He’d have sworn she’d been as ready for him as he had her last night. That supple body had moulded to his and she’d all but had to peel herself off him when she’d chosen to leave.
Even Chantelle barrelling in to collect Aaron hadn’t cooled his ardour. At night once Aaron was asleep there was no waking him—which was why he hadn’t thought anything of heading to the bedroom with Stephanie.
He was hugely grateful not to have been caught with Stephanie, but there was nothing else that made him happy about her walking out.
Chantelle would have had plenty to say about where his obligations lay. And that would be with her and Aaron, and Carly if needed, not with an outsider.
Chantelle had once nearly cost him his job in another ED when she’d needed too much of his time and concentration. There wasn’t room for a meaningful other half in his life and risk it all crashing and burning around his feet again. So, yes, he’d dodged another bullet. So had Stephanie.
Across the room, she and Kellie were bent double with laughter, shaking their heads at each other. Steph, when she laughed, was another woman. Soft and cute and so lovely. She was all those things most the time.
Last night he’d wanted to haul her down to his bedroom and press her to the sheets, make love to her until she begged him to stop. Then and only then would he have sunk into her heat and lost his mind. He owed her big-time for having the strength to leave, because in the end he wasn’t available for more than those snatched moments and Stephanie deserved far more. She deserved permanence. Commitment. Love.
Michael froze. Love? Not from him. He’d screwed up one marriage by apparently not devoting enough time to his ex, and he couldn’t promise Stephanie any more because of all his other commitments. A second failed marriage was not happening.
His gaze fixed on the woman playing with his mind. She looked marvellous in those tight-fitting jeans and a thick woollen jersey that accentuated her breasts. Breasts he hadn’t had the chance to hold, to kiss and lick and enjoy last night. Under his scrubs his groin tightened. This was lust—not love.
The squeaky, tight pulling in his veins, the out-of-rhythm beat of his heart—all of it was to do with the lust hardening below his belt. Nothing to do with love. He knew what love felt like—knew the agony and the ecstasy, the hollowed out sensation when it was withdrawn.
His marriage had lasted fifteen months, had ended in fireworks and national headlines, and proved he had the family ‘no good at long-term’ gene. Proved that he was not good at commitment.
His mum and dad had divorced when he was seven—his dad again six years later, after increasing his family by two. One half-sister had a divorce behind her, and the other refused to marry her partner. With that pedigree he wasn’t prepared to take another gamble.
Yet Stephanie had stirred him up something terrible. Once again.
Stephanie. His blood was always warmer when she was around. Hotter, thicker.
She was still with Kelli, her head tipped back as she listened, that thick hair shaped around her slim neck so tempting his fingers itched.
She hadn’t been laughing when Kelli had said she was pregnant. There’d been a sharp stab of pain in the back of her eyes. Quick to show, quicker to disappear, but now he knew to look for it it had been obvious.
Yes, taking her to bed was high on his list of needs. But it wasn’t going to happen.
Anything else he wanted also had to be ignored.
And if that made him cruel then he’d put his hand up. He could not stop wanting her, because it was the wrong thing to do, but he could and would keep her at arm’s length.
He picked up the phone and punched in the number for PICU. Stephanie would want an update on those twins.
So much for arm’s length.
* * *
‘This is Con from the dog pound. I’m at your address now and there’s no sign of the dog you called in.’
Steph’s heart sank as she pulled off the road and held her phone hard against her ear. ‘I couldn’t find anything safe to tie him up with.’
‘I’ve been around to where he lived with Mrs Anderson and he’s not there either. The neighbours say they haven’t seen him since the day she was found dead.’
‘What do you mean?’
Con sighed. ‘Three days ago concerned neighbours broke into her house and found her deceased in bed.’
For everyone. No wonder Zac was wandering the streets. He was hungry and lonely and desperate.
‘Does anyone want him? Family? A friend or neighbour?’ She held her breath.
‘Not that we’ve been able to ascertain. He’ll most likely go up for adoption—if we can find him before it’s too late.’
