Callum and Isobel’s house, behind Benson Security’s London office.
“This is a bad idea.” Callum McKay folded his arms over his gray Henley as he stared down his very pregnant wife.
“No. It isn’t. This is my last hurrah before life becomes one long, endless cycle of pooping, feeding, and crying.” She fitted the sapphire drop earrings he’d bought her to her lobes.
“What if you go into labor?”
“The baby isn’t due for another week, and she’ll probably come late—Jack and Sophie were both overdue. There’s plenty of time for me to go see a show. And don’t even think about stopping me; I’m a hormonal pregnant woman and I will hurt you if you get in my way. My sisters have travelled down here for our girls’ night out and nothing you can do or say is going to change our plans. We’ve had tickets for Mamma Mia for months, and we’re going.”
“Wouldn’t it be better to rent the movie and watch it here? You could still get dressed up.”
“Tempting…but no.” She gave him a droll look. “I’m going to the theater, Callum.”
His eyes came to rest on her rounded belly. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let her out of his sight. What if something went wrong? What if she needed him?
“Fine,” he said. “Then I’m going too.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Her green eyes flashed fire at him. “What part of Girls’ Night Out are you confused about?”
“The part where it has to be out.”
“Callum, be reasonable. Women don’t stop living their lives just because they’re pregnant. And it’s not like I’m running a marathon; we’re going to sit in a comfy theater and watch a show. The most strenuous thing I’ll do is sing along.”
“Aye, because you and your sisters are known for being quiet and demure. You might think all you’ll do is sing, but Mairi could get a wild hair to dance on the stage, and the rest of you would follow her like a bunch of lemmings.” He shook his head. “I’m coming.” He used the same indomitable tone he reserved for his team of wayward security specialists.
“You don’t have a ticket.” Isobel slipped her feet into high heeled sandals.
“I don’t need a ticket.” About ten minutes after Isobel booked their tickets, Callum called the theater and changed their seats to something more secure. They now had their own private six-person box, which meant there was space enough for him. Of course, he hadn’t told Isobel about his interference. His hope was that she’d make less of a fuss when she found out at the theater.
Waddling over to him, Isobel almost tripped on the rug. Did she have to wear heels? She couldn’t even see her own feet. Weren’t flat shoes safer? She wasn’t safe to walk around on her own. Somebody had to be there to stop her from falling on her belly.
“What do you mean you don’t need a ticket?” Tossing her wavy dark hair over her shoulder, she glared up at him and then poked him in the chest. “What did you do?”
Aye, there was no way he was answering that.
“You messed with our bookings, didn’t you?” She held up a hand to stop him from talking—like he was about to confess. Yeah, right. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I just want a nice night out with my sisters. Now, do you think you could stop being an overprotective arse long enough for that to happen?”
It was as though she didn’t know him at all. The words ‘overprotective arse’ were stamped on his DNA.
His thoughts must have been written all over his face because Isobel let out a sigh. “Whatever. You can come, but you can’t be seen or heard. You’re the invisible bodyguard. Am I clear? Don’t make me set my sisters on you.”
If he’d been a lesser man, he’d have broken out in a sweat at that threat. Even as a former SAS specialist, it still gave him pause. One Sinclair sister was hard to corral, but four was damn near impossible. They were the human equivalent of a roomful of kittens playing with grenades.
“Jack,” Callum called over his shoulder, making Isobel roll her eyes at him as she turned to totter back over to the bed for her wrap. His eyes strayed to the curve of her glorious backside encased in the green silk of her dress. The sight made his mouth water.
When he glanced back up, Isobel’s eyes were dancing at him. “If you keep looking at me like that, I may stay home after all.”
Now why hadn’t he thought of that strategy in the first place?
There were footsteps behind him before his teenage stepson appeared. “What’s up?” Jack said.
“We need you to babysit your sister. I’m going out with your mother.”
Jack burst out laughing and shouted behind him, “Ryan? I was right. You owe me money.”
“Ryan’s here?” Isobel muttered. “Great. Who’s going to babysit him?”
For once, Callum agreed. Ryan might have been years older than Jack, and a security specialist to boot, but he was basically an overgrown puppy—left alone too long, he’d eat the furniture.
