He glanced at her lips, his gaze hovering there for a long moment…long enough for her lips to part, allowing pent-up air to escape. What was this…thing, this…awareness that seemed to encompass them? Her lips were so perfectly sculpted, as though they’d been made for him…just for him. How was this possible? How could he be so drawn to a woman who, up until a month ago, he hadn’t even known existed?
‘Are you all right, Ethan?’ Her words were soft and filled with concern and he immediately flicked his gaze back up to meet hers. He saw her look down at their hands and it was only then he realised his grip on her hands had tightened.
‘Sorry.’ He let go and took a step back, shoving his hands into his pockets. He didn’t want to have any emotions, protective, caring or otherwise, towards his colleague. She was worried about him? ‘I’m fine. Just…er…wanted to make sure you were steady on your feet.’
‘I’m good.’ CJ gestured to the main entrance of the hospital. ‘Shall we?’ As she walked on unsteady legs towards the hospital, leaving him to secure the car, CJ tried to understand what had just happened. Apart from being completely mesmerised by his spicy scent and having tingles of delight shooting up her arms from where he’d held her hands, she’d also seen a powerful emotion cross Ethan’s face—one of primal protection.
Why would Ethan—a man who barely knew her—want to protect her? Want to keep her safe? It wasn’t just his protective instincts she’d sensed. The way he’d stared at her mouth had caused the tingles already flooding her body to re-ignite and burst into a thousand stars of awareness. There was no denying that Ethan Janeway was an exceptionally good-looking man but the fact remained that they were colleagues. Besides, this was hardly the most opportune time in her life to be considering any sort of romantic involvement. The only person she needed to fall in love with was her unborn child. No one else.
With her pep talk done, CJ pulled on an air of professionalism and introduced Ethan to the hospital staff. She introduced him to everyone they came across, even the domestic staff, which was something he found a little strange. In a large hospital, it was impossible to find the time to get to know everyone, yet here it appeared CJ not only knew everyone, she knew what was going on in their lives—and they in hers. He shook his head. The intimacies of small, rural towns were not for him.
‘Was I right?’ she asked Toby, one of the male cleaners, who was swinging a polisher over the floors. They had finally finished a very long tour of the twenty-six-bed hospital, CJ bringing Ethan up to date on every single patient, and were on their way out.
‘Yes, you were, CJ. Molly bought some of that manuka honey you suggested, swirled it around her gums and, sure enough, the ulcers started disappearing.’
Toby turned the polisher off, then pressed his hand to her stomach. ‘How’s our baby doing?’
CJ grinned widely. ‘Just fine.’
‘Not long now.’
‘No. Not long now.’ She waited patiently for him to remove his hand before continuing down the corridor. At the main entrance, Andrea, the clinical nurse consultant who had accompanied them on the round, met them.
‘Now, you go get off your feet. I don’t want those ankles swelling,’ Andrea instructed sternly, then she turned her attention to Ethan. ‘Make sure she rests.’
‘Oh, no,’ CJ groaned. ‘Have you joined the over-protection brigade as well?’ she asked Ethan.
‘Leave him alone. We’re all here to look after you,’ Andrea stated. ‘That’s what family do.’
‘OK.’ CJ smiled and waved. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ she threw over her shoulder as she headed towards the door.
‘Tomorrow!’ Andrea’s tone made CJ stop. ‘Claudia-Jean Nicholls, you are not picking grapes in your condition. Does Donna know?’
‘That I’m planning to go, like I do every year? Yes.’
‘This year’s a little different, CJ. You’re in no condition to pick grapes.’ Andrea waggled a finger at her.
‘I doubt there’s any risk of me overdoing things. I have so many of you watchdogs around, guarding my every move.’ She compassed Ethan in her words and Andrea nodded.
‘True.’ Then Andrea placed a hand on CJ’s baby. ‘I’m positive it’s a boy.’
‘Donna has a betting pool under way. Make sure you register your vote. Date, time, gender and weight.’ CJ yawned, then waved. ‘See you tomorrow,’ she said again, before heading out to Ethan’s car. She secured her scarf and sunglasses and gratefully accepted his help with buckling the seat belt. It wasn’t until they were on the main road heading back to her house that he started asking questions.