Authors: Kate Walker
âCesare! Help me!' she interrupted, her voice wobbling desperately, her eyes wide dark pools above the whiteness of her cheeks. âGet a doctor, pleaseâand quickly! Something's very, very wrong. I'mâI'm
the appalling, terrifying moment in which she'd realised just what was happening to her, Megan's mind had become just a scream of terror so that everything that happened did so in a blur of fear, nothing but the horror of her discovery making any impact on her thoughts.
She was hardly aware of stumbling to the door and wrenching it open, knowing only that she had to find Cesare. That she had to be with him, beg him to help her. He would know what to do.
And he did. He didn't waste a second phoning for a doctor, using his phone instead to summon the chauffeur even as he bundled her up in a black towelling robe that he snatched from the back of the bedroom door in the same moments that he snapped orders into the receiver. And as he fastened it round her, pulling the belt around her waist, he had soothed and comforted her with a non-stop flow of gentle words.
,' he'd urged. âDon't panic. We're on our way. Everything's going to be fine. I'll take care of you. Just hold on to me. Hold tight. I'll make sure that you're okay.'
Megan had wished that she could believe him. That she could hope and trust that things would indeed be âfine'. But the tearing discomfort deep inside, the terrible feeling of nausea, told its own story. There wasn't a chance that she was still pregnant. She knew that for sure.
But still there was a deep, primitive comfort to be gained from being in Cesare's arms, and being wrapped in the soft,
thick towelling of his robe. It wrapped around her almost twice, it was so loose; and it smelled wonderfully of his skin and the cologne he used so that she could almost believe he had only just taken it off in order to wrap it about her. Whimpering in pain and misery, she huddled into its warmth and abandoned herself to Cesare's total control.
She was barely aware of the way that he swept her off her feet and carried her out to the waiting car. The speeding, swaying journey passed in a haze of discomfort and fear and it was only the strength of Cesare's arms around her, the sound of his voice in her ear, that kept her from screaming aloud in distress and panic. As it was, she had to clamp her teeth down hard on her bottom lip in order to hold back the sobs and all the time tears poured down her cheeks, silent and unstoppable, scouring wet, desolate trails over her colourless skin.
At the hospital there was none of the delay she had expected and feared. Once again Cesare took charge and bulldozed ruthlessly over anyone who got in his way or tried to suggest anything other than he wanted.
He didn't wait, he didn't ask, instead he insisted loud and clear on getting exactly what he wanted. He wanted the best, the most comfortable room. They were taken there at once. He wanted the most qualified doctorâthe senior gynaecologistâand the leading expert appeared at a run. He demanded the best possible treatment, the newest, most advanced helpâand they promised him she would have everything they could provide.
But all the equipment, all the expertise in the world couldn't help. Nothing could stop the bleeding. Nothing could prevent what was happening. They could only give her something to ease the pain and then wait and watch and let nature take its course. There was no going back and they could only bow to the inevitable.
And then, late on the following morning, when Megan finally woke from the shattered, exhausted sleep into which she had fallen at the end of a long, long, desolate night, the doctor came to see her and she learned that fate had one last final, terrible shock in store for her. The worst bolt from the blue that she could ever have imagined.
She hadn't lost her baby because she had never had one to lose. She wasn't pregnant at all. Never had been. It had all just been a figment of her imagination, a creation of her mind and not her body. It had been a phantom pregnancy. A fiction. A delusion.
âBut I did a test!' she wailed, unable to take the full horror of it in. âIt was positive!'
She could only be grateful that the consultant had chosen a time when Cesare wasn't at her side as he had been all night. After a long, sleepless night, he had finally been prevailed on to go home and get some rest. His wife was in no danger, they had assured him. What she needed now was to sleep, and so did he. They would call him if anything happened.
âThe over the counter tests aren't always one hundred per cent accurate,' she was told. âThere's always the risk of a small possibility of error and it looks as if that was what happened this time.'
âBut I felt so sickâand I missed my periods! Two of them.'
âAnd that's probably why you've been in so much discomfort this time. Anything could cause that. Any emotional upset, or not eating properly could easily affect your regular pattern. Had you been under any sort of strain?'
âYou could say that,' Megan muttered bitterly. âI was in the middle of my final exams.'
At the same time as she had found out that her lover was already married. That he had a wife and two children living
in America, and that he had been playing her for a total fool. Taking her virginity without a qualm and using her as a sexual diversion to while away the time during his stay in England, fully intending to drop her and go back to his wife just as soon as the term of his exchange was up in the summer.
In fact her only appeal to him had been that virginity. He had seen her innocence as a challenge he was determined to conquer, the taking of it a trophyâa score mark he could carve, metaphorically at least, on the dark wooden headboard of his bed.
âI was so sure I was pregnant.'
She still couldn't take it in.
âOur minds are amazing things. They can work wondersâmiraclesâand they can do the opposite. When we're under stress our minds can make our bodies think something else is happening. I've seen dozens of people who present with every symptom of some illness when in fact there's nothing wrong.'
And while Megan was still struggling with this idea, the doctor had gone on to reassure her. At least, he thought he was reassuring her.
âIt could be better this way. Your husband tells me you're only just married, and perhaps it's better not to be starting out together with a baby on the way in a few months' time. You can have a proper honeymoon, spend time together and enjoy the first weeks of married life free of commitments and other ties. Then later, you can think about having children when you're really ready. I'm sure your husband will understand.'
And that was the worst thing of all.
Perhaps if Cesare truly were her
, then he would understand. If he had married her out of love and because he wanted to spend his life with her, grow old with her,
then this set-back, the foolish, naÃ¯ve mistake she had made, might not matter to him at all.
