by Maggie Brown and Leni Hanson
What if you’re a nerdy med student and a womanizing rock star wants you as her next conquest—then leaves you totally humiliated.
Now fast-forward eleven years.
Sexy and magnetic, Australian rock star Austen Farleigh is at the height of her spectacular career. Her penchant for one-night stands is as famous as her many songs.
American Dr. Merritt Harrington now works for Doctors Without Borders and is at a crossroads in her life. Her last assignment in the Andes Mountains was harrowing, and her love life at a dead end. No one has been able to ignite even a tiny spark since Austen—damn her.
When they meet again in Australia, Merritt is desperate to keep Austen at arm’s length. But temptation whispers in her ear.
From the US to Peru to Australia and the highlands of Papua New Guinea, their desire for one another is on an uncontrollable collision course—with a force they may no longer be able to ignore.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"We wrote this book to give iconic Aussie Rock Star Austen Farleigh, (Playing the Spy) her own love story. Going with the “opposites attract” theme, we chose American Merritt Harrington, a doctor working for Doctors Without Borders, as her perfect fit. As authors from different parts of the world, it was nice to write about both countries from separate perspectives.
With no one travelling with the pandemic, it also gave us a chance to take our readers to an exotic place. Originally, we planned to set part of the book in Fiji, where there’re only the threats of volcanoes erupting and tsunamis to wreak havoc on our characters. But Papua New Guinea? Now you’re talking spectacularly beautiful mountains, rainforests and waterfalls. But also incredibly dangerous–especially if you’re a woman.
So stay close and don't wander off …"—Maggie Brown and Leni Hanson
Kaye C. - For me several things took this book to a higher level that most f/f romances. Often side characters are props and one dimensional and the romance is between the only two available women. In this book there are other romantic potentials, a lawyer, a photographer, military medical people. Merritt actually goes on outings with another woman. I enjoyed learning about the work and stresses of DWB. Austen's character was more a stereotypical singer. But she acknowledged her past and was willing to date to see where things would go. At one point a bar bet allows Merritt to show her trust and confidence in the new relationship. Another author might have turned it into a dramatic misunderstanding. I also loved Australia as the setting. When the author mentions a print of a painting I didn't know I instantly looked it up and found the original is in a bar in Melbourne. Little touches like that enhance the story and romance.
The story is told from both MC/s POV. They are both sexy and smart. They also have both been through a lot in their lives and work which makes them appreciate the importance of a relationship. I would like to know what happens to some of the side characters but the main story is full and complete.
Cathy W. - absolutely adored The Last Time We Met. Austen is your hot rocker and Merritt the doctor with less experience in love and yet to flower, and when they meet up after 10 years the spark is still there. A lovely sweet romance which keeps you entertained until the end.
Krystal S. - I loved this novel. I thought the slow burn was perfect and was expecting for one or the other to come forward with their feelings. The writing is beautiful, and the characters felt realistic. I love the fact that this wasn’t just erotic smut and it was more about the characters interactions and feelings. I want to read more of this genre and would be very much interested in reading more from this author.
Cold sweat prickled across Merritt Harrington’s skin at the sight of the ghostly line of mountains in the distance. She turned her back on the view—she never wanted to see that godawful place again. In her time with Médecins Sans Frontières, aka Doctors Without Borders, the assignment in the Andes was up there as her very worst.
Finally on her way out of Peru, her anxiety receded for the first time in weeks. She hitched her backpack onto her shoulders and fondly waved to the five nurses who hung out the windows shouting their farewells. They were the best medicine, efficient and cheery, full of jokes. Laughter always helped in horrific situations—it got you through the toughest, shittiest times.
Once the bus had disappeared into the traffic, she adjusted her crewneck sweater over her shoulders and chest. The air was cool, for though Lima was built on a coastal subtropical desert, the Pacific currents kept the temperatures low. And after the mountain-thin air and cold rain up in the Andes, her body had yet to adjust fully.
At the airport entrance, a cramp hit again in the muscle below her hip. Teeth clenched against the pain, Merritt arched her back and rotated her pelvis until it eased. The high altitude, lack of fresh food and little sleep during the last few weeks had taken their toll. Her body was a mess. And after their ordeal, the journey from Huaraz to Lima had seemed never-ending. The last thing she had wanted to do was sit on a bus for eight hours, but all available air transport had been needed for the injured. The trip had also been mentally draining, the winding curves and sheer drops exacerbating her already stretched nerves.
