Paige Dillingham handed the newborn infant to the nurse to be weighed and cleaned up, relieved the baby was finally here and both he and the mother were doing fine.
“Nine pounds, thirteen ounces,” the nurse announced after weighing him.
Paige grinned. “Good job, Mama. You escaped a C-section by the skin of your teeth, but you’re going to be pretty darn sore for a while.”
“You’re the reason I didn’t have to have a section,” the mother responded with a tired smile. “Thank you.”
“I’ll second that,” her husband said from across the room where he watched the nurse tend to his newborn.
Paige patted her patient’s leg. “It was a team effort.”
By the time, Paige was through stitching up the mother, her husband had returned with the infant. He settled the baby in his wife’s arms. Paige watched as the smiling mother ran a fingertip over her newborn’s still-wet hair and across his velvety-smooth plump cheek. Nothing like a newborn baby’s skin to remind you how much your own skin had changed over the years. The father kissed his wife and wrapped his arms around his family. “He’s beautiful. You did good, honey.”
“Yes, you did,” Paige confirmed. As always, Paige had to fight down her own emotions after helping a new life into the world. Pulling her mask from her face and stripping off her gown and gloves, she left the birthing room and headed for her office a few blocks away, where she could sit in the quiet and unwind as she marveled at the miracle of life.
The minute she closed her office door behind her, she sank onto a chair, closed her eyes, and said a prayer of thanks for no complications in this difficult delivery.
Weariness seeped into every pore of her body, and she rested her head on the back of her chair and let her gaze wander over the wall filled with pictures of babies she’d delivered. She was incredibly lucky to have a career in her life’s passion, and no matter how many times she delivered a baby, every birth was a still a miracle. She of all people understood that. That’s why helping a newborn into the world brought her, not only joy for her patient, but healing for herself. And yet her tears still came, and as they rolled down her cheeks, she welcomed the memories they brought and the knowledge that she would feel better, at least for a while, after a good cry.
A few minutes later, she sucked in a deep breath and wiped her tears dry. Her stomach rumbled with hunger, and she shoved to her feet. Grabbing her purse from her desk drawer, she headed outside into the hot humid night. In celebration of this evening’s successful delivery, she would try out the Irish pub she often heard the nurses talk about. Shenanigans was known for its atmosphere and great food, and that sounded perfect to her. She hoped it had a cozy corner booth where she could eat a quiet, peaceful dinner and leave without having to be social, because what she needed right now was a quiet place to once again marvel at the miracle of new life. And, as always, remember the baby she had lost.
Justin Coleman glanced around his pub, checking to make sure everyone looked happy and satisfied. As usual it was a full house. The booths on the other side of the room were filled with mostly new customers, but his regulars were bellied up to the bar or sat at nearby tables. The hum of happy voices had him grinning. This was a great place to meet up with old friends or make new ones, and he couldn’t be more pleased.
Justin wiped down the dark walnut bar that he’d had brought in from Ireland when he’d remodeled the place. The authentic Irish bar and the huge stone fireplace that sat smack in the middle of the restaurant were his ideas, and he was glad he’d followed his instincts on them. On a cold winter’s night, people always commented on the roaring fireplace. It brought a cozy feeling to his pub, and people gravitated here because of it.
Feeling pleased, he leaned across the bar and eyed his pregnant sister. “Sitting around for hours eating bonbons and knitting in my pub is a new low, Jillian. What happened to the sister who—and I loathe to admit this—but the sister who has been known to beat me on the ski slopes?”
Jillian glared at him. “I’m seven months pregnant. Summer has arrived and it’s hot as hell. I miss Stan, and I’m fatter than a cow having triplets. Don’t mess with me.”
“I see your point, and I’m prepared to be punished. That make you feel better?”
Jillian narrowed her eyes at him. “Yes, as a matter of fact, it does.”
With a chuckle, Justin tossed the dirty rag into the sink. “I’ll get you a steak on the house if you’ll eat it.”
