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Authors: Janette Paul

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BOOK: Just Breathe
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He hooked his thumb over his shoulder. ‘Kitchen.’ He took her hand as he led her down a hallway. ‘Bathroom, gym, office.’ He cocked his head at doors as they passed, then ushered her through the one at the end. ‘Master bedroom.’ It was big enough to turn cartwheels with a king-size bed in the centre and a replay of the spectacular view. ‘Only one obstacle here and it has a
soft landing. What do you think?’


So were his mouth, his hands, his body. They pulled at each other’s clothes in a hurry to get skin on skin. She needn’t have worried about her ordinary old underwear – it wasn’t exposed long enough to be noticed. And taking off his tie was nothing to watching his shirt slip over a broad, toned chest and slide off muscular shoulders. As he pressed the warmth of his flesh to hers, her breath caught and her head spun and she told herself she’d have more fun if she managed to stay conscious. His hands explored the mounds of strong muscle across her back. Oh, wow, he seemed to enjoy it as much as she did. She tipped her head back, needing to kiss his lips again, but this close, without shoes, he was tall. Too tall to reach. She lifted onto tip-toe, reached up to draw him to her. He found another way, cupping his hands under her buttocks, picking her up and holding her effortlessly and without fear of spinal injury as they crushed their mouths together.

The bed was indeed a soft landing. So was Ethan. And neither were any kind of obstacle. Dee hadn’t felt so overwhelmed by sensation since, well, never. And after years of withholding from intimacy, she was surprised at Ethan’s ability to unlock her internal warrior. If she’d stopped to think about it – what it meant, where it might lead – it might have freaked her out a little, but stopping or thinking wasn’t on her mind that night.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Dee’s eyes flew open. She gasped, sat up.


Her head snapped around. There he was – sleepy eyes, hair mussed, naked body barely covered in a sheet – and the anxiety was gone. She put a hand either side of his lovely broad shoulders and nestled into his neck.

‘You okay?’ he asked, voice gravelly with sleep, his hand taking a trip along the length of her spine.

‘Mmm.’ Fabulous. ‘Go back to sleep.’

The clock beside him read 5.30. Her first Saturday class started in an hour and, not wanting to introduce him to her big circles with the right, big circles with the left, she slid out of bed, collected her clothes from the heap on the floor, and hobbled stiffly to the door on one side of the bed. A walk-in and pace-around robe. The door on the other side was the en suite, where she dressed and splashed water on her face. A brief hunt in the kitchen uncovered a coffee plunger and kettle and, while she waited for water to boil, she lifted one foot at a time onto the marble bench, bent her head to her knee, stretched her hamstrings and released her back.

Didn’t Ethan say something about a gym last night? Coffee in hand, she wandered quietly through the apartment and found it down the hallway. Light streamed in from the harbour, illuminating a large sunny square on the timber floor. Rolled up behind a weights machine was an exercise mat. She unfurled it, stripped off her skirt, lay down and took stock of her body. It felt strange this morning – energised and exhausted at the same time.

She worked through her morning postures, enjoying the heat from the window on her face
and back as she bent, stretched, breathed, relaxed. It was easy to stay in the moment. She’d been there all night. It felt very, very good. By the time she finished, her body was loose and she felt more fluid than she had in weeks. With one last deep breath she opened her eyes.

Ethan was leaning on the door frame. ‘I thought you left,’ he said, taking in her knickers and singlet with interest.

Dee’s gaze wandered over his naked torso and boxers. ‘Not yet.’

‘We could do breakfast on the deck.’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘Later.’

Her energy level bumped up a notch. ‘Tempting but I have a student in twenty minutes.’

‘I could keep breakfast warm.’

It was nice to be wanted. ‘Very tempting but I’ve got classes most of the day. I’m filling in for Howard at the school then I want to visit Arianne.’


Dee pulled on her skirt and collected her things, aware of Ethan’s eyes still on her. Aware of how much she wanted to stay. He followed her to the lift. ‘Do you mind if we keep last night just between the two of us?’

