He stopped when he reached the front door, forcing himself to smile as he turned to her. His heart stuttered to a halt when he saw the pain in her eyes but he had to be strong, had to do what was right for her as well as right for him. It wasn’t just himself he had to think about, after all. How Bella was going to feel was even more important. He couldn’t bear to think that she would be consumed by guilt about what they had done if she did decide to go back to Tim.
‘I know we crossed a lot of boundaries tonight, Bella,’ he said gruffly, trying to batten down the thought of how he would feel if that happened. ‘But there’s no need to feel...well, awkward about what’s happened. We’ve always been friends and I hope that we can still be friends from now on too.’
‘If that’s what you want.’
Her voice echoed with scepticism and Mac grimaced, understanding completely why she had difficulty believing him. Friends didn’t usually make mad passionate love, did they? They definitely didn’t cross that boundary! The thought of how hard it was going to be to think of her as a friend after tonight was too much to handle and he shrugged, opting for the easier route, a half-truth.
‘It is. I value our friendship, Bella. I always have.’ Bending, he dropped what he hoped was a friendly kiss on her cheek, drawing back when he felt his body immediately respond. So much for friendship, he thought wryly as he opened the door. All it took was one chaste little kiss and he was up and running again!
He made his way to the lift, pausing briefly to wave before he stepped inside. He heard the apartment door close as the lift set off and sighed. If only that was the end of the matter, but there was no point kidding himself: tonight was going to have far-reaching consequences for both of them. He and Bella had slept together and even if they ignored what had happened, it wouldn’t go away. It would be like the proverbial elephant in the room whenever they were together, always there but never acknowledged.
He groaned. What in heaven’s name had he done?
THE DAYS FLEW PAST. With the schools breaking up for the long summer holiday, there were a lot of visitors in the area and that meant they were busier than ever in the paediatric A&E unit. Bella started early and finished late but she didn’t complain. It was easier when she was working. It was when she was on her own that it became a problem. With nothing to distract her, her mind kept returning to what had happened that night in her apartment. She and Mac had made love and whilst she knew that a lot of women would have taken it in their stride, she couldn’t do that. That night had been a turning point for her. She had not only discovered how it felt to be a real woman but she had also realised how inadequately suited she was to the role. It was much easier not to have to think about it.
It was a Saturday evening, three weeks after that fateful night, when Bella found herself working with Mac. Up till then their paths had crossed only fleetingly; if she’d been working days, he had been working nights. However, that night they were both rostered to work and she knew that she would have to deal with it. He was already there when she arrived, standing by the desk, laughing at something Laura Watson was saying to him. Bella felt her heart jolt as the memories came flooding back. Mac had looked like that when they had made love. His expression had been softened then by pleasure. If she lived to be a hundred, she would never forget that night, no matter how hard she tried.
He suddenly glanced round and she took a steadying breath as his gaze landed on her. Although neither of them had said anything, they were both aware of the rules. If they were to continue behaving as friends then there must be no harking back to what had happened. They must focus on the here and now, not on what they had done that night.
‘It sounds as though you two are having fun,’ she said lightly, going over to the desk to sign in.
‘Laura was just telling me about one of the children she saw this morning,’ Mac explained. He stepped back, ostensibly to give Bella some room, although she suspected that in reality he was trying to avoid touching her. A spurt of anger suddenly shot through her. He had been more than eager to touch her that night, hadn’t he?
‘Oh, yes?’ She smiled up at him, her green eyes holding a hint of challenge. Maybe they had agreed to behave as though nothing had happened, but it wasn’t true. They had made love and not once either, but twice. Whether he liked the idea or not, he couldn’t just ignore what they had done. ‘So what happened?’
‘Oh, nothing much. The kid just got a bit confused, that’s all.’ He glanced round when the phone rang. ‘I’ll get that.’