"That's because she was a tomboy," Nash said, sipping his coffee.
Grace looked adoringly at her granddaughters. "Yes, I suppose you're right."
"We don't have to go home, do we, Daddy?" Kate looked at her sister almost accusingly.
"I don't think that will be necessary," Grace said. "Besides, we can still do what we'd planned." Grace winked at the girls and they grinned.
"Mom," Nash said, a hit of suspicion in his voice.
"Oh, Nash, we'll be fine, now that Hayley came to the rescue."
"I brought her," he said in his defense.
"Oh, big man," his mother said, winking at Hayley. "We're going to have a girls' day—lunch, shopping, get our hair done, you know."
"No, he doesn't, but I do." Hayley grinned at Nash.
"I feel outnumbered."
"On a plantation with twenty men, how do you think we feel?" Hayley said, and Nash liked the "we" part of that statement.
After the Popsicles and a pain reliever for Kim, Nash and Hayley tucked them into bed. At the front door Grace hugged Hayley.
"Thank you, sweetie."
"You're welcome," Hayley said, savoring the motherly hug. It had been a long time since she'd felt this close to another woman.
"Are you sure you want to keep them?"
"Oh, of course. I know how busy Nash gets around this time of year. Y'all go off and have some fun," Grace said.
Hayley caught the matchmaking hint in her voice, but decided to ignore it. "I'll need to remove the stitches in a couple of days. And give this to her if she's in pain." She handed her a small bottle of children's aspirin. "Kim's chin is going to throb, so she'll need an ice pack on it till she falls asleep, then one in the morning, to keep down the swelling."
Grace nodded and walked with them onto the porch. Nash and Hayley were driving down the road when he said, "You know more about family than you think."
She looked at him. "Doctoring a wound has nothing to do with family."
His fingers flexed on the steering wheel. "You're not giving it a chance."
"I don't have the time to give anything a chance. We've been over this before."
"No, you have in your mind, but you haven't talked to me about it."
"What's there to say? Residency takes up a lot of hours, and you and the girls deserve better."
"I would never ask you to delay your career, honey."
"You did once."
He sighed, turning into his drive. "We've come full circle, haven't we?"
"I guess so."
"You know that even before Michelle interfered, I wanted to marry you."
Her breath hitched. "I know. But you wanted a wife and mother when I didn't know a thing about being either."
"And you think I knew how to be a husband and father? It's an experience learned over time."
"I know, but I've never had what you've had."
"Who says you can't have it now?" In the driveway, he stopped the truck in front of the house, then shut off the engine and faced her. "I could have helped you through your schooling, at least taken some of the burden. I never wanted you to give up your dream."
"It's water under the bridge. Your duty to Michelle sort of makes this conversation null and void, doesn't it? We never got the chance to work anything out, and we can't now." It hurt even to think of what she would have to give up.
"Dammit, Hayley, do you have to be so stubborn?"
"What do you want from me?"
"Everything," he said selfishly. "And I want to give that to you, too."
"Well, I owe a hospital my time and attention. I'll be practically living there. That's not fair to you." She opened the door and climbed down.
And Nash was there, gripping her arms. "Are you telling me to go find someone else?"
Her heart nearly shattered at the thought. "Do whatever you have to."
He would, he decided right then. If he had to fight harder for her, he would pull out all the stops. And he started with a kiss, his mouth a hard slash across hers. She clung to him, devouring, and silencing the fight. He put everything he had into the single kiss, mastering her mouth, pushing his body into hers, then just as suddenly he pulled back.
"Now tell me to go find someone else."
She sputtered but didn't say anything, her head and body reeling.
"I want you. No other will do, Hayley. No other ever has."
He turned her around and faced her toward the house, giving her a push when she didn't move. She didn't respond to his high-handed measures. She couldn't. Her body went nuclear after that kiss, and she was having difficulty getting back her control. When he escorted her like a child to her bedroom door, he stopped and looked down at her.