“I’ve been such a bastard to you, Pippa,” he said hoarsely. “I’ve done everything possible to alienate you. I don’t deserve another chance with you or my son, but I’m begging. I’ll get down on my knees. I’ll do whatever it takes to convince you that I’m not that man. I’m better than that. I want to be better than that. I’ll spend the rest of whatever time I have with you proving to you that you can count on me.”
Her heart surged with love. So much her chest ached. “Oh, Cam, what you can do for me is stop expecting the absolute worst. I’ll never leave you if I can possibly help it. Me and our child will love you and stay with you.”
She reached up to stroke her hand over his jaw. “I’m so sorry for what happened before. But you’ve been given another chance. What you do with that gift is up to you.”
He caught her hand, turned his face into it and kissed her palm. “You are a gift, Pippa. I never imagined having someone like you. And now our son.” He choked off, caught his breath and for several long moments just breathed into her hand. “I love you. Please forgive me.”
Her heart nearly bursting, she pressed into his arms and wrapped herself tightly around him, squeezing hard until he had no choice but to feel her love from every angle.
“I do forgive you,” she whispered. “I love you, Cam. I love you so much.”
He stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head as they simply held each other.
Then from behind came the sound of applause. They both whirled around, Pippa tucked protectively into Cam’s side, to see Gloria, Ashley and several other women standing in the doorway of the room.
There were smiles and tears on the other women’s faces.
“Well done, my boy,” Gloria said, giving him a thumbs-up.
Cam smiled back and squeezed Pippa a little closer to him. He was shaking against her. She glanced up, shocked to see just how close he seemed to breaking down.
She reached for his hand, twining her fingers with his and then pulled him toward the door that led out to the little tranquility garden. She waved to the others to let them know she was all right and then tugged Cam the rest of the way from the room.
The only sound in the lush open garden was water cascading over a fountain. The air was heavily scented with blooming flowers, their splash of color dominating the small area.
It was as if a hole had been cut out of the center of the building, leaving an isolated slice of peace for whoever ventured out.
“Sit,” she ordered Cam.
He sagged onto the bench by the fountain but he wouldn’t relinquish her hand. He tugged her toward him as if afraid she’d leave.
“I love you,” he said raggedly. “Say it again, Pippa. Tell me you love me and that you forgive me for being such a bastard to you. I need to hear you say it.”
She smiled, then leaned forward between his legs. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek on the bulge of her abdomen. She ran her fingers through his mussed hair.
“I love you, Cam. And I forgive you. I do.”
He let out a groan and his hold tightened on her. Then he raised his head so their gazes met.
“Come home with me, Pippa. Stay with me. I don’t want to spend another hour without you. Marry me. Love me. Spend your life with me. I swear I’ll make you happy.”
Her chest caved in a little more and she smiled until her cheeks ached. “Oh, yes. I don’t want to spend another hour away from you, either.”
“And you’ll marry me? I know it wasn’t the best proposal. I’ll get it right, I promise. I’ll get the ring and get on my knees. Whatever it is that makes you happy.”
She touched the lines of his forehead, easing them with her fingertips. “What makes me happy is you loving me.”
“Then you’re going to be one happy lady,” he vowed. “Because I’m going to love you with every breath I breathe, every minute of every day for the rest of our lives.”
The living room was alive with conversation and laughter. Cam’s house no longer resembled a somber cave; instead, it was light and airy. It was a house filled with love and happiness.
She settled onto the couch and hoisted her feet onto the ottoman, watching fondly as Cam and his friends oohed and aahed over a whole passel of babies.
Rafael de Luca and his wife, Bryony, had arrived two days ago with their daughter, Amy. Ryan Beardsley and his wife, Kelly, had been the last to get here and they’d flown in today from St. Angelo where they lived permanently. Their daughter, Emma, was nearly the same age as Amy. The two were born mere weeks apart.
Though it had been touted as a time for everyone to get together and visit, Pippa knew that Cam had arranged it to give her the kind of delivery surrounded by friends and family that she’d so wistfully dreamed of.
In addition to the love and attention he lavished on her at every opportunity, he’d set it up for her café to be staffed for the last month of her pregnancy and for a period of three months after the baby was born until she decided to return to it full time or not.
Finally, she was living the ultimate fairy tale. One she’d thought she’d be forever denied. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world.
Pippa liked Cam’s friends. They hadn’t been exactly as she’d expected. She’d thought they would be more like Cam had been in the beginning. Reserved. Standoffish. But they were warm, outgoing and exuberant people. She’d first met them when they all came in for Cam and Pippa’s wedding. It hadn’t been a huge affair. They’d both opted for a quiet gathering of close friends and family only.
Kelly was probably the quietest woman in the group, but Pippa liked her a lot. She had a sweet smile and she clearly adored her daughter. Her husband, Ryan, never strayed far from their sides.
Pippa smiled and then promptly grimaced when she was seized by another contraction. She recovered quickly, pasted back on her serene smile and glanced at Cam.
He was standing next to Ryan, holding Emma in his arms while the men talked and laughed. The interesting thing was that they weren’t discussing business. No, they were all trading baby stories and boasting about how their daughter was smarter, prettier and more clever than any other baby in the world.
Bryony rolled her eyes and flopped onto the couch beside Pippa. Ashley settled on the other side while Kelly sat in an armchair right beside the couch.
“I’m amazed by the change in Cam,” Bryony said quietly. “He seems so…happy. He’s not as dark and brooding as I remember. I don’t ever remember hearing him laugh. He rarely even smiled. You’ve performed a miracle, Pippa.”
“He’s great. He’s still way overprotective and he can get worked up when he thinks about something happening to me or the baby, but he’s really learned to let go and not dwell so much on the negative.”
