As I promised you earlier in the year, The Midwife’s Longed-For Baby is out now. It’s the story of a love broken by failure and despair, and the rebuilding of that love into a strong and solid marriage that can survive anything life throws at it, but Nick and Liv had a mountain to climb to do that, and they dragged me up the hill with them every step of the way! So here you go, a little taster to whet your appetite. I’d love to hear what you think of it!
‘LIV, HAVE YOU got a minute?’
She hesitated, about to say no, but Ben wasn’t one to waste time and if he wanted to talk to her…
‘If it really is only that? I need to check on a mum soon.’
‘That’s fine, it won’t take long. I just want to run something by you. Can we go in my office?’
‘Is this about Jen?’ she asked as Ben closed the door.
The fleeting smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. ‘In a way. Did you know she’s got cancer?’
‘Yes, Simon told me yesterday. I was gutted. She’s such a lovely person and it seems so unfair. He said they’re moving home so their families can help with the children while she’s having treatment. So what is it you want me to do?’ she asked, thinking flowers, a gift voucher, something for the kids—
‘Nothing, but what I do could affect you, because yesterday was Simon’s last day and his compassionate leave’s pretty open-ended so we need a locum, and I’d like to talk to Nick about it.’
Of all the things he’d been going to say, her ex husband’s name was so far down the list it wasn’t even on it, and just the sound of his name made her heart beat faster. And he wasn’t officially ex, because she’d never quite been able to follow through on that—
‘Are you still in touch?’
Ben nodded. ‘Yes, we’re in touch. I speak to him quite often. He always asks about you,’ he added gently.
Her heart lurched. ‘Does he? How is he?’ she asked, trying not to sound too needy and failing hopelessly.
‘He’s OK. He’s well, keeps himself busy.’ He frowned, hesitating, then went on, ‘I know it’s none of my business, Liv, and I’m not asking any questions, but I was really sorry when you two split up.’
She felt her eyes fill and blinked as she looked away. ‘Me, too, but it wasn’t working.’ Any more than this was, this awful aching emptiness where her love for Nick had been…
‘I know. I could see there was something wrong, so I wasn’t surprised, just saddened for you both. Look, don’t worry about it. I’ll try and get someone else. I only thought of him because he’d be perfect for the job, but I don’t want to make things difficult for you—for either of you, really.’
The shock had worn off now, swamped by a tidal wave of mixed emotions that she couldn’t quite work out. Longing? Dread?
She didn’t have a clue. Both, maybe, but confusion was fighting its way to the top of the pile.
‘I don’t understand how he could do it anyway. Doesn’t he have a job?’
He must have. He was paying the mortgage on their house—
‘Not any more, as far as I know. His existing locum post’s about to come to an end and I haven’t heard that he’s got anything else lined up so I wanted to get in soon if we were to stand a chance, but it’s probably too late anyway.’
He was locuming? He’d been made a consultant at Yoxburgh Park Hospital a few months before they’d split up. How had he ended up working as a locum? Although it was only a year ago since he’d left. Maybe nothing had come up, nothing as good anyway. Nothing that would do him justice…
‘Can I think about it? Before you ask him, or get anyone else. It’s just—it’s the last thing I expected you to say and I can’t quite get my head round it.’
‘I know, I can see that. And I realise you might need to talk to him first.’
No way. She hadn’t spoken to him since that horrible day that she’d regretted ever since, but this wasn’t the time or the way to do it. She shook her head. ‘No, I don’t need to do that. How long can I have?’
Ben shrugged. ‘The rest of the morning? I’m sorry, I know it isn’t long, but if you think you can deal with it I really don’t want to hang about in case we lose him. It’s right up his street—mostly obstetrics, but there’s some of the fertility clinic work as well, which is why I thought of him.’
That stopped her mind in its tracks, and she felt her jaw drop. She just couldn’t picture him in a fertility clinic, of all the ironic places, but of course Simon’s job partly involved it.
‘I didn’t realise he knew anything at all about infertility.’
Apart from their own, but she wasn’t saying that to Ben.
‘Yes, that’s one of the reasons why we want him, because of Simon’s role here. Plus he’s a damn good obstetrician, of course, but he’s a perfect fit. He’s been running the fertility clinic in his hospital since last May, and it shuts any day now.’
Her heart was beating so fast she could feel it thudding against her ribs. Of all the things for him to do, running a fertility clinic was so out of left field she’d never have seen it coming. Why would he choose to punish himself in that way? Unless he’d had no choice. Had he been driven to it just to earn a living? Her guilt over the mortgage ramped up a notch.
