Someone had told.
‘Lieutenant?’ the General prompted. ‘Did you leave the base without authorisation that day?’
These past couple of months her nerves had been at breaking point as she’d wondered—waited—to see if anything would happen as a result of that madness. But nothing had and she’d finally begun to think the danger had passed and that she’d gotten away with it.
‘July twenty-sixth,’ the General repeated. ‘Do you recall that afternoon, Lieutenant?’
‘I...’ Bleakly she realised she had no answer that she could utter aloud. She licked her lips again. ‘I was nearby. I left the boundary only for a little while.’
‘You were on call at the station. You did not have permission to leave the base.’ A cold statement of fact.
She’d climbed down the cliff and gone to the bay, only metres away. She would have heard if the sirens had gone off—they hadn’t. And she knew no one had come to her room for her because surely they’d have said something later? Wouldn’t they have asked her?
‘You had your routine medical check last week.’ The General looked down at the paperwork again.
‘Yes, sir.’ Stella swallowed, nervy and surprised by the change in topic.
‘Your bloodwork showed a problem.’
Problem? Edgily she waited, only just holding her silence, knowing her superior would inform her when he was ready and not before.
But she was fine, wasn’t she? Fit and strong. Admittedly she’d been more tired than usual on her run this morning, but other than that—
‘How long have you known you’re pregnant?’
‘What?’ Stunned, she forgot to address him formally.
‘A soldier on active duty cannot be pregnant,’ he said crisply. ‘You’ve not reported your condition to your superior officer. Another rule you’re in breach of.’
‘I’m not...’ She drew a shocked, shuddering breath. ‘I can’t be...’
It was impossible. There’d only been the one encounter in that one hour. And she’d used protection.
The General’s already frosty expression turned Arctic, but Stella’s blood had frozen anyway. No way could she be pregnant. It was the one thing she’d sworn would never happen.
He held up a piece of paper. ‘The test was repeated with the second sample taken. There is no question of your condition. Do not make your exit even more ignoble.’
‘My exit?’ Uncaring of proper decorum, she grasped the back of the chair beside her, her head spinning.
This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be true. It wasn’t possible.
‘You are relieved of all duties.’ He passed judgement in an expressionless drone. ‘You went off base without permission. You concealed your condition. You are discharged from the San Felipe Armed Services, effective immediately. Upon your return to the barracks you will surrender the uniform you are wearing. All other property of the San Felipe principality has already been removed from your room and your personal belongings are packed. You will take them and leave the base. You will have ten minutes before you are considered to be trespassing and escorted off.’
Nauseating dizziness swept over her and the edges of her vision blurred. She was being booted out of the army. The only place she thought of as home. The only place she had to go. And she was pregnant.
Stella struggled to process the barrage of instructions. She couldn’t be pregnant. Not by—
Bile rose, burning the back of her throat. Did they know who she’d met in that mad moment? Who it was who’d made her cast aside every inhibition as if it was as of little importance as a chocolate wrapper? Who it was who’d sparked that intensity and had her acting in a way she’d never done before? Did they know that she’d been the biggest idiot on the planet?
Pure panic threatened to derail her completely, but then her defences kicked in with a last spurt of survival instinct. She rallied, fighting to keep her thinking clear. To keep hold of her own future.
‘Shouldn’t I be court-martialled?’ she asked, ignoring the catch in her voice and hoping he would too. ‘Shouldn’t there be a soldier present, recording this conversation?’
She did not want preferential treatment. Not because of what she’d done and who she’d done it with.
Or because of who she was.
The General muttered something incomprehensible. Not a regulation response. It was his first slip in this meeting—a flash showing he might actually be human. She thought she saw a fleeting expression in his eyes before he looked down at her paperwork again.