His brow wrinkled. ‘Like a nursing home?’
Tears formed in her eyes. Why? She’d made her peace with this. She had. She’d spent weeks finding the best home for her mum and securing her a place there. But every now and then the overwhelming guilt that she hadn’t managed to do the job herself chipped away at her.
‘Is that why you’re doing this job?’ For reasons she couldn’t explain, she just couldn’t speak right now. So she nodded, and prayed that one of those tears wouldn’t sneak down her face.
He reached over and grabbed her hand, encapsulating it in his own and squeezing it tightly. ‘Being away at Christmas must be tough.’
She tried to paste a smile on her face as she blinked back those pesky tears. ‘It’s fine.’ She shrugged her shoulders. Darn it. Now her voice had gone all wobbly. ‘The holidays are always the best time of year to earn extra money. Lots of people don’t want to work them.’
He was looking at her again. The top few buttons on his white shirt were undone and a few hairs curling up towards her. Her gaze was fixed there, even though she was willing herself to pull it away. He was still holding her hand. Still sending a little buzz up her veins. It was nice. It was more than nice. It was making her heart drum against her chest and beat out of sync.
He didn’t let go.
‘Why do you need to earn extra money, Sam?’
She flinched. It was too personal. No matter what he’d revealed to her today. She bit her lip. ‘Doesn’t everyone need a little extra money now and then?’
It seemed an innocuous answer but something flitted across his face. A look of distaste? She was trying to forget about her threat to quit today. She’d meant it. She would have walked away if he hadn’t started to bend a little. But it would have caused her endless financial problems that she could really do without.
She pulled her mind back to the job. Back to monitoring Mitchell Brody for signs of his hypoglycaemic attack.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Fine.’ His answer was as quick as a flash, and he was wearing that sexy grin on his face again. ‘Want to do something a little bit different?’
‘What does that mean?’ Her heart was giving the strangest flutter.
He walked over to a cupboard and pulled out the biggest stack of cardboard boxes—all brand new. ‘You make a start on these, and I’ll go and get the main event.’ He walked over to the front door and pulled it open.
She glanced at the boxes and followed him to the door. What on earth was he doing? She watched as he opened the door to the nearby garages and started to wrestle the biggest tree she’d ever seen out through the garage doors. It was obviously much more awkward than he’d expected—the top part of the tree kept catching on the brickwork.
‘Careful,’ she shouted as she ran out to help, grabbing any part of the prickly branches she could get her hands on. It took careful manoeuvring. The heavy base had Mitch red in the face, with the veins nearly popping in his neck. Thankfully it was only a few steps back to the doorway. ‘How long has this been in the garage?’ she asked, as she tripped down the steps towards the lounge.
‘Four days,’ he muttered through gritted teeth. ‘There!’ With a huge grunt he wrestled the tree upright and into place next to the fireplace, before collapsing with laughter onto the rug below.
She sagged down on to the rug beside him. ‘I thought you were getting some company to decorate for you.’
‘So did I. But somebody told me I’d be missing out if I did that.’
She gave a little smile. Mitchell had actually listened to her. There was hope after all. She pushed herself upwards and slammed the front door to stop the icy blast coming into the house. She lifted the corner of one of the boxes and smiled, pulling out a ready-made red, green and gold garland for the fireplace. ‘Do we actually have any real decorating to do?’
He gave her his lazy smile. ‘I’m starting simple. Those ones we just hang up. But one of the boxes has the tree lights and the tree decorations. We have to do those ourselves.’
She couldn’t help but grin. There was something so nice about that. She lifted down the next cardboard box and opened it. It was full of Christmas lights, gold stars and red berries. She lifted them out and started to try and untangle them. Mitch stared at her. ‘What are you doing? Can’t we just put them on?’
She shook her head and handed him the plug. ‘No. You’ve got to be methodical about it. Haven’t you ever decorated a tree before? We need to check the lights are working first.’
He hesitated for a second. ‘We didn’t really do trees in our house. We spent most of the time at the hospital. There wasn’t much point putting a tree up in the house.’
Her heart gave a little squeeze. It was time to ask the question that had been floating around her head. ‘So, what’s the story with the children’s hospital? You said they looked after your brother?’ She hesitated as she realised she’d never asked about the outcome for his brother. Mitch hadn’t referred to him in the past tense, had he? Her insides started to cringe.
But Mitch just replied in a matter-of-fact tone. ‘Shaun was sick for a few years. He had chemotherapy and radiotherapy but eventually needed a bone-marrow transplant. He was cured after that, and he’s never had any relapses.’
He flicked the switch on the lights and they flickered on, a warm glow of gold twinkling stars and deep red berries. Sam gave a little gasp. ‘Oh, these are great. Just leave them on while we put them up.’ Should she ask the next question? This was the first time Mitch had really been open about his family. ‘Who was the donor for the bone-marrow transplant, your mum or dad?’
He shook his head. ‘Nope. It was me.’
She felt shocked. Of course she’d heard of sibling donations, but surely he’d been too young? She was starting to wind the lights around the branches. ‘Come and help, I need an extra set of arms.’ But instead of positioning himself at the other side of the tree, Mitch came around behind her, putting his arms around her back to catch the drooping coils of light. ‘What age were you?’ She tried to calculate in her head. ‘You wouldn’t even have been a teenager.’
He nodded, dropped the lights again and tugged at his jeans, pulling them down a little, revealing the upper part of his buttock and hip joint, ‘I don’t even have a scar,’ he announced. Then gave her a wink. ‘No war wounds to show the girls.’
He was trying to make light of it. But Samantha knew better than that. She knew exactly how painful it would have been for a young boy to donate bone marrow to his brother—he’d probably spent the best part of a week in bed.
Her professional head was spinning. This had been twenty years ago. She knew exactly how things operated now—how they endeavoured to protect children—but had they been the same then? ‘Did you understand what you were doing? Did you want to do it?’
He leaned towards her, picking up the coils of lights again and letting her inhale his woody aftershave. ‘Of course I did. Shaun is my brother. I would do anything for him.’ His eyes flickered with the recognition of what she meant. ‘No one coerced me. No one made me do it.’
‘And how is Shaun now?’ They were moving slowly around the tree together, stringing the lights as they went. She was curious. He’d said his brother was well, but it wasn’t Shaun that was here, visiting a children’s hospital full of sick kids every afternoon. It was Mitchell. Why did he feel such strong ties?
He reached up to place the last string of lights near the top of the tree, his chest brushing against her shoulders. It should be too close for comfort. But it wasn’t really feeling like that.
She stepped away, trying to keep her head in focus. She picked up the next box full of gorgeous red and gold baubles and blown-glass ornaments. ‘These are beautiful, Mitchell. I’ve never seen decorations like this before.’ They were mesmerising, and probably cost more than she ear
ned in a month. Her mother would love these.
‘It seems like you should have the honours of decorating your first official Christmas tree.’ She started to pass them up to him one at a time.
‘Don’t you want to do it?’ He looked confused. ‘I thought that’s what you wanted.’
‘So did I,’ she said quietly. ‘But it’s reminding me of how much I miss my mum.’