By rights, single mother Dr. Rachel Mackenzie and widower Dr. Matthew Thompson should be at odds--the disastrous non-wedding of their respective children has thrown the village of Dalverston into turmoil!
But Matt and Rachel are faced with their own emotional upheaval. They turn to each other for friendly support, and unexpectedly find that old friends can make a new beginning!
And just when Matt and Rachel begin to believe that their happy ending is in sight, the most remarkable thing happens....
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December 31, 2009
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Excerpt from Their Baby Surprise by Jennifer Taylor
He may have been putting on a brave face all day but Rachel Mackenzie wasn't deceived. It was no secret to those who knew him that Matthew Thompson adored his only daughter, Heather, so the fact that Heather had decided to cancel her own wedding and leave Dalverston was bound to have caused him a great deal of pain.
Rachel sighed as she followed Matt into his house because it was painful for her too. It had been her son, Ross, who had been due to marry Matt's daughter that day and she couldn't begin to imagine how devastated Ross must be feeling.
'I don't know about you but I could do with a drink.' Matt led the way into the sitting room and went straight to the table under the window that held an array of bottles. Picking up a bottle of whisky, he glanced at her. 'Will you join me, Rachel?'
'All right, but just a small one.' Rachel grimaced as she sank down onto the sofa. 'I'm so exhausted that even a sip of alcohol will probably send me off to sleep.'
'It's been one heck of a day,' Matt concurred, pouring two small measures of whisky into a pair of cut-glass tumblers. He handed one of the glasses to her then sat down with a sigh that spoke volumes about how he was feeling. Rachel studied him while she sipped her drink.
Normally, Matt was so full of energy that he appeared far younger than his actual age. He ran the busy general practice that served the people of Dalverston with a verve that few could emulate. However, today every one of his forty-eight years showed in the deep lines that were etched onto his handsome face.
At a little under six feet tall, with a powerful physique and thick black hair that was only just starting to turn silver at the temples, Matthew Thompson was a very attractive man. Rachel knew she wasn't alone in thinking that either. Several of her friends, the married ones as well as the single, had remarked on it. In fact, she'd had a job to convince them that she wasn't interested in Matt that way and saw him simply as a colleague and a friend.
It was a good job, too, she thought suddenly. Quite apart from the fact that she wasn't interested in having a relationship with anyone at the moment, there was definitely no chance of it happening with Matt.
The thought touched a nerve oddly enough and she cleared her throat, unsure why it should trouble her in any way.
'I couldn't believe it when you phoned and told me we had a major incident on our hands. I mean for it to happen today of all days...' She tailed off, not needing to explain why today had been the worst day possible. Instead of celebrating their children's marriage, they had spent a large part of the day dealing with the aftermath of a serious accident on the banks of the canal. Talk about bad timing wasn't in it.
'At least it provided a distraction.' Matt grimaced when he realised how uncaring that must have sounded. 'Sorry. I didn't mean that the way it came out. A number of people were badly injured when that crane collapsed and I certainly wouldn't have wished that on them.'
'I know you wouldn't, but you're right, Matt. At least while we were treating them, it took our minds off this other problem,' Rachel said quickly, not wanting him to feel bad about what he had said.
He gave her a tight smile as he raised the glass to his lips. Rachel knew that he rarely drank alcohol, and never during the day, and it just seemed to prove how low he must be feeling. The thought caused her such intense pain that it surprised her. It was only natural that she should feel upset for Ross, but that didn't explain why it was so painful to see the way Matt was suffering, did it?
Rachel wasn't sure what to make of it all. In the end, she decided not to worry about it. Ross had attended the incident along with the rest of the staff from the surgery and she wanted to make sure that he had got home safely. She hunted her mobile phone out of her pocket and stood up. Matt looked up and she felt an odd little frisson run through her when their eyes met.
'I just want to phone Ross and check he's all right,' she explained, trying to stem the shiver that was trickling so disturbingly down her spine. What bothered her most was that she couldn't remember the last time something like this had happened. She kept too tight a rein on her emotions to let them misbehave this way, but obviously recent events had taken their toll.
She had been looking forward to this wedding so much, looking forward to the fact that from here on her son would have the woman he loved by his side to support him. Although she had never met anyone she had wanted to spend the rest of her life with, she believed in marriage, firmly believed that a happy marriage was a wonderful thing.
Was it disappointment that all her hopes for her son's future had amounted to nothing that was making her feel so mixed up? she wondered suddenly.
She certainly couldn't remember feeling so emotionally raw before and that could explain the odd way she seemed to be behaving that day.
'You do that while I make us some coffee.' Matt put his glass on the table and stood up. He shrugged as he took Rachel's glass from her and placed it next to his. 'I don't think alcohol is the answer somehow, do you?'
'Probably not.' Rachel summoned a smile as he passed her on his way to the kitchen, but she was aware that it was an effort to behave naturally. Knowing that she wasn't in control of herself as she usually was worried her, too. She certainly didn't want to make a fool of herself in front of Matt.
She sighed softly as she dialled Ross's number. She and Matt had a very good relationship, she'd always thought. They trusted each other in work and enjoyed an easy camaraderie outside the surgery. Recently they had been spending a lot more time together as they had helped their respective offspring finalise the plans for their wedding and she had found herself enjoying his company too. Was that when she had become more aware of Matt as a man and not solely as a colleague? Had those hours they had spent together altered her perception of him?
