The Baby Of Their Dreams
The Baby Of Their Dreams
‘A compelling, sensual, sexy, emotionally packed, drama-filled read that will leave you begging for more!’
—Contemporary Romance Reviews on NYC Angels: Redeeming the Playboy
‘Has the cat got your tongue, Cat?’ he asked as she stood in silence.
It would seem that it had, because still she said nothing.
‘Well, I’ll make this very simple for you, then.’ He pushed on. ‘A, B or C?’
Cat could feel her eyelashes blink rapidly as he sped through the multiple choices he had created just for her.
‘Is the baby A—mine, B—not mine, or C—not sure?’
‘Dominic…’ she said, and how strange it felt to be saying his name while looking at him again. How odd it felt that he was here…terribly beautiful, terribly cross. ‘It’s not that simple…’ Cat attempted.
But it was to him.
‘A, B or C, Cat?’
She couldn’t meet his eyes as she delivered the answer. ‘A.’
Some stories write themselves. Not all. Often I’m tearing my hair out. But I wasn’t with Cat and Dominic. I actually had a plan with this story…my hero and heroine simply refused to stick to it.
I kept reminding them that I was the writer, but they refused to listen and I actually couldn’t type fast enough some days to keep up with them. I simply loved them both, and I wanted to get to their happy-ever-after so that I could see for myself how they worked things out.
I hope you enjoy meeting them as much as I did.
CAROL MARINELLI recently filled in a form where she was asked for her job title and was thrilled, after all these years, to be able to put down her answer as ‘writer’. Then it asked what Carol did for relaxation. After chewing her pen for a moment Carol put down the truth—‘writing’. The third question asked: ‘What are your hobbies?’ Well, not wanting to look obsessed or, worse still, boring, she crossed the fingers on her free hand and answered ‘swimming and tennis’. But, given that the chlorine in the pool does terrible things to her highlights, and the closest she’s got to a tennis racket in the last couple of years is watching the Australian Open, I’m sure you can guess the real answer!
The Baby of Their Dreams Carol Marinelli
Table of Contents
THIS WASN’T HOW July was supposed to be.
Catriona Hayes stood as her friend came out of her office but she was unable to return Gemma’s smile. ‘I’ve just got to go up to Maternity to see a patient and then we can…’ Gemma didn’t finish her sentence. Now she was closer she could see that her friend was barely holding it together—Cat’s green eyes were brimming with tears, her long curly black hair looked as if it had been whipped up by the wind and she was a touch breathless, as if she’d been running. It quickly became clear to Gemma that Cat was not here at the London Royal for their shopping date.
Cat had walked out of her antenatal appointment at the hospital where she worked and, like a homing beacon, had taken the underground to the Royal, where Gemma was an obstetrics registrar. She had sat in panicked silence on the tube and, despite being twenty weeks pregnant and wearing a flimsy wraparound dress and heels, she had been one of those people running up the escalator rather than standing and letting it take them to the top.
‘You’re not here for our shopping date, are you?’ Gemma checked, and Cat vaguely recalled a date that they had made a couple of weeks ago. They were both supposed to finish at four today and the plan had been to hit the shops, given that Cat would know by now if she was having a boy or girl.
They had had it all planned—they were going to head off for a late afternoon tea and Cat would reveal the news about the sex of her baby. Then they would shop for baby things in the appropriate colours and choose shoes for Cat and Mike’s wedding, which was just over three weeks away.
That was how it was supposed to be.
This was how it was.
‘You know how we discussed keeping things separate?’ Cat felt as if her voice didn’t belong to her as she spoke to her closest friend. ‘Can I change my mind about that?’
And, because she and Gemma had been friends since way back in medical school, she didn’t have to explain what she meant.
‘Of course you can,’ Gemma said, battling a feeling of dread. ‘Let’s go into my office.’
When Cat had found out that she was pregnant she had discussed with her family doctor, and also her fiancé, the potential pitfalls of having your closest friend as your obstetrician.
Against her own gut instinct, an esteemed colleague of Mike’s was now overseeing her pregnancy.
She had walked out on both of them today.
Now Cat walked into her friend’s office on shaky legs and, for the first time as Gemma’s patient, took a seat, wondering how best to explain what had been going on in her life. The past two weeks she had dodged speaking with Gemma as best she could.
Gemma poured her a glass of water and Cat took a long drink as her friend waited patiently. Finally she caught her breath enough to speak.
‘I had an ultrasound a couple of weeks ago,’ she started. ‘There were some problems… I know I could have spoken to you but Mike wanted to wait for all the test results to be in before we told anyone. If we told anyone…’ Tears were now falling thick and fast but she had run out of sobs and so was able to continue. ‘The results are not good, Gemma. They’re not good at all. I had an amnio and the baby has Edwards syndrome…’ Cat elaborated further. ‘Full-form Edwards syndrome.’ She looked at her friend and saw Gemma’s small swallow as she took in the diagnosis.
‘What does Mike say?’
Not only had Cat found out her baby was terribly sick, but also in these past two weeks her relationship had crumbled.
‘Mike says that it’s not part of the plan… Well, he didn’t have the guts to say it like that. He said that as a paediatrician he knows better than most what the baby would be up against and what we’d be up against—the anomalies are very severe. There really isn’t much hope that it will survive the birth and if it does it’s likely to live only for a few hours.’ Her voice was starting to rise. ‘He says that it’s not our fault, that we’ve every chance of a healthy baby and so we should put it behind us and try again…’ Cat’s eyes flashed in anger. ‘He’s a paediatrician, for God’s sake, and he wants me to have a late abortion.’
‘What do you want, Cat?’ her friend gently broke in. ‘Do you even know what you want?’
‘A healthy baby.’
Gemma just looked.
‘And that’s not going to happen,’ Cat said.
Finally she had accepted it.
She sat there in silence. It was the first glimpse of peace she had had in two weeks. Since the first ultrasound, at Mike’s strong suggestion, they had kept the findings to themselves and so she had been holding it all in—somehow working as an emergency registrar, as well as carrying on with their wedding plans and doing her best to avoid catching up with Gemma.
