Breathless For You

Outback Skies, Book 2

Lexxie Couper

Chapter 1

Two steps into the Outback Skies Pub, a place so stereotypically Australian Outback it could have been used in a Crocodile Dundee movie, Matt Corvin, M.D. was struck just below the eye by a cardboard beer coaster.

“Busted.” A man in a beat-up cowboy hat grinned at him from a table to his right just inside the main door. “You were thinking about Captain Tight Pants again, weren’t you?”

Dropping himself onto the table’s only empty seat, Matt let out a disgruntled chuckle and rubbed at his cheek. “Nice aim you’ve got there, Ryan.”

Ryan Taylor, heli-musterer and Wallaby Ridge’s only openly gay man, laughed. The sound completely matched the way he looked—rough and rangy. “I’ve got an eye for nabbing befuddled animals. Before I took to the skies to round up cattle, I was pretty damn good at using a rope.”

Matt gave Ryan a wounded look. “You calling me a befuddled animal?”

He had been thinking of his prickly, standoffish pilot again, but was that any need for the beer-coaster assault?

Ryan smirked. “When it comes to Natacha Freeman? Yep.”

At the mention of the person responsible for flying him all over the vast area of the Outback covered by the Royal Flying Doctors Service, a tight heat curled in the pit of Matt’s gut. And lower. Damn it, he’d just spent the last three hours in her company thanks to an emergency at a cattle property two hundred and fifty kilometres from Wallaby Ridge. For his own peace of mind, he was hoping to get away from thoughts of her for a while. But nope, it seemed like his mates were determined to give him hell tonight.

Bastards.

The man slouched in the chair beside Ryan snorted and tugged the brim of his baseball cap lower over his eyes. “Befuddled animal is an understatement,” the town’s aviation firefighter said. “More like pre-occupied, fixated, goo-goo eyed, love-sick puppy.”

Matt swung his glower on the man. “Jesus, you too, Evan?”

Evan Alexander’s lips curled in a slow grin, the white scars covering the lower left side of his face giving the expression far more menace than Matt knew it had. It wasn’t often Evan smiled, or even let the collar of his jacket rest on his shoulders.

“Corvin, I’ve got a group of doped-out tourists from Amsterdam in lock-up less befuddled than you.” Charlie Baynard, the last of the group—and the most intimidating—chuckled and raised his beer to his lips. “And if you say the words tight jeans one more time, I think I’m going to have to throw you in there with them.”

Trying to ignore the now familiar tension in his body at the thought of Tash’s exquisite arse wrapped up in the faded Levis she wore daily, Matt sat back in his seat, crossed his arms over his chest and gave Wallaby Ridge’s Senior Constable and the town’s only Air Police Wing pilot a pointed look. “Will you now, Charlie? Is that before or after I let everyone in town know I wrote you a twelve-month prescription for Viagra?”

On Matt’s left, Evan chuckled.

Charlie crossed his own arms over his chest, a chest far more muscular and powerful than Matt’s, and leveled a steady stare at him. He didn’t utter a word. Just stared at him.

Matt rolled his eyes and let out a wry laugh. “Okay, I didn’t write you a twelve-month prescription.”

Charlie nodded his head. “Damn right you didn’t.”

“It was a six-month one.”

Charlie smirked and reached for the handcuffs hanging on his belt. Cuffs he wore even when he was off-duty. When it came down to it, Charlie Baynard was never really off-duty. Not as far as Matt could tell. “Right, that’s it. Lock-up time.”

Matt laughed. So did Evan and Ryan.

Four men completely different and yet all joined by one thing—their place in the sweeping skies of the Outback.

Matt had found them in his second week living in Wallaby Ridge.

Two weeks into his new job as the Ridge’s resident Flying Doctor he’d come to the decision he needed a beer. The first he’d had since waking from the coma that had resulted in everyone he loved presuming he was dead over a year ago.

He’d wandered into the pub on a Friday afternoon, found the other three men talking about the hours they’d spent in the sky for work that week and asked to join them. He’d introduced himself and bought them all a round of beers. That had been the beginning of their tradition.

Friday afternoons in the Outback Skies, talking shit, giving each other shit, finding calm and peace in their friendship when their jobs flying high above the world left them raw and exhausted and drained.

If it weren’t for Friday afternoons, Matt probably would have done something stupid by now. Like tell Tash Freeman she had to stop wearing those tight bloody jeans of hers.

