“Is this seat taken, ma’am?”
The elderly woman abandoned the book she’d been reading and looked up. The wrinkles around her eyes deepened with her warm smile. “Not at all, dear. Please sit.”
“Thanks.” I stopped spinning my car keys around my index finger and tucked them into my jeans pocket before sinking into the leather couch and surveying the room.
For a hospital waiting room, the space was especially nice. The chairs across from the leather couch were oversized and upholstered in a high-end woven fabric. The oil paintings on the walls were framed with a mahogany that matched the end tables. The magazines on the center table were current editions and wrinkle-free. This was the nicest waiting room I’d ever seen, which was saying something, because I’d spent my fair share of time in hospitals—though not in maternity wards. Expectant grandparents, aunts and uncles could be trusted with leather and glass-top coffee tables. Unlike the emergency room I’d been in three days ago, waiting rooms in this Bozeman maternity ward probably didn’t see gushing wounds or projectile vomiting.
“What brings you here?” the elderly woman asked.
An innocent question. Would she take back her seat invitation if I told her the truth?
I smiled and went with a vague response. “Oh, just waiting around for good news like everyone else. What about you?”
“My granddaughter is having her first baby. My first great-grandbaby.” Her eyes sparkled as she turned them down the hall, where her granddaughter was likely knees up with a doctor perched between her legs.
“Congratulations. Is she having a girl or a boy?”
“A girl.” She smiled but shook her head. “You young people these days leave nothing up to chance with your ultrasounds. I had four babies and each one was a surprise.”
“Well, I don’t have children but I happen to agree with you. I’d want it to be a surprise.”
She patted my forearm. “Good for you.”
At the elevator’s ding, our conversation stopped and we both looked to the silver doors, waiting for them to split open. I tensed and held my breath, hoping that the reason for my hospital visit wasn’t about to walk right in and let me ruin her special day.
My fists dug into my thighs as the elevator doors started to part. What the fuck was I even doing here? How had I let myself get dragged into doing this? I hated my goddamn life right now.
A man came out of the elevator first, ducking his head as he stepped onto the floor. His baseball cap and dark beard did little to hide his furrowed eyebrows and the worry around his mouth.
For a second I relaxed my hands, thinking he was alone, until one of his arms swung back to help a woman out of the elevator. His wide mass had hidden her from me.
Was that her?
No. It couldn’t be her. Not her. Please don’t let that be her.
Because this woman was a dream. An angel standing in the hallway of a hospital.
Her bright-blond hair framed her delicate and flawless face like a halo. Her smile was full of straight white teeth underneath soft pink lips. Her eyes would be too big on most faces, but because they were so perfectly placed atop her high cheekbones, they were her best feature.
“Beau,” the woman said, pulling back on the man’s arm. “Will you relax and slow down?”
He didn’t stop moving toward the nurses’ desk, tugging her along. “This is not the time to slow down, Maisy.”
Fuck me. It was her. The breath I’d been holding rushed out so fast my chest caved.
“Look.” Maisy wriggled her fingers out of Beau’s meaty grip and stopped by the doorway to the waiting room. “This is where we part ways. This is your room.” She pointed to an open chair across from my couch. “And I’ll go get checked into mine. I’ll text you in a bit.”
He frowned. “You’re having a baby. I’m not staying in the waiting room.”
“Well, you’re not coming into my room. I love you, but there are things you are not going to see. That includes me in a hospital gown with my feet in stirrups.”
“You’re not doing this alone, Maze.”
“Mom will be here soon and—ooh. Owie!” She bent over her pregnant belly and hissed out a long breath through clamped teeth.
My legs started to push off the floor but I stopped before I could rise from my seat. It wasn’t my job to comfort her through a contraction. She had her brother and her family for that. I was just a stranger.
Still, I wanted the job. I wanted to be the man rubbing her back and kissing her hair. I wanted to hold her hand and let her squeeze it with all her might. I wanted to tell her how beautiful she was as her baby made its way into the world.
How fucked up was that?
I’d seen her for the first time just a minute ago, but one look and all I could think about was making her mine. Two minutes ago, I would have told you that shit didn’t happen in real life. Men like me didn’t believe in love at first sight.
Two minutes ago, I was a chump.
“Are you okay?” Beau asked when Maisy stood straight.
She looked down at her belly, rubbing the sides as a smile lit up her entire face. “I’m okay. It doesn’t feel great but it just means he’ll be here soon.”
“Let me come with you to get checked in. Please?” Beau asked, and when she nodded, he led her toward the nurses’ desk and out of my sight.
My jaw tightened as realization set in.
I was here on a fool’s errand.
That woman loved her unborn child and would never give him up.
The elderly woman at my side said something I didn’t catch. So caught up with Maisy, I’d forgotten I wasn’t alone on this couch.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I said I don’t envy her,” she repeated. “If that baby takes after its father at all, she’s in for a rough delivery. He’s as big as a mountain. For her sake, I hope she gets the drugs.”
I shook my head and mumbled, “He’s not the father.”
I didn’t repeat myself. Instead, I stood and walked out of the waiting room as quickly as I could, going straight for the stairs so I wouldn’t have to wait for the elevator. The second the stairwell door slammed tight behind me, I pulled out my phone from my pocket. I pressed the most recent name in the call log and held the phone tight to my ear as I bounded down the steps two at a time.