The Baby Jackpot
Author:Jacqueline Diamond

Chapter Five



Don’t wreck this by overreacting.

In medical school, Cole had paid close attention to the Standardized Patient Encounter, in which medical students were taught to build rapport and show empathy while taking a medical history and performing a physical. He’d gained further experience in his practice, and usually established good relationships with his patients.

He wished there’d been a similar course in male-female relationships. Never having witnessed any interaction between his parents put him at a disadvantage. So, he was discovering, did a lack of romantic instincts, no matter how many Hugh Grant movies he watched.

For the past two weeks, he’d been reassured by Stacy’s calmness. Working together felt comfortable. She didn’t seem angry or emotionally fragile. He’d begun to think that her period must have started and she’d considered it too indelicate a matter to mention, although surely she knew better, given what they’d shared.

Then, a few minutes ago, she’d turned deathly pale and rushed from the party, clutching her stomach. Now, Cole struggled to maintain a composed air as he stood in the corridor outside the restrooms, just around the corner from the front lobby and information desk. Not that there were many people milling around, and not that he much cared what they thought. Still, as head of the men’s fertility program, he owed the hospital a certain level of decorum. And he had to be careful to respect Stacy’s feelings, whatever they might be.

It upset him to see her in such distress. If only he could find the right words to reassure her, and avoid any words that might hurt or alienate her.

The door to the ladies’ room opened. Stacy appeared, looking very pretty in a flowered dress that reminded him of a watercolor painting. But worrisome smudges underscored her amber eyes.

Cole started forward. “Are you all right?”

“I threw up.” She stared at him miserably.

“Does this mean you’re...” He hesitated.

“I don’t know.”

This, at least, was a question he could answer. “Let’s go to my office.”

“Forget that!” she said. “You are not going to examine me.”

“I just meant to give you a test.” That statement didn’t go over well. He could tell from the way she glowered at him.

“Let me handle this on my own.” She pressed her lips together.

Cole took her hands. “I only want to help.”

Her expression softened. “It felt like you were bossing me around.”

“It did?”

Her short laugh ended in a sniffle. “Don’t try to control me.”

“I won’t.” He made a mental note to let her take the lead, even though he was the doctor.

“It’s nice that you care about me.” She moved closer, her hands small and warm in his.

“Of course I care,” Cole said. “I’m the one who got you pregnant.”

“What did you say?” The sharp-edged female’s voice reminded him that they stood in full view of any passersby. He placed the speaker, a fair-haired woman in a no-nonsense suit, as Dr. Adrienne Cavill, an obstetrician who worked the overnight shift in the maternity ward and saw private patients a couple of evenings a week. Due to her schedule, their paths rarely crossed.

“Oh, Adrienne.” Stacy slipped her hands free of Cole’s and practically fell into Dr. Cavill’s arms. “I think I’m pregnant.”

“I warned you to be careful, this month especially.” The female doctor took Stacy’s arm. “We’re going to my office right now.”

“She’s your patient?” Cole asked.

“And friend.” Dr. Cavill cast him a piercing frown. “I take it you’re the other half of this equation.”

“It’s not his fault,” Stacy said.

“Fault?” Adrienne didn’t wait for a response. “Let’s not stand here debating.”

“Agreed.” Cole needed answers, and so did Stacy.

They walked together to the building next door, which housed medical office suites. Cole had joined a urology practice on the fourth floor. Dr. Cavill, he discovered, shared a second-floor suite with two other obstetricians, Dr. Rayburn and Dr. Sargent.

The waiting room was empty, as was the hall to the examining rooms. Cole was beginning to think they could contain this situation among the three of them when a short woman wearing thick glasses and a blue uniform peered from a break room. “Oh, Dr. Cavill. You’re early.”

“Finish your dinner, Eva,” the obstetrician told the nurse. “I’ll take care of Stacy.”

“Hi.” Eva gave Stacy a polite, puzzled smile. “Room three is prepped, Dr. Cavill. What supplies do you need?”

Stacy wrapped her arms around herself. Dr. Cavill paused as if unsure how to respond. Finally, she said, “A pregnancy kit.”

Eva’s gaze darted between Cole and Stacy, and a noise squeaked out of her. It might have been “Oh,” or possibly “Huh?” Followed by, “Yes, Doctor.”

Cole addressed the nurse in his best physician voice. “We can rely on your discretion, I trust.”

“Certainly, Dr. Rattigan. I always respect patient confidentiality.”

“I’ll come with you,” Stacy told Eva. To the other doctor she added, “I’ll change in room three.” The two nurses disappeared around a corner.

Dr. Cavill folded her arms. Although only of average height and most likely a few years younger than Cole, she had a commanding air that reminded him of his mother. Not the most welcome association, at the moment.

“So you’re Stacy’s friend as well as her doctor,” he said.