Her and those damn faded Levis that left no uncertainty she wasn’t wearing underwear beneath. Not even a G-string. After he and his ex-fiancée parted ways four and a half months ago, he’d been adamant any kind of connection with anyone was off-limits. Well, anyone of the opposite sex, that was. And then six weeks ago, Tash had swooped into Wallaby Ridge, stalking across the runway and into his life in hip-hugging, thigh-hugging, arse-hugging jeans, and he’d been connecting with the image ever since.

He was on the verge of telling her to buy a pair of sweatpants, for Pete’s sake. At least that way he’d be able to keep his mind on saving lives. He was finding it increasingly difficult to stop thinking about her and her tight jeans, tiny waist, toned limbs, pixie-cut auburn hair, round, full breasts, rarely heard laugh and rarely seen smile.

Increasingly difficult not to think about her when he was stretched out in bed alone and—

Damn it. He hadn’t come to the Outback to fall in lust. If Tash knew about the very debauched, very carnal thoughts he was harboring about her and her jeans every time he buckled into the seat beside her, she’d probably toss him out at twenty-seven thousand feet, whether he was the area’s only flying doc or not.

The RFDS-supplied pager on his hip vibrated into life. A second after that, his mobile phone began to ring and the theme music from the cult sci-fi television show Doctor Who rose above the rowdy sounds inside the pub.

“And there she is,” Evan murmured, tugging at the peak of his cap as he seemed to slouch lower in his seat.

At Evan’s side, Ryan laughed. “Duty calls, Doc. Guess you’re going to be tortured by those tight jeans some more before the sun goes down. Going to take her a coffee again?”

Pulse thumping fast in his throat, Matt silenced the pager on his hip, pulled his mobile phone from his back pocket, swiped his thumb over its screen and raised it to his ear.

“What is it, Tash?” he asked, all too aware the reason for his accelerated heart rate and constricted throat had nothing to do with whatever medical emergency he was being called to and everything to do with the woman on the other end of the connection. A woman he’d been fantasizing about for the last six weeks, even if she behaved like he barely existed.

“Reg McGuire’s fallen off the roof of his woolshed,” his pilot answered, her husky voice playing merry hell with Matt’s senses. And his body. “His wife called it in. Says she found him on the ground, bleeding like a stuck pig from the head and a wound she can’t see on his back. And unfortunately, we’re doing this run without a nurse, because Jen’s sister just went into labour and Milly isn’t answering her page.”

“I’ll be at the runway in five,” Matt said, rising to his feet.

“I’ll have the engine running,” Tash replied before killing the call.

“Bad?” Charlie asked, studying Matt as he shoved his phone back into his pocket, his cop’s instincts no doubt kicking in.

Matt reached for Ryan’s half-full beer glass, took a mouthful and then wiped his lips with the back of his arm. “Doesn’t sound good. Old Man Dingo’s fallen from his woolshed roof.”

“The old bloke with Parkinson’s?” Ryan asked, taking his beer back from Matt. “What the fuck was he doing on the roof in the first place?”

Matt shook his head. “No idea. But I gotta go. Catch you next week, guys.”

And without another word, he turned and left the pub.

He had a job to do, a good job. The job he loved doing. He just wished to bloody God he had his old pilot back.

He’d never gotten turned on by nose-picking Fred Stiller.

Ever.

* * * *

Keep your focus on Old Man Dingo. Keep your focus on Old Man Dingo.

The mantra wasn’t helping Tash at all. Nor was the fact the doc was looking sexier than freaking ever. Which wasn’t really possible, given only two hours had passed since they’d touched down from the Bourkenback cattle station call-out and this one. But he was. In those short two hours, he’d somehow grown more of a five o’clock shadow, his hair had become scruffier, the jagged scar running from his forehead down his temple to his cheekbone had become whiter in his tanned face and his shoulders had somehow become broader. Impossible.

It didn’t help that he was now doing what he did better than any doctor she’d ever known. He had an uncanny ability to make a person in serious pain forget all about the agony wracking their body with his amazing, relaxed and totally natural bedside manner.

She stood at the side of Reg McGuire’s bed, octogenarian’s wife clinging to her hand like a lifeline, and watched Matt do his thing.

God, why couldn’t he be a fat, chain-smoking, alcoholic doctor like the one who’d shattered her fighter-pilot dreams? That way, she’d have a better chance of hating him.

If she hated him, good doctor or not, drop-dead gorgeous or not, sexy scar or not, she wouldn’t spend every day wishing—deep down in the most selfish centre of her soul—for emergencies that would require them to be together.

Pathetic.

She truly was pathetic.

What would her parents think of her now?

At the unexpected thought of her estranged parents, a tight ribbon of cold pain unfurled through Tash.