“I’m sick of arguing about you overreacting.” Isobel picked up her tiny beaded purse. “But I feel the need to remind you that this isn’t my first baby. I know what I’m doing here, and you should trust me.”
He was about to answer when Jack slapped a hand on his shoulder, smiling up at him before turning to his mum. “Give him a break, Mum. This is his first baby, and he’s only trying to take care of you both.”
Callum’s heart clenched at his words. Damn, but he loved his boy. He might not be Jack’s biological father, but as far as Callum was concerned, he was a father in every way that mattered, and he couldn’t have asked for a better son.
Isobel’s eyes softened. “I know. But please, Callum, I’m begging you, don’t ruin my night out.”
“He won’t.” Jack squeezed his shoulder and gave him a pointed look. “Right?”
“Aye.” All he wanted was to stay close and keep her safe. It was either that or go stir-crazy pacing the carpet while she was gone. No, he wouldn’t have done that anyway. He’d have tailed her at a distance instead.
As though reading his mind, Isobel came over to pat his chest. “I’d rather know you were there than have you follow me and skulk in the shadows.” She grasped his T-shirt and tugged him down to press a gentle kiss to his lips. “Guess this is what I get for falling in love with such a throwback.”
Jack smothered a laugh, but Callum thought it a fair assessment. “Let me get my jacket, and then we’ll go.”
“Where are you meeting everyone?” Jack asked.
“Ask your dad,” Isobel said as she passed them. “He’ll have checked out the restaurant and theater by now. He’s probably spoken to the managers and changed our seats to something he deems more suitable. Knowing him, he’ll have scared the life out of the staff, and they’ll be too terrified to come near us.” With a shake of her head, she disappeared.
Jack grinned at Callum. “I want to be you when I grow up.”
Callum didn’t like the restaurant the women had chosen. It was too crowded, too noisy, and too dimly lit. He’d visited the place as soon as they’d made their reservation and picked out the table they were to be assigned. The manager had taken one look at his face and hastily agreed to all of Callum’s demands. Now he sat at the bar, not far from the sisters, sipping an iced water and scanning the room for threats.
His phone buzzed from where he’d placed it on the bar beside him. One glance told him it was a message from his wife. When he looked back over at her, she was frowning. She stabbed a finger in the direction of his phone, so he picked it up and read the message.
You’re terrifying everyone. Either sit in the corner out of sight or try to look less intimidating.
What the hell? He looked back at her. Was he supposed to text a reply? What were they? Teenagers?
His phone buzzed again, and when he glanced back down, it was to find a message from Agnes, Isobel’s next youngest sister. She’s right. Look at the distance people are keeping from you. Do you want to ruin Isobel’s night?
Oh, great. It was a group chat.
Maybe you could try smiling? Mairi, the youngest, joined in. She followed her message with several smiling emojis and two gifs showing him how it was done. When he looked at her, she mimed instructions for smiling, pointing at her face as though the concept was alien to him.
He still didn’t smile, which she obviously thought was hilarious.
Callum frowned at the empty margarita jug in front of her. Great. Just what he needed—tipsy Sinclair sisters. He mentally upgraded them from kittens playing with grenades to chimpanzees juggling grenades.
I think it’s sweet that you want to look after Izzy like this. A message from Donna, the last sister, appeared on his screen.
It was quickly followed by three identical texts saying, Suck up!
Callum nabbed a waiter as he passed. “See that table? With the women all dressed in green?” For some reason, the sisters were all wearing the bridesmaid dresses they’d worn for his wedding. And, more baffling, they’d excitedly told him that was the plan, as though he’d want to know. “I need you to go over there and tell them to get off their phones.”
The color drained from the guy’s face. “I-I can’t do that.”
“Aye, you can. That’s my wife and sisters-in-law. Just tell them to stop texting me and get on with their night out.”
His eyes flitted between Callum’s face and the phone in his hand. “Couldn’t you just text them?”
“Do I look fourteen to you?” Callum growled.
The waiter swallowed hard. “I’ll get right on that, sir.” And he scurried away.
A minute later, all four women scowled at him and he returned to drinking his water in peace.
