Authors: Lucy Clark
Jane pushed the thought away, intent on focusing on the here and now as Sean’s thumb tenderly traced her lower lip, causing Jane to draw in breath, her entire body flooding with tingles and anticipatory delight.
‘I wish you—’ She stopped, unable to speak, unable to concentrate, unable to do anything else but feel. Her eyelids fluttered closed. ‘You...we...shouldn’t,’ she whispered, her words barely audible.
‘Why shouldn’t we?’ Sean’s words were husky and when she risked opening her eyes to look into his she was stunned to find him looking at her with intense desire. No. That couldn’t be right. For so long, for too many years, she’d always believed bad things about herself. She’d been told all her life that she was nothing special, but seeing the way Sean was looking at her...was it possible for her to believe him?
‘Jane.’ He breathed her name and before she knew what was happening he’d bent his head and brushed a light, feathery kiss across her cheek. ‘You clearly have no idea just how much you’ve infiltrated my thoughts.’ He continued to kiss her face, edging his way towards her ear, and Jane couldn’t help the tears that instantly sprang to her eyes and began to slide down her cheek.
Sean kept kissing her face, working his way up to her forehead, before he looked at her. ‘Jane, you’re a beautiful woman.’
She shook her head but he stilled the movement, wiping away her tears. ‘Say the words,’ he instructed softly. ‘Say, “I am a beautiful woman.”’
‘But it’s true and I think you need to start believing it. I wouldn’t say it otherwise.’
‘Ha!’ She laughed without humour.
‘If you don’t believe I’m telling the truth, you must think I’m lying.’
Jane’s answer to this statement was to shrug her shoulders.
‘So you think I’m lying.’
‘Men have lied before in order to seduce a woman.’
‘You think I’m trying to seduce you?’ His eyebrows hit his hairline.
‘With my son and parents not too far away?’ he said, and she had to concede his point.
‘You still didn’t answer the question,’ she said softly.
He chuckled softly and she edged back from his tender touch, trying to block out his sweet words. She knew there was no way he could really mean them and she’d learnt long ago not to build up false hopes.
‘You’re a smart woman, Jane, so how come, when it comes to affairs of the heart, you just clam up?’
‘Sean...’ There was the hint of protest in her tone, indicating she wasn’t sure about the course this conversation was taking, but when he smiled at her she found her mind turning to mush and she completely forgot what she’d been about to say. How was it possible he could make her do that? She’d always been able to maintain a certain level of control over her emotions as far as men were concerned. Even with Eamon she’d been the one to call the shots in the relationship, which had been one of the reasons he’d cited when he’d broken their engagement.
‘Hmm?’ He exhaled slowly, his gaze flicking from her eyes to her lips, the action causing Jane to feel all tingly inside, her heart rate increasing. ‘You are stunning.’
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she protested weakly.
‘Like what? Like a man who’s very interested in you?’
He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to kiss her and the desire was increasing with each passing second, especially when she continued to stare at him with those gorgeous eyes of hers.
‘Don’t be interested in me.’
‘Because I...’ She stopped and swallowed, her gaze lingering on his mouth for just a fraction of a second longer than it should have. It was enough to let him know that even though she was saying no, deep inside her heart she was saying yes. It was enough to give him hope and he hadn’t felt hope about a relationship for a very long time now. He also knew it was important for Jane to steer them through these tentative waters at her own pace. Rushing would only result in her rejecting him and he’d been rejected enough to last a lifetime.
‘Jane—’ he tried hard not to stare at her luscious lips as he spoke ‘—I want you to know that I take my commitments very seriously and—’
‘Stop.’ Jane placed a finger across his lips. ‘Don’t say anything, Sean. Don’t make any promises.’ She quickly removed her finger, the intimate contact doing nothing to quell the simmering fires of desire burning through her entire body. She really did want to believe what Sean was saying, wanted to accept him at his word, but how could she when she’d trusted in the past and been hurt? If Sean knew the truth of her secret, if he comprehended that she really wasn’t beautiful at all, if he saw her terrible sca—
‘Jane?’ he queried.
‘I...I’m just not sure I can deal with reje—’
‘Through here!’ came Spencer’s loud, excited voice, heading in their direction. ‘You’ll never believe it, Grandma.
