Meant to Be Family
Meant-to-be a daddy?
When obstetrician Oliver Evans walked away from his wife, Emily, he hoped it would allow her the chance to be a mum — something he just couldn’t give her. But when Emily crashes back into his life, Oliver knows that this time he can never let her go!
Midwife Emily has pieced together her own little family, now Oliver’s return changes everything. It’s clear what they once had isn’t over but if Oliver wants her back, he’ll have to believe that being a dad can finally heal his heart…
Late. Late, late, late. This was the third morning this week. Her boss would have kittens.
Not that Isla was in the mood to be angry, Em thought, as she swiped her pass at the car-park entry. The head midwife for Melbourne’s Victoria Hospital had hardly stopped smiling since becoming engaged. She and her fiance had been wafting around the hospital in a rosy glow that made Em wince.
Marriage. ‘Who needs it?’ she demanded out loud, as she swung her family wagon through the boom gates and headed for her parking spot on the fifth floor. She should apply for a lower spot—she always seemed to be running late—but her family wagon needed more space than the normal bays. One of the Victoria’s obstetricians rode a bike. He was happy to park his Harley to one side of his bay, so this was the perfect arrangement.
Except it was on the fifth floor—and she was late again.
The car in front of her was slow going up the ramp. Come on… She should have been on the wards fifteen minutes ago. But Gretta had been sick. Again.
Things were moving too fast. She needed to take the little girl back to the cardiologist, but the last time she’d taken her, he’d said…
No. Don’t go there. There was unthinkable. She raked her fingers through her unruly curls, trying for distraction. She’d need to pin her hair up before she got to the ward. Had she remembered pins?
It didn’t work. Her mind refused to be distracted, and the cardiologist’s warning was still ringing in her ears.
‘Emily, I’m sorry, but we ‘re running out of time.’
Was Gretta’s heart condition worsening, or was this just a tummy bug? The little girl had hugged her tight as she’d left, and it had been all she could do to leave her. If her mum hadn’t been there… But Adrianna adored being a gran. ‘Get into work, girl, and leave Gretta to me. Toby and I will watch Play School while Gretta has a nap. I’ll ring you if she’s not better by lunchtime. Meanwhile, go!’
She’d practically shoved her out the door.
But there was something wrong—and she knew what it was. The cardiologist had been blunt and she remembered his assessment word for word.
It was all very well, hearing it, she thought bleakly, but seeing it… At the weekend she’d taken both kids to their favourite place in the world, the children’s playground at the Botanic Gardens. There was a water rill there that Gretta adored. She’d crawled over it as soon as she could crawl, and then she’d toddled and walked.
Six months ago she’d stood upright on the rill and laughed with delight as the water had splashed over her toes. At the weekend she hadn’t even been able to crawl. Em had sat on the rill with her, trying to make her smile, but the little girl had sobbed. She knew what she was losing.
Don’t! Don’t think about it! Move on. Or she’d move on if she could.
‘Come on.’ She was inwardly yelling at the car in front. The car turned the corner ponderously then—praise be!—turned into a park on Level Four. Em sighed with relief, zoomed up the last ramp and hauled the steering wheel left, as she’d done hundreds of times in the past to turn into her parking space.
There was a car where Harry’s bike should be. A vintage sports car, burgundy, gleaming with care and polish.
Wider than a bike.
Instead of a seamless, silent transition to park, there was the appalling sound of metal on metal.
Her wagon had a bull bar on the front, designed to deflect stray bulls—or other cars during minor bingles. It meant her wagon was as tough as old boots. It’d withstand anything short of a road train.
The thing she’d hit wasn’t quite as tough.
She’d ripped the side off the sports car.
Oliver Evans, gynaecologist, obstetrician and inutero surgeon, was gathering his briefcase and his suit jacket from the passenger seat. He’d be meeting the hospital bigwigs today so he needed to be formal. He was also taking a moment to glance through the notes he had on who he had to meet, who he needed to see.
He vaguely heard the sound of a car behind him. He heard it turning from the ramp.
The next moment the passenger side of his car was practically ripped from the rest.
It was a measure of Em’s fiercely practised calm that she didn’t scream. She didn’t burst into tears. She didn’t even swear.
She simply stared straight ahead. Count to ten, she told herself. When that didn’t work, she tried twenty.
She figured it out, quite quickly. Her parking spot was supposed to be wider but that was because she shared the two parking bays with Harry the obstetrician’s bike and Harry had left. Of course. She’d even dropped in on his farewell party last Friday night, even though it had only been for five minutes because the kids had been waiting.
