The ambulance attendant followed her terse instructions, and very shortly the ambulance was screeching to a halt by the Emergency. As Robert was rushed off into someone else's care, Catherine sagged against the wall for a moment, closing her eyes in a brief prayer for his safety. She, too, was longing to be able to conclude their lovemaking, and ...
It was Jaclyn's voice. Catherine's eyes snapped open. "Yes? I'm sorry, I ..."
"Where WERE you two?" Jaclyn asked accusingly. "Dad said you were just going to be gone a moment ..."
"We, er, we went out to the cabin again ... where we had been on Thanksgiving. Your father returned my necklace and ..."
"I can't believe he took you all the way back THERE! On CHRISTMAS! He should have been here with US! His FAMILY!"
"Miss Woodward? Dr. Howard?"
Grateful for the interruption, Catherine turned to the nurse. Jaclyn swung around too. "How's my father?" she asked immediately.
"He's in good hands, Miss Woodward," the nurse said soothingly. "The doctor is looking after him now. Dr. Edwards," she added to Catherine, who nodded, pleased that Robert was in the care of the top cardiologist in the hospital. Then the nurse continued, "Miss Woodward, your sister and her husband and family are in the waiting room just along here. If you would come along, we'll get information to you as soon as possible. You, too, Dr. Howard. You may as well wait with them." Before either Jaclyn or Catherine could comment on that, the nurse began walking, still talking, and perforce, the two had to follow. "I understand, Dr. Howard, that you were with Mr. Woodward when he had his heart attack. He's very lucky to have had a trained person with him ... both times."
"Both?" questioned Jaclyn. "He had TWO?"
"According to the ambulance attendant, your father would probably have died on the ride here had it not been for Dr. Howard, let alone when he had the first attack," the nurse said. Then she pushed open the door of the waiting room and ushered the two in.
Lori was sitting on a chair, rocking the baby carefully. Jeff was reading a book to Michael. At the entrance of the others, Lori looked up. "Jaclyn? Where were you? Dr. Howard!"
Catherine tried to smile, but it was a strain. "Lori. Jeff. Hello again, Michael."
"Grandpa's dying," Michael said gravely.
"I hope not," Catherine said. "I expect he'll feel much better in a few days."
"They were out at the cabin again," Jaclyn said flatly.
"The cabin? What ...? Oh!"
"So tell me, Dr. Howard ... Lori said Dad told her nothing had happened between you on Thanksgiving. Is that your story, too?" Jaclyn asked insolently.
Catherine's eyebrows raised in the air. "Nothing DID happen. We were stuck in the snow ... we walked and ... and rode on a tractor ... we found the cabin ... and we sheltered there until Lori and Jeff came the next morning and took us back to the city."
"You were there all night ... the two of you all alone ... and NOTHING happened?" Jeff asked incredulously.
Lori looked over at him momentarily. "SOME men can keep their pants zippered," she said in a low voice.
Jaclyn didn't seem to hear her sister. "I find it very hard to believe that you and Dad could have spent an entire NIGHT together and have absolutely nothing happen!"
Catherine wondered if Jaclyn had always been so cynical. "What did you expect to happen? Did you really think your father ... your FATHER ... would jump into bed with a complete stranger? Do you think that maybe we practiced wild monkey sex all over the cabin? Come on, Jaclyn! You should be old enough to understand that two people can share a rather large space for a few hours without falling on each other in total lust!"
Jaclyn shook with emotion, and she spat, "I liked you as the Hershey lady, I liked you as the doctor who saved little Mary Beth, I ... I WANT to like you for saving my father's life ... but it was probably making love to you today in the cabin that caused him to have a heart attack in the first place! He TOLD us last night and again this morning how much you meant to him! I DESPISE you for that ... for taking my mother's place in his life and, dammit, his BED! You're a baby doctor, not DAD'S doctor! I WISH YOU'D JUST GET OUT OF OUR LIVES!"
Catherine trembled before Jaclyn's fury, but still had to strangle the urge to slap the young woman. Lori stepped forward and put her arm around Jaclyn, but only looked steadily at Catherine. It was plain to see that she was on her sister's side. Nodding jerkily, Catherine was about to speak when the door opened and an older woman in tears was ushered into the waiting room.
Whispering, Catherine said to the girls, "I'm sorry you ... feel that way. I ... was not trying ... to take your mother's place ..." Then, before they could see the emotional distress she was experiencing, she turned and hurried blindly out of the room, down the hall and outside to where she could take refuge in her own vehicle.
She tried to examine her conscience and her emotions honestly, and with a feeling of real grief realized that, by loving Robert as much as she did, she WAS hoping to, well, to take Mary Beth's place in Robert's life. Yes, Mary Beth was gone, just as Tom was ... but Catherine had no children or grand-children to protest the intrusion of another in her life. Robert did have children ... children who very sensibly questioned the advent of another in their father's life so soon after their mother had passed away. Catherine and Robert knew nothing PHYSICAL had happened in the cabin on Thanksgiving, and knew that the only thing that had been SPOKEN was a vague promise that maybe sometime in the future there could be a time when the emotions their eyes and hearts had spoken to the other could be brought out into the open and shared publicly. That time was obviously not yet as far as Robert's family was concerned.