‘I had no idea,’ she said numbly. She took another moment, letting it all sink in a little, and then took a deep breath and made a decision she just hoped she didn’t regret.
‘Talk to him, Ben. Ask him if he’s interested. If he is—well, I’m sure we can be civilised about it.’
‘Are you sure? I realise it’s a big decision for you.’
‘But it isn’t really mine to make. It’s yours, and his, and if he’s the right man for the job, who am I to stand in the way? And anyway, it’s not permanent. Ask him, Ben. Just keep me in the loop, OK? I don’t want any surprises.’
‘Of course I will.’ He opened the door and stared down thoughtfully into her eyes. ‘Thank you, Liv. I do appreciate it and I know it can’t be easy for you.’
Did he? She wondered how much he knew about their break-up, about the why and the how. Had Nick spoken to him about it? Surely not. If there was one thing her marriage had taught her, it was that Nick didn’t talk about his feelings. Not to her, and certainly not to his boss.
She found a smile from somewhere. ‘You’re welcome. Just let me know his reaction.’
* * *
‘Nick? It’s Ben Walker. Are you OK to talk? I want to ask you something.’
‘Yeah, sure. What d’you want to know?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. I’m headhunting you. I know your clinic’s shutting any time now, and we need a full-time locum consultant to cover Obs and Gynae and some of the fertility clinic workload and I thought it sounded right up your street, unless you’ve got your next job lined up already?’
Ben was asking him to go back? With Liv still there? At least, he assumed she was. He hadn’t heard otherwise and Ben would have told him, he was sure. Would he be working with her?
His heart rate rocketed, and he hauled in a deep breath and let it go, consciously engaging his brain instead of his adrenal glands.
‘Whose job is it? It sounds like Simon’s.’
‘It is. His wife’s got cancer and he’s gone off on compassionate leave with immediate effect. They’re moving back to their home town so their parents can help with childcare.’
‘Oh, no, that’s horrendous. Poor Jen. Poor all of them. And poor you, because it’s obviously left you in the lurch, but I’m not sure I’m the man for the job. Does Liv know you’re asking me?’
‘Yes. I asked her first. She said she thought you could be civilised about it.’
He’d be right under her nose, working with couples to solve the very thing that had left their marriage in tatters. Civilised wasn’t the word he would have applied to that situation.
A minefield, more likely.
Or an opportunity to build bridges? He knew so much more now than he had then, but the pain was still raw and no amount of knowledge was going to make that go away.
Could he do it? It wasn’t as if they’d be working together, and it was only temporary in any case. They could keep out of each other’s way if necessary, but it might give them a chance—
‘So, are you still free?’
‘Yes, technically. I haven’t got anything lined up yet, at least, and I’m seeing the last patients today, but I had thought I’d take a break. When would you want me to start?’
Ben made a sound that could have been laughter. ‘Tomorrow? And by the way, that was a joke, but—ASAP, really. We can cover it for a few days but after that it’ll get really tricky. Every woman in Suffolk seems to be pregnant or trying to be at the moment.’
His chest tightened. Not quite every woman. Not his Liv…
‘Why don’t you come and talk to me about it?’ Ben went on. ‘See how you feel?’
He had no idea how he’d feel. Confused? Desperate to see Liv? Afraid to see her, to find that she was happily settled without him when he was still miserable and lonely and struggling to make sense of it all? But maybe she was happy, which would mean he’d done the right thing by leaving without a fight. Maybe he needed to know that so he could move on?
There was no real reason why he couldn’t go. When the clinic closed its doors at five that evening, he’d be jobless. He’d planned a holiday, something reckless and adrenaline-soaked, but he hadn’t booked anything and now Ben was dangling this opportunity to go back to Yoxburgh right in front of his nose.
Yoxburgh, and Liv.
They’d been so happy there at first in the pretty Victorian seaside town, but it had all gone horribly wrong for them and now the only memories he had of it were sad ones. Did he really want to go back?
He’d made changes in his life, tried to get it back on track, but although his diet and lifestyle had undergone a radical overhaul, his heart hadn’t moved on. He’d just shut it away, buried it under a massive pile of work and endless runs around an inner-city park, and going back was bound to open a whole new can of worms. Did he really want to do that? The sensible answer was no—or was that just the coward’s answer?
And Ben needed him. He had no commitments or ties, no reason why he couldn’t go, except that Liv would be there, and maybe that wasn’t a good enough reason to stay away.
