Introducing Catherine Coles and the fabulous A Doctor, a Daddy…a Husband?…all the voting details are at the bottom of the blog!
“I can’t believe that wasn’t the first thing you did when you knew why she was leaving you.”
Adam Reynolds ignored her incredulous stare. He didn’t need a DNA test. Megan was his daughter. His love for her wasn’t contained in the genes in either of their bodies but in his heart.
“Maybe it would’ve been the first thing you’d have done.” Even as he said it, he knew it sounded ridiculous. She was a woman—she wouldn’t need a DNA test to know if a child was hers or not.
Resentment threatened to choke him while recriminations for the woman who’d put him in this position warred with his natural compassion. Emma hadn’t been an easy to woman to live with, but he had loved her.
“I’m not Emma.” Her cheeks heated, red spots sitting high on her cheekbones.
No, she wasn’t but Adam had yet to see any evidence that Penny was any different to his ex wife. They had a shared background and identical high powered careers which left no time for love or working on a marriage. Though Emma had managed to find time for casual sex.
“It was good of you to come here and share the news yourself.” He conceded.
It wasn’t Penny’s fault Emma had left him, quite literally, holding the baby. The anguish he could see in her eyes and the heavy smudges beneath her eyes were very real. Penny was devastated.
“It isn’t the sort of news that should be delivered over the telephone or through an impersonal email.” Penny’s blue eyes filled with tears. “You need to know the implications.”
“Implications?” Adam repeated, shuffling his feet. He wanted to close the door in her face and retreat into his own space to process the news Penny had travelled to North Yorkshire to share.
“You know,” Penny lay a hand on Adam’s arm. “It probably would be better if we went inside to talk about this properly.”
There wasn’t too much chance of them being overheard standing on the doorstep of his renovated farmhouse, his nearest neighbours were over half a mile away. Letting her in was allowing her to get too close to his world and he would do anything to spare his daughter further pain. Yet he found he needed to sit down. The sea breeze usually cleared his head, that evening it was decidedly fuzzy.
Adam swung open the door and led her through to the lounge. “Take a seat. Would you like a drink?”
“Shall we just get this over with?”
No nonsense. Just like Emma. It was impossible for him not to draw comparisons though physically they were nothing alike. Penny was the nearest thing Emma had to family but while she was tall, dark haired and slim Penny was petite and blonde with curves he had no business even noticing.
“Sit, Buttons,” Adam stroked the soft head of the puppy his daughter adored.
“Meg’s favourite chocolate. She decided on the puppy’s name before we got him.”
“He’s very cute.” Penny nodded in guarded way that made it very clear to Adam she thought the labrador was cute only so long as she wasn’t touching her. Or shedding hair on her expensive clothing.
“She. Meg was very insistent we got a female. Otherwise she would’ve been outnumbered.”
“I see.” Penny reached up and tucked wavy blonde hair behind her ear. “You haven’t asked how Emma died.”
“I…” Adam’s chest tightened. His feelings for Emma had gone a long time ago. Yet thinking of her in the past tense was next to impossible. “I assumed she had an accident.”
Penny shook her head. “Emma had Long QT Syndrome.”
“But…but how? Surely something would’ve shown up when she was pregnant with Megan.” Adam’s mind went through all he knew about the heart condition.
“You know how it can be. Sometimes even specific tests don’t show up a problem. One day her heart would’ve sounded normal yet another the arrhythmia would’ve been heard.”
“She didn’t know she had it?”
“As far as I know, no she didn’t. And you know she shared most things with me.”
Had Penny known about the affair Emma was having before she left him? Had she talked to Penny about Megan? Had she even thought about her?
Buttons nuzzled his hand, jerking Adam’s thoughts away from the dangerous. “And she just died? She hadn’t been ill?”
“There were no signs,” Penny confirmed. She swallowed, her eyes settling on a spot over Adam’s head. “She was on a treadmill at the gym and had a massive heart attack.”
