A surrogate mum—
And then she fell in love…
When Dr Iona Murray agrees to be her sister’s surrogate she never imagines it will lead her into Dr Joe Baker’s arms. Joe has no intention of ever being a sperm donor again, or of becoming emotionally attached after his painful divorce. But when he meets Iona his boundaries become truly blurred. Will they be able to give up their baby…or each other?
He still had her stethoscope.
The graduation present from her sister, the one he’d been told in no uncertain terms not to lose or damage. He could see why, it was a really expensive one, although it had to be a few years old now. No wonder she’d been precious about it. His own was only slightly better, and he’d bought it last year because he’d mislaid the one identical to this.
That was getting to be a habit.
He changed out of his scrubs, pulled on his clothes, clipped his watch on his wrist and checked the time. Seven-thirty. She’d be long gone, unless she was on a late shift, but it was worth a try. He might even invite her out for dinner—assuming she’d speak to him. He’d been a bit tough on her, but he felt a grudging admiration for a junior registrar who’d had the guts to stand up to him in defence of her patient.
He headed down to the ED, found the nurse who’d been with them in Resus and asked her where Iona was.
She folded her arms and looked him straight in the eye, and he had the distinct feeling he was in trouble. ‘She’s gone.’
‘Do you know where I can find her? I borrowed her stethoscope and forgot to give it back.’
‘Yes, she mentioned that. She wasn’t happy about it.’
He laughed softly. ‘No, I’m sure she wasn’t.’
‘You can leave it with me.’
‘I can’t do that. She told me I’d be dead meat if anything happened to it and I don’t think it was an empty threat. I’ll hang onto it and give it to her tomorrow.’
‘She’s away this weekend. She’s not back in till Monday.’
‘And I’m on a course next week. Great.’ He hesitated. ‘I don’t suppose you know her address or mobile number?’
Jenny raised an eyebrow. ‘Now, you don’t seriously expect me to give it to you? I do know where you can find her, though. She’s at the Queens Hotel just round the corner. There’s a charity speed-dating event raising money for the new IR angio-surgical suite. I’m surprised you aren’t going anyway as it’s in aid of your department, but here’s your chance to support it. Out of the drive, turn left, five hundred yards on the right. You can’t miss it.’
Speed-dating? Seriously? She was gorgeous! Why would she need to go speed-dating, of all things? And then he realised she’d be helping with the organisation. Idiot.
‘OK. Thanks.’ He headed for his car, followed the directions and parked on the road opposite the hotel. The speed-dating event was signposted from Reception, and he headed towards the door. It shouldn’t be hard to find her—
‘Oh, excellent, we’re short of men, especially good-looking young doctors. That’ll be ten pounds, please. Can I take your name?’
He frowned. ‘How do you know I’m a doctor?’
‘Ah. Yes. Actually—’ He was about to tell the woman why he was there, and then spotted Iona at one of the tables that were arranged in a circle, a man sitting opposite her. OK, she wasn’t just helping, she was actually doing it as well, and if he wanted to see her, he’d have to pay up and queue for his slot. That was fine. It meant she’d have to listen to him for three minutes or whatever it was, which meant he’d have time to apologise for pushing her so far out of her comfort zone in Resus. And having three minutes to look at her was no hardship. He might even persuade her to go out for dinner—
‘Sorry. Joe Baker. I’ve only got a twenty-pound note,’ he said, but the woman just smiled, said, ‘That’ll do perfectly,’ plucked it out of his fingers, stuck a label with ‘JOE’ written on it on his chest and handed him a printed card and a pencil.
So he could score the ladies? Good grief. He wrote her name and ten out of ten, and waited.
There was a gap before Iona, maybe because of the lack of men, so he hovered and then pounced when the bell rang and the man at her table got up and moved on.
He sat down in front of her, and she looked up from her score card and did a mild double take, her eyes widening.
‘What are you doing here?’
He took the stethoscope from round his neck and handed it to her with a rueful smile. ‘I forgot to return this, and when I refused to give it to the nurse who was in Resus because you’d told me in no uncertain terms what you’d do to me, she told me where to find you.’
Her mouth flickered in a smile. ‘Ah. Jenny.’
‘Yeah, that’s right. She wouldn’t give me your address.’
Her eyes widened. ‘I should hope not!’
He gave a little huff of laughter at the outrage in her voice. ‘I might have been insulted if I hadn’t been glad she was so protective of your privacy, but I also wanted to apologise for pushing you out of your comfort zone in Resus.’