A peace that was shattered ten minutes later by gasps from their table. His head shot up to see them on their feet, napkins in hand, leaning over Isobel—and there was a puddle of water on the floor.
Callum was running the short distance separating them before he’d consciously decided to do it. He shoved a waiter out of the way and barreled through a group of exiting diners.
“Call an ambulance,” he shouted. “My wife’s water has broken.”
“No!” the sisters shouted in unison as Callum screeched to a halt beside Isobel.
“It’s going to be fine,” he reassured her. “Where’s that ambulance?” he snapped at anyone who would listen.
“Everybody, calm down,” Agnes called as she surveyed the stunned and silent diners. “There’s no impending birth; we just spilled a glass of water.”
“What?” Callum studied Isobel’s bright red face.
“I think it’s time we left,” she said.
“I’ll get your bill,” the manager hurriedly told them as he ran for the desk.
“I’m going to kill him,” Agnes snapped at Isobel. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to be a single mother. Again.”
“What were you thinking?” Mairi demanded, her red hair looking like it was sparking around her. “We booked those seats months in advance because we wanted the best view in the house.”
Isobel pressed a finger to his lips. “I swear, I will hurt you if you say this is more secure. I’m working hard to stop from having a violent outburst. Don’t make it impossible for me.”
“Is something wrong?” the usher asked, shifting nervously in the doorway.
“No.” Donna smiled at him. “We just weren’t expecting to be in a box. We’d initially chosen seats in the front row of the circle, right in the middle, where we could see the whole stage. But…” She glanced around at the small space with its six straight-backed chairs and a better view of the audience than the stage. “This is lovely too.”
“Yeah, lovely,” Agnes said. “If you want to watch what’s happening in the wings and miss all the action on the side of the stage you can’t see. First, he ruins dinner, now he screws with the show. I’m sorry, Izzy, but he has to go.”
“Do you want me to get the manager?” The usher backed away from them, eyeing the exit.
“No,” Callum told him. “Leave.”
The guy ran.
“Callum!” Isobel glared at him. “That was rude. If I didn’t know kicking your shin would hurt me more than you, I’d do it.”
“Just aim above the prosthetics,” Mairi said helpfully.
“I would if I could lift my leg that high.” Isobel turned to Agnes. “Kick him for me, Aggie.”
“Stop,” Callum ordered. “I know this isn’t what you’d planned, but if it makes you feel better, I bought tickets for the seats you originally wanted, so you can come back once the baby’s here. You get to see the show twice, damn it.”
Agnes narrowed her eyes at him. “And are you going to pay for another trip down from Scotland so we can use those tickets?”
Callum frowned at Agnes, who frowned right back. She was definitely the scariest of the sisters. Donna was the sweetest. Mairi, the craziest. And Isobel was all about the love. But Agnes? She was the woman you called if you wanted to bury a body.
When he didn’t answer, Isobel elbowed him in the gut.
“Aye,” he said. “I’ll pay whatever it takes. Now, can we sit down? The whole audience is watching us.” Not that he gave a damn, but he hoped it would get the sisters moving.
“Of course they’re watching,” Agnes said. “That’s why people pay to sit in a private box. The name’s a misnomer. There’s no privacy. You sit here to be seen.”
“Come on.” Isobel reached for a chair. “Let’s get this arranged so we can see as much as possible.” She pointed at him. “Not you. You get the worst view.”
Callum was all kinds of fine with that. In fact, he’d be happier if he’d brought some earplugs along too. “Let me.” He took the chair from her and placed it where she pointed, watching her rub her back while he did it. “You okay?”
“No. I’m four hundred years pregnant with the world’s largest baby, and the night out I’ve been looking forward to for months has been ruined by my caveman husband.”
“Apart from that,” he said, “are you okay? No pain?”
“No more than usual.” She nibbled her full bottom lip. “Although my back aches. I think it might be because of the shoes.”
Callum fought the urge to say You think? “Here, sit down, and I’ll take them off for you. You don’t need them until the show’s finished anyway.” He crouched in front of her and removed her shoes, taking the time to massage her, no doubt, aching feet. The look of pure bliss on her face made his heart soften. “I’m not trying to ruin your night,” he confessed in a tone low enough for only her to hear. “I want you to have a good time. But I need you and the baby to be safe while you do it.”
