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The Nurse's Perfect Match (Heartsong Presents)

By Narelle Atkins

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The V-8 engine roared to life. Amy Wilkins stood at the side of the road, her shaky hands clutching her purse. The car sped away, dust and gravel spraying into the still night air. She pulled her jacket closer around her chilled body as the rumble of the engine receded.

Her pulse slowed and she sucked in a deep breath, glad she had chosen to wear jeans and comfortable shoes tonight. She trailed her fingertips along her arm. It stung where she had wrenched it out of his rock-solid grip. A two-mile walk home was preferable to his rotten company.

The distant glow of streetlights in Snowgum Creek and the full moon hovering overhead lit her path beside the deserted country road. She kicked a stone out of the way, not caring about the damage to her designer-label leather boot. Back home for four weeks and she'd already found trouble. If only she'd followed her mother's recommendation for a handyman instead of employing an old school friend.

Tears built in her eyes and she bit her lower lip, refusing to let them flow. She had made a mistake in trusting him, but it wouldn't happen again. Jed's charming smile had hidden a dark heart and an arrogance she didn't remember from their school days. How dare he assume she was desperate for male attention, just because she was a twenty-seven-year-old widow?

The headlights of an approaching car illuminated the isolated road. She dipped her head, hoping the driver would ignore her. The high beams blinded her and she squeezed her eyes shut. Her throat tightened as the light passed, the brakes squeaked and the vehicle slowed. Please, Lord, keep me safe. I don't need any more problems tonight.

Gravel crunched under the car's tires and the vehicle swung around, headlights brightening the road ahead. She sighed, her mouth set in a grim line as she turned to face it.

She stepped away from the edge of the road, a flicker of hope igniting in her heart. The people in the car could be concerned citizens who were willing to help her without asking too many questions.

The headlights dimmed and the car crawled to a stop, the passenger window lowered. A young girl rested her head on a pillow in the backseat, her innocent face serene as she slept.

Amy took a few hesitant steps forward and crouched to look inside the car. A younger boy slept beside the girl and a familiar pair of chocolate-brown eyes met her gaze from the driver's seat. Ben Morton.

She swallowed hard, captivated by the warmth emanating from his eyes. Now in his early thirties, his handsome face had matured, and the family resemblance to Luke, her boss and Ben's younger brother, was more pronounced. She hadn't spoken to Ben in years, not since she was his younger sister Rachel's best friend in high school.

His enigmatic eyes narrowed and a frown hovered over his full lips. "Amy, what are you doing out here all alone?"

She bristled at his curt tone, reminded of the times she'd gotten into mischief with Rachel in the apple orchards. "It's a long story."

She took a step back, stretching out her tense back muscles.

"Where are you headed?" She squared her shoulders. "Home."

"Walking? At this time of night?" He leaned over and opened the passenger door. "No, thanks. I can walk-"

"You look frozen." His voice softened. "Please get in before my kids catch a cold."

She slid into the passenger seat, warm air blasting her face from the console. He raised the automatic window and she fumbled with her seat belt, finally securing it and keeping her gaze lowered.

Silence filled the car, broken only by the idling engine and the soft breathing of the children in the back. She inhaled a hint of his aftershave, and her body tensed, aware of his muscular presence only inches away from her. Moonlight through the windshield lit up the interior of the car. How could she explain her current predicament without sounding like an idiot?

"Amy, are you okay?" His silky voice soothed her frazzled nerves.

"Yes." She unclenched her icy hands and stretched out her fingers in front of the heating vents. "Are you sure?"

"I'm fine." She pasted a bright smile on her face, hoping he'd give up pushing for an answer.

"You don't look fine." His frown deepened. "What happened to leave you stranded out here?"

She slumped back in her seat. "It's not a big deal."

"Where's your car?"

"At home."

He raised an eyebrow. "So your car didn't break down?"

"Nope." If only his logical explanation had been the truth.

"Then how did you end up out here, miles from home?"