Sweat broke out on Adam’s brow. Now he wasn’t thinking about what Emma had done to him the implications of Penny’s word hit him with all the force of a crowbar straight across the back of his head. Why hadn’t it been the first thing he’d thought of?
He stared at the picture of her over the fireplace. Dark hair, like her mother’s, spread out as she swung on the swing he’d made for her in their garden. Her pink cheeks glowed with health, her mouth spread in a wide uninhibited grin.
The instinct to run upstairs and check on her, to place a stethoscope on her chest and listen to her breathing while she slept, nearly overtook him.
Penny followed his gaze to the picture. “She looks just like Emma.”
“Physically she’s identical in every way.” Regret tainted his words. He couldn’t have loved Megan any more had she looked just like him but seeing her mother’s eyes look at him every single day was a permanent reminder of Emma and the pain she’d caused both of them.
“And genetically,” Penny said gently. “Megan could have inherited Long QT Syndrome from Emma.”
“I realise that.” Adam made no effort to keep the anger in his voice. Hadn’t Megan been through enough? She had a mother who had successfully erased the fact she had a child from her life. Poor Megan was the only little girl at school who didn’t have either a mother who attended her assemblies and open evenings.
“I should probably go.” Penny stood, her eyes dull with her own pain.
She was right, she should go. Except he didn’t want her to. For the first time since Emma had left him, Adam had no desire to be by himself. Usually he shunned any type of human contact other than that given to him by his precious daughter. But tonight he didn’t want to be alone.
Adam’s mind raced through the information Penny had shared in the short time since she’d arrived at his house.
Emma was dead.
Megan might have Long QT Syndrome.
Penny had mentioned a DNA test.
His eyes flicked to Penny’s. She shifted in her chair, then straightened, as though determined not to be caught squirming in her seat under his scrutinising gaze.
“What are you not telling me?”
Penny looked away.
“Don’t insult me by denying it.” The glass of wine he’d consumed after getting Megan settled for the night swirled dangerously in his stomach.
She sucked in a deep breath, glanced at the picture of Megan and then studied her fingernails. “Emma left a will.”
“That surprises me.” Emma hadn’t exactly been known for her planning. Or her forward thinking. As far as he was able to ascertain she’d embarked on an affair with a work colleague weeks after Megan’s birth with no real concept of what would happen when her blatant behaviour was discovered.
Either she hadn’t thought about the consequences or she simply hadn’t cared.
“It’s a fairly simple document.” Penny paused. Adam made an effort to control his breathing and forced his fisted hands to loosen. He flexed his cramped fingers, breathing in deeply through his nose. “She, of course, left her money and property to Megan.”
“Of course?” Adam couldn’t help a snort of derision.
“Emma loved Megan.”
“Did she?” Adam stood, moving towards Penny. “I don’t think I, or Megan, ever saw any evidence of that.”
“She loved her so much she walked away.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Emma walked because she was caught out. She wanted her lover. Not me and certainly not Megan.”
“You know what she was like, what she’d been through as a child herself. She never had a family of her own. She didn’t know how to be a wife or mother, she’d never had an example to follow.”
“She didn’t even try to learn.” Adam didn’t want to hear excuses. He’d been through them all when Emma first left. Maybe if he’d done a, perhaps if she’d done b, maybe…he had gone on like that for way too long. He was past caring why Emma had done what she did—especially when he was busy picking up the pieces of his life and working out how to be two parents to their daughter.
“You’re right,” Penny’s shoulders slumped. “She didn’t try. Because she didn’t have the confidence she would succeed. So she left before she could fail Megan.”
“And me?” His voice sounded hoarse. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer but somehow he couldn’t help but ask.
Penny sighed. “She wanted to love you, have a family and live happily ever after. But she was so scared she’d mess up so I guess she sabotaged what you had before she could.”
She wanted to love him.