Even though it was a minefield, even though they hadn’t spoken in over a year, even though he knew it was rash and stupid and ill-considered, he realised there was a massive part of him that wanted to see her again.
Needed to see her again.
It was high time they had the conversation he’d been putting off since they’d split up. The conversation he owed her—and the one she owed him, like why after more than a year she still hadn’t started divorce proceedings…
‘Let’s just go for it,’ he said, suddenly decisive. ‘I can’t do tomorrow, but why don’t I come up on Friday? That gives me a day to tidy up here and pack, and if I can sort everything out with your HR first thing on Friday morning I can start work right away. My paperwork’s all in order, so once HR have seen it I’ll be good to go. Then you’ll only have to deal with tomorrow, and I can spend the weekend finding somewhere to live.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes, absolutely,’ he said without giving himself time to back out of it. ‘Let’s do it. I’ll drive down early so I’m with you for eight and I can be in HR as soon as they open.’
‘Nick, thank you. I can’t tell you how grateful I am,’ Ben said, and the relief in his voice made Nick realise just how much pressure his old clinical lead was under. ‘And don’t worry about finding anywhere to live,’ Ben added, ‘you can stay with us as long as you need to, Daisy’d love to have you. Come here, to the hospital. You know where to find me. They’ll page me when you get here.’
‘Sure. Thanks. I’ll see you then.’
He hung up, slid the phone into his pocket and stared blankly across the room.
He was going back.
He wasn’t sure he was ready to see Liv again, because he’d never managed to get any emotional distance and his heart was still as raw as it had been the day she threw him out, so it was going to be tough. Very tough. But maybe he could use the opportunity to find out if she was happy without him, because he sure as hell wasn’t happy without her…
There was a knock on the door and a nurse popped her head into the room. ‘Mr Jarvis? Mr and Mrs Lyons are waiting to see you.’
He nodded, gave himself a mental shake and got to his feet. ‘Show them in, please.’
* * *
He was coming back today.
Taking Simon’s job, at least in the short term. She still couldn’t work out how she felt about that. Confused, more than anything. Confused and nervous and tingling with apprehension. Lots of that.
She found a slot in the staff car park, got out and headed for the maternity unit on autopilot, her mind whirling.
Would she see him today? Did she want to? Did he want to see her? Their last exchange had hardly been amicable. Well, her side of it anyway. He’d hardly said a word but then he hadn’t needed to, the evidence had spoken for itself.
She reached the kerb and glanced up, checking that the road was clear, and saw a car approaching.
She recognised it instantly, and her heart started to thud as he drew closer, their eyes meeting as he slowed down.
To speak to her?
For a moment she thought he was going to stop, and then he raised his hand in acknowledgement and drove on, and she hauled in a breath and crossed the road on legs like jelly.
Her heart was tumbling in her chest, her lips dry, and she was breathing so fast she could have been running. Ridiculous. He was just a doctor, here to do his job, and she was just a midwife doing hers. The fact that they were still married was neither here nor there. They could do this.
She just had to work out how.
* * *
Nick parked the car and sat there for a moment, waiting for his heart to slow down.
He’d known it would be odd to see her again, but he hadn’t expected the thunderbolt that had struck him when he’d met her eyes. It was like being punched in the gut, and it had taken his breath away.
Jaws clenched, he took the key out of the ignition, picked up the briefcase containing his stethoscope and the file with all the documentation for HR and got out of the car, following her towards the maternity unit.
Why the hell had he said yes? He could have turned Ben down, walked away, gone and had the holiday he’d been promising himself. Then he wouldn’t have been here, he wouldn’t have seen her and ripped open the wound left by the abrupt end to their marriage.
Not that it had taken much ripping. It had barely skinned over in the last year and a bit, but he was here now, the damage was done and he might as well just get on with it. And anyway, she needed the truth. They both did, and maybe then they could both move on.
The door slid open and he strode through it, went up to the maternity reception desk and asked them to page Ben.
* * *
‘Oh, Liv, I’m so glad I’ve caught you. Can you do us a huge favour? Would you mind covering an antenatal clinic this morning? Jan’s called in sick and you’re the only person who’s not already involved in a delivery.’
She felt a little shaft of relief and smiled at her line manager. ‘No, that’s fine, I’ll head straight down.’ And she’d be nicely tucked out of the way so she wouldn’t run the risk of bumping into Nick.
