Dating The Millionaire Doctor(7)

By: Marion Lennox

She managed a smile-just. How embarrassing. And how to retrieve the situation?

She should shake his hand. Or, um, not. She glanced down at her gloves and decided gratitude needed to wait. Plus she needed to catch her breath. Breath seemed in remarkably short supply.

‘Could you excuse me for a moment?’ she muttered. ‘I need to wash.’ And she disappeared-she almost ran-leaving him alone with Koala Number Thirty-seven.

He was in the front room of what seemed to have been a grand old farmhouse. It still was, somewhere under the litter of what looked to be an animal hospital.

When the fires had ripped through here, almost fifty percent of properties on the ridge had been destroyed. The loss of life and property had been so massive there’d been international television coverage. Horrified, he’d contacted Rob to see how he could help.

‘The lodge and the winery are okay,’ Rob told him. ‘We’re almost ten miles from where the fire front turned back on itself, so apart from smoke on the grapes there’s little damage. I’ve been asked if we can provide emergency accommodation, if it’s okay with you. And the farmhouse on the ridge… There’s an animal-welfare place wanting headquarters. When the wind shifted, pushing the fire back on itself, your place was spared. Just. There’s still feed around it, and the house itself is basically okay, but your tenants are moving off the mountain. They can’t cope with the mess and the smell, and they’re going to her mother’s. Can the animal-welfare people use it for six months or so?’

‘Of course,’ he’d said, so it was now a hospital-of sorts.

But as he looked around he thought he wouldn’t have minded seeing it as it once was-a gracious family home. And he wouldn’t have minded seeing the bushland around here as it was either. The fire had burned to within fifty yards of the house and then turned. Beyond that demarcation, the bush was black and skeletal. Green tinges were showing through the ash now, alleviating the blackness, but six months ago it must have been a nightmare.

He stared out the window until Tori bustled back into the room, carrying a bucket of steaming, soapy water. She looked like a woman who didn’t stay still for long, he thought. Busy. Clinically efficient. Cute?

Definitely still cute. She was in ancient jeans, an even more ancient T-shirt and a white clinical coat with a torn pocket. Her curls were again scraped back into a ponytail. Last night she’d pulled them back with a ribbon. Today they were tied with an elastic band. She looked…workmanlike.

But workmanlike or not, he thought, nothing could hide her inherent sexiness. Why had he wasted time last night thinking she was dowdy?

When she left the room she’d looked confused. Now, however, she looked relieved, as if she’d spent her bucket-filling time figuring things out as well.

‘I know now why you’re here,’ she told him. ‘You’re Old Doc’s son. Jake. I loved your father.’ She hesitated as if she wanted to say something else, but then thought better of it.

‘So you’re here to put this farm on the market,’ she continued briskly. ‘That’s fine, but first I need to thank you.’ She abandoned her bucket, put her hands out and grasped his, holding them in the same strong grip of the night before, a grip that made him wonder how he’d ever thought her a mouse. The connection felt strangely…right.

But Tori wasn’t noticing connections. She was moving right on.

‘I can’t tell you how grateful we’ve been,’ she said. ‘It’s been fabulous-and Barb said you won’t take any rent. It’s been truly lifesaving.’ She looked across at the little koala in her cage, and her business-like tone faltered a little. ‘And now you’ll sell. That’s fine. We don’t need it any more. As soon as this one goes…’

‘She’s the only one here now?’

‘We release as soon as we can,’ she said, efficient again. ‘Wild animals respond to captivity with stress. There’s a few that are too damaged to survive on their own, but we’ve relocated them all now to bigger animal shelters. Places where they can have as close to a normal life as possible. So yes, there’s only this little one here now. And me.’

He frowned. ‘You’re living here?’

‘I… Yes. I hope you don’t mind. It’s easier.’

‘You’re on twenty-four-hour call?’

‘Not many of my patients buzz me. It’s not as hard as it sounds.’ She was opening the door onto the verandah and ushering him out, almost before he was aware of what she was doing.

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