‘I had a dog once…a long time ago now,’ Jake said. ‘Her name was Patch.’
‘That’s a funny name.’ Lachlan chuckled.
‘What was she like?’
Ashleigh heard the sound of the mattress squeaking as Jake shifted his weight on the edge of the bed.
‘She was the best friend I ever had.’
‘Do you still miss her?’
‘Sometimes…’ Jake sighed and the mattress made another noise as he stood up. ‘I should let you get some sleep.’
Ashleigh felt her breath lock in her throat and, before she could stop herself, she turned her head so she could see into the room to where Jake was standing looking down at his little son lying in the narrow bed.
‘Yes?’ Jake asked.
Lachlan’s fingers began to fidget with the hem of his racing car sheet, his eyes not quite able to meet his father’s.
‘Have you changed your mind about wanting to be a daddy?’
It seemed a very long time before Jake answered, Ashleigh thought, her heart thumping heavily as she counted the seconds.
‘I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things, Lachlan,’ he said at last. ‘Now go to sleep and we’ll talk some more tomorrow.’
Jake took a couple of strides towards the door.
He turned to look at his son, something inside him shifting almost painfully when he saw the open adoration on the little guy’s face.
‘I love you, Daddy,’ Lachlan said.
Jake swallowed the tight constriction in his throat but, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t locate his voice.
‘I loved you even when I didn’t know who you were,’ Lachlan went on. ‘You can ask Mummy, ’cause I told her. I’ve always wanted a daddy.’
Ashleigh hadn’t been aware of making a sound but suddenly Lachlan saw her at the door and sent her a big smile.
‘Mummy! Can I blow the light out now?’ he asked.
‘Not until I give you a big kiss goodnight,’ she said and, moving past the silent figure of Jake, gathered her son in her arms and squeezed him soundly before kissing the tip of his nose, both his cheeks and each and every one of his little fingertips.
She straightened and went back to the door where the light switch was but as she put her hand out to it Jake’s came over the top of hers and held it there.
‘On the count of three, Lachlan,’ Jake said, his voice sounding even deeper than usual. ‘One…two…three!’
The light was extinguished on Lachlan’s big puff of breath and he giggled delightedly as he burrowed back into his bedclothes.
Ashleigh slipped her hand out from under Jake’s and met his eyes. She’d thought she had seen just about every emotion in those dark depths in the past but never until this moment had she seen the glitter of unshed tears.
He reached around her to close Lachlan’s door softly, his eyes moving away from hers.
‘Come on, your parents are waiting to congratulate us,’ he said and, without waiting for her, moved down the hall.
Ashleigh watched his tall figure stride away, the set of his broad shoulders so familiar and yet so foreign. She had shared his body that afternoon and yet he did not want to share his heart.
Did he even have one?
Or was it too late?
Had his father destroyed that, along with every other joy he should have experienced as a child?
‘Darling!’ Gwen Forrester swept her daughter into her arms as soon as she came into the lounge. ‘Congratulations! We are so very thrilled for you and Jake.’
Her father came over and hugged her tightly and Ashleigh buried her head into his shoulder, wondering if he knew how confused she really was.
‘Jake.’ Gwen started bustling about with her usual motherly fuss. ‘Come and sit down and have a drink. Mia? Get your brother-in-law-to-be some champagne, or would you prefer a beer?’
‘Champagne is fine,’ Jake said.
‘When are you going to get married?’ Ellie asked.
‘In a month’s time,’ Jake answered. ‘It takes that long to process the licence.’
‘Wow! A month isn’t very long,’ Mia said. ‘Can I be bridesmaid?’
‘Me, too!’ Ellie put in.
Ashleigh stretched her mouth into a smile but inside she felt her anger simmering just beneath the surface.
‘Will you have a big wedding?’ Gwen asked.
‘No, I don’t think—’Ashleigh began but Jake cut her off.
‘No point getting married if you don’t do it properly.’ He sent her a smile. ‘After all, Ashleigh has always wanted to be a bride, haven’t you, darling?’