“Okay, Reg, you’re done.” Matt’s warm declaration jerked her back from the brink of self-loathing dismay. She blinked, suddenly aware Old Man Dingo’s wife no longer gripped her hand.

A hot blush flooded her cheeks.

Great. Another reason to despise the doc—he made her forget where she was and what she was doing.

“Thank you so much, Dr. Corvin,” Beryl McGuire gushed, enveloping him in a hug as he straightened beside Reg’s bed. At her feet, the five pet dingoes responsible for Reg’s nickname whimpered with joy, as if aware Matt had saved their owner. “I told Reggie he shouldn’t get up onta the roof. He falls over on flat ground. But he didn’t listen ta me. Maybe now he will.”

Matt’s gaze met Tash’s. A smile shone in his blue eyes, far more…intimate than any he’d given her before. A connection.

For a moment, her chest tightened. Her heart beat faster. A dry cough escaped her, soft and sharp at once.

And then Matt was disengaging himself from Beryl’s enthusiastic embrace, his warm smile for her. “Maybe he will.” He turned to Old Man Dingo, currently flat on his back on the bed, head bandaged, right ankle resting on two pillows. “Do you hear me, Reg? You were lucky you only dislocated your hip. Next time you decide to fall from a roof, Tash here might not be in the mood to fly me out to help it pop back in, understand?”

Reg chuckled, the good-humored sound lost to a wince a second later. “If it means I’m going to see Miss Freeman,” he said, even as he reached out for his wife’s fingers with a wobbly hand, “I’m going to fall off a roof every day. Have you seen the way her butt looks in her jeans, Doc?”

Fresh heat filled Tash’s cheeks. Unable to stop herself, she flicked a look at Matt.

Just in time to see him slide his gaze away from her, his smile fading.

Great.

“Yeah, yeah,” Beryl harrumphed at her husband, rolling her eyes as she patted his hand. “We all know you’re a dirty old man, Dingo. Now thank Dr. Corvin so he can take off with Miss Freeman and leave me alone with you.”

“Oh, are you going to get dirty with me, darl?” Reg chuckled, beaming up at his wife. A warm glow filled Tash’s heart at the open love in his face. She’d never seen her parents look at each other that way. What would it be like to be the recipient of such honest affection?

Unable to stop herself, she flicked a look at Matt. And caught her breath when their eyes connected for a heartbeat.

“And that’s our cue,” he burst out, jerking his stare away. He bent at the waist and retrieved his doctor’s bag from the floor, the move pulling his rolled sleeve farther up his arm to reveal the knotted scare running the length of his inner forearm. Damn it, she even found that scar sexy on him. What was wrong with her? “Tash, you want to fire up the plane so we can leave these two deviants alone? Reg, you keep your libido in check until I say so. No roof climbing or getting dirty, you hear?”

“Spoil sport,” the elderly man grumbled, his gnarled fingers threaded through his wife’s.

Tash ducked her head with a smile, another dry cough catching in her chest. The old geezer may be stupid for trying to fix his wool shed’s roof, what with a crew of cowboys and hired hands working on his cattle station, but that didn’t stop him being adorable.

“Okay, Tash,” Matt said, giving her a very platonic smile. The type of smile he’d been affording her for the last six weeks, even when he delivered her coffee—hot, black and loaded with sugar, just the way she liked it—on every damn callout. Nothing like his earlier sizzling connection. Or even his furtive glance just now. “Let’s go.”

A prickle of irritation shot up her spine, not just at the thought of all those unexpected coffees and their strangely unsettling effect on her, but at his words. She wanted to point out that as the pilot, she was the one who decided when they took off. She also wanted to ask him why he insisted on being so damn sexy. Instead, she gave him a nod, gave Beryl a soft smile and then turned one on Old Man Dingo.

“If you promise not to climb anymore roofs,” she said, “I promise to come back next week in the tightest jeans I own. Deal?”

“Bloody oath,” Reg agreed with an enthusiastic grin, followed immediately by a hissing wince.

“Oh, Reg,” his wife tsked.

Tash dropped him a wink and then, without looking at Matt, exited the McGuire’s bedroom. Better not to look at the good doctor in case she saw that same intimate heat in his eyes again. If she did, she might do something stupid like actually let him know she liked him.

Huh. Like? Lust is more accurate. Long for, desire, ache for…oh my God, woman, stop it!

Hurrying for the front door, she heard him delivering calm instructions to the elderly couple. Heard his gentle chuckle at no doubt another joke from Old Man Dingo. Heard a scramble of claws on the polished wooden floor as the injured stockman’s pet dingoes rushed for the door she’d just opened, bumping off her calves as they ran across the threshold.