At first Cat had woken in tears and dread for her baby each morning. Today, though, she had woken in anger and, looking at the back of her fiancé’s head and seeing him deeply asleep, instead of waiting for him to wake up, she had dug him in the ribs.
‘What’s wrong?’ Mike had turned to her rage and she had told him they were through. That even if, by some miracle, the amnio came back as normal today, there was nothing left of them.
The amnio hadn’t come back as normal.
Cat had known that it wouldn’t; she’d seen the ultrasound and nothing could magic the problems away.
It had been confirmation, that was all.
Now Gemma gave her the gift of a pause and Cat sat, feeling the little kicks of her baby inside her as well as the rapid thud of her own heart. Finally both settled down as she came to the decision she had been reaching towards since the news had first hit.
‘I understand that it’s different for everyone. Maybe if I’d found out sooner I’d have had a termination.’ She truly didn’t know what she might have done then; she could only deal with her feelings now. ‘But I’m twenty weeks pregnant. I know it’s a boy and I can feel him move. He’s moving right now.’ She put a hand on her stomach and felt him, in there and alive and safe. ‘Mike keeps saying it would be kinder but I’m starting to wonder, kinder for whom?’
Gemma was patient and Cat waited as she rang through to the hospital where Cat was being seen and all the results were transferred.
Gemma went through them carefully.
And she didn’t leave it there; instead, she made a phone call to a colleague and Cat underwent yet another ultrasound.
Her baby was imperfect, from his too-little head to his tiny curved feet, but all Cat could see was her son. Gently Gemma told her that the condition was very severe, as she’d been told, and she concurred that if the baby survived birth he would live only for a little while.
‘I want whatever time I have with him,’ Cat said.
‘I’ll be there with you,’ Gemma said. ‘Mike might—’
‘I’m not discussing it further with Mike,’ Cat said. ‘I’ll tell him what I’ve decided and it’s up to him what he does, but as a couple we’re finished.’
‘You don’t have to make any rash decisions about your relationship. It’s a lot for any couple to take in…’
‘We’re not a couple any more,’ Cat said. ‘I told him that this morning—as soon as things started to go wrong with the pregnancy, even before things went wrong, I felt as if I didn’t have a voice. Well, I do and I’m having my baby.’
It was a long month, a difficult month but a very precious one.
Cat cancelled the wedding while knowing soon she would be arranging a funeral but she pushed that thought aside as best she could.
Her parents were little help. Her mother agreed with Mike; her father just disappeared into his study if ever Cat came round. But she had Greg, her brother, who cleared out all her things from Mike’s house.
He didn’t hit him, much to Cat’s relief.
And, of course, she had Gemma.
At the end of July and at twenty-five weeks gestation Cat went into spontaneous labour and Gemma delivered her a little son. Thomas Gregory Hayes. Thomas because she loved the name. Gregory, after her brother. Hayes because it was her surname.
Cat would treasure every minute of the two precious days and one night that Thomas lived.
Most of them.
His severe cleft palate meant she couldn’t feed him, though she ached to. She would never get out of her mind the image of her mother’s grimace when she’d seen her grandson and his deformities—Cat had asked her to leave.
For two days she had closed the door to her room on the maternity ward and had let only love enter.
Her brother, Gemma and her new boyfriend, Nigel, a couple of other lifelong friends, along with the medical staff helped her care for him—and all played their part.
When Cat had no choice but to sleep, Greg, Gemma or Nigel nursed him and Thomas wasn’t once, apart from having his nappy changed, put down.
His whole life Thomas knew only love.
After the funeral, when her parents and some other family members had tried to tell her that maybe Thomas’s passing was a blessing, it was Gemma who held Cat’s hand as she bit back a caustic response.
Instead of doing as suggested and putting it all behind her and attempting a new normal, Cat took all her maternity leave and hid for a while to grieve. But as her return-to-work date approached she felt less and less inclined to go back, especially as Mike still worked there.
She applied for a position in the accident and emergency department at the London Royal, where her baby had been born and where Gemma worked.
Four months to the day that she’d lost her son Cat stepped back out into the world… Only, she wasn’t the same.
Instead, she was a far tougher version of her old self.
Seven years later
‘YOU’RE FAR TOO cynical about men, Cat.’
‘I don’t think that I am,’ Cat answered, ‘though admittedly I’d love to be proven wrong. But, no, I’m taking a full year off men.’
Cat was busy packing. Just out of the shower she was wearing a dressing gown and her long, curly black hair was wrapped in a towel. As she pulled clothes out of her wardrobe she chatted to her close friend Gemma, who was lying on Cat’s bed and answering emails on her phone.
They were two very busy women but they usually managed to catch up a couple of times a week, whether at the hospital canteen, a coffee shop or wine bar, or just a quick drop-in at the other’s home.
This evening Cat was heading to Barcelona for an international emergency medicine conference, where she was going to be giving a talk the following morning. She had got off early from her shift at the hospital to pack and Gemma had popped around to finalise a few details for the following weekend. Gemma and Nigel’s twin boys, Rory and Marcus, were being christened and Cat was to be godmother to Rory.
They were used to catching up on the run. Any plans they made were all too often cancelled at the last minute thanks to Cat’s position as an accident and emergency consultant and Gemma juggling being a mother to two eighteen-month-old boys as well as a full-time obstetrician.
Their lives were similar in many ways and very different in others.
‘So you and Rick have definitely broken up?’ Gemma checked that Cat’s latest relationship was really over.
‘He’s been gone a month, so I’d say so!’
‘You’re not even going to think about it?’
‘Why would I consider moving to Yorkshire when I’m happy here?’
‘Because that’s what couples do.’
‘Oh, so if Nigel suddenly decided that he wanted to move to…’ Cat thought for a moment and then remembered that Nigel was taking French lessons. ‘If he wanted to move to France, you’re telling me that you’d go?’
