The Rebel

By: Victoria Purman

(The Millionaire Malones Book 3)


Chapter One







There were voices penetrating the thick fog in Cooper Malone’s head. Like he was underwater and someone above the water line was calling to him, attempting to get his attention. He tried to wake up but couldn’t. There was a dead weight in his head and the voices weren’t making any sense; they were just slurred and fuzzy snatches of a language that sounded foreign to him. There was beeping too, a repetitive sound like the warning from a reversing truck, and something cool and crisp under his fingers. And when he tried to open his eyes, the bright, bright lights stung. Something on his left leg was heavy and tight. His tongue felt thick and when he tried to speak, he couldn’t seem to make the words come out in the right order. Or the right language. Everything felt like slow motion. His heart was beating loud in his ears and something hurt real bad.

When he tried to move, he felt it. Something hurt like hell. Something other than his head. Where was he? What the hell was going on? Memories came back to him, slow and fragmented. He’d been walking down the sandy pathway under the train track to Trestles, his surfboard under his arm, the E on his left and the S on his right, the letters on the concrete pillars spelling out the name of the beach he’d grown to love.

Last thing he remembered he was in San Clemente, on his board, with the bright morning light in his eyes and the warmth of the Southern Californian sun on his back as he paddled, and the Pacific Ocean’s waves rolling over him. It was his one link to home, that ocean. He’d grown up surfing it from the other side of the Pacific, halfway across the world, on Sydney’s beaches.

But he wasn’t in Australia now.

Cooper closed his eyes and gave in to the fog, let it thicken all around him, allowed it to seep into his mouth and down into his lungs and to every limb and then he was back in never-never land.

*

Maggie MacLean stood at the side of Cooper’s hospital bed, arms crossed, trying not to imagine the worst. The most infuriating man she’d ever met lay flat on his back, doped up to the eyeballs, and was sporting a hospital gown that was way too small. He looked even more tanned than usual against the white of the sheets, and his out-of-control blond hair looked like he’d been in a wind tunnel. Those blue eyes of his – usually teasing but now unfocused and confused – had fluttered shut and his head had dropped to the side. Right under his hairline, above his left eye, she could make out his scar, gouged when he’d been hit by a fin on his first surfboard when he was twelve. He loved to tell her son, Evan, that story, embellishing it with buckets of blood and a trip in an ambulance. She glanced down to the end of the bed and, yes, one ankle at the end of a long, long leg was dangling over the side. The other was raised on a bed of pillows and covered with a sheet.

The big, infuriating man roused, squinted and then his cheek hit the pillow again.

‘Cooper, you damn fool,’ Maggie said softly, glad he was semi-conscious so he wouldn’t see her tears and the shuddering in her shoulders as she watched him. ‘You awake?’

‘Ess …,’ he muttered.

She leaned closer. ‘What was that?’

‘Eeee …’ Then his eyes drifted closed again, and he began to breathe deeply.

S? E? Essie? How perfectly appropriate that Cooper Malone should be just hours out of surgery and already whispering some woman’s name. Knowing him, he’d probably been trying to impress some beach bunny or other when he’d done something stupid and hurt himself out on the waves at one of San Clemente’s iconic beaches.

There were always women around Cooper Malone, the pro surfer, Australian larrikin and her long-time friend. Or ‘mate’ as he always liked to describe her.

Mates or not, she still wanted to kill him. If he were awake right now, instead of sleeping off the anaesthetic, what would she be saying to him?

You’re such an idiot.

Don’t you know better?

What were you thinking?

So you think you’re Superman or something?

Maggie squeezed her fingers together in a knot and allowed herself to exhale. At least if he was asleep he wouldn’t be feeling any pain. Not that she didn’t want him to hurt. Oh, hell yeah, she did. She wanted him to feel every bit of pain from wilfully disobeying his doctor’s instructions and getting on that stupid board of his when he’d been specifically and repeatedly told not to. He’d winked at her across her kitchen table and grinned, saying ‘I’ll be fine. I’m an Aussie. We’re tough as kangaroo hide.’

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