Within a split second of hearing Spencer’s voice Jane had pushed Sean away, needing to put as much distance between them as possible, and slipped off the stool. She tried to quieten her frantic thoughts. How could she have possibly allowed Sean to get so close?
She tugged at her top, making sure it was in place, instantly wishing she hadn’t come dressed so casually. She combed her fringe with her fingers and pulled the long plaits, which Sean had pushed back, to the front. It was her armour and right now. With the impending prospect of meeting Sean’s parents, she needed it more than ever. She had no idea what sort of reception they might give the sister of the woman who, from the few things Sean had said, had caused their son a fair amount of emotional stress. Would they tar her with the same brush?
‘Look. See?’ Spencer ran towards where his father and Jane were standing. ‘Another aunty! From my mummy’s side.’
The little boy sounded so excited, not at all perturbed that his words might cause painful memories to resurface. He ran right up to her, glancing back now and then to ensure his grandparents were following.
Jane, now satisfied that her ‘armour’ was on, stood her ground, ready to be introduced to the two people walking towards her. Sean’s mother had short dark hair with red and gold streaks through it, and his father was the spitting image of his son, only thirty years older. If he was any indication of how Sean would age, Jane had to admit that there were some excellent genes in the Booke family gene pool.
‘You were right, Spencer,’ Sean’s mother remarked as she walked over to where Jane stood. Sean just leaned against the bench top and watched as his mother smiled brightly. ‘Hello. Sean told us you’d be stopping by.’
Jane squared her shoulders and lifted her chin, pasting a professional smile on her face. ‘I hope it’s not an inconvenience?’
‘Oh, tush,’ his mother said, and brushed Jane’s words away. Still, Jane wasn’t exactly sure what to do or say next so she held out her hand. ‘I’m Jane. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Booke.’
‘Good heavens. Call me Louise. We’re hardly that formal, isn’t that right, Barney?’ she said, glancing at her husband. Barney shook hands with Jane after Louise, the two of them staring at her for what seemed like an eternity but which in reality was only a few seconds.
‘I do hope you’re able to stay for dinner, Jane.’ Louise glanced at Sean, who shrugged. ‘You haven’t even asked Jane to dinner yet? Where are your manners?’ Louise swatted playfully at her son.
‘Yeah, Dad,’ Spencer took the opportunity to chime in, a cheeky grin on his face. ‘Manners!’
Jane couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that overflowed and she quickly clapped a hand over her mouth. A split second later both Sean and his parents laughed as well and Spencer just stood there, grinning, pleased the adults were laughing but not at all sure why.
‘So...dinner?’ Louise persisted, leaning in closer. ‘Let me give you a little tip. I won’t take no for an answer.’
‘Then I guess...’ Jane said, quickly glancing at Sean to make sure it was all right with him. When he gave her a small nod she realised he was more than happy to have her stay. ‘I’d better not say no.’
‘Excellent. OK, Spencer, we need to set the table.’
Spencer raced off, calling loudly, ‘But I can do it by myself. I’m nearly seven, you know.’
‘I’ll help him,’ Barney said, and Jane had to admit that for a man in his seventies he was quite spry.
‘Now, why don’t I show you the house,’ Louise stated, and then, before Jane knew what was happening, Louise had linked her arm through hers and was leading her towards the staircase. ‘We live in the upstairs part of the house and Spencer and Sean live downstairs. That way, if Sean gets called to the hospital in the middle of the night, he doesn’t need to disturb Spencer,’ Louise said, and Jane turned and glanced back at Sean, her eyes wide with uncertainty. Sean’s answer to her unspoken question was to give her a friendly wave.
At first she felt as though Sean was feeding her to the lions but after a few minutes in Louise’s company she realised the woman was gentle and genuine. She talked about how Sean had insisted they all live together. ‘It works well for all of us because Barney and I aren’t getting any younger and it pays to be living close to a doctor should we need him.’ She laughed and it was only then that Jane realised she was joking.
‘Come and help me with dinner.’
‘Are we ready to eat yet, Grandma?’ Spencer asked, and Jane was amazed not only at his manners but also his easygoing relationship with his grandmother. Jane couldn’t even remember meeting her grandparents and never had she interacted with her own parents in such a relaxed and friendly manner. Children had been treated very differently in her family.
