EMMA ROSE’S FACE was the colour of ripe tomatoes, glistening from summer rain. Jesse untangled her sweaty fingers from the bed sheets she’d been clutching, and brought them to his lips. Fiercely, she slapped him away. Then a contraction hit, and she seized his shirt front, yanking with all her might. Cloth tore, buttons popped. Her face contorted in pain and fury.
“I hate you!” she shrieked. “I don’t want to ever lay eyes on you again!” He tried to pull back, but she had him in a death grip.
He felt a steadying hand on his shoulder, and looked up into his mother-in-law’s sympathetic eyes. Hannah Johnston smiled down at him. “Don’t take it personally, Jesse,” she whispered. “She’s not herself right now.”
“I wish there was something I could do.” Jesse’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. Emmy was the love of his life, and it was agony to see her suffering, especially since he felt at least half-way responsible for it.
The midwife Emma Rose had insisted on hiring, bent over the hospital bed. Gently, she turned her patient onto her side and began to administer a backrub. Suddenly, Emmy rose up on one elbow, her eyes wild. “I want my Nan!” she demanded loudly.
Jesse extricated himself from her vice-like clutches and half staggered into the hall of the maternity ward, where his wife’s grandmother, Emma Harrington, sat with gentle dignity as always, in a waiting room chair. She looked up as Jesse approached.
“She wants you,” he said, shrugging helplessly. Jesse was well aware that Emmy and her grandmother had enjoyed an extraordinary bond since the day she was born. They’d drawn especially close the summer of Emmy’s seventeenth birthday, when she’d spent a summer in Nova Scotia. It was the summer she and Jesse had fallen in love. Emma sprang up and hurried to the labour room.
Jesse blew out an anxious, frustrated breath, and slogged along the hallway to where his wife’s obstetrician stood in his white coat, talking to Emmy’s step-grandfather, Richard Harrington, a retired surgeon. They turned and smiled at his approach. Richard’s face showed worry lines, but Dr. Melrose was unruffled.
“It’s been eight hours,” Jesse complained, running his fingers through his shoulder-length hair, sun-bleached from canoeing on the lake near their home in Lake Annis. “Shouldn’t you be doing something? I don’t know how much more she can take of this. Is—”
“Eight hours isn’t an unreasonably long time to be in labour, especially with first babies, and she’s got two in there to come out,” Dr. Melrose interrupted, in his clipped British accent. “Both heartbeats are strong; I checked them just ten minutes ago. The nurses and the midwife are monitoring things closely. Believe me, if any of the team believed she or the babies were in the slightest danger, we’d take immediate action.”
Just then the door to the ward banged open and in breezed another white-clad doctor, his hair a dishevelled mass of auburn curls. His face lit up as he gave Jesse’s arm a friendly slap, obviously pleased to see him. “Well, ol’ man. It’s the big day at last. Sorry I’m late for the party, but I had another birth to attend. So, how’s the pretty lady doing?”
Jesse felt his muscles relax a little as he looked into the round, affable face of Peter Poole, his friend, and soon to be his infant twins’ pediatrician. The artificial lights of the unit glinted off Peter’s thick glasses, partially obscuring sensitive, brown eyes.
“She’s in so much pain, Pete,” Jesse said, a catch in his voice. Peter nodded and turned to Dr. Melrose. “Let’s go have a look at her, shall we?” he asked. The two doctors strolled down the hallway like co-conspirators and disappeared into the birthing room.
Richard laid an arm gently across Jesse’s shoulders. “Let’s go for coffee and a muffin,” he suggested. “You look like you could use a break.”
“I don’t know if I should leave her.” Jesse hesitated, uncertain.
“She’s in excellent hands and we won’t be long,” Richard assured him. “As Harry Melrose said, eight hours isn’t a long time to be in labour and everything looks normal. Twins are often born prematurely and in need of neonatal care, but these babies are full term, a huge advantage. Emma Rose is young and strong and very determined to give birth naturally. I expect, though, that Harry will order an epidural shortly, which will ease the pain considerably. I know she didn’t want it, but it really is a better way to go, especially when a woman is delivering two.”
Jesse nodded and his shoulders slumped. “I think I’ll stay right here, if you don’t mind. I want to see what the doctors have to say when they’ve finished examining her.”
Richard nodded. “Sure thing,” he said, giving Jesse’s elbow a reassuring tap.
“Why hello, Dr. Harrington.” A nurse who’d just arrived at the nursing station looked up in surprise. “What brings you to the maternity ward?”
Richard nodded pleasantly. Jesse could tell by the blank look on his face that he was struggling to remember the nurse’s name. Emmy’s grandfather had been a well-known and beloved surgeon at this hospital until his retirement.
“My granddaughter is delivering twins today, and I wouldn’t miss such a grand occasion.”
“Do you mean Mrs. Anderson? I didn’t know she was related to you.” The nurse came from behind the station and leaned against it looking keenly interested.
“This is the father-to-be, Jesse Anderson,” Richard said. Jesse nodded distractedly.
“Not the artist!” the nurse exclaimed, her face flushing with pleasure. She turned to Jesse and reached out to shake his hand. “I’m so honoured to meet you. I have one of your early wildlife paintings hanging on my living room wall.”
Richard grinned. “Sometimes I forget there’s a celebrity in the family,” he commented.
“Why, he’s becoming known right across Canada. We’re all so proud that he’s a local boy.”
Jesse excused himself from the conversation as politely as he could. The attention his paintings drew made him uncomfortable. He’d never been an extrovert and didn’t handle his increasing recognition gracefully. He went to lean his lanky frame against the wall outside Emmy’s room to wait for the doctors to finish their examination. He could hear most of what they said.
“I think it’s time to give you something to make you more comfortable, Emma Rose,” Dr. Melrose was saying persuasively. “It’s not something that will hurt either you or the babies.”
“I didn’t want . . .” Emmy argued, weakly. Jesse could tell she was close to tears.
“You don’t want to stress the babies,” Peter Poole said, in a reassuring voice. “If you’re stressed, they are too. This isn’t a time for heroism.”