For a moment, Maia was so shocked, she forgot her manners.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked. ‘I wasn’t expecting you until tomorrow morning.’
‘Did you not get my text message?’ Hazel was opening the passenger door. ‘I couldn’t keep Kiara away any longer so I’m going to stay with her here for a few days.’
Maia wasn’t even sure where her phone was at the moment and she was distracted by seeing Kiara upright. And smiling.
Maia smiled back. ‘You look so much better than the last time I saw you,’ she exclaimed. ‘Which is a very good thing.’
‘I’m feeling a lot better,’ Kiara said. ‘I’ve got a lot to thank you for.’
‘Leo did more to look after you than I did. He’s the people doctor.’
She introduced them to Birralong’s locum doctor. Leo was instantly charming the new arrivals, but Maia knew he’d been just as stunned by their unexpected arrival. Because he’d also been shocked that their time together had been cut short with no warning?
There was an emotional black cloud suddenly on the horizon. Sweeping in to rain on her parade. Maia had to make herself focus on what Kiara was saying.
‘I didn’t mean just the accident. It was such a relief that you could stay here and look after things.’
‘Leo’s been helping me with that, too.’ Oh, help…was there a bit of a wobble in her voice?
Kiara and Hazel shared a glance—as if it was obvious that Leo had been more than simply an assistant.
Maia cleared her throat. She didn’t want Leo to feel embarrassed. ‘I would have had trouble with the surgery that Colin needed if Leo hadn’t been here to help with the anaesthetic.’
‘Colin?’ Kiara turned to Hazel again. ‘Am I having even more trouble with my memory than I thought?’
‘He’s the collie,’ Maia explained. ‘He was in your car when you crashed. I needed to operate to deal with a deep laceration on his leg.’
‘Oh…’ Kiara looked as if she was trying to focus. ‘I think I remember. Someone rang about a dog that looked lost. And hurt.’
Maia put her hand on the head of the dog at her feet. ‘He’s a gorgeous boy. I’m hoping I can put my name down to adopt him if nobody comes to claim him.’
‘I can’t remember where he was, though. Or how he was found…’ Kiara had her hand against her head, as if it was hurting.
‘Come on, let’s get you inside.’ Hazel said. ‘You’ll get your memory back soon. You just need to rest.’
But Kiara shook her head. ‘I need to see the dogs,’ she said.
‘Everything’s good,’ Maia told her. ‘The dogs are all fed and they’ve all been for walks this afternoon.’
Kiara smiled again but suddenly looked very tired.
‘Come in,’ Hazel invited. ‘The least I can do is offer you some dinner. I’ve brought supplies. And please don’t feel you need to rush off. I’m happy to sleep on the sofa.’
But Maia shook her head. ‘I’ll head to Katoomba.’ She pasted a smile onto her face and made her tone as bright as possible. ‘And tomorrow, I get to move into the honeymoon suite in the poshest hotel in Coogee.’
‘The honeymoon suite?’ It was Hazel’s turn to look confused. She glanced at Leo and then back to Maia. ‘Are you two…?’
‘No…’ Both Maia and Leo spoke at the same time. His denial was even more emphatic than hers but, as Hazel and Kiara went ahead of them into the house, he dipped his head so that his lips were close to her ear.
‘Don’t go to Katoomba,’ he murmured. ‘Come home with me.’
They weren’t talking about it.
It was just there, hanging in the air between them, that this was their last night together. A background note to every kiss and every touch.
The reason why tears escaped to trickle down the sides of Maia’s nose as dawn was about to break, when she was quite sure Leo had finally succumbed to sleep. The tears weren’t all about sadness, though. There was joy there as well because you couldn’t be so close to being in love with someone and not feel that kind of happiness. Being able to feel it at all was a blessing, even if it was only for such a short period of time.
Even if it was only one-sided. It had brought Maia back to life and taught her something she was never going to forget. She’d stopped trusting men a year ago and had shut herself away from any intimate relationship and, while she knew she’d needed that time to heal, continuing to live her life that way would be the biggest mistake she could make.
It broke her heart that Leo was making the same mistake, but he’d been doing it for a very long time now. Any hope that he might change his chosen, solitary lifestyle that had been sparked by the way he’d broken his one-night stand rule to be with her for longer than that had been well and truly squashed by how vehement he’d been in letting Hazel and Kiara know there was nothing significant about his friendship with Maia. Heaven forbid that it might involve something like marriage and a honeymoon.
The tears didn’t last long. Maia lay in the circle of Leo’s arms, closing her eyes to let her other senses revel in every last moment she would have with this amazing man. She could feel the warmth and smoothness of his skin, the rise and fall of his chest and the steady thump of his heart beneath her cheek. She could hear the soft sounds of him breathing and could still taste his kisses on her tongue. When she heard the first, tiny chirps of birds warming up to participate in the dawn chorus, there was a moment of something even deeper than sadness that tried to edge into this moment of perfection but Maia refused to allow it.
She was going to choose to believe that fate had brought Leo into her life for a very good reason. Not only had it given her a push to start living life to the full—it had taught her that what she’d thought was love might only have been scratching the surface of how you could really feel about someone else.
Just the shape of how she felt about Leo was bigger. Deeper. If it had been possible, Maia knew it could have continued to grow. It wasn’t possible, however, and she had to accept it with grace. And gratitude.
She saw the moment Leo’s eyes opened and focused on her and she was smiling as she kissed him, slowly and tenderly.
‘I’m so glad you came into my life, Leonardo Romano,’ she said. ‘I’ll never forget you.’
And that was that.
Or maybe it wasn’t quite that. Because Maia couldn’t just say goodbye and walk away. She wanted to tell him that she could have fallen completely in love with him, but she couldn’t do that, either, because she knew that it might make him even more sure that he was doing the right thing by not letting a woman into his life. By not risking his heart.
But she had to say something. And the words were finally there when Leo put his arms around her for a farewell embrace, drawing her closer to kiss her. Maybe she could give him back a fraction of what he’d given her?
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