They loped about her feet as if trying to get her attention for tummy rubs. By the time she’d made it to the pickup and the stock hand waiting in it to take her and Matt back to the plane, she was grinning with delight at their canine exuberance. She loved dogs. Would have a dog of her own if she could, a scruffy mutt she’d call Doofus who would share her bed, sit in the co-pilot seat on call-outs and whose goofy doggy smile would make the doc laugh every time he climbed into the plane.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. For a whole world of sucky reasons.

Another cough sounded in her chest. Damn, it was tight today, probably thanks to the ridiculous amount of dust the dingoes kicked up, as well as the dander from their bodies dancing on the air around them. Still, a tight chest due to animal fluff and dust was preferable to a tight chest from a ridiculous sexual fantasy, that was for certain, even if it was a tad more…dangerous.

“Dingo gonna be okay?”

Tash lifted her smile from the raucous dingoes at her feet to the stock hand who had driven them from the property’s small runway to the homestead. “I suspect so. Dingo dislocated his right hip and Dr. Corvin suspects he’s also fractured his tailbone. And he now has five stitches in the back of his head, but he was very lucky.”

“Silly old bugger,” the stock hand grumbled, pushing himself off the pickup’s passenger door. “No one knew he was up there.”

Tash couldn’t decide if the grumble in the hired hand’s voice was from concern or contempt. Who knew with the cowboys out here?

“Hopefully, he won’t get up there again,” she answered as one of the dingoes nudged her hand with its dusty muzzle, begging for a pat.

She looked down into the dingo’s amber eyes, the open desire for her attention in them making her sad. “Sorry, boy,” she whispered. “I’d love to give you a pat, but I’ve maxed out on my canine interaction today. I just can’t risk it. I’ve got to fly the doc back to Wallaby Ridge and I can’t do that if I’m—”

“Ready, Tash?”

She let out a little squeal at the sound of Matt’s voice behind her. At her feet, the dingoes pranced about some more, tails whipping side-to-side as they gave him doggy grins.

The dingo that had been silently pleading with her for a pat abandoned its efforts and ran to Matt and leaped up to ram its dirty front paws right in the middle of his crotch.

Right on the not-quite-so subtle bulge in his jeans Tash knew to be his groin.

Two things happened. Matt burst out laughing even as he doubled over in surprised pain, and Tash sucked in a sharp breath. A breath that turned into a sharp cough.

Her chest tightened.

Not just a little, but too much.

Way too much.

There was a split-second of frozen weight, a heartbeat of crushing pressure, and then Tash’s lungs refused to work.

Oh no. Not again…

Terror and panic and self-hate flooded her. What didn’t flood her however, was air.

She spun on her heel and hurried away from the dingoes, Matt and the pickup. Doing her best to keep her strides purposeful, not staggering lurches, she shoved her hand—shaking, damn it—into her jacket’s inside pocket.

“Tash?”

She waved her other hand without turning, hoping to God it appeared dismissive and irritated. Better he think she was taking a private phone call than know she was really…defective.

The brutal word her mother had used to describe her, the last word her mother ever spoke to her, lashed through Tash’s head. Chest growing tighter, she closed her fingers around the inhaler in her insider pocket and yanked it free.

Defective.

“Tash?”

Oh crap, he was hurrying towards her.

Her vision blooming with black smudges, she pulled the cap from her asthma inhaler, shook the small device with furious urgency and then shoved its end in her mouth and sealed her lips around it.

She depressed the canister and sucked in a long, slow breath.

Did it all again. Swallowed the medication she both hated and couldn’t live without with desperate greed. Inhaled the Albuterol into her horrible, useless lungs.

Lungs that instantly relaxed. Lungs that decided they actually wanted to do their job after all the second the short-acting beta-agonists flowed through her wretched bronchial tubes.

She pulled another breath, slower, deeper, her vision clearing, the panic seeping from her. A little.

And then Matt was right beside her, curling his fingers around her upper arm, cupping his other hand around her face, and it wasn’t the fear of dying that gripped her any more.

It was embarrassment.

And the overwhelming need to throw herself into his arms and let him do what he did best—make a person, even one as faulty as her, feel better.

Chapter 2

Matt studied Tash’s profile, noting the way she scrunched up her face with dismay even as she tried to hide the fact she was having difficulty drawing normal breath.

His heart beat faster, far from his typical reaction to a medical situation. Less clinical detachment and more personal concern. “How long have you had asthma, Tash?”

His pilot shrugged her arm free of his loose grip and turned away, shaking her head. “It’s nothing.”

