SERIES READING ORDER
Wendy Markham. Gentle. Compassionate. Loyal. Step-mother to five headstrong children, long-time partner of the cantankerous ex-President of the Black Shamrocks MC, and the woman everyone turns to in a crisis.
Patrick “Beast” O’Brien. Brutal. Merciless. Duplicitous. A father in name only, traitor to his own Club, and a man living on borrowed time.
He’s broken all of the rules, hurt the one’s closest to him, and then run away like a coward. She’s been left behind to clean up his mess. Pouring every ounce of energy into their abandoned children, the last thing Wendy needs is for her own health to fail.
Facing the battle of a lifetime and determined to protect everyone from the fallout, she forges ahead alone. In the meantime, Beast’s found that putting your ego above your family makes for a lonely life. When he discovers Wendy’s secret, will he learn the true value of what he threw away and find the capacity to commence CONQUERING CIRCUMSTANCES?
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“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.” ~Buddha~
“The biopsy showed Invasive Lobular Carcinoma Breast Cancer. I’m sorry, but it appears that it’s already spread to a degree.”
I cross myself as the official diagnosis is delivered in measured tones that are meant to be reassuring. It’s possibly futile—this effort to keep my rapidly failing faith alive—but I say a prayer to my Lord for good measure. To be honest, in my heart of hearts, I already knew the truth which is why I didn’t tell anyone about my suspicions. Or that I had an appointment today.
With Mikhail’s release from prison this morning, my children were needed elsewhere. If they knew what I had planned for today, after the urgent phone call from my specialist’s receptionist yesterday afternoon, all five of them would be here trying their hardest to be supportive. As much as the thought of my daughter cross-examining the doctor and the boys cracking jokes to lighten the mood makes me smile, I’d much rather that they attend a happy event.
Shaking away thoughts of the children, a wry smile crosses my face at the reaction I’d receive from them if they knew I still called them children. The twins, Madeleine, and Benjamin, are twenty-three while Joel is almost twenty-two. Rounding out the siblings is Matthew at seventeen, and the baby, Lachlan, who recently turned fifteen. Hardly children anymore, although they always will be in my heart.
“Ms. Markham,” the sympathetic voice of my specialist cuts into my musing. Crossing his hands and resting them on his desk, he regards me with a serious expression. “The options are not pretty, but I’m confident that you are facing good odds. Due to this being your second occurrence, I must stress the need for a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy, in addition to the chemotherapy. You’re only forty-six. Life-saving and preventative measures are needed.”
He doesn’t have the sentence completed before I’m shaking my head. It might be a life-ending decision, but I can’t face losing my breasts and my most feminine of female body parts. Every woman has a limit to what they can handle. I know mine with absolute certainty. The decision I made twenty years ago stills stands—strong and true, and I’m as resolute today as I was back then. Life may have dealt me cruel blows with the loss of my only biological child, followed quickly by my first brush with cancer, yet even with the subsequent loss of my ability to have other children because of the treatment options available back then, I will not be persuaded otherwise.
Dr. Jenkins presses his lips together at my vehement, albeit silent denial. “Wendy, if you want to live then you’re left with no other options. With a second occurrence, one that’s already spread to the lymph nodes, chemotherapy followed by surgery is your best chance for survival.”
Internally, I’m screaming with frustration at his stern, disapproving words, although I’m sure on the outside I appear to be listening with appropriate gravity. I’ve always been a master at hiding my true emotions. It’s held me in good stead, and I hope it continues to do so because after the last few months, this is the last thing I need to deal with. Patrick is slowly driving me crazy with worry, and the children all have varying issues for which they require my ongoing support.
I don’t have the energy to fight cancer on top of it all.
“I’ll think about it,” I reply in a non-committal tone, reaching into my handbag where it rests on the floor next to my seat to pull out my beeping mobile. “I need information about the effects of the chemotherapy. Recovery times, if it’s needed weekly or fortnightly, potential side effects, the long-term effects on my health…those type of figures.”
