Connor Mackenzie was the love of nurse Lucy Adams's life. But when it came to a choice between her or his glittering pediatric career, Connor chose the job. And then she discovered she was pregnant. He didn't know about the baby, and Lucy didn't tell him.
Now Connor is back. Lucy still doesn't know the real reason why he left. She doesn't know how much it cost him—or how much he's missed her. And she doesn't know how determined he is to be a father to their child.
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"YOU'RE never going to believe what's happened!"
Staff Nurse Lucy Adams glanced round as the staffroom door burst open. It was Lucy's first day back at work on Dalverston General's paediatric unit following her maternity leave. She had been hoping to ease herself back into the job after several months' absence, but it had been far too busy as one crisis had succeeded another. She'd not had time to stop for any lunch and had been making herself a cup of coffee when her friend, Sandra Clark, had appeared. Now she groaned as she saw the excitement on the other nurse's face.
"I'm not sure if I want to hear this." 'Oh, yes, you do!" Sandra grimaced when she heard footsteps coming along the corridor. It was obvious that she wanted to tell Lucy her news before they were interrupted. "Guess who they've hired to replace Mark Dawson?"
"I've no idea and I really don't care so long as he or she can do the job," Lucy assured her, sinking down onto a chair. "It's been bedlam in here this morning. I don't know how they expect us to cope with half our staff missing — "
Lucy froze so that the cup of coffee that had been on its way to her mouth ended up suspended in mid-air. Sandra laughed in delight.
"I knew you'd be surprised! I was stunned when I found out, too. I never thought Connor would come back here to work, did you?"
"No. I didn't." It was hard to force the words past the knot of panic in her throat but Lucy knew that she mustn't let Sandra see how shocked she really was. Nobody knew about her and Connor — they'd gone to great lengths to keep their relationship a secret. Gossip was rife in any hospital and they hadn't wanted everyone talking about them.
In the event, Lucy had been glad they'd been so careful. At least she'd been spared the embarrassment of people knowing that Connor had cared more about his career than he'd cared about her. And because nobody knew they'd had an affair, they hadn't put two and two together when she'd announced that she was pregnant. Isabel was six months old now and nobody — not even Lucy's own family — knew that Connor was her father. That was how she intended it to remain, too. So far as she was concerned, Connor Mackenzie had no claim on her precious daughter.
"At least we're getting someone with experience to take over the post." She fixed a smile to her mouth, hoping it would convince Sandra that the news didn't worry her. Of course it did, because working with Connor was going to be very awkward, but she had to start as she meant to go on. "It was a real blow when Mark decided to accept that position in Cambridge, but Connor's an excellent doctor.And he's great with the kids, too."
"He's also gorgeous and sexy in case you've forgotten." Sandra gave a little chuckle. "Or have your hormones not recovered yet from the joys of childbirth?" 'My hormones are fine, thank you very much,'Lucy retorted, knowing that she had to play along — it was expected of her.
Her heart suddenly skipped a beat as a picture of Connor appeared in her mind's eye: that crisp black hair, those wonderful green eyes and chiselled features. He was gorgeous, and sexy, and a host of other things as well, but none of those mattered. It was Izzy who was the most important person in her life now, and Izzy's happiness was her only concern. She wasn't going to allow her daughter's feelings to be trampled on by a man who put his career before everything else!
The thought steadied her so that she was able to smile more naturally this time. "I'm just too tired from looking after a teething baby all night to appreciate Connor Mackenzie's finer points."
"Then you must be the only woman in this hospital who feels that way." Sandra gave a little shudder. "Oh, this must be my lucky day. I was gutted when Connor left to work in the States. I never thought he'd come back to Dalverston once he'd had a taste of the good life. It must be fate is all I can say. Pure fate!"
Lucy laughed sceptically. "Or bad luck, you mean. Connor might be good-looking but he's too wrapped up in his precious career to care about anything else. You could find yourself at the end of a long line of disappointed females who wish they'd never heard of the wonderful Dr Mackenzie!"
She looked up, expecting Sandra to refute that claim, and suddenly realised there was someone standing in the doorway. Her breath caught as she realised who it was. He gave her a thin smile as he came into the room but she could see the anger in his green eyes and a shiver raced through her. She wasn't sure if it had been that disparaging comment that had upset him, but there was no doubt at all that Connor Mackenzie was furiously angry.
"Obviously, you're not my number one fan, Staff Nurse Adams. Whilst you're perfectly entitled to your views, I do hope you'll keep any remarks like that to yourself in future. I would prefer it if my staff at least pretended to show me some respect."
Colour washed up Lucy's face as she quickly stood up. Maybe Connor was within his rights to chastise her, but there was no way she was going to allow him to walk all over her. "I apologise, Dr Mackenzie. Obviously, that remark wasn't intended for your ears. I shall be more careful in future."
"Thank you." His eyes bored into her as he narrowed the gap between them. "Harmony within my team is something I value very highly. If you have a grievance, I expect you to tell me about it. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," she retorted, her brown eyes blazing back at him. Maybe she couldn't put her feelings into words but there was no way he wouldn't understand the message she was trying to convey. He might be her boss now, not her lover, but she resented him pulling rank this way.
