It had been the same when they had announced their engagement some months later; he had been truly thrilled for them both and absolutely delighted when Tim had asked him to be his best man. It was only at the wedding that he had started to feel a little bit odd. Listening to Bella swearing to love, honour and care for Tim for the rest of her days had, surprisingly, made Mac feel as though he was about to lose something unutterably precious...
He drove the thought from his head. It was too late for it now; far too late to wish that he had said something, done something, stopped the wedding. How could he have jumped up in the middle of the ceremony and declared that he didn’t want Bella to marry Tim because he wanted her for himself? No, he had done the right thing—sat there and played his part to the best of his ability. And if there’d been an ache in his heart, well, he had accepted that he would have to learn to live with it.
That was why he had decided to sign on with Worlds Together, a leading overseas aid agency, after the wedding. He had been on over half a dozen missions to date and although he knew that he had helped a lot of people during that time, he had gained a lot too. He’d had three years to rationalise his feelings, three years to make sure they were safely under wraps. Why, if anyone had asked him a couple of weeks ago how he felt then he would have confidently told them that he was back on track. But not now. Not now that Bella was no longer Tim’s wife. Not now that she was available.
Mac swallowed his groan. Maybe he did want to help Bella but it could turn out that he was creating a lot of problems for himself by doing so.
* * *
Bella had no idea what was going on but the tension in the car was making her feel sick. She licked her parched lips, trying to think of something to say, but what exactly? If she ordered Mac to get out of the car, would he do so? Or would he ignore her and stay where he was? It was the not knowing that was the scariest thing of all because it denoted a massive shift in his attitude.
Mac’s behaviour towards her had always been impeccable in the past. He had treated her with an old-fashioned courtesy that she had found strangely endearing. Few men in the circles she had frequented had been so polite. The old ‘Hooray Henry’ syndrome had been very much alive, so that Mac’s thoughtfulness and maturity had set him apart. That was why she had enjoyed spending time with him, she realised in surprise. He hadn’t needed to shout or tell risqué stories to make himself stand out. Whenever Mac was around, people always knew he was there.
The thought stunned her. She had never realised before just how much Mac had impressed her. He had been an unknown quantity in so many ways, his background so different from hers that she had been afraid of saying something stupid that would betray her ignorance. Now, after working in the NHS for the past ten years, she had a much better idea of the world. She had treated many people from backgrounds similar to Mac’s and understood the hardships they faced. That Mac must have had to overcome all sorts of obstacles to qualify as a doctor merely highlighted his strength of character, his determination, his commitment. Few men could have taken on such a challenge and won.
Bella’s head whirled as thoughts that she had never entertained before rushed through it. Added to the strain she’d been under since the breakdown of her marriage, it made her feel very shaky. Leaning forward, she rested her throbbing forehead on the steering wheel.
‘Are you all right? Bella, what’s wrong? Answer me!’
The concern in Mac’s voice brought a rush of tears to her eyes. Although her parents had expressed polite sympathy when she had told them about the divorce, they hadn’t really cared about the effect it had had on her. They were too wrapped up in their own lives to put her first. As Mac had just done.
‘It’s just all too much,’ she whispered, unable to lie.
‘No wonder!’ Anger laced his deep voice as he got out of the car. He strode round to her side and flung open the door. ‘When I think what you must have been through recently—’ He broke off as he lifted her out of the car. Bella got the impression that he didn’t trust himself to say anything more as he carried her round to the passenger’s side. He gently deposited her on the seat and snapped the seat belt into place then looked at her. ‘Right, where to? You can go straight home or you can come back to my place. You decide.’
Bella bit her lip as she weighed up her choices, even though by rights she knew that she should tell him to take her home. She didn’t want to talk to him, especially not tonight when she felt so raw, so emotional, so very vulnerable.
‘Come on, Bella. Just choose where you want to go and I’ll take you there.’ His tone was so gentle, so persuasive, and Bella wanted to be persuaded so much...