She watched him carefully, unsure what he was apologising for. ‘Don’t apologise. I guess I’m just not used to…well…everything.’
‘I think we both got a little carried away.’ He raked his free hand through his hair where her own fingers had been only moments ago.
CJ laughed. ‘This is certainly a memorable end to the evening.’
‘Yes.’ When he saw her shiver, he escorted her to the car. ‘Pumpkin time.’
‘Yes,’ she agreed, glad of the car’s instant warmth from the wind. He walked around to the driver’s side and climbed in. He started the engine, switching on the heater, but didn’t make any move to drive.
‘It really is beautiful up here.’
‘It’s one of my favourite spots.’
‘I can see why. The whole area, what I’ve seen of it, is charming.’
‘But it’s not my home.’
‘I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage of you because that’s not my intention.’
‘I know that, too. The attraction between us is real and sometimes…’ she shrugged ‘…uncontrollable.’
‘You can say that again,’ he mumbled, and shook his head. ‘I guess what I’m trying, very inarticulately, to say is that I don’t want to hurt you…but I know I am.’
‘Yes,’ she stated. ‘And I’m hurting you.’
‘It can’t work.’
‘I know. You have your life. I have mine.’ A small smile touched her lips. ‘I have Elizabeth to consider now. She must come first in all my decisions. Not only that but I have my home, my work and my friends. In time, the way you make me feel will fade and I’ll be fine. And you’ll be fine. This…’ she indicated the wonderful scenery before them ‘…was just a pleasant interlude.’
Ethan opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. Instead, he buckled up his seat belt, waiting until she followed suit, then started the engine. He manoeuvred the car out the exit and down the hill to the town below. Both were silent on the five-minute drive and thankfully, not a minute too soon, soon they were pulling up outside the hospital.
CJ opened her door and climbed out before he could come around to help her. She needed to do things for herself, to be completely independent. She was a mother now. She needed to be strong, determined and focused. When he stood before her, she smiled. ‘Thank you again for such an amazing evening. It’s one I’ll never forget.’
‘Nor I.’ Then Ethan leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers for one final kiss. They stared at each other for a long moment, their hearts and minds so full with words neither of them would say. CJ broke eye contact first, swallowing over the lump in her throat.
‘I’d better go check on Elizabeth.’
He nodded. ‘Of course.’
Forcing her legs to move, she turned and walked into the hospital, determined not to look back. The pain she felt in her chest, which coursed throughout her entire body, was evidence that her heart was breaking and now there was no reason to hold back the tears.
‘HI.’ CJ OPENED the door to let Donna in. ‘We were going to come across to the clinic later today for the check-up. I even rang to make an appointment with Tania and she told me I was being ridiculous.’
Donna laughed as she came in and sat down at CJ’s kitchen table. ‘She told me. You should know by now that you don’t need to make an appointment in your own practice.’
‘Well, I thought I should do things by the book. You know, no preferential treatment.’
Donna laughed again. ‘You really haven’t been getting much sleep, have you? That’s the only reason I can come up with as to why your brain’s gone soft. Preferential treatment, indeed. Who else should get it?’
CJ gazed down at Elizabeth, sleeping peacefully in the bassinet. ‘I’m actually getting more sleep now than I was before I had her.’
‘Have you got time for a cuppa?’
‘That would be lovely.’
Donna nodded. ‘Ethan’s doing the afternoon clinic and I’ll do the house calls. I came across not only to check on how you were both doing but to ask if you’d like to come along.’
CJ found it hard to curb her disappointment. ‘Of course,’ she said softly, and forced a smile. ‘We’d love to come.’ She turned away and concentrated on filling the kettle and switching it on. Why did she feel like crying?