The delivery roomhad roughly twenty people in it—or that was how it appeared. Ryan was too stressed out to conduct an accurate count. He concentrated on staying as close to his wife’s side as he could without getting in anyone’s way.
Another contraction contorted her small frame and her back arched in a bow. She squeezed his hand, hard, and he winced—in sympathy, not pain. Although, if he could take it on for her, he’d gladly switch places. She’d been in labor for seventeen hours and he didn’t think his nerves could take it much longer. Twice now, a nurse had suggested he take a break in the waiting room—he suspected because his demands they see to Elizabeth’s comfort might be out of line—but her parents were in the waiting room too, and Theo Benson made no effort to hide his continued dislike for his new son-in-law.
Ryan got it. He didn’t think he was good enough for Elizabeth, either. He certainly wasn’t much good to her right now.
Yet one more gowned and masked medical professional entered the room. A woman. As she approached Elizabeth, two workers moved out of her way. At last. A doctor.
The doctor did a quick examination. “She’s crowning,” she said with satisfaction. Her eyes smiled at Ryan over her mask. “You’re about to find out if you have a son or a daughter, Dad.”
Oh, my God.
Ryan felt faint. He wasn’t ready for this. He’d be a terrible father. He hadn’t been able to work up any enthusiasm during the final months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. No matter how many times she tried to reassure him it was natural not to be excited before he had a baby to hold in his hands, he couldn’t believe her. What if he didn’t have it in him? What if he failed as a father and raised another Giaco Cienetti to unleash on the world?
Elizabeth cried out. Ryan winced.
“Push, Mom,” the doctor ordered, her head bent between Elizabeth’s shaking thighs and her hands busy doing things Ryan couldn’t see. He was too preoccupied with his wife and how she was holding up.
“And… it’s a girl!” the doctor announced. “You have a daughter.”
It took Ryan a few seconds to process the news. Never once had it occurred to him that he might end up with a daughter. A little bubble of joy encompassed his heart. He abandoned Elizabeth without a second’s hesitation, anxious for proof that the howling bundle the doctor cradled in her gloved hands was, indeed, a baby girl. “Are you sure?”
The room exploded with laughter.
“I’m rarely wrong at this stage,” the doctor assured him, a smile in her voice.
The baby was whisked away before he could see for himself. He turned on the doctor. “What are they doing to her?” he demanded, going Giaco on them.
“We’re weighing and measuring her, and generally making sure she’s in good health,” the doctor said. “It’s all standard procedure. She’s fine. You can hold her as soon as they’ve got her cleaned up and bundled.”
Elizabeth reached for his hand. “Relax, Heathcliff,” she murmured. Exhaustion rimmed her amber eyes. “They’ve got everything under control. Can someone let my parents know they have a granddaughter?”
Ryan clung to Elizabeth, but he couldn’t take his eyes off his daughter. The wait was excruciating, although only a few minutes passed before one of the nurses laid the tiny, blanketed bundle in his shaking arms.
“We’re going to wheel your wife to a recovery room so you can be alone as a family for a bit before we take your daughter off to the nursery for a few hours,” someone said. “Mom needs to rest.”
Moments later, they were alone. Ryan held the baby, refusing to give her up, even after the nurse gently suggested Elizabeth might like a turn. His daughter was red-faced and wrinkled, with a tiny, puckered mouth, and eyelids squeezed tightly shut. She was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen—next to her mother, of course.
Elizabeth was watching him, a smile of pure pleasure on her face, although she could barely keep her eyes open.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan said. “You can hold her. Just give me one more minute.”
“Take as many as you’d like,” Elizabeth said. “I held her for nine months. It’s your turn now. All I want to do is go to sleep.”
“I’m so relieved she’s a girl,” he whispered. He placed a soft, careful kiss on the tiny, wrinkled forehead.
“Girls can be sociopaths too, you know. But don’t worry. She won’t start off as an evil crime lord. She’ll grow into the role. You’ll have years to get used to the idea.”
“You aren’t helping.”
Elizabeth laughed, although it was more of a tired smile accompanied by a puff of sweet air. “When I first met you, you delivered a newborn calf. All I could think about was how amazing it was that you’d brought this tiny new life into the world. It made you the sexiest man I’d ever met. But I have to say, there’s nothing sexier than watching a beautiful man hold a new life he helped to create.”