She twisted a long blond lock of hair around her warmed fingers. "I'd prefer not to talk about it." He'd fallen back into his big-brother role way too easily.

Ben checked the rearview mirror before steering the car back onto the road.

Amy closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she could wake up from what felt like a bad dream. This evening had turned into a nightmare, and she couldn't bring herself to tell him the full story. Heat invaded her face at the thought of Ben learning the truth.

"Which street do you live on?"


"Are you near the medical clinic?"

"Around the corner. Number five." She'd fallen in love with the quaint little cottage within easy walking distance of her new nursing job.

He ran his hand through his disheveled dark brown hair. "Did someone try to hurt you?"

She nibbled her lower lip. "Not exactly."

"I can't help being concerned." He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "And I want to help you, if you'll let me."

"Ben, you're being very sweet, but I'm a big girl now and old enough to take care of myself."

"I can see you're all grown up-and just as stubborn as I remember."

She glanced at his profile, taking in the firm set of his mouth as they entered the outskirts of town. "I'm not stubborn. I just like doing things my way."

"Remember that time you got stuck up in the apple tree?"

She rolled her eyes. "How could I forget? It was your sister who dared me to climb that tree."

"You couldn't resist the challenge, even though it was another one of Rachel's crazy ideas."

"But I survived." She'd been thirteen, and he'd rescued her by using the cherry picker to pluck her out of the tree.

His mouth relaxed into a smile. "My Chloe is a lot like you."

"How old are your kids?"

"Chloe's nine and Declan is seven."

She sneaked a peek over her shoulder at his children. They looked cute, all snuggled up for their trip home. A journey taking longer than it should as their father took a detour back into town.

Her chest constricted. A yearning for children resurrected too many painful memories. And impossible dreams. She shoved aside the niggling guilt that accompanied thoughts of Doug, her late husband.

"Do your kids always sleep this well in the car?"

"Yes, especially after a busy day and dinner with my family."

Rachel had mentioned she helped with the care of her niece and nephew after Ben's wife had lost her battle with cancer three years ago. Amy's mother was a cancer survivor, so she understood something of what Ben had gone through with his wife's illness. But she had lost touch with Rachel for a number of years when she lived in Sydney and had only recently reconnected with her childhood friend.

"Did you see Rachel tonight?"

He nodded. "All my siblings were there until Luke was called away to the hospital halfway through dinner."

"I hope he got to eat first?"

"We'd just finished Mom's lamb roast."

"That's good." Her new boss worked crazy hours, juggling his busy medical clinic with additional responsibilities at Snowgum Creek Hospital.

He smiled. "Mom packed his dessert in a container."

"A smart idea."

"My parents are used to him rushing away during dinner."

"A downside of being a doctor."

"Yep. Chloe was disappointed that he couldn't stay. I think she'd planned to do something with him after dinner."

"That's hard." She let out a deep breath. Ben deserved to hear the truth behind why she'd been left stranded. She sat up straighter in her seat, trying to find the courage to say the right words. "I made a mistake tonight."

"We all make mistakes." He turned off the main road, heading toward her street.

"Unfortunately, I think I make more than my fair share." Her biggest mistake had been her marriage, brought to a tragic end only eighteen months earlier.

"What really happened tonight?" He stretched out his body in his seat, rolling his broad shoulders.

"I got into a disagreement that left me walking home alone."

He drove along Berkley Street. "Are you telling me someone intentionally left you in the middle of nowhere?"

"Yes," she whispered.

Ben pulled into the driveway beside Amy's cottage, keeping the engine running. A late-model hatchback sat outside her garage.

Adrenaline coursed through his body and he resisted the urge to thump the steering wheel. Who would leave someone in subzero temperatures on a dark and isolated road? Why would anyone abandon a gorgeous woman like Amy? It didn't make sense and he was determined to learn the truth.

He looked straight into her cornflower-blue eyes, holding her gaze. "You can trust me. What happened tonight?"

She leaned back in her seat, tucking pale blond hair behind her ears. Her eyes became misty and she lowered her lashes. "It doesn't matter. I handled it."

