Her Pregnancy Secret

By: Ann Major

She looked so slim and fragile in her hospital gown, he felt a stab of fear. She was carrying his brother’s child, and Michael had sworn he’d take care of her.

Despite the money she must have been after when she’d married Will, Michael’s resentment toward her faded. If Will died, her child would be Michael’s last link to his brother.

“Bree? Can you hear me? It’s Michael. When I got in from Shanghai I heard about the accident. I came at once.”

“Michael...” Her lashes fluttered weakly, and for an instant her face lit up with pleasure...and with some other more luminous emotion that thrilled him. Her eyes had shone like that when he’d first entered her.

In the next second she must have remembered what he’d done because her gaze went flat and cold. “Where’s Bijou? What are you doing here? I want my mother back.”

“Your mother’s right outside. Will asked me to check on you, so I’m here,” Michael said softly.

“Will asked you...” She let out a harsh sob and turned her face to the wall. “I don’t believe you! He’s as fed up with you as I am! Go away!”

Michael felt conscience-stricken and confused, which wasn’t like him.

“I don’t need you here,” she said to the wall, her tone so low he could barely hear her. “Will knows that, so you’re lying if you say he sent you.”

“He did. He was facing surgery, and I think he was afraid.”

She sucked in a breath. “Oh, God... I’m being so selfish. Tony’s dead and maybe Will won’t...and he’s in there scared and alone...and thinking of me. He’s so good.”

“Yes, he is.” Michael’s voice was hard and condemning.

When she jerked her head around to stare at him again, he noted how the soft blue fabric of her hospital gown molded against her breasts. “They told me how badly Will was hurt. They didn’t want to. But I made them. If he dies, it will be all my fault. He took off his seat belt...right before that SUV shot across the median and rammed us. Will saw it coming and threw himself in front of me...to protect me and the baby. Poor Tony never had a chance.”

“Who’s Tony?”

An odd, almost sorrowful expression passed swiftly over her bruised face. Clutching her sheet, she looked away. “Will’s best friend. He was driving.”

“Funny. I’ve never met him.”

She chewed her bottom lip. “I imagine you were too wrapped up in money matters to really involve yourself in your brother’s personal life—except when it came to me—because you saw me as a financial threat.”

Her words hurt more than they should have. “Will said you and he were expecting a baby.”

Her face went even whiter, if that were possible.

“H-he had no right to talk to you about the baby. He swore to me he wouldn’t.”

“He asked me to take care of you...and the baby...in case...”

She shuddered. “It just gets worse, doesn’t it? You and me—stuck together...maybe without Will?”

“It’s probably just a precaution. I promised him I would. If...if the worst happens. I intend to keep my word.”

“Really? Your word?” She tipped her head back and frowned, studying him. “As if that means something.” She took a deep, stabilizing breath. “Just go away.”

“I intend to honor my promise—whether or not you want me to,” he said.

“You deliberately deceived me, to get me to do things I find truly humiliating now. How could I have been so foolish?”

Sensual, erotic things he’d dreamed of her doing to him again.

“I thought I’d found the one person—never mind!” she snapped. “You made it very clear how you really felt about me at a moment when I was most tender and open and vulnerable to you. I don’t know how all those other women feel, the ones you date for a night or two, but let me be very clear. You are the last person I would ever want in my life, even casually. I don’t care if you’re Will’s brother and my baby’s...uncle, or that you feel a duty to keep your promise. I do not want to see you. I do not want my child to know you. Do you understand?”

Her words cut Michael deeply. Curiously, he felt guilt, as well. Why should he feel that when he’d been trying to protect his tenderhearted brother who had proven time and again he was too trusting when it came to people who were after his money?

Not that Michael showed his pain at her words by even the flicker of his dark eyelashes. Having grown up poor, in a rough Houston neighborhood near the ship channel, he’d learned to put on a tough mask whenever he felt the slightest weakness. His mother had barely eked out a living as a masseuse before Jacob North had married her and adopted him.

Until Jacob, his mother had gone from man to man, taking whatever they offered to survive. Michael had worked on the docks so he wouldn’t be dependent on such handouts. He’d hated having nothing and being treated like nothing and feeling ashamed of how they’d lived. He’d learned early on that when you didn’t have it, money was everything.

Will, on the other hand, had grown up a rich man’s adored only son. Will had loved everybody, especially his older adopted brother, whom he’d accepted right from the first. Maybe Will was the only person who’d ever loved Michael. He’d promised Jacob, to whom he owed everything, that he would look out for Will. Those feelings of profound responsibility carried over to Will’s unborn child, even if that child’s mother was someone he could never trust.

“If Will dies, Will’s child—your child—will be a North heir. Then there’s the promise I made to my brother. Whether or not you want me in your life, I intend to take a very active interest in that little person from now on.”

“So this is about money and control? My child is nothing more to you than the possible heir to the North fortune.”

Why should he let her know what Will’s child meant to him when she would only use such knowledge against him?

“A fortune does carry a huge responsibility.”

“I’ll bet you’re used to getting your way.”

She was right about that.

Her eyes darkened. “Well, you won’t. Not with me. Never again.”

“We’ll see,” he said. Then he let it drop. He fully intended to win this battle, but he wouldn’t bully the pregnant wife of his injured brother.

“I want you to go,” she said.

“Too bad.”

When he sank down into the chair beside her bed, she glared at him. At his thin smile, she shut her eyes and twisted her face away. As he stared at her stiff back, he knew she couldn’t force him out of her thoughts any more than he could force her out of his. Just being in the same room with her, even when she was injured, disturbed him.

An hour later, she was still rigid and seething when Will’s grim, hollow-eyed surgeon found them.

“Mr. North? Mrs. North?”

When she opened her eyes and met Michael’s, she blushed.

“I’m Will North’s wife,” she said. “Michael North is my brother-in-law.”

“I see. Sorry about the confusion.”

Michael had only to look into the surgeon’s shadowed eyes to know the worst. Will was gone. Slowly Michael stood and shook the man’s hand, listening, asking the appropriate questions, thanking him even as ice closed around his heart.

Bree let out a hoarse sob midway through the surgeon’s detailed explanation.

“Your brother lost a lot of blood at the scene....”

Michael’s vision blurred. He felt himself near some fatal edge. Maybe to steel his own nerves, he concentrated on Bree, whose face had gone as white as her sheets. Leaning over her hospital bed, he took her trembling hand. At his touch, she stiffened. Then, to his surprise, her fingers tightened around his, and she tugged him closer. Grabbing fistfuls of his jacket, she threw her wet face against his broad shoulder and burrowed into it. Clinging to him, she wept soundlessly.

His suit would be a mess tomorrow, but he needed to hold her, needed it more than he had ever imagined needing anything. Despite his own hideous sorrow and the profound gulf that separated them, he was glad Bree was here, glad not to be completely alone with his grief.

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