Zach found it as easy to transport himself to the day he’d lost his leg as the moment he’d set eyes on Isla Seven months ago. Six months, three weeks and four days to be precise. Zero-nine-thirty-seven. He’d just called a time of death for a local woman caught in some crossfire and had moved on to a soldier who’d taken some shrapnel in the chest. He’d heard the cries. The sirens. Knew his patient wouldn’t make it if he didn’t stay for just a few more precious seconds to make those crucial stitches.
Broad-blinking-daylight attack. They should’ve seen it coming. Didn’t matter now. Two epic fails in one blink of the eye.
The soldier had died. Zach had lost his leg and six long months of rehab had confirmed he was no longer a candidate for marriage. A poisonous pill to swallow when he woman he loved was lying in front of him about to give birth.
The world seemed determined to work in mysterious ways and today was no different. Just a whole lot harder to walk away from.
‘Zach—I thought you—’ Isla choked on her words as a sharp sob escaped her throat.
He forced himself to stay. See it through no matter how painful. He wanted to hear it from her. Hear her say the babies weren’t his and then tell him to go.
Then he could shut the door.
‘Shush now, petal. Looks like you need to conserve your energy.’
‘I’m—’ She laughed and sobbed again. ‘I’m a little different.’
‘I noticed.’ They both gazed at the healthy expanse of her pregnant belly.
Her face creased and the soft gaze she’d given her belly turned hard as her eyes flicked back to him. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘Came to see a girl.’
He thought, by the look in his eyes, she’d know he meant her. Isla. The one single light in his life. If possible her dark eyes lost even more light. Brusquely, almost savagely she grabbed his hand.
‘Want to feel them?’
‘Them?’ A sharp hit of emotion blurred his vision.
She drew his hand across the thin cotton covering her stomach.
‘They’re your twins. Boys.’ A sharp sob escaped her chest as both his hands were drawn to her broad belly.
‘They’re a bit early.’ She spoke through a tight gasp, her eyes flicking away from his as she spoke, but he knew what she was really saying.
You don’t deserve to be in their lives.
The weeks and months he’d lain in hospital and then rehab seemed a distant memory now. He’d been a class-A fool to think staying away from Isla was the best thing to do. Just the sound of her sweet Highland voice was better than any of the medicines battling for space on his bedside table. Now they weren’t keeping it under lock and key. The first few weeks after the op had been tough. Pitch-black each time he’d tried to look into the future. Not calling Isla in his darkest moments had been the hardest thing he’d ever done.
Now, with her fingers curling round his own, the shift and kicks of his unborn children beneath his hand, he began to wonder: Had he been wrong not to let her in? Let her see his pain? Marriage was about for better and for worse. He shook off the thought. He’d seen one too many soldiers served divorce papers as they battled to make a new life for themselves once war had made its mark. He had been saving Isla the trouble.
Now, looking into that beautiful face of hers, he wasn’t so sure.
‘I—I thought you’d gone.’ Her voice had softened and his heart all but leapt out of his throat when he saw tears had begun to trickle along her cheeks.
‘I’m here now, Isla.’ He drew the backs of his fingers along the soft down of her cheek, her tears unwittingly acting as the salt in the invisible wounds he hadn’t been able to heal.
Out of his peripheral vision, Zach could see the doctors on either side of him stiffening.
Well let them.
He was here now. And he wasn’t going anywhere. Not unless she gave him his marching orders.
Isla’s knees shot up as another hit of pain gripped her.
‘Is there a maternity ward here?’ Zach looked to Robyn for an answer as Isla did her best to cut off the circulation in his hand. The other doctor, Alistair, still seemed to be on standby to bare-knuckle it for Isla’s honour if need be.
Hmm … He’d have to keep an eye on him. Not that he had any claim on Isla. He’d lost the right the day he’d cut himself off from the world. The same day the world had made him less of a man.
Robyn grimaced. ‘There would be if I could ever get the board to agree to sign off on it.’ She looked to Isla, her features softening into a gentle smile as she did. ‘C’mon, breathe through it, love.’ She jabbed at the lift button again. ‘We’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way if you’re as advanced as I think you are. We all know how budgets work don’t we, Isla?’
The two laughed and said simultaneously, ‘Not at all!’
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