Holding the baby securely, Ella smiled at her.
Apparently reassured and intrigued by a new face, the baby smiled back.
‘She smiled!’ Her arm around Tamsin and the mermaid, Amanda laughed with amazement and delight. ‘Did you see that, Tams? Poppy smiled at Ella. It’s the first time. She was six weeks yesterday and we’ve all been trying to get her to smile. You’ve obviously got the touch. Do you have kids of your own?’
Ella’s eyes shifted from the baby to Nikos and found him looking at her with an almost fierce intensity. The emotion inside her tumbled and threatened to spill over.
‘No,’ she said huskily, dragging her gaze from his before she made a fool of herself. ‘I don’t have children.’
‘Oh, well, plenty of time.’ Amanda stroked her daughter’s hair. ‘First you have to find that prince, don’t you, Tams?’ There was a wistful note in her voice that said her own ‘prince’ had fallen far short of expectations and Ella frowned slightly, wondering whether it was a good thing to fill a child’s head with fairy stories.
If she had a little girl, she wouldn’t do that, she vowed silently. She’d bring her up to have realistic expectations of life.
No relying on fictitious princes for happiness.
Without looking at Nikos, she handed the cooing, contented baby back to Amanda and, at that moment, another nurse popped her head in with an urgent request for him to look at another sick child.
With a smile at Tamsin and a fulminating look at Ella that promised a future far more complicated than that of any fairy story, he left the cubicle.
Ella felt a flicker of panic as she transferred Tamsin into one of the cubicles and contemplated the inevitable confrontation. What was he going to say to her? What excuses would he give? Was he going to tell her that his wife didn’t understand him? That their marriage was in name only?
Frustrated with herself, she fished a book out off the shelf and sat down next to Tamsin. Nikos was married. The exact circumstances of that marriage were irrelevant. All that was between them was recriminations. And, on her part, self-blame.
Would he apologise for not telling her the truth?
Or was he one of those men who thought affairs were a natural part of marriage?
Forcing herself to concentrate, she read to Tamsin for a bit and then let her play with toys.
An hour later Nikos reappeared and pronounced her well enough to be discharged.
‘Thanks so much for everything.’ Amanda held Poppy against her shoulder with one hand, while Tamsin tugged at the other. ‘You’ve been so great. Thank you.’
Nikos was writing up the notes as Tamsin dropped her mother’s hand and held out her arms to Ella.
‘No more playing today. You’re going home, Tamsin.’ Ella dropped into a crouch and smiled at her new friend. ‘And you’re going to have a lovely holiday.’
‘You come.’ Tamsin grabbed Ella’s hand and gave her a tug.
Ella laughed and stood up. ‘Now, that’s a tempting invitation.’ The way she felt at the moment she’d do anything to escape from the prospect of working with Nikos. ‘Unfortunately, I can’t come home with you.’
‘I wish you could,’ Amanda breathed. ‘You’re a miracle with the children. You have a real way about you.’
Ella saw Nikos’s pen still and wondered what he was thinking.
Did he feel regret that they could never be a proper family?
Guilt that his child would grow up without a father?
Pushing that thought aside, she guided Amanda and the children out of the department and then reluctantly returned to the cubicle.
Fortunately there was no sign of Nikos and Ella felt a rush of relief as she cleared and restocked the room ready for the next patient.
The tension had formed a knot inside her stomach and she reminded herself that he wasn’t going to say anything while they were at work.
Having used that fact to calm herself, she turned to leave the room only to find Nikos blocking her exit, his legs spread apart in a confrontational stance, the look in his black eyes dark and dangerous.
This time there was no evidence of gentleness or kindness. This wasn’t a man who would be pulling a mermaid out of his pocket.
Anger surrounded him like a forcefield.
Closing the door firmly behind him, he strolled forward until his body was brushing against hers. ‘It’s time you and I had a conversation, agape mou.’