Dee opened her mouth but wasn’t sure what to say. Was he embarrassed to let anyone know he’d slept with her?

‘Wait. That didn’t come out right.’ He looked down at the floor then back up at her. ‘Last night was great. And this morning. And I’m hoping that’s not going to be the end of it.’ He hooked a finger in the waistband of her skirt, pulling her gently to him. ‘Really hoping. It’s just that I’d like to keep it away from the media. It can bugger things up. So if we don’t say anything to anyone, it won’t get out.’

Dee breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Fine by me. I don’t want to do the Roxburgh Girl thing. I
mean, I hardly fit the profile.’

‘Believe me, Dee, you’re no Roxburgh Girl.’

Oh. And yet she was in his apartment, fresh from his bed. What did that mean? The doors opened. She took a long look at his well-toned chest and ran a hand through the soft, curly hair that grew in a T from his breast and disappeared into his low-riding shorts. Roxburgh Girl or not, the view was still great from here. ‘You have very nice … coffee.’

As she stepped into the lift, he said, ‘I’ll call you.’

She kept the smile on her face until the doors closed then let it drop with a thud. ‘You’re not a Roxburgh Girl’ followed by the ‘I’ll call you’ line. That had to be bad news. Some kind of shorthand for, ‘Hey, it was great but let’s leave it at that.’ Maybe that was all there’d be. A few spectacular moments then, ‘See you at the next meeting, babe.’ She’d figured he’d fit neatly within her two-week boundary fence but now he wanted out after one night. Maybe two weeks of ‘future’ was too much. She could still get hurt.

Her phone rang as she stepped out of the lift. She wrestled it from her bag, checked the display. ‘Did I forget something?’

‘No,’ Ethan said. ‘I said I’d call, so I am.’

She did a little skip along the path.

‘Are you busy tonight?’ he asked.

‘No. You?’

‘Not after I’ve cancelled. How about dinner?’

‘Sounds great.’


‘Sounds even better.’

‘Buzz me after you’ve finished at the hospital?’

Okay. More than one night.

It was after 5 p.m. by the time Dee walked past the front entrance of the hospital for a third time, trying to fill her lungs with enough calming oxygen to go inside. She didn’t want to go in there, wanted to keep her memories contained. She almost settled for calling Arianne, having a lengthy, cheering chat over the phone, then remembered long, lonely days in the ward and decided she needed to be a better friend than that.

She took one last deep breath and stepped inside, feeling woozy in the all-encompassing antiseptic smell. She found the elevators, changed her mind and took the stairs – no point standing around waiting for the memories to leap out and grab her by the throat.

Arianne was reading a magazine when Dee burst in, pressing her back to the door to shut the rest of the hospital out.

‘Dee? Are you okay?’

She closed her eyes, willing her heart to slow. ‘I’m meant to be asking you that.’ Crossing the room, she wrapped Arianne up in a hug, trying to smile like a regular hospital visitor. ‘I’m so glad
okay. I was so frightened. For you and the baby and Howard. And me.’

Arianne squeezed back. ‘You saved my baby’s life, Dee. And mine. I didn’t know what to do. Thank you from all three of us.’ She pulled back to look Dee in the eyes. ‘I can only imagine how hard that must have been for you.
you okay? You look a little pale. Maybe you should sit down. I’ve got an en suite if you think you need to …’

‘I’m not going to be sick – not yet anyway. But I will sit down.’ She pulled a chair to the bed, feeling a little shaky as she sat. ‘What are the doctors saying?’

Arianne filled her in on the poking and prodding. The haemorrhage had stopped without
giving any indication of why it started. ‘So long as there’s no change, I’ll be going home tomorrow. I’m not allowed to move off the bed or the sofa for the rest of the pregnancy but at least I’ll be home.’ She smiled wearily, pushing herself upright against the pillows. ‘I never would’ve believed lying down could be so uncomfortable.’

‘Do you think a shoulder massage is considered bed rest?’ Dee said.


Dee helped Arianne rearrange herself so she could sit behind her and knead her shoulders.

‘So, how’s Ethan?’ Arianne asked.