Isobel sighed. “I know.” She reached out to cup his cheek. “I still love you even though you’re a total pain in my backside.”
“I’ll relax once the baby’s here,” he promised. Although he was pretty sure that promise was more like wishful thinking.
Isobel leaned forward, clasped his face in her hands and smiled. “No, you won’t.” And then she pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.
“Get a room,” Mairi said. “Oh, wait. We have a room.” She glared at Callum.
“This makes me feel sorry for the royal family,” Donna said. “All those shows they sit through, and they can’t even see most of them.”
“Yeah,” Agnes drawled. “Those poor deprived darlings.”
“Shh,” Isobel hissed, “it’s starting.”
In the softly lit orchestra pit, the music began to swell as the house lights faded. The sisters leaned on the edge of the balcony, their eyes wide as they took in every detail. As the curtains twitched, a cheer went up. And then ABBA’s music began to play, and for the first time that evening, Callum deeply regretted tagging along.
It happened during ‘Dancing Queen.’
The women had pushed their seats back and were trying to dance on the tiny floor space. Callum was wedged into the corner, keeping his eye on Isobel while trying not to get trampled by the rest of them. One second, they were singing at the top of their lungs, waving their arms and grinning at each other; the next, Isobel was grasping her swollen belly as her wide eyes shot to him.
“Isobel?” He pushed away from the wall to reach for her.
“The baby’s coming,” she whispered.
For a split second that stretched into an eternity, Callum heard the blood rushing through his veins, and he lost the ability to breathe.
“Callum?” Isobel’s hand tightened around his wrist.
And just like that, time started again. “Let’s go.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulders while his other hand dug out his phone to dial the emergency number.
“No.” Isobel stayed rooted to the spot. “The baby is coming.”
“I know, darling. We need to get to the hospital.”
“No!” Her voice began to rise. “I mean, right now. This minute. I can feel the head.” Before he could say or do anything else, she lay down on the floor. Right there, on the burgundy theater carpet. Her knees went up, her hands curved around her belly, and she groaned.
Callum fell to his knees beside her, working to keep his voice steady and grateful that years of military training helped him do it. “Isobel, you can’t lie here, we need to get you to the hospital.”
Head shaking furiously, she grabbed his hand. “It’s too late. My water already broke, and I have to push.” A loud moan rent the air, pulling her sisters’ attention away from the stage.
“Izzy?” Agnes knelt beside Isobel and brushed back her hair. “What’s happening?” There was clear worry on her face.
“Baby’s coming,” Isobel panted. “Callum, get my knickers off.”
“I’m going to pretend I never heard you say that,” Mairi said as she knelt beside Agnes.
“It can’t be happening right now,” Callum said. “The baby isn’t due for another week. You told me yourself that it would be late. And you haven’t had any contractions. Have you?” He cast a questioning glance at her sisters, but they seemed as confused as he was.
“Been having back pains all day,” Isobel said on a gasp. “I thought it was just part of being hugely pregnant. Or the shoes. I should never have worn those shoes.”
Bloody hell. This wasn’t happening. When he said he was going on the girls’ night out in case something happened, he meant like her tripping and falling, not the baby coming early. He wasn’t ready for the baby. He’d counted on having another couple of weeks to get ready. Although he was fairly certain that even two years wouldn’t be long enough to prepare himself.
“The baby books say labor can take hours,” he told her reasonably. “There’s still time to get to the hospital.” Where there were medical professionals, and pain medication, and sterile beds instead of carpet that had seen thousands of feet.
“To hell with the baby books,” she snapped. “Get my knickers off before they strangle the baby!”
Someone in the box next to them made a loud shushing noise, which they all ignored.
“Hold her hand,” Donna said as she sat at Isobel’s feet. “I’ll see what’s going on.”
“That is so wrong.” Mairi looked like she was going to vomit. “You can’t check out your sister’s bits. That sort of thing can scar you for life.”
“I’m not checking her bits. I’m checking on the baby. It’s a perfectly natural part of life that family has been helping with since the start of time.” Donna eased Isobel’s underwear down her legs before focusing her attention between them. “Oh!” was all she said.
