“Are you going to break it off with him?” Charlotte asked.
Bella’s mind reeled at the thought. “Oh, wow.” She shook her head. “I’m not there yet. We’ll see.”
Fred returned from the shower. “Any blueberry muffins left for me?”
Bella smiled, but her heart twisted. She couldn’t help being happy for her aunt. Charlotte had been through so much, and now she had a man who clearly wanted to be with her regardless of the iffy future.
On the other hand, Michael was a man who didn’t believe in love, and Bella feared he never would.
O ver the next seven days, Bella waited. She held her breath waiting for a true response from Michael. Something more than him ignoring the love she’d professed to him. But each day and night he said nothing different. He praised her beauty, made love to her, but avoided any real emotional confession.
For Bella, every minute that he ignored her confession she felt her hope grow smaller and smaller. Did her feelings mean so little to him? Did she mean so little to him?On the eighth day, she gave it another shot. They’d made love and he lay sated beside her. She stroked the angles of his face, his hard jaw and sensuous mouth. “I love you,” she said, not whispering this time.
He closed his eyes, and she wasn’t sure if he was savoring her words or steeling himself against them.
She held her breath, waiting, again.
He tucked her head beneath his chest. “Such an angel,” he said.
She felt his heart pound against her ear, but heard no other words, and she quickly realized this was an evasion. He didn’t want to tell her that he didn’t love her.
Her heart hurt so much she feared it would explode. She had made a huge mistake by being honest with Michael, but she didn’t know how she could go back.
After the tenth day of Michael leaving early for work and returning late, Bella could no longer avoid the truth. She had changed things by telling him she loved him. She couldn’t go back, and Michael could only pretend so much. She couldn’t stand the idea that he wanted to avoid her.
She felt a combination of humiliation and disappointment with a dash of abandonment. Oh, quit being a baby, she told herself as she rose from his bed long after he’d left. She stroked the pillow where he’d slept, dipping her nose to breathe in his scent. She’d messed up.
She should have kept her mouth shut. She never should have admitted that she loved him.
Michael didn’t know how to handle that. He didn’t understand the concept of love. He’d grown up needing and wanting, but not getting. Now it was too late for him to truly receive. He couldn’t bear her words or the deep emotion they conveyed. She’d shattered the fragile balance of their relationship.
Accepting the reality was painful. She wandered around his home, sensing this was her last time in his domain. Her stomach clenching so hard she could barely stand it, she wrote a note and left it on his pillow.
Her leaving would provide relief. More than anything, she just wanted his peace.
Michael came home on Tuesday night excited beyond belief. He couldn’t wait to share his news with Bella. Possibilities bloomed in his mind. “Bella,” he called. “Bella, I have news.”Silence greeted him. Maybe she was working late. Damn, he’d wanted to share this with her. He wandered upstairs to change his clothes. He pulled off his suit and stepped into jeans and a long-sleeve sweater to ward off the chill of the evening. Bella would make him warm later on, he thought, smiling to himself.
His glance strayed to the bed and he caught sight of a piece of paper on his pillow. Curious, he walked to the bed and picked up the folded paper. Unfolding it, he read it.
Dear Michael, I am so very sorry, but I cannot continue our affair. I have fallen in love with you. I know it’s not what you want. It’s messy and emotional and I don’t know how to deal with it. I thought I knew what love was before I met you, but I was wrong. Now I just want you to be happy. If I leave, you won’t feel pressured to do anything more than you want. I’ll pay you back even if it takes my whole life. I promise. I wish you every good thing. Love, Bella.
Michael sucked in a quick, sharp breath. Bella was gone. He felt as if a knife had stabbed him between his ribs. She loved him and he couldn’t love her back. How could he explain that he’d spent his life protecting himself so he wouldn’t be hurt again? How could he explain that being self-sufficient was the only thing that had made him survive?
Loving meant being vulnerable, and he couldn’t do that. For anyone.
Michael avoided his bed as long as possible and finally faced it without Bella’s loving arms. How could he possibly sleep? he thought, tossing and turning. Hours later, he finally fell into a restless sleep where he dreamed of Bella. Her smile, her eyes, her touch. His alarm sounded and his arms were empty. No Bella. No joy.