Nell took him by the shoulders and gently but firmly turned him around. ‘Say goodbye, Jack, your mum is here.’
Jack spotted his mother and trotted off.
Nell nodded. ‘It’s a lovely age. Jack,’ she explained with a strained laugh, ‘has something of a one-track mind.’
She watched through her lashes as Luiz rose to his feet with effortless elegance.
‘I find myself in a similar position.’ Despite being spoken in a soft voice, the emotion-packed statement emerged with a force that rocked Nell like an emotional force ten.
She swallowed, noticing again the signs of stress and tension in his face. Always lean, he appeared to have dropped several pounds that added a few more hollows and planes to his chiselled features.
He dug into his pocket and produced a small velvet box. Nell knew what was in it before he opened it.
Luiz watched, the strength of his frowning displeasure cranked up several notches as she tucked her hands behind her back. Did she think he was going to force it back onto her finger?
Actually, now that he thought about it, the idea had merit!
‘So you got it, then,’ she said brightly as the multi-faceted stone caught the light.
‘I got it,’ he confirmed grimly.
Nell glanced up, registered the barely suppressed anger in his face and looked away. ‘Is there a problem?’
The ring had seemed fine when she had finally managed to get it off, it was her finger that had been bruised and swollen. She absently rubbed the bare finger; it had healed, the bruises were barely noticeable but the bruises inside would, she feared, never go away.
Well, they won’t while you’ve got an attitude like that, girl. Stop whining; stop mooning around after him. He doesn’t love you and he never will so suck it up and get on with it. This baby doesn’t need a tragic loser as a mum. She took a deep breath and lifted her chin, but couldn’t help flinching as he yelled.
‘Yes, there’s a problem!’ he gritted through clenched teeth, his fury fuelled by the fact she had actually recoiled from him. Did she think he would hurt her? Madre de Dios, he would have walked across hot coals to protect her from pain.
‘I thought you might just have been passing and thought, Gosh, yes, why don’t I drop in on Nell, embarrass her in front of her colleagues and abuse her a bit? Well, if that was your intention, Luiz—full marks!’
‘I am not trying to hurt you, Nell! Why do you think I’m here?’ he added, struggling to shed some of his anger. Not terribly rational anger when you recognized, as he reluctantly did, that, rather than walking across hot coals—noble but not overly practical—it might have been better if he hadn’t hurt her in the first place.
‘Think?’ Thinking required a brain that functioned and could say something other than, Love me—love me!
Conscious her laugh was making him look at her strangely, she gave her head a little shake. Focus, focus…what was the question? Why? Clearly not to ask her to rethink the marriage proposal—which was good, she told herself, because nothing had changed.
‘I don’t have the faintest!’ she admitted after a silence. ‘But while you’re here do you mind lowering your voice? This is a library, not a football stadium!’
‘Why did you send the ring back?’ he said, totally ignoring her request.
She shook her head. For a man with a mind like a steel trap the question did not strike her as taxing. ‘You came all this way to ask me that? What was wrong with a phone?’
He arched a sardonic brow. ‘You would not have answered it.’
Nell’s eyes slid self-consciously from his. ‘Well under the circumstances I could hardly keep it.’
‘You can keep my child.’ His eyes slid to her still-flat stomach as he spoke.
Nell’s eyes flew to his face.
‘But you cannot keep my ring?’
‘Will you lower your voice?’ she hissed, glancing over her shoulder at people who were pretending they weren’t listening to every word he was saying. ‘I like this job and I don’t want to lose it!’ Taking a step closer and lowering her voice, Nell added, ‘And it isn’t just your child.’
Luiz, who made no attempt to lower his voice, accused loudly, ‘It is not me who has forgotten this child has two parents.’
‘I haven’t forgotten anything, Luiz.’ Her chin sank to her chest as she admitted in a broken whisper, ‘I wish I could.’
How was she meant to live a normal life when her every waking moment was haunted by memories of the short time they had spent together?
Luiz hooked a finger under her chin and forced her face up to his. ‘You’re crying?’ His immunity to female tears was totally lacking as she shook her head in denial.