Although it almost broke her heart, Catherine resolved to stay away from Robert as much as possible for a while — to give him time to talk to Jaclyn and Lori ... perhaps even to give him time to grieve Mary Beth properly, and then to see if what he was feeling for Catherine herself was something lasting, or merely a fleeting fancy born of frustration and unhappiness at Mary Beth's illness.
Throwing herself into her work again even more than she had immediately after Thanksgiving, Catherine avoided William and Marina, getting to the hospital early and leaving very late so that she would never have to return phone calls. She spoke only briefly to William upon occasion, and quickly escaped back to work. Dr. Edwards kept her informed of Robert's progress and then his discharge when he was well enough to leave for home.
That night, when Catherine let herself into her house, the message machine was flashing. When she listened to the recording, it was Robert begging her to call him. Her face pale but resolute, Catherine erased the message. The following night was the same ... her answering machine was full of messages from Robert, declaring his love and pleading for her to return his call. The next night, the machine was again full of his messages and this time Catherine unplugged the machine. She was NOT going to come between Robert and his family.
When Catherine got home, very late and discouraged the following night, she found that the automatic garage door opener was acting up again, and wouldn't lift the door. Too tired to bother fighting with it, she left her vehicle outside and stumbled up to the front door of her house. As she put the key in the lock, she jumped and almost screamed when a dark figure rose from the bushes by the step.
"It's me, Catherine," Robert said quickly.
"God, Robert, you almost gave ME a heart attack! What are you doing here?" Catherine cried furiously.
"I have to talk to you."
"Just let me in to talk with you."
"NO!" Catherine said, turning back to the door and struggling to open it.
"Damn it, Catherine!" Incensed, Robert grabbed her arms and pulled her around to face him. She fought to release herself from his tight but not hurtful grip. "What are you trying to do, give me another heart attack?" he demanded.
Immediately Catherine ceased her struggles. "How ARE you feeling, Robert?"
"Frustrated and HORNY, to be honest!" He took advantage of her momentary lapse of hostilities, and his mouth swooped onto hers.
Catherine moaned, forgetting all her good intentions as her own need rose up and overwhelmed her. She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him back passionately. He fumbled behind her and opened the door, and they almost fell into the house, still kissing frantically.
She kicked off her shoes and fumbled with the buttons on his coat then pushed it off his shoulders. He released for her a moment to drop the coat to the floor, then reached for her again and pushed her coat off as his tongue explored the depths of her mouth. He toed his own boots off as her hands brushed off his hat and her fingers gripped his hair and held his mouth to hers while she kicked the door shut and nestled up against him.
"Bedroom? Living room?" Robert asked against her lips.
"Mmmhmmm," she replied. Then with a gasp, she began to struggle away. "Robert! No, stop this! We can't!"
"Damn it, Catherine, what is it NOW?" he asked.
Breathing hard, Catherine stared at him. "Jaclyn and Lori. They ... we can't ..."
"Catherine ... the girls and I had a long talk last night. I was such a bear by then that they sat me down and demanded that I speak to them. So I told them everything."
"Everything?" Catherine was shocked.
"You bet. I told them every tiny detail about that night at Thanksgiving ... even that you cheated at Scrabble."
"I didn't!" Catherine whispered automatically, still staring at him.
"I told them how I had kept insisting that Mary Beth was fine ... and how your words had healed me. I told them about our talks, I told them how much I had loved their mother, how much I loved them and the grandchildren ... and I told them how much I now loved you as well." He ignored Catherine's faint gasp and continued, "I told them that even though I planned to marry again, I hoped that my relationship with them would not change ... hell, I even said they could have the damn house, and that I would live at the cabin! And when I finally let them talk, they agreed, albeit reluctantly, that maybe I was old enough to make my own decisions in life. They've agreed to accept you, Catherine, if you'll accept them. And Jaclyn especially told me to beg your forgiveness. She wouldn't say what FOR, but she wants you to forgive her."
Catherine felt tears pricking her eyes and couldn't answer. Happiness practically radiated out of her body.
"Catherine, today is not necessarily about the beginning of a romance with the one true love of my life. I loved Mary Beth a great deal, and I know that you loved Tom. We wouldn't have married them if we hadn't. I told Jaclyn and Lori that. I said I had thought I had lost all that Mary Beth and I had had ... all the love and the companionship. But I also told them that, hell, even BEFORE Mary Beth died, there were a hundred women zeroing in on me, predatory gleams in their eyes!"
"You think you are that great a catch?" Catherine asked, her eyebrows arched. "A HUNDRED women?"
"It was just a metaphor! Those women all wanted companionship and love, too! And yes, before you say it, I'll admit that some of them might have been desperate if they were looking at the likes of ME for that! But when you reach a certain age, damn it, it's hard to find someone whose company you enjoy ... let alone someone who isn't after your money!"
"I'm not after your money, Robert." Catherine said quietly, her eyes beginning to dance.
