Authors: Helen Scott Taylor
"I'm off to my Pilates class in fifteen minutes," Sandra shouted from the kitchen as Radley and Olivia reached the hall. "Breakfast is on the table for you two."
"Hang on, Mum. I just need to have a word." Radley shot Olivia a glance, then strode towards the kitchen, George still clutched in his arms.
Olivia paced back and forth, then turned and headed into the lounge. She busied herself tidying the space around the chair where she breast-fed. Surely Radley's mother wouldn't be surprised by the fact he and Olivia had fallen in love. She'd seen them together numerous times. Their growing affection must have been apparent. And to be honest, she had thrown them together in fairly intimate circumstances. It was partly her fault.
The house phone chimed and Olivia's heart jumped. "Blast." Bad timing. Radley only had a few minutes to talk to his mother. If she broke off to answer the phone, he'd have even less time.
The phone kept ringing and Olivia wandered into the hall to see what was happening. Sandra dashed out of the kitchen and snatched up the hall handset. "Hello." She swiped back her hair, looking flustered. "Cameron, darling, how wonderful to hear from you."
Olivia's gaze jumped to Radley, who had followed his mother from the kitchen. "Did you tell her?" Olivia mouthed silently.
Radley shook his head.
Olivia wrung her hands together. Why hadn't they found time to tell Sandra before Cameron called? This was bound to make it harder.
Meanwhile, Sandra was chatting away with Cameron. "Sorry if I sound a little out of breath. I couldn't find the handset in the kitchen so I had to dash out to the hall. Anyway, you don't want to know all that, do you. How are you, darling? Are you coming home?"
A tense silence filled the room as Olivia waited for the response.
"You are. Wonderful. I can't wait to hear how you're getting along, and there's a little person here who's just dying to meet you… Yes, he's definitely your son."
Olivia's heart fell. Radley turned away and headed back to the kitchen.
"Olivia's standing right here. Have a word with her. I've got to rush off or I'll be late. See you next weekend."
Next weekend! Olivia squeezed her eyes closed for a long second, then forced a smile as Sandra offered her the phone. She took it reluctantly and placed it to her ear.
"Hey, Livi, how are you?" He sounded cheerful and carefree. She'd gone through so much worry and pain to bring his son into the world, but Cameron had been oblivious. Resentment flashed through her, and she bit back a less-than-friendly retort.
"Very tired. I'm still healing from the emergency C-section, I have a newborn baby to care for, and I'm studying like mad because my exams begin the day after tomorrow."
"Yes. I'm sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. I've been busy."
"In all these months you haven't had one moment to contact me?"
Cameron cleared his throat. "I did post on your Facebook wall last week to say I hoped things were going well, and that I'd call."
Olivia dropped down on the chair beside the telephone table and rested her head in her hand. "Checking social media is the last thing on my mind right now." Cameron really had no idea what looking after a baby was like. "You're coming back for a visit?"
"I'll be back late on Friday. So that's good timing, you'll have just finished your finals, won't you? On Saturday night we can go out on the town to celebrate."
"What about George?"
"Oh, you mean the baby. Why did you have to give him Dad's name? That's really confusing."
"Nobody else seems to think so. Your dad was flattered."
"Yeah, I suppose he would be."
"You haven't answered the question, Cam. We can't just go out and leave George. Anyway, I thought you'd want to spend time with your son."
"There'll be plenty of time for me to see him. I don't have to leave until Sunday afternoon. Mum can babysit on Saturday, can't she?"
"Your mum's been doing a lot of babysitting. So's Radley."
Cameron laughed. "Rad with a baby? I'd love to see that."
"I expect you will." Olivia didn't join in his laughter. She couldn't be less amused if she tried.
"Okay, see you Friday. Good luck with the exams."
"Thanks, Cam. Safe journey."
Olivia sat and stared at the phone for a long time after the call ended. After months of praying Cameron would contact her and come to visit, this was now the last thing she wanted.
She glanced up, wondering where Radley had disappeared to. The house seemed very quiet. She headed to the kitchen to find it empty and went to the window. Radley was out in the garden, George still in his arms, standing looking out over the pond. He seemed so still that it set her nerves jangling. The situation with Cameron was as difficult for him as it was for her. How would he handle it?
This was Radley's nightmare come true. Yet he shouldn't be surprised. It had always been possible that Cameron would grow a conscience and shoulder his responsibilities. Only a month ago, Radley himself had encouraged Cameron to come back to see Olivia and meet his son. How things had changed since then.
Radley stroked his hand up and down the back of the precious little boy in his arms, the little boy he now thought of as his own. But George had never been Radley's son. He was Cameron's son, and Olivia had been Cameron's girlfriend.
Radley was the interloper here, not Cameron.
"Rad, you okay?"
He turned at the sound of Olivia's voice and ran a hand over his hair. No, he wanted to say. I'm not okay. But this was tough for her and he wouldn't make it worse. "I'm fine. I've handled worse. When's Cam coming?"
"At least you'll have finished your exams."
"I guess. But the thought of his visit will occupy my mind."
"Yeah. Mine too."
