Bella glanced round to see who Helen was talking to and felt her heart lurch when she saw Mac standing behind her. She knew that he was supposed to have gone off duty several hours before and couldn’t understand what he was doing there... Unless he had stayed behind to talk to her? The thought filled her with dread. She didn’t want to talk to him about anything, neither her marriage nor what Tim had and hadn’t done. If she told Mac then she would have to face the possibility that he might not believe her and she couldn’t bear that, couldn’t stand to know that he thought she was lying.
She hurriedly signed her name in the register, adding the time of her departure. Mac was still talking to Helen, laughing at something the young doctor had said, so Bella headed for the door. It hummed open and she was outside, walking as fast as she could towards the car park. She could hear footsteps behind her and knew that Mac was following her but she didn’t slow down. He had no business harassing her this way! She had made it perfectly clear that she didn’t intend to discuss her marriage with him and he should accept that. All of a sudden anger got the better of her and she swung round.
‘Please stop! I don’t want to talk to you, so leave me alone.’
‘Why? What are you so scared about?’ He shrugged. ‘If I were in your shoes, I’d want to tell my side of the story, unless I had something to hide. Do you, Bella?’
‘No.’ She gave a bitter little laugh, unable to hide how hurt she felt at the suggestion. ‘I have nothing to hide but Tim’s told you what happened, and you obviously believe him, so what more is there to say? Why should I try to justify myself to you?’
‘Because I thought we were friends.’ He held out his hands, palms up, in a gesture of supplication that she found incredibly moving for some reason. ‘I can tell that you’re hurting and if there’s anything I can do to make it easier for you then that’s all I want.’
He paused. Bella had a feeling that he wasn’t sure if he should say what was on his mind and she bit her lip because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear it either. She steeled herself when he continued.
‘I guess what I’m trying to say is that I care about you, Bella. It’s as simple as that.’
MAC HELD HIS BREATH, hoping against hope that Bella would believe him. It was the truth, after all—he did care. He cared that she was hurting, cared that she had behaved so out of character. The Bella he knew would never have broken her marriage vows unless there had been a very good reason to do so.
‘Maybe you mean what you say, Mac, but it makes no difference.’ Bella’s icy tones sliced through the thoughts whizzing around his head and he flinched.
‘I do mean it,’ he said shortly, annoyed with himself. What possible reason could there be to excuse the way she had treated Tim? Tim had needed her, desperately, and she had failed him. There was no excuse whatsoever for that kind of behaviour, surely? And yet the niggling little doubt refused to go away.
She inclined her head but Mac could tell that she didn’t believe him and it stung to know that she doubted his word. Couldn’t she see that he was telling her the truth? Didn’t she know that he wouldn’t lie about something so important? It was on the tip of his tongue to remonstrate with her when it struck him that he was doing the very same thing. He was doubting her, blaming her for the demise of her marriage. What right did he have to take her to task when he was equally guilty?
The thought kept him silent and she obviously took it as a sign that he had given up. She went to her car, zapping the locks and getting in. Mac stayed where he was until the sound of the engine roused him. He had no idea what he was going to do but he had to do something. Maybe Bella was at fault, but he couldn’t just ignore the pain he had seen in her eyes. Flinging open the passenger door, he climbed into her car, holding up his hand when she rounded on him.
‘I know what you’re going to say, Bella. You don’t want to talk about your marriage. I also know that I’m probably poking my nose in where it’s not wanted...’
‘You are,’ she snapped, glaring at him.
‘OK. Fair enough. And I’m sorry. But, leaving all that aside, I meant what I said. I really do care that you’re upset.’ He reached over and squeezed her hand, hurriedly releasing it when he felt the now familiar surge of electricity scorch along his nerves. He didn’t want to scare her, certainly didn’t want her to think that he was trying to take advantage of her vulnerability by making a play for her!
Heat rose under his skin, a hot tide of embarrassment that was so unfamiliar that it would have brought him to his knees if he hadn’t been sitting down. Making a play for Bella had never been on the cards. From the moment they had met, Mac had known that she was beyond his reach and he had been perfectly happy with that state of affairs too. Although he had earned himself a bit of a reputation at university by dating a lot of women, he’d had no intention of settling down. He had been determined not to get involved with anyone, although he had been genuinely pleased when Bella and Tim had started seeing one another. They had been so well suited, their backgrounds so perfectly in tune that he couldn’t have found a better match for either of them.