Lisa was a blur, moving up and down the corridor at top speed. Mitch grabbed her arm on the way past. ‘How’s the list?’
She broke into a radiant smile and nodded her head. ‘Come this way.’
She opened a door to a nearby cupboard. It was packed to the seams with brightly wrapped presents all with the children’s names attached. ‘The list is perfect. The delivery came right on schedule. With the amount of electronic gadgets you’ve just bought I think this place is going to spontaneously combust.’ She was excited. It was clear—her eyes were sparkling and her hands never stopped moving.
‘So, what’s the plan? Same as last year?’ He glanced towards Samantha.
‘What did you do last year?’
Lisa laughed. ‘Oh, Mitch doesn’t only buy the presents. He likes to play Santa Claus too. He comes back at midnight, dresses up and puts the presents in each kid’s room.’
‘Really?’ She couldn’t believe it. Her brain was spinning. How far away was the hangar? Would he be able to rehearse and be back here on time? More importantly, would he be fit enough to do it?
‘Do some of the kids wake up?’
Lisa nodded and gave a little sigh. ‘Some of our kids are so sick that they’re up most of the night. Catching sight of Santa Claus is a real boost for them.’
Mitch nodded. ‘Except for last year, of course.’ He exchanged a glance with Lisa.
Sam could tell from the expressions on their faces that they’d been caught. ‘What happened?’
Lisa shook her head. ‘Oh, genius here got caught by the three-year-old brother of one of our kids with leukaemia.’
Mitch rolled his eyes. ‘Boy, did I. That little guy could talk for hours. He gave me a whole new list of toys that he wanted and Lisa and I were scrabbling about at three a.m., trying to find other presents for him.’
Samantha started laughing. ‘And did you?’
Lisa nodded. ‘Thankfully, we buy spares. We buy enough presents for the kids here, and their brothers and sisters. Some families spend their whole Christmas in hospital so we don’t want anyone to miss out. We always think we’ve got things under control by having a list for every child. Then...we get Mr Three-in-the-Morning who wants things he’s never mentioned before.’
Samantha was watching Mitch’s face. ‘Pressure was on then, Santa. The little guy met you in person. Can you imagine the bad press you would have got if you’d given him the wrong gifts?’
Mitch turned to Lisa. ‘Is he here this year? Tell me if he is you’ll sedate him with something.’
Lisa started laughing. ‘No, Riley isn’t here this year. His brother is currently in remission.’
Mitch’s face broke into a wide smile. ‘Oh, wow. That’s great news.’ It was just the way he said the words. The absolute genuineness in them. The way his shoulders sagged in pure relief. He was truly grateful that the little kid had turned a corner, because he knew how much that meant to the family.
Something curled up from deep inside her as she studied the small lines on his face around his eyes and mouth, and the intensity of his sincere brown eyes. As her eyes lowered to his mouth a little shiver shot up her spine, along with a sinking realisation.
Everything about Mitch Brody just cried out to her. From his masculine frustration at dealing with a new condition to his undivided devotion to this children’s hospital and all its residents. This wasn’t the guy she’d had a teenage crush on.
This was becoming a whole lot more.
Her breath caught in her throat. The thought panicked her. This was ridiculous. Okay, Mitchell Brody may have flirted with her, held her hand and kissed her. But there was no way he would even consider her in that way.
No, the woman Mitchell Brody would truly want would be a super-gorgeous, super-slim model or actress. She’d be a celebrity in her own right and they could be paid millions for their wedding pictures in some flash magazine.
Mitchell Brody wouldn’t ever be interested in a girl like her. Why would he be, when he had so many other options?
She could feel tears prickling at the backs of her eyes. This was no one’s fault but hers. She’d allowed herself to be drawn in by his sexy smile and charm. Who knew how many other women had had the same treatment from Mitch? This was probably just the norm for him, but her own sensibilities and emotions were reading things that probably weren’t there. Maybe other women liked casual flings and flirtations, but that wasn’t her. Being street smart wasn’t really an aspect of her life. Oh, she could be street smart at work as a nurse, but as a regular human being?
