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He’d never heard that coming from his oldest brother before. Not once had he ever expected he would. “I’ve done some pretty sorry things, Dev.”

“What? You broke a few hearts and had a tendency to be self-absorbed? That doesn’t make you bad to the bone.”

The women who owned the hearts he’d broken would probably argue with that assertion. “You forgot about what I did to Corri.”

“And Aidan thanks you every day for getting out of her life so he could step in. Maybe your methods of ending it were suspect, but they’ve both forgiven you for that.”

Almost the same method he’d used to break up with Leah, only he’d graduated from a written note to a brief phone call. “When I tell Leah the truth about everything, she’s not going to forgive me.”

Devin looked incredulous. “You mean she still doesn’t know you were sick?”

“No, and I’m still not sure I should tell her.” He held up the lab slip he’d been gripping in his fist. “Not after seeing this.”

“Like I told you, Kevin, this isn’t the end of the world or your future fatherhood. You could still have biological children if you undergo one of the current treatments. The pregnancy would have to be assisted, meaning insemination or in vitro, but having another baby isn’t impossible.”

Truth was, he didn’t want any more babies unless he could have them with Leah. “It doesn’t matter. Even if Leah does accept that we might not have any more kids, once she finds out I’ve lied about everything, she’ll never want to come near me again.”

Devin contemplated him a few moments before he asked, “Do you love her, Kevin?”

“Yeah, I do.” He laid the paper down on the coffee table and looked at his brother straight-on. “But I’m still going to lose her, Dev.”

“You might, but you’ll never know for sure unless you tell her everything. And if you don’t do that, then you’ll definitely lose her because she’s going to leave if you don’t at least try to convince her to stay.”

Kevin felt Leah’s inevitable goodbye as keenly as he’d felt his daughter’s joy when she smiled and her distress when she cried. He also sensed the formation of the impenetrable emotional armor that he’d used for self-protection most of his life.

Leah had been the only living soul able to breach that armor, and he realized she would probably try again. In the next few hours, he would have to decide if he’d let her.

 

T
HE MOMENT
she’d arrived home, Leah felt as if the events of that morning had never happened. After all his talk of a future together, Kevin hadn’t seemed at all pleased to see her. In fact, he’d barely spoken to her. He’d been totally withdrawn during dinner, answering her questions about his day with the baby in short, terse sentences. Then he’d mumbled something about working on his column before retiring to his office. She hadn’t seen him since.

Perhaps he’d had too much time to think about his proposal and suddenly remembered he didn’t want to settle down. Regardless of his reasoning, she intended to break the silence and find out what was going on.

As soon as she put the baby to bed, Leah went straight to Kevin’s inner sanctum, geared up for a confrontation. She expected to find him seated behind his desk typing away, not stretched out on the small black leather sofa, staring off into space.

She crossed the room and hovered above him. “Writer’s block?”

When he turned his head toward her, she was taken aback by the dejection in his red-rimmed eyes. “I haven’t been writing. I’ve been thinking.”

“About?”

“Us.” He sat up and leaned back against the cushions. “We need to talk.”

“That’s what you said this morning.”

“After this conversation, you’re probably going to want to disregard everything else I said this morning.”

“I don’t understand.” Oh, but she feared she did. All too well.

He moved to the edge of the sofa, draped his arms over his knees and lowered his head. “You should keep your plans to move home next month.”

She released a mirthless laugh even though she wanted to scream. “Wow, Kevin. And they say women are fickle. This morning you wanted me to live with you indefinitely, and now you want me to go. But I’m not surprised, which is why I didn’t get my hopes up.” Not true. She
had
begun to hope. To imagine a life that included him.

He still refused to look at her. “I’ve changed my mind because I can’t give you what you need.”

History was repeating itself. “I know, Kevin. You can’t commit to one person. You can’t love only one woman, if you’re even capable of loving anyone at all.”

Finally, he raised his eyes to her. “You’re wrong, Leah. I love you. I was in love with you when I let you go last summer. I’ve never felt that way about anyone before you, or since.”

Once the shock subsided, Leah struggled to find her voice. “If that’s true, then what do you think I need that you can’t give me?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Leah’s anger, sadness and frustration melded together, creating the perfect emotional storm. “It does
matter to me, damn it. You owe me an explanation, Kevin, and I’m not leaving until you give me one.”

