A lone kookaburra's raucous laugh vibrated the hot, torpid summer afternoon air, mocking Nick Dennison's thoughts. Thoughts that were firmly fixed in the past, over one and half years ago before everything in his life had gone pear-shaped. Back in a time when being a doctor defined him and life was work and work was his life.
Resting back on his haunches after being bent over pulling weeds, he pushed against the trowel and stood up, stretching his back. Sweat ran down his cheeks and he wiped his face against the tight sleeve of his T-shirt, leaving a trail of rich black earth against the soft cotton.
Through the shimmer of the eucalypt-oil heat haze he could see in the distance the small fishing town of Port Bathurst, affectionately known by the locals as Port. Snuggled into the curve of white sand and turquoise water, protected on one side by a treacherous reef and on the other side by a granite flecked mountain, Port was a glorious work of nature and far from the man-made inner city life he'd always known.
A wet nose nuzzled his ankle as a ball dropped next to his foot. He glanced down at the intelligent and loving eyes of his Blue Heeler. 'Have you rounded up the chooks yet, Turbo?'
The dog cocked his head to the side, picked up the ball and sat down, hope and expectation clear in his expression.
Nick rubbed the cattle dog's black ears. 'I take it that's a yes.' He accepted the saliva-covered ball and hurled it off into the bracken, watching the dog tear after it. He used to talk to a hundred people a day - now he was conversing with a dog and talking to his vegetables. He'd craved solitude and simplicity for a long time. Now he finally had it.
He heard the phone ringing through the open window of his cottage and instinctively glanced at his watch. Tuesday. Five o'clock. His mother would have just got in from her mid-week ladies tennis match. He let the phone ring out. Being asked a hundred questions about his health and his lack of future plans, wasn't conversation.
He grabbed a shovel and started spreading manure, losing himself in the joy of being able to do physical work again, closing his mind to everything except the rhythm of the movement.
Doctor Kirby Atherton jogged down the long Port Bathurst pier just as last tinges of orange faded from the cloud studded sky. Another hot day was on its way which would make the holiday makers visiting town happy, but distress many of her elderly patients. She'd only been in town a few weeks but her early morning run was part of her routine. She lacked control over many things in her life, but keeping fit, that she could control. Running both exhausted and exhilarated and helped keep the demons at bay.
'Morning, Doc.' A wide grin sliced across a weather- beaten face.
Kirby jogged on the spot, next to a stack of crayfish pots and looked down at Garry Braithwaite sluicing his fishing boat. 'Morning, Garry.'
'Everyone calls me Gaz, love.'
She noted his request for next time she greeted him. Acclimatising to Port was a lesson in letting go of city ways and shortening every long name and lengthening every short one. 'Good catch?'
'Not bad.' He indicated a large white plastic trough filled with crawling crustaceans. 'These beauties will be in Japan before you're in bed tonight.'
'That's amazing.' She glanced behind her at the fish co-op which was a blaze of lights. This was its busiest time of day as it accepted the catches of the local fleet. She turned back a wistful tone in her voice. 'Are they all going to Japan? Not even a few to the Farmer's Market?'
'Just the ones the co-op rejects. I've got about five.' He started to wind up the hose, his expression cheeky. 'Do you have a special dinner guest tonight, Doc? Perhaps you should talk to Deano and get some abalone.'
Kirby ignored the inference. In some ways coming to Port had been like stepping back in time. It appeared to be the small town's opinion that no matter how qualified, successful or independent a woman was, if she was young and single she must be looking for a husband. A few months ago Kirby might have agreed. 'Save me a small cray, Gaz and I'll catch you at the market in half an hour.'
She turned and switched on her MP3 player, and with her feet matching the thumping bass beat she ran toward the aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the sweet smell of fruit muffins straight out of the oven, and the scent of rich brown earth clinging to freshly-picked produce.
She'd been trying to get to the market for the last three Saturdays but each time a sick patient had derailed her plans. Coming to Port was supposed to be the start of her GP training but within a week of starting as the town doctor, her mentor had fallen ill. Without supervision, Kirby was flying by the seat of her pants.
It was still early in the season but if the last weeks had been a typical Port Bathurst summer then she really needed some extra help as well as a mentor. She didn't want to have to move again and find another GP program, and returning to Melbourne was not an option. Surely there was an experienced doctor with a family who wanted to have an idyllic summer by the sea?
But Port Bathurst wasn't Lorne or Sorrento, it didn't have designer clothing shops, the mobile phone coverage was intermittent and the dial-up internet was really more down than up. The glory days of it being a gold rush port had faded. Today, it sat at the end of a very long road, with a large chunk of wilderness between it and the nearest town. Although all these things had been part of the temptation that drew Kirby to the historic town, it seemed to put most people off. No one had answered her advertisement.
