It began with a magical midnight kiss at a New Year Ball...
...and that's where paediatric nurse Hailey Winters knows it has to end. She can't risk her heart on a single father again--but she's already fallen for gorgeous Callum Craig's adorable child...
Callum too has loved and lost. Now he devotes all his time to making sure his young son Tom gets well again, and to his work as Head of Paediatrics. But when Hailey's in the room there's always a smile on Tom's face, and hope in Callum's heart... And all Callum knows is that somehow, some way, he must make Hailey part of his family.
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Read an Excerpt
Hailey Winters had never felt so isolated in her life. Which was no mean feat considering that the ballroom held about four hundred people. Music from an eighties retro band blared out from the stage and party-goers danced amidst the strobe lighting while others milled around, conversing in small groups. Her table companion chatted away, unaware of her total distraction.
She sighed. She'd been keeping herself together so well these last few months. Moving on. But surrounded by couples while single on New Year's Eve was not her idea of fun. Her sisters, Beth and Rilla, had insisted she attend the hospital ball, insisted it was time she got out, insisted she stopped telling them she was fine and demonstrate it. So she had agreedreluctantlybecause she wanted to prove to them she was fine and, of course, she'd also never been able to say no to them.
And they meant well, but she just wasn't the party type. Any more. She watched Beth and her husband Gabe across the table. He was saying something to her, his mouth pressed against her ear, and her sister laughed, looking adoringly up at him. Gabe's lips moved again and Beth opened her mouth, giving him, a faux scandalised look.
Oh, please, get a room!
She turned her attention to Rilla and Luca. Her Italian brother-in-law and her middle sister with matching olive complexions looked like two peas in a pod. She saw Rilla's eyes widen as Luca's hand suspiciously disappeared from view and Hailey rolled her eyes. Make it two rooms. If anything, newly reconciled and expecting their first baby, they were even more lovey-dovey than Beth and Gabe.
New Year's Eve was for lovers and unfortunately she just didn't fit the bill. Not that she wanted to. Not that she was looking. She'd moved on. And being alone for the rest of her life was infinitely more appealing than having her heart stomped all over again. Yet, still, she felt restless tonight. Out of place.
Hailey realised Ronald Archer, an acquaintance of her father's, had stopped droning on and was looking at her expectantly for a reply. She brought her wandering thoughts back into order and re-entered the conversation.
A minute later, still listening to Ronald, Hailey froze as something brushed against her stockinged leg beneath the table. She almost stopped breathing as the tiny interloper scratched its way up further under her floor-length ballgown.
Hailey shuddered. Please, don't let it be a spider.
'Excuse me for a moment,' she said politely to Ronald, before scraping her chair back, knocking it to the floor and leaping away from the table. She stamped her feet on the floor like a horse, trying to shake the unfortunate creature loose.
Thankfully, with the Brisbane General's annual New Year's Eve Ball in full swing, there were few witnesses to her wild jig.
'Goodness, dear, whatever is it?' Hailey's table partner enquired.
'Something just crawled up my leg, Mr Archer,' Hailey said, inspecting the floor for the insect that had dared defile her expensive French stockings. It was difficult to see anything in the muted lighting of the ballroom. 'Some kind of bug or insect.' She shuddered.
'Or maybe something even more dangerous? Like a small child, perhaps?'
Hailey looked up from the floor as she heard her companion's laughter. A boy sat on his haunches just under the table, his mouth and eyes wide open in his pale face, a small torch in one hand, a toy truck in the other. He was wearing a white shirt with a fat bow-tie and had remorse stamped on every adorable feature. He may as well have had the word 'Guilty' tattooed on his forehead.
'Oh,' Hailey said, the screaming bug-phobic girlie inside instantly retreating now the danger was apparently nonexistent. 'Hello, there.' She smiled.
The little boy smiled back at her and Hailey could almost hear his audible expiration as it slowly dawned on him from the grins on everyone's faces that he wasn't going to be in trouble. He opened his mouth to say something but didn't get the chance.
Hailey saw uncertainty twist his small brow into a deep furrow as she turned to face the exasperated-looking man striding towards them. He was tall with hair so short he looked like he'd lost a battle with a lawnmower and after only two seconds' perusal Hailey could see he filled a tuxedo better than any other man there.
Better than Gabe. Better than Luca. And her brother-in-laws were bona fide hotties.
Callum Craig took one look at the scenean upturned chair, his son under a table, several adults looking down at himand groaned inwardly. What had Tom been up to now? He'd only lost sight of him for a minute. How had he managed to create such havoc so quickly?
Hailey put her hand out to halt the man's progress and took a step towards Tom, offering him her outstretched hand. 'It's fine,' she assured him hastily, as the little fingers wormed into hers. Hailey's heart lurched at the, oh, so familiar action and she gave an automatic reassuring squeeze as she tugged gently and pulled his little body in close to hers.
