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After that, I had no idea what they thought of me, since I was long gone. I could see why he’d hate me, but hell, if Corabelle was willing to move past it all, why wasn’t he?

I jerked my phone from my back pocket and typed out a message.

Ready for me?

A reply came instantly.

Born ready.

I smiled as I tucked away the phone. This was working. We were going to see this through. Already I could see the future laid out. Her, me, some little place while we finished school. Then I’d get some random job — hell, what WAS I going to do with a degree in geology? She’d go to grad school. Some time, way down the line, I’d see the docs and figure out how to undo this stupid mistake of getting snipped.

Instead of going in the main entrance, where I might run into the same security schmuck, I circled around to the back side where the ambulances unloaded for the ER. The doors slid open as I approached, and only a woman at admissions even noticed my arrival, returning to her paperwork when she saw I wasn’t bleeding or about to collapse.

A hall to the right promised a way to the elevators, so I rat-mazed through corridors until I found a set. I had to zigzag through a new addition to get to the main tower, but stopped dead when I came face to face with a broad expanse of glass and a row of baby beds lined up like a store candy display.

Some new dad in blue scrubs held up a little bundle in a striped blanket so a gray-haired couple could snap photos, their flashes bouncing off the windows.

Finn had never been in a room like this, whisked away from the labor suite into the NICU and covered in discs and tubes. This dad got to unwrap the baby as a nurse started the process of cleaning him off, the white stuff — vernix, Corabelle had called it — still on his neck and in the creases of his arms and legs.

My boots were rooted to the floor, and no matter how hard I wanted to turn away from the scene, I couldn’t move. The dad laughed behind his mask, and rage started to build in my chest, so hot and sudden that it shocked me. This guy deserved his moment. He was probably raised in some white-bread suburb with a super-dad who’d coached Little League and took him for pizza after, not flinging wrenches if his ten-year-old son’s fingers were too fumbling to get a corroded clamp off a battery.

Maybe the universe knew what it was doing, giving healthy kids to some people and sorrow to others.

Hell, now I was in no shape to see Corabelle, to soothe her. I had to bring it down. I managed to make my legs move and I circled back, heading to the elevator bank so I could cross over to her wing via some other floor, any other ward but this one.

I forced myself to forget what I’d seen as I approached her hallway. Straighten up. Be there for her. But I still felt sharp-edged as I entered the room. She sat on the bed, her knees balancing a notebook as she tried to type my scribblings from astronomy into her iPad.

“Your handwriting sucks, my dear,” she said.

“My fingers have better uses,” I said, pulling a stool up next to her bed.

“Is that as close as you’re getting?” She flattened her knees and set the iPad and notebook on the side table.

“Well, scoot over then, you bed hog.”

She shifted over and I crawled in next to her. “Did you time the nurses?” I asked.

“I asked them if it would be safe to study uninterrupted for a while.”

“And?”

“They promised to let me be until nighttime meds.”

I snaked my hand beneath the covers so I could run my hand along her belly. “Still have that sexy tube going into your parts?”

She cocked her head at me. “Why don’t you find out for yourself?”

“You feeling okay?”

“I’m all right. Pain meds. Food. Lazing around. Isn’t exercise good for speeding up recovery?”

I slid my fingers along the rough fabric of the hospital gown. “Does this thing ever come to an end?”

She watched my face as I moved my hand lower, almost to her knees, before finding the hem. I squeezed her leg, then slowly made my way up her skin, pausing when I hit a rough patch, slightly sticky. “Adhesive?”

“Used to be.” Her breathing had sped up, still rattling a little, and that got me worried. I didn’t want to hurt her.

“You sure you are all right?”

She reached for my hand through the sheets and abruptly moved it up until I cupped her between the legs, hot and moist. “I will be.”

Her boldness brought everything to life, and I wasted no time pressing her down into the bed, slipping two fingers inside her, reveling in the sudden arch of her back.

Her arms came around me to hang on. I watched her face as I thumbed the little bud, not sure if I should take it slow and easy or move her along so she didn’t tire out.

But she made her own decision, grinding against my hand. I worked her quickly, hard and tight, feeling her thighs quiver around my hand.

“God, Gavin,” she said, squeezing me against her, her breath hot against my neck. “Oh my God.”

She gripped me impossibly tight. I kept the pressure even and steady, paying attention to her responses. When her eyes squeezed shut, I moved faster, increasing the pressure, and I could feel her start to spasm against my hand. She kept it quiet, her cries silent. I brought her down carefully, in degrees, until she settled back against the bed.

Her face had bloomed pink, but now as she relaxed and I just held my palm against her overworked flesh, the color began to drain.

“That took a lot out of you, didn’t it?” I asked softly.

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