‘You’re welcome. I’m pleased she’s OK.’ Ella blinked, moved by the emotion in the man’s face.
This father loved his child.
Scooping the little girl into his arms, he hugged her tightly. ‘Don’t ever scare me like that again.’ He looked at Ella over the child’s head. ‘I think I’ve aged a million years in five minutes. You don’t know what worry is until you have kids, do you? Could someone just pop outside and tell my wife everything is OK? She’s pacing outside in the car park with the baby. She’s just hopeless if one of them is ill or hurt, so I always take over. But I’m useless at it, too.’
‘You’re not useless.’ Ella had tears in her eyes, too, and it was Nikos who reassured the man and led him back out to Reception.
She understood now why he was so good with the parents.
He’d been that parent.
What had happened to his daughter?
Ella’s gaze flickered to the computer on the desk. She could look it up on the internet, but somehow that just didn’t feel right. She didn’t want to have to find out the details of his life from cyberspace. She wanted him to tell her.
She wanted him to trust her.
He’d lost a child and suddenly the enormity of that sank home.
And she was planning to take another child from him.
Guilt mixed with all the other emotions swirling in her head.
Did she have a right to deny Nikos a life with his child? Was she really protecting the baby, or was she protecting herself?
She dug her hands into her hair, tortured by indecision.
At that moment Nikos strode back into the room, his eyes narrowing as he saw her stricken expression.
Ella looked at him helplessly, wishing men came with an instruction booklet and a guarantee. She wanted to take that leap, but she was just too frightened of it all going wrong. ‘Nothing. I’m fine.’
Nikos pushed the door closed, giving them privacy. ‘Don’t tell me “nothing”, Ella.’ His accent was more pronounced than usual and she sensed the depth of his exasperation. ‘You are very tired. You are working too hard.’
‘I love my work.’
‘You are an exceptional nurse.’ He strolled across to her and took her face in his hands, his fingers gentle. ‘But you have your own health to think about, too. Today you’re finishing work at four o’clock.’
Ella froze. She didn’t want to finish early. The thought of going back to the house made her heart race and her breathing quicken. She honestly couldn’t do it. She needed to find somewhere else to stay tonight. ‘I’m on a late,’ she said firmly. ‘I don’t finish until nine. And I thought I might go for a drink with the others. It’s Friday. We usually go out on Fridays.’
‘Ella, you have been working twelve-hour days to get this department up and running.’ Nikos trailed his fingers down her throat. ‘You need a rest. Both of us have the weekend off—it makes sense to leave at four.’
His touch was driving her crazy.
Suddenly she wanted nothing more than an afternoon in bed with him—but not if that bed was in the house on the beach.
‘I couldn’t possibly ask Rose if I can leave early.’ She didn’t want to leave early. She didn’t want to spend any more time at the house than was strictly necessary.
‘Rose has already agreed. She’s got cover for you.’
‘Oh…’ Running out of excuses, Ella bit her lip and searched for some plausible reason not to return to the house.
Nikos glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘If we leave at four, you’ll have time to enjoy the hotel this evening.’
‘Hotel?’ Ella stared at him blankly, wondering if she’d misheard. ‘What hotel?’
‘I mentioned it to you last week.’ Nikos frowned, and it was obvious that he’d expected her to remember. ‘I have business commitments in London this weekend. I thought we could combine it with some relaxation and shopping.’
London? ‘We’re not going back to the house?’
‘No. My plan is to go straight to London. You can buy whatever you need when you’re there.’
Ella felt weak with relief. She thought about the sheer indulgent luxury of staying in an anonymous hotel. No spooky, spider-ridden canal boat. No sleeping in that house, surrounded by hideous memories, afraid that her emotions might spill out at any moment.