Inside Jorge Chavez International Terminal, she headed for the check-in counter to join the two other members of her team in the line. When they showed their passports with their DWB special visas, an attendant took them immediately to an airport lounge to wait for their flights.
Noting the comfy chairs and tables laden with drinks and food, Terry Westbrook let out a long sigh. “Now that’s a sight for sore eyes.”
The tightness around Karl Muller’s mouth softened. “God, yes. I’ve been dreaming about this for days.”
Merritt shot him a sympathetic glance. With his open grin and blue eyes that twinkled behind cute black-rimmed glasses, it was unusual for the Swiss trauma surgeon to show much stress. One of the nicest guys she’d ever worked with, he was always solid under pressure.
Terry, the third member of their unit, was from Massachusetts. She was easygoing, with short dirty-blond hair, a slightly hawkish nose and coffee-colored eyes. Contrary to Merritt who jogged occasionally for relaxation, she was a yoga fanatic with a supple, sturdy body to show for it. They’d met while working together in Virginia at the Inova Fairfax Hospital’s trauma unit as residents, became best friends, and joined DWB together.
Terry was a triage and resuscitation expert, Merritt a trauma and burns specialist, and with Karl as the field surgeon, they made an efficient, respected team.
“Let’s get a drink,” said Terry as Karl disappeared to find somewhere to charge his phone.
Merritt rubbed her hand wearily through her hair. It felt gritty, ropey, like pieces of string. All she wanted was a long hot shower to scrub away the dirt, and to get rid of the stench of death and suffering. Or try to. “I need to take a decent shower first.”
“You go ahead. I need alcohol after that fucking nightmare,” Terry said with a longing look toward the bar.
All Merritt could do was nod before she hurried away. Everyone had their own way to de-stress and Terry would no doubt be tipsy by the time they boarded. She didn’t blame her. She always took losing a patient hard, especially children.
In the quiet haven of the restroom, Merritt grasped the porcelain counter as she stared into the mirror. There was no doubt the two and a half years full-time with DWB had changed her, though this last mission had taken the greatest toll. Weight loss had accentuated the hollows and cheekbones, and for the first time in her life she could definitely see more than a glimpse of her mother in her reflection. Which was a good thing. Her mother was a real beauty.
Merritt’s body had changed as well, much leaner after food rationing and the long grueling hike down the mountain. But the real toll had been on her mentally. She shuddered as her mind flashed back over the past three weeks. The assignment had been appalling. Her nerves had been at screaming point as they worked, always conscious that the next tremor could bring down more of the mountain, on the rescue crews this time.
When the emergency call had come through, they had been attending a briefing session at the DWB’s head office in New York. An avalanche in the Andes had buried an entire mountain village of over two thousand people. With only minutes for a brief message home, they were rushed to McGuire Air Force Base to be flown by jet to Lima. From there, they’d been helicoptered up the slopes of Mount Huascaran.
Having never heard of the mountain, she’d managed a quick Internet search on the way to the airfield. Huascaran was Peru’s highest peak, twenty-two thousand feet. Although popular with climbers, it had a violent history. In 1962, an avalanche had killed more than four thousand when the edge of a giant glacier broke away and thundered down its slope. Eight years later, in 1970, the great Peruvian earthquake, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, had a catastrophic impact on the mountain. It destabilized Huascaran, sending a section hurtling down to the valley below. Over twenty thousand people were killed that time.
The information had sent chills through Merritt. She’d wondered if this one, so many years later, was going to be as bad. If the mountain was now stable, or if another landslide would follow.
When they’d arrived there had been no time to worry about personal safety, for rescue efforts had been already well underway. Teams of emergency service personnel were digging people out from under the pile of rocks, ice, and snow. So as soon as they’d hit the ground, the work had been all-out.
A Peruvian team from Lima had been the first medical responders, followed by five nurses from National Nurses United who’d arrived an hour before their DWB unit. They’d all worked in shifts, rationing sleep time.
Air evacuation of the injured had been interrupted when the rain began. Great wet sheets that sliced ferociously into the mountain. After twelve hours, the deluge abated to constant showers. Visibility had plummeted to nearly zero, which effectively stopped anymore air rescue traffic. Every available tent housed the injured. The rain had continued relentlessly, and low clouds formed a blanket over the alps. The mountain had turned to mud and slush. Occasionally, they’d heard the rumbling of landslides in the distance, the cracking of trees. Terrifying sounds, especially at night.