The thought troubled her. She wasn't sure if she wanted to make any adjustments to how she saw Matt. It seemed rather dangerous to alter the status quo, unpredictable, and if there was one thing Rachel didn't handle well it was the unpredictable. She liked her life to have structure, lots of nice tidy compartments to file away both people and events so she knew how to deal with them.
She frowned. It didn't sound a very appealing way of living, did it? Nevertheless, it had worked all these years for her and worked well too. Maybe this wedding had thrown her off course but she mustn't allow it to affect her too much. Once she got over the shock of it being cancelled, hopefully her life would return to normal.
Matt plugged in the kettle then took a tin of ground coffee out of the freezer. He spooned some into the cafeti?re then stood staring into space while he waited for the water to heat. It was almost four in the afternoon and if the day had gone as planned, he should have been enjoying the reception now. He would have been gearing himself up for his speech, not that it would have been difficult as wishing Heather and Ross every happiness for their future together was something he had been looking forward to doing. He had been so sure that Heather had found her ideal partner but had it been wishful thinking on his part? Although Heather hadn't said so, was he guilty of pushing her and Ross into this marriage?
Matt had a horrible feeling it might be true. He had been so pleased that Heather had found someone as reliable as Ross that he had overlooked the signs that the relationship maybe wasn't what it should have been. He had put his desire for Heather to have security above everything else and he regretted it now. Deeply.
Maybe he had sworn that he would make sure their daughter was safe after Claire, his wife, had died, but Heather needed more than security. She needed love, laughter, fun, and he wasn't sure if Ross could have provided her with all of those things.
The truth was there had always been that vital spark missing, now that he thought about it. That extra dimension needed to take a relationship up a level. He and Claire had had it and it was one of the reasons why he had never been able to imagine falling in love with anyone else. He didn't think any other woman could light that spark inside him again.
'Ross is back at home. He says he's fine, but I'm sure he's only saying that to stop me worrying.'
Rachel came into the kitchen. She gave a gusty sigh as she stared at her phone as though it should be able to tell her if her son was telling the truth, and Matt felt himself grow tense. He couldn't see her face clearly with her head lowered like that so maybe that was why she appeared different all of a sudden, almost like a stranger.
She looked up and his heart gave the oddest little jolt as he found himself taking stock of the familiar yet strangely unfamiliar features--the elegant little nose, the softly rounded cheeks, the lusciously full lips now gnawed clean of any trace of lipstick. She'd had her hair done for the wedding and the soft chestnut curls looked so invitingly silky as they tumbled around her face that he longed to touch them, feel their softness against the palms of his hands, the tips of his fingers, so tempting and alluring...
He took a deep breath and stamped down hard on that thought. There would be no stroking of hair going on here!
'Did Ross say if he'd heard from Heather?' he asked instead, picking up the kettle. He poured the hot water into the pot and pressed down the plunger, quite forgetting to let the coffee brew first.
'No. I didn't ask him, to be honest. Sorry.'
Rachel's pretty face filled with remorse and that odd feeling he'd had about her being a stranger immediately receded. Once again she was Rachel Mackenzie, a woman he liked and respected, and he breathed a little easier at finding himself back on familiar territory. It had been just a blip, he told himself as he took a couple of mugs out of the cupboard, a tiny aberration caused by the stresses of the day and definitely nothing to worry about.
'It doesn't matter. I'm sure Ross would have said if Heather had phoned him,' he said soothingly, filling the mugs with coffee and frowning when he saw how insipid it looked. 'This doesn't look too good. I'll make another pot.'
'It's fine. Don't worry about it.'
Rachel picked up one of the mugs and carried it over to the table. Matt's heart ached when he saw how upset she looked as she sat down. What had happened today had had a big effect on Rachel too and for some reason the thought upset him even more. It wasn't fair that someone as kind and as gentle as Rachel was should have to suffer this way.
He went to join her, trying to find the right words that, hopefully, would make the situation easier for her. 'I know how hard this must be for Ross but he'll get through it, Rachel, you'll see.'
'Do you think so?' She looked up and he could see tears brimming in her huge brown eyes. 'I feel so helpless, Matt. Oh, I know Ross is a grown man and more than capable of running his own life, but he's still my son and I love him dearly.' The tears spilled over and trickled down her cheeks. 'I just can't bear to think of him hurting this way.'
'I know. And I understand how you feel, really I do.'
Matt reached across the table and squeezed her hand. Her hand was so small that his seemed to engulf it and it surprised him how it made him feel-- overwhelmed with tenderness and a need to protect her. He cleared his throat but he could hear the roughness in his voice even if Rachel couldn't.
'It's a difficult time for both Heather and Ross but I'm sure they will work things out in the end.'
He withdrew his hand, unsure what was happening and why he felt this way. This was Rachel, he reminded himself, someone he had worked with for a number of years, a trusted colleague as well as a friend. However, the description no longer seemed to fit as accurately as it had done in the past; there seemed to be an extra dimension to Rachel he had never noticed before.
He frowned because that wasn't quite true. If he was honest, his view of her had been changing for a while now. They had spent a lot of time together in recent months planning for the wedding and he had found himself looking forward to it too. She wasn't just a colleague and a friend any longer. He was very much aware that she was a woman as well and a very attractive woman too.
The thought stunned him. For the first time since his wife had died Matt realised that he was aware of another woman's femininity and he couldn't believe that the feelings he had believed long dead were very much alive. His whole body suffused with heat all of a sudden because he was powerless to stop what was happening. When he looked at Rachel, sitting here at his table, what he saw, first and foremost, was a woman he wanted to put his arms around. A woman he wanted to make love to.