Authors: Kristi Gold
Kathy laid a hand on Leah’s arm. “No one would think less of you if I had one of the attendings tell them.”
She straightened her shoulders and assumed a bravado she didn’t remotely feel. “It’s a part of the job, Kathy.” The part she despised the most. “I’ve had to deal with this type of situation on several occasions. I can handle it.”
“Are you sure? Because it’s pretty obvious you’re about to have a meltdown. Raising a baby and taking
on sick kids will wear you out. I know because I raised three of my own after my divorce and worked twelve-hour shifts. You need more sleep.”
She also needed less distraction. “You’re right. I’m going to have to get more rest.” As if that was going to happen with so much weighing on her mind, and the added burden of telling two parents they were about to undertake a long, painful medical journey with their only child.
The nurse patted her back. “As far as Brandon’s concerned, you caught it early. If it’s ALL, and I bet it is, with treatment he has a good chance of going into permanent remission. But I guess I don’t have to tell you that.”
Leah sincerely appreciated the nurse’s attempts at bringing her around to focus on the positive in spite of the negative news. “You’re right, Kathy. He has a solid chance at survival.” And that’s exactly what she would tell the Myeskys, though the information would still be devastating.
Regardless, Leah had to shake off the melancholy that could hamper her judgment. At least a dozen more patients needed her full attention in the clinic and she had that many rounds to make at the hospital before she could even think about leaving. As it stood now, she’d be lucky to make it home before midnight.
Fortunately, Carly was in good hands.
S SOON AS
he returned to the den from putting Carly to bed, Kevin was met with a chorus of laughter, thanks
to his merry band of brothers and one brother-in-law. An hour ago, Aidan, Logan, Kieran, Devin and Whit had shown up in a limo—compliments of Logan’s elite transportation company—fresh from celebrating, or lamenting, the end of Kieran’s bachelorhood. Since Kevin hadn’t been able to attend the party, they’d brought the party to him. But he wasn’t exactly in the mood to make merry.
Kevin collapsed onto the sofa and propped his heels on the coffee table. “Mind telling me what’s so funny?”
“You are,” Logan said. “That pink burp rag makes one helluva fashion statement.”
Kevin snatched the towel from his shoulder and tossed it onto the table, producing another round of chuckles. “You’re all enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“We’re just surprised to see how well you’ve settled in as a father,” Aidan added.
Kieran had the temerity to laugh again. “Too bad he doesn’t have direct access to the mother.”
Kevin didn’t care to explain that, but if he didn’t, he’d never hear the end of it. “We’ve agreed to be friends for Carly’s sake.”
Logan looked stunned. “You mean the two of you are living in this house and you’re not—”
“No, we’re not, so drop it.” Kevin didn’t bother to conceal his annoyance.
“You must be off your game,” Logan said.
Whit shook his head. “More like out of his freakin’ mind. Have you seen her? She’s one of the best-looking women he’s ever dated.”
“She also has a boyfriend,” Kieran added.
Considering the phone call Kevin had received a few hours ago, that boyfriend was no longer an issue. Unfortunately, he was now charged with delivering the message to Leah. When and how he would do that remained to be seen.
“You know, I’m the only one who hasn’t met her yet,” Devin said. “Too bad we don’t work in the same hospital. I could’ve made it a point to check her out just to see if she’s as hot as everyone says she is.”
“Believe me, she is,” Kevin said. Hotter than a Texas grass fire.
When the front door opened, Whit muttered, “Looks like you’re about to get your chance to check her out, Dev.”
Kevin dropped his feet to the floor and practically vaulted off the sofa, looking a little too eager for someone who wasn’t interested in having “direct access” to Leah. The rest of the gang also came to their feet and silently stood at attention.
“Kevin, why is there a limo parked at the curb?” Leah asked as she walked into the room and pulled up short. She then eyed each of the men before turning her attention to the beer bottle on the end table. That’s when Kevin realized he was in major trouble.
“Hey,” he said. “We were watching the game. Looks like they may go into extra innings.”