‘Sam, is something wrong?’
Lisa had walked back down the corridor and Mitch was standing right in front of her, his arms resting on her shoulders, his brown eyes studying her face. She blinked back the tears quickly. ‘No. Of course not.’ She shook her head, trying to convince herself as much as him.
He tilted his head to the side. He was still looking at her, obviously unconvinced by her answer. But thankfully he let it go, reaching down and taking her hand. ‘Then let’s go. We’ve got some planning to do, and it might be better if we chill out for an hour or so before we hit the rehearsals.’ He spoke quietly. ‘It’s going to be a late night. I hope you’re up for that on Christmas Eve.’ The words were whispered in her ear, giving a sense of intimacy and sending electric pulses along her nerves.
This isn’t what you imagine it to be. She tried to quell the thoughts running around her brain. This was about doing her job. This was about making Christmas special for these kids. This wasn’t about her. It never would be.
‘I’m fine with that,’ she said quickly. ‘It’ll be nice to come back here later.’ Her eyes swept up and down the corridor, taking in all the decorations and twinkling lights. The atmosphere around here was charged already. These kids, and their families, were so ready for Christmas. No matter what other crazy thoughts were going on in her head, she felt honoured to be a part of this.
It didn’t matter that he was still holding her hand and the tingles were reaching up across her chest. She squeezed her eyes closed for a second as he led her down the corridor. But her attempt at a reality check did nothing for her body responses. They were all still completely tuned in to the radio station that was Mitchell Brody.
She let out a sigh. One more week. She could do this for one more week. Then she’d have enough money to pay her mum’s nursing home fees for a whole year and she could get back to reality. Back to her school nursing job and her small flat that she’d always loved.
So, why all of a sudden, did it seem like not nearly enough?
* * *
Dave pulled the black SUV up outside the hangar. ‘Wow, I knew it was an aircraft hangar, but I didn’t expect it to be so—so big.’
Mitch smiled and he climbed out of the car and automatically reached for Sam’s hand. He couldn’t help himself. Every time he was near her he just wanted to touch her—even if it was only for the briefest of seconds.
He opened the door to the hangar and switched on the electrical supply. The lights flickered, taking a
few seconds to spring to life and show the true expanse around them. There was a stage at the other end, stretching from one side to the other.
Sam walked ahead, her freezing breath clearly visible in the air around them. She rubbed her arms up and down the sides of her bright blue jacket. ‘Third night in a row and this place doesn’t get any warmer. Brrr.’
He walked over and flung an arm around her shoulders. ‘What did you expect? Balmy heating in the middle of the winter?’
She rested her head on his shoulder. ‘Why do you have to practise somewhere so big?’ Her voice was quiet, as if she was sad about something.
‘Acoustics,’ he said quickly. The place really was impersonal. And if he was honest, that really wasn’t what he’d wanted for tonight. Things were changing between them—he wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep his hands to himself.
He turned quickly and nodded to Dave, who was waiting at the door. ‘Can you come back for us just after eleven and take us to the hospital?’
Dave gave a quick nod and wave and disappeared back outside the door. It only took a few seconds before they heard the engine of the SUV start up and he disappeared into the night.
Mitchell didn’t hesitate. He crossed the hangar in long strides. He almost felt her bristle as he pulled away. But the temptation to pull her around into his arms and not concentrate on the job at hand was just too high.
This was it. This was the night he had to prove himself fit and well. If she gave a good report to the insurers the tour could go ahead with no problems. He’d worry about himself later. Right now, all he could let himself worry about was the kids in that hospital.
The air around him was practically dripping with ice. At a normal performance, by the time the band arrived, the sweat was in the air all around them. Temperatures in the venues usually went through the roof because of the number of bodies packed in tightly.
Would changing temperatures have any effect on his blood sugar? He had no idea.
He flung his jacket to the side and walked across the stage, grabbing his guitar and switching it on. The feedback in the open area let a loud squeal reverberate around the metal building.