Page 54 of Wife by Agreement

He closed his eyes and let his head fall back. She saw his chest lift as a deep sigh vibrated through his big body. When he lifted Ms head again some of the tension seemed to have dissolved.

'Family are there so you can be despicable when you're in pain.'

'Am I your family, Ethan?' she whispered huskily, hardly daring to believe what his warm, firm voice was telling her.

'Do you want me to be?'

'I want you to be my heart and soul and...' she began, her voice throbbing passionately. She gave up. Some things words just couldn't express, and, with a sob, she walked into his arms, which opened wide and closed firmly around her. I’m so, so sorry...' she murmured as he stroked her hair. 'I've always loved you. I never stopped, even when I was hurting you. I could feel your pain as well as my own, but I couldn't stop all those awful things coming out of my mouth.'

'I've said my share of awful things,' he said, pressing his mouth against the glossy top of her head. 'It's like conkers,' he mused, breathing in the fragrance of the slippery, clean tresses. 'I should have been able to stop your pain and I couldn't. He took her face between his hands and looked into her eyes. 'I did an unkind, selfish thing when I married you, Hannah. It's probably the thing I'm most ashamed of in my life, but, my God, I can't regret it because it's led me here to you.'

His warm lips were strong and tender as they pressed firmly against her own. 'I can't tell you the exact instant I knew I loved you, or the first time I knew how bleak my life would be without you in it. I've lived through an earthquake, but it was nothing compared with the impact of realising I loved you. I've been sitting here...' He gestured towards the leather swivel chair and then shook his head. 'Actually I couldn't sit still. I've been pacing back and forth, trying to compose a winning argument that would convince you to give me a chance. I couldn't do it!' he confessed. 'All I could see was the pain and reproach in your eyes and I knew I was responsible for putting it there.'

Hannah pressed her hands to either side of his head. 'Don't say that!' she said urgently. She couldn't bear to see the dark shadow slip back into his eyes.

She'd been blind to the toll the past days had taken on him up until now, but seeing the dark circles around his eyes, and the deep scoring of the lines between his mouth and nose, made her appreciate that she hadn't been hurting alone. Normally he was the epitome of the sleek, sophisticated professional, but today the designer suit was creased, and a cut which looked suspiciously like a razor cut marred the olive clarity of his cheek.

It was an accident, Ethan. I shouldn't have blamed you. I know that now. I wanted your baby so badly, but I thought you would be angry after the way you regretted making love to me in the first place.'

With a groan Ethan gathered her close; she could feel the thud of his heartbeat. 'I never regretted making love to you—how could I?' he asked hoarsely. 'I thought you regretted it—after all, I did coax, cajole and bully you into my bed. I was mad to believe Alexa and I was blind not to see how jealous her grief over Catherine had made her.' Ethan felt her body stiffen defensively. He stepped back and held her at arm's length.

'It might make you understand better if I tell you a few things about Catherine and myself. No,' he said gently, placing a finger over her lips to stifle her instinctive objections, 'I think you should know. Catherine was beautiful and talented, and at first our marriage was exactly what it appeared. The cracks started appearing when she was pregnant with Emma—she accused me of rushing her into things before she was ready. Her business was flourishing and so was her riding. We got a nanny as soon as Emma was born and things calmed down, but they were never the way they had been. You see, Catherine never really wanted a family, and she resented the fact that I did. Then she discovered she was pregnant with Tom. It wasn't planned and I found out by accident. She'd already booked herself into a clinic,' he recalled, taking a deep, painful breath.

'An abortion?' Hannah tried to compose her features to disguise her shock. Knowing how Ethan felt about his children, she could imagine how devastating that discovery must have been.

Ethan nodded, his eyes desolate as he relived the memory. 'She accused me of engineering the pregnancy deliberately, which, considering she was taking the pill, was an impossibility. I begged her to reconsider, give herself time to think about the consequences of what she was doing. Whatever else it might have been, it wasn't going to be the quick-fix solution she wanted. I knew Catherine, and I honestly didn't think she could have lived with the guilt. She only got as far as the clinic door; she never went inside. Maybe what I said swung it, or maybe she would never have gone through with it anyway.'