She stopped beside him. They both stared at the ducks for a while. The chilly November wind cut through Radley's sweater. He'd wrapped a blanket around George, but he cuddled the little boy closer and put his other arm around Olivia's shoulders to keep her warm. "We should go in. You and George will get cold."
He took her hand, and they wandered back along the gravel path between flower borders, now bare after the summer flowers had been pulled up.
"Look, I've been thinking," Radley started. "Perhaps it's best if I go away for a couple of days while Cam's here. Give the two of you some space."
Olivia's startled gaze jumped to his face. She halted. "You're going to run out at the first obstacle."
"No." Was that what he was doing? "No," he said with more certainty. He didn't want to be here to see her with Cameron, but it was more than that. "It's only fair I give you two some time alone. If I'm here, it'll muddy the waters."
"Fair for who?"
Mainly Cameron, he realized. His little brother. Radley had hijacked his brother's girlfriend and baby. That had not been an issue all the while Cameron stayed away, but if he wanted to be a father to George and maybe even rekindle his relationship with Olivia, Radley had to step back and give him a chance. He wouldn't do to Cameron what had been done to him.
"All of you," he said. "What if when Cam comes back you realize you still love him? You must have had strong feelings for him once."
"I never loved him like I love you."
A flash of relief mingled with guilt had Radley pulling Olivia into his arms. "I love you, sweetheart, I love you so much. I want to be with you and George more than anything else in the world."
And if he were really honest with himself, that was the main reason he had to go away this weekend. He couldn't bear to be here if Olivia did decide she still had feelings for Cameron.
"Please don't go." Olivia watched Radley folding ropes and checking clips and other bits and pieces of his climbing gear.
"I'll only be gone for a couple of days. I'll be home on Monday. Then we can discuss how you feel after Cam's visit."
"I know how I feel. I've told you. I love you. Cameron coming back is not going to change that."
Radley stuffed his climbing gear in a sports bag and carried it out the front door. Olivia followed him. "I need you here, Radley." She knew he thought he was doing the right thing by giving her and Cameron space, but she couldn't help feeling he was deserting her just when she needed him most.
Since Cameron's phone call, Radley had pulled back from her. He hadn't spent the night with her this week, claiming she needed to sleep well because of her exams. She didn't buy that excuse.
"You don't need me to lift George anymore," Radley said as if purposely misunderstanding her.
He went to the massive black motorcycle parked on the gravel drive. She didn't know he owned a motorcycle until he brought the thing around to the front door fifteen minutes ago. She'd spent so much time with him over the last six weeks that she felt like she knew him inside out, but she obviously didn't. The realization unnerved her. Was he not the man she'd thought him to be?
He'd been on leave staying in his parents' home—a false, protected environment. When people were on vacation they didn't always act in character. Had she fallen in love with a man who didn't really exist? On more than one occasion she'd thought he was too good to be true.
Sandra came outside with George in her arms. "I can't understand why you have to go away this weekend, just when Cameron's coming home. He's bound to want to see you."
Radley zipped up his leather jacket and went to his mother. He kissed her cheek, then cupped George's head in his hand and pressed his lips to the baby's temple. "I need to get out in the fresh air and get some adrenaline pumping. I need a break from all this domestic stuff."
His mother sighed and patted his arm. "I guess we have rather taken over your life. But you've done wonderfully, hasn't he, Olivia?"
Olivia nodded numbly. Did Radley really need a break from her and George?
"You'd better take George back inside. The wind's bitter," Radley said.
"You go carefully on that wretched machine." Sandra gave the motorcycle an evil glare, then rushed back inside with George cuddled close.
Olivia wasn't happy about Radley riding the motorcycle either, but he insisted on leaving his car so she and Cameron could use it over the weekend.
Radley secured his bag to the back of his bike and turned. He wrapped her in his arms and hugged her so tightly she could barely breathe. "I miss you already," he whispered.
"Then don't go."
His lips thinned in a tight line. "It's for the best."
"Where exactly are you going?"
"Mum knows. It's a place in Wales where I've been climbing before."
Olivia didn't like the idea of him climbing. It was bitterly cold and probably snowing in Wales. He might slip or get frostbite. She felt sick at the thought of him being in danger. She had no idea how she would cope when he was posted to another war zone.
At least he wasn't climbing on his own. He was meeting another army doctor there. Someone called Julia. Olivia wasn't over the moon about that either. Apparently Julia was a friend and that's all Radley had to say on the matter.
"I love you," Olivia said, hanging on to him when he tried to step back.
He hugged her tightly again and kissed her neck. "I love you too." He raised his head and gazed into her eyes. "I will be back soon. You need time with Cameron. I need to blow away the cobwebs and get some perspective on things."
Radley tensed to step back, and Olivia reluctantly let him go.
"Look after my nephew."
"I will." It troubled her that this was the first time Radley had referred to George that way. Had he distanced himself from her baby as well?
He pushed on his helmet and fastened the chin strap. Then he straddled his bike and started the engine. It roared to life, effectively ruling out further conversation. That was it. He was going away.
