FIRST things first. Or, rather, second, because the kiss came first but that didn’t count as it was imperative. Erin tugged herself from Dom’s hold and smiled mistily at her love.
‘I knew you’d come.’
‘Marilyn told me you were here.’
‘Good old Marilyn,’ she said happily. ‘I rescued her and she’s rescued me right back. But, Dom…’
‘Mmm?’ He held her tight, with Nathan squeezed somewhere in between.
‘I dare say you didn’t think about it on your very noble climb around here but we can’t climb back and my phone got wet. The tide’s still coming in. These waves are getting higher. And if I’m not mistaken, your phone just got wet too.’
‘Yeah, but I phoned before I climbed,’ he said lovingly, and she blinked.
‘Triage,’ he said. ‘What they taught us in medical school. Think about danger-i.e. personal safety first.’
‘You’re wonderful,’ she said happily. There was no earthly reason to be happy. She was soaked, she was battered, she wasn’t in the least bit safe-yet-and here she was, grinning like a fool just because this man had put himself in the same deadly peril she was in.
‘I love you,’ he said, and she stopped grinning.
‘I think you heard,’ Dom said. He hauled Nathan onto his knee. Dom was sitting on the end of their ledge, his feet hanging over the side so his already soaking feet got even wetter. It didn’t look like he cared, though. ‘Do you think she heard, Nathe?’
‘You said you loved her,’ Nathan said. ‘Why?’
‘Good question,’ Dom said.
‘Yes, my love,’ he said, so lovingly she thought she’d drowned and gone to heaven. But this wouldn’t do, she told herself severely, trying to focus on something other than what he’d just said. There was a certain amount of triage she needed to do herself if this wasn’t to be the shortest engagement in the history of the world.
‘Um…you said you rang before you came.’
‘I did,’ he said-modestly. ‘I told Graham I thought you were stuck on a cliff at Moonlight Bluff-that’s where we’re sitting, by the way. I said if he didn’t hear back within ten minutes could he contact the authorities and get a helicopter.’
‘You didn’t,’ she breathed.
‘I know-Mr Wonderful,’ he said modestly, and she choked.
‘Um…how do we know the helicopter’s free to come save us?’ she asked. She shouldn’t ask. Nathan had relaxed, slumping against Dom, feeling safe and loved and…home. Like she wanted to be. And she could be, she thought, dazed. She just had to get these niggling worries sorted first. Like whether or not they were going to drown.
‘We don’t,’ Dom said. ‘So I’ve organised one of the fishermen to bring his boat round from the harbour and play floodlights on the cliff.’ He peered out into the darkness. ‘He ought to be here any minute. If the helicopter doesn’t arrive, Graham’s organising guys to abseil from the cliff top and haul us up.’ He winced as a wave splashed to his thighs. ‘I hope they hurry. You guys have got the best spot. I’m getting cold.’
‘You didn’t order a heater and hot soup while you were at it, I suppose,’ she said waspishly, and he grinned.
‘Didn’t think of it,’ he admitted. ‘Now-where were we? Oh, yes. I love you.’
‘Seriously,’ he said, and suddenly his tone
‘Don’t you dare stop,’ she said. ‘I don’t care how cold the water is. This is a story I need to hear right through to the end.’
‘Okay.’ His voice gentled and his hand gripped hers. ‘Okay, I stood at the car crash and I saw how close that little family had come to being wiped out. And you know what I thought? I thought at least they’d had each other. They were with each other. And I thought, even if I died right now-which, mind you, if this water gets any colder is on the cards…’
‘Shut up and talk,’ she said lovingly.
‘Yeah, well,’ he said, and sighed. ‘Okay, if we died right now, which isn’t going to happen by the way, Nathan, because my plan is brilliant, then I wouldn’t have spent a single night with the woman I love.’
‘With who?’ Nathan asked, teeth chattering, confused but still trying to keep up.
‘But you did spent a night with her,’ he objected, concentrating fiercely. ‘Last night. We all slept together after the fire.’
