Mac nodded as he closed the door. Walking round to the driver’s side, he got in and backed out of the parking space. He didn’t say a word as he drove out of the hospital gates. Bella had no idea where he lived and quite frankly didn’t care. Wherever it was, it had to be better than the soulless apartment she was renting. They drove for about fifteen minutes, the roads becoming increasingly narrow as they headed away from the town centre. Bella had done very little exploring since she had moved to Dalverston and had no idea where they were going until she saw the pale glint of water in the distance and realised they were heading towards the river. Mac slowed and turned down a narrow lane, drawing up on the grass verge.
‘We have to walk from here,’ he told her. ‘It’s not far, just five minutes or so, but we can’t take the car any further.’
Bella nodded as she unfastened her seat belt. She slid to the ground, breathing in the musky scent of damp vegetation. She could hear the river now, the softly sibilant whisper of the water providing a backdrop to the sound of the birds performing their evening chorus. It was so peaceful that she sighed.
‘It’s wonderful not to hear any traffic.’
‘One of the big advantages of living out in the sticks,’ Mac replied with a smile that made her breath catch.
He turned and led the way along the path, leaving her to follow, which she did once she had got her breath back. It was the way he had smiled at her that had done the damage—smiled at her the way Mac had used to do. Did it mean that he had forgiven her for her apparent misdemeanours? She doubted it, yet all of a sudden she felt better than she had done in ages. The world didn’t seem quite so grim now that Mac had smiled at her. How crazy was that?
* * *
Mac paused when they reached the riverbank. It was almost nine p.m. and the light was fading fast. In another month, there would still be enough daylight to light their way along the towpath but he was afraid that Bella would trip up in the dark. Holding out his hand, he smiled at her, determined to keep a rein on his emotions this time. He was offering to hold her hand for safety’s sake and not for his own nefarious reasons!
‘You’d better hold on to me. The path’s a bit slippery after all the rain we’ve had recently. I don’t want you ending up taking a dip.’
There was a moment when he sensed her hesitate before she slipped her hand into his. Mac sucked in his breath when he felt his libido immediately stir to life. OK, so, admittedly, he hadn’t made love to a woman in a very long time, but that had been his choice, hadn’t it? He had grown tired of dating for dating’s sake, had become weary of sex that hadn’t really meant anything. It had seemed better to step out of the game rather than continue the way he had been doing. However, it was completely out of order for him to start lusting after Bella. She’d been through enough without him making her life even more complicated.
Mac gave himself a stern talking-to as he led her along the towpath and, thankfully, it seemed to work. There were several boats tied up along the riverbank and he guided her around their mooring lines. They came to the last boat in the row and he stopped, suddenly feeling on edge as he wondered what she would make of his home. Although he loved the old boat—loved everything about it, from the tranquillity of its mooring to the fact that it was the first home he had owned—Bella had been brought up to expect so much more. He couldn’t help feeling a little bit...well, nervous about what she would make of it.
‘This is it,’ he announced, wincing when he heard the false note of bonhomie in his voice. It wasn’t like him to put up a front and he hated the fact that he’d felt it necessary. If Bella didn’t like his home—so what? It wouldn’t make a scrap of difference to him... Would it?
‘You live on a boat!’
The surprise in her voice made his teeth snap together as he forced down the urge to start apologising.
‘Yep. I bought it when I moved here. I couldn’t afford a house so I opted for this instead. It’s the perfect base when I’m in the UK. Come on. I’ll show you round.’
He helped her on board and unlocked the cabin door, turning on the oil lamp so that she could see where she was going. ‘The steps are quite steep,’ he warned her. ‘So take your time.’
Bella nodded as she cautiously stepped down into the cabin. Mac followed her, turning on more lamps as he went so that the cabin was suddenly bathed in light. Bella stopped and looked around, her face looking even more beautiful in the lamplight. And Mac’s libido wriggled that little bit further out of its box.