‘Having fun?’ She pulled on one glove to protect both her hand and the grapes.
‘Yes. I am.’
‘You sound surprised.’ CJ used her pair of snips and cut off a bunch of grapes, putting it into his bucket.
‘Are you always surprised when you try something new and it turns out to be fun?’
He nodded. ‘Leaving Sydney. Coming to a new town. Meeting new people.’ He listed them. ‘I didn’t think any of them would be fun but it hasn’t been as bad as I’d thought.’
‘And what about sharing a house with another person?’ she added, then looked at him questioningly. ‘Are you going to stay?’
Ethan pondered her words for a moment. ‘There’s no denying that your place is practical. It’s close to the clinic and hospital. That’s a bonus. There’s somewhere for me to garage my car. That’s good, too.’
‘You’ve heard me having morning sickness, seen me sleeping in your car and shared night-time snacks with me.’ She ticked the things off on her fingers. ‘I’m thinking that any other awkward moments we might share would pale in comparison to those.’
Ethan couldn’t help but laugh at her words. He found her openness completely refreshing as Abigail had rarely said what she’d been thinking. That had been part of their problem. He’d allowed himself to think she was fine and… He focused his thoughts on the woman before him, rather than his past. ‘You really are the most unique woman I’ve ever met.’
‘I’m going to take that as a compliment.’
And there it was again. They were looking at each other with a strange sort of awareness, as though an invisible bond was forming between them. His gaze dipped down to encompass her mouth and watched as the smile disappeared, her tongue slipping out to wet her lips.
‘Thank you,’ she said quietly.
‘For saying nice things like that—and meaning them.’
‘You’re not used to receiving compliments?’ He waved an arm around at the various people who were picking grapes. ‘Everyone I’ve met in this town simply adores you.’
She chuckled. ‘But most of them have known me since I was a young girl.’ She went back to snipping grapes and so did Ethan. ‘When I first started working in the practice with Dad, I used to think the respect I was given was by association. They respected my father, so they were giving me the benefit of the doubt.’
‘And now?’ Ethan crouched down to snip the lower bunches of grapes.
‘I know they respect me because I’m a good doctor and also because of the way I loved and respected my dad.’ CJ gestured to where some other people were cutting grapes a few rows away. ‘Take Robert, for example. He knew my dad, helped him restore cars, played darts with him and it wasn’t until my dad’s funeral that Robert told me how proud he was of me. Proud that I’d become a great doctor, like my dad. Proud because as my father’s health had deteriorated, I’d treated Dad with respect.’ CJ sniffed as tears sprang to her eyes. ‘It was nice to hear.’
‘You clearly still miss your dad very much.’
‘I do. Every day.’ She smiled and snipped another bunch of grapes. ‘I know the people of this town love me, which is one of the reasons I always refused to leave whenever Quinten voiced the idea.’
‘He didn’t like it here?’ Ethan asked cautiously. He was willing to listen to CJ talk about her husband but he didn’t want her getting upset. She’d already been standing on her feet for quite a while and although it wasn’t summer, it was a warmish kind of day.
‘He did at first. He came here from Sydney to start afresh after a bad business deal. We’d met, dated and were married within the year.’
‘That’s fast.’ He thought about he and Abigail, being friends throughout university and eventually taking their relationship to the next level many years later.
‘That’s what everyone said but I was determined, and so was he. And things were great for the first few years. I think he had some notion that wherever he went with his work, I would follow. A business deal came up in Sydney and he was all gung-ho, ready to just up and leave.’
‘But you couldn’t. You’re a country doctor with a busy practice,’ he stated.
‘Exactly. Dad’s health had deteriorated, I was working round the clock at the practice and helping my sister move Dad to Sydney.’
‘Perhaps Quinten thought you wanted to be closer to him?’
‘That was one of the arguments he put forward. Quinten was very good at manipulating situations to his own advantage. Yet where he was planning on living in Sydney would have been a two-hour drive in peak traffic from where my father was.’