Capturing her hands, he raised them to his mouth, feeling his panic subside as soon as he felt the warmth of her flesh against his lips. He could do this. He really could! ‘I love you, Bella. I know I already told you that but then I went and ruined things by overreacting when Tim phoned. There’s no excuse for what I said. I was wrong and I bitterly regret it.’

‘I would never have slept with you just to work out how I feel about Tim,’ she said softly.

‘I know that.’ Mac had to force the words past the lump in his throat when he heard the pain in her voice. He knew that she was telling him the truth and the fact that he had caused her such anguish filled him with guilt. ‘I am so sorry, my love. Can you ever forgive me?’

‘Yes. If I’m sure that you believe me.’ She looked steadily back at him. ‘I couldn’t cope if you kept on doubting me all the time. I have to know that you believe in me, Mac. Our relationship won’t work if you’re continually wondering if I’m telling you the truth.’

‘I know that.’ He sighed as he leant forward and kissed her gently on the mouth. He drew back when he felt his body immediately stir. It was too soon for that. They needed to sort this out before they went any further. If they went any further. The thought spurred him on.

‘I hate myself for hurting you, Bella. However, the truth is that I’ve always had a problem about trusting people since I was a child and my mother left.’ He dredged up a smile, uncomfortable about admitting to what he considered a weakness. ‘I know I should have got over it years ago, but sometimes it comes back to haunt me.’

‘We’re all the product of our upbringing, Mac.’ She lifted his hand to her lips and pressed a kiss to his palm and her voice was so gentle, so tender that it brought a lump to his throat.

‘Think so?’ he murmured huskily.

‘Oh, yes.’ She smiled into his eyes. ‘Look at me. My parents aren’t demonstrative people and they didn’t encourage me to show my feelings either. That’s why I’ve always had such difficulty relating to other people—I tend to hold everything inside me rather than show how I really feel.’

‘Really?’ His brows rose and he grinned at her. ‘I would never have guessed from the way you responded when we made love.’

‘That was different,’ she protested, a rush of colour staining her cheeks.

‘Was it? Why?’ He brushed her lips with the lightest of kisses, drawing back when he felt her immediately respond. His heart filled with joy, although he shouldn’t assume that her response meant that it was him she wanted...

All of a sudden Mac couldn’t wait any longer. Cupping her face between his hands, he looked into her eyes, knowing that this was the most important moment of his life. Whatever happened in the next few seconds was going to determine his whole future.

‘Do you love me, Bella? I know I shouldn’t put you on the spot like this, but I need to know before I drive myself crazy!’

* * *

Bella could feel her heart thumping. It was beating so hard that she could barely think, let alone answer the question. And then slowly through all the confusion in her head one thought rose to the surface. Of course she loved him. There was no doubt about that.

‘Of course I love you,’ she said indignantly, glaring at him. ‘I’d have thought that was obvious.’

‘Not to me.’

His voice was filled with a mixture of pure amazement and utter joy. Bella felt her indignation melt away as fast as it had appeared. Placing her hand on his cheek, she smiled at him, stunned by the fact that he was so vulnerable. Mac had always been so together, so in charge of himself—or so she had thought. To suddenly discover this whole different side to him was a revelation. She realised in that moment that she would do everything in her power to make sure that he never regretted letting her see the real man beneath the confident façade he presented to the world at large.

She kissed him softly on the mouth, letting her lips show him in no uncertain terms how she felt. She loved him so much and she wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her days proving it to him...

If he would let her.

She drew back, feeling the first tiny doubt gnawing away at her happiness. Mac had asked her if she loved him. He had told her that he needed to know. However, he hadn’t said why.

‘I love you, Mac, but are you sure that you love me? You were so quick to think that I’d used you to clarify my feelings for Tim and you wouldn’t have done that if you’d really loved me. You would have known that I would never have slept with you for that reason.’