He captured her hand with his, tugging her back to face him, an action she didn’t like at all, given the way she scowled at him. “It is something,” he said, releasing her hand to place his palms on her cheeks.

Her skin was flushed. A little clammy. He rested his thumbs on her cheekbones, just under her bottom eyelids and pulled the skin down a little to peer at her eyes.

She slapped his hands away, her scowl turning to a glare. “Stop it.”

He fixed her with a level look, pressing the pads of his index and middle fingers to the pulse in her neck. “Sure. When you tell me how long you’ve had asthma.”

“Everything okay?” the cowboy who’d driven them to the main homestead called.

“Yes,” Tash called back, still glaring at Matt.

Letting out a slow breath, Matt turned to give the other man a relaxed smile. “Any chance you can give us an hour, Ted? Before taking us back to the runway?”

“Matt,” Tash growled behind him. She was not happy with him.

The cowboy tapped the brim of his hat and nodded. “Sure thing, Doc. I’ll go grab something to eat. Come get me at the work hands’ kitchen when you’re ready.”

Behind Matt, Tash let out a muttered curse. “What are you doing?”

He turned back to her, checking her eyes again without asking. “Waiting for an answer from you,” he murmured, tilting her head toward the sun a little as he studied her right pupil.

Not dilated. Clear. If one didn’t count simmering anger.

Oh yeah, she was not happy with him at all.

“Stop that.” She jerked her head away, her glare turning icy. Murderous, even.

Letting out a ragged sigh, Matt shoved his hands to his hips and fixed her with his own less-murderous glare. “Tash. You’ve just had an asthma attack. I know that because I’m a doctor. If you think you can pretend you didn’t, perhaps I need to arrange for a CAT scan and a MRI, because clearly there’s something not functioning correctly—” he risked physical injury by tapping her forehead with his index finger, “—up there.”

Her jaw bunched, turning her beautiful face—a face he saw in his dreams most nights—into a mask of enraged contempt. And then, with a wry grunt, all the rage melted from her face and her shoulders slumped. “Yes,” she muttered. “It was an asthma attack.”

Relief swept through Matt. And worry.

Because he knew what sucking down two blasts of short-acting beta-agonists did to a person. The asthma attack may have passed, but Tash’s body—and her mind, to a lesser extent—was about to react to the SABA hit. The jitters would come first, followed by an excess of energy that would cause her to be almost hyperactive. Her body would have difficulty remaining calm, as would her brain. She’d be like a charged wire, thrumming with a vigor that would border on manic. And then the crash would come. When her body burnt up all the SABAs in her system, she would, essentially, crumple in a drained heap.

Physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.

Risking her ire again, he raised her face with a gentle finger under her chin. Her eyes were still clear. Good. “Is this your first of the day?”

This time, she didn’t pull away from his scrutiny. “Yes. First of the month, in fact.”

That would explain why he’d never seen signs of her being an asthma sufferer before now. What with the hours they spent together, both in the air and on the ground dealing with patients, he was bound to have seen something before now. Unless she was having attacks in the middle of the night when he wasn’t with her…

An image of Tash stretched out on her bed filled his head, her limbs bare, the sheets tangled about her long legs, her lips parted, her eyes shuttered, her chest heaving as she fought for breath. Part wildly arousing, part medically traumatic, it caused his stomach to clench and his balls to rise.

It was singularly the most messed-up image Matt had ever experienced, and with his horrific history, that was saying something.

He really needed to get his act together and focus on the situation at hand—his pilot, the asthma attack and the aftereffects of said attack.

Slipping his fingers to the side of Tash’s neck, he counted her pulse rate. Yep, it was increasing. Growing erratic.

“I’m fine now,” she said, even though she stood still and allowed his fingers to touch her flesh. She sounded husky.

He lifted his gaze to her face again. And once again, his groin tightened. Told him in no uncertain terms it was thoroughly enjoying the chance to touch her.

She stared back at him. Swallowed. The heat from her body, the velvety-smooth texture of her skin, played with his senses and he ground his teeth.

Drew a slow breath.

Trailed his fingers down her throat, to her collarbone.

And sucked in another breath as her pupils dilated and her lips parted.

“Matt,” she whispered, holding his gaze.

Jerking his hand from her throat, he stepped back.

Fuck, what was he doing? He’d been about to feel her up. Right there. Out in the McGuire’s front yard. Mere moments after she’d had an asthma attack.

What the fuck was he doing?

“C’mon,” he said, turning away. “Let’s walk it off.”

“It?”

The one-word question scraped at his sense. As did her ambiguous tone.