"Good." An ironic smile curled his mouth. "It's best to get things out into the open, I find. It saves a lot of confusion. Trying to keep secrets rarely works."
Lucy wasn't sure what he meant by that. To anyone listening, it would appear that he was laying down some ground rules before he took up the post as head of the paediatric unit. However, she sensed there'd been a deeper meaning behind the words and it worried her. Was Connor warning her that he'd found out about Izzy?
Panic swept over her at the thought of him knowing about her daughter and she turned away, terrified that he would see just how scared she was. She emptied the rest of her coffee down the sink and hurried to the door. Sandra was chatting to Connor now so with a bit of luck she should be able to slip away. She just needed a few minutes to calm herself down and then she'd be able to deal with whatever Connor threw at her.
"Could I have a word with you before you go back to the ward, Lucy?"
She was almost out of the door when Connor called her back and for a moment she was tempted to ignore him. However, she knew it would create more problems if she did that. No matter how she felt about him personally, he was still her boss.
"We're short-staffed today," she told him crisply. "So I believe. I was informed at my interview that staffing levels are at an all-time low. It's something I intend to rectify as soon as possible."
He turned to Sandra and Lucy's mouth pursed with distaste when she saw the dazzling smile he bestowed on the other woman. "I know you're supposed to go off duty soon, but I really need to have a word with Lucy. Would you mind covering for her just this once?"
"Of course I don't mind, Connor — I mean, Dr Mackenzie," Sandra amended hastily.
"Thanks. And Connor will do fine." He gave her another megawatt smile. "I can't see the point of standing on ceremony when we're all here for the same reason. Make sure everyone knows that, will you?"
Sandra glided out of the room, an expression of such bliss on her face that it made Lucy's stomach churn. Something of what she was feeling must have shown on her face because Connor laughed.
"A bit of charm works wonders, I find. It's far more effective than rattling out orders."
"I'm sure you're right." Lucy came back into the room although she didn't sit down when he waved her towards a chair. "I prefer to stand, thank you.You did say this wouldn't take long."
"It won't.'He closed the door and turned to face her. "What I have to say can be said in very few words, although I'm sure you would prefer it to be said in private."
"I can't imagine what you and I have to talk about of a private nature," she countered. "Our relationship ended when you went to America. You made it very clear it was the end, too. What was it you said on our last evening together? Ah, yes, I remember now. There was no point keeping in touch because you preferred to make a clean break. You then told me to get on with my life and that you hoped I'd be happy. Well, I'm glad to say that I took your advice on both counts."
"So I believe." He leant against the door and there was something about the way he was looking at her that made a shiver run down her spine. "I bumped into Lisa Saunders a few weeks ago. She was in Boston for a seminar so we spent a couple of hours catching up. It was a surprise to hear that she and Will were married, although that wasn't her only news, of course. She also told me that you were on maternity leave. Your baby is how old now...six months?"
Lucy nodded. She was too afraid to speak. She had the most awful feeling that she knew where this was leading and was terrified that she would say something to confirm his suspicions. That was all they were, of course — suspicions. Nobody apart from her knew the truth. "Did I ever tell you that maths was one of my favourite subjects at school? I used to enjoy working out all those problems the teachers set us." Connor's tone was light and breezy, as though they were indulging in a pleasant little chat. However, the expression in his eyes told a very different story.
"How fascinating," she replied curtly, desperate not to hear anything else. Even though she had no idea what his liking for maths had to do with the situation, it was unlikely that he was making small-talk for the fun of it. "Unfortunately, I don't have time to listen to you reminiscing about your schooldays. I need to get back to work."
"Of course you do. As a single mother, your job must be very important to you. Babies are expensive, aren't they? They need all sorts of things — nappies, clothes, toys — the list must be endless." He sighed. "It must be hard enough when the child's father is around to share the burden but when you're on your own — like you, Lucy — it must be a real problem."
"I manage," she snapped. "I'm sure you do. But why should you have to manage by yourself when the baby's father should be doing his bit to help you?'He stepped away from the door and there was something intimidating about the way he was looking at her now. "He does know about the baby, doesn't he? I know you read about women who go off and have a baby without telling the father, but you wouldn't do a thing like that, would you, Lucy?"
"Isabel's father has nothing whatsoever to do with you!" she shot back, desperate to convince him that she was telling the truth.
"Isabel. So that's what you called her? Lisa couldn't remember her name when I asked her what it was. She just knew you'd had a little girl.'His voice had softened, the harshness replaced by a tenderness that made Lucy's heart suddenly ache. Either he was a superb actor or he really was moved by the thought of her daughter.
Just for a moment, she allowed herself the luxury of imagining how he would react if she told him the truth about Izzy being his child. She could actually picture the smile that would light his handsome face and the way his eyes would fill with love for their daughter — as once upon a time she'd imagined they had filled with love for her.
The thought was like a dash of cold water, returning her with sickening speed to the reality of the situation. And the reality was that Connor allowed nothing to come before his precious career. Nothing had ever mattered as much and nothing ever would, neither a woman nor a child. The thought helped her harden her heart.
"Is this leading somewhere?" She gave him a mocking smile. "So far we've covered your schooldays, your meeting with Lisa, and the fact that I have a baby. So what else do you wish to discuss?"