He rubbed both hands over his face before turning his gaze on her. “You’re right. But you’re going to need to sit down.”

She backed up and dropped into the chair across from him. “Okay. I’m ready.” But was she really?

“Before I left for Atlanta, I had some lab work done,” he began. “I found out the results today.”

This could be worse than Leah had imagined. “Oh my God, Kevin, are you sick?”

“I’m sterile.”

The pronouncement took a moment to sink into Leah’s jumbled mind. When it finally did, she said, “Evidence to the contrary is asleep in the nursery.” Surely he wasn’t suggesting…“If you’re intimating she’s not your child—”

“I know she’s mine, Leah. This resulted from something that occurred after we broke up.” He paused a moment before adding, “Actually, it’s the reason why I broke it off with you.”

“None of this makes any sense, Kevin.” And she needed for it to make sense.

He clasped his hands tightly together. “Right before we went on the trip to Cabo, I went in for a physical. You might remember that I had a lot less energy than usual.”

“You thought it was all the traveling you were doing at the time.”

“It wasn’t. I’d contracted idiopathic aplastic anemia. I spent six months undergoing transfusions and when
that didn’t work, Kieran agreed to donate his bone marrow. He saved my life.”

That explained the renewed relationship between the brothers. “And he was the perfect genetic match because he’s your twin.”

He streaked a hand through his hair. “Lucky for me. But the chemotherapy caused—”

“The sterility.” At least now some things were falling into place for Leah. “The scar underneath your arm is from the PICC line they used to administer the chemo.”

“Yeah.”

Myriad questions ran through Leah’s mind, but the most important took precedence. “Why didn’t you tell me when you were diagnosed?”

He lowered his eyes again. “Because you had enough to worry about with your work.”

“Not a good enough reason.”

“I thought I might die, and I didn’t want to put you through that.”

Now they were getting somewhere. “I’m a doctor, Kevin. I could have helped you through the process, answered all your questions. I could have been there for you.”

The look he gave her was so full of sorrow and remorse, it stole her breath. “I didn’t want you to see me that way.”

She wanted to cry for him and everything he’d endured. She wanted to shout at him for letting pride stand between them, even though she did understand
that on some level. She wanted to turn back the clock and start over. But that was impossible.

He rested his arm over the back of the sofa and turned his profile to her. “You have every right to be furious with me.”

“When I consider all the opportunities you’ve had to tell me, yes, that makes me extremely angry,” she said. “But when I think about how we could have been there for each other during your illness and my pregnancy, it makes me sad that we’ve wasted so much time.”

A stretch of silence passed before Leah posed another all-important query, one that could determine if he had—or hadn’t—changed, depending on the answer. “If you could do it all over again, would you have told me?”

“I honestly don’t know, Leah. Maybe if I’d known about the baby, but then maybe not. It was my burden to bear, not yours.”

Not the answer she’d been seeking, but at least now she knew what had to be done, even though the decision made her heartsick. “You’re right, Kevin,” she said as she stood. “You can’t give me what I need, and it has nothing to do with future children. My parents fostered almost one hundred kids during a thirty-year span and there are plenty more out there who need homes and families.”

His gaze zipped to hers. “If I’d known for certain you felt that way, I would’ve asked you to marry me this morning.”

This morning, she might have said yes. “That’s just it, Kevin. You didn’t ask me how I would feel about
anything. You didn’t give me any choices. You’re so used to pushing everyone away that you don’t know anything else. Commitment means sticking it out through good times and bad, that old for-better-and-worse aspect. I have no way of knowing if you’re going to leave when the going gets tough, or at the very least close me out. That ability to share has sustained my parents and your parents throughout their marriages. I won’t settle for less.”

“I don’t know what you want me to do, Leah.” His voice was even and emotionless.

She wanted him to seem less resigned. She wanted him to argue his case, lower his guard. To fight. “If I have to tell you, Kevin, then there isn’t any hope for us at all.”

She could be judging him too harshly, closing her mind to the possibilities, but she didn’t want to risk being hurt by him again. Better to end it before that happened, despite the pain she was suffering right now. For him and for her.

“What do we do now, Leah?”

“I don’t know, Kevin.” And she didn’t. “I do know I’m not sure if I can live here with you.”