‘You don’t need to apologise,’ she said, her clear and really rather lovely green eyes clouding, ‘even though you were rude and patronising—’
‘Rude and patronising?’ he asked, pretending to be outraged, but she held his eyes and a little smile tugged at her mouth, drawing his attention to it. Soft, full, and very expressive. Like her eyes. He wondered what it would be like to kiss her—
‘You were a teeny bit. I was way out of my comfort zone, because I thought you’d need more from me than I could give you. I’ve never led before on a case that critical and I should have appreciated you’d only do what you knew you could, but I was afraid Jim was going to die and I was freaking out a bit. I’m sorry you took it wrong, it really wasn’t meant like that.’
‘Don’t apologise,’ he said wryly. ‘Standing up to me took guts, and you were quite right about the risks. Without image guidance there were no guarantees I could get the guide wire in without causing more damage, but I’d had a good look at the X-rays and I was pretty sure I could do it, and anyway, as I think I pointed out fairly succinctly, Jim had run out of options. He’s OK, by the way. I sorted the bleeds, repaired the entry site and shipped him off to the orthos with a nice healthy reperfusion and well within the time limit. They’ve put an ex-fix on in Theatre and he’s doing OK.’
He saw her shoulders sag slightly with relief. ‘Oh, good. Thanks for the update. I’ve been worrying about him.’
‘No need to worry, he’s sore, he’s broken but he’ll make it. Good stethoscope, by the way. Very good. Your sister must think a lot of you.’
She smiled, her eyes softening. ‘She does. That’s why I was worried about you walking off with it, knowing you’d already lost yours. It didn’t bode well.’
He laughed at that little dig. ‘I hadn’t lost it, it was in my locker, I just failed to pick it up—but I did lose the last one, so you weren’t wide of the mark. You did well, by the way,’ he added, sliding his score sheet across the table to her. ‘It was a tricky case to manage and you’d done everything right. You should be proud of yourself.’
She glanced down at the paper and her eyes widened. ‘Ten out of ten? That’s very generous. You must be feeling guilty.’
‘No, I just give credit where it’s due, even if I amrude and patronising. And I did return your stethoscope, so hopefully that’ll earn me a few Brownie points.’
‘Maybe the odd one.’
Her lips twitched, and he sat back with a smile, folded his arms and held her eyes, trying not to think about kissing her. Or peeling off that clingy little top and—
‘So, anyway, that’s why I’m here. What about you?’
‘Me?’ She looked slightly flustered. ‘Because it’s a good cause?’
He raised an eyebrow at her, deeply unconvinced, and she smiled and shrugged and took him completely by surprise. ‘OK. You asked. I’m looking for a sperm donor.’
Joe felt his jaw drop, and he stifled the laugh in the nick of time. Of all the unlikely things for her to say, and to him, of all people…
‘No. No, I’m not kidding. I’m looking for a tall Nordic type with white-blond hair, blue eyes and good bone structure, so you can relax, you don’t qualify.’
‘I might feel a bit insulted by that,’ he said, still trying to work out if she was joking.
She smiled, her eyes mocking. ‘Oh, don’t be, it’s not personal. I have very specific criteria and you don’t fit them.’
He frowned at her, but she was so deadpan he didn’t know whether she was completely off her trolley or winding him up. He turned and scanned the men in the room and this time he didn’t stifle the laugh.
‘OK,’ he murmured in a low undertone. ‘Nor does anyone else in this room. So far you’ve written zero out of ten against everyone, and the nearest candidate is white-blond because he’s twice your age. He’s also about three inches shorter than you and twice as heavy. And the lady on the next table looks utterly terrifying, so frankly I reckon we’re done here. I’m starving, I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I don’t suppose you have, either, so why don’t we get the hell out of here, go and find a nice pub and have something to eat? And that way I can apologise properly for being rude and patronising.’
‘Won’t your wife mind?’ she asked, clearly fishing, and he raised an eyebrow and gave her the short answer.
‘I don’t have one. So—dinner?’
She hesitated for so long he thought she was going to say no, but then the bell rang, the lady at the next table was eyeing him hungrily, and she looked at the man heading to take his place, grabbed her bag and stethoscope and got to her feet.
‘Sorry. We have to go,’ she said, squeezing round from behind the table, and they headed for the door amid a chorus of protests. From both sexes. He stifled a smile.
‘Right, where to?’ he asked, and she shrugged.
‘What do you fancy? Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Asian fusion, pub grub, Italian, modern British—’
‘Good grief. All of those in Yoxburgh?’
She chuckled. ‘Oh, yes. They might be busy, though, it’s Friday night.’
He had a much better idea. ‘How about a nice, cosy gastro-pub? There’s one right round the corner from my house that comes highly recommended, and we’ll definitely get a table there.’
‘Is it far? Can I walk back? My car’s at home.’
‘No, it’s a bit out of town, but that’s fine, I’ll drive you home. Look on it as a hire charge for the use of your stethoscope.’
Again she hesitated, a wary look in her eyes, but then she nodded as if she’d finally decided she could trust him. ‘OK. That sounds good.’