Callum’s blood pressure shot through the roof. “Oh?” Sweat broke out on his back. “What oh? What does that mean?”
Donna’s eyes grew impossibly large as she pointed between Isobel’s spread knees. “The baby’s head is coming out. There’s no way she can walk like that. She isn’t going anywhere. It looks like the baby’s decided it wants to be born to ABBA music.”
Agnes shot to her feet. “We need a doctor.”
Isobel groaned as her body spasmed with another wave of pain. “I can’t believe this is happening again,” she wailed.
“Again?” Callum felt panic surge inside of him. “What do you mean again?”
“You two haven’t talked about her previous births?” Donna sounded shocked.
Now that he thought about it, that might have been a good conversation to have. “No,” he said tersely. “Explain.”
“Jack was born in under an hour,” Agnes said. “Sophie in about forty minutes.”
“She has a really loose vagina,” Mairi said. “Babies just fall out of her. There’s no muscle tone to keep them in.”
Agnes smacked Mairi on the back of the head.
She rubbed the spot. “What was that for? I’m helping.”
“No, you’re not.” Agnes glared at her. “I’m going to find a doctor.”
“Don’t bother; I’ll get one,” Mairi said. And then, before anyone could guess what she was going to do, she leaned over the balcony and shouted at the audience, “Is there a doctor in the house? My sister’s having a baby! We need a doctor! Or a midwife! Or a fireman! Anything. We need help now!”
The singing stopped dead, the music stuttering to a halt a few seconds later.
Mairi took advantage of the silence. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she called to the stage. “But we have a medical emergency. My sister’s having a baby on the floor.”
For a second, there was only stunned silence, and then a voice came over the sound system: “If there’s a doctor in the audience, please make your way to Box…B? Is that Box B?”
The noise in the theater was suddenly deafening as hundreds of people started talking at once.
“I need to push,” Isobel shouted before letting out a strangled scream.
“The head’s coming out!” Donna reached down to support it. “Next time she pushes, I think it will be all the way out. Where’s the doctor? I need something to put under her. I can’t let the baby’s head touch this carpet. Who knows what’s on it?”
“I’ll put my wrap under her,” Agnes said as she did exactly that.
“We’re taking a little break right now, but the show will resume as soon as we’re able,” an actor’s voice sounded from the stage just as Isobel let out another scream.
“There’s a doctor coming,” Mairi told them with a grin. “I’ve always wanted to shout is there a doctor in the house.”
“We’re thrilled for you,” Agnes said.
Isobel suddenly flopped back, her head banging on the hard floor. Callum cursed. At least this was something he could help with.
“I’m going to let go of you for a second,” Callum said to Isobel. “I’m just taking my jacket off. Okay?”
She nodded, her eyes glued to his, as though he were her lifeline. He quickly removed the jacket, rolled it up and put it under her head. Damn, he hated seeing her in pain.
He leaned into her and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I’d take all the pain if I could. Bloody hate seeing you like this. I read up on the drugs you should have had. I thought I had it covered.”
“You’re here. That’s all that matters. Just don’t let go of my hand.”
“I won’t. I promise.” He kissed her lips. “Don’t you know I’d do anything for you?”
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Except let me have a girls’ night out without you.”
“Except that.” He wasn’t even going to mention how glad he was that he’d elbowed his way into joining them.
There was a commotion behind them, and Agnes got up to deal with it. Callum was vaguely aware of her talking to the manager before she called out that the doctor had arrived. A middle-aged woman in a black cocktail dress smiled at them as she made herself comfortable on the floor beside Donna.
“Well,” she said, “you really are having this baby.” She looked past Callum to the door. “We need the house medical kit. Inform the ambulance that the baby’s being born right now and to prepare for a newborn.”
Someone darted off behind them.
“You’re doing great,” the doctor told Isobel. “I’m Michelle. I’m an emergency resident at Royal London Hospital. Is this your first baby?”
Isobel shook her head. Her face red, sweat dripped from her brow, smudging her makeup and making her mascara run. “Third.”
“How long has she been in labor?” the doctor asked as someone pushed into the room and handed her a case with a red cross on it.
The sisters shared a look.
It was Agnes who answered, “We have no idea. It came on out of nowhere. She didn’t mention having contractions. The first we knew of it was when she lay down on the floor.”