The man didn’t have to say what that meant. She had a vivid imagination. ‘I’ll go for a walk—call out to him when I get home.’
She didn’t have to.
‘You’re a persistent little guy, aren’t you?’
Steph bent down to pat Zac, who’d raced to her car the moment she’d pulled into the drive. ‘I have to let the ranger know you’re here so he can pick you up.’
Zac’s head tipped to one side. He sensed that she was weakening?
Could she keep him? Adopt him?
Getting a pet would be another step in making her move home feel permanent. No way could she take off and leave him behind, and she couldn’t take him overseas.
Hey, you’re not going anywhere. This is home. Warts and all.
Dog and all?
‘Zac, do you want to come live with me?’
‘He’s a German Shepherd Collie cross, with probably some other bits thrown in,’ Con told her when she phoned him back. ‘Two years old, fully vaccinated, no record of wandering until now.’
‘Can I keep him?’
‘I talked to your neighbour earlier and there’s no problem with you taking him.’
That made her uncomfortable. She didn’t know her neighbours very well. ‘What do I have to do?’
‘There’s paperwork to fill in. We need a record of where he’s gone in case anyone asks later on. But as of now he’s yours.’
Steph blinked and smudged tears away from her cheeks. How easy was that? She’d wanted someone to love. So the object of that love had four legs and a collar? Worked for her. Another box ticked.
Dropping to her knees, Steph wrapped her arms around her new housemate and sniffed hard. ‘Welcome to my world, beautiful.’
She’d done it. This was a permanent step and there was no going back. Instantly exciting and frightening.
Her new life really was underway. She was now a paramedic with a dog, living in her own house. And she was facing up to Michael.
‘Let’s go shopping for doggie things.’
An hour later she drove through the streets towards home, Zac sat beside her, his head out of the window, catching the breeze. Her fingers tapped in time to the country song blasting out from the stereo and her mouth kept lifting into unbidden smiles.
Yeah, she’d done the right thing—for her and for Zac.
‘THIRTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD MALE, burns to left leg and foot caused by hydrochloric acid splashing when a glass cylinder fell and smashed,’ Steph told the nurse meeting them in the ambulance bay at Auckland Central’s ED. ‘Matthew Brown, science teacher at Point Chev High.’
There’d been a lot of unnecessary panic going down in the classroom when she and Kath had arrived, which had taken longer to deal with than making their patient comfortable.
Kath handed over the PRF before helping Matthew on to the bed. Another case delivered into the care of experts.
Steph relaxed and looked around the department. Of course Michael wasn’t here. It was Saturday and his weekend off. Disappoint
ment hit her hard. He shouldn’t affect her like this, but she looked for him every time they delivered a patient. Every single time.
‘I’m going to grab a coffee to go,’ Kath told her once the stretcher was locked back in place inside their vehicle. ‘Want one?’
‘I’d kill for one. Fingers crossed we don’t get called for the next five minutes.’
‘I’ll get them if you want to go see how those babies are doing.’
Did she? Last she’d heard the twins were improving as much as anyone could hope for, which Michael told her had to be the best news.
‘Won’t be long.’
Racing to the elevator, she went up to the neonatal unit only to be told that Melanie and the babies had been transferred to Auckland Women’s.
‘The babies are doing okay?’ Was it a bad thing that they’d been sent across the city?
‘They’re doing fine,’ said Sarah, the PICU nurse Steph gone to nursing school with. ‘The specialist wanted them close to him so he can be on tap if anything changes.’
Which it could with such premature babies. ‘That’s good.’
Steph headed back to the ambulance and her coffee, her heart a little lighter for Melanie.
‘One latte.’ Kath handed her a paper cup with a grunt. ‘It’s turning into a long day.’
‘Busy’s good.’ It left no time for sitting around thinking about the impossible—how to put Michael out of her head.
Kath blew on her long black. ‘What have you got planned for tonight? A party or a hot date?’
Steph started up the ambulance and headed for base. ‘Try a quiet night in with the dog.’
Kath spluttered into her coffee. ‘You’re kidding me, right?’