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'Becky! Hey, Becky. . .wait!'
Becky Williams stopped when she heard someone calling her name. Turning around, she peered at the faces of the other passengers gathered in the baggage hall of Heathrow Airport. The flight had been long and arduous despite the fact that her parents had insisted on upgrading her and Millie to business class. Twenty-plus hours non-stop from New Zealand would have been hard enough on her own, but it had been little short of gruelling with a small child in tow.
Becky sighed when Millie started to whimper. She cuddled her close, hoping it wouldn't be too long before their pushchair appeared on the carousel. At fourteen months, Millie was getting quite heavy and Becky's arms were aching from the long hours spent holding her as they had flown across the globe.
'I thought it was you!'
All of a sudden a man was standing in front of her and Becky jumped. She stared at him in confusion. He was tall, several inches taller than her own not inconsiderable height, in fact, with dark brown hair and the most wonderful deep blue eyes. Although his face wasn't classically handsome, there was something very appealing about those craggy features and the upward curve of his mouth that hinted at a well-developed sense of humour .
'Don't tell me you don't recognise me. I'm gutted!' He grinned at her, his face lighting up in a way that was all too familiar, and Becky gasped.
'Ewan! Is it really you?'
'It is indeed.' He gave her a quick hug, his strong arms closing around her for the briefest of moments before he drew back. His blue eyes sparkled with laughter as he stared down at her. 'Or at least I think it's me. After all those hours in the air I'm not sure if I'm actually here or not!'
He laughed, mercifully missing her reaction. Becky sucked in her breath as she took a firmer hold of Millie. She was tired, that was all, tired and stressed after the long hours spent travelling. It was little wonder that it had felt so good to have Ewan hold her but it didn't mean anything. She may have had a massive crush on Ewan MacLeod at one point but that was all in the past. An awful lot had happened since then.
The thought of what had happened in the past year was never far from her mind, but Becky pushed it aside, knowing that she couldn't cope with all the soul searching right then. The baggage carousel began to move and people stepped forward to look for their luggage. Becky spotted their pushchair and tried to force her way through the crowd but with Millie in her arms, it wasn't easy.
'Is that yours?' Ewan gently moved her aside when she nodded. Leaning over, he lifted the pushchair off the carousel and set it down in front of her. He quickly opened it so she could place Millie in the seat then crouched down before Becky could do so and fastened the safety harness, smiling at the little girl as he did so. 'There you go, poppet. You can have a little nap now.'
He ruffled Millie's honey-gold curls and Becky did her best to hide her surprise when Millie laughed. Normally, Millie was wary of strangers. Maybe it was all the upset of the past twelve months but Millie's usual response when she was approached by someone she didn't know was to cry. However, there was no sign of tears now, just the opposite, in fact.
Ewan straightened up and Becky hurriedly smoothed her face into a suitably noncommittal expression. Maybe Millie had responded unusually favourably but it meant no more than her own reaction had. They were both exhausted and the sooner they were home in Bride's Bay the better. She glanced at the carousel, willing her suitcase to appear. Cases were being claimed from all sides but she couldn't see any sign of her bag.
Ewan reached over and grabbed a battered old holdall and dropped it on the floor by his feet. 'That's mine sorted. There's just yours to come now. Shout out when you spot it.'
He seemed to have taken it for granted that he should help her and Becky wasn't sure what to do. It didn't seem fair to make use of him, especially not after the way they had parted all those years ago. The guilt that had become such a large part of her life of late rose up inside her and she shook her head.
'Don't worry about us, Ewan. We can manage. You've got your bag so you get on off home.'
'And leave you to struggle on your own?' His dark brows rose. 'I can just imagine what my mother would say if she found out. She'd have my guts for garters!'
Becky summoned a smile. 'I think you're a bit too old to worry what your mother will say.'
'True.' His smile faded and he looked at her with a seriousness that made a shiver pass through her. 'However, I'd never forgive myself if I abandoned you, Becky. Mum wrote and told me what had happened to Steve. I'm really sorry. Losing your husband like that must have been horrendous. You've had a really rough time and I'd like to help any way I can, even if it's only by seeing to your luggage.'
Becky felt a lump come to her throat when she heard genuine concern in his voice and looked away. She was afraid that she would do something silly if she wasn't careful, and cry. She had learned to hold back her tears in the past year for Millie's sake. It hadn't seemed fair to upset her daughter so what little crying she'd done had been done in private. Maybe it was tiredness or the fact that she'd been caught unawares by seeing Ewan again, but she knew it would take very little to make her break down.
'Thank you,' she said quietly. 'You're very kind.'
'It's my pleasure.' He touched her hand then turned towards the carousel, thankfully missing the start she gave.
Becky took a deep breath as she focused on the cases travelling along the conveyor belt. She was tired, so it was little wonder that she seemed to be overreacting. The fact that her pulse had started racing when Ewan had touched her wasn't an indication of anything else.
She finally spotted her case and pointed to it. 'That's my casethe red one with the yellow tag on it.'
'Okey-dokey.' Ewan elbowed his way through the crowd and lifted the case off the belt with an ease that belied its weight. Setting it down on the floor, he looked at her. 'I take it that you're being met?'
'Yes.' Becky sighed. 'Mum and Dad insisted on coming to meet us. I tried to talk them out of it but they were adamant.'
'Of course they were.' Ewan frowned as he released the handle of her suitcase and turned it towards the exit. 'You've just flown right across the globe, Becky. Anyone would be tired after a journey like thatI know I am. Plus you've had the added stress of looking after your daughter. What's the point of making your life even more difficult by refusing to let your parents collect you?'