"Thank God for THAT, since there isn't that much of it. Paying to keep Mary Beth in Shelby House took care of most of it. And you can be damn sure that I'm not after YOUR money either. Now ..." he paused, and looked at her sideways, "I COULD be accused of being after your ... body ..."
"Catherine, I told Jaclyn and Lori that I am now hoping to find the same sort of love Mary Beth and I shared ... and this time I hope to share that love with you."
Again and again their lips met, their hands travelled and explored ... their love exploded. Then Catherine answered his unspoken question. "Yes, Robert ... but ... here? I thought ... the cabin ..."
He groaned. "Yes, I had thought that too ... but ... but I don't want to wait ..."
"Forbearance and restraint are good for the soul. Waiting builds character, too."
"Who the hell cares?"
He cradled her head in his hands, sensation skidded through her like fire and her whole body tightened from the heat of it. She slid her hands over his shoulders and pulled him closer and he kissed her more deeply, his hot mouth drawing her with him into a dark, sensual place. Something began to build in her, a need so long suppressed that she did not think she would be able to push it back again, and frankly, she didn't want to. And then his mouth was on her neck, trailing kisses, his tongue teasing that tender spot at the base of her throat, touching her with fire. She whimpered.
"Stop me now, Catherine," he whispered, "or I'm not stopping. Not tonight. Even if I have another heart attack!"
She met his eyes again, saw her own need mirrored there, and shook her head, her decision made. "I don't want you to stop."
He kissed her as if she was everything he had ever wanted and as if he couldn't get enough of her. That made her want him more. "You're making me crazy," he murmured against her lips.
"Crazy's not the word for it!" she said on a gasp.
He kissed her throat, her cheeks, her forehead, her hair, and she knew, without a doubt, that she wanted this man. That thought made her pause, and she knew Robert instantly felt her hesitation because he pulled back to look at her. "Are you really all right with this?" His eyelids were heavy, he was drunk with passion.
The sense of freedom was incredible as she faced her fear of loving and losing once more, and stepped over it. "Oh yes ... yes, indeed!" She grasped the front of Robert's shirt and pulled him toward her, slowly opening every button and kissing his chest all the way down to his stomach.
She heard his breath catch and smiled against his skin, knowing it was her having this effect on him. She didn't want this moment to end. Her breath sighing out, she straightened, running her hands back up his chest to frame his face. She searched Robert's eyes, found what she was looking for, and smiled. "Oh yes," she repeated huskily.
All she got was a grunt. Marvelling that such a small, inarticulate sound could convey so much smug male triumph, she was ready when Robert's mouth crushed hers. Catherine's hands slicked over his shoulders and down his back. Tight, hot swirls built within her body, and she rather thought she might die at the nearness of him. She could feel his heart beating against hers, could feel the strength of his need for her, and the tremble of her own need building.
And then she was down on the sofa and stretched beneath him, revelling in the heat of his skin and the feel of his hard body against hers. He kissed her deeply and thoroughly; pressed against her, stroked her and tormented her. The blood pounded in her veins and the pressure built until she broke, arching towards him as the world exploded into white heat. A groan ripped from her throat. Eyes squeezed tight, Catherine let the waves crash through her. Robert held her while she floated back to earth. Her eyelids fluttered up to see smug male triumph on his face. She smiled.
His mouth came down on hers, hot and insistent once more. Catherine felt the dizzying thrill as the world tilted deliciously when he loved her. The weight of him on her, and his mouth possessing hers, drove her up and over the brink again.
Afterwards, as they lay spooned together, their breathing gradually returning to normal, Catherine said, "This is the kind of love that I want in my life ... the kind of love I've found with you, Robert. I love you."
"So that means you'll marry me?"
"Mmhmm ... as long as Lori and Jaclyn agree."
"They will. They do. This is true love, Catherine, that we've found for the second time in our lives. It's a miracle ... but it happens. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be, and will not be. I ... I never thought I'd be this happy again in my life."
"Nor did I," Catherine agreed softly. "I guess what I heard the other day is right ... that the happiest people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have."
For a moment there was silence, then Robert pulled her closer and growled in her ear, "I do hope you're not saying that you're just going to make the best of it with me because I'm all you can get!"
Catherine chuckled. "No, that's not it at all ... I was just speaking metaphorically!"
"Really, it came from my heart ... I am the happiest person in the world right now. I'm just, well, still a little worried about Lori and Jaclyn."
"I told you they were all right with this. Don't you believe me?"
"No. Not as a general rule. But in this case, yes. And this is heartfelt ... they know I love you, and they are willing to accept you just because of that for now ..."
"That's sweet ..."
"Hmmm. But you can't be the happiest person in the world right now."
"Why not?" Catherine's voice was drowsy. She hadn't felt so sated and loved for a long, long time.
"Because I am ... and that is from MY heart ... the heart you helped keep beating ... for you."
Catherine rolled over in his arms, carefully, so as not to push him off the sofa. "Really?" she asked softly.
"Cross my heart and hope to ... damn it, I'm NOT saying that! I'm gonna LIVE and LOVE ... in the real world, where there are second chances even for a character like me and a woman of science like you!" and his mouth covered hers again.