“Just don’t do anything rash,” he said. “I need to have Carly in my life until you leave next month. I won’t pressure you for anything more. I won’t even touch you. I might not like it, but I’ll do what I have to do as long as you’ll stay.”

“I’ll have to think about it.”

And that’s what she would do, probably the rest of the night. That, and have a good cry.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

B
ECAUSE OF
Carly’s nonstop crying, Kevin almost didn’t hear the bell. “Thanks for coming, Mom,” he said after he opened the door and led Lucy into the kitchen.

“Thank you for calling me, dear.” She set her purse and keys down on the counter and practically beamed. “I’m glad to help. Now let me have that little one.”

Kevin handed the baby over to her grandmother and leaned back against the cabinet to watch them interact. Fortunately Carly’s fascination with her grandmother’s string of pearls had halted her tears. If he’d known a necklace would stop her crying, he would’ve contacted the local jeweler and ordered one ASAP.

“She’s been irritable all morning, and she doesn’t seem to want to eat,” he said even though Carly looked anything but upset.

Lucy didn’t seem to mind that the baby grasped the pearls and stuck them in her mouth. “She could be teething.”

“Isn’t it kind of early for teeth?” Each day brought more milestones, and Kevin didn’t like that she was growing so fast.

Lucy patted Carly’s bottom as she strolled around the kitchen. “Your brother Aidan had his first tooth at four months and a full mouth by ten months. I had to wean him earlier than the rest of you.”

When his mom moved back beside him, Kevin pushed a lock of hair away from Carly’s forehead. “She just doesn’t seem normal today. I’m probably overreacting, but it’s tough when I can’t make her happy no matter what I do.”

Lucy inclined her head and surveyed him a few moments. “Now you understand, don’t you?”

“Understand what?”

“How it feels to love someone more than yourself.”

In a way, that hurt. But she was absolutely right. “Yeah, I do. And I’m assuming this worrying thing isn’t going to stop any time soon.”

“It never stops, Kevin. That’s why I was so cautious when it came to you. I had a difficult time getting over almost losing you when you were born. And I know how much you’ve resented it, both when you were growing up and more recently, during your illness. Any time a child suffers, so does the parent if they’re any kind of parent at all.”

Finally, an admission of guilt from his mother. But somehow Kevin didn’t feel as if he needed to air his grievances any longer. She’d done what she’d done out of love for him. “It’s okay, Mom. Being a father has helped me comprehend your tendency to watch me like a hawk and worry incessantly. I’m over it.”

“Then you forgive me for choking you on a regular basis with the apron strings?”

He grinned, but it quickly faded. Smiling wasn’t something he felt like doing after his confrontation with Leah. “Yeah, I forgive you. As long as you forgive me for all the times I’ve screwed up. Apparently I didn’t learn from my mistakes because I’ve done it again.”

She laid her palm on his cheek. “What have you done, sweet boy?”

He took Carly from her and placed her in her swing, then pulled out a chair at the breakfast table. “Sit down. This might take a while.”

After she complied, Kevin recounted what had transpired between him and Leah three days ago. He ended with, “I’ve done permanent damage to our relationship by not telling her what she needed to hear. Now there’s no hope for us.”

“Oh, Kevin. There’s always hope. You only have to keep believing, and take advantage of the time you still have with her.”

Carly let out another sharp cry, causing Kevin to pull her out of the swing’s seat. “This is what I mean, Mom. She sounds like she’s in pain.”

Lucy frowned and felt Carly’s forehead. “She doesn’t seem to have a fever, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’ve heard a terrible stomach flu is going around. She could have picked that up from the day care.”

“True. But so far she doesn’t have any other symptoms.”

“If she has a virus, you’ll know soon enough. And if that happens, be sure to give her clear liquids. Little ones dehydrate very fast.” She glanced at her watch and pushed back from the table. “I’m sorry to have to run, but I have a library board meeting in fifteen minutes. I’ll be glad to come back afterward if you’d like.”

Kevin came to his feet with Carly wrapped securely in his arms. At the moment, his daughter didn’t seem at all distressed. Maybe she
was
teething. “I appreciate your advice, Mom.” But he still wasn’t clear on a plan of action when it came to his problems with his child’s mother. “I wish I knew what to do.”