“Since when does watching baseball require a limo?” She managed a smile, but her tone sounded less than friendly.
“We’ve been downtown,” Aidan said. “Because we knew we’d have a few drinks, Logan loaned us one of his limos.”
When Leah shot a glance at Kevin, he raised his hands in defense. “I’ve been here all night.”
“I see,” she said, although she sounded like she didn’t see anything but a bunch of no-good, carousing O’Briens invading her domain. “Where’s the baby?”
Kevin didn’t believe her frame could get much stiffer without her body breaking in two. “I gave her a bath and put her to bed a few minutes ago.”
Kevin’s oldest brother stepped up. “I’m Devin, Leah.”
She took his offered hand for a brief shake. “It’s good to finally meet you, Dr. O’Brien. I assume you’re not on call tonight.”
“No, but we were just about to leave.” He signaled the other brothers with only a look. “See you later, Kev. And it’s nice to meet you too, Leah. By the way, you did a great job in the baby department.”
She forced another smile. “Thank you.”
The O’Brien boys and Whit filed out of the room, mumbling goodbyes and good-to-see-yous on their way to the door, leaving Kevin alone to face Leah’s wrath. As soon as they’d all exited, Kevin turned to Leah and tried on a repentant expression. “I know this doesn’t look good, but before you get completely pissed off—”
“I’m supposed to be happy that you’re having a kegger when you’re in charge of our daughter?” She
tossed her keys onto a side table and her lab coat onto the arm of the sofa. “And I thought you’d outgrown that behavior.”
His determination to remain composed began to diminish. “I
watching her, Leah. And do you see a keg anywhere?”
She walked to the end table and picked up the amber bottle from a coaster. “How many of these did you have?”
“None. I told you I don’t drink anymore. But even if I had decided to partake tonight, I would’ve had only one. Not enough to prevent me from taking care of the baby.”
She set the bottle back on the table and faced him, her hands fisted at her side. “Is this the way it’s going to be, Kevin? When I call you and tell you I’m going to be late, you round up the guys?”
Resentment began to build over her indictment. “They wanted to stop by and meet their niece, and I wanted her to get to know her uncles. There’s not a damn thing wrong with that.”
“Except you can’t entertain a crowd of men and watch a baseball game and do an adequate parenting job.”
He experienced the first bite of true anger. “First of all, they were here less than an hour. Secondly, people have lives, Leah. They visit with friends and family and they still take care of their kids without incident.”
“Not if they’re drinking.”
“I told you, I wasn’t drinking. In fact, Logan was the only one with a beer. He brought it with him.”
She looked altogether skeptical and equally irate.
“Yes, that’s what you’ve said. But then you’ve said things before that you didn’t mean, haven’t you?”
Fury hit him with a vengeance. “Maybe I deserve that for what I did to you.” He paused only long enough to draw a breath. “But I damn sure resent the implication that I would do anything to hurt Carly. I’d rather die first.”
He spun around and stormed toward the back door before he said something he couldn’t take back—again.
When she called, “I’m not finished yet,” Kevin ignored the comment and walked onto the deck, slamming the French doors behind him and rattling the glass with the force of his frustration. He sat in the glider, leaned forward and streaked both hands down his face.
He’d known all along that Leah held him in low esteem, and rightfully so. He just hadn’t realized how much she hated him. How little she believed in him. After her boyfriend had called tonight, he’d actually fooled himself into thinking there still might be a chance to get back what they once had, only better. At the very least, he might have a chance finally to earn her respect. But a few moments ago, she’d shattered any hope he might have for either. And that tore him up, more than she would ever know.
HE’D NEVER SEEN
Kevin so angry. Nor had she seen him so hurt. Leah should derive some sort of pleasure from the pain she’d clearly caused him, but she didn’t. Proof positive that revenge wasn’t always so sweet.
After she checked on Carly, Leah went in search of Kevin to offer an apology for blowing the brotherly gathering way out of proportion. She also needed to explain her attitude in an effort to make him understand why she’d reacted so strongly. And that was in all probability too much to expect.
