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Authors: Donna Hill

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BOOK: Heart's Reward
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“Try to rest. We should be landing soon.” He glanced over at his father, who had been sound asleep
for most of the flight. “We'll have to tell Dad all about it.”

By the time they landed, Melanie's head was pounding and her stomach was swirling. The captain walked into the passenger compartment.

“We should be on the ground for about an hour. If you want to get off and hang out inside the terminal you can. But I need everyone back here in forty-five minutes. Once they give us the go-ahead we have a short window to take off. If we miss it, we may be stuck here overnight. They predict another front is coming this way.”

“I'm going to get out,” Vincent announced. His sister and cousin joined him.

Melanie rested her head back against the seat, thankful that they were on solid ground even if her stomach told her otherwise.

“Are you all right, Ms. Harte? You don't look well,” the nurse said, taking Vincent's seat opposite her.

“Just the bumpy ride,” she said from between clenched teeth.

The nurse reached over and touched her damp forehead. “No fever. Do you have chills or aches?”

She shook her head.

“Do you normally get air sick?”

“No. I've been on planes all my life.”

“Hmm.”

Melanie opened her eyes to see the nurse staring at her. “What do you think it is?”

“If you're not coming down with something and you're accustomed to flying…maybe you should visit your doctor when you get home.” She gave her a knowing smile, patted her hand then returned to check on her dozing patient.

Melanie frowned. Then her thoughts began to scramble as the nurse's words replayed in her head and the look she had on her face when she suggested that she see her doctor. She tried to think, but the unthinkable began to dominate her thoughts. No.

Her heart started to race and a line of perspiration ran around her forehead. No.

She thought about that first night. That night with Claude. They hadn't used protection. The thought had unnerved her afterward, but then she'd tossed it out of her head with so many other things crowding into her life. No. She tried to count but the numbers got all screwed up. She pulled her cell phone out of her purse and fumbled for the calendar application. Last Friday's date was highlighted. That was a week ago. That's when she should have gotten her period. But she didn't.

Her heart was thumping so loud she couldn't hear herself think. Her fingers began to shake. It was probably all of the anxiety, the party, then Alan…That's all that it was and as soon as she calmed
down and got her life back on track everything would be fine.

She drew in a long deep breath and put her phone back in her purse. She turned to stare out of the window. Everything was going to be fine. It had to be.

Chapter 18

M
elanie was subdued for the rest of the flight to New York. In the car she barely uttered a word.

 

Veronica tapped on Melanie's bedroom door.

“Come in.”

“I was getting ready to head home. Vincent's gone home. Dad's asleep. His nurse is settled in the room across from him. I'm going to drop Jess off on my way, but I wanted to check on you first. Are you sure you're feeling okay?”

“Yeah, sweetie, I'm fine. I think everything is finally catching up with me, that's all. Nothing for you to worry about.” She forced a reassuring smile across her face.

“If you're sure.”

“Yes, I'm perfectly fine. Go home and get some sleep in your own bed.”

“I like the sound of that. See you in the morning. You get some rest.”

“I will, sweetheart. Good night. Set the alarm on your way out.”

Melanie took a long shower then went to check on her brother, who was resting comfortably. Crawling under the covers she closed her eyes against the impossible. But of course it was possible, silly. You didn't use protection. She groaned in concert with the ringing phone. It was Claude and as much as she wanted to hear his voice she didn't want to talk to him now.

“Hey, baby, you all get settled?”

“Yes.” She told him about the delays they encountered and that she was really tired.

“Sure. You get some rest. I'll call you to morrow.”

“Great. Good night.”

She hung up the phone. Her heart was suddenly so heavy it felt as if it weighed a ton. She slid down under the covers and tried to sleep. First thing in the morning she was taking a trip to the pharmacy.

 

Melanie was up before the sun. She'd barely slept through the night. As soon as she sat up, her stomach revolted and she darted to the bathroom. Trying to
compose herself she splashed cold water on her face. Maybe it was a stomach virus, she told herself. Because thirty-six-year-old, successful, unmarried business women didn't just pop up pregnant. Taking a deep breath, she slowly stood. The stores wouldn't be open for a couple of hours. The waiting was agony.