Adam wished that one phrase didn’t hurt him as much as it did.
“What else?” He heard his voice bark the question but he had nothing soft left inside him.
“She named us as the joint executors of her estate.”
“What does that mean?”
“Basically we sign things so money can be released. When everything is gathered in and debts have been paid out, my role ends and you set up a trust fund for Megan with the residue.” She smiled in what he was sure she believed was a reassuring way.
He was shattered for what this news would mean for Megan but not for himself. Emma didn’t have that power over him after the time that had passed. Having that distance meant he could see there was still something Penny hadn’t told him.
“And the part you’re still reluctant to tell me?”
The DNA part.
“Emma left a letter. I’m so sorry, Adam.” Penny’s eyes met his briefly before they dropped to pick imaginary fluff from her trousers. “Emma wrote she had…um…doubts that you’re Megan’s biological father.”
Penny’s voice was tight, as though every word had been forced from her.
Anger ripped through Adam, he stalked to the other side of the room. His fingers itched. Never had he understood the type of anger that made people want to throw things but in that moment he did. One glass of wine on an evening had always been his limit, even before Megan had been born. But now the whisky bottle stashed in a high cupboard in the kitchen was looking decidedly attractive. He could almost taste the liquid burning a path down his throat. Anything would be better than this soul destroying pain.
“Why would she wait until death to give news like that?” It shouldn’t be a surprise to him that someone who had done nothing more than basically incubate his child for nine months could hurt him beyond the grave.
Penny fiddled with the expensive looking watch on her slim writs. He was making her nervous. He needed to remember it wasn’t her fault Emma’s actions had led them to this situation. It couldn’t have been easy for her to come to his house to deliver such life changing news.
“In the letter, there are sections written for you and for Megan to read when she’s older. I think guilt was probably her motivation for writing the letter.”
“Are you certain she didn’t know about the Long QT?”
“The letter wasn’t with the will. Maybe it was written as a type of confessional. One of those things you pour your heart out in but never intend to send.”
“I’d like you know, if DNA tests show you are not Megan’s father, I can step in…if…”
“Leave!” Supreme effort meant the word came out on a growl and not an emphatic shout. He didn’t trust himself to look at Penny lest he say something he would forever regret.
Tears blurred Penny’s vision as she walked down the driveway to her car. Sitting behind the wheel she looked back to the doorway. Adam stood there. Tall, dark and brooding in the way only a broken man can.
She’d never broken anyone’s heart before but that night she believed she had. She’d do anything to erase the look of anguish she’d caused on Adam’s face. Her friend had treated him awfully and she’d added to his pain.
Growing up in a succession of foster homes where she was always treated differently to a biological child had taught Penny the pain of never having a family she could rely upon. She didn’t want that for Emma’s child. But Adam’s reaction had told her everything she needed to know—he was a father who loved and protected his little girl regardless of whose DNA had helped to create her.
Penny couldn’t help feeling the teeniest bit jealous despite the awful circumstances. That poor child had to be told her mother had died. There was a whole lot of difference between not having contact with her mother and never being able to. Despite the shared history which bound them together, Penny couldn’t understand why Emma hadn’t tried harder to learn how to be a happy family with Adam. How had her friend ever turned her back on him?
Penny’s heels tapped on the corridor, the brightly coloured murals on the walls giving this part of the hospital a happier, less scary feeling for the children it cared for.
She hadn’t seen Adam that morning although she knew it was simply a matter of time. There hadn’t been an opportunity to warn him she’d be there the night before although every time she replayed their conversation in her mind, she wished she’d told him that information right up front. Before the other stuff. The stuff that had devastated him.
Rounding a corner, she pushed open the door to the Special Care Baby Unit. Her first case was that of Baby Peters who had been born with a congenital heart defect. His was a completely different condition to the one Megan had potentially inherited from Emma. He had a condition that hadn’t been passed to him by either parent, it was simply an accident of nature.