Her eyes brightened. “I should grouse more often.”
Shaking his head, Justin headed into the kitchen to order some decent food for Jillian. He had to admit, if he were in his sister’s shoes he wouldn’t be doing any happy dances either.
He ordered her a filet mignon, medium rare just like she preferred, salad and a baked potato, then marched back out front, prepared to snatch the box of chocolates right out from under Jillian’s nose, but stopped dead in his tracks at the gorgeous woman who stood by her table. Both women were laughing.
He ambled over. “Glad to see someone can make my sister laugh,” he said, smiling at the red-haired lady and extending a hand. “I’m Justin. Jillian’s caretaker at the moment. Have you come to my rescue?”
The woman took his outstretched hand. “I’m Paige Dillingham. Your sister’s midwife. I’m told healthy food is on the way for my stubborn patient.”
“That would be right.” Justin pulled out a chair for the woman. She hesitated but then sat. He settled on the chair between her and his sister. “Jillian’s been eating chocolate all evening, so I figured I’d better get some nourishment in her.”
Paige turned her attention back to Jillian and looked at her pointedly. “Guess my semi-lecture at your last appointment didn’t help.”
Jillian shrugged and Paige scowled before shifting her gaze back to Justin. “Thanks for ordering her some nutritious food,” she said with a smile.
A smile that hit him square in the solar plexus. “Anything else you need me to browbeat your patient into doing, just let me know,” he offered. “I’m contemplating stealing her chocolates when she’s not looking.”
Jillian slapped her knitting down on the table. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here, Justin, and don’t even think about stealing my chocolates,” she added defiantly.
“Come on, Jillian,” Paige said. “Give up the candy. It’s not good for you.” She held out her hand and Jillian glared at her. Justin watched, silently rooting for the midwife. Paige wiggled her fingers, her very slender and feminine fingers, and his mind clouded with out-and-out lust. “You’ll thank me someday,” Paige said. “I promise.”
Jillian glared at her midwife, but shoved the half-empty bag of candy across the table. “I’ll only buy more.”
Paige tucked the bag into her purse. “It’s good you’re about to eat real food, Jillian. You need something healthy for your baby.” She turned her attention back to Justin. “Think I’ll take my own advice and have the same thing Jillian’s having minus the baked potato. Medium rare on my steak.”
Justin motioned to a waiter and gave him Paige’s order. He’d be sure to comp her meal. A thank you for stealing Jillian’s chocolates. And maybe a few points for him.” He grinned. The woman was a total knock out, and he’d sure like to get to know her. “How about a glass of wine to go with your steak?”
Paige smiled. “That sounds lovely and thank you for the free meal.”
“You are both traitors,” Jillian accused.
“So, tell me,” Justin said, ignoring his sister’s furious glare and giving Paige his full attention. He was about to bust to know more about this woman. A lot more. “How long have you been a midwife?”
“Almost six years.” Paige picked up her glass of ice water and took a sip.
“Why a midwife instead of a doctor?”
“Money was a factor, but I also wanted to give mothers more options with delivery than standard hospital protocol.”
“Options such as?”
“Having their baby at home.”
Justin shot Jillian a look of shock. “You thinking about that?”
“Stan and I have talked about it,” she answered, shrugging him off.
“What if something goes wrong?” he asked, anxiety buzzing through him like a swarm of angry bees.
“Not to worry, Justin. I’m trained to take care of your sister. And an ambulance could get her to the hospital within minutes.” Paige leaned back as her dinner was served, along with a glass of wine. “This looks delicious.”
“Yeah, little brother. It looks totally wonderful.” Jillian picked up a fork and knife, then sent Justin a questioning look. “Why don’t you eat with us?”
“Because for some reason, I don’t have much of an appetite right now.”
Paige stabbed a piece of meat with her fork. “Your sister will be fine no matter where she has her baby,” she said with a confident smile. “Couples are choosing to use midwives and have at-home deliveries for a reason.”
“And that reason would be?” Justin prompted, watching her take a bite of steak.