Opting to take the same path Kevin had when he’d rushed out of the den, Leah found him seated on the deck, one arm draped over the back of the cushioned glider, staring at the pool backlit in blue. When she moved in front of him, he didn’t acknowledge her presence. Either he was lost in his thoughts, or intentionally ignoring her.
“Just wondering if you had a little salt for the crow I’m about to eat,” she said, her attempt at humor falling short.
“Right-hand cabinet next to the stove,” he said without looking at her.
“I only wanted to say that I’m sorry, Kevin. I know I overreacted. It’s just that—”
Leah didn’t believe that for a minute, and she wasn’t going anywhere until she felt certain he did forgive her. “Do you mind if I sit down?”
Evidently he wasn’t going to be receptive to her at all. No matter. She had a tendency to persist when she wanted something badly enough, and she badly needed him to listen to her. With that in mind, she dropped down on the glider, keeping a reasonable berth between them. “I had a terrible day at work. I know that’s no excuse for my behavior, but it did play a role.”
At least that got his attention. “What made it worse than any other day?”
As difficult as it would be to rehash Brandon’s illness, she felt inclined to explain it all to Kevin. “I had to tell two parents that their little boy is incredibly sick.”
“Is he going to be okay?” he asked.
“It’s hard to say. He has preliminary signs of leukemia, but he’ll have to have a bone-marrow biopsy to confirm which type. If luck is on their side, it’s the kind that can be treated with chemo and he could eventually go into permanent remission.”
“Chemo is damn tough on adults,” he said with noticeable conviction. “I can’t imagine how a kid is supposed to endure it.”
“With a lot of support from his family.”
“How did his parents react to the news?” he asked.
Leah pinched the bridge of her nose between her fingertips when the memory of their faces flashed in her mind. “They took it as well as anyone could, but they were justifiably distraught. At least I could offer them some hope before pediatric oncology takes over. Unfortunately, I didn’t handle the news all that well when I first heard it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I almost had a breakdown in front of a staff member, and I can’t allow that kind of emotional reaction. I have to be compassionate, but I also have to remain somewhat detached.”
“You’re only human, Leah. And you’re way too hard on yourself. You always have been when it comes to your work.”
“I don’t have a choice, Kevin. I have too much responsibility to let my emotions guide me. I’ve always been able to keep everything in perspective until today.”
“Are you sure about that?”
She had no idea what he was getting at, but she planned to find out. “What exactly are you saying?”
“Sometimes I wonder if every critically ill child that you treat is Carl.”
She waited for her astonishment to abate before she said, “I had no idea you remembered that story.”
“Even if I hadn’t, the fact you named our daughter after him would have reminded me. But I’ll never forget the first time you talked about him. I finally realized that night what drove you to be a great pediatrician and
an advocate for underprivileged kids. But I also realized that you might have problems accepting the fact that you can’t save every child, just as it wasn’t within your power to save him.”
How well he knew her. Perhaps, at times, even better than she knew herself. “If that’s the case, maybe I’m in the wrong profession.”
“Maybe the world needs more doctors like you,” he said. “You’ll just have to learn to accept that you’re going to have successes more times than you’re going to fail, and that loss is an unavoidable part of life.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” And she would. “But it’s harder now that I’m—”
“Juggling motherhood and medicine and functioning on very little sleep.”
Almost exactly what Kathy had told her that afternoon. “Okay, I admit that I’m not getting enough sleep.”
“That’s why you should let me take care of Carly at night.”
Right again, but still…“She’s my baby, Kevin. I should be able to strike some balance between my work and caring for her.”
“You will as soon as you’re through with the training phase. In the meantime, give yourself a break. That’s what I’m here for, to lessen some of the burden. I just wish I’d been there from the beginning.”