Of the four hundred and two people dug out alive, only fifty had been airlifted out before the rain. When hope for any more buried survivors had dwindled, a small emergency contingent had remained to continue digging. The rest of the rescue and medical crews, as well as those villagers who could walk, had made the arduous trip down the mountain. They used every stretcher and makeshift hammock to carry non-ambulatory survivors. The landslides had wiped out established tracks, leaving gaping chasms and unstable debris. It had been a frightful slog down slick icy slopes and sometimes seemingly impassable terrain. In some parts they had to crawl around crevices and stitch rock faces with rope ladders to move the wounded. And still the rain continued. Coming down from the roof of the world, she had never experienced anything so arduous or demoralizing. Thirty-seven people had died in the tents before the descent, but they had lost a further twenty-one on the way down. The last, a child, three years old.
Merritt shook the disturbing images out of her mind as she showered. Twenty minutes later, clean and dressed, she went back to the lounge. Terry had a glass of wine in her hand, with another sitting on the table for her. In fresh clothes, Karl looked more relaxed as he tapped away on his phone.
He pulled his eyes from the screen to glance up at her. “You look like a different woman.”
“I feel a lot better. It’s amazing what a good shower will wash away.”
They were silent, the unspoken hanging in the air between them. They all knew what she meant. Karl looked at the floor as if he struggled with the answer, but simply said, “It makes you value what you have. The best thing now is to have a verdammt good time with our loved ones and forget about this for a while.”
“We’re going to have a blast,” said Terry.
Merritt raised her glass in salute. “We will.” Privately though, she knew Terry was capable of handling the memories, but it was going to be more difficult for her this time. She made a mental note to book a counselor while on her vacation. Since she wasn’t going back to the States, she wouldn’t be able to access the organization’s counseling service.
Although her home was a condominium in the Washington DC area, Merritt was spending the entire five-week break with her parents in Australia, something she wasn’t quite sure about. She loved her mother, but her father still had the knack of upsetting her. Representing the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, he was in Canberra for ten weeks for special trade and border control talks. His visit coincided with the Asia-Pacific Trade Summit being held in Australia, and on Friday night, the US Embassy was sponsoring a gala dinner and ball. He’d specifically asked Merritt to be present. She was under no illusion that it wasn’t anything more than she was useful politically as a member of the prestigious Médecins Sans Frontières.
Terry was accompanying her for the first week, then flying over to New Zealand to visit her sister, Alice and her husband Ben, a policeman in Auckland.
As was their custom, they’d left “vacation” suitcases in storage at DWB headquarters ready to be shipped. From experience, they’d learned to be prepared, having often been called away at a moment’s notice to somewhere halfway across the world. And as Merritt and Terry were both single with no ties, they usually took their long R&Rs together at some resort without going home. She’d thrown in a few extra formal clothes this time, knowing she was going to need them in Canberra.
“When don’t you ever not have a good time, Terry?” said Karl with a ghost of a smile. “Just make sure you get Merritt out partying.”
Terry laughed good-naturedly. “Now that sometimes is a challenge.”
“Rubbish,” exclaimed Merritt, though she knew it was perfectly true. She preferred quieter entertainment than a nightclub. They were getting too old for that scene anyhow.
“I can imagine Terry would be hard to keep—” He paused to listen to the flight announcement over the PA system. “Bern. That’s me.” He gulped down his beer and picked up his knapsack. “You girls have a great time. I’ll see you in five weeks.” He gave them both a hug before he disappeared out the door.
They waited another half an hour to board their Qantas flight to Sydney. Merritt didn’t relish the twenty-five-hour trip, but business class this time was a bonus. At least they’d be able to get a decent rest. She could never master the knack of sleeping soundly in economy seats. All she ever could do was doze, invariably arriving with a stiff neck and aching back. Terry, on the other hand, was able to crash anywhere. On a rock if she had to.
As soon as the plane was in the air, Terry had her seat down and eyes closed. Figuring it would be better to sleep on the long leg across the Pacific after the Santiago stop, Merritt ordered a snack. In the quiet cabin without distractions, she thought about her future. Though she relished the humanitarian aspect of the service, there were acceptable and unacceptable risks. The Andes’ catastrophe could have ended up a disaster for the medical and rescue crews. It was only luck, or the grace of God, they all weren’t buried up there in the mountains.
The experience reinforced what she’d already decided. When her contract was up in six months, she wouldn’t renew it. It was time she moved on. Her mental well-being was beginning to suffer. Though she’d never regret that she’d joined the organization. It had been the most fulfilling time of her life. What had attracted her most about DWB was the fact it was non-governmental and non-sectarian. She’d had enough of strict rules living with her father, sick of his nanny-state mentality.
