hands to stay up.

"I'm coming, Dairine," he swore, gulping a huge breath before he dived.

He tried to kick with his legs, but the damn things wouldn't work. He breast-stroked like a man possessed, pushing the water behind him as he paddled toward the light.

Jean's lungs burned, but he swam on. He angled upward, praying he'd reach the surface soon. He could see his hands in front of him now – surely he'd cleared the cave. Was he out, or just in a larger cavern?

Wind froze the water in his hair as Jean's head emerged from the sea. He sucked in a desperate breath, then another, as he took stock of his surroundings.

Oh, fuck. He'd surfaced in the cove, twenty metres from the far shore. He had more swimming to do.

His arms were all he had, so no way in hell was he doing an Australian crawl. The near-freezing water was warmer than the air temperature.

Gritting his teeth, Jean set a course directly across the cove toward camp. He tried not to think of leopard seals and orcas and anything else that lived in these waters. For the first time, he cursed being a biologist who knew this shit. At least there weren't any sharks, unless global warming had finally tempted them south. That would be the ultimate insult for a climate change biologist – to be eaten by something migrating with the warmer temperatures.

"Not today," Jean swore. "I'm coming, Dairine. I'm coming home."

His arms ached, more and more leaden with every stroke, until his hand bumped against something harder than water.

Please don't let it be an orca, he prayed, glancing down. A wave carried him further up the shore until his whole body rested on rock. Sharp chunks of volcanic rock, but right now, it was the most beautiful beach he'd seen this week. He barely felt it through the numbing cold.

Jean lifted his head. The camp was just ahead. All the buildings, where someone should be preparing dinner while everyone else relaxed after a hard day in the field.

The buildings were there, sure, but no one was in sight. Maybe they were all inside, he reasoned. A team meeting, or something. Someone would be out soon. They'd see him and carry him to one of the huts so they could help him.

He counted to five hundred as he waited, but there was no movement at all. Had they decided to sleep aboard the research vessel, instead, then?

Jean groaned as he stiffly rolled onto his back, propping himself up on his elbows to peer out into the cove for the ship.

Which wasn't there.

"Fuck."

While he'd been unconscious in his hole, the geologists had taken the ship out for a survey. It might be weeks before they returned. By that time, the leopard seals would've eaten his remains.

"Not going to happen," he grunted, flipping onto his belly. He'd crawl back to camp if he had to, and radio those single-minded scientists to come back and get him.

Fixing his gaze on the nearest hut – the decades-old, round, red emergency shelter that they'd dubbed the Apple – Jean stretched his arm out to pull him a foot closer to the forbidden fruit. Two broken legs were a fucking emergency.

One arm, pull, then the other, pull, reach for another handhold, pull, don't stop, reach...

"I'm coming, Dairine. I'm coming," he repeated. His wife's name was his mantra. He had to survive for her.

His fingers scrabbled at the blood-coloured hut. He nearly cried. All he had to do was reach the handle three feet above his head and pull open the door.

Eternities passed as Jean dragged his exhausted body to the side, his arm muscles screaming as he reached up and up until his fingers closed on the handle. When the door swung open, he felt a tear trickle from his eye before it froze on his cheek.

Fucking Antarctica. If it weren't for the penguins, he wouldn't be here.

Jean crawled inside the hut, then hooked his fingers through the vent at the bottom of the door to pull it shut behind him. Out of the wind, but not out of the woods. He struggled out of his coat and all the layers under it until he peeled his soaked thermal shirt from his chest. He was bare for only a moment before he grabbed a musty blanket from the bunk and wrapped it around himself. He turned a second blanket into a cape across his shoulders, hoping to keep in what precious little remained of his body heat.

His sodden pants would be another story, he knew. Once feeling returned to his legs, the agony that he'd felt before would return in full force, and he might pass out again. He had to radio for help first.

Jean dragged the survival kit onto the floor and pried off the lid. He had to rummage through the box until he found the radio, before rummaging some more for some batteries.

His hands shook as he shoved the batteries into the back of the radio. He knew shivering was better than his body not reacting to the cold at all, but it still made it hard to call for help. Finally, he managed to close the little plastic cover. Offering a silent prayer to anyone who was listening that the batteries weren't dead, Jean flicked the switch.

Blessed static washed over him. The best sound in the world.