She closed her eyes and savored the meat, and his blood roared through his veins. “Delicious,” she said, licking her lips. He almost groaned out loud. “I’ll have to come here again,” she added, cutting another piece of steak.
Please God, let that happen. “What brought you here tonight?” he asked.
She shrugged, took a sip of wine. “It’s not that far from my office, and I worked late. Thought I might as well try it. I don’t do much cooking for myself, so I usually go out.”
“I would tell you I’m glad you came,” Jillian said, “if you’d give me back my candy.”
“Sorry. You’re on your own for more chocolate.”
Justin was impressed with Paige’s firmness, but part of him felt sorry for his sister. Her hubby traveled a lot and he knew she sometimes got lonely. “Since Stan is gone, Jillian, why don’t you come stay with me tonight? I don’t have chocolate, but I do have a spare bedroom, and I’ll cook you a decent breakfast.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not good company.”
That was the truth. “When is Stan cutting back on his traveling?”
“This is his last trip until after the baby is born.”
“Good. You’re by yourself too much. I worry about you.”
Jillian patted his hand. “Sometimes you really can be sweet, little bro. Thanks.”
Justin glanced at Paige and shrugged. “She makes it sound like that’s a rare occurrence.”
Jillian punched him in the arm. “It is a rare occurrence, but you can garner major points if you come with me tomorrow when I get my 3-D ultra sound. It’d be nice to share that special event with someone.”
His sister’s voice sounded wistful, and his heart went out to her. “Count me in. I’ll pick you up and take you.” Not only would he be there for his sister, he’d also see her sexy midwife again. A win-win as far as he was concerned. Paige intrigued him, even if she wasn’t the type he was usually drawn to.
“You sure?” Jillian asked.
“Absolutely. It’ll be fun to see the little tyke I’m planning on honing my daddy skills on. Got to be at least semi-prepared for when I start a family,” he added with a grin.
“I’ll rent little Jaxon out,” Jillian said, rubbing her stomach.
Paige took another sip of wine in between bites. “I always wanted a brother or sister. You’re lucky you have your brother close by, Jillian.”
“You can borrow him anytime.”
Paige smiled but didn’t so much as glance Justin’s way. So much for it being his lucky night.
“Both my brothers are good guys,” Jillian went on. “And I have a sister who lives fairly close, so I’m pretty lucky even if I haven’t been acting like it lately.”
Paige smiled. “Your parents must have had their hands full, but a big family sounds nice. I was an only child and that can get lonely sometimes.”
“I can’t even imagine, but I bet someday you’ll be a great mom with a house full of kids,” Jillian said.
Pain clouded Paige’s green eyes but she quickly blinked it away. Justin fought back the sudden urge to console her. And what was that about? Feeling suddenly uncomfortable, he shoved away from the table and stood. “You ladies enjoy. I’ve got to get back to work. Let me know if you need anything else. Dinner’s on me tonight, Paige.”
“Thank you. That’s very generous.”
Justin forced his attention away from Paige and back to his smart-mouthed sister. “Holler if you need anything tonight. What time shall I pick you up tomorrow?”
“Nine-thirty.” She reached for his hand and squeezed it. “Thanks.”
“Anytime.” Justin turned back toward Paige. “Nice to meet you. Guess I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned and headed toward the kitchen where he wouldn’t be tempted to watch Paige out of the corner of his eye. She might be a midwife with a thriving practice, but the sad look he’d seen in her eyes a minute ago, made him wonder what had happened in her life to steal her joy.
And why in the world did he even want to know? Not only was it none of his business, he was perfectly happy with his life and the fun times he had with light-hearted women looking for the same thing he was—a good time and no commitment.
Someday he’d be ready for that to change, and then he’d look for a woman like Paige—a woman who wanted to marry and have a family. But that wasn’t in the cards for him anytime soon, so he forced his mind back on work and away from a woman who, he was sure, would do nothing but complicate his well-laid-out life plan.