Read Standing Strong Online

Authors: Fiona McCallum

Standing Strong

STANDING
STRONG

Fiona McCallum

www.harlequinbooks.com.au

About the Author

Fiona McCallum spent her childhood years on the family cereal and wool farm outside the small town of Cleve on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula. While she now lives in Adelaide, she remains a country girl at heart. Fiona writes heart-warming journey of self-discovery stories that draw on her experiences, love of animals and fascination with life in small communities. She is the author of seven Australian bestsellers:
Paycheque, Nowhere Else, Wattle Creek, Saving Grace, Time Will Tell, Meant To Be
and
Leap of Faith. Standing Strong
(which is a sequel to
Wattle Creek
) is her eighth novel.

More information about Fiona and her books can be found on her website at
www.fionamccallum.com
and she can be followed on Facebook at
www.facebook.com/fionamccallum.author
.

Also by Fiona McCallum

Paycheque

Nowhere Else

Wattle Creek

Leap of Faith

The Button Jar Series

Saving Grace

Time Will Tell

Meant To Be

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Sue, Annabel, Cristina, Michelle and everyone at Harlequin Australia for turning my manuscripts into beautiful books, for all the wonderful support, and for continuing to make my dreams come true.

Huge thanks to Kylie Mason, editor extraordinaire, for the guiding hand to bring out the best in my writing and the story, and for being so easy to work with.

Thank you to the media outlets, bloggers, reviewers, librarians, booksellers and readers for all the wonderful support. To hear that my stories, which really are from the heart, are being so widely enjoyed is amazing.

Special thanks to Jason Sabeeney and Duncan McCallum for providing some valuable insights into volunteering with the CFS. Any errors or inaccuracies are my own or due to taking creative liberties.

Finally, thanks to dear friends Carole and Ken Wetherby, Mel Sabeeney, NEL and WTC for all your love and support. I am truly blessed for having you in my life.

To the men and women volunteer firefighters
who put their lives on the line every summer, and the
families who support them.

Contents

About the Author

Also by Fiona McCallum

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Keep Reading for an Excerpt From Leap of Faith

Chapter One

Chapter One

Jacqueline hadn't been out for her daily walk for ages – certainly not while her parents had been staying. Actually, she realised with a jolt, as she rounded the edge of the rustic golf course, this was her first walk since Jacob Bolton had turned up and attacked her.

It was a glorious cool, clear summer morning. She hoicked her shoulders higher, squared her chest, and took a deep breath. Today she didn't have a worry in the world. Well, except for missing Damien, and what to do about replacing her car … And whatever that little nag pestering her was. She just wished it would reveal itself so she could deal with it and move on.

Normally, Jacqueline strode at a strong pace. Today she ambled and took the time to really enjoy her surroundings, even stopping to watch a few bees busy with the bottlebrush flowers. At the top of the hill, just past where the golf course ended and the now defunct pony club's cross-country course began, she stopped and looked back. She had a lovely view of the town laid out in its perfectly symmetrical grid below her. A few streets had broken protocol and were curved, with a few cul-de-sacs off some of the corners and sides.
How very rebellious,
she thought with a smile. Her mind wandered, imagining the council meeting for the proposed extension to the town, and some bold person suggesting a deviation from the original plan: ‘Well, Colonel William Light's grid style is nice and neat and it's worked well for us, but wouldn't a few curves here and there be nice? Let's not forget, people, this is the twentieth century, not the nineteenth! What we need is a show of progress, a bit of independence!' Jacqueline chuckled. She could almost hear their voices, which were plummy English in her mind.

She walked on a few metres down the rocky rise and perched herself on the top rail of one of the jumps. It was nice to just sit. She really didn't spend enough time just sitting, being – certainly not lately. She'd been on the go the whole time since arriving in town. It was a relief to stop for a few moments and contemplate nature. She listened for birds. Nothing. The only sounds she heard were the rustle of gum trees overhead and the whisper of a car somewhere in the distance.

She unscrewed the top of her water bottle.
Life really doesn't get much better than this,
she thought, as she lifted the bottle to her lips and took a swig. She had a wonderful job she enjoyed and found rewarding, and where she was pretty much in charge. She was being warmly welcomed into a town of lovely, friendly people and had made a great friend in her neighbour, Ethel. More importantly, Jacqueline had found a good man and was sure their relationship would evolve smoothly. She wanted to savour it; didn't want to rush in and get the stages ticked off too quickly – engagement, marriage, honeymoon, kids – only to suddenly turn around one day and wonder ‘What now?' She did think she wanted kids one day – no, she
knew
she wanted kids one day. But she had a career to better establish. She had spent too many hard years studying at university to take time out just yet. She was young; she could wait a few years before her fertility was at risk.