'I'm terribly sorry,' Callum apoligised, righting the chair and noting the woman's protective stance. 'I hope he wasn't a nuisance.'
'Not at all,' Hailey dismissed quickly.
'Damn fine eye if you ask me.' Ronald Archer chuckled. 'He picked the best set of legs at the table.'
Hailey blushed as Callum looked at his son askance. 'Tomwhat did you do?'
'I was just playing with my truck under the table and her shoes were so sparkly and her legs so shiny I just had to make them a road.'
Tom flicked his torch on and shone it at Hailey's shoes to demonstrate. The whole table, now caught up in the melodrama, looked down too. Hailey lifted the hem of her long gown, revealing diamanté-encrusted, strappy heels. They caught the light magnificently. The silver threads in her stockings also shimmered enticingly.
'Aren't they bootiful, Daddy?'
Hailey looked at the boy's father, amused to know that this man could be put on the back foot by a little boy. She raised an eyebrow.
Callum saw the challenge in the woman's gaze, saw the amusement sparkling there. He felt a nudge of awareness spike his bloodstream as the brief glimpse of the woman's feet and ankles dared him to explore higher. He allowed himself a few lazy seconds to thoroughly discover the delights of her slinky red dress, the close-fitting bodice, the deep V of her cleavage.
The whole package from her toes to the dusting of freckles on her upturned nose seemed pretty good from where he was standing. Very, very delectable. 'I agree, Tom,' Callum said, holding the stranger's gaze. 'Superb.'
Hailey felt heat envelop her. She swallowed, her throat suddenly as dry as the Sahara. She felt devoured. She blinked. And blinked again before sanity returned. For crying out loud. The man had a kid. And no doubt a wife.
''Perb,' Tom repeated, smiling up at Hailey.
She tore her eyes away from the magnetism of the man's heat-seeking gaze. 'Thank you, young man,' Hailey curtsied. 'I got them from Paris.'
Tom's eyes rounded again. 'You know Paris Hilton?'
Hailey blinked as the little band of onlookers tittered. She caught Rilla's wink as she turned to look up at Tom's father, whose sinful-looking lips were pressed together hard trying to stay in a straight line. 'Paris Hilton?' She raised her eyebrows.
Callum shrugged. 'He has an inquisitive nature. We watch the news together.'
'Paris, France.' Hailey turned back to face Tom. 'I bought them in a gorgeous department store and they cost me a fortune.
'Well, I like them. They're 'perb.'
Hailey beamed at him, his words disarmingly innocent, obviously proud of himself to have remembered the new word. He reminded her of another little boy at another time and her smile slipped slightly.
Happy thoughts, Hails. Happy thoughts.
'Nevertheless, Tom, people's legs aren't racetracks,' Callum chided gently. 'I'm sure you scared the lady half to death.'
Callum could see no harm had been done but even for a six-year-old, Tom was exceptionally impulsive. His illness and extended stay in hospital hadn't done much for his social skills. 'Apoligise to the lady Er, I'm sorry I don't know your name.'
'Hailey,' she supplied. 'Really, it isn't necessary. I'm sure he's just bored out of his brains.' What was the man doing at a ball with a child anyway? Hadn't he heard of babysitters? Where was his mother?
'Tom,' Callum prompted, ignoring Hailey's protestations.
Hailey's heart went out to Tom as she watched his little shoulders slump. He shuffled his feet, his eyes cast downwards, finding a spot on the carpet exceedingly fascinating as he flicked his torch on and off.
'I'm sorry, Hailey. I only wanted to drive my truck on a glittery road.'
Hailey crouched down until she was at eye level with Tom. She placed a finger under his chin and gently raised his face. She wanted to haul him into her arms and hug him. She removed her hand and clamped her arms firmly by her side, giving him a big grin instead.
'Hey, that's OK. It's the first time anyone's wanted to race a car along my legs. I'll cherish the memory for ever.'
Tom's eyes grew wide again. 'Really? For ever and ever and ever?'
She nodded her head solemnly. 'To infinity and beyond.'
'Wow.' Tom exhaled. 'Did you hear that, Dad?'
'Come on, Tom.' Callum squeezed his son's shoulders.
From this vantage point he could see right down into Hailey's deep cleavage and he was acutely aware he hadn' admired a woman's décolletage for quite a few years. He was gawking like a horny teenager. 'We have to keep mingling.'
Now was not the time to have his libido roar to life. They were in a new city, with a new job, a new house and a new school. And Tom had only finished his grueling treatments six months ago. There was much to occupy him. He really didn't have time for sparkly shoes and racetrack legs.
Hailey looked up from her crouched position and caught the man's steady stare. She felt the heat again and almost toppled backwards from the blast. Tom and his father departed and it took Hailey a moment to collect herself before she could stand. And even then her hands trembled and her insides felt decidedly unsettled.