‘Not without consideration,’ Gemma said. ‘Given that I’m the breadwinner there would have to be a good reason, but if Nigel really wanted to, then, of course, I’d give it some thought. Relationships are about compromise.’
‘And it’s always the woman who has to be the one to compromise,’ Cat said, but Gemma shook her head.
‘I don’t agree.’
‘You’ve never played the dating game in your thirties.’
‘Yes, I have—Nigel and I only married last year.’
‘Ah, but the two of you had been going out for ever before then. It’s different at our age, Gemma. Men might say that they don’t mind independent working women and, of course, they don’t—just as long as you’re home before them and have the dinner on.’
‘Rubbish!’ Gemma responded from her happily married vantage point. ‘Look at Nigel—I work, he gave up teaching and stays home and looks after the children, and the house and me…’
‘Yes.’ Cat smiled. ‘Well, you and Nigel are a very rare exception to my well-proven theory.’
But Gemma suddenly had other things on her mind when she saw what Cat was about to add to her case. ‘Please don’t take them,’ Gemma said, referring to Cat’s running shoes. ‘They’re ugly.’
‘They’re practical,’ Cat said. ‘And they are also very comfortable. I’m hoping to squeeze in a little bit of sightseeing on Sunday afternoon once the conference wraps up. There’s a modern art museum, hopefully I’ll get some inspiration for this room…’
She looked around at the disgusting beige walls and beige carpet and beige curtains and wished she knew what she wanted to do with the room.
Gemma got off the bed and went to Cat’s wardrobe and took out some espadrilles.
‘Take these instead.’
‘Yes, Cat, for walking, not striding…’ She peered into her friend’s luggage. ‘Talk about shades of grey—that’s the saddest case I’ve ever seen. You’re going to Spain!’
‘I’m going to Spain for two nights to catch the end of a conference. I’m not going on a holiday. I shan’t even see the beach,’ Cat pointed out. ‘I wish that I was flying off for a holiday,’ she said, and then sat on the bed. ‘I hate July so much.’
‘I know you do.’
It had been seven years since Thomas had died.
She didn’t lug her grief around all the time but on days like today it hurt. Gemma smiled as her friend went into her bedside drawer and took out his photo. Cat kept it there; it was close enough that she could look at it any time and removed enough not to move her to tears. The drawer also meant she didn’t have to explain the most vital piece of her past to any lovers until she was ready to.
She simply found it too painful.
‘Rick asked how likely I was to have another one like him,’ Cat admitted. It was what had really caused the end of her latest relationship. ‘I told him about Thomas and then I showed him his photo…’
‘He’s not a doctor, Cat,’ Gemma said. ‘It’s a normal question to ask. It’s one you’ve asked.’
‘I know that. It was more the way…’ She was so hypersensitive to people’s reactions when they saw her son but she smiled when Gemma spoke on.
‘I loved how he smiled if you touched his little feet,’ Gemma said, and her words confirmed to Cat that she was very blessed to have such a wonderful friend. ‘He’s so beautiful.’
Not to others perhaps but they had both seen his lovely eyes and felt his little fingers curve around theirs and they had felt his soft skin and heard his little cries.
And this was the hard part.
It was late July and she’d be away on those days.
The day of Thomas’s birth and also the day that he had died.
‘Do I take his photo with me?’ Cat asked, and Gemma thought for a moment.
‘I don’t think you need his photo to remember him,’ she said.
‘But I feel guilty leaving him in the drawer.’
‘Leave him with me, then,’ Gemma said. ‘I’ll have a long gaze.’
Yes, she had the very best friend in the world, Cat thought as she handed over her most precious possession, and because she was going to start crying Cat changed the subject. ‘Hey, did you have any luck tracking down that dress for the christening?’
Gemma shook her head as she put the photo in her bag. ‘I knew that I should have just bought it when I saw it. It was perfect.’
‘It was very nice, but…’ Cat didn’t continue. A white broderie anglaise halter-neck with a flowing skirt was a bit over the top for Cat’s tastes but, then, that was Gemma.
And this was her.
She pulled on some white linen pants and a coloured top and added the espadrilles.
‘Am I girlie enough for you now?’
‘You look great.’ Gemma laughed. ‘It’s once you get there that worries me. With those clothes you’ll just blend in with all the others…’
‘Which is exactly my intention,’ Cat said. ‘I have to go soon.’
‘But your flight’s not till nine.’
‘I know but I’ve booked in to get my hair blow-dried on the way.’
Her long black curls would be straightened, just as they were twice a week. Cat always washed it herself before she went to the hairdresser’s, though.
It saved time.
They headed downstairs, chatting as Cat did a few last-minute things. ‘You’re speaking in the morning?’ Gemma checked.
‘At nine.’ Cat nodded. ‘I’d have loved to have flown last night but I couldn’t get away. Hamish isn’t back till tomorrow and Andrew is covering me this weekend. Same old. It would have been nice to stay on for a bit and spend a few days in Barcelona…’
‘Are you ever going to take some time off?’
‘I’m off in October for three weeks.’ Cat smiled. ‘My exams will be done and I’m going to celebrate by decorating my bedroom. I can’t wait to turn it into something that doesn’t make me want to sleep downstairs on the sofa.’
‘You’ve done an amazing job with the house.’
Last year, after a year of looking, Cat had bought a small two-bedroom home in a leafy London suburb. It was a twenty-minute drive to work at night, which meant, if Cat was on call, that she had to stay at the hospital. Yes, perhaps she could have bought somewhere just a little bit closer but the drive did mean that when she left the hospital, she really left the building.
Here, she could pull on tatty shorts and a T-shirt and get on with her second love—knocking down walls, plastering and painting. The house had been a real renovator’s delight and Cat had delighted in renovating it.
The ghastly purple carpet had been ripped up to expose floorboards that, once sanded and oiled, brought a warmth to the house. A false wall in the lounge had been removed to reveal a fireplace and the once-purple-themed bathroom was now tiled white with dark wood fittings and had a gorgeous claw-foot bath.
‘Will you sell it once you’ve decorated the bedroom?’
