She had been telling the truth—and not just about her brother.
He ground the gears on his car as he wove through clogged, grid-locked traffic, his mind frantic. He had to get there!
Zarios gave up on the car, depositing it in the middle of the street as angry commuters furiously sat on their horns. But he was running so fast, the blood so loud in his temples, he didn’t even hear them. He had to get there—to protect not just the woman he loved, but the mother of his child.
‘Open the door!’ Emma could hear the door being pounded. ‘You bitch, Emma. Open the door!’
‘You didn’t lock it…’ Beth’s eyes were frantic as her husband demanded to be let in.
‘Go and hide in the bedroom,’ Emma urged. ‘I’ll go.’ Creeping down the steps, ready to turn the lock, she wasn’t scared. She knew in her heart of hearts that Jake wouldn’t hurt her, that he was angry, raging, but would never hurt her.
And then she missed a step.
The fall happened as the door flew open, and piercing pain shot through her before she even hit the ground. The anger in her brother’s eyes faded into terror as he stared down at her.
There was the strangest sense of déjà vu as she awoke.
Zarios was sitting in the chair beside her bed, and her body was racked with a piercing sense of loss that she dared not explore.
‘You’re okay…’ In a second he was beside her.
‘The baby…’ Her hands moved to her stomach, trying to fathom change.
‘We’ll know soon.’
His hot hand found hers as her lips and eyes moved downwards in a spasm of pain at the helplessness of it all. Her face crumpled as she remembered what had happened.
‘Don’t worry about Jake.’
‘Oh, but I do…’
‘He didn’t hit me.’
‘I know,’ Zarios said again.
‘He wouldn’t have—’
‘Yes, Emma, he would have,’ Zarios cut in then, clutching her hand gently as he made her face the unpalatable truth. ‘He’s already pushed Beth, and he would have hit you. That’s what terrified him the most—the things that made him finally admit he had to get help. When he realised that he could have hit a pregnant woman—could have been responsible for the loss of your baby…You fell trying to lock your door on him. You have to stop making excuses for him, Emma.’
‘He’s my brother.’
‘I never said you had to stop loving him.’
He was right. That much she had already decided for herself. Talking to the lawyer, choosing to take back control, to refuse to be manipulated, to own what was hers…none of it meant that she didn’t love him.
‘Where is he?’
‘At a clinic.’
Zarios held her hand as if he was imparting bad news, but all Emma could feel was the flood of relief, and years of anxiety, of worry, of fear, lifted as Zarios uttered the words she had fought against yet longed to hear.
‘It’s for three months minimum—he agreed to go.’
‘He will get rehab eventually, but for now they are dealing with his depression. Then he will get all the help he so desperately needs. It’s a top centre. I have guaranteed…’ He didn’t finish. Somehow they both knew that it didn’t matter—that this wasn’t and never had been nor could be about money.
‘Beth is at my home in Sydney with her mother and the twins. She wanted to stay to see that you were well, but I wanted her out of the way while I dealt with Jake. She is very tired and she needs to rest. She has carried so much…’
‘The baby…’ she said again. She cared about Beth, but she cared about her baby more. Not a single thing could hold her attention till she knew the answer.
‘Don’t distress yourself.’ He attempted to soothe her. ‘You must rest. The doctor says you must not get upset. You’ll be having an ultrasound soon, and we’ll find out how our—’
She turned her head to face him. ‘Our? How come it’s our baby suddenly?’
‘I’m sorry, Emma. Sorry for not believing you…sorry for the terrible things I said. Sorry for the stupidity that made me nearly lose you both. When I saw Jake charging off for the first time in my life I tasted fear. I realised that I loved you.’
‘No.’ She shook her head on the pillow. ‘I don’t want to hear you say that you love me. Now, when you find out that I have been telling the truth, that I am having a baby, that I’m actually a decent person, you suddenly decide that you’ve loved me all along.’
He had always been brutal in his honesty, so why, Emma reasoned, should she expect any less now?