‘So we did,’ he agreed. ‘I’d forgotten that. Okay, then, but I’m thinking I want more than that. I want lots of nights. And then when I saw those footprints leading to the rocks and I thought I might have lost you…both…’ His voice cracked and it was all Erin could do to stay sitting still-which was sensible-and not launch herself into his arms-which wasn’t.
‘So I’m admitting it,’ he said. ‘I’m in love. Love at first sight. It’s crazy. I don’t believe it for a minute but it seems to have happened. Nathan, tell Erin I’m a very sensible person. Tell her I never take risks.’
‘So climbing round here rather than wait for the helicopter…’
‘Except when they’re absolutely necessary for survival of the people I love. You know, my love, that my mother fell in love at first sight, over and over again. It made me think it could never be true. But when I saw your footprints disappearing onto rock, I figured she had it right all along. Her choices were lousy but the concept still holds. I’ve fallen in love with you, I’ll do anything it takes to keep you with me for ever, and I’m saying it here and now…you’re necessary for my survival.’
‘You don’t…You can’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘I don’t,’ he said, and smiled again, that heart-stopping smile she loved so much. She could see it clear as day in the moonlight, or maybe she could feel it, but she knew it was directed straight at her. Crooked and teasing and just a little bit wicked. ‘Teach me,’ he said. ‘Teach me about loving.’
They could have fun, she thought suddenly, a little bit breathlessly. She and this man…
They could have a family. Or maybe they already had a family.
They could have a bigger family.
‘I love you, too,’ she said, so fast her tongue tripped over itself. She grinned back at him, a great dopy grin. A little bit misty. ‘Boy, do my parents have some readjusting to do.’
‘I can’t wait to meet them.’
A wave, bigger than the rest, smashed into their rock. Their hold on each other tightened. Whatever happened, they were in this together.
Out to sea a fishing boat had rounded the headland. Its floodlights were playing over the cliffs. The light hit what the fishermen were looking for-and steadied.
A man, a woman and a child. The child somehow squashed between the adults.
The man kissing the woman as if he’d never let go.
A man, a woman and a child-a family.
The helicopter arrived fifteen minutes after the floodlight hit them. The waves were starting to constitute a serious threat but rescue was on time. Skilled search and rescue personnel were lowered with harnesses, lifting first Nathan, then Erin and finally Dom.
Graham had what seemed to be the entire community on top of the cliff, waiting for them. Every searcher in the district must have got the news and hotfooted it to the scene to be in on this happy ending. Dom saw them all as he was lowered into their midst.
Did these people ever sleep?
Ruby was there, too, holding a sleepy Martin. Reaching to hug him, with Martin squished in the middle.
‘Ugh,’ Martin said. ‘You’re wet.’
‘And cold,’ said a paramedic he recognised, coming toward him with a thermal blanket.
‘I’m fine,’ Dom said, waving away help. He was searching the crowd for who he needed to find. ‘Erin and Nathan?’
‘We’re warming them inside the ambulance,’ the paramedic told him. ‘Nathan’s bordering on hypothermia. We’re guessing, though, that you won’t want us to take him to hospital.’
‘What’s the use of having two doctors if we can’t take care of our own.’ But Dom was pretty cold himself, and the paramedic was focusing on him as a patient now-not as a doctor.
‘Yeah, well, we’ll strip you off and get you warm or we’re going nowhere,’ the guy told him, and Ruby was concurring.
‘You do as we say or I’ll take you to Campbelltown Hospital myself,’ she said.
‘You and whose army?’
‘Any cheek and I’ll box your ears,’ she said, and he thought she just might.
‘Um…you’re not supposed to be here,’ Dom said, trying to get his head round what was happening.
‘I knew you’d be rescued and Martin and I wanted to see,’ Ruby told him. ‘And we both want to see you with Erin.’
‘You want to see…’
‘Our happy ending,’ she said serenely. ‘Go on, then. There’s blankets and warmth and no wind in the ambulance. Oh, and did I mention Erin’s in there?’ She grinned at the paramedics. ‘Take him away, boys. But leave the doors open.’
He had no choice. He was propelled into the back of the ambulance.
Erin was sitting on one of the stretchers. She was draped in thick, warm blankets. Nathan was snuggled close by her side.
‘Kiss the girl, Doc,’ someone called from the back of the crowd.