‘I really don’t know,’ Cat admitted, tipping milk down the sink. ‘Initially that was the plan, but now I love the place and want to simply enjoy it, but…’
‘I’ve really enjoyed doing it up bit by bit. I’m going to miss that.’
‘After your bedroom you’ve still got the garden to make over.’
‘Oh, no!’ Cat shook her head. ‘I’ll get someone in to do that.’
As they headed out, Cat locked up and Gemma looked at the small front garden.
‘It’s the size of a stamp,’ Gemma pointed out. There was just a rickety path and two neglected flower beds, and the back garden, Gemma knew, was a small strip of grass and an old wooden shed. ‘You could have it sorted in a few days…’
‘Nope!’ Cat smiled. ‘I have black thumbs.’
They said goodbye on the street.
‘We’ll catch up properly soon,’ Cat promised. Both women knew that they wouldn’t get much of a chance to gossip at the christening. ‘I’ll come over to yours after the conference. I haven’t seen the twins for ages. I’ll bring them a stuffed donkey each back from Spain.’
‘Please, don’t!’ Gemma winced and glanced at her phone to check the time. ‘Ooh, I might make it home in time to give them their bath before bed. Nigel’s cooking a romantic dinner for the two of us tonight…’
‘Enjoy Spain,’ Gemma called. ‘You might find yourself some sexy Spanish flamenco dancer or matador…’
‘At an emergency medicine conference?’ Cat laughed. ‘I don’t think there’s much chance of that.’
‘Well, a gorgeous waiter, with come-to-bed eyes and—’
‘Why not?’ Gemma winked. ‘If you can’t manage a love life, then pencil a few flings into that overcrowded diary of yours.’
‘There’s another conference in Spain the following week that you might want to consider attending,’ Cat said in a dry voice. ‘Sexual health. You, as an obstetrician, better than anyone must know the perils of casual sex.’
‘Of course I do, but sex is healthy.’ Gemma grinned and then she looked at Cat. She wanted to pick up an imaginary sledgehammer of her own and knock down the wall that had gone up around her friend since her baby’s death.
‘Do you know what’s brilliant about a one-night stand, Cat?’
‘Gemma…’ Cat shook her head. She really didn’t have time to stand and chat but her friend persisted.
Gemma loved to talk about sex! ‘He doesn’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to worry how you might slot into each other’s lives and whether he leaves the toilet seat up or is going to support you in your career and all that stuff, because you’re not looking for a potential Mr Right. He can be Mr Wrong, Mr Bad, Mr Whatever-It-Is-You-Fancy. God, but I miss one-night stands.’
‘Does Nigel know your theory?’
‘Of course he doesn’t.’ Gemma grinned. ‘Nigel still thinks he was my second…’ They both laughed for a moment but then Gemma stood firm. ‘It’s time for you to have some fun, Cat. Doctor’s orders—you’re to buy some condoms at the airport.’
Cat laughed and waved and got into her car and headed for the hairdresser’s.
She adored Gemma.
What she hadn’t said to her very good friend was that, as much as it might work for Gemma, she really didn’t want a Nigel of her own. She didn’t want someone asking what was for dinner every night, but nor did she want to be the one coming in after work and doing the ‘Hi, honey, I’m home’ thing.
Still, there wasn’t time to dwell on it all.
She parked her car in her usual spot behind the church and grabbed her bag and walked quickly to the hairdresser’s. She pushed on the door but it didn’t open and she frowned and then she saw the ‘Closed’ sign.
‘Don’t do this to me, Glynn…’
He never forgot her appointments and Cat had been very specific about the time for today when she had seen him on Monday. Glynn knew that she had a plane to catch and that she would be pushed for time.
‘Breathe,’ Cat mumbled as she accepted that no amount of rattling the door was going to make Glynn suddenly appear.
It’s a hair appointment, that’s all, she told herself. There would be a hairdresser at the hotel. Only, her presentation was at nine in the morning and she’d wanted to have a leisurely breakfast in her room and calm herself down before that.
And it was Thomas’s birthday tomorrow.
She was not going to cry over a missed hair appointment.
Cat wasn’t crying over that as she drove to the airport. Instead, she was wishing the boot was full of presents and wrapping paper and that she was dashing to pick up a birthday cake…
Why was it still so hard?
So, as she could not get her thick curly hair smoothed into long, glossy and straight, she bought some hair serum at the airport, then checked in her luggage and headed through with ages to spare.
She went to the loos and sorted her hair as best she could, deciding she would straighten it tonight and again in the morning, but for now she tied it back and headed out.
She took a seat and read through her talk on her tablet. It was about palliative care and its place in the emergency department and, really, she knew it back to front and inside out. She had done hours of research and all her meticulous notes and patient studies now came down to one talk.
And then what?
Cat blew out a breath.
Her career was a little like her house renovation.
The day she’d moved in Cat had stared at the purple carpet and the purple tiles that would take for ever to get off. It had seemed unlikely, near impossible, that she would ever get there and yet here she was, just a bedroom and a garden away from completion.
She had, through high school, always wanted to be a surgeon yet as a medical student she had stepped into the emergency department and had been quickly ushered into Resus to observe the treatment of a patient who had just come in.
A cyclist had lain there unconscious with a massive head injury. Cat had watched in silent awe as the staff had brought his dire condition under control. His heart, which hadn’t been beating, had been restarted. His airway had been secured and the seizures that had then started to rack his body had been halted with drugs.
She had been sure at first that he would die and yet he had made it to Theatre and then on to Intensive Care.
She had followed him up and found out a week later that he had been transferred to a ward. She had gone in to see him, expecting what, she hadn’t known. Certainly not a young man sitting up in bed, laughing and talking with his girlfriend, who was sitting by his side.
He should be dead, Cat had thought, though, of course, she didn’t say that. Instead, she’d chatted to him for a few moments, unable to truly comprehend that here he was, not just alive but laughing and living.
Emergency medicine had become her passion right there and then. Yes, at twenty years old she had known she was a long way off being as skilled as the staff who had attended the cyclist that day.