She watched as Spencer helped his grandmother, the two of them laughing easily together. When Sean and his father joined them, the atmosphere only became more relaxed. She sat quietly throughout the meal, only really speaking when spoken to but watching with pleased astonishment the genuine familial love demonstrated by the Booke family.
‘So, Jane,’ Louise asked, as she and Spencer dished up a dessert of fresh fruit and home-made ice cream, ‘what is it that’s brought you back to Adelaide?’
Jane instantly looked at Sean, wondering if she should confess she’d moved here because of Spencer, that she was all alone in the world and he was all she had left in the way of family. If she said that, however, she knew Louise and Barney would feel sorry for her and, besides, she didn’t want Spencer to feel obligated to get to know her.
‘She was head-hunted by the hospital,’ Sean put in, holding Jane’s gaze firmly. ‘You see, Mum, Jane’s a brilliant paediatrician who has been involved in extensive research with juvenile eating disorders.’
‘That’s impressive,’ Barney added.
Jane wasn’t used to so much positive attention and quietly thanked them before eating more of her dessert so she didn’t have to answer any more questions.
‘So, are you married or have a steady boyfriend?’ Louise asked.
‘Mum!’ Sean’s reaction was one of instant mortification.
‘What?’ Louise spread her arms wide, feigning innocence. ‘Jane’s part of our family now and I have a right to know a bit more about the members of my family. It’s not an uncommon question, Sean.’
Jane’s spoon clattered to the table and she swallowed over the instant lump in her throat. ‘Part of...’ She stopped, unable to believe how warmed her heart became at those words.
‘Our family,’ Louise finished, with a wide smile. ‘You’re Spencer’s aunt. That makes you family and we Bookes take our family ties very seriously. We like being involved in each other’s lives and helping out and caring and loving. It’s what families do.’
Jane could feel Sean watching her closely. He knew the truth. He knew why she’d really returned to Adelaide. To hear his mother welcome her so openly, so freely, especially after only having met her less than an hour ago, made Jane feel a warmth flood through her, a caring, loving warmth such as she’d never felt before.
‘You might be smothering her a bit, Mum,’ Sean murmured under his breath, but Jane set her shoulders straight and looked at Louise.
‘No. This isn’t smothering. Not in the slightest. I guess I’m just a little surprised that you’re so interested in me.’
‘Why wouldn’t we be?’ Louise asked.
‘Because...’ Jane paused and glanced once at Sean before drawing in a deep breath, his small nod of encouragement giving her strength to continue. ‘Because I’ve been on my own ever since Daina died. I came from a very dysfunctional family and have no idea what a normal family is supposed to be like. I have no husband, no fiancé and no boyfriend. In fact, I have no other family except Spencer.’ Her gaze fell on the small boy and she smiled warmly. ‘He’s my only relative.’
‘Only? Oh, my dear,’ Louise said softly, her tone filled with maternal concern. She immediately came around to where Jane was seated and tugged her to her feet. ‘Jane, Jane, you poor thing.’ Louise held both of Jane’s hands in hers. ‘You may have been alone and without family when you walked in this door tonight, but right here, right now, that changes.’
‘Yes,’ Barney agreed, coming to stand by his wife.
are your family.’ And with that Louise put her arms around Jane and hugged her close. Barney put his arm around both women and in another instant Spencer was wrapping his little arms around her waist.
Jane, a little startled from such open displays of affection but also absorbing every moment of it, looked across to where Sean sat, a big, wide grin on his face.
He winked at her. ‘Welcome to the family, Jane.’
ANE INSISTED ON
taking a taxi home after dinner, especially as Sean still needed to settle Spencer down after his exciting evening, gaining a new family member.
‘Mum and Dad can put him to bed and I can drive you back to the res wing,’ he offered, but she put her phone away after dialling the number for the cab company.
‘It’s fine. You’ve already given me so much today and I don’t want to overstay my welcome.’
‘Still, I can’t thank you enough, Sean.’ Her face was radiant as she looked at him and he clenched his jaw and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets to stop himself from hauling her close into a warm and comforting hug.