Without a word spoken, he leaned forward and placed his lips on hers as though it were the most natural thing in the world. It was like the first kiss they’d shared, feather-light and very brief, then he shifted back slightly and cleared his throat. As she looked at him for a moment longer, she could clearly see his concern, his questions and his confusion. She didn’t blame him as she felt the same way. Now, however, was not the time for such a discussion and they both knew it, hence she also understood why he hadn’t made the effort to deepen the kiss.
‘Er…the nurses mentioned that you’re planning to discharge yourself and Elizabeth tomorrow.’ He looked down at the baby as he spoke and the moment of repressed need and desire vanished.
‘Yes. I’d like to get home and settled into a routine. I’m not far from the hospital, both you and Donna will be across the road at the clinic during the day should we need anything, and you’ll be in the house in the evening. I don’t see any reason to stay and take up a hospital bed.’
‘I’m not criticising you, I’m merely making a statement. The reason I made the statement is that I was also told about the hospital’s custom.’
‘Well, it can’t be a very good one if their own GP doesn’t know about it.’
‘The one where the new mother is taken out to dinner for a few hours the night before she returns home. A celebration for her hard labour.’ He raised his eyebrows on the pun.
‘Oh. That custom.’ CJ had forgotten about it, simply because she had no one to take her out. Was Ethan suggesting that he was going to take her out? Tingles of excitement buzzed through her. ‘Why do you…er…mention it?’ Maybe he was offering to look after Elizabeth while she went out to dinner by herself or with some of her friends.
‘Because I want to take you to dinner. You deserve it.’
‘Dinner?’ she repeated. ‘Uh…where were you thinking of going?’
‘I hadn’t actually thought that far. Do you have any suggestions? Favourite places? Or would you like to be surprised?’
‘Um…’ She couldn’t think. She hadn’t been out to dinner in such a very long time she wasn’t sure what to say. ‘Surprise me.’
‘OK. Surprise it is.’ His smile was wide and encompassing.
‘Are you looking forward to this more than me?’ As she asked the question, she saw a hint of sadness creep into Ethan’s gaze. He looked down at Elizabeth for a moment, brushing a kiss to the baby’s head.
‘It’s also my way of thanking you for allowing me to be a part of your miracle.’
Tears instantly sprang to CJ’s eyes and she placed her hand on his arm. ‘If the experiences of the last few days have helped bring you some level of healing for your past pain, then I’m very happy.’
Ethan raised his gaze to meet hers briefly and he nodded, then looked at the clock on the wall. ‘I have to go or I’ll be late for clinic.’ He handed her the baby, their arms and hands touching briefly—but it was enough for them both to stop, stare at each other, then mumble muffled apologies. ‘Enjoy your steady stream of visitors.’
‘We will. They’ll all be even more thrilled now that she has a name.’
‘See you at seven tonight.’
CJ watched him go, then looked at her sleeping babe. She shuffled down in the bed, discarding pillows as she went until finally she and Elizabeth were snuggled up together. ‘I love you, Lizzie-Jean,’ she whispered, and kissed the downy forehead. People may come and go from her life, like her parents and her husband—and even Ethan, who would one day return to Sydney. Now, though, she had someone of her own, filling a void in her life she hadn’t known existed. Whatever happened or didn’t happen between her and Ethan, CJ vowed to be the best mother ever, to always love her little girl.
But it would be wonderful if the man who, she was sure, loved Elizabeth as much as she did could find it in his heart to love her, too.
‘That would be perfect,’ she whispered to her daughter, before drifting off to sleep.
‘NO DINNER FOR you tonight,’ Donna remarked as she waltzed into CJ’s room carrying a garment bag.
‘Pardon?’ For one heart-stopping moment, CJ thought Ethan had cancelled.
‘From the hospital kitchen, I mean.’
‘Whew!’ She placed her hand over her heart. ‘Don’t do that to me.’
Donna laughed. ‘Sorry. Here. I brought you a surprise.’ She held out the garment bag. ‘It’s my present to you.’