‘Right,’ Dom said drily, and tried to close the doors. But the paramedic was holding the doors firmly open.
‘I reckon you have to give the people their money’s worth,’ he said, chuckling. ‘The guys on the boat said you were kissing when they found you. The news has gone round the town and back again. Most of these people have been trekking through bushland to find the kiddie. They want a happy ending.’
‘Like you kissing the girl,’ someone called out. ‘Like in all the best movies.’
‘Kiss the new doc,’ someone else called.
He didn’t do emotion-until tonight. He didn’t do connection-until tonight, and he surely hadn’t ever done public displays of the same. Dominic Spencer was a man who walked alone.
Right. When Erin was huddled under her blanket looking out at him, smiling and smiling. When Nathan was waving to Martin. When Ruby was looking on with her ‘get on with it, boy’ expression and when this whole amazing community was watching. Waiting for him to kiss their
What was the use of arguing?
And why would he want to?
Walking alone was for idiots, he decided, right there, right then. He tossed it aside along with any last reservations about love at first sight.
So, taking that all into account, there didn’t appear to be a choice. He couldn’t stand up in the ambulance anyway.
So he knelt. On one knee.
‘Erin Carmody, will you take my hand in marriage?’ he asked, and there was a collective gasp from the assembled crowd.
Erin’s eyes were dancing. ‘You idiot.’
‘Is that any way to greet a proposal?’
‘I don’t know. This is only my second. I need a few more to practise with.’
‘You can’t have any more. I love you.’
She smiled mistily down at him. ‘I love your kids,’ she ventured.
He met her and raised. ‘I love your dog.’
‘And I love your town. Oh, and Ruby’s fabulous.’
‘Erin?’ he said, deciding it was time to get things back on track.
‘I’ve asked you to marry me.’
‘You don’t believe in love at first sight.’
‘I’ve known you for three days. That’s the longest courtship I’ll tolerate. So…’ He was starting to sound exasperated. ‘Will you marry me?
‘Only if you’ll share.’
‘Your kids, your house, your patients.’ Her laughter faded. ‘Your dreams, your fears. Yourself. You.’
‘I will,’ he said, and there was that something in his voice that told the crowd of onlookers that this was a vow he meant for life.
Erin’s misty smile grew even more misty. Her heart was singing, a silly joyous song, a great wonderful chorus. A song of love.
‘Will you?’ he said.
And then there was nothing for a girl to do. Her crazy, wonderful doctor. Her saviour. Her love.
He was waiting for an answer.
She glanced out at their entranced onlookers. ‘You realise there’s no way you’ll get out of this one.’
‘Why would I want to?’
‘Why indeed?’ she whispered. She slid down onto the cramped floor of the van so she was kneeling right in front of him. She took his hands in hers and she held, as she’d hold for life.
‘I do,’ she whispered, and then louder, so the audience up the back could hear. ‘I do,’ she repeated, and she would have said it for a third time but she was caught up and kissed so thoroughly that her third response was lost to everyone but themselves.
And she did.
It involved almost military-like manoeuvres, but they honeymooned alone.
Ruby took Martin and Nathan to Dolphin Bay, promising them a month of beach and sun and fun. ‘They’ll have a ball,’ Dom told his bride-and he sounded almost wistful.
‘You don’t want to go, too?’
He’d smiled and shaken his head. ‘Not this time. Dolphin Bay’s the best place in the world if you’re a kid in trouble, but I have a better place to take my wife.’
And he was free to take her.
For, amazingly, Charles had offered to take care of the medical needs of Bombadeen while Tansy dog-sat. Bombadeen had been seeing a lot of Charles lately.
Tansy had even caught her bouquet.
There were developments with the kids, too. Applications had been made to make Dom and Erin into Martin and Nathan’s long-term foster-parents. Nathan’s dad was in gaol, and likely to remain there. Martin’s mother had been sighted in Nepal, and no other parent was in the picture. So it was settled. When their honeymoon was over, Dom and Erin could return to Bombadeen, gather their family and move forward.
For both Erin and Dom, it felt like life had started the moment Erin had walked into his house. He’d opened the door and she’d walked into his heart. Into the heart of his kids. Into the heart of his community.