“That’s easy, dear. Call Leah if you’re still worried about the baby. After all, she’s the pediatrician.”

“I meant I don’t know what to do about Leah. The thought of her leaving is killing me.”

Again she patted his cheek. “If I were you, I’d start by giving her some space.”

 

“S
HE’S FINE
, Kevin.”

Considering the way Carly looked at the moment, content to watch her mobile in the crib, kicking her feet against the mattress like a battering ram, Kevin would have to agree. “You didn’t hear her this morning, Leah. Her cry was different, like something was hurting her.”

She moved back from the crib and faced him. “I checked her temp and felt her belly. Since she doesn’t have any other symptoms, she probably just has a little tummy ache. The cereal might not be agreeing with her.”

“She refused to eat any cereal,” he said. “She took part of one bottle this morning and she hasn’t wanted anything else since. In fact, she hasn’t eaten all that well for the past few days.”

Leah checked her watch. “It’s only a little past noon. Try giving her another bottle in an hour or so.”

“And if she doesn’t want it?”

“Then call me and we’ll go from there.” Leah leaned over and kissed Carly’s cheek. “Mommy’s going back to work now. Try to be good for Daddy.”

When Leah left the room, Kevin followed her into the hall. “Do you mind stopping for one second to talk to me?”

She turned and folded her arms beneath her breasts. “Is that what this is about Kevin? You called me home so we could talk?”

He decided to try and lighten the mood, kill her with kindness and turn on the charm. “You’re the best pediatrician I know.”

Leah’s cynical expression said she wasn’t impressed. “I’m the
only
pediatrician you know. However, Carly has her own doctor and you’ll find her number taped to the side of the refrigerator. But I’m fairly sure you knew that, which brings me back to my first theory. Asking me to come home wasn’t only about Carly.”

Out went the charm and in came the ire. “If you sincerely think I’d use our daughter as a pawn, then your opinion of me is worse than I thought.”

She rubbed her temples and studied the floor. “I don’t know what to think. I do know that Carly seems perfectly
okay, and that we could have handled this over the phone.”

Even a deep breath did nothing to calm his anger. “That would suit you just fine, wouldn’t it? No personal connection whatsoever. You haven’t spoken to me in three days and you won’t even look at me now.”

She finally raised her gaze to his. “You promised me you wouldn’t do this.”

“I promised that I wouldn’t touch you. That doesn’t mean we can’t be civil. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our daughter. She senses the tension between us and she’s not any happier about it than I am.”

“Maybe it’s just the heat, Kevin.”

Houston might have been suffering from a severe heat wave for the past two weeks, but the temperature in the house had been ice-cold. Kevin would have preferred a nonstop rant to Leah’s silence. “Maybe you’re bent on punishing me for the next few weeks.”

She looked away again, indicating to Kevin that he’d touched on the truth. “I really need to go,” she said. “We’re holding a wellness clinic at the hospital this afternoon and I have to examine at least twenty kids. I also need to talk with Macy before I begin my appointments.”

Dread bubbled up inside him. “What about?”

“As I said the other night, I don’t feel comfortable living here with you. I believe it would be best if I take Carly and move back to the apartment.”

Panic replaced the dread. “Don’t do it, Leah. Don’t take her from me yet. Just let me have this time with her.”

“I have to go back to work, Kevin.”

“Go ahead.” He made a sweeping gesture toward the den. “Go back to work. But first, I want to set the record straight. You can hate me for as long as you’d like and you can take Carly out of the house or out-of-state, but I’m not going away. I plan to be in my daughter’s life permanently, and that means birthdays and graduation and, God willing, walking her down the aisle. If I had a choice, we would share all of that together as a family. But since that’s no longer an option, you still need to think long and hard about how you want to deal with our future relationship. Any conflict between us is going to affect Carly.”

“I can’t do this now, Kevin.” She started down the hall, but before she disappeared around the corner, she faced him and said, “If you notice any more symptoms with the baby and you’re concerned, bring her to the hospital and ask for Dr. Roundtree. She’s the head of pediatrics. She’ll page me.”