So Harry had left. This car, then, would belong to the doctor who’d taken his place.
She’d just welcomed him by trashing his car.
‘I have insurance. I have insurance. I have insurance.’ It was supposed to be her mantra. Saying things three times helped, only it didn’t help enough. She put her head on the steering wheel and felt a wash of exhaustion so profound she felt like she was about to melt.
His car was trashed.
He climbed from the driver’s seat and stared at his beloved Morgan in disbelief. The Morgan was low slung, gorgeous—and fragile. He’d parked her right in the centre of the bay to avoid the normal perils of parking lots—people opening doors and scratching his paintwork.
But the offending wagon had a bull bar attached and it hadn’t just scratched his paintwork. While the wagon looked to be almost unscathed, the passenger-side panels of the Morgan had been sheared off completely.
He loved this baby. He’d bought her five years ago, a post-marriage toy to make him feel better about the world. He’d cherished her, spent a small fortune on her and then put her into very expensive storage while he’d been overseas.
His qualms about returning to Australia had been tempered by his joy on being reunited with Betsy. But now…some idiot with a huge lump of a wagon—and a bull bar.
‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’ He couldn’t see the driver of the wagon yet, but he was venting his spleen on the wagon itself. Of all the ugly, lumbering excuses for a car.
And it was intact. Yeah, it’d have a few extra scratches but there were scratches all over it already. It was a battered, dilapidated brute and the driver’d be able to keep driving like the crash had never happened.
He wanted to kick it. Of all the stupid, careless.
Um…why hadn’t the driver moved?
And suddenly medical mode kicked in, overriding rage. Maybe the driver had had a heart attack. A faint. Maybe this was a medical incident rather than sheer stupidity. He took a deep breath, switching roles in an instant. Infuriated driver became doctor. The wagon’s driver’s door was jammed hard against where his passenger door used to be, so he headed for its passenger side.
The wagon’s engine died. Someone was alive in there, then. Good. Or sort of good.
He hauled the door open and he hadn’t quite managed the transition. Rage was still paramount.
‘You’d better be having a heart attack.’ It was impossible to keep the fury from his voice. ‘You’d better have a really good excuse as to why you ploughed this heap of scrap metal into my car! You want to get out and explain?’
Things were already appalling—but things just got a whole lot worse.
This was a voice she knew. A voice from her past. Surely not.
She had to be imagining it, she decided, but she wasn’t opening her eyes. If it really was…
It couldn’t be. She was tired, she was frantically worried about Gretta, she was late and she’d just crashed her car. No wonder she was hearing things.
‘You’re going to have to open your eyes and face things.’ She said it to herself, under her breath. Then she repeated it in her head twice more but her three-times mantra still didn’t seem to be working.
The silence outside the car was ominous. Toe-tappingly threatening.
Maybe it’d go away if she just stayed…
‘Hey, are you okay?’ The gravelly voice, angry at first, was now concerned.
But it was the same voice and this wasn’t her imagination. This was horrendously, appallingly real.
Voices could be the same, she told herself, feeling herself veering towards hysteria. There had to be more than one voice in the world that sounded like his.
She’d stay just one moment longer with her eyes closed.
Her passenger door opened and someone slid inside. Large. Male.
His hand landed on hers on the steering wheel. ‘Miss? Are you hurt? Can I help?’ And as the anger in his voice gave way to caring she knew, unmistakably, who this was.
Oliver. The man she’d loved with all her heart. The man who’d walked away five years ago to give her the chance of a new life.
So many emotions were slamming through her head…anger, bewilderment, grief… She’d had five years to move on but, crazy or not, this man still felt a part of her.
She’d crashed his car. He was right here.
There was no help for it. She took a deep, deep breath. She braced herself.
She raised her head, and she turned to face her husband.
* * *
He was seeing her but his mind wasn’t taking her in. Emily!
For one wild moment he thought he must be mistaken. This was a different woman, older, a bit…worn round the edges. Weary? Faded jeans and stained windcheater. Unkempt curls.
But still Emily.
His wife? She still was, he thought stupidly. His Em.
But she wasn’t his Em. He’d walked away five years ago. He’d left her to her new life, and she had nothing to do with him.
Except she was here. She was staring up at him, her eyes reflecting his disbelief. Horror?
Shock held him rigid.
She’d wrecked his car. He loved this car. He should be feeling.
No. There was no should, or if there was he hadn’t read that particular handbook.
Should he feel grief? Should he feel guilt?
