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Dating The Millionaire Doctor(2)

By:Marion Lennox



     



 

Rob, however, had talked about tonight as though it was the answer to  his prayers. As if diamonds were on his agenda. Which was ridiculous.

'What do you see in this five-minute set-up?' he demanded, and Rob gave a crooked smile.

'My perfect woman's out there somewhere. I just have to find her. So there was no one tonight who struck your fancy?'

'Your lady's hot,' Jake conceded, being generous. 'But no.'

'So what did you say to Doc Nicholls?' Rob asked. 'To make her walk out.'

'Doc Nicholls?'

'Tori. Barb says she's the vet up on the ridge, part of the group that  rent your house. I'm thinking I should have met her before this, but  since the fires life's been crazy. Any negotiation's been done through  Barb. Then tonight … I couldn't make her talk, but at least she stayed the  full five minutes. Unlike you. You didn't say anything to upset her,  did you? Barb'll have me hung, drawn and quartered if you've hurt her  feelings.'

'How could I have hurt her feelings?'

'You say it like it is,' Rob said. 'Not always best.'

'I don't tell lies, if that's what you mean.'

'So what did you tell her?'

'Just that I was here to make up the numbers.'

'Right,' Rob said. 'That'd be a turn-on. I'm speed dating because I'm being kind. Woo-hoo.'

'Look, it doesn't matter anyway,' Jake said, shoving his hands into his  pockets and staring out at the vast night sky. Hankering for Manhattan  where stars were in shop windows and not straight up. 'I'll get the  house on the market and leave again, though I don't know why you can't  do it for me.'

'I offered, if you remember, and for once you decided to take an interest and come do it yourself.'

'The figure seemed ludicrously low.'

'Who wants a house on top of a fire-prone ridge?'

'It was snapped up pretty fast after the fires.'

'Only because there was still green feed around it,' Rob said bluntly.  'And you offered it rent free. But six months on, there's feed  everywhere, and it's smoke damaged. Property values on the ridge will  rise again but not until the memory of the fire fades a bit. So many of  the people round here lost someone. You're lucky you weren't living here  yourself.'

Yeah, well …  Luck had all sorts of guises, Jake thought, as they headed  back down the valley towards the second property his father had left  him-a lodge with attached vineyard. His mother would definitely say he  was lucky not to live here. His mother would be devastated that he was  here now.

But how could he help but come? Jake was wealthy before his father died,  but his father's death had made him more so. The combined properties,  even at post-fire prices, were worth a fortune.

Why had he held onto them? That was a question he was having trouble  facing, and maybe that's why he was here-seeking some final connection  to his father.

Apart from financial support-given grudgingly, according to his  mother-Jake's father had played no part in his life. He hadn't contacted  him all through his childhood. There'd been nothing. But twelve years  ago, when Jake qualified as a doctor, he'd finally received a letter.  Congratulating him and wishing him all the best for his future.  Intrigued, he'd written back. That's when he'd discovered his father was  working as a country doctor in the hills outside Melbourne.

He'd decided he wouldn't mind getting a personal idea about this man  who'd cared for him financially but in no other sense. Tentatively he'd  suggested a visit.

But, 'I hear your mother's ill and she'd hate it,' his father had said  bluntly. 'I've married again. We've all moved on. After all these years,  what's the point? I'm glad you've graduated and I'm proud of you. I'm  sorry I haven't been able to contact you before, but now I have … let's  leave it there.'

So he'd left it, and then life grew busy. He'd immersed himself in his  career. He'd visit Australia one day, he promised himself, but then five  years ago his father died, suddenly, of a massive coronary.

Jake had finally come then, to a funeral that shocked him with the  community outpouring of grief. He'd sat at the back of the church and  watched strangers cry for a father he didn't know. A father who hadn't  even objected when his mother had changed his name back to hers. Who  seemed to have little connection to him at all.         

     



 

But when tentatively he'd confessed to the elderly lady beside him who he was, to his astonishment she'd known all about him.

