‘What do you mean, to the point of obsession? I am obsessed. Just as you are.’ She laughed and closed her eyes, enjoying the feel of the wind on her face. As they drove along, Ethan once again found himself breathing a little more deeply than before. His cardiologist would be pleased.
‘You’re not filling your lungs all the way,’ Leo had told him when Ethan had insisted the results of his physical examination be repeated. ‘You need to slow down and—’
‘If you say smell the roses, I’ll punch you in the nose, mate.’
Leo’s answer had been to laugh. ‘Ethan, we’ve known each other for decades. I respect you as a medical professional and as a friend, and it’s because you’re my friend that these test results concern me so much.’ Leo had shaken his head.
‘It’s just a hiccup. I’ll slow down. I promise.’
‘But you won’t. I know you and this “hiccup”, as you call it, may have been a mild heart attack but it means others will follow if you don’t change your lifestyle. To lose you to a massive heart attack that could easily be prevented—it’s a no-brainer. My recommendation to the CEO that you take an imposed sabbatical for six months stands. Smell those blooming roses. Breathe the fresh air. Get out of the city. Get out of your comfort zone. Meet new people and learn to appreciate life again.’
‘I appreciate life,’ he’d growled, completely furious with his friend. ‘It’s why I’m a surgeon.’
‘Appreciate your life,’ Leo had clarified. ‘Fill your lungs—all the way. Breathe as deeply as you can and enjoy the exhalations as your stress ebbs away.’ And for some reason, since his arrival in CJ Nicholls’s life, Ethan had breathed more deeply than he had during the past six years.
Perhaps he was jumping the gun a bit, saying he wanted to look around for somewhere else to stay? He decided to put a mental pin in the thought and just see what else unfolded. For the moment, the drive through the beautiful countryside, surrounded by the early changing of the autumn leaves on the rows of grapevines, was very relaxing.
‘How does the tourism impact the hospitals and clinics?’ he asked CJ after he’d negotiated the car out of the main road of town.
She lifted her head and glanced across at him, her sunglasses in place, a scarf covering her hair. She looked very…nineteen-twenties chic. ‘We have the odd emergency—burst appendix, perforated ulcers, that sort of thing. Food poisoning pops up every now and then. Of course there are coughs and colds and general ailments people don’t think of during the week because they’re so busy running around. Then they go away for the weekend, their bodies start to relax from the daily grind and they pick up the slightest bug or virus.
‘Sometimes we have people involved in car accidents, primarily because they’ve been stupid enough to drink and drive, but thankfully we haven’t had anything for a few years.’ She pointed to the road ahead. ‘Go left at the T-intersection. The hospital’s just down the road there.’
As he indicated to turn, he saw the Whitecorn District Hospital and soon they were pulling into the car park. When he brought the car to a stop, she turned and grinned wildly at him, slowly removing the scarf and sunglasses.
‘That was…exhilarating. Thank you.’ Her smile was so genuine, as though she didn’t have a care in the world. How could she be like that when she was heavily pregnant and facing single parenthood? He stared at her for a long moment, astonished how her smile seemed to light up the darkness around his heart. He didn’t want to be moved by her. It was one of the reasons he not only wanted to keep his distance but seemed to need it as well. CJ Nicholls was…an enigma and one he didn’t want to discover—or so he told himself.
Ethan opened his door and climbed from the car before walking around to help her out. He took both her hands in his and after she’d swung her legs around, she carefully eased herself from the convertible. ‘Getting in is much more graceful than getting out.’ She laughed, staring up into his eyes. And it was there, in that moment, that it felt as though the earth had stopped rotating, that time seemed to freeze, locking the two of them in a strange bubble of awareness.
Was it the curve of her lips or the brightness of her eyes that was capturing his attention? He still held her hands, and they felt small and vulnerable inside his own. How was she going to give birth and raise a child alone? Didn’t she know that so many things could go wrong? He knew. He’d experienced all those things and the pain had been acute. For that split second he wanted to haul her into his arms, to offer protection, to let her know that she had to be sensible, to formulate a plan and account for all possibilities. Why he felt so determined to protect her, he had absolutely no clue.