‘How do you know that?’ she whispered.

‘Because I can’t give you the babies you want.’

She wrapped her arms around herself. ‘I don’t recall us ever discussing children.’

‘We didn’t need to. I know you and I know family is everything to you.’ He remembered the light in her face when she’d been swinging little Ava in the air. If there was a woman made to be a mother, this woman was it. ‘I know you want children, and one day you will have them, but I can’t be the man to give them to you. I almost destroyed my ex-fiancée over it and I won’t destroy you too.’

Emily loosened her arms, a questioning frown appearing.

‘Yana and I were together for years,’ he said, needing to help her understand. ‘She’d always wanted children—we both did—so when we became engaged we thought it be best I get tested. I’d always known I could be sterile but I needed to be sure before we made that final commitment.’ He shook his head, remembering how the results had knocked him sideways.

While he had always known he could be sterile, he’d never truly believed that he was. He’d come out the other end of treatment physically unscathed, so how could life throw him this at so late a turn?

It was as if fate had turned around and stuck a fork in him for daring to hope he could have a future with a family of his own.

‘For two years I watched her suffer and turn into a shell of herself.’ His voice had become hoarse. ‘I would cringe to hear about any of her friends and family becoming pregnant, knowing it was another knife in her heart. But I thought I should be enough for her, that her yearning for a baby was something she should just forget about for my sake.’

‘Couldn’t you have adopted?’

‘That’s what Yana suggested, but I’m afraid adoption is not a route I will go down.’

‘Your father adopted you,’ she pointed out softly.

‘And wasn’t I made to know it? Hardly a day went by when Marat didn’t rub my nose in the fact that he shared Andrei’s blood and I didn’t, that I was the cuckoo in the Plushenko nest. Andrei himself used the fact of Marat being his blood to undermine my point of view about bringing him onto the board at Plushenko’s.’ He raised his shoulders. ‘I can’t do that to a child. I won’t see another person suffer for their blood not being the same as the family they live with.’

‘How ridiculous.’

Whatever reaction he’d expected from Emily, scorn most definitely was not it.

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he refuted tightly.

‘Rubbish. You have your mother’s blood for a start—’

‘Which meant nothing to her when she took Andrei and Marat’s side.’

‘You put her in an impossible situation. What was she supposed to do? Tell you that your irrationality was justified? I don’t care what your father said, I’m certain he never meant it in the way you took it. He worked his fingers to the bone to keep you alive. If that isn’t love then I don’t know what is. For goodness’ sake, he even got his hands on black market copies of Top Cat for you to watch when you were too weak to do anything else. Blood doesn’t come into it.’

Her words were like tiny barbs being thrown at his skin, all landing straight in his chest. It took all his control to stop his hands from shaking.

He’d always been able to temper his anger but now...now he could feel it slipping.

She’d done this to him. He didn’t know how or why but Emily pushed buttons in him that no one else could even find.

‘You think because we’ve made love that you have a right to tell me how I should feel, is that it?’

‘I never said that. There are thousands—millions, for all I know—of orphaned children in this world begging for a family to love them, and you won’t consider taking one of them in and building a family of your own because of Marat’s jealous attitude towards you.’

‘You do not know what you’re talking about.’

‘Then explain it to me.’

‘I don’t have to explain anything to you.’ He stared down at her. She gazed right back, her eyes full of hurt, but also full of a powerful anger. ‘I’ve explained this much because after everything we’ve been through over these past few days I thought I owed you an explanation. I can’t give a woman a baby and I will not be party to an adoption. Eventually, resentment rears its head and snap—’ he snapped his fingers for emphasis ‘—the end of the relationship follows along with the mourning for wasted years. I couldn’t give Yana the baby she wanted but in my arrogance I thought my love would be enough for her. It wasn’t. She turned into a shell of herself and I won’t—I can’t—do that to you too. I won’t watch the light in your eyes die.’

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