Slowly she had got there, though.
And now here she was, coming to the top of her game.
So why the restlessness?
Cat glanced up at the board and rolled her eyes when she saw that her flight was delayed, and decided to wander around the shops.
Oh, there was Gemma’s dress!
She was sure that it was, though looking at the price tag, not quite sure enough to buy it without checking, so she took a photo and fired a quick text to her friend.
Is this it?
It was, and Gemma promised to love her for ever and forgive any stuffed donkeys she might bring home for the twins if Cat would buy it for her.
She bought some duty-free perfume too, as well as her favourite lip gloss and…no—no condoms.
Finally the plane was boarding and Cat, along with her purchases, was on her way.
She didn’t read through her talk again. She dozed most of the way, trying to drown out the sound of overexcited children and their parents. As they disembarked she almost forgot the dress but luckily she grabbed it at the last minute.
Very luckily, as it turned out.
Having spent hours watching an empty baggage carousel, seeing the shutters go down on all the airport shops and filling in numerous forms, she was doing her level best to hold it together as she climbed out of the taxi and walked into the hotel. It was close to midnight.
Her luggage was lost, her hair was a joke.
And tomorrow, at nine, she had to deliver the most important presentation of her life.
CAT WOKE BEFORE her breakfast was delivered and lay there.
She remembered a day seven years ago and wished, how she wished, that there was a seven-year-old waiting to open his birthday presents and to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to.
It was a hard picture to paint and each year it got harder.
Was Mike in this happy family picture and did Thomas have brothers and sisters now?
No, she didn’t miss Mike and the perfect world they had been building. She missed, on Thomas’s behalf, all that he had been denied.
She couldn’t afford to cry, especially given the fact she had no make-up with her and so she headed to the bathroom to set to work with the little she had.
With her heavy-duty hair straighteners neatly packed in her lost luggage, she was very grateful for the hair serum she had bought and applied an awful lot in an attempt to tame her long, wild curly hair.
When her breakfast was delivered she walked out onto the balcony and tried to calm herself with the spectacular view of the Mediterranean. It was just after seven but already the air was warm. The coffee was hot and strong and Cat tried to focus on her speech. It will be fine, she told herself, refusing to fall apart because she didn’t have the perfect, perfect pale grey suit and the pale ballet pumps in the softest buttery leather to wear.
They were here to hear her words, Cat reminded herself.
Yet she couldn’t quite convince herself that it didn’t matter what she wore or how she looked.
That was how she always tried to appear.
There was nothing neutral about her today, she thought as she slipped on Gemma’s dress.
Her rather ample bust was accentuated by the lace, the halter-neck showed far too much of her brown back—the tan was from painting the window frames on her last lot of days off, rather than lying on the beach. Her hair she tied back with the little white band that came with the shower cap in the bathroom and then she covered it with a thick strand of black hair.
A squirt of duty-free perfume, a slick of lip gloss and she would simply have to do.
Yet, she thought, having tied up her espadrilles, as she stood and looked in the mirror, while never in a million years would she have chosen this outfit for anything related to work, she liked how it looked. She wouldn’t even have chosen it for anything out of work either. Generally she was in shorts or jeans when sorting out the renovations. Yes, she liked how she looked today. It reminded her of how she had looked before she’d had…
Cat halted herself right there.
She simply could not afford the luxury of breaking down.
Tonight, Cat told herself. Tonight she would order room service and a bottle of wine and reminisce.
Today she had to get on.
She had one last flick through her notes and then she headed out to register for the conference and also to check that everything was in place for her talk.
She was just putting her swipe card in her bag when the elevator doors opened and she looked up to an empty lift, bar one occupant.
Bar One was tall and unshaven with grey eyes and his dark hair was a touch too long yet he looked effortlessly smart in dark pants and a white shirt. All this she noted as she stood there and briefly wondered if she should simply let this lift go.
For some bizarre reason that seemed far easier than stepping in.
‘Buenos días,’ Bar One said, and then frowned at her indecision as to whether or not to enter.
‘Buenos días,’ Cat replied, gave him a brisk smile and stepped in. The floor number for the function rooms had already been pressed and as she glanced to the side and down, anywhere other than his eyes, she noted he too was an owner of the softest buttery leather shoes.
His luggage clearly hadn’t been lost.
And neither was he wearing socks.
Three, Cat thought as his cologne met her nostrils and she found herself doing a very quick audit as to the number of garments that would remain on his lovely body once he’d kicked off those shoes.
Talk about thinking like a man!
She blamed Gemma, of course. It was her fault for putting such ideas in her head, Cat decided as the lift opened at the next floor and unfortunately no one got in.
He said something else in Spanish and Cat shook her head. ‘Actually, buenos días is as far as my Spanish goes.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I thought you were a local.’
His accent was English and he had just delivered a compliment indeed, because the locals, Cat had worked out during her prolonged time at the airport last night, were a pretty stunning lot.
‘Nope.’ She shook her head.
The lift doors opened and he wished her a good day as he went to step out.
‘And you,’ she offered.
‘Sadly not,’ he replied, and nodded to the gathering crowd outside the elevators. ‘I’m working.’
‘So am I,’ she said, and he stood there a little taken aback as he let her out first.
Dominic had thought she was on her way to some… Well, he’d had no idea really where she might have been on her way to but talk about a sight for sore eyes.
She had a very, very nice back, he decided as he followed her over to the registration desk, where there was a small line-up.
A very tense back, he noted as she reached into her bag and pulled out her phone.
Cat had just had a text from the airline to say her luggage had been found. At Gatwick! It should be with her later this afternoon and could she confirm that she was still at the same hotel. She barely turned around as she fired back a text and told him her name. ‘Cat.’
She really didn’t have time for small talk and she knew, just knew, because her back was scalding from his eyes, that it was more than small talk he was offering. ‘I’m actually a bit busy at the moment…’
‘Well, that’s some name—no wonder you have to shorten it.’
