Nurse Georgie Taylor has just one thing on her Christmas list: a baby! But she never expected her best friend, broodingly handsome Dr. Liam MacAllister, to offer to be the father
Liam's heart has always been strictly off-limitsa baby is the last thing on his Christmas list! But he'll do anything to make Georgie happy, and seeing her pregnant with their miracle baby ignites feelings that he just can't ignore feelings that could destroy a beautiful friendshipor result in so much more!
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Nine months ago
'I've found a baby daddy!' Georgie's wide grin shone brighter than the Southern Cross, her dark brown eyes sparkling even in the bar's dim light.
Liam watched, dumbfounded, as excitement rolled off her, so intense it was almost tangible.
'Well, not a daddy as such. I should really stop saying that. But I have found someone who would be perfect to donate his sperm which I know makes you shudder, so I'm sorry for saying The Word.' She gave Liam a wicked wink that was absolutely at odds with this whole onesided conversation.
Too gobsmacked to speak, Liam indicated to her to sit. She tossed her silk wrap and bag on the back of a chair, put her drink down on the table and plonked in the seat opposite him at the only free table in Indigo's crowded lounge.
He felt the frown forming and couldn't control iteven if he'd wanted toand finally found his voice. 'Hey, back right up, missy. Am I dreaming here? I thought you just said something about a baby '
It had been too long since he'd seen her looking so happy so he was wary about bursting her bubblebut, hell, he was going to burst it anyway. Because that's what real friends didthey talked sense. Just like she'd done the first time they'd met, in the sluice room of the ER; he a lowly med student, losing his cool at the sight of a lifeless newborn, she a student nurse with more calm and control and outright guts than anyone he'd ever met. She'd let him shake, allowed him five minutes to stress out, then had forced him back into the ER to help save the kid's life. And they'd been pretty much glued at the hip ever since.
So he needed to be honest. He raised his voice over the thump-thump-thump of the bar's background bass that usually fuelled their regular Friday night drinking session, but tonight the noise was irritating and obnoxious. 'I go away for three months and come back to sheer madness. What happened to the Nothing's going to get in the way of those renovations this time? I'm on the real estate ladder now and going up. What the hell, Geo? A baby? Since when was that on your to-do list?'
Stabbing the ice in her long glass with a straw, she looked up at him, eyes darker now, and he caught a yearning he'd seen glimpses of over the last ten years. She thought she hid it well, but sometimes, when she was distracted or excited, she let her tough guard slip. 'You, of all people, know I've always wanted a family, Liam. It may not have been at the top of my list because I always believed it would just happen at some point. But I can't keep putting it off and leaving it to chance, because chance isn't going my way. And I refuse to prioritise decorating over having a baby. That would be stupid.'
In his opinion, having a baby was right up at the top of stupid but he kept that to himself. And, for the record, it wasn't just decoratingher house needed knock-down-and-start-again renovations. 'But what's the hurry? You're only twenty-eight. It will happen, you've got plenty of time. You just need to find the right guy.' And why that made him shudder more than the sperm word, he didn't know.
She let the straw go, then pulled a hair tie from her wrist and curled her long wavy hair into a low ponytail. Her hair was the same colour as caramel, with little streaks of honey and gold. He didn't need to get any closer to know that it smelt like apples or fruit or something vaguely edible. And clearly he'd been away too long if he was starting to notice stuff like that.
Luckily she was oblivious to him staring at her hair and thinking about its colour and smell. 'Oh, yes, and the candidates for husband are queuing up at the door, aren't they? You may have noticed that the pickings for Mr Perfect are slim and slimming further by the day in Auckland. There's a man drought. It's official apparently, New Zealand has a lot fewer men than women my age. Why do you think I've needed you to expedite a few dates for me?' Her shoulders slumped. 'I know we've had fun setting each other up with potentials over the years, but I'm starting to think that'
'That maybe you're too picky?' He raised his glass to her. 'Hey, I don't know, but perhaps you could consider only having a one-page checkbox list that potentials need to tick, instead of fifteen?'
Her eyes widened as she smiled. 'Get out of here. It is nowhere near fifteen.'
