Ben didn't say anything until they were walking on the beach. 'I'm sorry. That case today must have really upset you.'
'I'm fine,' Sadie fibbed.
He looked at her, his grey eyes clear. 'No, you're not, or you wouldn't have broken up with me.'
'I just…' Her throat tightened and she couldn't say any more.
'Your patient's doing fine and so is the baby. I know it must've brought back a lot of tough memories for you. I would have swapped with you if you'd come and told me about your case.'
Something that Brad, if they'd had the same specialty, wouldn't have done. She'd been unfair, letting her past get in the way, but she'd be even more unfair if she let him think they had a future, when things were so muddled. 'It's OK,' she said. 'I'm glad they're both doing well.'
'Would you let me hug you?'
If she let him do that, she'd crumble. 'No.'
'OK. Shall we just walk?' he suggested.
'This is pointless, Ben. I won't change my mind,' she warned.
'I'm not going to push you,' he said, 'but I'm pretty sure you're hurting, and maybe talking to me will help. Whatever you say isn't going anywhere other than me; I'm not a gossip.'
'I know.' He hadn't told anyone in the department what she'd said about her abruption and losing the baby, and she hadn't had to face the same pity she'd faced in London. Though she appreciated the reassurance.
'Or we could just walk without talking,' he said, 'and let the sound of the sea do its magic.'
The hypnotic swish of the water across the sand. She could do that. And it kind of helped, having him near—even though at the same time it also made her want things she knew she couldn't have.
His hand brushed against hers—just as it had the first time they'd walked together on this beach. Once, twice. His fingers caught hers loosely.
Even though she knew she ought to pull her hand away, she couldn't.
Still they walked and he didn't pressure her to talk. He was just there. Finally she found the space to say the words.
'It broke me, losing the baby. And then Brad just walked away. He wanted a family—and with me that meant complications. So he found someone else who could give him that family without all the worry of another possible abruption and more heartache.' She dragged in a breath. 'I know we've never actually talked about it—but if you want children in the future…'
'I do,' he said.
So her decision had been the right one. She might not be able to give him children, so it was better to end things now.
But before she could pull her hand away, his fingers tightened round hers. 'But pregnancy isn't the only way to have children in our lives. There's fostering or adoption. A surrogate. Or being godparents for friends' children.'
It was everything she'd tried to say to Brad before he'd walked out.
Maybe she'd inadvertently spoken aloud, because Ben added softly, 'I'm not Brad.'
She knew that. Ben was solid. Reliable. He wouldn't let her down the way Brad had. His life wasn't straightforward, but he wouldn't use that as an excuse to walk away from her. If anything, his experience with his mother's ill health had made him more aware of the struggle faced by other people; as a result, he was kinder. More understanding.
And she knew she was hugely in the wrong. She stopped and turned to him. 'I'm sorry. I've been horrifically unfair to you. I know you're not Brad. You're…' She swallowed hard. 'You're reliable. You're lovely. I know Lisa hurt you, ending your engagement because she couldn't deal with your mum, and I'm terrified that my complications are going to make life hard for you, so that's why I broke up with you. And I was wrong. It wasn't my choice to make.'
'No,' he agreed. 'Not without at least talking it through with me. Though I understand where you're coming from. Brad let you down. So what makes you think it'd be any different with me?'
She bit her lip. 'You're not Brad, and I'm not Lisa.'
'I'm glad we've got that cleared up,' he said lightly. 'You and I—I thought we were getting on just fine. That this thing between us was going somewhere.'
'It was,' she admitted. She'd fallen in love with him, and although they hadn't said the words, she thought that he'd fallen in love with her, too.
'So what's changed?'
'My case today. It made me think about it. How being with me would limit your options.'
'So you decided to be noble?'
'I was trying to stop either of us getting hurt. Except I think we both got hurt anyway,' she said.
He nodded. 'So where do we go from here?'
'I don't know.' She could hardly breathe.
'What do you want, Sadie?'
She wanted him. 'What do you want?'
'I asked first.'
'And I'm…not very brave.'
'OK. Then I'll be the brave one, and hope that what I say doesn't scare you away,' he said. 'I want you, Sadie. I want you in my life. As my partner. The future isn't going to be plain sailing, because Mum's condition isn't going to go away; she'll always need my support, and there are days when it's going to put a lot of pressure on us. But I think we can learn to cope with that, because we're a team, you and me. The way we work together at the hospital—I think we can have that same partnership outside, too.'
'I want you, too,' she said. 'But what if I'm not enough for you?'
'You're enough for me,' he said. 'And, just so we're clear, I want you for you.' He paused. 'But am I enough for you?'
'How could you doubt it?' she asked.
'You broke up with me,' he reminded her.
'Because I panicked. I should've told you how I felt, and listened to your take on the situation,' she said.
'I have doubts, too. I know you're not Lisa, but my mum's mental health will always be a challenge. And if you want to be with me, that means staying in Cornwall, because Mum just won't cope with London—or with me moving to London,' he pointed out.
'It's like you said—we're a team. So, yes, the future's not going to be perfect, and we'll both have to make compromises, but we'll get through the tough bits because we'll be together. I like your mum, and I think she likes me.'
'She does,' Ben said. 'And so do I. More than like, actually.' He took a deep breath. 'I fell in love with you years ago, but you were the one who got away because I didn't tell you how I felt. I'm not going to repeat that mistake. I love you, Sadie. Will you marry me?'
His grey eyes were serious and full of love.
And he'd already told her that he wanted her for her own sake.
All she had to do was say yes.
'I love you, too,' she said. 'Yes, I'll marry you.'
And Ben drew her close and kissed her.
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