Which was stupid, really, because it was going to happen sometime, but she’d had less than forty-eight hours to get used to the idea of him coming back and judging by her reaction to him in the car park, it had been nothing like long enough.
She’d spend the morning giving herself a thorough talking-to, and then by the time he actually started work she’d have herself firmly under control.
Except it wasn’t.
The clinic receptionist welcomed her with a smile of relief and then comprehensively trashed her peace of mind.
‘Thank heavens it’s you, Liv, we need someone who knows the ropes. There’s a bit of a delay because the locum who’s covering for Mr Bailey is still in HR, but he’ll be down soon, apparently, so if you could make a start that would be amazing.’
Simon’s clinic? That meant she’d be working with Nick all morning, before she had a chance to shore up the walls and get all her defences in place. Great. Fabulous.
Her heart had started to pound, and she hauled in a breath, picked up the first set of notes with shaking hands and pasted on a smile.
‘No problem. I can do that,’ she said, as much to herself as the receptionist. She walked out to the waiting area, glanced at the file and scanned the room.
* * *
‘Nick! Welcome back!’
He recognised Jane, the motherly but ruthlessly efficient woman who acted as Ben’s secretary as well as Simon’s, and greeted her warmly.
‘Hello, Jane, it’s good to see you again. How are you?’
‘I’m fine. I’ve been expecting you. HR said you’d be up here shortly. They said you were very well organised, ironically.’
He laughed. ‘It just so happens I had a file ready with the relevant paperwork in it because I knew I’d need it soon, but don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security. I hate admin.’
She smiled knowingly. ‘I haven’t forgotten that. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you do everything you have to do.’
‘Can you read my mind?’ he asked, and she just laughed.
‘If necessary. That’s what I’m here for.’
‘Good. I don’t suppose you’ve got Simon’s schedule handy, have you? I really need to hit the ground running. Ben said something about a clinic and I’ve got a list this afternoon.’
‘Yes, I’ve printed it all out for you here. First on your list is the antenatal clinic, as you know. It’s still in the same place and they’re expecting you. And your elective list starts at two, so you should just about have time after the clinic to meet your patients before you start in Theatre. The notes are on the ward.’
‘Jane, you’re a legend.’ He hung his stethoscope round his neck, left his briefcase in her care and went.
At least in the clinic he was less likely to run into Liv, because she’d be safely tucked away on the midwife-led unit. And even though in a way he’d wanted to see her, their brief encounter this morning had shaken him more than he’d expected and he could do without any more surprises.
Yes, a nice, busy clinic was exactly what he needed. Just until he got his head round the idea of working in the same building as her…
* * *
She was standing in the empty corridor with an armful of notes when she heard him say her name, and she turned slowly and met his eyes.
Anguish, love, regret—and then nothing, as he got control of himself again and slammed the shutters down. He’d had plenty of practice at that, he’d got it down to a fine art in the last year of their marriage, but he’d been too slow this time and his reaction exactly mirrored her own.
‘Hello, Nick,’ she said, her voice sounding scratchy and unused. The words how are you hovered on her tongue, but she couldn’t speak because it had glued itself to the roof of her mouth so she just stared at him.
His face was leaner, she realised, the crows’ feet more pronounced, the frown lines shallower. Because he was happier? He hadn’t looked happy, but he looked more like the old Nick, the man she’d fallen in love with, fit and well and healthy but with a touch of grey at his temples now. Stress, or just age? He was thirty-nine now, nearly forty, and he wore it well apart from that.
Not that the silver threaded through his dark hair did anything to dim his subtle but potent sex appeal—
Her heart was beating so fast it was deafening her, her breath was lodged in her throat, and she had to clamp her lips together to stifle a sudden little sob.
She blinked fiercely and adjusted the folders in her arms before looking back at him, and as she met those beautiful, smoky grey eyes again her heart thudded, but his gaze held her eyes and she was powerless to look away.
‘I wasn’t expecting to see you down here,’ he said after a second of silence that seemed to scream on for eternity, and his gruff voice set her free and she breathed again.
‘Ditto, but it’s just as well you’re here now, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ She pretended to look at the notes in her arms. Anything to get away from those searching eyes when her own were bound to be too revealing. ‘I take it you managed to tick all HR’s boxes?’
‘Yes. I have a file I keep up to date. It comes in handy when you’re a locum.’
That again. Why hasn’t he got a full-time job?
He hesitated, as if there was something else he wanted to say, but after a moment he looked down at the armful of folders she was holding. ‘So, what’s that lot?’