Did she think he meant the sudden and damn near suffocating sexual tension between them? Did she even feel it? The way he did?

Her eyes had dilated. Which means she was in fact—

“The post-attack rollercoaster,” he threw over his shoulder as he walked away from her and the homestead, forcing his voice to sound humoured. “Let’s get it out of your system before we climb back into the plane.”

“You don’t think I can fly the bird post-attack?”

He didn’t turn at her agitated call.

If he did, he might be inclined to succumb to the need to touch her again. Instead, he kept walking, heading for the small, willow-tree-shaded billabong half a mile down the dirt road.

His whole body thrummed, a sexual urgency, an awareness he’d been able to suppress for six weeks suddenly turning his blood hot. It had been easier to make it through each day lusting after his pilot when he thought she’d placed him on the same level as navel lint. Now, seeing her physical reaction to his touch…

At the sound of crunching dry grass under stomping feet, he shot a glance to his left.

She’d caught up to him, her strides matching his, her stare fixed straight ahead.

With a practiced eye, he looked for signs of fatigue. What he saw instead was much more stressful—a stunningly gorgeous woman with a seriously pissed-off glare and a really bad case of post-attack twitches.

He could detect it in her, an inability to keep her head still. She walked beside him, shaking it, rolling her neck. Flicking out her hands, curling and uncurling her fingers.

The jitters. Coupled with a tension that had never been there before between them.

If she’d been just a patient, he’d halt their walk and tell her to sit down as the physical side effects of the SABAs wrought their havoc on her body. But she wasn’t just a patient. She was his pilot, a professional associate and the object of a six-week long sexual fantasy. He wasn’t sure he could trust himself if he touched her now.

“I hate this part.”

Her bleak mutter yanked his thoughts away from what would happen if he did, in fact, place his hands on her body, even if only to take her pulse.

“The jitteriness?”

She surprised him with a soft chuckle, and a quick grin. “Is that the medical term for it, Doc?”

He grinned back, his groin tight. “No, the medical term is post-exacerbation hyper activity, but I think jitteriness is more fun.”

She laughed again, even as she raked a shaky hand through her hair and twitched her head a little again. “You should be a pediatrician, Doc.”

He pulled an expression of mock confusion. “You think I should only work with feet?”

A warm wave of relieved happiness rushed through him when she rolled her eyes and let out a melodramatic groan, her grin returning. “You should definitely never ever think of becoming a comedian,” she said.

“Stick to what I know best then?” he asked, scrutinizing her as close as a sideways glance would allow. The SABAs were really starting to impact on her. He could see the wired energy in her body, like she couldn’t stay calm in her own skin. How long would it last before the next stage hit her? It varied with every inhaler user. And how hard would the crash be when it came?

“Stick to what you… Oh, wow.”

Her open-mouth stare took him by surprise, and he jerked his surreptitious inspection of her profile away, looking instead at what had filled her with such awe.

“Wow,” she murmured again, walking past him into the dappled shade of a massive weeping willow perched on the edge of a small waterhole. Arms out, she pirouetted a few times and then turned to smile at him. “This is beautiful.”

You’re beautiful.

Matt barely caught the words before they could fall from his lips. He swallowed, watching her walk closer to the billabong’s edge. His body reacted to the exquisite sight of her. His heart responded to the incredible thought of her.

Her. His pilot.

He’d come to the Outback, to the most isolated job he could find while still practicing medicine, to keep his wounded heart safe as it healed, and here he was, running the risk of falling undeniably and utterly head over heels in love with his pilot in just six weeks.

Fuck, he was in trouble.

*

The lush grass felt cool under her bare feet. Matt had insisted she take her boots and socks off and wriggle her toes in the soft blades. They’d both checked for snakes first, of course. Any Australian, whether from the city or bush, knew it was both foolish and dangerous to plant their feet in long grass without first searching for snakes and spiders. Matt had given the all clear with a smile before crossing his arms over his chest, affecting a serious expression and ordering her to begin barefoot toe wriggling.

“It’ll help your body relax,” he’d said with the same tone she’d heard him use with Reg and Beryl McGuire, a wonderful mix of firm command and warm comfort.

How many times had she heard him talk that way to patients and felt her soul respond to it? How many times had she played that tone over and over in her head, her body aching for a connection she hadn’t known she’d wanted until Matt entered her life?

How many times had she pretended he’d spoken to her in that tone, telling her to strip naked, to stretch out on her bed, to spread her legs so he could fuck her with his mouth?

Too many times. She’d gone through a truckload of batteries on that one fantasy alone.