He gunned the engine and the bike sped away, spitting gravel in its wake. Olivia wrapped her arms around her middle, shivering as the winter wind hummed in the trees.
It was Friday afternoon and Radley would be home on Monday. So why did she feel like she was losing him forever?
The sound of the front door banging echoed through the house and reached Olivia where she helped Sandra prepare dinner in the kitchen. Her heart leaped, hoping Radley had changed his mind and returned.
She and Sandra both turned to the door as a burst of music sounded, then abruptly cut off. "Hi," a male voice said. Cameron appeared in the doorway, his phone to his ear. "Yeah, I've just arrived." His gaze swept over them. He switched to German for another couple of sentences, then ended the call.
"Sorry about that," Cameron said, pocketing his phone.
Sandra rushed over and hugged him. "It's so good to see you. I've missed you, darling."
"You too, Mum." Cameron hugged her back.
"You've been away too long. I hope you've booked leave for Christmas."
"Yeah, I'll try to get home, Mum."
"You won't try. You'll be here. Where else would you want to go at Christmas?"
Cameron pulled a face that Olivia couldn't interpret.
Olivia examined the lanky young man she'd once known so well and felt…nothing. He was still good-looking with similar dark hair and eyes to Radley, yet she wasn't attracted to him anymore. The spark was gone.
"Hello, Cam," she said, folding her arms and leaning back on the kitchen counter. A few months ago she would have been angry with him for staying away so long. The anger had faded, but she certainly wasn't going to give him a welcoming embrace after he'd ignored her for months.
"Livi." Cameron's expression tensed, lines bracketing his mouth as though he were troubled. "I owe you an apology."
That wasn't what she'd expected him to say. It thawed her chilly attitude a little.
"Can we erase the last few months and start afresh?" Cameron's gaze moved to George, sitting in his seat on the table, where Olivia had put him so he could watch her and Sandra.
Wonder flickered across Cameron's face, and the tightness inside her softened some more.
"That's George," she said.
"Your son," Sandra added in a pointed tone.
Cameron's gaze shot to his mother, and he gave her a sheepish smile.
Sandra put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed. "You've got a lot of catching up to do. Your little boy needs a father."
"Yeah, okay. Give me time to get used to the idea." Cameron walked across to the table.
Olivia moved to his side and ran a finger over George's tiny hand. "You can touch him. He won't break."
"Should I wash my hands first? I've been traveling for hours."
Olivia was surprised by Cameron's thoughtfulness. Good hygiene must come from his medical training.
"Yes, good idea." Sandra set the water running, then stepped away from the sink.
With clean hands, Cameron touched his index finger to George's palm. A delighted smile lit his face when the baby's tiny fingers curled around his digit. Cameron shook hands with his son, his smile stretching into a grin. "Does that mean he likes me?"
"Yes, I think it does," Sandra said.
Cameron tickled George. He gurgled happily and his legs pedaled. "Can I hold him?"
A gamut of conflicting emotions raced through Olivia. It was obvious Cameron had taken to George, and her baby seemed to like his father. This was great for George, she told herself as she tried to push memories of Radley holding the baby out of her mind.
"Unclip him." She watched while Cameron did as she suggested. "When you pick him up, make sure to support his head."
Cameron carefully lifted his son and cradled him against his chest. "Hey, bud, we're going to be pals, aren't we?"
The cold, hard nugget of resentment she'd built up against Cameron over the months he'd ignored her softened some more. He wasn't the heartless monster she'd imagined him to be.
It took no time at all for Cameron to look at ease with George cradled in his arms. Then he didn't seem to want to put him down. He circled the room, rocking George, singing him nursery rhymes, and kissing his head.
"It's really kinda cool having a baby that looks like me." Cameron's gaze shifted from George and jumped between his mother and Olivia. "He does look like me, doesn't he?"
"Very much so." Sandra pulled a photo of George out from under a fridge magnet and held it up beside a framed baby photo of Radley and Cameron on the kitchen dresser. "See. The three of you are like peas in a pod."
Cameron chuckled. "Just as well you didn't know Radley nine months ago or I'd be worried he might be George's dad."
The breath caught in Olivia's chest and burned with a mix of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. If only she had known Radley back then, if only he were George's father. A burst of guilt followed that thought and she turned away, unable to watch Cameron and her baby any longer.
She could not change the facts. Somehow they would all have to deal with this and learn to live with it. She wanted whatever was best for her darling little boy, but she desperately hoped the outcome would not hurt Radley.
Radley dug his chilled fingers in a rocky nook and hauled himself up another foot on the rough granite rock face, wedging the toe of his shoe on a ledge. Tiny specks of snow whipped at his face in the bitter wind. He was starting to think that climbing in Wales in the middle of winter hadn't been such a good plan.
"You're mental, Knight," Major Julia Braithwaite shouted from a few feet below him. "Next time you call for a climbing partner, remind me to tell you to get lost."
Radley pushed a nut into a crevice, checked it was firm, then snapped a carabiner on the wire to secure his rope. A wry smile pulled at his chapped lips. Doctors needed to be able to laugh in the face of unbearable conditions, army doctors especially, and he could always count on Julia to entertain him.