“You can go on back to work, Eli. I’m just going to run to the hardware store, grab some new locks and come back and install them.”
She closed the last cage, her hand resting on the latch as she quirked a brow at him. “Seriously, I know how to change locks. No sense in both of us missing a day’s work.”
Eli shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and leaned against the doorway. “I’m sure you do know how, but you can change the cabinet and get that squared away and I can work on the doors. We’ll get this done twice as fast. I’m sure you’ll need to reorder supplies, which I don’t know how to do, so let me help you.”
Nora opened her mouth, no doubt to argue, but stopped. Her hand went to her belly as she froze; her eyes widened. Eli was across the room in two strides, his hand coming to rest on hers, his other on her back for support.
“Nora? What’s wrong?”
Fear consumed him as she remained silent. Was she in pain? Something wrong with the baby? God, as a doctor, the endless possibilities flooded his mind.
“I’ve never felt her kick that hard.” She laughed. “Just surprised me.”
Tension rolled off his shoulders as he exhaled the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. “Doesn’t she kick at lot at this stage?” he asked. Babies were certainly not his area of expertise, but he did know enough to be concerned when a woman clutched her abdomen and nearly doubled over.
Nora shook her head. “Not really. The doctor said she would start getting more active, but this was so…obvious.”
She smiled, looking up to him with a vibrant sparkle in her eyes. “Here,” she said, sliding her hand over and placing his on her slightly rounded belly. “Maybe she’ll do it again.”
Eli waited, wanting to feel this new life, but at the same time wondering if the guilt card would show its face again. This was Todd’s position, not Eli’s. Todd wasn’t here, though, and Nora wanted someone to share in this milestone moment.
As Nora watched his face, waiting for the kick and a reaction from him, he knew he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. He also knew that fate had handed him this opportunity and he would seize it with both hands.
The gentle movement beneath his palm may have been subtle, but it shot straight to his heart. Eli’s eyes sought Nora’s and her smile widened.
“That’s amazing,” he whispered. “I mean, I’ve felt babies kick before, but knowing this is your baby…”
He had no words. Nora’s baby, a little girl moving beneath his hands. It was enough to have his own throat clogging with tears.
Damn, he felt as if he were the expectant daddy. How absurd was that?
“Thank you,” he told her, sliding his hand away. “I’ve never been part of something so personal and incredible.”
Nora placed both of her hands on her abdomen. “I’m glad you were here. Sharing this pregnancy with friends makes it even more special.”
Friends. Yes. He’d do good to keep that solid fact in the forefront of his mind. Nora most definitely had enough on her plate without contending with his advances. And didn’t he have enough to keep himself occupied, as well?
“What do you say we hit the hardware store?” he asked.
“Can we grab lunch first? I’m starving.”
Eli nodded. “You read my mind.”
As he escorted her out, he reiterated to himself that friends were all they were, all they could be. Then why did he want to spend his every waking minute with her and rediscovering the new Nora?
Eli escorted her through the lot and up into his four-wheel-drive truck. As long as he was here, he would stick close to her, allow himself the luxury of being her friend. He might want more, but he would take what he could get.
And in the end, he’d walk away.
“In all my years I only closed the clinic early twice.”
Eli set his father’s plate of grilled chicken and steamed vegetables on a tray in front of the old recliner where Mac had been stationed since being released from the hospital. He’d known his father wouldn’t be too pleased with the fact Eli left early, but Nora had come first. For once in his life, he was making her needs his top priority. He doubted many people had ever put her first.