Jean pressed the TALK button. "This is Jean Pennant on Heard Island. I have a medical emergency and require immediate assistance from anyone who can hear me. Repeat, need medevac from Heard Island. If you can hear me..." He repeated the message and waited.

He eased off his supposedly waterproof pants. Oh, fuck. It looked like he had five knees. Definitely not natural. He wasn't sure if he wanted to peel off the thermals he wore underneath. He couldn't see any blood, which was a blessing, but there still could be internal bleeding. He had to...

Oh, fuck, that hurt.

No response from the radio.

He switched to another channel and tried again.

"This is Jean-Pierre Pennant on Heard Island, requesting immediate assistance...."

More static.

Next channel.

"Hello, this is Jean-Pierre Pennant..."

Another channel.

"This is an SOS to anyone who can hear me. This is Jean-Pierre Pennant at Heard Island – "

The static crackled and beeped. "You're late for your twelve-hourly check-in, Pennant."

Oh, thank fuck. "Yeah, about that. I fell down a hole. I may have broken a few bones."

"You're in luck. We're still at Spit Bay. Dismantling the huts took longer than we expected. There's a couple of elephant seals who aren't helping. Could've done with your help charming them."

Jean coughed out a laugh. "It was a Weddell seal that fancied me, dude. A baby one. It was cute and it was curious, and it liked the taste of my boots. The sort of thing you want to cuddle. Not an elephant seal."

"You're the biologist. Are you sure you're injured, if you're laughing and trying to teach?"

Feeling was returning to Jean's legs now he was out of the cold, and it fucking hurt. "I've got two broken legs, man. It's bad."

Jean heard swearing before it was replaced by static. He waited a few seconds before he ventured, "You still there?"

The crackling ceased. "Yeah. We'll be there as soon as we can. Where are you?"

"The emergency Apple. The one we're not supposed to use."

More static, before the voice came back. "Pennant? One of the guys here said there should be a first aid kit in there. The supplies might be a bit out of date, but it should be fully stocked. He said he saw some of the really good meds in there. Stuff we're not allowed to carry now, but were fine back when the camp was constructed. Should be unopened. Can you check? He says it's under one of the bunks."

Jean felt around in the cavity under the nearest bed and was rewarded by the feel of a metal box. "Yeah, got it."

He flipped it open and took stock of the supplies. Enough gauze to wrap a mummy, with enough alcohol wipes to embalm one. And under that... Jean gave a low whistle. "Shit. Morphine."

"Captain thinks we'll be under way in a couple of hours. Can you wait that long, Pennant?"

Jean peeled open a syringe and plunged the needle into the morphine bottle, carefully drawing out a dose that matched the instructions. He swabbed his arm and took a deep breath. Just a scratch, he told himself.

Fuck, he hated needles. But this one...would be worth it. He gritted his teeth as he depressed the plunger, unleashing icy oblivion into his veins.

"Pennant?"

"Yeah, man. I found the meds. Good shit, man. Good shit."

Jean gritted his teeth and shucked off the rest of his clothes. Oh, his legs were seriously fucked up. He tucked a couple more blankets around himself, hiding his legs from sight. But they didn't hurt any more, and that's what mattered.

No. What mattered was Dairine. Getting home to Dairine.

Jean lay down, drifting off on a morphine cloud. No wonder they locked this shit up.

FOUR

"Hi, I'm Doug. Are you the nurse?" a harried-looking crewman asked.

Audra hesitated. "No. I'm a meteorologist, but I've trained as a surgical assistant in case there's a medical emergency."

"That's better than the rest of us. We've got first aid and that's it. I'll take you to your patient." Doug reached for her bag and Audra let him take it. "This way."

She followed him to a part of the ship she hadn't seen before, but then, she'd only been aboard it for two weeks on her voyage south. Not long enough to injure herself so badly she'd needed medical assistance, anyway. Admittedly, she'd worked at Romance Island Resort for months before one of the other maids had attacked her. Audra rubbed the back of her head in memory of where Penny had hit her hard enough to knock her out. It was nice to have a job where violence or guys who pressured girls into sex weren't part of a normal day's work. Antarctica was so...civilised.

Or maybe it was because she was officially a meteorologist here, not a maid.

"We talked to the doc at Casey Station as soon as we picked this guy up. She said to give him some intravenous medication as soon as he wakes up. I wrote down the dosage for you and everything." Doug ushered her into sickbay and grabbed the patient chart at the end of the curtained-off bed. "Here."

