When district nurse Octavia Berry arrives to start her new job on a remote Scottish island, the last person she expects to see is her estranged husband. With a population of seventy-two and at the mercy of the elements, the island offers the peace and fresh start she longs for, but considerably more complications than she anticipated.
Pastor Ulysses Pine finds the island the perfect spot to assuage the sins of his youth. He spends his days tending many of the island sheep, as well as pastoring his human flock. The arrival of Octavia, the woman he abandoned on their wedding day, turns his ordered life upside down.
As Christmas approaches, Octavia and Ulysses face a collision course with the past, whilst they try to navigate through the present.
Ulysses Pine leapt out of his truck as soon as he tugged the keys free from the ignition. He pocketed them as he trotted up to the small building that served as air traffic control, arrivals, departures, and airport fire station. He grinned at the man already on the porch, dressed in firefighter gear.
Not that they’d ever had a plane crash…yet. But it was better to be prepared.
“Cutting it fine, Uel.”
Ulysses shrugged. “At least I made it. I’ve spent the last hour pulling a sheep out of the well.”
“Again?” Joe’s voice followed him into the building. “Maybe you should put a cover over the hole before the whole herd take it into their heads to follow suit.”
Ulysses chuckled as he pulled the fire-resistant outfit over his own clothes. “I intend to as soon as I get home. You have the passenger list?”
Joe held out a clipboard. “Yep. Edgar radioed before he took off.”
Ulysses read the sheet. Six passengers, a full complement. Ray and Stephanie Baxter were returning along with their nephew, Sammy Stead. Rosie and Jason Drinkwater, who ran the island’s pub/hotel, ironically called the Drinking Hole, were returning from visiting family in England.
His breath caught as his gaze hit the last name on the sheet. He read it slowly, five times, stomach pitting in shock. Octavia Berry, district nurse. It couldn’t be the same woman. Could it? He really hoped there were a dozen women with the same name in the country.
Because he couldn’t see her again. Not now, not ever.
He swallowed hard several times, unable to find his voice. “I…is this right? The new nurse is Octavia Berry?”
“According to Edgar she’s on the flight. Just as well Nance and I set the medics house up for her this morning. Lovely name, albeit an unusual one. Never heard the name Octavia before.”
“Yea…” Ulysses tried to breathe and swallow at the same time. It didn’t work. He choked and bent over, coughing hard.
Joe thumped him on the back. “Are you OK?”
His eyes streamed. With frantic coughs wracking his body, Ulysses couldn’t respond with anything other than a nod. Finally, he straightened and took the glass of water Joe offered. “Thanks,” he managed. “Just choking on air.”
“Good thing there’s a nurse coming in on the flight today then. We’ve been fortunate nothing happened since Bella left last week. Especially with Elspeth getting close to term.”
Ulysses nodded, not trusting his voice just yet. He drank the entire glassful and set it down on the window sill as the plane came into view. He fastened his firefighter jacket and headed to the fence that separated the small runway from the building. Another fence lined the entire airfield.
The plane circled, banking hard before lining up with the small tarmac landing strip. It landed smoothly.
Joe undid his jacket. “Never do need this. Edgar is too good of a pilot.”
“Aye, but the day we don’t wear them, is the day we’ll need them.” Ulysses tugged open the jacket.
The plane taxied to a stop and the door opened. Edgar jumped down and headed around to unload the plane. “Afternoon, gents.”
Ulysses nodded. Time to get back to the sheep before another one fell down the well. And before he knew for certain it was her. He’d rather remain in blissful ignorance a little longer. “Afternoon, Edgar. Right, I need to get back to the sheep. Joe, I’ll leave the rest of them in your capable hands.” He turned to leave and stopped stock still at the sight of the woman at the top of the steps.
Long dark hair fell from the edge of her red beanie almost to her waist. Her slender frame, assuming it was still slender, was bundled under a thick padded jacket. A triangle scarf in vibrant rainbow colours draped around her neck.
He hadn’t seen her in years, but she was still unmistakeably Octavia. His Octavia. The only woman he’d ever loved. The woman he’d left nine years ago, almost to the day, and moved to the ends of the earth to avoid seeing again.
This couldn’t be happening. He pulled his peaked cap down further over his face. Hopefully she wouldn’t recognise him. The beard would help with that.
He wanted to move, to get back in his truck and return to his sheep and hide. But his feet were rooted in the ground, and he couldn’t move. He couldn’t even tear his gaze away as Octavia made her way down the steps to retrieve her luggage.
Joe headed over to greet her. He held out a hand. “Joe Bloggs. Air traffic control, fire fighter, and owner of the general store.”
“Octavia Berry, district nurse.”
Her oh so familiar voice cut Ulysses to the core. Inhaling deeply, he forced himself to move. He scrambled into the building and hung up the fire fighting gear. He leaned against the wall for a long moment, trying to collect his shattered nerves. He had to make a quick exit, preferably before he had to make polite conversation with her. He exited the building and headed towards his truck.
“Hey, Uel, before you go, come and say hello. Octavia, this is Ulysses Pine. We all do various jobs as I explained. Uel here is pastor, shepherd, and firefighter when needed, which fortunately isn’t often.”
Her cool gaze swung in his direction, before her pretty, green eyes widened in recognition. Her left hand swung into view as she flicked her hair over her shoulder. She still wore the ring. Rings, he corrected. His rings.
Ulysses’ cheeks heated beneath his beard. No. More than heated. Scorched so much they could heat his entire cottage for a week.