He felt neither. All he felt was numb.
She’d had a minute’s warning. He’d had none.
‘Em?’ He looked…incredulous. He looked more shocked than she was—bewildered beyond words.
What were you supposed to say to a husband you hadn’t seen or spoken to for five years? There was no handbook for this. ‘H-hi?’ she managed.
‘You’ve just crashed my car,’ he said, stupidly.
‘You were supposed to be a bike.’ Okay, maybe that was just as stupid. This conversation was going exactly nowhere. They’d established, what, that he wasn’t a bike?
He was her husband—and he was right beside her. Looking completely dumbfounded.
‘You have a milk stain on your shoulder.’
That would be the first thing he’d notice, she thought. Her uniform was in her bag. She never put it on at home—her chances of getting out of the house clean were about zero—so she was still wearing jeans and the baggy windcheater she’d worn at breakfast.
Gretta had had a milky drink before being ill. Em had picked her up and cuddled her before she’d left.
Strangely, the stain left her feeling exposed. She didn’t want this man to see…her.
‘There are child seats in your wagon.’
He still sounded incredulous. Milk stains? Family wagon? He’d be seeing a very different woman from the one he’d seen five years ago.
But he looked… Just the same. Same tall, lean, gorgeous. Same deep brown eyes that crinkled at the edges when he smiled, and Oliver smiled a lot. Same wide mouth and strong bone structure. Same dark, wavy hair, close cropped to try and get rid of the curl, only that never worked. It was so thick. She remembered running her fingers through that hair.
Um, no. Not appropriate. Regardless of formalities, this was her husband. Or ex-husband? They hadn’t bothered with divorce yet but she’d moved on.
She’d just crashed his car.
‘You’re using Harry’s car park,’ she said, pointing accusingly at…um…one slightly bent sports car. It was beautiful—at least some of it still was. An open sports car. Vintage. It wasn’t the sort of car that you might be able to pop down to the car parts place in your lunch hour and buy a new panel.
He’d always loved cars. She remembered the day they’d sold his last sports car.
His last? No. Who knew how many cars he’d been through since? Anyway, she remembered the day they’d sold the sleek little roadster both of them had loved, trading it in for a family wagon. Smaller than this but just as sensible. They’d gone straight from the car showroom to the nursery suppliers, and had had the baby seat fitted there and then.
She’d been six months pregnant. They’d driven home with identical smug looks on their faces.
He’d wanted a family as much as she had. Or she’d thought he did. What had happened then had proved she hadn’t known him at all.
‘I’ve been allocated this car park,’ he was saying, and she had to force herself back to here, to now. ‘Level Five, Bay Eleven. That’s mine.’
‘I’m employed here, as of today.’
‘You can’t be.’
He didn’t reply. He climbed out of the wagon, dug his hands deep in his pockets, glanced back at his wreck of a car and looked at her again.
‘Why can’t I, Em?’ The wreck of the car faded to secondary importance. This was suddenly all about them.
‘Because I work here.’
‘It’s the most specialised neonatal service in Melbourne. You know that’s what I do.’
‘You went to the States.’ She felt numb. Stupid. Out of control. She’d been sure her ex-husband had been on the other side of world. She didn’t want him to be here.
‘I did specialist training in in-utero surgery in the States.’ This was a dumb conversation. He was out of the car, leaning back on one of the concrete columns, watching her as she clung to the steering wheel like she was drowning. ‘I’ve accepted a job back here. And before you say anything, no, I didn’t know you were working here. I thought you were still at Hemmingway Private. I knew when I came back that there was a chance we might meet, but Melbourne’s a big place. I’m not stalking you.’ ‘I never meant.’
‘No,’ she managed. ‘And I’m sorry I crashed into your car.’
Finally things were starting to return to normal. Like her heart rate. Her pulse had gone through the roof when the cars had hit. She’d been subconsciously trying to get it down, practising the deep-breathing techniques she used when she was pacing the floor with Gretta, frightened for herself, frightened for the future. The techniques came to her aid instinctively now when she was frightened. Or discombobulated.
Discombobulated was how she felt, she conceded. Stalking? That sounded as if he thought she might be frightened of him, and she’d never been frightened of Oliver.
‘Can we exchange details?’ she managed, trying desperately to sound normal. Like this was a chance meeting of old acquaintances, but they needed to talk about car insurance. ‘Oliver, it’s really nice to see you again…’ Was it? Um, no, but it sounded the right thing to say. ‘But I’m late as it is.’
‘Which was why you crashed.’