Ashley reached for her hand and squeezed. “He loves you, Pip. You’ve been so good for him. You saved him.”
Another contraction tightened her belly, and she nearly groaned aloud. Kelly frowned and leaned forward in her seat.
“Pippa, what’s wrong?”
“Shhh!” Pippa hissed. “Don’t let Cam hear. He’ll freak.”
“Then tell us what’s wrong,” Ashley said in a quiet voice. “I saw that look, too. Are you having contractions?”
Pippa blew out her breath. “Yeah, for a while now.”
“What?” Bryony demanded. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because I didn’t want Cam to freak out and be stressed for longer than necessary. I’m not supposed to go into the hospital until they’re two minutes apart, anyway.”
“Uh, Pip, I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be there before they’re that close together,” Ashley said.
“My doctor told me that I should come in when my contractions were five minutes apart, regular and lasting at least a minute,” Kelly offered.
Bryony’s brow wrinkled in concentration. “I think mine told me five to seven minutes apart and regular.”
Pippa swallowed uncomfortably and then put a hand on her belly.
“Another one?” Ashley demanded. “Pippa, how far apart are they coming?”
“Closer than five to seven minutes,” she grumbled. “I know I read somewhere that I should wait to go in until they were two minutes apart.”
Ashley gave her a look of exasperation. “Where would you have read that? You refused to even look at the chapter in the childbirth book that dealt with the ninth month or any part of labor and delivery.”
Bryony was on her feet, pulling at Pippa’s arm. “Cam,” she called. “Pippa needs to go to the hospital.”
All four men whirled around and Cam’s brow immediately furrowed. Then when he seemed to realize the significance, he went pale and concern burned bright in his eyes.
He handed Emma back to Ryan and hurried over to Pippa.
“Honey, is it time?”
“Hell, it’s been time,” Ashley said in exasperation. “She should have gone hours ago.”
Cam’s gaze flicked from Ashley to Pippa. “What is she talking about?”
“I may have misunderstood when I was supposed to go to the hospital,” Pippa muttered.
She grimaced and closed her eyes as another contraction started low in her back. By the time she opened her eyes again, she was panting lightly and the entire room was looking worried.
Cam reached down, plucked her into his arms. “Let’s go,” he said as he strode across the room.
She laughed but settled against his chest as he made his way to the garage. Behind them there was chaos as everyone juggled babies and diaper bags and hurried to get to their vehicles.
Cam placed her in the passenger seat, then carefully put the seat belt around her and buckled her in. As he was about to pull away, she put her hand on his cheek and cupped it lovingly.
“Hey,” she said softly. “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.”
He kissed her fiercely, then let his fingers linger on her face as she’d done to him. “I know. Now let’s get you to the hospital so we can meet our son.”
* * *
“Push, Pippa! That’s it. Now breathe. Okay, one more time, breathe in deep. Hold it! Now push and count to ten.”
Dear God but this baby delivery stuff was for the birds. Pippa puffed and strained and she really did try to hold her breath but it all came rushing out by the time she got to five.
If it wasn’t for epidurals, she would have given this up already and begged for someone to knock her out.
“You’re doing great, sweetheart.”
Cam’s voice, low and reassuring, gave her a much-needed jolt of energy. He had his arm behind her back, holding her tightly as he breathed through each contraction with her. His hand was tightly curled around hers and he murmured words of encouragement in her ear in between kisses.
“When is he going to be here?” Pippa wailed.
The nurse on her right smiled and then the doctor looked up from between her legs. “One more push and we’ll have the head. Concentrate hard and bear down with this next contraction.”
That sounded better. She was almost finished with this.
As the contraction began, she felt the mounting urgency to push, almost as if her body took control and she no longer had any say in the matter.
She sucked in her breath, closed her eyes and put her chin to her chest.
“Push, baby. Push,” Cam whispered over and over. “You can do this. We’re almost there.”
“The head’s out. Okay, Pippa, relax for a moment while I suction. We’ll get him all the way out on the next push but the hard part’s over.”
“So says you,” she grumbled.
The nurse laughed and the doctor just smiled.
A moment later, the doctor told her to push again and suddenly it was as if her belly caved in. The enormous pressure was gone as the baby slid from her body.
She gasped, overwhelmed by the sensation, and a baby’s cry echoed across the room.
“Oh, my God,” she whispered.
“Ready to meet your son, Pippa?” the doctor asked.
It took just a moment to finish suctioning and to wrap the baby in a blanket before the nurse laid him in Pippa’s arms. Tears burned her eyelids as she stared down at the red-faced squalling baby.
Then she looked up at Cam and slowly held the bundle out to him.
Cam took the baby gingerly, his expression one of complete and utter awe. He stared down in fascination and then he smiled.
It was the most beautiful, honest smile Pippa had ever seen. There was so much joy in his expression that it choked her up and she had to swallow away her tears.
“He’s beautiful,” Cam whispered.
And then to Pippa’s complete surprise, a tear slid down Cam’s cheek, followed by another and then another. His hands shook as he cradled the baby closer to his chest.
Then he leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers as he held the baby between them.
“I love you,” he choked out. “Thank you for this, Pippa. Thank you for my son. Dear God, he looks so much like you. He’s so perfect. Every part of him.”
Pippa closed her eyes as tears of her own trickled down her cheeks. There was never a more perfect moment than this. Never would she forget this time in their lives.
“What are we going to name him?” she whispered.
Cam carefully put his son back into Pippa’s arms but leaned forward on the bed so he could watch every movement.
“What about Maverick?” Cam suggested. “Maverick Hollingsworth.”
“Our little Mav,” Pippa said with a smile. “I like it.”