Leah welcomed the cherished memory that floated into her thoughts. A bittersweet memory because Kevin hadn’t witnessed the birth of their precious daughter. But
at least she could share those moments with him now. “I’m probably biased, but Carly was such a beautiful baby when she was born. She had that gorgeous head of dark hair and the most perfect hands and feet. She was also so tiny, not even five pounds, but thankfully healthy enough to leave the NICU after only a few days.”
“Then she didn’t have any breathing problems?”
The concern in Kevin’s voice led to Leah’s reassurance. “They had her on oxygen right after she was born, but she didn’t need it for long. She’s a fighter.”
“She comes by it naturally,” he said with a smile. “Did you have a tough labor?”
Leah leaned back against the cushion and returned his smile. “Not at all. I’d barely arrived at the hospital before she was born. In fact, it was so easy, I told J.W. I was all for having at least three or four more.” She hesitated a moment before adding, “Under the right circumstances.”
He turned strangely sullen again. “
She could guess where this might be heading. “He wasn’t in the room when Carly was born, but he did make it to the hospital about five minutes after I delivered her.”
“Did he hold her?”
Here came the paternal jealousy. “Yes, he did.”
“That son of a bitch.”
Leah flinched over his acid tone. “Look, Kevin, I’ve known him a long time. It would stand to reason he’d want to be there for me.”
“You might want to rethink that after what he told me when he called tonight.”
Leah had totally forgotten she’d asked J.W. to call her. From Kevin’s reaction, she might not want to know the content of that conversation. Still, she had to ask. “What did he say to you?”
“It wasn’t good.” He leveled his gaze on her. “Are you sure you want to hear it after the day you’ve had?”
She worried that J.W. had revealed the particulars of their real relationship. “Just tell me, Kevin.”
“He said he’d call back in a couple of weeks, after he returned from a trip with his new girlfriend, Cecily.”
Leah was at a loss for words and had no clue how to react. Then something totally ridiculous happened—she laughed for a good minute before she broke down in a rush of tears. Maybe the onslaught of hysterics was in part relief that the ruse had ended. Maybe it was a release of pent-up sadness over Brandon’s diagnosis. Maybe she was categorically losing her mind.
“I knew I should’ve waited to tell you,” Kevin said as he stood and walked back into the house. Leah initially thought he’d left her with her misery until he returned a few moments later with a tissue that he handed to her.
She dabbed at her eyes and tried to assume some semblance of calm. “I’m glad you told me. And Cecily isn’t a new girlfriend. She and J.W. have been on and off since high school.”
Kevin moved back beside her. “Do you want me to beat him up?”
Leah managed another, more subdued laugh.
“Funny, that’s what he asked me when I told him about our breakup.”
Kevin smiled. “We should just duke it out and get it over with.”
“That’s not necessary, and I’ll be fine. It wouldn’t have worked between us anyway.” On several counts, the first being J.W. was only a friend, and that’s all he would ever be.
“Come here,” Kevin said as he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and drew her close to his side. “He didn’t deserve you.”
Completely sapped of energy, and greatly in need of solace, Leah pocketed the tissue and leaned against him. “Thanks for saying that, and I’m sorry for all the emotional turmoil I’ve been having lately. It’s not only about what happened today. I worry that I’m not doing an adequate job at work. I worry I’m not doing enough for Carly. Did you know I actually forgot she turned four months old yesterday?”
“Day before yesterday,” he corrected.
“Now I feel even worse.”
He gave her a slight squeeze. “You have a lot on your mind, Leah. You need to relax.”
What a joke. “I can’t relax. I don’t even remember how to relax.”
He kissed her forehead. “You’re a great mother. And you’ve always had trouble relaxing for as long as I’ve known you.”
“Not true. I managed to relax with you.”
“Yeah, but it took some effort on my part.”
It had only taken the even tone of his voice, his touch, his presence. “You’ve always had this remarkable way of talking me down when I was keyed up.”
“I thought you said we never talked.”
She’d wanted to believe that their relationship had only been about sex. She’d been wrong. “I guess we did have more than a few memorable conversations.”