Her fingers hesitated over the text she was typing and she gave a small, presumably unseen smile.
Dominic, even if he couldn’t see her mouth, knew from behind that she’d smiled.
He watched as that rigid spinal column very briefly relaxed a notch and those tense shoulders dropped a fraction.
Still, he left things there. He certainly wasn’t going to pursue a conversation that had been so swiftly shut down.
Instead, he looked at the brochure with only mild interest. He loathed this type of thing. He’d only put his hand up because he’d needed the update hours and because his parents and sister lived nearby—it would be a good chance to catch up. As well as that, he was seriously considering moving here.
He kept himself up to date and found these presentations pointless, or rather bullet-pointed—most speakers had everything on slides and it was rather like being read a bedtime story out loud. At thirty-two years of age, he would rather read for himself.
He glanced over at the sound of his name and gave a smile when he saw that it was someone he had studied with in London.
‘How are you, Hugh?’
Cat stood there, trying not to notice the delicious depth to his voice. Not that he spoke much; it was his friend who did most of the talking.
She registered and was told that one of the organisers would be with her shortly to take her to where her talk was being held.
‘This way, Dr Hayes…’
Dominic stopped in mid-sentence as Cat was led away. She must be speaking, he realised, and, quite shamelessly, he glanced through the list of speakers and found out her name for himself.
And then he saw the topic of her talk.
Palliative Care and its Place in the Emergency Department.
Absolutely not what he needed.
So, instead of hearing her speak, he took himself off to listen to a disaster management panel but his mind wasn’t really there. Half an hour later he slipped out unnoticed and slipped into where she was talking.
She noticed him come in.
There was a tiny pause in her talk as she glanced at the opening door and saw him enter.
He didn’t take a seat but leant against the back wall with arms folded. There was a small falter in her flawless talk as he took his place but then she continued where she’d left off.
‘Of course, it’s great for the patient when they receive a terminal diagnosis to take that break, that trek, that overseas trip. It can just be a touch inconvenient for us when they present, minus notes, diagnosis, information and family. And so, because that’s what we do, we leap in and do our best to save them.’ She looked out at the room. ‘Of course, it’s not so great for the patient either when they come around to our smiling faces… It’s hard on the staff when a four-year-old presents on Christmas Eve. It’s our instinct to do all that we can. There isn’t always time to speak at length with the family when they come rushing in with their child but listen we must…’
It wasn’t like a bedtime story with everything spelt out. Yes, there were bullet points, but they were only brief outlines and, for Dominic, a lot of her words felt like bullets as she filled in the gaps.
Brusque was her delivery as she covered things such as legalities, next of kin, patient rights. For good measure, staff, relative and patient guilt was thrown in too.
He listened, he felt, yet his face never moved a muscle.
As she finished, he left the room and went off to lunch but, even if it smelt fantastic, food didn’t appeal and instead he took some water and went out onto a large balcony.
Unlike others who had been at her talk Dominic didn’t go up and congratulate her. Neither did he tell her that her talk had touched a nerve.
He could have walked over and said how his wife had got up in the night and wandered off. He could have said how angry she had been to wake up two days later in ICU and that he could still see the reproach in her eyes, as if Dominic had somehow failed her because she’d lived.
No, he didn’t need or want that look from Cat and he was tired, so tired of women who gave out sympathy and understanding.
He’d prefer something lighter.
Or darker, perhaps! Hopefully, Dominic thought, heading back in, so too would she.
IT WOULD BE an absolute lie to say the attraction hadn’t been as instant as it was mutual.
All through the lunch break there was a knot high in Cat’s stomach and tension in her muscles and she knew that she was bracing herself for him to come over.
Except he didn’t.
She wasn’t sure if she even wanted him to.
There was an arrogance to him, not that she couldn’t handle arrogant men; she’d dealt with more than her share of them.
No, it was something else about Dominic that had her seriously rattled—the presumption of sex.
From the briefest conversation she had gleaned that much. From the roam of his eyes on the bare skin of her back, from the sullen, one-sided conversation with his friend that had told her his mind was on her.
From the corner of her eye she watched as he came in from the balcony and then went over and chatted to a group.
She was incredibly aware of his presence and it had been a long time since she had felt anything close to that.
Not that it mattered.
She was being ignored.
Funny, but she knew that it was deliberate and what was stranger still it made her smile. ‘Excellent talk…’ A middle-aged blond man came over and introduced himself. ‘Gordon.’ He smiled.
It was a very long thirty minutes.
Gordon simply didn’t let up and Cat couldn’t really make her excuses and leave because he was talking about his wife who had died and the total hash that had been made in the emergency department.
It was a busman’s holiday for Cat as she lined up for the lovely buffet lunch and Gordon followed her with his plate.
‘Two hours, we waited, Cat,’ he said, and she glanced up and met those gorgeous grey eyes and saw that Dominic was now unashamedly watching her.
Rescue me, her green ones said, but he looked away.
‘And then…’ Gordon continued to tell her about his wife’s IV coming out and the drugs that didn’t go in. Yes, it was a sad story, but it was a story she dealt with every day and it was her lunch break.
‘Paella, please.’ Cat held out her plate to the waiter but he shook his head.
‘We’re waiting for some more…’
Cat chose some odd noodle salad, just to get away, but Gordon chose the same and he was off again. He sat next to her at a high table and droned on and on.
She met Dominic’s eyes again and this time he smiled.
You missed your chance, his eyes said.
I’ve changed my mind, was her silent plea.
Well, you’re too late!
He yawned and pulled out his pamphlet and with a very small smirk walked off.
What a bastard.
Cat laughed and then turned to Gordon’s confused expression.
‘I said, then she died…’
‘Sorry, I thought you said then she…’ Cat let out a breath. ‘What a terrible time you had.’
She just didn’t need to hear about it today of all days.
She didn’t see Dominic again all afternoon, not that it mattered by then. At 5:00 p.m. when she got back to her room to find that her luggage still hadn’t arrived, it wasn’t the Spanish-speaking English doctor who was on her mind.