While Dr. Jenkins busies himself with gathering the documents that answer my questions, I quickly check my phone.
MADELAINE: He’s FREEEEE!!! Come to the club and say hello xx
MADELAINE: Oh, and Dad’s in town. He was hiding in the prison carpark, but rode off before anyone could say anything to him
At the mention of Patrick, the butterflies that only he can set off take flight in my lower belly. Lust. Unadulterated, pure, orgasm inducing lust flows through my suddenly taut body. I place my palms together and slide them between my thighs until they rest against my throbbing core. Then I press my legs together in an attempt to calm myself. Now is not the time to remember that it’s been over five months since he touched me last.
Summoning every ounce of willpower I possess, I relax my tensed body and reply to Madelaine’s text message.
ME: Thank you, sweetheart. I’ll try to get there.
As I bend down to slip my mobile back into my handbag, it beeps again. Seeing that the doctor is still occupied with sliding leaflets out of folders, I pull it back out to see what Madelaine has to say to my evasive answer. She’s likely to be unhappy, as determined as she is to pull me out of the funk she feels I’ve fallen into since my split with her father.
PATRICK: I’m in Brisbane for the day. I need to see you. Please answer me, little lady.
My stupid heart—the one that still beats only for him, even after all he’s done—skips a beat. Warmth spreads through me at the effort he’s put into contacting me after I’ve continued to ignore his phone calls. It wouldn’t seem like much coming from anyone else, but I know how much he hates texting. His fingers are three times the size of a normal man’s, making it hard for him to hit the right letter. Patience not being one of his few virtues; continued mistakes usually results in his phone flying into the closest wall.
Running my eyes over his message, savouring each word as if it’s the last I’ll ever read, tears well in my eyes when I read his endearment. “Little lady” were the first words he ever said to me. We literally ran into each other in the only bakery to grace the one-horse town I called home; the town that he had moved to that very day. With loaves of bread and fresh rolls to feed his five children piled high in his huge arms, Patrick hadn’t seen me when I’d walked in front of him, engrossed in my paperback. Walking while reading is one of my quirks; one that’s resulted in more than a few accidents. Although, none have ever been as life-changing as walking into Patrick that day.
ME: Leave me alone. Please. I beg you.
I type the words, delete them, then type them again and press send before I can talk myself out of it. It kills me to be so blunt with him, although it’s unavoidable. My diagnosis is the final nail in our always doomed relationship. There is zero chance of Patrick coping with what’s to come. Not after watching his first wife perish from the same disease.
“Wendy,” Dr. Jenkin’s voice cuts into my thoughts. “This should answer any questions you have.”
Looking up from my phone with sightless eyes, I blink in rapid succession. My vision clears after a moment, and the tears that were welling retreat … for now.
“Thank you,” I reach across the table to grab the leaflets. Shuffling them in my hands, the sheer volume makes my mouth run dry. There’s so much information to take in. Waving them at him, I laugh as I try to brazen my way through the solemn silence that’s gripping the room. “A little light reading to get—”
“I’m going to give you the same advice I’d give my wife. Please get the surgery,” I purse my lips as he says this solemnly, cutting me off to make an obvious play on my emotions. “A lumpectomy is not going to stop the spread. It’s already in your lymph nodes and the surrounding tissue. Your breasts can be reconstructed, and hormone therapy will help you through menopause.”
Standing, I stuff the leaflets into my handbag. I need to get out of here. It feels as if the walls are closing in on me. His words are sucking all of the oxygen out of the room as I flee without another word, two thoughts circling my mind while I run for the car.
I don’t want fake breasts. I want the originals.
The breasts that fed my child for the glorious two hours that I had her in my life.
The breasts that cradled the head of Patrick’s five children when they cried.
The breasts that Patrick worshipped for almost thirteen agonizingly trying, yet blissfully happy years.