'Not on paper, no. But in your head it is. I've seen you in action, remember. He's not funny enough. Too intense. Just a joker. Doesn't take me seriously. Just wanted a one-nighteH Truth was, Liam had been secretly pretty damned proud she'd spurned most of his mates' advances and that she'd ended most flings before they'd got serious. There was something special about Georgie and she deserved a special kind of bloke. He hadn't met one yet that would be worthy of her.
'So I have standards. I'd settle for Mr Almost Perfect if he existedwhich he doesn't. I'm getting too short on time.' Her red, loose-fitting summer dress moved softly as she shrugged delicate shoulders. 'I don't know about you, but I get the feeling that asking a man to father your children on a first date might just scare him off.'
'Well, hell, if I asked a man to father my children on any date it'd either be in a nightmare or because I was hallucinating.'
She rolled her eyes. 'You know very well what I mean. And, yes, you are the straightest guy I've ever met.' Her eyes ran over his chest, lingering a little over his pecs, throat, mouth. Why he noticed he didn't know. And, even stranger, he felt a little hot. When her gaze met his she gave him her usual friendly smile. 'You're looking mighty fit these days, Dr MacAllister. How was Pakistan?'
'Hot, wet and desperate.' As with all his aid missions, he didn't want to relive what he had seen. Enough that he had those images in his own head, without sharing details with others.
'But at least you know you were doing good out there. What were the conditions like? Are you okay? How are you feeling? When do you leave again? Please be happy for me.'
This was always how it was with Georgie: random conversation detours and finishing each other's sentences. But things generally flowed and they knew each other so well that often they didn't have to speak to communicate. So with the sudden baby daddy bombshell he'd never felt so excluded from her life. 'I'm fine. Knackered, but fine, looking forward to a few weeks' locuming at the General's ER. At least there's running water and reliable electricity. And I have a decent bed to sleep in. The next planned rollout for me is in South Sudan in a couple of months.'
'But if they need you earlier.'
He nodded. 'Sure. It's the way it is.'
'I still don't know how you manage all that toing and froing. Here a couple of months, then gone again. I like staying in one place.'
And he didn't. The longest he ever stayed anywhere was when he came back here because he needed a semi-permanent job to help fund his aid work. 'But I'm never going away again if it means I come back to crazyville baby talk.'
'It's not crazyville.' Again with the eye roll. He didn't even have to look. This time it was accompanied by an irritated shake of her head. 'I've made a decision to do this now. On my own. I know it'll be tough and it's not the perfect image I've always had in my head about a mum and dad and two point four kids, but that's too far out of reach right now. I've had to curtail my dreaming and get real. Being a solo mum is just fine.'
She stopped talking to take a long drink of what looked a lot like lemonade. On a Friday night? Could be that she was actually serious about this. 'I want to conceive and carry to term, and have a baby my baby and, if things work out, have another one too. But that's probably greedy and selfish.'
'You deserve to be, Geo, after what you've been through.' But now? Why now?
'So, I'm looking forward, and taking an opportunity. Endo is a lot less active during pregnancy so if I could manage two pregnancies in quick succession if the IUI works, that is IVF would be a whole different ball game.'
Trying to keep up he lifted his palms towards her. 'IUI? IVF? Slow down a bit. So you're not thinking turkey baster? Or just plain old-fashioned sex? That is a relief.'
'Believe me, I'll do whatever's necessary.'
He didn't doubt it. And finally the reality was sinking in. She was going to do the one thing he'd sworn never to doand because he was her friend she'd expect him to be supportive. 'So what tipped you over to the dark side?'
And, yes, his reaction would not be what she wanted, but: a) he couldn't help it and; b) he wasn't prepared to lie just to make her feel better. It was precisely because of their friendship that he knew he could be straight up with her.
'You are such a grump. For me there is no dark side. Being abandoned at two days old and having literally no one from then on in has made me want to feel part of something a family. You know that. I just want what everyone else has, Liamto feel loved, to be loved. To love. And I have no doubt that there will be some hard times, but I will never leave my baby on a doorstep for someone else to find, and condemn them to a life of foster-homes and social services, like my mum did to me. I will cherish any child I have. I've had my share of dark sides and being pregnant and a mother isn't one of them.'
Her nose wrinkled as she reached across and lightly punched him on the arm. 'So, I was worried things were getting worse endo-wise, so I asked Malcolm to run some more tests at work a few weeks ago.' Her hands palmed across her abdomensubconsciously? Possibly. Protective? Definitely.