“Yeah, we did.”
Leah had intentionally blocked most of the good times in order to make the ending easier. Not that it had been easy at all. Not that she’d even remotely gotten over his callous phone call. But as Kevin set the glider in motion, and they fell into companionable silence, she secretly acknowledged that she appreciated their renewed closeness, Kevin’s shoulder to lean on, his counsel. Not to mention he smelled great, the kind of heady scent that made a woman pleasantly lightheaded. A scent that unearthed recollections of making love while surrounded by fragrant candles, something they’d done a few times at his apartment. Oh, the things they’d done to each other at that apartment…
The play of his fingertips drifting softly up and down her arm was reminiscent of the way he used to touch her. And the longer he continued with his caress, the more she tingled.
She was not a tingler. In fact, she refused to tingle. Okay, Kevin was making her tingle. All over. He had done so many times, and the remembrance of those times, combined with the memories he’d resurrected in the cabana that morning, began to take a toll on Leah.
Right or wrong, she wanted something to erase the reminders of a horrendous day. Something intimate, like a kiss…or more.
“I can almost hear your thoughts zipping around in that head of yours,” he said.
“You have no idea what I’m thinking, Kevin.” If he did, he would either jump ship or jump her.
“You’re still beating yourself up for not being invincible.”
She’d moved beyond that, with his help. “Not as much as I was.”
“Then you’re running through a laundry list of things you have to do tomorrow.”
She was composing a mental list of why she should ignore the strong carnal urges that made her want to beg him for a little less talk and a lot more action. “Wrong.”
“Then you’re thinking that in a couple of hours, just when you’ve drifted off to sleep, Carly’s going to wake up for a bottle.”
Now she felt somewhat guilty. “No, but thanks for reminding me.”
“Okay, you’re mulling over why you’re sitting with a guy who blew you off for no apparent reason other than he’s commitment-phobic.”
A sexy man who happened to be available and familiar. Besides, she didn’t want a commitment from him now, just a little comfort.
She lifted her head and looked at him straight-on. “Actually, I was thinking I just wish you would shut up and kiss me.”
A moment of indecision crossed his face before he tucked her hair behind one ear and framed her jaw in his palm. He answered her request by brushing his lips across hers, but only briefly. Then he did it again, lingering a little longer this time. On his third pass, he kissed her completely, thoroughly.
How she had missed this, kissing Kevin. She’d missed his gentleness, his incredibly tempting technique. His ability to make her feel so…so…hot. A little moonlight making out was harmless, as long as that’s as far as it went. But when the kiss continued, deeper and deeper, Leah longed for more.
As if he’d channeled her thoughts, Kevin slid his hand beneath her top and skimmed his fingertips along her ribcage. Common sense tried to convince her to halt the madness now, but when had she ever been able to lay claim to common sense when it involved him? Before long, she was shifting restlessly against him, silently urging him to go further. To take her to the limit and beyond, as he once had.
When Kevin ran his palm along the curve of her hip and curled it on the inside of her thigh, right above her knee, Leah couldn’t stand it any longer. She nudged his hand upward, guiding him to the place where she wanted his attention most.
She left his mouth long enough to whisper, “I need—”
“I know what you need,” he said. “Some things you never forget.”
When he kissed her again, Leah expected the pull
of the drawstring at her waist, the feel of his fingertips beneath her clothes. Instead, he stroked her through the cotton scrubs, softly at first before applying more pressure. The climax happened so quickly, and with such strength, she shuddered and gasped.
“That didn’t take much effort on my part,” Kevin said, followed by a low, sexy laugh.
Leah didn’t know whether to be mortified or grateful. “It’s been a while.”
“I can tell.” He dropped his arm from around her shoulder. “Now that you’re relaxed, it’s bedtime.”
She wasn’t so embarrassed that she wouldn’t gladly finish what they’d started, despite the lack of judgment in that. Only convenience sex, as Macy had so gracefully put it. And if she really believed that to be the case, she
crazy. “My bed or yours?”