It was Thomas.
She didn’t want to go down for dinner in an hour and be sociable.
Room service seemed a far better idea.
A huge plate of paella.
A bottle of wine.
She wished she’d brought his photo.
But there had been too many sad birthdays and, suddenly realising that she had a very small window if she didn’t want to spend tomorrow dressed in Gemma’s dress or linen pants that were more suitable for travel, she headed out.
She found herself in a large department store, explaining to an orange woman that, apart from a lipstick, she had no make-up with her.
‘My luggage was lost,’ she said.
The woman was so horrified on her behalf that Cat actually smiled. ‘It’s fine…’
So much so that instead of buying loads of make-up and then heading upstairs to the ropa de señora section to purchase a chic Spanish outfit Cat wandered out and found herself drawn to a busy market. There were gorgeous dresses blowing in the late-afternoon breeze and they were nothing like what she usually wore.
If she walked into work dressed as she was today, it would draw comment. Here, apart from a couple of vaguely familiar faces from conferences of long ago, no one knew her.
It was incredibly freeing—she could be whoever she chose to be.
Cat took her time with her purchases. She chose a loose long dress in lilac and shorts that were very short, along with a top and a stringy-looking bikini. And, she decided, instead of the museum on Sunday afternoon she was going to the beach.
She liked Barcelona.
Far more than she had expected to.
It was cosmopolitan, busy yet friendly, colourful and hot.
Walking back into the hotel, she was about to take her purchases up and get changed and, instead of hiding in her room, perhaps head out for dinner by herself when she saw him.
‘I was wondering where you were,’ he said by way of greeting, and Cat liked it that he was direct.
‘I went shopping…’ She was about to explain that her luggage was lost but then decided she didn’t have to explain anything.
‘Cat!’ a voice boomed, and she turned and saw that Gordon was bearing down on her. ‘There’s a group of us heading to the hotel restaurant. Why don’t you join us?’
‘Oh, I’d love to but I can’t,’ Cat said. ‘I’m expecting a call. A conference call. I—’
‘Maybe after?’ Gordon checked.
Gordon smiled over to Dominic. ‘Do you have plans or would you like to join us?’
Dominic dealt with things far more effortlessly than Cat. ‘I’ve already got plans, but thank you for asking.’
As the group walked off they were left standing.
‘Liar,’ Dominic said. ‘You don’t have a conference call you have to get to.’
‘Was it obvious?’ she groaned.
‘To me it was.’ Dominic nodded. ‘Liars always have a need to elaborate. You’d know that, working in Emergency.’
‘I know,’ she said. ‘So would Gordon.’
‘Is he a friend?’
Cat shook her head.
‘So why not just say no if it’s something that you don’t want to do?’
‘I know that I should. I just feel bad…’
‘Well, don’t—he’s far too busy banging on about his late wife to notice what others are feeling.’
She felt her nostrils tighten. ‘That was mean.’
‘No,’ Dominic refuted. ‘He tried to run the whole sorry story by me yesterday. What’s mean is buttonholing a relative stranger and completely ruining their lunch.’
He was dismissive.
She didn’t like that and she was about to head off when he halted her in her tracks.
‘Do you want dinner away from the hotel?’
‘I’ve got a conference call to make,’ she said, and gave him a tight smile.
‘Sure?’ he said.
She didn’t like his dismissal of Gordon but, apart from that, he was, well, deliciously overwhelming.
Gemma’s words were ringing in her ears. He didn’t have to be perfect, he didn’t have to be anything other than…
God, but she fancied him.
She could have left it there, just walked off and it would have been over. There were no games, no pretence, just his question, which she now answered truthfully. ‘Dinner away from the hotel sounds great,’ she said. ‘I’ll just…’ She held up her bags and was about to suggest that she take them up and meet him back here in…half an hour, or however long it took to get showered and dressed.
But by then she’d have changed her mind, she knew.
Half an hour from now she’d be calling Reception to pass on a message to him.
Or she could just go with how she felt now.
‘I’ll just ask Reception if they can take my bags up.’
The streets were noisy and he navigated them easily and took her to a place that Cat would never have found had she explored on her own—a few streets along from the strip the hotel was on. They walked down a stone stairwell and to an asado restaurant that was noisy and smoky, even with the open area out the back.
‘So, are you pleased your talk is over?’ he asked when they were tucked away at a table.
‘Very,’ Cat said. ‘I can relax now.’
And relax she did, admitting she had no clue about Spanish wine and letting him choose.
‘Are you staying till Monday?’ he asked, and she shook her head.
‘No, I fly out tomorrow evening—I’m back at work on Monday. I wish…’
‘Well, I was really only thinking of my talk when I booked the flights. I wasn’t actually expecting to like Barcelona so much. I should have tagged on a couple of days’ annual leave and done a bit of exploring.’
‘You always could.’
It sounded very tempting but it was a little too late for that now. ‘We’re pretty short on staff at the moment. My colleague Andrew is going on leave and Hamish, he’s the other consultant…’ She rolled her eyes. ‘I’m sure you know how it is.’
‘Remind me,’ he said.
‘Remind you?’ she checked. ‘Where do you work?’
She waited for him to elaborate, which he did but it was vague rather than specific. ‘I work a little bit here and a longer bit there,’ Dominic said, and Cat then felt the scrutiny of his gaze and the message behind his words as he spoke on. ‘I don’t like to be tied to one place.’ And then he elaborated properly. ‘Or one person.’
Well, that certainly told her.
In part, Cat was tempted to simply get up and leave. It wasn’t a meal, they both knew that. This wasn’t two like-minded colleagues sharing a dinner after a busy day at a conference.
This was exactly what the dear Dr Gemma had ordered.
Cat was old enough to know it.
Their knees were nudging and suddenly her lips felt too big for her face without the resting place of his mouth.
She felt his eyes glance down as she reached for her drink and from the sudden weight in her breasts she knew where his glance had been. Only, it wasn’t sleazy. Or, if it was, it came from both of them because she’d been doing the same to his bum a little earlier as he’d walked down the stairs.
