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Dating The Millionaire Doctor(10)

By:Marion Lennox



'I'm fine,' she managed, feeling … discombobulated. She was covered in  bubbles and she was bright pink. Had she locked the door? She didn't  think so.

'Dinner's ready. I've fed Rusty, but do you want yours here or in the dining room?'

In here, she thought, but then maybe he had it with him. Maybe if she said the word the door would open.

'In the dining room,' she squeaked.

'You want a hand out of the bath?'

'No!'

She heard him chuckle. 'Hey, I'm a doctor, remember? I'm used to human bodies.'

'You're not my doctor, and you're not used to this one. Go away.'

'Yes, ma'am,' he said and there was silence-and she pulled herself  awkwardly out of the bath and thought maybe, just maybe, she should have  let him in.

Maybe she even wanted to.

Maybe she was losing her mind.



The meal was served on the terrace. Tori left Rusty on her bed, watching  the door-of course-and made her way cautiously through the dining room  and outside. And paused.

She could see the whole world.

The valley meandered downhill, following the ancient river path. Far in  the distance she could see the faint, flickering lights of the city at  dusk, but the foreground was simple, natural beauty.         

     



 

The dusk wasn't so deep that she couldn't see vines around the house,  lines and lines, reaching into the distance. Gum trees followed the  river-massive eucalypts with wide, spreading branches. For Tori, who'd  lived with blackened skeletons for so long, the sight was enough to make  her gasp.

'We thought you might have gone down the drain.'

It was Jake, rising to greet her. As well as Jake there was Rob and two  tiny, wrinkled women, smiling a welcome. One of the women had her arm in  a sling. She looked pale and strained, and she held her arm as if it  hurt. The other looked a little better but not much. Her forehead was  badly scarred, and she was glancing nervously at her companion as if she  was deeply worried about her. Fire victims both. Six months raw.

They were all six months raw.

'Do you need introductions?' Rob said easily, rising as well. She'd  recognised the women but was given introductions anyway. 'Tori, you must  know Miss Glenda Parling-postmistress to Combadeen until fifteen years  ago. And Mrs. Doreen Ryde? Doreen's Glenda's sister. You've already met  Mrs. Matheson, our own personal wizard-chef, and of course you know  Jake. Sit down and wrap yourself round some of Mrs. Matheson's cooking.'

Jake was holding her chair for her. There was nothing for her to do but sink onto the lovely upholstery-and sink into the night.

Jake and Rob were chatting, drawing the elderly ladies out between them.  They let her be, as if protecting her. The conversation had obviously  been going on before she got there. She was free to take in her  surroundings and the people around her. The lilt of soft music in the  background. The fragrance of … more gardenias?

And then the food arrived.

For six months she'd been living on snacks on the run. Whatever Jake and  Rob planned for this place, it was obvious snacks on the run were not  on the menu.

For all her life afterwards she remembered that meal.

First there were tiny garfish with slivers of lemon and curls of melting  butter, cooked to perfection and leaving her mouth exploding with  flavours of the sea.

She'd barely finished when fingers of crusty toast arrived, spread  thickly with a creamy trout pate, with caviar on the side. Around the  plate were tiny tomatoes, shreds of lettuce and curls of shallots. How  could a salad taste of sunshine when winter was barely over? The  greenhouse at the edge of the balcony gave her the clue.

The night grew more dream-like. Jake was filling her wineglass with  something white and cool and luscious. She was achingly conscious of his  presence, but he didn't speak to her and she didn't speak to him.  Conversation was happening around her but she felt as if she was in some  sort of bubble, free to be her with no intrusion.

Then came the lobster, and it took her breath away. It had to have been  caught this morning, she thought. She'd never tasted lobster like this.  She glanced up and Jake was watching her, enjoying her enjoyment. She  should think of something to say, but it was too wonderful and she left  him to think what he liked and went back to cracking a claw.

Or trying to crack a claw. She was struggling. Then Jake leaned over and  cracked it for her, expertly, as though he'd cracked a thousand claws  in his life. He tugged the flesh free and held it out. She almost took  it straight into her mouth-but what was she thinking? Somehow she pulled  back, took it in her fingers and slid it into her mouth herself. Almost  decorous, but not quite.

