A Question of Pride(3)

By: Michelle Reid

Fool, Clea!

It was entirely her own fault that she was pregnant. She had taken on the responsibility of protecting them against this happening, and she must now bear the consequences of failing Max in this one area he had trusted her with.

She was going to have to work out what she was going to do, because when Max found out he was going to be furious. In fact, she realised at that precise moment, she couldn't let him find out, at least, not until she'd formulated some plan, organised herself to an extent where his knowing wouldn't alter things.

She wouldn't, couldn't marry him under these unhappy circumstances—and he would suggest marriage.

Max was an honourable man, in his own way. But, while marrying her, he would hate her for it.

She was going to have to end their relationship, and quickly. She hadn't dared get out of bed this morning while he was still there because for the last few days she had been sick in the morning. She had managed to hide it from him so far, but not for much longer ...

'You all right, dear?'

Clea looked up to find the cafe assistant standing over her, her heavily made-up face concerned. She smiled to reassure her, but it wasn't a very convincing smile, and the woman seemed to understand because she gave Clea's shoulder a sympathetic pat and moved away without another word.

It was time to go. Clea got up and gathered her things together. She knew she must be pale because she felt pale. It was difficult to do anything about it while she was so numb inside. It was silly, trying to sort through her muddled thoughts while she felt like this; tonight would be soon enough to think—and really begin the worrying. Max wasn't seeing her tonight, he had a business dinner to go to. She would go home after work, lock herself away inside her flat and think then—think clear and hard.

Clea was working at her desk when Max shot back into the office like a tornado, striding past her desk without even offering her a glance.

'Switch me an outside line through,' he commanded, then disappeared into his own office, closing the door behind him.

She let out a long breath, unaware that she had been holding it until it came from her tensed lungs with a whoosh. Guilt and fear? Something like that, she realised heavily. She had been afraid Max would take one look at her and know, when in actual fact he hadn't even glanced at her.

Not that that was unusual, she acknowledged as she gave him his open line by flicking a switch on her communications console beside her elbow. Max was behaving as he always did here; it was she who had changed since they'd parted this morning. She sat back, eyes clouding, with an expression of sad indulgence. He had always been curt, demanding, full of ceaseless energy ...

He must have got the Stanwell contract. He would be ringing around now, warning his sub-contractors to expect large orders for components. He liked to do this initial sounding-out personally, because it made them sit up and take notice; then he would delegate around his minions to leave himself free to hunt for more work.

He buzzed her, and she jumped, startled out of her inactivity.

'Yes, Max?'

'Bring yourself in here, will you?' Snap, the line went dead.

Clea took a deep breath, hoped the tension she was experiencing inside didn't show too much on her pale face, picked up her pad and pencil and went into his office.

He had changed his clothes—as he had said he would have to do. Clea moved quietly across the room and sat down opposite him. The dark pin-striped suit looked good on him; it gave that lean, muscled frame of his some added impact. The white shirt made his skin look darker, his neat grooming a confirmation of the way he ran his life, all neat and tidy, all straight lines with the unforeseen catered for.

I'm carrying your child, Max, she told him silently. I'm going to have your baby.

Tears smarted the backs of her eyes and she had to blink them away. Shock, she realised, staring pale-faced down at her knees, where her notepad lay on the soft wool cloth of her black office suit.

'Did you meet your friend?'

'What—?' She had thought him engrossed in the sheaf of papers stacked in front of him, so his voice when he spoke startled her again. Steady! She warned herself, you're in danger of falling apart—just like the song on the cafe radio said she would. 'Yes. We went to that little bistro place off Regent Square.'

Max wasn't listening. She could tell by the way his eyes whipped over the closely typed print on the pages in front of him. He had only asked out of courtesy. He wasn't really interested in anything she did, unless it took place between the sheets ...

Cynicism, Clea, she accused herself bitterly. Not like you at all. Here you are, lying to him, loving him and hating him all at the same time, and the sad part about it is that Max has no idea!

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