Hailey escaped outside to the balcony ten minutes before the big countdown began. The very last thing she wanted was to be inside when the clock reached midnight. Beth would have Gabe, Rilla would have Luca and she she would have eighty-not-out Ronald Archer.
So, she'd wait it out here and then say her goodbyes. Her sisters would protest but neither of them could say she hadn't fulfilled her promise to attend. She knew they were only trying and that they'd been worried about her since her return from the UK. All her family had. But no amount of parties was ever going to erase what had happened. That took time and she was moving on. She was.
OK, maybe she hadn't exactly made much of an effort to enjoy herself tonight as her sisters had hoped. Maybe she hadn't met her perfect match, as they'd hoped. But she was there, wasn't she? An image of Tom's father flashed before her and she banished it. Damn the man! Her gaze had followed him around the room all night.
So, the man looked good in a tux. So, he'd looked at her like he'd wanted to eat her up. She wasn't some innocent Cinderella, hanging around in her glass slippers, waiting for her prince to pull up on a white horse.
Been there, done that. Fairy-tale crushed into the dust.
Over it. So, over it.
Or at least she'd thought she was until that man and his son had barged into her glowingly successful recovery process.
She gave herself a mental shake and wandered over to the ornamental railing. A breeze was blowing and it ruffled her hair, lifting it off her shoulders. The moon was three-quarters full and an entrancing milky glow bathed the beautifully landscaped gardens below. She inhaled deeply, a waft of heavily scented camellias infusing her senses.
She was alone and it was relatively peaceful. The heavy curtains at the closed French doors managed to muffle the background bass still throbbing away inside. She could just make out the DJ whipping the party-goers into a pre-countdown frenzy as the hands of the clock inched closer to midnight.
The doors opened and she turned to see Tom, his trusty torch and truck still in hand.
'Hey, Tom,' she said as the little boy wandered over. 'Did you lose your father again?'
'Nah, he's coming too.'
Hailey helped him up onto the stone seat beside her. It was one of several placed periodically along the perimeter of the railing. Tom ran his truck back and forth along the rail, making engine noises.
The little boy looked even paler in the moonlight. Unnaturally pale. 'Did you get the truck for Christmas?' she asked.
'It's a beauty.'
Tom shrugged. 'It's OK.'
Hailey laughed. 'Didn't you want a truck?'
He shook his head. 'I wanted a baby brother.'
'Ah.' Hailey smiled. 'I see.'
'Daddy said that Santa can't give noonan beans as presents.' Tom sighed. 'He said we needed a mummy for that.'
Hailey bit her lip to stop laughing again. Tom was looking at her solemnly, obviously taking the subject very seriously indeed. So, there wasn't a mother on the scene? 'Right, yes, that's true.'
'Are you a mummy, Hailey?'
Hailey felt the laughter die in her throat. Nearly. Close. She'd been so close. She shook her head and forced a smile to her lips.
Callum escaped towards the balcony gratefully, pushing through the throngs that had gathered around the dance floor. It was only a few minutes until the clock clicked over into the new year and he didn't want to spend it with a bunch of half-inebriated strangers, kissing each other. He wanted to spend it with Tom. There'd been a few times when he hadn't been sure if his son would even make another year the fact that he had was definitely worth celebrating.
He opened the French doors slightly and halted abruptly, his hand still on the handle. Tom was conversing with the woman from earlier. Hailey. Tom had taken a real liking to her. Her laughter floated towards him and he found his gaze drifting over her form. It had done that a little too much already tonight but the moonlight was silhouetting her figure so perfectly it was practically impossible not to do so.
She was short, barely taller than Tom perched on the chair next to her. Heavy ringlets escaped from a pile of hair arranged decoratively on the top of her head, brushing her bare shoulders and spilling down her back. Her red ballgown, cinched in at the waist, emphasised its narrowness and the sultry curve of her hips.
Callum felt a tug in his chest, seeing their heads close together, watching his son smile up at the mysterious Hailey. Tom had been through so much in his six years the fact that he could still smile was a miracle. He remembered her protective arm around Tom earlier and felt oddly unsettled.
He pushed the door fully open. 'Here you are,' he said, moving onto the balcony. 'I'm sorry, I hope he's not bothering you again.' Callum drew level with Tom and put his arm around his son's shoulders. It was his job to protect Tom. His job. He'd been doing it solo for six years.
Hailey smiled at Tom's father, the moonlight complementing the planes and angles of his face. Hailey, well used to having to look up at people, found he redefined the phrase to crane one's neckshe felt like a dwarf beside him. His mouth drew her gaze. It would have looked perfectly at home on a statuethe lips full and perfectly formed.
'No, we were just discussing the pros and cons of little brothers. Weren't we, Tom?'
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