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Dr Ryan Flanagan stared at the papers on his desk. His favourite black Mont Blanc fountain pen lay on the glass surface, ready for him to pick up and sign on the solid black line. On the other side of his office wall his former best friend and practice partner, Toby Clarke, anticipated the moment Ryan opened his door and handed over the sheaf of papers signalling the end of their ten-year association.
All he had to do was sign and then he could move on with his life. Only problem was he had no idea what or where his future was going to take him. Pushing away from the desk, he walked over to the bank of windows and gazed out at the million-dollar view he had of Sydney Harbour. A view ten-year-old Ryan had dreamt of one day having. It sure as hell beat the view he’d had growing up.
As one of the most renowned plastic surgeons in Australia, he’d worked damn hard for this view. Should he have fought harder to keep it? Had he capitulated too easily to Toby’s demands and wishes? How many of those were fuelled by Portia’s own agenda?
Ryan scraped a hand down his face. The betrayal by both his lover and best friend cut deep. How had he not seen it?
He’d been so caught up in his work, not only with his practice patients, but also the burns victim he’d been asked to help. How could he turn down the request by the New South Wales Governor to help her four-year-old grandson? Toby had rolled his eyes when Ryan had said he was going to do the work pro bono. Toby would never do anything as charitable as that. His reaction should’ve been the first sign Ryan had that things within the practice were changing.
One of the things he and Toby had agreed on when they’d decided to open their own plastic surgery office: when the time came, they would give back to the community. The time had come and Toby had turned his back, claiming the rich filled their books and bank accounts. They should be a priority. But Ryan found making a little boy’s life better was more rewarding than performing a face lift for a socialite who already had a beautiful face.
Fed up with looking back on the last few months that couldn’t be changed—or, more accurately, not wanting to delve into his psyche for the real reason he’d given up the fight so quickly—Ryan strode back to his desk and picked up his pen. Unscrewing the cap, he scrawled his signature along the required line, closing this chapter of his life.
He threw the pen down and sat back in his chair. Once word got out that the partnership between him and Toby had dissolved, it wouldn’t be long before his phone started ringing. In the past he’d been approached to join other practices. He’d never wanted to go against Toby though. Funny how that’s exactly what had happened. Toby was approached by another conglomerate of surgeons. Ryan hadn’t wanted to join Acher Berkshire and so they’d bought him out. His clients didn’t seem to care that he would no longer be their surgeon. He should’ve been annoyed at their attitude, but at the end of the day it was their choice.
His office door was flung open and Toby barged in. “Have you signed them yet?” he demanded, impatience at wanting the situation over and done with radiating off him.
Ryan nodded to the pile sitting neatly on his desk. “Yes, all done.”
“Excellent. I’ll get these delivered to the lawyer. I believe once they notify Acher Berkshire the deal’s done, they’ll make arrangements for the funds to be deposited into your account.”
Toby was rubbing his hands together in glee; Ryan wasn’t surprised. Over the last two months he’d witnessed a greedy side to his former partner and friend. A side he’d never seen in the other man since the day they’d met when they’d both started their plastic surgery rotation.
“Are you that keen to be rid of me, Toby?”
For a second a look of contrition swept over the other man’s face, before it was quickly replaced with a look of indifference. “It was good while it lasted, Ryan. But you know you were heading in a direction that I didn’t want to go in. It’s for the best. You can go do what you want now. You’re set up financially; you can work for free and still keep your penthouse.” He sauntered over to the table and picked up the papers. “Good luck with the next chapter of your life.”
Toby turned and walked out the door, without giving him a backward glance. Ryan shook his head, not really surprised with Toby’s brashness. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter anymore. What was done was done. Time to get on with the next phase of his life, whatever that would be.
He collected his satchel and put the only items of importance to him in it. His assistant could deal with boxing up the rest of his office and getting it delivered to his penthouse in Rose Bay.
“You know it didn’t have to come to this. You could’ve had it all.”
Ryan looked up and saw Portia Townsend, his former lover, standing with her back against his closed office door. Her stealth skills were impressive; he hadn’t heard her enter at all.
“What do you want, Portia?”
Her hips swayed as she made her way toward his desk, a sultry smile curving her bright-red lips. Once those lips and her svelte figure had tempted him to clear his desk and ravish her. Now, not so much. Not since he worked out that beneath the façade of designer clothes and immaculate make-up lay a calculating woman who was looking for someone to worship her and shower her with money and jewels. Something he’d never done, but something Toby appeared more than happy to do.
“Why didn’t you want to join Toby in the new practice? You could’ve been the most popular group of plastic surgeons in all of Australia.”
He didn’t need this. Didn’t want to be anywhere near her. “I have a reputation I’m proud of. I didn’t need adulation.”
“I think you do. I think in six months’ time you’ll come crawling back to Toby asking for a position in their group.”