And now here she was, thinking of it again, her body—already wired on a post-inhaler blast—thrumming with charged need and her vibrator six hundred and fifty kilometres away.

But the subject of those fantasies is here, Tash. Right here. In the flesh.

She shot the doc a quick look and her breath caught. Not due to her traitorous lungs, but because of the open hunger in his eyes.

Oh God, did he—

“Fuck it,” he muttered, a second before he closed the distance between them—barely a few feet—in two long strides, buried his hands in her hair and crushed her lips with his.

He swept his tongue into her mouth, a dominating invasion of greedy desire. He pushed his hips to her, the rigid pole of his erection nudging her belly. She whimpered into the kiss, clinging to his shoulders.

A raw groan tore from him, vibrating deep in his chest, and then he dragged his lips from hers and stepped backwards, putting distance between them once again.

“I’m sorry, Natacha,” he ground out, head turned away from her. The muscles in his jaw bunched. His eyebrows dipped in a frown. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

Rooted to the spot, her heart wild, Tash stared at his profile. “Why not?”

He raked his hands through his hair with a fierce swipe of clawed fingers. “Because you’ve just had an asthma attack, because we work together, because I’ve only just survived a broken heart and because you hardly ever talk to me, let alone give any indication you want me to—”

Tash destroyed the space between them and silenced him with a kiss hungrier than the one he’d given her.

For a split second, he didn’t move.

And then he did.

With a low growl, he grabbed her arse cheeks and yanked her hard to his body. Plundered her mouth with his tongue as he ground his erection to her belly.

She met his ferocity with equal need, cupping his face in her hands, sliding her tongue against his. He tasted warm and clean and incredible. Addictive. She rolled her hips, telling him without words how much she wanted this.

It didn’t matter a flying fuck she’d just had an asthma attack. This was all that mattered. His lips on hers, his need melding with hers, their mutual lust…

He squeezed her backside harder, his splayed fingers taking savage possession of her body. She moaned, the less-than-gentle touch turning her core to liquid heat, and tangled her hands in his hair.

Another rumbling growl vibrated in his chest and he dragged his lips down over her chin, to the bowed column of her throat, up to her lips again.

She’d never been kissed with such desperate hunger. With every searing stroke of his tongue on hers, with every nipping bite of his teeth on her flesh, the urgent need in her body grew tenfold. Her clit swelled with blood and desire, her pussy lips the same. Her breasts grew heavy and round in her bra, her nipples tight and pebbled.

When Matt bunched the material of her shirt in a tight fist and yanked it free of her jean’s waistband, she didn’t stop her gasp. When he shoved his hand beneath the now un-tucked cotton, his palm hot on her ribcage, it was all she could do not to cry out with wanton impatience.

Oh God, he was touching her. He was—

He closed his hand over her right breast and palmed the heavy globe.

She whimpered into his mouth, clawing the backs of his shoulders. So good. It felt so good.

“Fuck, Tash,” he moaned against her lips, kneading her breast before dragging his thumb over her puckered nipple. “You have no idea…”

He didn’t finish. Instead, he lifted the front of her shirt with a sudden shove of his arm, exposing her breast to the day. He closed his lips around her nipple and sucked on it through the satin of her bra.

She arched at the unexpected possession of her body. Shards of molten pleasure sank into the very pit of her belly. Her pussy contracted. Her clit ached. She hissed in a shallow breath, scraping her nails over his scalp, holding his head for fear he would remove his lips from her breast.

He didn’t. Instead, he hummed around her nipple, flicked its tip with his tongue and then suckled it harder, cupping the round weight of her breast with one hand as he kneaded her backside with the other.

Ribbons of fresh pleasure joined the building pressure in her core, an intense heat that made her head spin and her breath rapid. She writhed on the spot, her clit an aching button of denied need. “Matt…” she rasped, rubbing her thighs together. “That’s…that’s so good, oh God, that feels so…”

Without warning, he yanked up the other side of her shirt and fastened his lips around her other nipple.

The air licked at the wet satin covering her abandoned nipple in a wicked torment of sensations. Her mind had a second to register it, just a second, and then Matt was slipping the fingers of his hand between her breast and her bra cup.

A wave of concentrated pleasure crashed through Tash and she clawed at the back of his head. “Oh God, yes,” she groaned, arching her spine when he caught her distended nipple with his thumb and finger and pinched.

Delicious pain shot through her, searing her body with a need she never knew she had. “A…again,” she panted, her pussy contracting in a throbbing pulse. “Please…again.”

He did as she begged, pinching and pulling her nipple. This time, however, he drew on her other nipple just as fiercely with his mouth.

