The Brooding Surgeon's Baby Bombshell. Susan Carlisle
a sudden surge of resolution, Zoe gripped the handle even tighter, her knuckles going white. She had to face Gabe. It was time. She ran her free hand over the rise at her middle, unable to keep the smile from forming despite her anxiety. When she had finally accepted she was pregnant, she’d been filled with joy. The only disappointment was that she didn’t have a husband to share her happiness with.
She rolled her shoulders back, forcing them to relax, took a fortifying breath and stepped out into the hallway. As she suspected, Gabe was there. Waiting.
* * *
Gabe gasped when Zoe stood. He felt like he’d just been sucker punched in the gut. His throat constricted as his heart recovered and went into high gear, pounding like a drum against his ribs.
Zoe was pregnant!
It was obvious beneath her pink dress.
For the past two hours she’d been sitting across from him, so involved in their committee’s discussion she hadn’t left the table. At least he’d assumed that was why she hadn’t stood until the midmorning break.
Gabe clamped his mouth shut and swallowed, trying to slow his thundering heart. Tearing his gaze from Zoe’s rounded middle, he glanced wildly about the conference room. Was it his?
Numerous times over the last months he’d thought of her. Of their night together. More than once he’d picked up his phone with the intention of calling her, only to put it down, afraid his intrusion into her life wouldn’t be welcomed, especially after the way she had left the morning after.
He’d hoped to get to the hotel earlier so he could talk to her but his flight hadn’t cooperated. His surgery schedule hadn’t either. Instead of coming in the night before, he’d had to take a morning plane.
After he’d gasped, Zoe had glanced back at him before she’d hurried toward the conference-room exit. Was she running from him again?
Standing, he’d pushed his chair away with so much force he’d had to catch it before he could make his way around the table. He’d been stopped by one of the other committee members but had ended that conversation in short order.
He’d stalked down the hall toward the restrooms, his best guess for where she’d gone.
It could be someone else’s.
His heart did another tap dance. Zoe could have found someone just after they’d been together. He shook his head. His gut told him that wasn’t the case. Maybe it was the way he’d caught her uncertain look before she’d headed from the room.
The unending fascination he still felt for her hadn’t been part of his plan for a one-night stand, but it was there anyway. Now it appeared that night had had bigger repercussions than the memories that haunted him.
Gabe stationed himself across from the women’s restroom. Zoe had to come out sometime.
When the door finally opened, Zoe stepped into the hall and Gabe met her in the middle of it. Despite the large area around them, the space seemed to zoom inward until it was just he and Zoe.
“Is it mine?” His words were low and harsh.
She nodded, before she looked away then back to him. “You don’t have to worry. I can take care of it. I won’t make any demands on you.”
Gabe’s head jerked back in disbelief. “What? Of course I’ll help. This is my child too.”
“It was an accident. I can take care of us.” Her hand brushed her middle. “You don’t need to feel obligated in any way. I just wanted you to know about the baby.” Her voice grew stronger and she tried to step around him.
He blocked her path. “Yes, I can tell how eager you were to tell me. Must have been damned near impossible for you to keep it a secret all these months.” He almost winced at the sarcasm in his voice. “You should have told me. Not blindsided me.”
Zoe put a protective hand on her middle. Her eyes turned sad. “I wanted to. Tried. Sorry.”
At the sound of footsteps, they both glanced up the hall in the direction of the committee room. It was one of the other members coming their direction.
“Please, let’s not make a scene,” Zoe begged.
Gabe took her elbow. He was gentle yet firm. “Come. We need to talk.” He led her to a small alcove some distance down the hall from the restrooms.
Bile rose in his throat as Zoe stepped as far away from him as the space would allow. Just months ago, she’d been so alive in his arms. He took a deep breath in an effort to regain control, perspective.
“This isn’t the time or the place for this.” The desperation in her eyes and tone was unmistakable.
He glared at her. “Would you have ever told me if you hadn’t had to? Did you really think I wouldn’t notice? Did you manage to forget I’ve seen all of you, knew your body down to the smallest detail?”
Heat filled her cheeks. It was plain she remembered as well as he did, perhaps more clearly.
Gabe watched her closely. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her hand went over her middle again. “This wasn’t supposed to happen. I take full responsibility. I just thought you deserved to be told to your face.”
“It seems to me that you could have at least picked up the phone and called.”
“I know I should have, but I just kept making excuses. Then I knew I was going to see you here, but you didn’t come to the dinner last night...”
The tension in his shoulders eased. She must be under a lot of pressure. Could he believe her? “I got stuck in surgery. Look, you’re right. Now isn’t the time for us to talk. We’re expected back in the meeting. When does your plane leave?”
“Just after the meeting.” Zoe glanced at the opening as if anxious to leave.
His voice softened. “You can’t change it?”
“No. I have to get home to see about my mother. Just being gone overnight has become a problem. I’ve got to go.” She shifted toward the opening.
“Okay. We’ll have to figure something out later. But we will talk.” He nodded his head toward the opening. “Why don’t you go back ahead of me? I’ll be along in a minute. I’d rather there be as little talk as possible.”
With a curt nod of apparent agreement, she slipped past him and hurried away.
He was going to be a father. Gabe’s chest had a funny ache in it. Was it joy? Being a father had never been in his plans. He’d always been so careful. Zoe had changed that.
He’d grown up without a father. That had been the deciding factor in his decision to forgo the family route. Yet now that his plans for his life had just been rewritten permanently, he was determined no child of his would grow up not knowing his father. Zoe could protest that he wasn’t obligated all she liked. If she’d thought that feeble opposition would make him walk off as if nothing had ever happened, she’d badly underestimated him.
More annoying still was his body’s reaction to her nearness. She’d been standing so close. Her soft floral scent still lingered in his nostrils. That fragrance would forever be hers. Memories washed over him. Zoe soft and willing in his arms. The sweet, lilting moan she’d made as they’d joined. It was a night he’d replayed over and over in his mind. Yet this wasn’t the outcome he’d planned. But one he would accept. Deal with.
In the last few minutes his world had altered irreversibly. In a few months he would be a father. Next month he would be in a new job. A very visible one. He needed to look professional, be in control of his life. Gabe took a deep breath, gathered his emotions. Life had just grabbed him by the tail.
* * *
Zoe made her way back to the conference room on weak knees.