‘The midwife should be here shortly.’ Bella came back from phoning the maternity unit. ‘Apparently they’re short-staffed and that’s why it’s taken them so long to send anyone over here. However, they’ve promised to get a midwife to us as soon as they can.’

‘Not much they can do now,’ Mac replied laconically, trying not to think about how much he had missed his mother after she had left. It was all water under the bridge and had no bearing on his life these days.

‘No, I suppose not. I’m only glad that you were here. It’s been ages since I delivered a baby and I’m rather rusty, I’m afraid.’

‘I’ve delivered my share over the past few years,’ he said wryly, returning his thoughts to the matter at hand. After all, he’d had his father, hadn’t he? So he’d been far luckier than a lot of kids. ‘You have to turn your hand to most things when you’re working overseas.’

‘Well, all the practice definitely stood you in good stead today.’ She smiled but there was a wariness about the look she gave him that made Mac wonder if something had upset her. However, before he could attempt to find out, Trish popped her head round the door.

‘Mr and Mrs Watson are here. How do you want to play this, Bella? Shall I show them straight in here or do you want a word with them first?’

‘I’d better have a word with them first,’ Bella replied with a sigh. She turned to Mac after Trish left. ‘I’ll send Jenny in to sit with Freya. You must have loads to do.’

‘I need to check how many kids are still waiting to be seen,’ Mac agreed, following her to the door. He looked back and frowned as he watched Freya cradling her baby. ‘It’s going to be a massive shock for her parents so let’s hope they can rise to the occasion. That girl is going to need a lot of support in the coming months.’

‘She is,’ Bella agreed soberly. ‘Having a baby at her age is a lot to cope with.’

‘It is. My parents were only a year or so older than Freya when they had me.’ He opened the door but he could sense Bella’s curiosity as she stepped out into the corridor and suddenly wished that he hadn’t said anything. Maybe it was the birth of the baby or thinking about his parents, but he was very aware that his emotions were rather too near the surface for comfort.

‘I didn’t know that your parents were so young when you were born,’ she said quietly as they made their way to Reception.

‘There’s no reason why you should have known,’ he countered. ‘It’s not something that came up in conversation, I imagine.’

‘No. Probably not.’ She hesitated. ‘It must have been difficult for them, though. Did your grandparents help?’

‘Nope. Dad was brought up in care and he’d lost touch with his family. As for my mother, well, her parents took the view that she’d made her decision and it was up to her to live with the consequences. They wanted her to have a termination, apparently, but she wouldn’t hear of it,’ he added when Bella looked at him questioningly. ‘They refused to have anything more to do with her after that.’

‘Really? Oh, how awful for her!’ She touched his arm and he could see the sympathy in her eyes. ‘And awful for you, too.’

‘I survived.’ Mac dredged up a smile, afraid that he would do something really stupid. Maybe it did hurt to know that his grandparents had turned their backs on him but he was far too old to start crying about it at this stage! He swung round, determined that he wasn’t going to make a fool of himself. Maybe Bella had touched a chord but there was no way that he intended to let her know that. ‘Right, I’ll go and check how we’re doing. Catch you later.’

‘I expect so.’

There was a faintly wistful note in her voice but Mac refused to speculate on the reason for it. He went to the desk and checked how many children were still waiting to be seen. There were just half a dozen left so he took the next one to the cubicles and got him sorted out. While his mind was busily engaged it couldn’t start wandering, could it? he reasoned.

He sighed, uncomfortably aware that he had never experienced this problem before. He wasn’t someone who wore his heart on his sleeve and yet the minute Bella had expressed her sympathy, he had turned to mush. What was happening to him? First there had been all those crazy thoughts he’d had last night—the ones that had involved him, Bella, and a bed—and now this. He had to get a grip. Maybe Bella did make him feel things he had never felt before but he had to remember that, to all intents and purposes, she still belonged to Tim. No way was he going to be responsible for Tim suffering a relapse! No, Bella was off limits. She always had been and she always would be too.

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