“Let’s not be hasty,” Glen said, sounding very much like the attorney he was. “We can reason this out. There isn’t anything that says we can’t have a long engagement, get to know each other better. You’re right, I am fond of Timmy, but don’t discount what I feel toward you.”

“There is a very good reason you shouldn’t marry me,” Jody whispered. “I’m deeply in love with another man.”

“Jody, please, we’ve talked about this before. You don’t need to worry about that. I’ll never try to take Jeff’s place in your life.”

“And you,” she continued undaunted, “are deeply in love with another woman.” It wasn’t until she said the words that she realized the depth of truth in them.

Glen didn’t argue with her, and for that she was grateful. “I’d never be unfaithful to you,” he assured her.

“But you’re willing to do so with yourself.”

Glen hesitated. “It’s over, Jody, and has been for months. There isn’t any hope of reviving the relationship. It’s dead.”

Jody smiled to herself and set the diamond ring on the desktop as she stood. “It may not be as dead as you think. I want you to wait here.”

“Where are you going?”

“To find someone. I shouldn’t be long.”

Jody left him and hurried out the door. She wasn’t entirely sure for which firm Maryann worked, but a quick inspection of the names on the outside of the doors on the floor helped. The receptionist directed her to Maryann’s office.

“Hello,” Jody said, letting herself inside. “I’m Jody Potter.” She waited to see if the other woman recognized the name. “I was the one who overheard you speaking in the ladies’ room a few minutes ago.”

Maryann paled when she recognized Jody’s name. “I had no idea you were there . . . we’d never met and . . .”

“Don’t worry, I believe you. I’m here because I have an important question to ask you. Are you in love with Glen Richardson?”

The other woman folded her arms and looked out the window. “I don’t mean to be rude, but this isn’t any of your business. I understand you and Glen are engaged and—”

“It is my business now, don’t you think?” Jody interrupted.

“I can imagine it was disconcerting for you to overhear my conversation with Shelly. It’s just that . . . actually, I think it’s best if I didn’t say anything more.” She drew in a steadying breath and then added graciously, “I want you to know that I wish you and Glen every happiness.”

“Glen is a wonderful man.”

“Yes, I know,” Maryann whispered.

“It complicates matters considerably knowing how deeply he loves you,” Jody said.

Maryann’s head snapped up, her eyes wide with surprise. “I’m sure that’s not true, not after the things that happened between us. I was such a fool. There’s no hope, not anymore.”

“Don’t be so sure of that,” Jody told her. “Glen’s free.”

“Free?”

“We’re no longer engaged. He’s waiting for you in my office now.”

Jody had worked with attorneys for a number of years, but she rarely saw one speechless.

“Why . . . why are you doing this?”

Jody didn’t feel particularly noble. “I’ve experienced that kind of love myself, and for a while was willing to take second best. Go to him, Maryann, and settle whatever it was that drove you two apart. But most of all, love him. He deserves to be happy and so do you.”

Tears shone bright in the attorney’s eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Sure,” Jody said, shrugging. “Anytime.” She turned and walked out then, past the sounds of the Christmas party and into the cold, dark night the same way she had every evening since Jeff’s death.

Alone.

Michelle Madison was alone and frightened, and desperately trying to disguise her fear. Leah had spent a good deal of the afternoon with her and the young woman’s labor was progressing smoothly.

“How much longer?” Michelle asked, following an intense contraction. Her hands rested against her protruding stomach and she drew in a deep, calming breath.

“It shouldn’t be much longer now,” Leah assured her in gentle tones, although she was well aware it could be hours yet. She didn’t want to discourage the young mother-to-be.

Michelle had come in earlier in the first stages of labor, before Leah had arrived for work. Because there was no one Michelle wanted to contact, she was alone. By the time Leah arrived for her shift, the labor had intensified and, frightened, Michelle had clung to Leah’s hand, begging her to stay.

Since there weren’t any other patients on the floor, Leah was able to linger at the young woman’s bedside, guiding her step by step through the stages of labor and birth.

“I’m so pleased I’m having my baby with you,” Michelle offered just before the next pain overtook her. She closed her eyes and drew in deep, even breaths while Leah softly encouraged her to relax and accept the pain.

“I was in the birthing class that visited the labor room when you were here.”

Leah had thought the young woman looked vaguely familiar, but wasn’t sure where she’d seen her.

“I don’t expect you to remember me,” Michelle continued. “Lots of people were asking you questions that day. Jo Ann Rossini claimed anyone who was lucky enough to have their babies on your shift should consider themselves blessed.”