'You've been having more pain? Oh, God, I'm sorry, Georgie. That sucks. Really, I thought you were managing okay.' Liam hated that. Hated that even though he fixed people up every day he didn't have the answers to Georgie's problems and that they were running out of solutions as time ticked on. His heart thumped in sync with the music, hard and loud in his chest. 'What did he say?'
'That the endometriosis is indeed getting worse. That everything in there's getting blocked up and scarred and it won't be long before I'll need pretty major surgery. That it's only a matter of time before pregnancy is going to be nigh on impossible. At least, without a whole lot of effort and money and no promises at the end.'
Her eyes filled with tears. Which, for Georgie, was such a rarity Liam sat there like a useless lump and watched in horror, unable to move. She was the strongest woman he knew. She'd faced tough battles her whole life and she never tired of fighting. No matter how ridiculous her plan sounded, his heart twisted to see her hurting. 'You know how much I need this, Liam. I thought you'd understand. I thought you'd support me. You know, like good friends do? I've been there for you regardless and I kind of hoped you'd feel the same.' Her hand reached for her gut again. 'This idea? This is a good thing.'
It was the worst thing he'd ever heard. 'And so who is going to provide the ?' He couldn't bring himself to say the word. For an accomplished medic he had trouble imagining what went on behind closed doors at the IVF clinic.
'Sperm? I've decided I'm going to ask Malcolm.'
'What?' Liam almost choked on his beer. 'Your boss?'
'And that's wrong, why? He's smart. Not unattractive. Owns a successful IVF clinic and has helped thousands of women achieve their dreams, so he's compassionate too. Those are all the right kind of genes I'd look for in a father for my child.'
'He's still also your boss.'
She hip-planted both hands. 'And I'm pretty sure he'd want to help. He sees this kind of thing every day, so to him it's not an unusual request. I'll ask him to sign a contract to keep things simple. I have enough money put by to keep me going for a while and the clinic has agreed to reduce my hours after maternity leave.'
Maternity leave. Contracts. That sounded far from simple. And the money she had put by was supposed to be for renovations to help her become more financially independent. 'Seems like you have it all figured out.'
'He knows how much I want this. How much I need to know DNA and family history. It's been my life's dream. Just a little expedited' She gave him a smile at their shared joke.
Liam didn't feel much like laughing. Sure, she'd talked about this on and off over the years but now the reality hit him in the gut like a two-ton truck. She wanted a baby. A family. Kids. 'Surely asking your boss is downright unprofessional. Unethical.'
'A friend helping a friend? Since when did that cross any kind of line?'
'Where would you like me to start?' It crossed more lines than Liam cared to think of. It would be like like if he offered to father her child. Ridiculous. Ludicrous.
The thought flitted across a corner of his mind. He pushed it away. Ludicrous indeed.
'Malcolm saw how upset I was at the results.' As she spoke she seemed to loosen up a little. Determined, but calm. 'I've asked to have a meeting with him next week. If he says no then I'll have a rethink.'
'It sounds messy to me. How about using one of the anonymous donors at the clinic? You get to know about their family history, too. You can choose anyone that ticks your fifteen pages of boxes.' He didn't know why someone anonymous fathering her child seemed like a better option. It just felt better. A long way from right, but better. 'And why didn't you ask me?'
What the hell?
He didn't even know where that question had come from. As she stared at him his chest tightened.
'Is that what this is all about? You're upset because I didn't ask you? Honestly? The man who comes out in hives when he even sees a baby?' As soon as the words left her mouth she closed her eyes and pressed her lips together. Too late. After a beat or two she slowly opened her eyes again and winced. 'Oh, my God, I'm sorry. Really. I'm sorry, Liam. I am. I didn't mean I'm so sorry. But I just know how you feel about families.'
She looked surprised at his question. Probably because he'd kept his past to himself and never spoke about what he wanted for the future. But families and babies were something he definitely had an aversion to. No, not an aversion, just a deep desire not to go there. Ever.
Her voice softened. 'Since you always refuse to talk about anything deeper than what you had for lunch, I have to surmise. You have a track record of emotional avoidance. So I've always assumed that big loving, meddling, messy, happy families aren't something on your wish list. In all honesty, you'd be the last person I'd ask. And, judging by your current reaction, I think I'm right.'