"But someone tried to do something you didn't like." Wild thoughts raced through his mind, but he reined them in, not wanting to leap to the wrong conclusions. Yet he couldn't help wondering if she needed to file a police report.

She shuddered. "I was supposed to be going to the movies in Sunny Ridge with friends."

"Did you go?"

"Yes, an old school friend drove me there."

"You didn't want to take your own car?"

"I thought about it, but my friend insisted he'd drive both of us."

He widened his eyes. Who was this guy? He held back his questions, allowing her to continue sharing her story at her own pace.

She sighed. "It's a long drive in the dark."

"Especially by yourself."

"We stopped on the way for a quick dinner. I worked out something was wrong after we arrived at the cinema."

"Were you late for the movie?"

She shook her head. "We waited as long as we could, but the other people didn't show up."

"Did you call them? Find out why they were delayed."

"No." She squirmed in her seat. "He didn't seem fazed, so we went in and watched the movie."

Ben clenched his jaw, his fears confirmed. The streetlight glowed on her beautiful face, and she turned her head toward him. He held her warm gaze, disconcerted by the sudden desire to hold her close in his arms.

Her fitted jacket and jeans accentuated how she had matured from a lanky teen into an attractive woman. She was the first woman to capture his attention since moving back to Snowgum Creek. "What happened next?"

"We drove back and he wanted to detour via his house."

Ben tightened his grip on the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white in the fluorescent light. "And you said no."

She stared at her hands, twisted together in her lap. "It got a little heated. I demanded he stop the car, and I jumped out and refused to get back in. Eventually he drove off."

He blew out a stream of air, a string of expletives on the tip of his tongue. "Who is this guy?"

"It doesn't matter. It's over and it won't happen again."

"It better not."

"I promise you, I have no plans to ever see him again." Her voice wavered and he detected a hint of anxiety behind the bravado.

"Are you sure he won't bother you again?"

She nodded. "I feel like a fool."

"No, it's not your fault he tricked you into dating him."

"But I was silly enough to believe him." She pressed her fingertips to her eyelids.

"It's okay. You're home now, and you're safe."

"Thank you. I appreciate the lift."

"You're welcome."

"I feel bad that I've taken you out of your way."

"It's not a problem. The kids have stayed asleep." She turned around in her seat, her tender gaze lingering on his sleeping children. "They look content."

"They're good kids."

She nodded and twined her fingers through her long blond hair. "That makes your life easier."

"Yes, it helps." He drew his brows together. "Why didn't you call someone to come get you?"

"And say what? I'm the stupid girl who got conned into a date that went sour. I'd rather take the risk of walking home alone than share this embarrassing situation with anyone else."

"You're not stupid." He sucked in a deep breath. "That guy is a jerk, and if I ever get my hands on him…"

"No, Ben, it's not your problem to fix."

A part of him wished she was his problem. He had nothing to offer a sophisticated woman like Amy, and no time to even think about dating. "You take care. I'd better get my kids home to bed."

"Thanks again." She held his gaze for a moment and opened the car door. "Drive safe."

She walked up the paved path, and he waited until she had let herself into the cottage.

He rubbed his weary eyes, aware that his children should have been in bed a few hours ago. Who was the guy who had tried to hurt Amy? As soon as she was inside, he reversed down the drive and pulled out onto the street.

Ben tried to recall the names of the boys in Rachel's year at school. The ones he remembered had either married or left town. The man who'd left her may have been in a different year from Amy.

He changed gears, the clutch objecting to his hard push on the pedal. When she was younger, Amy had dated Jack Bradley, one of Luke's oldest friends. But she had married someone else and Jack had married Kate a few years ago.

Ben couldn't imagine any of Luke's or Jack's school friends doing something like this. But the guy must be from around here, someone he knew by sight. Snowgum Creek wasn't a large town.

He swung his car back onto the main road, a twenty-minute drive home ahead of him. The mystery of Amy's unsavory ex-friend plagued his mind. One day he would discover the truth.

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