Sentimental? Maybe it was.
The wedding had been fantastic. They’d done the full bridal bit. Erin had let her somewhat bewildered mother indulge every last fantasy on her wedding dress and there’d never been such a magnificent frock. She had been all lace and flounces and swirling skirts.
It had been crazy. She’d loved it, and so had Dom.
Dom had looked pretty damned handsome, too. A tuxedo, no less. The sight of them together had made her mother cry, but the tears had been tears of joy.
Her parents loved Dominic. After the first shock…well, why wouldn’t they?
What else? Tansy was taking two of Marilyn’s pups. One for her and one for Charles. Erin was giving the third to her parents to keep Peppy company.
The thought made her chuckle-as so many things made her chuckle these days.
And now…This was the first night of their honeymoon.
They were about as far from Bombadeen as it was possible to be. ‘For I’m not sharing my honeymoon with anyone,’ Dom growled and Erin agreed entirely.
He’d found a wonderful tropical hideaway-a room built on stilts over a lagoon so beautiful she hardly believed it was real. They’d flown here in normal travelling clothes but Dom had insisted they bring their wedding finery. Tonight, just for themselves, they dressed again.
‘For now is the time for us,’ Dom decreed, and it was.
So as the sun set over the water, they dressed in full bridal wear.
Erin needed help with the finishing touches. Dom helped her fasten the garland of tiny pink ribbon roses into her hair, then kissed the nape of her neck so gently she sighed with pure, erotic pleasure. There, it was done. Once again they were bride and groom.
A discreet waiter brought them dinner and ice-cold champagne. They dined out on their tiny balcony overlooking the lagoon.
The waiter disappeared. There was nothing but the water lapping gently underneath them, fireflies flitting over the water, moonlight and starlight reflected on the sea, and nothing else.
Except each other.
‘We fell in love at first sight,’ Dom said softly, raising his champagne flute in her honour. ‘We have all our lives to get to know each other.’
‘I believe I know you already,’ Erin said softly. ‘I knew you the moment I saw you. My heart knew you.’
‘That’s corny,’ he said, and smiled.
‘So it is.’
‘True, though.’ He pushed back his chair. ‘Would you like to dance, my love?’
‘I believe I would,’ she whispered, and they did, a long slow waltz with no music but the music that was inside them.
He held her close. Against his heart.
‘So where’s the man who walks alone now?’ she teased, holding him against her, savouring the feel of his body holding her close. Her dress was swishing around them in delicious folds of silk and lace. She was a white cloud on a starlit night. There was nothing and no one but man and wife. In love.
‘Maybe I never was alone,’ he whispered into her hair. ‘Maybe from the time Ruby took me in, from the time her care made me want to take in kids, from the time you walked into my life, from the time I decided to be a dog breeder…Where does love start?’
‘Where does it end?’
‘It never ends,’ he whispered, swinging her round and round and round. ‘And you know the lovely thing about family?’
‘We can use ’em,’ he said in quiet satisfaction. ‘We may have kids and dogs but we also have your parents and Ruby and Tansy and Charles. That’s five great kid sitters. So whenever I want my wife entirely to myself…’
‘Why would you want that?’
He chuckled. ‘Why indeed? Let me show you.’ He lifted her high into his arms and held her against his heart. They gazed together out over the starlit water, and then, firmly, Dom turned his back on the loveliness of the night. He carried his wife into their luxurious room, where a great wide bed was waiting. There were crisp white sheets, mounds of down-stuffed pillows, and soft, soft duvets.
What more could two lovers want?
Only each other. He lowered her onto the sheets and started unfastening the tiny buttons at her breast, one by one.
‘Such a waste,’ she teased softly. ‘To take it all off again.’
‘And again and again,’ he whispered, slipping the dress from her shoulders and sinking to lie beside her. ‘For I’ll love you again and again, for as long as we both shall live.’
‘That sounds just fine to me,’ she whispered. She wound her arms around his neck and tugged him forward, so she could kiss him deeply, properly, wonderfully, as a woman should. As a wife should.
‘That sounds fabulous,’ she whispered. ‘As long as I can love you right back.’