‘The couch pulls out into a bed so don’t worry about me,’ Mac told her. Opening a cupboard, he took out a T-shirt and tossed it onto the bed. ‘You can use this to sleep in. I haven’t anything else, I’m afraid.’
‘It’s fine. Thank you,’ Bella said softly.
She sank down onto the bed after Mac left, feeling the last vestige of strength drain from her limbs. Picking up the T-shirt, she held it to her cheek, savouring the softness of the cotton against her skin. Tears filled her eyes again and she blinked them away but more kept on coming, pouring down her face in a scalding-hot tide. She hadn’t cried before, not even when Tim had said all those awful things to her after she had told him that she wanted a divorce. Now Mac’s kindness had unleashed all the feelings she had held in check and they came spilling out, all the hurt and the pain, the guilt and the relief, every single thing, including how she felt about Mac himself.
Bella took a deep breath. She didn’t want to think about Mac and how confused he made her feel. It had always been the same and yet she couldn’t understand why he made her feel so mixed up. Normally she had no difficulty making up her mind. Every decision she had ever made had been carefully considered, rationalised, even when she had agreed to marry Tim.
Marrying Tim had seemed like the right thing to do. He had come from a similar background to hers, had held the same values as well as the same expectations. To her mind, their marriage was bound to be a success; however, with the benefit of hindsight, she could see that it hadn’t been enough. It had needed more than the fact that they had been compatible on paper—her feelings for Tim had needed to be much stronger, especially after he had become addicted to those drugs. She had failed Tim because she hadn’t cared enough, because she wasn’t sure if she was capable of feeling that deeply about anyone.
Lying down on the bed, Bella clutched the T-shirt to her as sorrow overwhelmed her. She had spent so many years ignoring her emotions that she had lost touch with them. No wonder she couldn’t understand how she felt about Mac.
THE GENTLE MOTION of the boat woke Mac from a restless sleep. It had been the early hours of the morning before he had finally dozed off, his mind too busy to allow him to rest. Last night had been unsettling for so many reasons, the main one being that Bella had slept right here on the boat. Several times he had heard her crying and he’d had a devil of a job to stop himself going to her. However, the thought of what might happen if he did had helped him control the urge. It would have been far too easy to allow the need to comfort her to turn into something more.
His body responded with predictable enthusiasm to that thought and he groaned. He had to stop this! Maybe it was time he thought about breaking his self-imposed vow of celibacy. So what if sex had become merely a physical release, like an itch that needed scratching? Surely it would be better to deal with the itch than allow it to turn into a major problem.
Rolling out of bed, he filled the kettle and set it to boil then opened the hatch to let some fresh air into the cabin. It had been raining through the night and he grimaced as raindrops splashed onto his head and shoulders. Picking up a tea towel, he dried his face then looked round when he heard the bedroom door open, his heart lurching when he saw Bella standing in the doorway. She was wearing the T-shirt he had lent her and although it came midway down her thighs there was still an awful lot of her shapely legs on view. His gaze ran over her, greedily drinking in every detail. Although his T-shirt was huge on her, somehow the washed thin cotton managed to cling to her body, outlining the curve of her hips, the hand-span narrowness of her waist, the swell of her breasts...
Mac sucked in a great lungful of air when he saw her nipples suddenly pucker beneath the cotton. Rationally, he knew that it was no more than a physical response to the chilly air flowing through the cabin, but after the night he’d had, thinking rationally wasn’t easy. His wayward thoughts flew off at a tangent as he found himself imagining how it would feel to watch her nipples harden as he caressed her...
He groaned out loud, hurriedly turning it into a cough when he saw her look at him in alarm. ‘Hmm, a bit of a frog in the throat this morning,’ he muttered, reaching for the coffee.
‘It is a bit chilly in here,’ she replied, hugging her arms around herself, and Mac saw the exact second when she realised what was happening. Colour rushed up her face as she hurried back into the bedroom. Picking up her sweater from the end of the bed, she dragged it over her head. ‘That’s better,’ she said brightly as she turned round.