Ryan tossed his head back and laughed. How had he ever thought she was a worthy partner? At thirty-six, he should’ve known better than to let his dick make his decisions for him. “Dream on, Portia. The second I walk out that door, I won’t even think about Toby again. He was more than happy to extinguish our friendship. I don’t need people like him or you in my life.” He collected his bag and strode past her, her musky perfume cloying. “Enjoy your life. I hope it’s all you want it to be.”
He slammed his office door and headed toward the bank of lifts, and to a future that had to be better than the last two months of his life.
Two days later, Ryan sat on his balcony enjoying the morning sun, sipping on a latte after his early-morning jog. He would be lying to himself if he wasn’t relishing the freedom to kick back and relax, instead of working twelve-hour days.
He picked up the email he’d printed out and read over it again. He’d been right: once word had got out that he was now a free agent, he had people contacting him with offers to join their offices. The most recent was a practice in Beverly Hills. If he thought the socialites of Sydney were over the top, he could only imagine what the real housewives of California would be like. It would definitely be a tempting offer if money was his driving force, but it wasn’t. He’d already decided he wanted to do something more fulfilling with his skills. It was time to research charitable organisations that provided plastic surgery to people who’d been injured by accidents, war or senseless attacks.
Ryan drained his cup and stood to collect the papers on the small round glass patio table. The shrill of his mobile broke the peaceful silence that being twenty stories up afforded him.
He glanced at the screen and saw a number he didn’t recognise. Considering the volume of unsolicited calls he’d received over the past two days, it wasn’t unusual to not know who was calling him.
Picking it up he slid his finger across the screen to activate the call. “Ryan Flanagan.”
“Hello, is this, uh, Dr Ryan Flanagan, the plastic surgeon?”
His body’s reaction was instantaneous. The husky voice of the caller swirled through his blood, his skin prickling in anticipation of hearing her speak again. Since when did he get turned on by a stranger’s voice?
“Hello? Are you there?”
Shaken out of the stupor he’d dropped into, Ryan tuned back into the call and recalled what she’d asked. “Yes, I’m Dr Ryan Flanagan, the plastic surgeon. How can I help you?”
“I’m, uh …” She cleared her throat and his dick twitched against the fabric of his running shorts. What the hell was going on? He shouldn’t be reacting this way to the voice of a woman he didn’t even know. “This is Sindy, I’m the practice nurse for Dr Colin McCarthy, from Bunya Junction.”
It had been a while since he’d seen or heard the name Colin McCarthy. Let alone the name of the town he’d spent the best and worst time of his young life in. Once he’d got himself established in his own practice, he’d pushed all thoughts of his childhood away. Including the man who’d been more like his father than the one he shared DNA with.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
His heart sank at the words. Wouldn’t it be just like fate to throw him another curve ball. Ryan gripped the phone tighter in his hand, bracing for the inevitable news that his mentor had died. “What?”
“Dr McCarthy…” Her voice broke as she said his name. Had she been crying before she called him? Did that account for the husky timbre in her voice? “Dr McCarthy has been in an accident. His condition is extremely critical and he’s been asking for you.”
A mass of emotions all vied for top billing within him. Relief that Colin wasn’t dead. Guilt at not making more of an effort to see Colin since the last time he’d visited Ryan in the city six years ago. Dread at having to go back to the town he’d not given a backward glance the second he’d received notification he’d scored a scholarship to the University of New South Wales.
Now the man who’d steered Ryan down the path of good, when all signs pointed to him following a destructive path, needed him. Without having Colin in his life, Ryan wouldn’t be a doctor today. How could he turn his back on his father figure when he needed Ryan the most?
“Where is he?” he asked, surprised his voice held steady and showed no signs of the emotions coursing through him.
“He’s in Waratah River Regional Hospital.”
Ryan remembered the name of the largest hospital in the region surrounding Bunya Junction. But if Colin was seriously injured why wasn’t he being transferred to one of the hospitals in Sydney? If he knew Colin, and he was still the same man he’d known all those years ago, he’d want to stay at the local hospital. He’d be confident the doctors there would do everything needed to get him better. “I know it. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Thank you, I’ll be sure to let Dr McCarthy know you’re on your way. I’ll tell him to h-h-hang o-on f-for you.”
Before he could respond the line went dead. He wanted to immediately call her back, but with the way she stuttered over her words, he could tell her emotions were about to bubble over.
He needed to move. Needed to pack a bag and get on the road. The drive to Waratah River would take at least four hours. Ryan glanced at his watch. It was just after eight. By the time he got himself organised he could be on the road within the hour. Hopefully he’d miss the bulk of the morning commuters and be there by one in the afternoon at the latest.
As much as he didn’t want to make this trip, he knew he had to. If the roles were reversed he knew Colin wouldn’t hesitate to come and see him. Ryan hoped he would get there in time.
End of Excerpt