But her husband wasn't really her husband. He was her husband in name only. He hadn't married her for love but because he believed she was pregnant. With a baby that now no longer existed. A baby that had never existed except in her imagination.
âDo you want me to tell him?' the doctor asked.
âHe doesn't know yet?'
Oh, dear God, how was he going to react?
âNoânoâlet me do it. I'd better tell him. He'll take it better coming from me.'
If only she could believe that. If only there was any way at all that Cesare could take it
But she knew that was impossible. His reaction was going to be as volcanic as the eruption of Mount Etna, no matter what she did or said, and she was going to have to face the consequences of that, even though her heart quailed inside her at just the thought. She owed him that at least. She couldn't leave it to someone else to explain to him.
But the sight of Cesare's face when he came into the room almost destroyed what little was left of her confidence. He might have been sent home to rest, but he had clearly not taken advantage of the opportunity. The stunning brown eyes were heavy and shadowed, and for the first time ever since she had known him his shave was less than perfect. The sight of the tiny red marks on his jaw line, revealing where he had nicked himself in his haste, made Megan's heart twist painfully at the thought of the reasons for his lack of concentration.
âHow are you feeling?' he demanded even before he was fully into the room.
âAnd the baby?'
âThereâthereâI'm afraid there isn't going to be a baby.'
Coming to the bed, he sat on the side of it, took her hand in both of his.
âI'm so sorryâ¦'
She couldn't let it go on like this. Couldn't let him think this way. Her conscience would never give her peace if she did.
âIt isn't what you think! It isn't that way at all.'
âThen what way is it?'
She couldn't bear the look in his eyes, the way his dark, intent gaze was fixed on her face, and she stared down at the peach and cream bedspread, studying it as if she was to be tested on describing the pattern later.
âThere isn't going to be a baby becauseâbecauseâ¦'
She swallowed hard, forced herself to go on.
âBecause there never was one in the first place.'
It was his stillness that gave him away. The sudden freezing into total immobility that she could sense out of the corners of her eyes.
âI don't understandâ¦'
The ruthless control he was exerting to keep his voice steady showed in the hands that held hers, making them tighten convulsively over her fingers.
âWhat do you mean there was never one in the first place? Meganâ¦'
It was a note of harsh warning when she couldn't bring herself to answer him.
Twice she opened her mouth to answer him and both times her voice deserted her. When she finally did force it
to work, it was squeaky and breathless, not sounding like her at all.
âThere never was a baby in the first place. It seems I wasn't pregnant after allâjust deceiving myself.'
âBut you went for a test!'
Oh, hellâhad he thought she'd meant an official, doctor's test? Of course he had. This was Cesare Santorino. The man who wanted everything signed sealed and copied into triplicate before he committed himself to anything.
a test. There's a distinct difference. And as it says on the packet there is always the possibility that any result might not be one hundred per cent accurate. They do say that it's wise to get things checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.'
âAnd am I to take it that you didn't “get things checked out”?'
Megan could only shake her head silently, flinching inside at the savage bitterness of his voice. If he had lost his temper, shouted, screamed at her, she could have understood it. But he didn't. Instead, the question was delivered in a vicious undertone that had all the deadly force of an attacking snake and it was far more damaging because of that.
âDon't you think it would have been wise?'
Her head came up sharply at that, russet hair flying back from her face, green eyes flashing defiance into his cold ebony stare.
âOf course it would have been
âif I'd been thinking straight! But I wasn't, damn you! I wasn't thinking at all! I was lost and lonely and frightened and betrayed and you were there andâ¦'
âAnd you thought you'd found a mug who would just step in and take care of you?'
âNo! I never thought like that! I just couldn't! For one
thing, no one could ever take you for a mug and for another Iâ'
Suddenly realising just what she had been about to let fall, she clamped her mouth tight shut in panic, terrified that she might have let a single syllable out. Had she really been about to
it? Had she truly been so stupid as to think she could risk telling him that she
? Her stomach clenched painfully in horror at the thought.
âFor anotherâ¦?' Cesare echoed dangerously.
âFor another, you weren't exactly bothered about that at the time! All you seemed interested in was rushing me into marriage so that you could get me into bed!'
That was the one comment that got through the red buzzing haze of fury in Cesare's mind. He couldn't deny it. He wished he could, damn it, but the truth was that Megan had hit the nail on the head. If he had been thinking straight, he'd have asked her to have a proper check-up. He should have taken her to the surgery himself, got everything checked out.
But he hadn't been thinking straight. At least, he hadn't been thinking with his
, but with a far more basic part of his anatomy. And that part hadn't wanted to wait around to see if everything was exactly as he thought it. He'd been quite happy to take Megan's word for it that she'd checked everything out.
And now they were both trapped in this farce of a marriage. On the flowered cotton bedspread both his hands clenched into tight, angry fists. Because he had let his feelings rule his head, because he had laid himself open to her furious accusationââAll you seemed interested in was rushing me into marriage so that you could get me into bed.' And the way she had flung those words at him, the expression on her face as she did so, made it plain just how she felt about that!
In Megan's mind he was no better than Rowell had ever been. Seeing her as nothing but a body, one he had sexual designs on. And she had left him in no doubt that if she hadn't been desperate she would never have agreed to the wedding.
âYou really think that?'
âYou bet I do! I don't thinkâI
!' Megan flung back at him. âOh, come on! You're not going to try and deny it are you? Because if you did, quite frankly I wouldn't believe you.'
Her mouth spoke the words, but her mind told a different story.
Deny it, she pleaded. Please, please, deny it Cesare! Tell me that it was never that way! Tell me you married me for completely different reasons! Tell me you love meâor at least care for meâtell me anything at all and I'm so foolish, so weak that I'll believe every word you say.