'I'm one of Old Doc's patients-and you must be Jake,' she'd said,  sniffing and beaming a watery smile at him. 'His American son. Doc had a  baby picture of you up on his clinic wall. I used to say to him it was a  shame your mother took you away, but he'd say, "Just because he's in  the States doesn't make him any less my son. I love him wherever he  is."'

He'd loved him? That was the first he'd heard of it. The woman had  wanted to introduce him around, but he was so shocked he'd simply walked  away.

Maybe he should have sold the properties then, but it had seemed wrong.  Troubled by the conflicting messages he was getting-had his father  indeed cared?-and by the morality of accepting such an inheritance, he'd  employed Rob to manage the properties and he'd retreated to the States.  To his all-consuming career as chief anaesthetist at Manhattan Central.

But now, finally, he'd returned.

The lodge, once owned by his stepmother and run as a winery and genteel  place of retreat, had been needed as emergency accommodation in the  first weeks after the fire. Rob had it running again now, but there were  few guests.

Rob had worked in hospitality for years. Five years back he'd followed a  lady to Australia-of course-and jumped at the opportunity to run the  lodge, but getting it viable again could take more than Rob's  enthusiasm. And up on the ridge, Jake's second property-the one used by  Tori and her friends-was smoke damaged and had been used for six months  as an animal hospital.

So maybe he should sell both. Maybe he should abandon any last trace of a  father he didn't know, abandon any last connection. Rob would find  alternative employment. His friend was born hopeful. The blonde's car  was in front of them, and Rob was speeding up and slowing down, doing a  bit of automotive courting. Jake shook his head in disbelief.

'Hey, stop it with the disapproval.' Rob grinned, sensing his thoughts. 'Worry about your own love life.'

'I don't have a love life.'

'Exactly. My life's work, wine and women. Your life's medicine, medicine  and medicine-and worry. You know you don't need to. The resort will  turn around.'

'Maybe it will,' Jake agreed and then thought, Why was he worrying? The  winery supported the lodge, he had no money problems, so why was he even  here? And the farmhouse up on the ridge-Old Doc's Place, the locals  called it-well, why was he quibbling about price? 'I'll go check out the  ridge tomorrow, put it on the market and then go home.'

'Back to your medicine.'

'It's what I do.'

'It's what you are,' Rob said. 'Why do you think I conned you into coming tonight? You need a life.'

'I have a life.'

'Right,' Rob drawled in a voice that said he didn't believe it at all. 'Sure thing.'





CHAPTER TWO




S HE was losing the fight-and someone was banging on the front door. Her  nurse's gaze shifted towards the entrance, her brows raised in enquiry.

'Leave it,' Tori said tightly. 'She's slipping.'

Up until now the koala under her hands had been responding well. Like so  many animals, she'd been caught up in the wildfire, but she was one of  the lucky ones, found by firefighters the day after the fire, brought  into Tori's care and gradually rehabilitated.

Tori had worked hard with her, and up until now she'd thought she'd  survive. But then a few days ago she'd found a tiny abscess in the scar  tissue on her leg. Despite antibiotics and the best of care, it was  spreading. It needed careful debridement under anaesthetic. That left a  problem. With this shelter winding down, she no longer had full  veterinary support.

If she took her down the mountain she could get another veterinarian to  assist, but travel often took more of a toll on injured animals than the  procedure itself. Thus she was working with Becky, a competent  veterinary nurse who worked under instruction. It wasn't enough. She  needed an expert, right here, right now, who could respond to  minute-by-minute changes in the koala's condition.

She was working as fast as she could to get the edges of the abscess  clean but she couldn't work fast enough. The little animal was slipping.  To lose her after all this time …  She was starting to feel sick.

'Anyone there?' It was a deep masculine voice, calling from the hallway. Whoever had knocked had come right in.

The door to their improvised operating theatre opened. Tori glanced up,  ready to yell at whoever it was to get out-and it was Jake. Her  one-and-a-half-minute date.         

     



 

Whatever. It could be the king himself and there was only one reaction.  'Out,' she snapped, and Becky said, 'I think she's stopped breathing.'

Her attention switched back to her koala. She could have wept. To lose her now …

'Can I help?' Jake demanded.

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