Audra scanned the sheet. "He's on morphine? What's wrong with him?"

"Some pretty nasty fractures. Want to see?" Doug reached for the blanket.

Audra shook her head. "No! I'm good, thanks. I just need to put an IV in, right?"

"That's what the doc said. There's a phone there, and we have a videoconferencing hookup here, if you want to call her to check." Doug hefted her bag onto his shoulder. "Do you need anything out of this, or do you want me to take it to your bunkroom?"

"That'd be great, thanks," Audra said, still puzzled by the patient's notes. "When did you give him his last dose of medication?"

Doug paused in the doorway. "Oh, we didn't. He did."

"He did?" Audra turned her gaze on the patient. "What is he, SAS? Who breaks bones and then administers their own first aid?"

Doug shrugged. "Nah, not SAS. He's American. They have Special Forces or something like that. He dosed himself, but he smashed the bottle, so we don't know how much he took. That's why the doc said to wait until he wakes up, so you can ask him. Good luck." He left.

Wonderful. Her first real patient was a war hero, and she got to stab him with a needle. No wonder they wanted him awake first. God only knew what the American military trained their soldiers to do to someone stupid enough to stab them in their sleep. Nothing good, that's for sure.

She sighed, picked up the phone and called Casey.

Ten minutes later, she ended the call, none the wiser. Yes, the man had radioed for help. When the ship arrived, he was unconscious in his hut, lying beside a patch of damp carpet and a smashed morphine bottle. No one knew how much he'd taken, or when, or whether he'd taken more than one dose. So she had to sit and wait.

Audra wished she'd brought a book.

Sighing, she settled in a chair beside the mystery man's bed.

Unlike most of the men at Davis Station, he hadn't grown a beard. The dark stubble across his face said he'd been cleanshaven before his accident. His hair was shaved short, too, like a military regulation haircut.

Audra pulled back the sheet that covered his torso, baring his chest and his upper arms. Very well-muscled arms, like he might have quit the military, but he still trained daily. Now she understood why no one could say how many doses he'd taken – the man's statuesque body was covered in bruises, hiding the injection site.

"That'll teach you to wrestle with elephant seals," Audra remarked, trying to work out which arm was less bruised, and easier to find a vein in. She patted his hand gently. "You won't do it again, though, I bet."

He didn't even twitch under her touch. Maybe he was too deeply under with the morphine he'd taken. In that case, perhaps she should try to slide a cannula into a vein while he was unconscious and wouldn't feel it. Especially as this was her first.

Audra took a deep, shaky breath. She had to do this. But first, she'd just check the IV stand, to make sure everything was hooked up properly ready to go, with the correct dosage programmed in. Yes, of course it was. She just had to stick a needle through his skin, tape it in place, and connect the IV line. Simple.

She marched over to the sink and washed her hands with particular care. He wasn't going to get an infection from her.

"Please don't try to kill me for this," she said in a tone she hoped sounded calm, "but I'm going to place a cannula in your arm so we can give you medication to help with the pain. It might hurt a bit at first, and if it does, you just tell me, okay?"

No answer. Did a snore count? Audra didn't think so.

She slipped a tourniquet around his arm, tightening it until it cut off circulation and made his veins stand out. She continued to tell him what she was doing, though she knew he couldn't possibly hear her. If anything, it kept her from throwing the needle down and saying she couldn't do this. She'd trained to look at weather and wind and storms, not bodies.

Yes, she had trained for this, Audra reminded herself. An emergency surgical assistant, that's what she was, qualified to stab people in an emergency. And it was.

"You might feel a sharp scratch," she murmured, biting her lip as she angled the needle.

Just like she'd practised. Just like she'd practised. Just like...

The needle pierced the skin and the clear reservoir at the top of the cannula filled with blood. Was that supposed to happen? She racked her brain and couldn't remember.

That tiny bit of blood didn't matter, she decided, swallowing. She finished inserting the cannula, removed the needle bit and taped it all off.

"There. When you wake up, I'll be able to give you your medicine right away," Audra said, lifting her head to smile at the unconscious man.

Blue eyes regarded her. Not unconscious any more. Had he been watching her all this time?