Penny took a moment to assess the room. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the incubator Adam stood over. His tall frame hunched over as he wrote on a clipboard. His eyes moved between the baby, the monitors and the paper. Every action was methodical, she watched as he checked what he’d written.
It confirmed what she already knew about him. He was a good man, an excellent doctor. How on earth had he ended up married to the free spirit that had been Emma McGovern? Tears stung her eyes, as they had every time she thought of her friend in the days since her death. Emma had avoided emotional entanglement with a fervour most people used to avoid the dentist’s chair.
“Dr Reynolds.” Penny approached Adam.
“Dr Roberts.” He copied her formality, his gaze taking in her white coat and newly printed staff badge.
“I’m covering Sarah’s maternity leave. In the circumstances, we agreed I would start my six month contract early.”
Sarah had recently been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia leaving her on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy. Penny hadn’t expected to start work at Seacrest Hospital for another four weeks but she’d been asked to bring that date forward.
“I forgot you were coming.”
More likely he’d tried to forget she’d been hired to cover for Sarah. After all, she would be a constant reminder to him of the wife who had cheated and left him.
“I hope me working here isn’t going to be a problem.”
“It’s awkward.” His honest, straightforward answer surprised her. Although he’d, rightly, been emotional the night before he didn’t seem the sort of man who would allow his private life to effect his work.
“I apologise for that,” Penny inclined her head. “But this was arranged before…before Emma died.”
“Why would you want to be here? Of all places, why would you come here?”
“It’s a fabulous opportunity. Working as the only paediatric surgeon here will look great on my CV. It certainly didn’t hurt that I could maybe use my time here to get to know Megan.”
He held up a hand. “No. Non negotiable, no way.”
“Adam, be reasonable.”
“I’m being more than reasonable. I will work with you, I will be professional. But there’s no way I’m letting you near my daughter. What were you going to do while you worked here? Had you and Emma got it all arranged so you could pass details of Megan’s life onto her?”
“Emma regretted she wasn’t a part of Megan’s life but I explained to you last night why she felt she had to do that.Though we did think it would be nice if I could be a kind of aunt.”
“If Emma wanted to know how Megan was, how she was doing at school, all she had to do was ask. I would never have denied her information. Surely she must’ve known that?”
“I don’t think it was information Emma wanted. It was more. She wanted to know her.” Penny shuffled her feet. She hadn’t expected this to be so hard. “Through me, I guess.”
“It’s not going to happen.” Blue eyes turned hard, his mouth an implacable and uncompromising line. “I presume you’re here to see Baby Peters?”
Penny blinked at the sudden turn of conversation, her eyes dropping to the infant. She was there to do a job. If anyone had suggested to her she’d spend her first five minutes at Seacrest chatting about personal matters she’d have been infuriated. Work was work. Penny had never allowed her private life to either intrude nor interfere.
“I am,” she held out her hand for the baby’s notes. “I understand this little guy is going to need surgery?”
“Yes.” Residual emotion dissipated leaving blank blue eyes. “Baby was born yesterday. Upon examination I could hear a heart murmur. I wasn’t sure what we were dealing with but raised blood pressure suggested this could be coarctation of the aorta.”
Penny nodded her agreement. “A good spot. Anything else I should know?”
“Low blood pressure in baby’s lower body and legs.”
“Classic signs. Okay, we’ll do an echo to confirm diagnosis but you’re right, baby will then need surgery.”
“Let me know when you’ve scheduled it and I’ll let the parents know.”
“We should probably talk to them together. There’s no reason for baby to travel north for the operation unless the echo shows further complications, I can do it here. I’d like to be there when you explain things to the parents so I can answer any questions they might have.”
“Alright.” He paused as though he had more to say but couldn’t find the words.
“I am sorry, Adam.” She made a note on the chart Adam had handed her. “So sorry about everything. I didn’t agree with Emma’s behaviour, I hope you will change your mind and let me see Megan.”