‘I have been doing my level best not to trust you and certainly to never love you—I didn’t admit it to myself till today at one-forty-two p.m. For the first time in my life I listened to my father, and I realised that maybe being in love with a compulsive gambler, a self-confessed gold-digger, who had told me that she only wanted me for what I could give her, maybe wouldn’t be so bad if at the end of each and every day I got to hold her.’
‘I can never trust you.’ Emma shook her head at the hopelessness of it.
It was too late.
‘Never?’ Zarios checked, and resolutely she nodded. ‘Even if I told you that since that morning on the beach, since the first time we made love, I have not slept with another woman?’
‘Please!’ Emma managed a thin laugh.
‘We’ll need you to excuse us now!’ A bossy, old-school nurse popped her head around the door.
She was the first woman Zarios had met who was impervious to his charms—because very clearly she told him that, no, he couldn’t have five more minutes, that Ms Hayes was due in ultrasound soon, and after that needed her rest.
‘Maybe just till the porter arrives?’ It was Emma who asked—Emma who was told that she had two minutes, and that if she needed anything—the elderly nurse shot Zarios a venomous look—she was to ring the bell.
‘You went back to Miranda—do you really expect me to believe you didn’t sleep with her?’
‘When I left you that morning I was fully intending to begin a relationship with you. I couldn’t wait for the christening to be over so that I could call you. Miranda was waiting for me, though. She told me she was pregnant…’ He frowned, as if just realising how very careless they had been that day. ‘Until that morning with you I had always been careful, but I knew these things happened…’
‘I thought she couldn’t have children?’
‘I don’t know if she can…’
His voice was a whisper, a croak, his words confusing her. She opened her mouth to argue, to tell him she was tired of his lies, but she recoiled at what she saw. Zarios, who was always so together, always so ahead of the game, looked utterly destroyed. Grief was stamped on his face, and his mouth opening on words that wouldn’t come out.
As the porter swished into the room with the trolley that would take her for the ultrasound it was Emma who asked again for one more moment—Emma who just didn’t get what he was trying to say.
The door closed, and Emma knew that she had to listen without interruption. She wanted to rattle him, to shake him, for him to just tell her—except she had never seen a face so haunted with pain, and knew she couldn’t rush him now.
‘I was stunned…’ Zarios shook his head as he relived it. ‘I was thinking of you—of seeing you again on Monday—and suddenly Miranda was telling me she was pregnant, and that we must keep it quiet as she had some big work coming up. I was disappointed for you and me—for us.’ His black eyes met hers. ‘But I told myself that it had been one day, one night…I could not weigh that against a baby.’
She nodded—because that much she could get. ‘Did you feel trapped?’
‘No.’ Zarios’s answer seemed to surprise him as much as it did her. ‘Emma, my mother left us because she felt trapped—she felt she was not a good enough mother and that I was better off without her. No matter her reasons, she was wrong. A poor parent is still that child’s parent. I always promised myself that I would never do to my child what was done to me. I had never considered having a baby, yet when the idea presented itself I was happy. I was determined to do my best, to build a home…I fell in love with that baby within a minute of Miranda telling me.
‘But we did not sleep together. I was still unsure—not about the baby, but about her. I told her I was worried that sex might affect the baby—a stupid excuse. She flew to Brazil for her photo-shoot and I joined her. But she wasn’t taking care of herself. I arrived unannounced. She was drinking and smoking when I got there, taking laxatives—all the stuff she did to stay thin, all the stuff that drove me crazy when we were together. We argued.’
‘I can see why,’ Emma admitted.
‘She accused me of being old-fashioned, of trying to police her…which I guess I was. When we came back to Melbourne I asked her to come here, where I have now brought you, to see the top specialist. She insisted on seeing her own doctor. She kept on trying to sleep with me, but I was angry. I wanted to be sure that the baby was okay. And then—’ He started to run his hand through his hair then stopped, screwing his fingers so tightly together it must surely have hurt. ‘I had never seen a scan—she had never let me come with her to the doctor. Finally, after an argument, she agreed to come here. I drove her and she kept the lie going right to the receptionist’s desk.’ His eyes were two deep pools of pain. ‘There never was a baby. It was to get us back together. She was hoping she would quickly fall pregnant…’