‘Oh, no… No, no, no…’
This was the last thing Maia Scott had expected to find.
The last thing anybody would want to find.
But there it was and Maia had to slam on her brakes as she rounded the blind bend of this road that wound through the Blue Mountains—the huge area west of Sydney, Australia, renowned for its natural beauty.
She saw the car first, crumpled against the trunk of a gum tree on the side of the road. Then she saw the kangaroo lying in the middle of the road. Unmoving. As a vet, it was all too easy to recognise the stillness of an animal that was not likely to still be alive.
Maia knew to get her car far enough off the road not to cause another accident and to put her hazard lights on. She shoved her phone into the back pocket of her jeans and made her way cautiously towards the crashed car. There were no power lines to be wary of and she couldn’t smell any burning or see any smoke. There was a white powder on the woman slumped in the driver’s seat, but Maia knew that would have come from the deployed airbag that was now hanging like a punctured balloon from the centre of the steering wheel. The powder was a sharp contrast to both the dusky skin and black curly hair of the woman.
‘Hullo… Can you hear me?’
Maia tried to open the door but it jammed with a metallic screech, leaving a gap of only a few inches. There was no sign the woman had heard her and, as Maia peered in through the window, she could see a rapid trickle of blood coming from a nasty looking forehead bump. She could also see the rise and fall of the chest, but it was no comfort that the seat belt was still fastened. This woman could have a serious head injury and she needed help urgently.
Maia pulled out her phone and tapped the screen. The service bar flickered on the lowest end of the scale and then disappeared, but she’d heard that it could still work. Sure enough, she could hear a recorded message almost instantly.
You have dialled emergency Triple Zero. Your call is being connected.
A real voice was on the line moments later asking her if she required the services of police, fire or ambulance.
‘Ambulance, please. There’s been a car crash. The driver’s breathing but not conscious.’
‘Where are you calling from?’
‘I’m on a road in the Blue Mountains.’
‘I’m not sure, sorry.’ Maia was still trying to get the driver’s door of the car open as she spoke rapidly. ‘I think there’s a town called Birralong that’s not far away?’
‘Thank you… Help is on the way.’
The reassurance didn’t really lessen the level of tension for Maia. How long was it going to take? She wasn’t going to be able to do anything much if she couldn’t get into the car.
Instinctively, she turned her head, as if she’d be able to see an ambulance magically arriving already but the road was empty.
Except… There was a lone figure who was increasing his pace from a jog to a fast run as he saw what was ahead of him.
Fate, that’s what it was.
If Leonardo Romano hadn’t pushed himself to go just a little further on his run today, he would have turned back to Birralong before that bend and he would never have seen the accident. The kangaroo lying in the middle of the road. The car with damage that was significant enough to suggest it had hit the tree at some speed.
He pushed himself even harder to cover the remaining distance as quickly as possible, so he was too short of breath to greet the woman who was standing beside the crashed car. Leo could see the driver’s door was only a few inches open and he needed to check the woman who looked to be unconscious, so he grasped the handle and pulled, only to find the door firmly stuck. Putting his foot against the central pillar of the car, he held the door frame with both hands and tugged and shoved as hard as he could. The door flew open as one of the hinges gave way.
‘Oh, thank goodness…’ The woman was leaning over his shoulder as Leo reached into the car. ‘There was no way I could open that. There’s an ambulance on the way, but I don’t know how long they’ll be.’
She sounded quite calm, Leo thought. As if she was no stranger to dealing with an emergency, which gave him an instant feeling that he could trust her. He could also feel a strong pulse under his fingers and see that the driver was breathing well. He squeezed her shoulder.
‘Can you hear me? Open your eyes…?’
The woman groaned and started to move her head, but Leo put his hand on her forehead. ‘Try not to move. You’ve been in an accident. We’ve got you.’ He turned his own head to the woman who’d called for help. ‘Would you have something clean I could use as a dressing? I need to try and stop this bleeding.’
‘I’ve got a first aid kit in my car. Be right back.’
