The Unexpected Child

By: Kate Walker


AS NATALIE let herself out of the house, the clock in the dining room struck the half-hour, making her stop dead at the sudden realisation that just twelve hours had passed since she had opened the same door on the previous night. Barely half a day, and yet the impact of that time on her life was immeasurable; it would never be the same again.

If she had stuck to her original impulse to ignore the summons of the doorbell, then this would have been just a normal Monday morning, her thoughts only of the coming weeks, with their lead up to Christmas and its pantomime, nativity play and all the other activities the school would be involved in. But the bell had rung again, more insistently, it seemed, and, realising belatedly that with the lights on and the curtain wide open she could hardly pretend not to be at home, she’d got to her feet reluctantly.

‘What is it?’

Impatience rang in her tone as she pulled the door open, letting in a blast of cold night air that made her shiver in spite of the warmth of the cherry-red tuniclength sweater she wore with black stretch leggings. An icy wind blew a couple of strands of her dark hair into her heart-shaped face.

‘Just what—?’

The words died on her tongue, her brown eyes opening wide, as the light from the hallway spilled out onto the tall, masculine figure standing at the top of the steps.

‘Hi, Nat.’

In spite of the painful familiarity of the voice, Natalie had to blink hard in order to convince herself that she really was seeing clearly.


It was all she could manage, shock numbing her brain so that she found it impossible to think. More than ten years ago, she had been knocked completely off balance the first time she had ever seen Pierce Donellan, and since then she had never been able to recover any degree of mental equilibrium where he was concerned.

He still had the power to deprive her of speech, the impact of his forcefully male attraction positively lethal to any hope of composure. Even casually dressed as he was now, in worn jeans and a navy sweatshirt, under a black leather jacket, with his black hair blown wildly around his head by the wind, and raindrops scattered like diamonds amongst the jet strands, he had a heartstopping male beauty that closed her throat and drove coherent thought from her mind.

‘Nothing to say, Nat?’ That cool voice was threaded through with a note of mockery that she remembered with a sense of discomfort from the past. ‘That isn’t like you. You always seemed to have plenty of opinions, and were only too keen to make sure that I heard every one of them.’

‘You took me by surprise—you were the last person I expected to see.’

And that was the absolute truth. She had long since convinced herself that Pierce Donellan would never again be part of her life, and if some weak, impressionable piece of her heart had still retained the foolish hope that things could be otherwise, then the news that had set the whole village buzzing only the previous month would have put paid to that.

‘To what do I owe the honour of this visit?’

Pierce’s grin in response to her unsettled tartness was disturbingly boyish, even slightly shamefaced, the appeal of that lopsided smile winging its way to her frighteningly vulnerable heart and tugging at it sharply. After believing that she had lost him for ever, she couldn’t suppress the rush of joy that flooded through her to see him like this, and yet stern realism told her that she would only be laying herself open to more hurt if she let him just wander back into her life as he had always done before.

‘Would you believe I was just passing?’

‘No way.’

Still not sure how to take him, she tried to harden her heart against him, knowing with a sense of despair that it was a vain attempt. One more smile like that one and she was done for.

‘Not even you could be “just passing” Holme Road on the way to anywhere. For one thing, it’s a cul-de-sac, and for an—’

‘OK, I confess! I was on my way to hide out at the Manor when I realised that with my mother away at Angela’s there would be no one around. The housekeeper’s on holiday so the place will be deserted, the heating off, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to look up an old friend.’

“‘Old friend?’” Natalie echoed, injecting a note of scepticism into her words and struggling to make herself feel something of the same emotion—an effort that was weakened as Pierce moved more into the light so that she saw with some concern how pale and drawn he looked. Or perhaps that was just the effect of the moonlight draining all the colour from his skin.

‘Don’t you think that’s something of an exaggeration? The truth is simply that my mother was your family’s cook and housekeeper for some years and you occasionally condescended to speak to me.’