She felt the heat of a blush and was glad Arianne couldn’t see her. ‘What do you mean?’

‘When Leon rang earlier, he said you’d missed Lindall.’

‘I’m surprised he expressed it so subtly.’

‘He didn’t,’ Arianne said and they laughed.

Dee filled her in on the latest Ethan Roxburgh episode, but kept the abundant X-rated details to herself.

‘It’s been a big thirty-six hours for you,’ Arianne said. ‘You’ve slept with a guy and been to hospital. Twice. Are you really okay?’

Dee was relieved she didn’t need to explain it to Arianne. ‘I’m not sure. I feel kind of keyed up and anxious and a little overwhelmed by it all. It’s just that the thing with Ethan happened so fast.’

‘Fast? You’ve been lusting after him for weeks.’

‘Maybe, but that was just fantasy sex. I never thought it would happen. And now he’s asked me back to his place for dinner tonight and I’m pretty sure there’ll be more fantasy sex on the menu.’ Dee sighed like it was bad news.

‘But that’s good.’

‘Is it? I don’t know. I mean, sure, I’m excited, but I’m also terrified. A stomach-clenched, hard-to-breathe kind of terrified. Surely that’s not good.’

‘You’re just nervous. You don’t let many people in and it must be scary. But Ethan sounds really sweet. If you’re going to let anyone in, it may as well be someone like him.’

As Dee used her thumb to work out a knot in Arianne’s shoulder, she thought about the way Ethan watched her from the door of the study this morning, the way his eyes soaked her up. ‘That’s the scary bit. I don’t want to get attached. I have to keep reminding myself it’s not a future, it’s just great sex.’ Really great sex. ‘And everyone deserves some of that some time. Right?’

‘Most of us deserve more than that. Most of us deserve a future.’

‘Some of us don’t want futures.’

‘But, Dee …’

‘No. And I don’t need to think about that stuff right now. The hospital is making me nervous enough. I don’t want a panic attack before I see Ethan. He definitely doesn’t need to see that.’ She gave Arianne’s shoulders an all-finished pat. ‘So how’s the food in here?’

Dee stayed an hour. By then, her stomach was gripped like a vice around the smell and the sound of nurse sneakers in the hall. She kissed Arianne goodbye, turned into the corridor and froze.

A woman in a bed was being wheeled down the hallway by an orderly. Dee’s heart stopped. It must have stopped because she was having an out of body experience. She was watching herself in a corridor, pale with pain, knuckles white around the bed railing, thin and cold even under a blanket. Her eyes connected with the woman’s as she passed. Pale blue, blonde lashes. Nothing like Dee’s green ones but it was still like looking in a mirror. She
recognised the fear and loneliness. Felt her memories break loose.

Then her head was spinning and she couldn’t get air into her lungs. She gasped, braced herself against a wall, closed her eyes. Breathe, Dee. Just breathe.

It worked. Her head cleared, her legs moved, and she got the hell out of the damn hospital.

Outside Ethan’s apartment an hour later, Dee sat in her car and took more deep, slow breaths, still wrestling her memories back into their mental lock-boxes. All the way over, they kept cracking open, letting ugly snippets escape to bounce about in her head. Like the look on Anthony’s face moments before he left her. And it was giving her cold feet.

The thought of Ethan was making her nervous now. The kind of nervous she got on a plane that was about to take off, not sure if she’d arrive safely or crash in a fireball.

She walked along the path, seeing her mother with the pamphlets for state-of-the-art wheelchairs, and herself ripping them into tiny bits and drowning them in the horrible hospital soup.

She buzzed Ethan’s apartment. His voice was hollow and static-y through the intercom. ‘Hey, Dee. What took so long?’

She’d rung earlier when she was leaving then drove the long, long way over while she tried to strong-arm her thoughts. ‘Got stuck in traffic.’

‘I should have sent the chopper for you. The hospital’s got a landing pad.’

‘You’ve got a helicopter?’

‘No. Come on up and I’ll kid you some more.’

BOOK: Just Breathe
10.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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