Kirby surveyed the slowly building crowd. It was still early so there was a marked absence of teenagers but plenty of empty-nesters clutching well-planned lists, examining the fresh produce and enthusiastically haggling over prices. Toddlers and preschoolers full of energy zipped up and down between stalls, way ahead of their half-asleep parents. A man in his thirties walked past, pride radiating off him as he held his wife's hand and wore a baby sling on his chest, his newborn snuggled against him fast asleep.
Family is everything. She steeled herself against Anthony's uncompromising voice but it wasn't enough to stop the ache that throbbed inside her whenever she glimpsed such a scene. She swallowed against the tightness in her throat, rolled her shoulders back and kept walking. Forget eating healthy -right now she needed hazelnut coffee and a hot jam donut.
She unexpectedly paused, derailed in her quest by the sight of an old wooden trestle table groaning under the weight of bountiful vegetables. Arranged in groups for effect, the vivid colours of nature demanded attention. The red and green skins of the capsicums shone, the plump white ends of spring onions contrasted stunningly with the healthy dark green tails, and the ruby tomatoes promised an old-fashioned, rich flavour. The vividness of the colours astounded her and she was struck by how lush and enticing everything looked. These vegetables glowed with good health and were positively sexy.
'Can I help you?'
The deep voice vibrated the air around her, moving it across her skin like a silk caress and leaving behind a tingling trail of unmet need. Completely stunned by her body's reaction to a disembodied voice, she glanced up.
Emerald green eyes, the colour of the bay, gazed down at her, swirling with hints of blue and dancing with undiluted charm. An indistinct memory stirred.
'Anything take your fancy?'
You. She bit off the word that thundered hard and fast through her head and found her voice. 'I've never seen vegetables like this before. The colours are amazing.'
He smiled and dimples carved into his cheeks, seeming to darken his early-morning stubble. Surprisingly deep lines for a man who looked to be in his early thirties bracketed a wide mouth, and unexpected fine lines radiated from his eyes toward short dark hair streaked with silver. 'Thanks. They're my first crop of organic vegetables so I feel like a proud dad with his children.'
She raised her brows. 'Except you're selling them.'
He grinned. 'Every kid has to go out and make their way in the world.'
She laughed. He was the most gorgeous farmer she'd ever met. Not that he really looked like a farmer despite the fact he had a cattle dog sitting quietly beside him. There was no sign of a battered hat and his pressed stone coloured shorts contrasted with a fresh blue and white striped short sleeve shirt - smart, casual weekender clothes, the type that a man of the city would wear. A gym-buffed man of the city.
Working out in a gym could have given him his broad chest and wide shoulders but not the sun-kissed skin that stretched over taut muscles and was covered by a smattering of golden hair which was in stark contrast to his darker head hair. No, this man's body emanated a base power generated by sheer physical hard work.
Welcome to Port Bathurst! Summer holidays at the beach are a quintessential part of the Australian way of life. Sun, sand, surf and sunscreen go hand in hand with fetes, markets, camping and cricket. I have very fond memories of holidaying in a town pretty similar to Port Bathurst. I used to love balancing along the low wall of the pier and while my grandfather sat and fished I would run up and down the stairs to the lower jetties to watch the fishing boats unload their catch.
Every year people flood into Victorian coastal towns for a week or so, enjoy their holiday and then head back to the big smoke to resume their lives. When you visit these towns in winter they are deliciously quiet and I enjoy walking along the pier with a crisp winter gale buffeting me! Whenever I'm am visiting a town I find myself wondering about the residents and what brought them to the place where they live, and that is how I dreamed up Kirby and Nick's story.
Nick has faced down one of life's toughest challenges and he's come to "Port" for some R&R before he resumes his big city life. He has a life plan and nothing will derail him from that. Kirby had a plan but sometimes life throws a sucker punch and she's run from her big city life with no intention of returning. But her new start hits a brick wall almost from day one.
Neither Nick nor Kirby came to Port looking for love but they end up finding it under clear blue skies, on white sandy beaches and in a town that reaches out and claims them as their own.
For those of you interested in the places that have been combined to create 'Port'…they are Mallacoota, Queenscliff, Port Welshpool and Apollo Bay. If you're ever in Victoria then take the drive along the coast from east to west and soak in the glorious scenery that inspired this story.
A very sweet and heart-warming story. The author took time to develop the relationship between the main characters, which is awesome! I love reading stories where the main characters don't just jump into bed and immediately fall in love.
The only thing I didn't love, was how short the story was! I wanted to continue reading!