Her lower body, her very core, bloomed with heady lust at the unfamiliar and oh-so-amazing sensation. She wasn’t a virgin, she’d had more than one boyfriend, but she’d also been determined to become the best fighter pilot this country ever had. It had been her dream since she was a teenager. That dream had always come first to anything else, including making out. Time making out with groping boyfriends had meant time not spent studying, training…

Her parents weren’t the only high achievers in her family, and Tash had never regretted her lack of experience. And then, when her final air force medical examination had revealed she had severe adult-onset asthma… Well, after that there had been no desire to connect with anyone again.

The concept of pleasure in pain was as unfamiliar to her as failing.

And here she was, discovering in her failure a concept unlike any other. With a man she craved no matter how often she told herself she didn’t.

If this was failing again, she didn’t care.

This…him…the doc, Matt, was nothing like failing…his mouth on her breast, his hand on her breast, her ribcage, her hip…between her thighs…

Oh God, between her thighs…

Tash gasped again, bucking into Matt’s hand as he buried his fingers between her thighs and rubbed at her pussy.

The pressure, coupled with the coarse denim of her jeans’ crotch, sent fresh heat twisting through her. Her sex throbbed, a damp need pooling inside her.

He stroked at her clit through her Levis, his fingers exactly where they needed to be. She hitched out a cry of surrender, parting her thighs to grant his hand greater access to the most sensitive area.

He moaned his appreciation around her nipple, before sucking it deeply into his mouth. Once again, dark swirls of painful pleasure claimed her. Owned her.

She threw back her head, staring with unfocused eyes at the cloudless blue sky above her. The place she’d always felt more at peace, more alive…the sky. How wrong could she have been? She’d never felt this alive in the air. She’d never felt this—

Matt’s fingers slipped from her pussy and tugged at the zipper of her fly, shattering all thought of the sky and peace and flying.

She staggered back a step, the abrupt action tearing his lips and fingers from her nipples.

“Shit, Tash,” he ground out, his stare locking on her face as he straightened. Regret boiled in his eyes. “I didn’t mean…I didn’t…shouldn’t be rushing…”

Lifting one eyebrow, she lowered her hands to her fly and slowly lowered the zipper.

His nostrils flared. His Adam’s apple slid up and down his throat.

“Rushing?” she echoed, inching the opening of her fly wider apart to expose the flat plane of her belly below her navel and the small tattoo of a F-35 Lightning fighter plane inked there. “I was about to tell you to hurry the hell—”

Someone cleared their throat behind them.

He jerked away from her. Spun to face whoever had joined them, his face flooding with embarrassment, his eyes wide.

“I’m sorry, Doc,” Beryl McGuire’s wavering voice met Tash’s ears, the hesitant dismay in it mingled with undeniable worry, “but I can’t seem ta get Reggie ta wake up.”

Heart crashing way too fast, Tash turned to face the billabong, shoving her shirt back into her jeans and yanking up her fly.

“I didn’t mean ta interrupt,” the elderly woman continued behind her, “but I’m so scared he’s gone inta a coma. You said he had a concussion, and I read on Google that if someone goes ta sleep with a concussion they can go inta a coma, and I’d be lost without him, and I’m sorry for interrupting, but I didn’t know what else ta do, and Ted said you hadn’t taken off yet, and he thought he’d seen you both walking towards here, and I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean ta—”

“It’s okay, Mrs. McGuire,” Matt cut off her stressed babbling with a soothing voice. Tash didn’t need to check over her shoulder to see he was walking towards Old Man Dingo’s fretting wife. Nor did she need to see his face to know he was still shaken by what had just happened between them. “It’s better you told me now, rather than when I’d taken off.”

“I really didn’t mean ta interrupt you and…what you and Miss Freeman were…”

“It’s nothing, Beryl,” Tash heard him say, farther away now. “Honest. Miss Freeman, I’ll meet you back at the plane, okay?”

She half-turned her head, enough for him to see her silent nod, not enough for her to look at him.

A dry cough scratched at her chest. Just one.

She raked at her hair with shaking hands and cursed herself for being so damn weak.

Damn it, she couldn’t let that happen again.

Not when Matt’s words still echoed in her head now.

“Because I’ve only just survived a broken heart.”

She wasn’t going to be a rebound. There was a reason she didn’t do relationships. She sucked at them. A snarky perfectionist with little social skills and a serious failure complex had no right getting into a relationship, no matter how much she liked the doc. Being his rebound would just be asking for grief.

Her heart—and her stupid lungs—wouldn’t survive.

~

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