Jacqueline realised she was getting quite warm, and got up. That sun had some bite. No wonder there weren't any frolicking birds. She only hoped the snakes and lizards were still hidden away – she didn't fancy encountering any of them as she made her way across the creek and cross-country course around to the back of the hospital.

She thought again about Damien. She hoped he'd slept okay in his new surroundings, and that the joey was doing well. She wondered if he might drop by later in the day. She hoped so. During one of their deep and meaningful evenings snuggled up on Ethel's couch, they'd discussed communication. Jacqueline had been surprised when it had been Damien who had instigated the conversation. They shared the view that a relationship should not consist of a series of text messages, which seemed all the go these days. They'd gone so far as to outline a few rules: No ridiculous long text message back and forths. If there was something to say, say it – in person or by picking up the phone and calling. They were adults, not teenagers. Proper communication was what was important.

Damien was actually quite definite and strong with his views when you got to know him. Nothing like the shy, insecure fellow she'd first encountered in her office. He'd been so vulnerable just a few short weeks ago. Thankfully he no longer needed her; to see him both professionally and personally would be totally unethical. A big no-no.

Jacqueline stopped dead in her tracks. She felt her face go pale and her heart rate slow. Ethics.
Oh. My. God!
She brought her hands to her face, which was now starting to flame.
How could I have forgotten?
Did she have some weird form of selective amnesia? She stood there on the footpath feeling totally bewildered.
Christ. I've completely stuffed up. No, things are different out here, aren't they? Yes. Doctor Squire had been very clear about that. Yes. It'll be all right.

No. it won't.

She started walking again, increasing her pace until she was almost jogging. She felt the overwhelming need to get home. She knew nothing would be different when she got there, but felt a desperate need to get back fast to the safety of her little cottage. Her heart raced, her mind spun. She had missed a stack of ethics classes due to an ear infection and the details of the few she'd attended were little more than a blur thanks to the distraction of the pain she'd been in, and the fug of painkillers. She knew you couldn't date a patient. That was obvious; a given. But how could she have forgotten the bit about there being an exclusion period of twenty-four months? Had she known? She must have – she knew now.
How could I have been so stupid?
How could her intuition have let her down so badly? But it hadn't, had it – she had felt uneasy about Damien putting his arms around her after the frightening Jacob Bolton episode. She'd pulled away. But he'd still officially been her patient then.

Jacqueline fumbled and struggled to get the front-door key into the lock. Once inside, she collapsed on one of the wooden kitchen chairs. She felt seriously out of kilter; as if she'd just come out of a coma and found she'd lost a chunk of her life.

Okay, calm down. Perhaps it hasn't gone too far
. Now the wording came back to her, as if someone had turned a camera lens to improve the focus: the rule didn't say relationship, it said sexual activity: A two-year exclusion period on sexual activity with a former patient after terminating a professional relationship.

Now she remembered thinking the wording odd at the time, and that surely a line was crossed when an emotional relationship began, never mind sex. So how the hell had she managed to forget it until now?

Right, so technically I haven't crossed that line yet – haven't actually done anything wrong
. She felt a glimmer of relief, but in a split second it was gone. It was only a matter of time before she and Damien did make love. There was no way she was waiting two years. If she was reported, would the board say she had crossed the line by starting an emotional relationship anyway?
Oh Christ
. What the hell was she supposed to do now? Should she discuss it with Doctor Squire? Oh God, he'd have a fit. But she had to, didn't she? He was her boss.

What bothered Jacqueline most about her realisation and predicament was that she'd managed to somehow block it out. She honestly, hand on heart, hadn't given the twenty-four-month exclusion period a thought. Not once. But how could that have happened? Did she have a brain tumour, or something affecting certain parts of her memory or thought processes?

She sighed. She didn't have headaches, blurred vision, or anything of the sort. It was highly unlikely she had a brain tumour or any other neurological disorder, except perhaps being swept up and blinded by love. But she didn't feel swept up and out of her mind with lust. She was functioning as a normal, rational human being; totally level-headed. Though, clearly not, she had to concede, given the situation she now found herself in.

To be fair, it is my first time being properly in love. How was I supposed to know what it would do to me?
She almost laughed at picturing herself using that as her actual defence in front of a board hearing a complaint against her.

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