Her Pregnancy Secret(5)

By: Ann Major

“What you did to her...was all my fault.”

“Whatever I did, I did it for you,” Michael said.

“Understood. So, promise me...you’ll take care of her. If you’ll do this one thing for me, we’ll be square.”

No way could Michael promise that.

“Promise me,” Will insisted.

The room felt stale and airless. His brother looked so pale—Michael couldn’t say no to him. He yanked at his collar and tore at his tie that was damp from the rain. He wanted to run out of the room, to get outside, to breathe fresh air.

Through gritted teeth he said, “I promise I’ll take care of your wife.” Carefully Michael took his brother’s limp hand and pressed it lightly. “I’ll even shake on it.”

“And her restaurant. Help her save it.”

Michael nodded.

Satisfied, Will’s heavy eyelids drooped shut.

A few seconds later an older male nurse in blue scrubs rushed up to the gurney and flipped through Will’s chart. Without a word, he bent over his patient.

Michael stood in the doorway and watched the man wheel his brother away, watched until they vanished down the long hall. The sounds of people rushing past him died. All he could hear was his own heart. Would he ever see his brother alive again?

Suddenly he felt very cold, and very much alone, as alone as he’d been as a kid. Since he couldn’t stand forever in an empty hall staring at waxed floor tiles and feeling sorry for himself, he turned and headed back to the nurse’s station where he found Pedro, who took Michael to Bree.

Two women, probably family, hovered over Bree. She lay on a narrow bed that had been curtained off from the other beds in the large room.

Michael held out his hand. “I’m Michael North, Will’s brother. Her brother-in-law.”

The older woman took his hand. “I’m Bijou, her mother. Wait! I never forget a face. You’re that handsome rich guy that came to the restaurant looking for her, yes? I thought maybe you gave her some trouble, yes?”

Heat washed through him. “Yes.”

“I’m Marcie,” the pretty blonde beside Bijou said. “I wait tables for Bree and Bijou. Bree’s just the sweetest person in the whole world. So is Will. I can’t believe that two such super people...”

“Marcie! You need to be strong, oui!” Bijou turned to Michael. “We’ll give you a minute with her,” she said. “But only a minute.”

When they left, Michael moved closer to Bree’s bed. Her thick lashes were still against her bloodless cheeks, so she didn’t see him at first. Dark circles ringed her eyes. More than a dozen bruises and livid cuts covered her arms and cheeks. At the sight of her injuries, he choked on a breath.

She looked so slim and fragile in her hospital gown, he felt a stab of fear. She was carrying his brother’s child, and Michael had sworn he’d take care of her.

Despite the money she must have been after when she’d married Will, Michael’s resentment toward her faded. If Will died, her child would be Michael’s last link to his brother.

“Bree? Can you hear me? It’s Michael. When I got in from Shanghai I heard about the accident. I came at once.”

“Michael...” Her lashes fluttered weakly, and for an instant her face lit up with pleasure...and with some other more luminous emotion that thrilled him. Her eyes had shone like that when he’d first entered her.

In the next second she must have remembered what he’d done because her gaze went flat and cold. “Where’s Bijou? What are you doing here? I want my mother back.”

“Your mother’s right outside. Will asked me to check on you, so I’m here,” Michael said softly.

“Will asked you...” She let out a harsh sob and turned her face to the wall. “I don’t believe you! He’s as fed up with you as I am! Go away!”

Michael felt conscience-stricken and confused, which wasn’t like him.

“I don’t need you here,” she said to the wall, her tone so low he could barely hear her. “Will knows that, so you’re lying if you say he sent you.”

“He did. He was facing surgery, and I think he was afraid.”

She sucked in a breath. “Oh, God... I’m being so selfish. Tony’s dead and maybe Will won’t...and he’s in there scared and alone...and thinking of me. He’s so good.”

“Yes, he is.” Michael’s voice was hard and condemning.

When she jerked her head around to stare at him again, he noted how the soft blue fabric of her hospital gown molded against her breasts. “They told me how badly Will was hurt. They didn’t want to. But I made them. If he dies, it will be all my fault. He took off his seat belt...right before that SUV shot across the median and rammed us. Will saw it coming and threw himself in front of me...to protect me and the baby. Poor Tony never had a chance.”

“Who’s Tony?”

An odd, almost sorrowful expression passed swiftly over her bruised face. Clutching her sheet, she looked away. “Will’s best friend. He was driving.”

“Funny. I’ve never met him.”

She chewed her bottom lip. “I imagine you were too wrapped up in money matters to really involve yourself in your brother’s personal life—except when it came to me—because you saw me as a financial threat.”

Her words hurt more than they should have. “Will said you and he were expecting a baby.”

Her face went even whiter, if that were possible.

“H-he had no right to talk to you about the baby. He swore to me he wouldn’t.”

“He asked me to take care of you...and the baby...in case...”

She shuddered. “It just gets worse, doesn’t it? You and me—stuck together...maybe without Will?”

“It’s probably just a precaution. I promised him I would. If...if the worst happens. I intend to keep my word.”

“Really? Your word?” She tipped her head back and frowned, studying him. “As if that means something.” She took a deep, stabilizing breath. “Just go away.”

“I intend to honor my promise—whether or not you want me to,” he said.

“You deliberately deceived me, to get me to do things I find truly humiliating now. How could I have been so foolish?”

Sensual, erotic things he’d dreamed of her doing to him again.

“I thought I’d found the one person—never mind!” she snapped. “You made it very clear how you really felt about me at a moment when I was most tender and open and vulnerable to you. I don’t know how all those other women feel, the ones you date for a night or two, but let me be very clear. You are the last person I would ever want in my life, even casually. I don’t care if you’re Will’s brother and my baby’s...uncle, or that you feel a duty to keep your promise. I do not want to see you. I do not want my child to know you. Do you understand?”

Her words cut Michael deeply. Curiously, he felt guilt, as well. Why should he feel that when he’d been trying to protect his tenderhearted brother who had proven time and again he was too trusting when it came to people who were after his money?

Not that Michael showed his pain at her words by even the flicker of his dark eyelashes. Having grown up poor, in a rough Houston neighborhood near the ship channel, he’d learned to put on a tough mask whenever he felt the slightest weakness. His mother had barely eked out a living as a masseuse before Jacob North had married her and adopted him.