The woman twisted an errant strand of hair into her bun. “She and my sister, Vicki, were close all through school, along with Harper Anthony.”

Cole had no idea who Harper was, but felt as if he ought to.

“I see,” he said lamely.

The obstetrician released what sounded to Cole like an exasperated sigh. “It’s not my place to lecture you on ethics, but I have to ask what the hell you thought you were doing with an egg donor who was still in her fertile cycle. Not to mention that she’s your scrub nurse.”

“I’m glad you decided not to lecture me,” he returned mildly.

Some of the anger melted from her expression. “Point taken. It’s just that I’ve watched Stacy claw her way back from a wrenching divorce to a man who didn’t deserve her. She has the kindest heart in the world. Look at what she’s done for the Barkers. She’s generous and she’s vulnerable.”

“And you think I took advantage of her.”

“Something like that.”

Cole saw no reason to explain the odd circumstances under which he and Stacy had made love. “Would it help if I mentioned that my intentions are honorable?”

His colleague’s mouth quirked as if fighting a smile. “That’s an old-fashioned expression.”

“Perhaps it should stage a comeback,” Cole said.

Dr. Cavill glanced around the bend in the hall. Apparently the light over the examining room hadn’t switched from red to green, because she returned her attention to him. “You’re quite an enigma around here.”

“In what sense?” he asked.

“We’ve heard how distinguished you are, how many papers you’ve published and how eager Dr. Tartikoff was to hire you,” she said. “But you’ve maintained such a low profile, I had no idea you and Stacy were dating.”

He decided not to disabuse her of that notion. “Some things are best kept private.”

“This won’t be private for long.” She glanced at the examining room. “She’s ready. Stay here.”

He trailed after her. “This concerns me, too.”

“I prefer to talk to my patient alone first. If she wants you in the room, I’ll come get you.” With a quelling look, the doctor whisked off.

Cole clenched his jaw and forced himself to stay put. Stacy had warned him against controlling behavior, and he meant to respect her wishes.

On the other hand, it was beginning to seep in that she might really be carrying a baby. His baby. Cole had never given much thought to that prospect, and wasn’t sure how to react. Certainly not like a Neanderthal, crashing about and bludgeoning whoever got in his way.

But also not like his own father, who’d finished his term as guest curator at a Minneapolis art museum and flown back to Paris before his son was born. By making a pact with Cole’s mother that required him to sire a child without further involvement, Cole’s father hadn’t considered how it would feel for his son to grow up with the painful awareness that his dad took no interest in him.

By middle school, Cole had insisted on his mother hiring a French tutor, and by high school he’d saved enough money for a flight to France. Jean-Paul Duval had greeted his son politely, escorted him about Paris as one might a guest, and talked at length about an exhibition of contemporary ceramics that he was curating. They’d spoken exclusively in English, and if he’d overheard Cole speaking with others in French, he hadn’t remarked on it.

A week later, Cole had flown home with a chasm in his heart where warm memories of his father ought to be. He had, however, gained an appreciation for the inventive forms and ideas expressed by modern ceramic artists, and his tutor had remarked that his French was much improved.

Down the hall, the nurse was signaling. “You can go in now, Dr. Rattigan.”

Cole tried to breathe normally, but he couldn’t remember how he normally breathed. “Merci,” he said, and followed her.

* * *

“BECAUSE OF THE RISK of multiples, let’s schedule an early ultrasound,” Adrienne was saying when Cole entered. She paused, her brow creasing with the disapproval she usually reserved for Reggie when he performed gymnastics on the sofa or tried to hide broccoli in his pockets.

On the examining table, Stacy tugged the skimpy hospital gown into place. This was going to be a difficult pregnancy to manage, yet the possibility of twins or triplets made her decision to give up the babies easier, because there was no way she could raise multiples alone.

“I gather the test was positive.” Cole gazed at her with concern. He didn’t seem upset. Not elated, either, she observed sadly.

“Her hCG levels are nearly off the charts,” Adrienne responded.

“An ultrasound’s a good idea.” Cole turned to Stacy. “How do you feel?”

Like the universe just caved in.

“Queasy.” Not as bad as earlier, though, since Eva had provided her with a container of apple juice.

“I’ll take you out for dinner,” he said. “Or bring you some crackers, if you’d rather.”

“No, thanks. I’ve got food at home and I’m kind of tired.” With her emotions in turmoil, Stacy preferred to be alone.

“I’d better go set up for the next patient.” Giving her a sympathetic nod, Eva slipped out of the room.

That left Stacy with the two doctors, whose tense body language appeared to be directed at each other. She didn’t like seeing her friends at odds.

“You can stop fretting,” she told them. “I’ll be placing it, or them, for adoption.”

Cole gave a start. “Are you sure?”

“Don’t pressure her!” Adrienne snapped.

