Hayley gazed into his eyes as he loved her, and she wondered how she would ever be able to leave him and go back to her career now that she'd had a taste of life with him. She clutched him, hiding her sudden sorrow in the bend of his shoulder. And praying for more time.
Nash had to feed and water the stock, but he wasn't gone twenty minutes when the doorbell rang. When Hayley opened it, a uniformed express-mail carrier stood there offering an envelope. She signed for it and realized it was for her. With a sigh, she walked into the kitchen and took a seat at the table. The envelope contained her bills, forwarded through Katherine, ever since she'd given up her apartment in Georgia when her internship was done. She opened the envelope and went first to her tuition loan. Would she ever pay it off? The bank had lent her only a small portion, and because she'd held numerous jobs to pay for her survival and some of the tuition as it came, she didn't have any other collateral to put against the borrowing. Her car, faithful Lurlene, wasn't worth more than five hundred dollars and was useless for barter. She'd had to wager future earnings as a physician. The pressure of it hit her again, as it did whenever she had time to think about it. She rubbed the spot between her eyes. It made her see how little she had and how empty her life had become. Bills and a broken-down car, her furniture stuck in storage at Kat's. Not much for a woman her age, she thought.
She glanced around the spacious kitchen and sighed. She was going to miss being in this house, and her throat tightened. The buzzer on the dryer sounded and she pushed off the stool, heading into the laundry room to finish folding the last load. She pulled out a little pink T-shirt, smoothing the still-warm sleeves, then brought it to her nose, inhaling deeply. A pair of identical faces loomed in her mind. Kate, bright and energetic, slightly tomboyish. And Kim, a little shy, cautious and very much a girl. So alike yet so different. She missed them, remembering them playing dress-up, dancing with her.
The ring of the phone jolted her, and she scrambled for it.
"Hi, Miss Hayley."
"Kate! Hi, honey!"
"How come you always know which one of us it is? Even Grandma doesn't."
Oh, how she wanted to hold this child right now. "Must be a doctor thing."
Kate giggled on the other end.
"We rode Bullet and Peso today."
"I take it those are horses."
"Yeah." She giggled again.
A click on the phone and Kim's voice burst through. "Miss Hayley, Kate jumped."
Hayley straightened. "You did what!"
"You weren't supposed to tell, Kimmy."
"But you did it, Kate!"
Jumping a horse! Good Lord, Hayley thought. "What did Grandma say?"
"Grandma taught me," Kate said as if she should know.
Hayley groaned. "Does your father know you do this sort of thing?"
"Well, then, that's great. Mercy me, Kate, I'm so proud of you! I can barely sit in the saddle without having to hold on for dear life."
"Oh, Daddy can teach you, Miss Hayley. It's not hard."
Hayley's gaze fell on the stack of bills, the check Katherine had enclosed barely making a dent in her debts. She didn't want to say that she wasn't going to be around to learn and just kept the conversation going. Before she said goodbye, she told them their father was still working and she'd have him call them. When she clicked off, Hayley hugged the phone to her chest, her eyes burning. When she finally put it back on the wall bracket, tears were falling fast down her cheeks. She loved Nash, loved his children, his home, but she didn't think she could do it all—career, home and family. Oh, she knew there were women out there who managed quite well, but Hayley didn't have anything to go by. She hadn't had a stable life since college and before that, it was town to town and school to school, always leaving what few friends she'd made behind. She'd be busy in the next three years and too far away to make it work. Nash and the girls deserved better. They deserved a full-time wife and mother.
Days of loneliness loomed ahead. No sweet smiles in the morning. No strong man making her feel protected and cherished. Being a doctor didn't mean very much without someone to share her nights with, she realized. But she wasn't used to handing her burdens to anyone. It was scary to give yourself into someone else's care, to depend on them for your happiness. She'd done that once and gotten burned so badly she'd never recovered.
Dropping to the stool and bracing her elbows on the counter, she covered her face and tried not to cry, tried not to miss Nash and the twins already. She struggled to remember that she had obligations to St. Anthony's Hospital, and that they were expecting her to take care of the sick and wounded. What good was a doctor who couldn't take care of herself and her own breaking heart? she thought.