Her Pregnancy Secret(6)

By: Ann Major


Until Jacob, his mother had gone from man to man, taking whatever they offered to survive. Michael had worked on the docks so he wouldn’t be dependent on such handouts. He’d hated having nothing and being treated like nothing and feeling ashamed of how they’d lived. He’d learned early on that when you didn’t have it, money was everything.

Will, on the other hand, had grown up a rich man’s adored only son. Will had loved everybody, especially his older adopted brother, whom he’d accepted right from the first. Maybe Will was the only person who’d ever loved Michael. He’d promised Jacob, to whom he owed everything, that he would look out for Will. Those feelings of profound responsibility carried over to Will’s unborn child, even if that child’s mother was someone he could never trust.

“If Will dies, Will’s child—your child—will be a North heir. Then there’s the promise I made to my brother. Whether or not you want me in your life, I intend to take a very active interest in that little person from now on.”

“So this is about money and control? My child is nothing more to you than the possible heir to the North fortune.”

Why should he let her know what Will’s child meant to him when she would only use such knowledge against him?

“A fortune does carry a huge responsibility.”

“I’ll bet you’re used to getting your way.”

She was right about that.

Her eyes darkened. “Well, you won’t. Not with me. Never again.”

“We’ll see,” he said. Then he let it drop. He fully intended to win this battle, but he wouldn’t bully the pregnant wife of his injured brother.

“I want you to go,” she said.

“Too bad.”

When he sank down into the chair beside her bed, she glared at him. At his thin smile, she shut her eyes and twisted her face away. As he stared at her stiff back, he knew she couldn’t force him out of her thoughts any more than he could force her out of his. Just being in the same room with her, even when she was injured, disturbed him.

An hour later, she was still rigid and seething when Will’s grim, hollow-eyed surgeon found them.

“Mr. North? Mrs. North?”

When she opened her eyes and met Michael’s, she blushed.

“I’m Will North’s wife,” she said. “Michael North is my brother-in-law.”

“I see. Sorry about the confusion.”

Michael had only to look into the surgeon’s shadowed eyes to know the worst. Will was gone. Slowly Michael stood and shook the man’s hand, listening, asking the appropriate questions, thanking him even as ice closed around his heart.

Bree let out a hoarse sob midway through the surgeon’s detailed explanation.

“Your brother lost a lot of blood at the scene....”

Michael’s vision blurred. He felt himself near some fatal edge. Maybe to steel his own nerves, he concentrated on Bree, whose face had gone as white as her sheets. Leaning over her hospital bed, he took her trembling hand. At his touch, she stiffened. Then, to his surprise, her fingers tightened around his, and she tugged him closer. Grabbing fistfuls of his jacket, she threw her wet face against his broad shoulder and burrowed into it. Clinging to him, she wept soundlessly.

His suit would be a mess tomorrow, but he needed to hold her, needed it more than he had ever imagined needing anything. Despite his own hideous sorrow and the profound gulf that separated them, he was glad Bree was here, glad not to be completely alone with his grief.

“Bree,” he murmured. Careful not to hurt her, his arms closed around her. “It’s going to be okay.”

“You don’t know, so how can you say that?”

“Time has a way—” He broke off, unable to repeat the usual trite phrases people offered one another for comfort.

Strangely, holding her seemed to be enough. Never had he felt more powerfully connected to another human being as her tears rained down his cheek.

After a long time she said, “Tell my mother and Marcie...about Will. Please...” Her voice was choked. “I just can’t.”

“Anything,” he murmured as he let her go. “I’ll do anything you want.”

“Really? Excuse me if I find it hard to believe that the man with no heart is now willing to do anything for me.”

“You’re pregnant with Will’s child, and he’s gone. Everything’s different between us now.”

“Yes. Will’s child,” she repeated softly.

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Will’s baby, and, therefore, for you.”





Three


The pain meds must have made her daft. Why else would she have agreed to spend the night—no, seven nights—at Will’s loft with Michael?

Because your Victorian brownstone has stairs—three tall flights of them—and no elevator, remember?

The fact that her building had no elevator had never been a problem before. Okay, so she didn’t like elevators or any small, boxy room. With her history, who would?

When she’d been a kid, an older cousin had locked her in a closet and left her there while he’d gone out to play. She’d been hysterical by the time her mother, who’d been busy in the kitchen downstairs, had found her. Every time the doors of an elevator closed Bree remembered Jeremy’s gloating smile right before he’d shut the door and turned out the light.

Bree chewed a nail as Michael jammed the key into the door of Will’s loft apartment in the Village. Maybe if she deliberately goaded Michael, he’d decide looking after her wasn’t worth it.

“I can’t believe, that as frequently as you saw your brother, you’ve never been inside his place before now,” she said.

Michael’s mouth tightened. “What do you know about it?”

She smiled. “Oh—did I hit a nerve?”

“He used to have me to his place on the Upper East Side all the time,” Michael snapped, “but for some reason he didn’t want me dropping by anymore when he moved here. Usually we met at my penthouse or somewhere in the city. I did stop by a couple of times, but he was either just going out or his roommate was home and they were busy. I didn’t understand why he needed a roommate when he could have easily afforded to live alone. When I asked him about it, he said the guy was a good friend who needed a place to stay.”

“R-right,” she said uneasily, deciding to back up Will’s lie. “He...he was still living here when we married.”

“Must have been crowded, you two being newlyweds and all.”

She didn’t like his tone but refused to comment.

When Michael finished unlocking the door, he caught her elbow to usher her inside.

Startled by the fire in even that brief touch, Bree jumped back. How could she feel anything for a man who’d used her and had lied to her? He was the last person she wanted helping her. But he was Will’s brother.

“This really isn’t necessary,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt. “You don’t want to be stuck with me any more than I want you here. Why don’t you make it easy on us both and just leave?”

“I’m staying,” he said in a tone that was raw and intense. “You can fight about it. Or you can make the best of it. Your choice.”

The carved lines of his face looked powerful and strong—implacable. She was much too weak, exhausted and woozy from the pain meds to fight him. When he nudged her inside, she let him.