‘Laurel.’

Laurel stilled, everything in her tensing with both yearning and alarm as she saw Cristiano standing in the front doorway of the villa. He looked rumpled, sexy and gorgeous in faded jeans that clung to his muscled legs and a T-shirt that lovingly caressed his pecs. His eyes looked silver in his tanned face, a hint of stubble on the clean, hard line of his jaw.

‘Yes?’ Laurel managed, practically stuttering in her nervousness. She ached for him so much, and she couldn’t believe he was simply going to walk away from her. From them.

‘I went out and bought this.’ He held up a small white paper bag, the kind that came from a pharmacy. Laurel didn’t need to ask what the bag held.

She licked her dry lips. ‘You want me to take it now?’

Cristiano shrugged. His face was impassive, giving nothing away. ‘You might as well.’

Laurel made no move to take the bag. Now that the moment was here, she didn’t want it. Would rather keep not knowing. ‘You know, two weeks isn’t a magic number,’ she said, her voice uneven. ‘Some women don’t test positive for longer than that.’ And there were more sensitive tests that showed a pregnancy at only ten days after conception. Laurel knew that, knew she could have taken a test days ago, but she’d remained silent.

Cristiano arched a dark eyebrow. ‘Why don’t you take the test and then we’ll discuss possibilities?’

With no other option, Laurel took the bag from him and headed upstairs. Cristiano followed.

‘I’ll wait here,’ he said when they were in the bedroom they’d shared since coming to Capri, save for last night. ‘It should only take a few minutes.’

Wordlessly Laurel nodded and then barricaded herself in the bathroom. She turned the lock and let out a shuddering breath. The moment of truth.

Fortunately the test came with instructions in English and, squinting to make out the fine print, Laurel read them and then did what was necessary. She turned the test over so she didn’t have to look at it and sat on the edge of the bathtub, her heart rollicking within her. Three minutes had never seemed so long.

Outside the bathroom door she could hear Cristiano pacing the bedroom and she wondered what he was thinking. Hoping for. Was there a part of him, like her, who wanted her to be pregnant? Who wanted the choice to be taken away? She knew if she was pregnant Cristiano would marry her as he’d promised. He was a man who’d closed off emotions, yes, but he was also a man of honour.

Laurel tried to imagine what that life would look like: married to Cristiano, a baby in her arms, then a smiling toddler stumbling on chubby legs while they, the proud parents, looked on. It was a beautiful image, but one that was shrouded in the mists of impossibility. If Cristiano married her simply because of the baby, that code of honour that ran through him like a rod of steel would turn into resentment and bitterness because he’d be living a life he hadn’t chosen.

Laurel took a deep breath as she glanced at her watch. Four minutes had passed. There could be no delaying it now. Reaching out slowly, as if it might bite her, she took the pregnancy test and flipped it over. She stared at the single pink line as her heart went into freefall. One line: not pregnant.

Even though she knew in her heart what the test was telling her, she scrambled for the directions and read them again to make sure. One line: not pregnant. It was irrefutable. And, really, she’d known all along. Her cycle was, in this case, depressingly regular.

She threw the test away and washed her hands at the sink, staring hard at her reflection. So she wasn’t pregnant. It was better this way. She knew it, felt it, even though part of her still railed against the unfairness of it all. A pregnancy wouldn’t have helped anything. In fact, it most likely would have made things worse. So this was a good thing, she told herself as she dried her hands and then tidied her hair, determined to seem composed and even upbeat. In this moment she did not want Cristiano to see how he was crucifying her.

Taking another deep breath, Laurel opened the door. Cristiano stopped his pacing and turned to face her, his expression utterly fathomless. ‘Well?’ he asked when the silence stretched on for several seconds.

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