Becky bit her lip. What Ewan had said made sense but she still felt bad about her parents making the long drive from Devon. They had been through enough in the past year thanks to her and she was determined that she wasn't going to put them under any more pressure. Once again the thought that she might be making a mistake by returning to England rose to her mind.
She'd thought long and hard before she had made her decision but, in the end, she had accepted that she didn't have a choice. She needed to work to provide for herself and Millie, and the cost of full-time childcare would have been exorbitant. There simply wouldn't have been enough money left over each month to pay all the other bills. Her parents had not only offered her and Millie a home, but her mother had offered to look after Millie while Becky went out to work. Becky knew that she should be grateful for their kindness, and she was, but it wasn't easy to sacrifice her independence. She would be right back where she'd been eight years ago, living with her parents and dreaming about Ewan.
The thought slid into her mind so fast that she didn't have time to stop it. Becky shook her head, determined to dislodge it as she followed Ewan towards the exit. There was no chance of history repeating itself. Maybe she had fallen under Ewan's spell once upon a time but it was Steve she had married and Steve she had loved . Hadn't she?
Becky felt her breath catch as her eyes rested on Ewan's broad back. All of a sudden she wasn't sure what was true any more. Had she loved Steve, really loved him, or had he merely fitted her idea of the perfect husband? Steve had appeared so calm and dependable, so focused on what he wanted from life. They'd held similar views, shared the same objectivesmarriage, a home and a familythat she had believed she had found her soulmate. Ewan, however, had been very, very different.
Ewan had been charming, funny, exciting, sexyeverything Steve hadn't. Although he'd had numerous girlfriends, he'd made no secret of the fact that he didn't plan on settling down. As he'd stated on many occasions there was a great big world waiting to be explored and he was going to do his level best to see as much of it as possible. Even though she had been deeply attracted to him, and had known he'd felt the same about her, Becky had realised it wouldn't work. They had wanted such different things out of life that any kind of relationship had been doomed from the outset.
In the end she had chosen to stay with Steve, sure in her own mind that it was the right decision. Steve had offered her the security she'd wanted, the chance to create a marriage exactly like her parents'stable and enduring. It was only now, looking back, that she found herself wondering if she had made the biggest mistake of her life. Who knew what might have happened if she had chosen Ewan?
Ewan could feel a knot of tension twisting his guts. He took a deep breath, forcing the oxygen through his lungs. Seeing Becky at Christ-church Airport had been a shock admittedly, but he'd had hours to get over it. As he had sat in the cramped confines of the aircraft, he had, quite deliberately, gone over everything that had happened eight years ago.
He'd been doing his rotations and Becky had been in her final year, training as a nurse, when they had met at the hospital where they were both seconded. Although they both came from the Bride's Bay area, he was a few years older than her so she'd not been part of his set. It had been a while since he'd seen her, in fact, and Ewan had been surprised by how attractive she was. Not only was she extremely pretty but she had a lively and engaging mind.
He'd got into the habit of stopping by the ward she was on, timing his visits to coincide with her breaks. They'd chatted about this and that over coffee, but each knew the conversation was merely a cover for their real feelings. If he was attracted to her then it was obvious that Becky felt the same about him. Although he knew that she was seeing someonea definite no-no in his book as he made a point of never encroaching on another man's territoryhe asked her out and she accepted.
They went for dinner at a little bistro down by the river recommended by one of his friends. Candlelight, soft music, discreetly attentive waitersit was so self-consciously romantic that it would have been laughable if Ewan hadn't been mortified in case Becky thought he was trying to seduce her. However, when he apologised, she simply laughed. And it was then that he realised he could very easily fall in love with her.
He drove her home afterwards with his head in a spin. He had always ruled out the possibility of falling in love just yet. He wanted to see something of the world before he settled down and making a commitment like that would make that impossible. However, meeting Becky had changed everything; he was no longer certain what he wanted any more. And when he kissed her, right there in the street, he was less certain than ever. Maybe he had found something even more wonderful than anything the world had to offer?
In other circumstances he might have asked her if he could spend the night with her but what had happened was just too profound. He drove himself home in a state of turmoil, aware that he needed to decide what he was going to do. However, before he could work it out, Becky came to see him. She told him that she and Steve were getting engaged and that in the circumstances she didn't think they should see each other again. Whilst Ewan was stunned by the announcement, he was also relieved. Now he could carry on with his plans, do everything he wanted to do. There was nothing and no one to hold him back, although if Becky hadn't called a halt, he wasn't sure if he could have done so
Ewan cursed under his breath as they reached the arrivals hall. He was acting like an idiot by thinking about all that. It was over and done with and they had both moved on. Turning, he smiled at Becky, seeing the dark circles that exhaustion had painted under her eyes. His hands clenched because it was all he could do not to reach out and smooth them away.
'Where did your parents say they'd meet you?'
'They said they'd be waiting when I came through Customs ' She broke off, a smile lighting her face. 'There they are!'
Ewan turned, glad of the excuse not to look at her. When she smiled like that she looked like the old Becky, the one he had found so beguiling, and it wasn't easy to reconcile the mix of emotions that thought aroused. There had been umpteen women in his life since Becky. Admittedly, none of them had made much of an impression on him, but he hadn't wanted them to. He'd been happy to play the field and enjoy his life as a bachelor. Maybe he had decided it was time he settled down, but he wasn't in a rush. He would wait until he found the right woman.
If he hadn't found her already.