He wanted to prevent her from leaving, to plead his case one more time, to convince her that he had, in fact, become the kind of man who could be faithful and steady and honest. He wanted to tell her once more that he loved her. Instead, he let her walk away, knowing it was only a matter of time before she walked out for good—unless he could find a way to convince her that they belonged together. If only he had a clue how to do that.

 

T
HE CAFETERIA
was crowded with both staff members and patient families, yet it didn’t take long for Leah to
spot her former roommate seated near the window. Not many surgical residents looked like blonde-bombshell debutantes. “Do you have a minute?” she asked as she reached the table.

Macy looked up from the sandwich she’d been devouring and waved a hand toward a chair. “Sit. You look like hell.”

Leah felt like hell. She took a seat, scooted the chair up to the table and clasped her hands in a death grip before her. “I need to ask a favor.”

“As long as it doesn’t involve babysitting. You know how I suck at that.”

“I want to move back in with Carly, if that’s okay.”

Macy seemed genuinely taken aback. “What happened with you and the jerk?”

Leah released a dejected sigh. “It’s a long story.”

“Did he do something vile? Because if that’s the case…” She came to attention, picked up a butter knife and held it up like a scalpel. “Just tell me where to find him.”

“It’s complicated, Macy. Things happened that I didn’t plan.” Making love to him again. Falling in love with him again, as if she’d ever really fallen out of love with him. “Now everything seems to be spinning out of control and I need to take myself out of the situation.”

Macy tossed the knife aside and leaned back in the chair. “You’ve been sleeping with him.”

“Only once.” And they hadn’t done much sleeping. “Actually, four times. In about twelve hours.”

Macy’s eyes went wide. “Four times? I didn’t know the guy had it in him. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“Needless to say, it’s been a while.” For both of them.

“And now you’ve let all those fuzzy feelings enter into the mix.” Macy looked mildly disgusted. “Did I not warn you about this?”

All the warnings in the world couldn’t have prevented Leah’s feelings for Kevin from resurfacing. Even now she still loved him, something she didn’t dare admit. “It’s not just about the sex, Macy. A few days ago, I learned exactly why he broke it off with me.”

“Another woman?”

“Aplastic anemia.”

Macy tapped her chin. “That’s a new one. I’ve heard ‘a dog ate my cell phone’ and ‘I’m moving to Malaysia to live in a hut,’ but I’ve never had a guy invent a disease as an excuse.”

Her former roommate had always been the skeptic when it came to relationships. Leah had begun to conclude that maybe Macy was justified in her skepticism. “He didn’t invent the illness. He underwent a bone-marrow transplant about eight months ago.”

“Obviously he came through it okay.”

“Yes. Only, with the chemotherapy, he might not be able to have—”

“Any more kiddies. No wonder he wanted to claim Carly.”

“Having more children wouldn’t have mattered that
much to me. At least not to the degree Kevin assumed it would. But that was only one reason he kept the truth from me.”

“What are the others?” Macy asked.

“He didn’t want to put me through the rigors of his illness and disrupt my career.”

Macy smirked. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but my opinion of the lothario just elevated. Who would’ve thought the guy had some honor? But I’m not getting why you want to move out now that he’s come clean.”

She was surprised to hear Macy say anything favorable about Kevin, and that she was suggesting Leah stay in the relationship. “The problem is, he didn’t tell me the minute I moved in with him. He’s also had many opportunities to let me in on the secret since then.”

“But wouldn’t the point also be that he did finally tell you?” Macy asked.

Here came the complicated part. “Yes, but he also said that if he could do it over, he still wouldn’t tell me because it was his problem, not mine. And that’s the whole crux of the matter. He has no idea what committing to someone really means. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t stay involved with anyone who’s not going to be open and forthright and willing to share in whatever life throws at you.”

Macy sat silent for a while, looking thoughtful. “Does it ever get tiresome, being so rigid that you can’t bend even a little and accept that people make bad mistakes for good reasons?”

Surely she hadn’t heard her friend correctly. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”

Macy sat up straight and folded her arms, looking every bit like a disapproving parent morphing into lecture mode. “Let’s just think about this a minute. He didn’t tell you in the beginning that he was sick to protect you. You told him you had a boyfriend, a blatant lie, to protect yourself. And if I recall, you didn’t try that hard to get in touch with him when you found out about the pregnancy, which also leads me to believe that had to do with self-protection. Am I on the right track?”

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