"I...um...didn't realise you were awake. I hope I didn't hurt you," she said. "Look, you were my first, but it's better than waiting until we reach a proper doctor at Casey. At least now you'll be all right for pain relief and stuff. If it knocks you out like the last dose did, you'll be home before you know it."

"Home," he said indistinctly, like he was drunk. Or drugged, which of course he was. "Darling, I'm home." At least, that's what she thought he'd said.

Audra didn't have time to think before he grabbed her, wrapping both arms around her so she couldn't escape. He sure was strong for a man lying in a hospital bed. He pulled her closer, forcing her head down. Her lips met his, and while she pressed hers firmly together, his tongue darted out of his open mouth to pry a way in.

"Darling, it's baby-making time," he said, more clearly, dragging her forward so she nearly fell on top of him on the bed. It took her a moment to realise that was what he intended.

Audra reached behind her, groping for the IV stand. If she could attach the IV line to his arm, maybe it would knock him out again. Soon. It had to be soon, because he was holding her so tightly it was getting hard to breathe.

"No. Let me go!" she insisted.

"Baby-making time, darling," he insisted, moving in for another kiss.

There! Her hand found the table where she'd left the medical supplies, and her fingers closed around something cold and hard. Audra jabbed the needle into his arm and the madman released his grip just enough for her to squirm free.

"Darling!" he protested.

"I'm not your darling," Audra snapped, brandishing the needle.

The man struggled to get up, but when he did, his legs bent...wrong. Broken, Audra realised. Both of them. No wonder he'd taken so much morphine.

He made a sound that strangled in his throat before he passed out, presumably from the pain.

"Now, do you want pain relief, or don't you?" Audra asked.

No response. He could be pretending, though.

"You try that again and I'm going to let you go without any drugs until we get to Casey," she told him, reaching for the IV line. She edged closer to him, ready to drop the line and run if she had to, but he didn't move. She forced herself to take her eyes off his face to connect the line to the cannula, then felt her breath hiss out as it was done without him waking. Maybe he truly was unconscious.

Still, she wasn't taking any chances. Audra scooted back out of his reach to turn on the pump.

The man might be worse than Jay Felix when it came to demanding sex, but he hadn't grabbed her again, so she owed him his medicine.

"Is he awake?" Doug appeared in the doorway.

"Not any more," Audra replied. She considered telling Doug about what the man had done, but decided it didn't matter. Besides, what if Doug didn't believe her? She hardly believed it herself. Talking about it wouldn't help her forget, like she wanted to. "He roused for a bit, but he's out again. The doc at Casey said to keep him medicated until we reach the station. Probably a good idea." Then he couldn't grab anyone else. She peeled off her gloves and threw them in the bin.

"Aren't you going to do that?" Doug blurted out.

And risk rape? Not bloody likely. "Anyone with first aid training can do it. Just hook up the next bag when the pump beeps. Easy." Audra started scrubbing her hands in the sink. She wanted to wash her whole body.

"Thanks, then. I'm sure Sean here would thank you, too, if he could," Doug said. "Or his next of kin will, when we get hold of her. We haven't been able to reach his wife."

Audra felt bile rise up in her throat. Lovely. Not only had Sean tried force her into bed with him, but he wanted to cheat on his wife. The arsehole deserved both broken legs.

"Where's my room?" Audra asked, not wanting to discuss the patient any more.

"Oh, I stuck you in Bunkroom Three. Figured you're here first, so you get the porthole. The staff at Casey can fight over the rest." Doug grinned.

Audra shut off the tap and wiped her hands dry. Shit, they were shaking. "Thanks. Hey, do you have anything to drink on this ship? I could really do with one."

"Sure do. What's your poison?"

Audra wet her lips. "What've you got?"

She followed Doug out to the dining hall. In two days, she could hand Sean over to the doctor at Casey, happy in the hope of never seeing him again.

FIVE

When Jean awoke, the first thing he became aware of was the whistling wind outside. He prayed that the ship would make it through the storm to retrieve him before the morphine ran out. There hadn't been much in the bottle and he'd surely need another dose soon. Death wasn't an option. He had to get home to Dairine.

Jean pried his eyes open. Instead of the foam-insulated domed ceiling of the hut, he saw the cable-covered curve inside a cargo plane. Home. He was going home.

The next time he opened his eyes, the ceiling was flat, white and much closer. Disinfectant seared his nostrils and something behind him beeped. Hospital, his fuzzy mind told him.