No, this wasn’t just dinner.
‘Do you have a problem with that?’ he said, and she blinked as she tried to remember the conversation. Oh, yes, the not-tied-to-one-person thing, he was asking if she had a problem with that.
Yes, a part of her did.
Very much so.
A part of her wanted to tell him where he could shove his arrogant, presumptuous offer and head back to her hotel room and bury herself in the grief of today.
Yet the other part of Cat thrummed in suspense. Could she simply let loose and enjoy a night of passion with a very beautiful man with the cast-iron guarantee of no future?
It was refreshingly tempting.
He was seriously beautiful. Far more so than she was used to.
He was also rather more brusque and arrogant than she would choose, just rather too alpha for her.
She was tired, so tired of the inevitable let-down in relationships, the starting gun of hope, the numerous false starts and then the sprint that turned into an exhausting jog, and then standing bent, hands on thighs, and admitting defeat, because the two of you were just not going to make it to the finish line.
She was surprised at the ease of her decision.
‘No.’ Cat finally smiled. ‘I have no problem with that.’
Housekeeping sorted, she tried to focus on the menu but, at thirty-four, she felt she’d just passed her driving test and been given the keys but was far from skilled enough to drive.
‘Están listos para ordenar?’
The waiter came over and presumably asked if they were ready to order.
‘I’ll have paella.’ She handed back the menu.
‘The chicken here,’ Dominic said, ‘is the best you’ll ever taste…’
Her eyes narrowed. Usually she’d say that she’d like the paella, thank you for interfering. She certainly didn’t need a man choosing her food and yet as she glanced around, sure enough, the locals were eating the chicken.
Oh, he was so far from her usual fare but, no, he didn’t need to be perfect tonight.
‘When in Spain…’ She shrugged.
She had the chicken and, as he had promised, it was amazing.
‘Lemony, herby and so fat and juicy,’ Cat commented on her second mouthful.
‘And salty,’ Dominic said. ‘We’ll be up all night, guzzling water…’
He was presumptuous.
She knew, though, that he was right.
The rest of the world, the past, the future, was like rain as they huddled, as if under some imaginary umbrella, and enjoyed now—the spectacular food, the music that filled the restaurant.
They barely talked about work. She said something about being the only female consultant and how they gave every gynae patient to her. He mentioned how he’d lived in London till a couple of years ago, just half an hour or so away from her.
But then work got left behind and she found out how he loved the architecture in Edinburgh but was fast falling in love with Spain.
And she told him about her passion for renovation, and her obsession with wallpaper, how she could spend hours leafing through sample books but, even then, you could never quite know how it would look once up.
Usually she never got to that part as eyes had long since glazed over with boredom.
His glazed with lust.
‘Do you put it up yourself?’ Dominic asked.
‘I do.’ She smiled.
‘I feel emasculated.’
‘Oh, I doubt you could ever be that.’
It was Dominic who then smiled.
Was it wrong? she wondered as they danced.
Was it wrong to be dancing and happy on his birthday?
Tonight it felt right.
A sexy flamenco dancer was kicking his heels and strumming away and then, when he slowed things down, Cat felt her cheeks blaze with fire for sins not yet committed as Dominic pulled her into him.
His fingers ran lightly down her bare back and it felt utterly blissful.
‘Fourteen hours later than I’d have preferred,’ Dominic said into her ear, because that was how long it had been since he’d first itched for the feel of that sexy spine beneath his fingers.
‘Well, I’m glad for your sake that you waited,’ she said, imagining her reaction had he been so bold.
His touch didn’t feel bold now; it felt right.
When the music ended they made it back to their table and when the bill came Cat did her usual and put her card down.
‘We can go halves,’ she said as he picked up the card to hand it back to her.
‘Don’t do that, Cat.’
‘Ruin a perfectly good night.’
If she were setting the ground rules for the future, she’d have insisted on paying her way.
Instead, they were setting the ground rules for tonight and she shivered in the warm night air as they headed for the hotel.
They walked back along the beach. It was after eleven but not really dark thanks to a near full moon and, despite the hour, the beach was far from deserted.
‘There are some gorgeous beaches not far from here,’ he said. ‘Are you still determined to head back without seeing the place?’
‘I am, though I wish I’d known just how much I’d like it,’ she admitted. ‘I’m going to come again but next time for a holiday. You’re here a lot, then?’
‘Quite a bit,’ Dominic said. ‘I have family here.’
She ached to know more about him but Reticent was possibly his middle name because, apart from long conversations about everything and nothing, he gave away little.
The only thing she was sure of was their attraction.
‘Which is why,’ he continued, ‘when I saw the conference was being held this year in Barcelona I decided to combine both. I’m very glad now that I did.’ He turned her around and she looked into his dark eyes and his face. He was unreadable. ‘I wish you had got here on Thursday.’
‘Why?’ she asked, her brain a bit sluggish with his mouth so close. She was far too used to focusing on work and she assumed that she must have missed some spectacular talk, or some cutting-edge revelation. The answer was far more basic than that.
‘We could have had three nights instead of one.’
Still, he didn’t kiss her, though she ached, ached for him to do so, but he just smiled in the dark like a beautiful devil and then they walked on.
Back at the hotel Cat was breathless, though not from walking, as they stepped into the foyer. They went through Reception and there was a lot of noise coming from the bar from their fellow attendees.
‘Did you want to go to the bar?’ Dominic offered.
‘Again,’ he said, ‘she lies.’
Cat smiled. ‘She does.’
They headed for the elevators.
No, he didn’t ask her for her floor.
He pressed his.
They stood backs against opposite walls facing each other as the lift groaned its way up, letting people in, letting people out.
And his eyes never left her face.
With three floors remaining they were finally alone and still he did not beckon.
Stay, Cat told herself, though she felt like a Labrador waiting for Christmas dinner.
She walked slowly only because he did.
And his very steady hand swiped the card and opened the door to his room.
Would he offer her a drink? Cat wondered as she looked around.
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