“I wasn’t,” he replied sharply. “You should learn to distinguish compassion from control.”

Great. They’d gone from glaring at each other to fighting. Stacy hated to think how the rest of the Safe Harbor staff—already overly invested in the belief that one person’s business was everyone’s business—might react to the situation.

“Listen, both of you,” she ordered. “This is my decision, and I don’t want the entire world weighing in. Let’s be clear on that.”

“I’m perfectly clear on it,” Cole said. “However, this pregnancy is my responsibility, too.”

“I’m aware that fathers have legal rights,” she said, all the more irritable for her unwanted prickle of tears. “What are you planning to do? Sue for custody and raise a houseful of kids on your own?”

His mouth opened in astonishment. Finally, he said, “That’s not even close to what I meant.”

“Are you sure? I’d be happy to provide diapering lessons,” Adrienne remarked drily.

“Very funny,” Cole muttered.

Stacy ignored the exchange. If, in spite of her efforts, the doctors insisted on baiting each other, let them go at it. “There’s no reason to broadcast my condition. It’ll just cause embarrassment for the egg donor program, among other things.”

Adrienne’s eyes widened. “I hadn’t considered that. Oh, my. What will Dr. Tartikoff say?”

“If he blows his top, I’ll tell him to suck it up,” Cole said.

Stacy laughed. It felt good to have him on her side when it came to the powers that be. “We’re not telling anyone anything until I’m ready,” she told Adrienne. “That includes Harper.”

“I’ll be sure to watch my tongue when I pick up Reggie tomorrow,” her friend replied. The little boy was spending the night again. Although he stayed at a child care provider’s home on the weeknights Adrienne worked, the sitter sometimes had family obligations on Fridays. “Eva will give you prenatal vitamins and schedule the ultrasound in a couple of weeks. That’s the earliest we’re likely to detect anything.”

“Thanks, Adrienne.”

When Cole helped Stacy down from the examining table, his touch felt cool and steady. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he said.

Stacy nodded. As soon as the pair had left, she began changing into her clothes.

Now that the reality of the pregnancy had begun to sink in, she wasn’t as distressed as she might have expected. Giving life to more babies was a gift, not a tragedy.

Stacy recalled how, when she’d received Una’s text saying We’re mommies! a profound emptiness had swept over her. Another woman was carrying her baby. Now she had her own baby to carry.

And give to someone else.

Still, it was exciting to be part of the process, no matter how strongly her brain protested that she faced a long, uncomfortable road ahead. And that giving the baby up might be heart-wrenching.

Stacy’s mom had told her once that she had a gift for reaching out to others. During high school, when her sister, Ellie, had gone through a rebellious phase, it was Stacy who’d brought her and their parents together to clear the air. When her mother went through menopause and became so grouchy she and Dad suffered a rough patch, Stacy had waged a campaign to remind them of how much they loved and needed each other. Now they were happier than ever.

She could endure a few tough months. The payoff would come when she saw how much this baby meant to an infertile couple.

Stacy emerged to find Cole leaning against the wall, his wistful expression brightening when he saw her. Suddenly, the next few months didn’t look so bleak, after all.

From the waiting room came the murmur and rustle of patients. After making the necessary arrangements with Eva, she and Cole used a staff exit. Sneaking around like kids, Stacy thought.

Outside, the mild air reminded her that it was almost June. “I’m due in February,” she blurted as they walked. “It’s funny—I have to consider everything from a new perspective. Like Christmas...I’ll be too big to fly to Utah.”

Cole accompanied her into the parking structure. “Why would you fly to Utah?”

They knew so little about each other. “That’s where my parents live now. They moved there to be with my sister and her family.”

“Aha.”

“Any more questions?” Stacy pressed the button for the garage elevator.

Cole cleared his throat. “Who’s Harper?”

“My roommate.”

When the elevator arrived, he got in with her.

“No bike today?” Stacy asked.

“Yes, but I’ll see you to your car.” The elevator gave a small lurch as it started. He put his arm around her waist and gripped the side bar with his free hand to steady them. “Did that hurt?”

She buried her face in his shoulder to smother a giggle. “I’m not that fragile.”

“This roommate of yours, is she the helpful type?” Cole asked. “If you suffered a complication, would she know what to do?”

“She’s an obstetrical nurse,” Stacy assured him.

“Good choice,” he said, as if she’d chosen her roommate specifically for that reason.

On the second floor, the elevator shuddered to a halt. Cole kept hold of her until they were safely on solid concrete.

They stopped by her car. As she dug in her purse for her keys, he said, “You don’t have to deal with this situation alone. We should get married.”

Stacy dropped her purse. Keys, Life Savers, tissues, a wallet and a phone spilled out. Thank goodness for the distraction, because it gave her time to gather her thoughts.

What on earth was she supposed to say to that?