Yeah…she was calm all right. Confident, even, given the way she flicked a long, thick braid of hair over her shoulder as she ran to her own car. The well-stocked kit she came back with was another surprise, along with the practised ease with which she opened a sterile package to hold out a gauze pad without touching it herself. He caught the gaze of a pair of warm, brown eyes, knowing his eyebrows were raised.
‘I’m a vet,’ she told him. ‘I like to be prepared for anything.’
‘Me too.’ Leo found himself smiling at the stranger. ‘But I’ve never carried a first aid kit when I’m out jogging.’
The hint of a return smile faded as her gaze slid sideways. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’
‘Try the back door,’ he suggested, as he positioned the pad on the driver’s head wound and put some pressure on. ‘If you can get into the back seat, that’s the best place to support her head and neck and keep her still until the ambos arrive.’
The back door to the small hatchback wasn’t jammed but she wasn’t pulling up the folded seat so that she could get inside. Instead, she had gone very still.
Leo’s heart sank like a stone as he heard the gentle tone in her voice. Was there a baby in the back?
‘It’s okay… I’m a friend… You’re not going to bite me, are you?’
What the heck?
Those brown eyes caught his again but this time, he could see distress in them. He raised his eyebrows, silently asking what was wrong.
‘There’s a dog in the back,’ she said softly. ‘And it’s hurt.’
It was a beautiful dog. A black and white, shaggy bearded collie who had obviously been injured before this car had crashed because it had a bulky, blood-strained dressing bandaged against the top of a hind leg. It was lying very still on some blankets, which was a good thing, because Maia had an urgent job to do.
With her hands on either side of the driver’s face, she was able to both help keep her head and neck immobilised, and put some pressure on the gauze pad to stop the bleeding. She couldn’t try and assess the dog yet, but what she could do was to prevent a potential neck injury from causing permanent damage.
The injured woman had her eyes open now. She was groaning and trying to say something, but her words were either incomprehensible or mumbled questions.
‘Where am I?’
Maia talked to her and patiently answered the questions. She was also watching the man who’d just run into her life like some kind of knight in shining armour. He might not carry a first aid kit when he was out jogging, but she could tell he’d paid attention on his course because he seemed to know what he was doing.
He was tall, Maia realised. Right now he was hunkered down beside the driver’s seat, but he had no trouble reaching to the other side of the seat, carefully checking the woman’s body.
‘She’s not losing any blood anywhere else,’ he said. ‘And I don’t think she’s broken any bones.’
He had the darkest brown eyes Maia had ever seen. So dark, they were almost as black as the thick, glossy waves of his hair. His olive skin suggested a Greek or Italian heritage and she could see rather too much of it with him being in shorts and a singlet. It was rather overpoweringly masculine, in fact, and that appreciative curl of sensation deep in her belly triggered a need to escape as soon as possible.
She let her breath out in a sigh of relief moments later, as she heard the siren of an approaching ambulance. Two paramedics jumped from the vehicle and one of them nodded at her good-looking companion.
‘Hey…you’re the new doc at Birralong, aren’t you? Dr Romano’
‘Yeah… I’m the locum, Leonardo. Leo…’
‘Did you see the accident?’
‘No. I wasn’t first on the scene.’ Those dark eyes were on Maia’s again and, this time, the eye contact felt almost familiar. ‘Sorry…I don’t know your name.’
‘Maia Scott. And I didn’t see it, either. I don’t know how long ago it happened.’ Thank goodness she hadn’t told the man that she was impressed with his first aid skills, Maia thought. He was a doctor, for heaven’s sake.
She moved back as the paramedics took over and put a neck collar on the driver. They were talking to Leo the doctor about the signs and symptoms of a head injury so Maia was able to have a closer look at the dog who was lying in the back hatch of the car. He looked as if he was in pain, panting rapidly, with the whites of his eyes showing but when Maia put her hand out to gently touch his head, the plume of a tail gave a single thump.
Any thought of escaping as fast as she could from the close proximity of a ridiculously attractive man evaporated.
‘Don’t worry,’ she whispered. She could hear the echo of the doctor’s words when he was committing himself to the care of the car’s driver. ‘We’ve got you.’
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