“As you might have guessed, Jo Ann’s a longtime friend,” Leah said, discounting the compliment. She wasn’t a miracle worker and although she was gentle with the mothers, they were the ones who did the work. It was called labor for a reason.

“You said you don’t have children yourself,” Michelle murmured, her eyes closed as the lingering pain gradually faded.

There’d been a time when the careless comment would have felt like a body blow to Leah, but not now. A child nestled beneath her heart, nurtured by her body, one conceived in love.

“Not yet,” Leah concurred. She carefully studied the fetal monitor, pleased that matters were progressing normally for Michelle.

“You want children, though?”

“Very much,” Leah confirmed.

A smile, fragile and ever so slight, turned up the edges of Michelle’s mouth. Leah guessed the girl was barely twenty, if that, but she didn’t want to burden her with unnecessary questions.

Michelle massaged her belly and took in several calming breaths, bracing herself for the next pain. “I didn’t expect to love this baby. I imagine that sounds odd to someone like you.”

“Of course not,” Leah said, wanting to reassure her.

“Lonny didn’t want to have anything to do with me after he found out I was pregnant. I believed he loved me, and in his own way, I’m sure he did, but he wasn’t ready for the responsibility of a wife and family.”

“You don’t sound bitter.”

“I’m not. At first I was. Not until later did I realize Lonny was right. Getting married now would have been wrong for us both.”

“You’re very wise for your years.” Leah greatly admired Michelle for looking past her pain and finding her peace. Women much older would have difficulty recognizing such deep truths.

“For a while I seriously considered getting an abortion. I never thought I was that kind of person. That’s what my mother wanted and later when my dad found out, he did too.”

“But you didn’t.”

“I’m pleased now that I decided to go through with the pregnancy. It hasn’t been easy, especially toward the end when I looked like a blimp. My parents have had a difficult time dealing with me having this baby. They said they loved me, but if I wanted to do this, then I’d do it alone. That’s why no one is here.”

“You’re a strong woman, Michelle.”

“It was the right choice for me. What surprises me is how much I love this baby.”

“You’re going to be a good mother.”

“I want to be the very best.”

With this kind of attitude, Michelle had a chance, Leah decided. She stepped around to the end of the bed. “It’s time we check you again.” The last series of pains had gained in intensity and she suspected Michelle would soon be entering the third stage of labor.

Once the task was completed, Michelle relaxed. “Will you be in the delivery room with me?”

“I’m not sure,” Leah said. “Normally I’d stay but I have a doctor’s appointment this afternoon myself. Let’s play this by ear and see how matters go. You’re doing just great so I don’t think there’ll be any problem.”

“Good,” Michelle, said faintly. “I want you to be there if you can. I need someone.”

To have Michelle so alone at this important moment tore at Leah’s heart. She longed to reassure her patient that she’d seen cases like hers often. “Your parents will come around soon enough,” Leah said, gently patting her hand. “They’re going to love this baby. They won’t be able to help themselves.”

“I think so too.”

“Do you have any names picked out?”

Michelle shook her sweat-dampened head. “No, I didn’t want to know if the baby was a girl or a boy. I thought I’d decide on a name later.”

Another two hours passed before Michelle was ready for the delivery room. Leah went in with her, along with the anesthesiologist, Dr. Leon, and the gynecologist, Dr. Beecher. Leah had worked with the anesthesiologist on numerous occasions.

Michelle was a model patient and when the moment came for her baby to be born, she gave a shout of joy. “A girl, a girl.” Leah weighed the squalling newborn, wrapped her in a warm blanket, and gently placed her in Michelle’s arms.

“A girl,” Michelle sobbed. “I’m so pleased I had a little girl. That was what I wanted, but I was so afraid to care.”

“She’s a beautiful baby,” Leah said.

“Thank you. Thank you for your help.”

After she carried the newborn into the nursery, Leah happened to glance up at the clock. She’d need to hurry if she was going to make it to Dr. Benoit’s in time for her appointment. “I have to rush now, but I’ll be by to see you in the morning,” she told Michelle when she returned.

“Please don’t forget,” Michelle said.

“I won’t,” Leah promised. She started to leave, but Michelle grabbed hold of her hand. “I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you.”

“I wasn’t the one who worked so hard,” Leah said, squeezing the young woman’s hand. “Give yourself some credit.”

Michelle beamed her a bright smile. “All right, I will.” She closed her eyes and yawned. “I feel like I could sleep for a week.”

“ ’Bye for now.” On her way out the door Leah realized Michelle was already asleep.

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