Her Pregnancy Secret

By: Ann Major

“It’s okay.” He looked down at her.

Her lashes were shut. He relaxed when he realized she was only talking in her sleep.

“I know about the baby,” he said. “It’s all right.”

“I wanted you to be happy about it.”

“I am happy about it.”

He was happy his brother had left something of himself behind. At the same time, illogically, he wished she’d never been involved with Will.

Unable to resist the temptation to touch her and reassure her, he placed his hand on her shoulder. Then very gently he brushed his lips to her forehead.

“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered. “I won’t let anybody hurt you...or your baby. I swear.”

In her sleep, she smiled. “I know. You just pretend...to be mean and awful and greedy.”

The wistful tenderness in her voice touched his heart. As before, she smelled of strawberries, making him remember how slick and tight she’d been, how she’d cried out at his first stroke—just as a virgin would have—but then had refused to let him stop. She’d felt so perfect. She’d been so sweet.

The memories had him burning up. His every muscle felt tight. The blood on his sheets had been real. He’d been her first. She hadn’t been lying about that as he’d tried to make himself believe. No matter what she was, that had to mean something.

He wanted to pull her closer, to hold her, to ask her why she’d never slept with anyone before him. But more than that, damn it, he wanted to make love to her again.

What was he thinking? Why did he care so deeply for this woman who’d only wanted his brother’s money?

He had to get up and separate himself from her before he lost all control and kissed her and woke her...and risked jeopardizing her health and the baby’s.

Gritting his teeth against the pain of leaving her, he eased himself to the other side of the big bed. Then he got up and went to the window where he stood for a long time, staring down at the glittering rooftops of the Village. Not that he really saw the sparkling lights or the buildings in the moonlight.

He couldn’t let himself feel so much for this woman.

When his breathing eased, he walked over to Will’s easy chair beside the bed and sat down. He intended to stay only a minute or two, but Bree’s sweet nearness eased the savage demons that rode him.

No matter what she was, no way could he leave her alone to deal with her nightmares.

Before he knew it he was fast asleep.

* * *

An alarm buzzed in her ear. When she moaned and rolled over onto soft, downy pillows, her throbbing head felt foggy. Every bone in her body, indeed every muscle she had, screamed in pain. Where had this headache from hell come from?

She let out a smothered cry and sat up. What was wrong with her? Why did everything hurt?

“You okay?” growled a deep, protective voice from above her.

In confusion she blinked up at the tall, broad-shouldered man towering over her. “Michael?”

What was he doing in her bedroom?

Confused, she scanned the bright paintings on the walls. No, she was in Will and Tony’s bedroom.

As Michael’s black eyes continued their blazing appraisal, she blushed at the intimacy of awakening in yet another bedroom with him.

How long had he been watching her? What was she doing here with him?

In the next instant his tense, brooding expression had her flashing back to him sitting beside her in the hospital. She remembered the SUV careening across the median straight at her. Tony had been unable to maneuver into another lane. They’d been hit and had rolled. Will’s limp body had crushed hers.

He hadn’t made it.

The loss of Will, as fresh as yesterday, slammed into her anew. Sinking into Will’s pillow with a shudder, she groaned and buried her face in her hands. Dear, dear Will, who’d become her best friend after Johnny’s death, was gone.

Will had been closer to her than most brothers were to their sisters. And now, because desperate circumstances had forced her to agree to marry him, she was stuck with his brother.

“It was so nice before I saw you and remembered...about Will and Tony and everything that’s happened,” she said. “Reality sucks,” she said mournfully.

Michael’s black eyes darkened, if that were possible. “I know. There’s always that first moment when you wake up...before you remember. Before the horror hits you.”

“I don’t want to get up and face a day without them,” she said. “I don’t want to be in their apartment.”

“Their apartment?”

“I...I mean Will’s apartment,” she corrected quickly. “Ours. I don’t want to remember...any of it or try to go on. It’s too hard.”

“Tell me about it. But we don’t have any choice. We have responsibilities.”

He sounded nice, almost human. But he wasn’t. She had to remember that.

Michael must have grabbed her phone from the nightstand and shut off her alarm because the noise suddenly stopped.

“Do you want coffee?” he asked abruptly.

When she nodded, he vanished.

She was rubbing her eyes when he returned a few minutes later with a steaming mug. “What time is it anyway?”

When he held out the mug, she sat up straighter, causing something to fall from her shoulders.

His jacket. What was his jacket doing wrapped around her? The thought of him worrying about her and watching over her was oddly unsettling.

“It’s 9:00 a.m.,” he said, picking up his badly wrinkled jacket and folding it under his arm.

On a normal day she would be at the bistro, preparing for the day, but because of her injuries and the spotting, she wasn’t supposed to work for a whole week. Her mother had volunteered to take over for her. So, here she was, stuck with Michael.

“I never thought I’d sleep till nine. But since I’ve been pregnant, it happens fairly often.” How could she be talking to him in this normal way?

“You’re growing a baby. I don’t know much about pregnancy, but I think it wears you out.” His deep voice was oddly gentle. “Think how tired little kids get. You’ve got to take care of yourself.”

His desire to protect her for her baby’s sake made her soften toward him, which was a dangerous reaction. If she wasn’t careful, she’d start believing he was capable of treating her decently.

But that wasn’t going to happen, and she couldn’t allow herself to wish he could be different.

Last night she’d actually dreamed Michael was a nice guy. In her dream she’d been afraid, and he’d come running to comfort her.

Ridiculous fantasy. He was a ruthlessly cold money machine who believed the worst of her. He’d bedded her solely to protect his brother—and the North fortune. When she’d said she wasn’t interested in Will, he’d offered to set her up as his mistress—but for a price. He saw her only as a threat or as a sexual commodity for his own pleasure.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “This place is too small for the two of us.”

She nodded. “And I hate it here because it reminds me of Will and Tony so much.”

“Since we’re stuck with each other for the next week,” he said, “I think we’d both be more comfortable at my penthouse.”

Her heart skittered in fear as she remembered their first wanton night together in his glamorous apartment where he’d seduced her and then broken her heart.

The last thing she wanted was to spend a week in the place where she’d experienced such devastation.

“I can’t go back there. Your penthouse isn’t exactly neutral ground. Besides don’t tony Fifth Avenue buildings like yours have dictatorial boards? Would they approve of a woman, a nobody like me from the West Side just moving in?”

“Leave the board to me. If they exact a price, I’ll pay...”

“You think you can buy anything you want.”

“I can—most of the time.” He stared into her eyes. “I have three floors and five bedrooms. Believe me, you’d be able to avoid me there much more easily than you would here. And vice versa.”

“I suppose that does have its appeal,” she agreed gloomily, hoping to wound him. For some infuriatingly illogical reason the thought that he wanted to avoid her as much as she wanted to avoid him stung.

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