“I owe you nothing.” He snapped. “Nothing at all.”
Adam walked past her and out of the room, looking neither left nor right.
Penny’s cheeks heated as she was left the centre of the nurses’ curious glances, no doubt they had picked up Adam’s tone even if his voice had been too low for them to hear his actual words. Ordinarily she would’ve called him on his rudeness. He’d get a day’s grace from her but no more. They had to work together for the good of the hospital and whether he’d realised it yet when he was ready for Megan to have the tests for Long QT Syndrome, she would be the doctor performing them.
Adam needed to tell Megan about her mother but the words wouldn’t come. She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I love you, daddy.”
“And I love you, pumpkin.”
And nothing will ever change that.
He pulled the duvet up to Megan’s chin. “Remember that little test we talked about at dinner time?”
“With the cotton wool stick?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
The little test with the capacity to shatter every remaining good memory of his marriage.
She opened her mouth and leaned forward, completely trusting him. Adam’s heart broke a little more. She wasn’t nearly old enough for him to tell her the complete truth but he was skating perilously close to that line he’d promised himself he’d never cross. The one where he would never lie to his child.
Adam rubbed the swab against the inside of her cheek. “All done, princess.”
Megan yawned. “Night night.”
He paused at the doorway to her bedroom. “Sleep tight.”
“Daddy,” Megan sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Do you think my mummy will come to my birthday party?”
He gasped, the sound loud in the quiet room. He reminded himself to breathe as he went back to his daughter’s bedside. Kneeling down, he ran a hand over over her hair. “I don’t think so, darling.”
This was his opportunity to tell her the truth. That her mother wouldn’t be coming to either this birthday party nor any other. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t shatter her childlike innocence by using the word death.
“I wonder what my mummy looks like now.” Megan touched the picture that sat on her bedside table.
Adam looked at the picture, remembering how proud and amazed he’d been when Megan was born. How he’d immediately been filled with a love for his little girl.
He’d looked at that picture a thousand items since and try as he might, he couldn’t find anything in Emma’s face that would’ve warned him of what was to come. She looked like any other new mother. Exhausted but filled with a profound knowledge that they’d all been part of something wonderful.
“Shall I see if I can get you a more up to date picture?” His heart pounded so hard against his chest, certain Megan could hear every petrified beat.
“I think I would like that. And maybe you could find out where she is? So I can look on a map. We’ve been doing that at school, looking at where different things are on a map. I’d like to see where mummy is.”
Adam drew her into a hug, knowing it was wrong to seek comfort from his child rather than it be the other way around but he couldn’t help himself. Too much had happened in too short a time. He needed time to process it himself before he worked out how on earth he was going to get everything straight enough in his own head to be able to make any sense of it for Megan.
Self recriminations hit him. He was being selfish. This wasn’t about him, it was about Megan. And there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. Even if it meant involving someone he didn’t want to breathe the same air as Megan.
“I know someone who knows your mummy. She is working at the hospital with me. Maybe you’d like to meet her? You could ask her anything you like about your mummy?”
“Thank you, daddy. I knew you’d make everything alright again.”
He accepted her enthusiastic embrace as his right even as he already regretted promising to make the call to Penny. Long moments passed as he held her tight, wishing there were some way he could cure Megan of her desire to know all about her mother.
He knew all about her difficult childhood and how she and Emma had been without stable role models, how their experiences of family life had been tainted by the care system. Adam couldn’t allow himself to feel sorry for either woman.
Downstairs, Adam broke open the packet containing his own DNA test kit. Reluctantly he followed the simple process before putting the cap onto the swab. Writing his and Megan’s details onto the paperwork, he finished off the grim task. First thing in the morning he’d post the envelope to the private lab who would test his DNA against Megan’s. It didn’t matter to him what the result was, it wouldn’t change a thing.
But for Megan, it could change everything she believed.
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