‘Maybe Tim finds it easier to deal with what’s happened by blaming me,’ she said flatly, not wanting to dwell on the thought when it evoked so many mixed feelings. She and Mac had never been more than friends and it would be stupid to think that their relationship had changed. ‘After all, he’s been through a very difficult time. Dealing with his addiction can’t have been easy for him. You know as well as I do how hard it is for an addict to get clean and stay off the drugs.’
‘Yes, I do.’ His tone was flat. ‘I grew up in an area where drugs were part of everyday life, so I understand the damage they cause. That Tim managed to overcome his addiction is to his credit but it still doesn’t excuse what he’s doing, going around telling everyone a pack of lies. He needs to accept responsibility for his actions. Then maybe there’s a chance that you two can get back together.’
‘That isn’t going to happen,’ Bella said quietly. ‘Our marriage is over and there’s no chance of us trying again.’
‘But you must still have feelings for him. Oh, I know it’s been tough, Bella. Probably tougher for you than it was for Tim, in fact, because he was more concerned about where his next fix was coming from.’ He leant forward and she could see the urgency in his eyes. ‘But you loved him once, otherwise you wouldn’t have married him, would you? So why not give it another shot?’
‘As I said, it isn’t going to happen.’
She stood up, wanting to make it clear that she didn’t intend to discuss the matter any further. She and Tim were never getting back together for one simple reason: she didn’t love him and she never had loved him either.
The thought was incredibly painful as it seemed to highlight how out of touch she was with her own emotions. As she led the way to the door, Bella felt a wave of despair wash over her. How could she ever trust her own judgement again? How could she be sure if she did fall in love that it was the real thing this time? The thought of living out her life in a state of lonely uncertainty was more than she could bear, especially with Mac there—Mac, who always seemed so sure of himself, so confident about what he wanted. She couldn’t imagine Mac experiencing all these crippling doubts!
Bella opened the door, her heart aching as she fixed a smile to her lips. ‘Thank you for coming. I’ll see you in work, I expect.’
‘So that’s it, is it? I’ve said my piece and you’ve said yours and that’s the end of the matter?’ His dark brows drew together as he glowered down at her.
‘I can’t think of anything else that we need to say.’ She gave a little shrug, aiming for a nonchalance she wished she felt. Maybe it was silly, but she had always dreamt of finding the right man and falling in love. However, it seemed unlikely that it would happen now. ‘I’ve told you my side of the story and now it’s up to you to decide who you believe.’
‘In other words, you don’t give a damn if I think you’re lying.’ He laughed harshly, so harshly that she flinched. ‘I have to hand it to you, Bella. Your self-confidence is amazing!’
‘You’re wrong. I don’t feel confident at all,’ she shot back. ‘I have no idea if you believe me, Mac, but what can I do about it? Should I try to convince you by telling you about all the horrible things Tim said to me or all the lies he told? Should I tell you about his affair to try and gain your sympathy?’ She shook her head. ‘Sorry, but it isn’t going to happen. Either you believe me or you don’t—it’s as simple as that.’
‘Affair? What do you mean? What affair?’
The shock in his voice cut through her anger. Bella bit her lip, wishing she hadn’t told him that. It hadn’t been intentional, but the words had somehow slipped out.
‘It doesn’t matter...’ she began.
‘Of course it matters!’ He gripped hold of her by the shoulders as he bent to look into her eyes, and maybe it was the fact that she was feeling so wrung out, but all of a sudden she couldn’t contain her feelings any longer. Tears began to pour down her face and she heard him groan.
‘Oh, Bella, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to upset you.’ He drew her to him, cradling her against the solid strength of his body, and she cried all the harder. It had been such a long time since anyone had held her like this, since anyone had cared.
‘Shh. It’s OK, sweetheart. Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be fine, I promise you.’
He drew her closer, running his hand down her back in a gesture that was meant simply to comfort, and she sighed. She could feel his fingers gliding down her spine, warm and wonderfully soothing as they traced the delicate column of bones. His hand reached the curve of her buttocks and stopped. Bella could feel the heat of his fingers burning through her clothing and shuddered. All of a sudden the air seemed thick with tension, filled with a sense of anticipation that immediately dried her tears. She realised that she was holding her breath as she waited to see what would happen...