Jake smiled and she tried to smile back and felt … and felt …

She didn't know what she was feeling. She wasn't making any sense to herself.

Rob was at her elbow then, asking if she wanted her wine refilled. She  put her hand over her glass in a gesture of panic. Had she only had one  glass? She felt dizzy. Or maybe floating was a better word.

They were eating by candlelight now. The night sky was full of stars and  the moon was rising, vast and round. It was unseasonably warm, and the  warmth was adding to her feeling that she'd been transported to another  world.

Jake was watching her-she knew it-and that added to the floating sensation as well.

'You can't always eat like this,' she managed as the housekeeper put a parfait of raspberries and chocolate before her. Mmm.

'Jake said we were to pull out all the stops tonight,' Mrs. Matheson said.

'Though the food's wonderful all the time,' Glenda ventured. 'This place  is fabulous. Doreen and I keep coming here, whenever we need time out,  and it's like heaven. If only we could bring Pickles … '

'Pickles?'

'Our cat,' Glenda said, suddenly sad, and once again Tori noticed her  wince as she moved her hand. 'He was very traumatised during the fires,  but he's better now. We're all traumatised. We live in the relocatable  village while we rebuild, but we both have health problems. When things  get too much we put Pickles in the cattery and come here.'         

     



 

'Why can't you bring him?' she asked, trying to focus on something other  than the food, the night, Jake. Mrs. Matheson was setting down platters  of frosted grapes and tiny chocolates, and Jake was watching her with  an air of a genie producing his magic. She could reach out and touch  him …

No.

'We don't welcome animals here,' Rob was telling her.

'But Rusty … '

'Rusty's a special request from the owner,' Rob said, giving Jake a  rueful grin. 'Old Doc's wife was allergic to dog and cat hair. The  no-pet rule seemed easiest so we've stuck with it.'

'Old Doc being your father?' she asked Jake, and he gave a curt nod as if he didn't want to go there.

But this was obviously news to Doreen and Glenda. Clearly no one had  explained who Jake was until now-maybe there'd been no need. Maybe he  hadn't even eaten with the guests until tonight. Now they looked  astounded.

'You're Doc McDonald's son?' they gasped as one, and got another curt nod.

'Oh, my dear … ' Doreen whispered, sounding awed. 'Your father? He was the  most wonderful man. Oh, when our papa died nothing was too much  trouble.' She hesitated then, looking puzzled. 'You're not …  He and Hazel  didn't … ' And then her face cleared. 'I know. You're Diane's son.'

'That's right.' Jake's voice said, Don't go there, but Doreen had had a  wonderful dinner and wonderful wine and she was past picking up  subtleties.

'Oh, my dear, of course you are,' Doreen said. 'Thelma said you were at  the funeral but no one believed her. But you're the little boy Doc lost.  He broke his heart over you.'

'Not so much as you'd notice,' Jake snapped, clearly wanting to move on.  'I had no contact with my father from the time I was three. I heard  from him only once after my mother took me back to the States, but I was  a man by then and … well … even then he didn't seem keen to get to know  me.'

'Well, that's nonsense,' Glenda snapped back, as if rising to bait. She  clutched her hand and winced again, but a little pain wouldn't stop her  defending a man she clearly idolised. 'I was postmistress in Combadeen  for forty years and I can tell you that your father wrote to you every  single week, from the day your mother took you away with that awful  American. Big fat letters, they were, crammed with everything he could  think of. He posted them every Friday. And you know what? Nearly every  one of them came back, marked returned to sender. But he still kept  sending them. Then about twenty years ago, he went over to the States.  "I'm going to find him, Glenda," he told me, but three months later he  came back. He looked dreadful-and he hadn't seen you. Your mother  wouldn't let him near. Oh, that woman … '

Glenda's cheeks were pink with indignation, anger building and building.  'Not that it's any of my business,' she said, 'but to hear you say  there was no contact …  It makes my blood boil that your mother wouldn't  let him keep in touch. But then he met Hazel. Even then, he and Hazel  couldn't have children and I know he missed you every day of his life.'

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