She had no idea if Terry wanted to leave the service as well. With her unflagging good humor and laid-back attitude, she was more suited to the life. They’d met at a hospital softball game, spent the night at the after-party swapping stories and found they had a lot in common. From then on, they had become good friends. Merritt had never considered her as a lover. That sort of attraction, for her at least, had never been there. She wasn’t too sure about Terry. Sometimes she got the impression she was just waiting for Merritt to say something. But she’d never pushed it.
They’d both had romances over the years. Merritt had dated two women while at Fairfax: a surgeon and an ER nurse. She’d never been able to commit to either of them for long. There hadn’t been that special spark.
That special spark, thought Merritt bitterly. For eleven years she hadn’t been able to forget how it felt. What stupid idiot would want the most humiliating moment of her life back. It was about time she buried that memory forever and moved on.
When she walked into Sydney International Airport, Merritt felt like Dorothy—swirling around in a tornado for weeks, finally landing in Oz. Terry had already shrugged off the somber mood from Lima and changed into vacation clothes. With her affinity for bright colors and big jewelry, she looked like she’d stepped out of Elle magazine. In jeans, navy blouse, and hair pulled into a ponytail, Merritt felt positively drab beside her. Though she’d managed some sleep, she felt ragged around the edges and could only reply in monosyllables to Terry’s happy chatter.
On their way out of the terminal, they found the lobby swarming with the press and an excited crowd of mainly teenaged girls. As they sidled past, they craned their heads to identify the celebrity in the middle of the commotion.
Terry gave a low whistle. “Holy hell,” she whispered in her ear. “It’s Austen Farleigh.”
Merritt froze. Here was the moment she had always dreaded, yet conversely longed for. To see her again.
Terry tugged at her sleeve. “Come on. Let’s get closer. I think she’s fantastic.”
She should have resisted, but she allowed herself to be pulled along by Terry, who had no qualms squeezing through the fans until she stood only a few feet away from the singer.
Merritt sucked in a gulp of air. Austen looked even more breathtaking than she remembered. Her short hair was cut edgily, her body toned and taut and her face now held a striking angular maturity. She was dressed in her customary black—that hadn’t changed. She looked powerful and confident, completely at ease as she joked and flirted with her fans. Not even the constant flashing of cameras seemed to faze her. She acted, and looked, the quintessential arrogant superstar.
Merritt suddenly felt jaded, her anger directed mostly at herself. All these years she had wanted someone who wasn’t worth the effort. This woman was completely self-absorbed, living in a bubble of money and adulation. She wouldn’t have a clue what happened in the real world. She’d probably never seen a third-world country, a refugee camp, or how a natural disaster could devastate a community.
She had indeed landed in Oz. And here was the goddamn Wicked Witch of the West.
She nearly choked when Terry called out, “Hey, Austen. Could I have your autograph, please?”
Austen turned her head toward Terry with a wink. “Sure. Whatcha name?”
“Terry…with a y.” She thrust over her backpack.
Austen gave a laugh and scrawled her signature on it. When Terry took it back, Austen smiled at Merritt and gestured to her pack. “Hand yours over and I’ll sign it too, babe.” Her eyes held not even a hint of recognition.
Merritt shook her head, unable to stop her glare. “No thanks.”
Austen looked surprised, then her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “Suit yourself.” Abruptly, she swung her head away and called out to the crowd. “Gotta go, folks.” She turned to a pretty Asian woman with long straight jet-black hair, who stood beside her with a briefcase. “Let’s go, Rose. Ring Mick and tell him we’ll be outside in a minute.”
When she moved, two men in suits appeared immediately, flanking her on either side as an airport official led them down to a private exit. They watched her go before they made their way outside to board the bus to the domestic terminal for their flight to Canberra.
They were barely seated before Terry, clearly bursting with curiosity, asked, “What on earth have you got against Austen Farleigh, Merritt? You were kinda rude to her.”
“I’m just in a shitty mood. That’s all.”
“Come off it. I know you too well to believe that. You acted like you knew her.”
“Well, she didn’t act as if she knew me,” snapped Merritt.
Terry threw her hands in the air. “Whoa! Don’t get your panties in a knot.”
“Sorry,” said Merritt ruefully. “Just let’s forget about her.”
“Okay. But you must admit she is fuckiiinnnggg hot!”
“I guess,” said Merritt with a wan smile.
All her anger gone, she slumped into her seat despondently.
She didn’t even recognize me.