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Email from Lacey James to Maeve McGill:
You should move to Wirralong, Maeve. How can I describe it? It’s beautiful, with auburn and rust-coloured leaves from the deciduous trees that float like flakes of red confetti onto the open grass. Changeable weather that’s fun. Cool breezes yesterday; warm, wear-no-sleeves weather today. With puffy, fluffy clouds that skitter across the cobalt skies above like cotton candy escaped from the bag.
Autumn brings dahlias and camellias and chrysanthemums to the gardens here, along with the rampant flush of glorious second-growth roses at Maggie Walker-O’Connor’s wedding centre.
Have I told you about Wirra Station? How it rose from a run-down homestead into a dreamy stage for the most iconic and picturesque weddings. The success of Maggie’s venue impacted the town. And the townspeople.
Unlike other rustic gold-rush villages down the southern tip of mainland Australia, Wirralong thrives. We haven’t scattered our inhabitants like tumbleweed into oblivion—because weddings are big business.
Wedding parties waltz around the town’s boardwalks, spreading new life into our previously struggling shop owners’ tills. There’s even a Smart Ladies’ Supper Club where you can meet the business and professional ladies in town.
And the Outback Brides Coffee Shop is the place for lunch. Of course, the doctor’s surgery, where you’ll work if you take over my job, is busy with all these new families. The word has spread of Maggie’s weddings all over Victoria.
You should move to Wirralong, Maeve.
It’s a friendly little town. A great place for taking stock. A haven to pick yourself up from being knocked down. A great place to find inner, amazing, super-strength with friends like me who will stand by you.
Oh, and … There’s this amazing property up for sale and you should buy it, Maeve.
They met on the street outside the Wirralong Family Doctors Surgery. Two big men, mid-thirties, athletic and confident with wide smiles. One carried a shy three-year-old with curly red hair and dimples. Auburn hair like her daddy’s.
‘We finally got here.’ Jace Bronson grabbed Ben Brierley’s hand and squeezed hard. ‘Can’t believe you’re a father. Two sets of twins and one due, and only since I last saw you!’
‘Not all our own work. The boys were Holly’s sister’s, and we adopted them after she died, but they’re ours now.’ He smiled at the little girl. ‘And you’re Jemima? Hello, gorgeous. Have you come to see Daddy’s new surgery, today?’
A solemn nod, but no words from Jace’s daughter. People passed, smiled, said hello to Ben, and smiled at Jace and Jemima.
‘So good to see you, both.’ Ben slapped his friend on the back. ‘It’s kid city at my house. Tom and Pat are nine and Layla and Amber turned two last week. I’ve found heaven, that’s for sure.’
Jace shook his head. ‘I pull my hair out with one.’
‘Bet you wouldn’t trade her for the world.’
Jace squeezed his daughter tight against him briefly and the little girl slipped both arms around her daddy’s neck. ‘Not a hope.’ Jace looked away. ‘It’s been two years and we’re getting good at juggling, aren’t we, Jem?’
‘I take my hat off to all single parents. You’re doing a great job.’
Jace could see Ben meant that. His friend understood how badly Jace wanted Jemima to grow up happy, despite not having a mother.
‘Kids. Who would believe it of us?’ Ben shook his head. ‘Appreciate you coming down. Makes it easy that we can settle in here together before Holly goes into labour.’
‘Nice for me to get away. I need a break from home and you needing me for six months is perfect. Thanks for setting us up with Sandy; knowing a good babysitter makes it smooth.’
‘We’re experts with babysitters. Been juggling for a while now. It’ll be nice to spend time with the family when I do go on leave.’
‘You have a baby in order to get holidays?’ Jace teased him.
‘This one wasn’t planned. Holly kept one day a week in the surgery to stay current. Sandy’s a treasure with the twins and comes across to pick them up. Jemima will love her.’
Sounded hectic to Jace. ‘When’s your baby due?’
‘Six weeks, but Holly’s tired and happy to give up her office to you now. Even happier I’ll be on leave before the baby comes. Come in and look around.’
Jace followed his friend up the two steps into the surgery entrance, then into a light, roomy waiting room with lots of empty chairs and stopped at the front desk with Ben.
‘Jace Bronson, this is Imelda Miles, receptionist extraordinaire and best scone maker in Wirralong.’
‘Hello, Jace. Good to meet you.’
‘And you, Imelda.’ They nodded and both looked at Jemima who jammed her face against Jace’s shoulder.
‘And who’s this?’ The smiling, older lady with the same pure white hair his mother had—a good omen, Jace hoped—lifted a hand in an enthusiastic wave at Jemima.
‘And nice to meet you, too, Jemima.’
Ben gestured to one of the consulting rooms and Jace waved back at the receptionist and followed his friend in for a look.
One wall of the consulting room, the one that faced the street, had been built out of glass bricks, letting in light while maintaining solid patient privacy. The desk stretched large and mahogany in front of the light from the frosted glass, and on the back wall behind a pulled-back curtain the examination couch hid. The computer and printer looked state-of-the-art, as did the instruments and monitoring equipment, and from what he’d seen already, everything else in the surgery.
‘Nice set-up, Ben.’
‘Furnished from scratch,’ Ben said. ‘Everything was new a couple of years ago, when I moved to town.’
Lucky for him, Jace thought. It made it easy for someone who’d been working as a paediatrician, with all his equipment mostly child sized. ‘Suits me not to have to order anything. We’re only here six months.’
‘We’re not trumpeting that to the populace. You never know. You might decide to stay longer.’ Ben waggled his brows and changed the subject. ‘This will be your room, I’ll keep my office, in case you get snowed under, and there’s a mini-surgery treatment room, and an immunisation room. When I go on leave, the new midwife will use my office for antenatal appointments, unless I come in to help.’
‘When does she arrive?’
‘Tomorrow. Lacey, the previous midwife, has her second baby due a week before ours.’
Jace gestured at the window. ‘Do you need a midwife in a small practice like this?’ He had reservations about midwives.
Ben laughed. ‘Don’t let Lacey hear you say that. In truth, best thing I ever did was hire her. And this new midwife is a friend of hers from Perth. Holly interviewed her via video conference and we met her in person last week. We’re very impressed. Lacey and her friend are both women’s health nurses, and I know Lacey’s incredible with the mums and bubs in town. Between her and Holly we have nearly every family in town on our books.’
He pretended to grimace. ‘In my usual working day, I get the senior citizens who are lovely, haemorrhoids—not so lovely—and all the crusty men. They’ll be your clientele.’
Jace laughed. ‘Sounds a different demographic to my kids in the city.’
‘Oh, I think you’ll enjoy small-town medicine.’
Jace rubbed the back of his neck. He hoped so. ‘Not something I would have thought five years ago.’
Ben’s face creased into a teasing grin. ‘You always were going to be the hot-shot paed. Will you miss that?’
Jace shrugged. He couldn’t deal with dying kids. Not after he lost his wife and unborn baby. He knew what it was to have a gaping hole in the family. When tragedy struck for one of their small clients, they’d had the support of each other. Without Jenny … ‘Be a nice change to deal with kids who aren’t battling the effects of being born prematurity or worse.’
‘Please God.’ His friend shuddered. ‘You’ll be able to use your extra paediatric skills here, don’t you worry.’ He looked innocent. ‘How are you with fractures from tree falls?’
Jace felt the uplift of his spirits. Ben always had known the right thing to say. ‘Reckon I can handle that.’
‘Welcome to Wirralong.’
End of Excerpt