“It can sometimes happen like that. Are you ready to push?” the doctor asked Isobel.
Her reply was a groan, and her body spasmed, almost as though curling in on itself.
“You’re doing great.” Michelle kept her attention firmly on the baby. “That’s the head out. Well done you. Now let’s get those shoulders.”
“The head’s out,” Mairi shouted to the audience, and there was a cheer.
“Okay,” the doctor said. “Let’s have another push. We’re nearly there.”
Callum held Isobel’s hand tight, feeling more helpless than he’d ever felt in his life. He was supposed to protect her from all kinds of pain, even this. Donna came around to kneel on Isobel’s other side. She flashed Callum a look filled with understanding before smiling her encouragement at Isobel.
A chant started in the theater: “You can do it. You can do it. You can do it…”
A flash went off behind Callum, but he kept his focus on his wife. “Agnes,” he rumbled.
“I’m on it. No photos,” Agnes raged as she rushed for the door. There was a thud, a squeal, and then the door slammed shut with Agnes back in the box. “Don’t worry, I deleted it.” She positioned herself in front of the door. If anyone else wanted in, they’d have to go through her.
“I’ve changed my mind,” Isobel wailed. “I don’t want to have another baby.”
The doctor chuckled. “If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard that.”
“It’s going to be okay,” Callum said. “You’re doing great. I’m so proud of you.”
“Stop talking to me,” she snapped. “This is all your fault.”
“Uh,” Mairi said. “I do believe you were the one who jumped him, you hussy.”
“Not helping,” Agnes growled.
“Another big push,” the doctor coaxed.
The rest was a blur. All Callum could see was the pain on Isobel’s face as the chanting in the theater grew louder. Then, with one almighty scream, she suddenly sagged back onto the floor, and a new cry broke out.
Their baby’s cry.
The theater erupted in cheers.
“It’s a girl,” Mairi shouted to the crowd.
“Is she okay?” Isobel sounded anxious.
“She’s perfect.” Michelle beamed at them.
“The baby’s fine,” Mairi told the theater. “I’m an aunt again!”
The doctor cut the cord and wrapped their daughter in a sterile blanket she’d found in the oversized medical kit.
“Would you like to hold your baby while Mum and I finish up here?” Michelle asked Callum.
And just like that, there was no one else in the room except Callum, Isobel, and their new daughter. He reached for her, marveling at how tiny she was in his hold. How fragile. And perfect. He’d never seen anything so perfect in his life.
“She has all her fingers and toes,” he said with awe.
“And my hair!” Mairi pointed to the bright orange fluff on his daughter’s head.
“Definitely your nose, Izzy,” Donna said.
“She’s beautiful,” Agnes declared. “Just like her mother.”
“And huge,” Mairi added. “Just like her father.”
“She isn’t huge, she’s tiny.” Callum was afraid he was holding her too tight.
“Try squeezing her out of your vagina, and then say that.” Isobel reached out to stroke her finger gently down their daughter’s creamy cheek.
“This one is for our newest audience member,” a voice called over the sound system as ‘Mamma Mia’ began to play again, and it sounded as though the whole theater joined in.
“Callum?” Isobel reached up to brush her fingertips under his eye. “You’re crying.”
His throat squeezed tight, and there was no getting any words past it. All he could do was look at the woman who’d saved his soul. Who’d given him a life that was far better than anything he could have ever hoped for. Without Isobel and their kids, he had nothing. Nothing at all.
“I love you too,” she whispered, staring into his eyes, reading the heart of him.
Even those words didn’t seem enough. Instead of answering, he placed his daughter on her mother’s chest, sharing a private moment as chaos whirled around them, unable to penetrate their perfect bubble.
“You should call her Mia, from Mamma Mia,” Mairi said, shattering the moment. “Or name her after the theater.”
“Idiot.” Agnes rolled her eyes. “This is the Piccadilly Theatre.”
“Oh,” Mairi said, “I’d go with Mia then.”
As the sisters argued, and the doctor dealt with the paramedics, and the theater rocked with another chorus of ‘Mamma Mia,’ Callum wrapped his arms around his wife and child.
He was home.