‘The ladies who’ve had their BP and fundal height measured and their urine tested, so they’re all ready for you.’ Her voice was almost normal again, and she nearly laughed. If he had any idea what was going on in her chest—
She led him into the consulting room and handed him the folders, and as he took them his hand brushed lightly against hers and the heat from his skin sent a wave of longing through her. She almost dropped the files but he had them, and he turned swiftly away and dumped them on the desk.
‘Anyone I should be particularly aware of?’ he asked, his voice a little taut and very businesslike, so she followed his lead. Anything to help get herself back under control before her heart gave out.
‘Yes, Judy Richards,’ she said briskly. ‘She has a history of early miscarriage. This is her fourth pregnancy, she’s thirty-two weeks which is the longest she’s ever gone, but her fundal height hasn’t changed since her last appointment a week ago and that wasn’t as much as it should have been, so it might be that the baby’s found a new position, or it could be that it’s stopped growing for some reason. She’s on the top of the pile.’
He frowned thoughtfully, all business now. ‘Right. Good. Has she been tested for APS?’
‘Yes, after her last miscarriage. The test came back negative.’
‘Hmm. OK, well, she’d better have another scan before I see her, if we can do it without worrying her too much.’
‘It’s done. I knew you’d ask for it so I told her it was because it was a new consultant, and she didn’t question it. The results are on here,’ she said, handing him the department tablet.
‘Great. Thanks.’ He scrolled through and studied the results, then handed it back, frowning thoughtfully.
‘OK. I think I’m going to admit her. Can you call her in, please, and I’ll check her over and break the news?’
And oddly it was fine, because Judy Richards and her baby needed them, they had a job to do and so they just got on with it, slipping seamlessly back into the familiar routine as if it had been yesterday. Not that she was relaxed in any way, but it was a joy watching him with Judy, and a stark reminder of how good he was at his job.
She’d forgotten how intuitive a doctor he was, and how caring. Kind, gentle, thorough—and from his first greeting onwards, Liv could see Judy had utter faith in him.
‘Mrs Richards—I’m Nick Jarvis, I’ve taken over from Simon Bailey. I’ve had a look at your notes, and also the scan you had done today. It doesn’t really shed any light—which is good news in a way, I suppose, but it still leaves some unanswered questions and I don’t like that, so I think I’d like to admit you and do a few more tests, get a closer look at your baby and the placenta and retest you for APS—antiphospholipid syndrome. Has anybody discussed that with you yet?’
‘Yes, Mr Bailey did, but he didn’t think I’d got it.’
‘He may well be right, but I’m erring on the side of caution, so if that’s all right with you, I’ll ring the ward and make the arrangements for you to be admitted now, and then maybe someone could bring some things in for you later.’
‘I can’t go home and get them myself?’
‘You can, of course, but I’d like to get the tests under way as soon as possible and I’m in Theatre this afternoon, so I’d very much rather you didn’t because I’d like to look after you myself rather than hand you over to someone else in my team.’
By the time he’d convinced Judy to come in immediately for closer monitoring, she was still calm and relatively relaxed, which considering her obstetric history was nothing short of a miracle.
If only they were as calm and relaxed things would be fine, but they weren’t. Liv felt like a cat on hot bricks, and she wasn’t sure he was faring any better.
They got through the morning by keeping out of each other’s way as much as possible, avoiding eye contact, restricting conversation to a minimum and all work-related, but fun it wasn’t and her nerves were in bits, so the second the clinic was finished she made her escape.
* * *
He closed the door as Liv went out with the last patient, leant back against the wall and closed his eyes, letting his breath out in a long, slow huff.
Well, they’d survived, if you could call it that.
Not that it had been easy, but they’d got through it by sticking to business and getting on with the job, and they’d done that well, working together as a smooth, well-oiled team just as they had in the old days. Except in the old days they’d enjoyed it, and he was pretty certain neither of them had enjoyed it today, and the tension between them could have been cut with a knife.
It couldn’t go on like this, though, and he knew he had to do something to break through the icy politeness and careful distance between them or it wasn’t going to work. At all.
He shrugged away from the wall, picked up the last set of notes and left the room, scanning the clinic for Liv, but there was no sign of her.
‘Seen Liv?’ he asked at Reception as he handed over the file, and was told she’d gone for lunch.
Which meant, unless she’d changed her habits, she’d be in the café that opened onto the park.
Good. He could do with a nice, strong coffee, with caffeine in it for a change. It might help him get through what was sure to be a deeply awkward conversation.