 

As soon as it was reasonable, Melanie advised the nurse that she had to run out for a little while but would be back within the hour.

Driving into town seemed to take an eternity. A part of her wanted the road never to end and another part couldn't get there fast enough. She found a parking space across the street from the pharmacy and suddenly wished she'd put on something to hide her appearance. Suppose someone she knew saw her? What would they think? What would she say? For a moment she hesitated, doubting her actions. It would be much more discreet if she simply went to her doctor. But she didn't think she could endure the not knowing. This could all be a simple mistake. But her rolling stomach told her otherwise.

As nonchalantly as she could she browsed the feminine products aisle until she found what she was looking for. She read the information on the back. Sounded simple enough. She looked around to see if anyone was watching. Only she and a woman she didn't recognize were in the store. She hurried to the cashier, paid for her kit and rushed out.

By the time she got behind the wheel of her car her heart was racing out of control. She felt as if she had just succeeded on some covert mission. Willing herself to calm down, she put the car in gear and headed back home.

An hour later, her suspicions were confirmed. The little blue line was positive. What was she going to do now?

 

Claude couldn't seem to concentrate on the meeting he was sitting in on. The words blurred in his head, not making sense. All night he felt unsettled, as if something was wrong. He started feeling that way right after speaking with Melanie. She didn't sound right. She sounded distant and detached, not like the woman he'd spent the past week with, who opened her heart and soul to him and he in return.

He tried to pass it off that she was tired and that the strain of the past week had finally taken its toll. But his gut told him it was something else. What that something was he couldn't tell.

He checked his watch for the tenth time. The meeting was scheduled to wrap up in another twenty minutes. The time couldn't go by fast enough. He needed to talk to Melanie. He needed to hear her voice and be reassured that everything was all right with her and with them.

Was she having second thoughts about having plunged headfirst into a relationship with him? Did
she think she did the right thing? He should have told her how he felt, what had been going through his head and his heart, but he didn't want to scare her off. He didn't want her to think that he was telling her that he was falling in love with her, simply because the sex was so incredible.

It was more than that. It was everything. His thoughts were consumed with her and how he could make her happy. He felt as if he'd fallen from the moment that they met. He plunged headfirst into the depths of her eyes and she took over his soul. Everything he did from the time they met was with her in mind. Even when he got crazy about Rafe.

He should have told her exactly how happy and complete she made him feel. Something he didn't think he would ever experience again.

“Your body is here but your head has been somewhere else all morning.”

Claude looked up at Senator Lawson. He shook his head to clear it. “Sorry about that. Was it that obvious?” He closed his leather folder and stood, noticing that only he and the senator were in the room.

“Only to the people that really know you, like everyone in the room.” He chuckled lightly and slapped him on the back. “Everything all right with you? You're not coming down with something?”

“No. I'm fine. Just a little tired.”

“Well, you be sure to take care of yourself. We have a lot on our agenda and I'm going to need you to be in top form.”

“Yes, sir.”

Senator Lawson gave a short nod and strode out.

Once he spoke to Melanie he would be fine, he thought as he walked out. He just needed to hear that sparkle in her voice to know that everything was all right and then he could loosen the knot that gripped his insides.

 

By midday she was feeling like herself again. The nausea had passed and her head had cleared. Maybe the test was wrong, she tried to convince herself as she walked down the hall to her brother's room. She peeked her head in and he beckoned her inside.

“Hey, sweetie, how are you feeling today?” She crossed the room. He was sitting up in the chair by the window looking even better today than the day before.

“Slept like a baby.” He grinned, and that old smile was back.

She sat down on the window ledge and looked out onto the moss-covered bluffs, then back at her brother.

“Seems like I should be asking you how you're doing. What's wrong?”

“Nothing.” She forced a smile.

Alan made a face. “Don't lie to your big brother. What is it? Is it about Claude?”

Her eyes widened in surprise. She sputtered something incoherent.

“You think I didn't know?” He smiled wickedly.

“We fellas have to stick together.”

She folded her arms defiantly. “Stick together about what?”

“About women, of course.” He chuckled. “Don't look so put out. The man is crazy about you.”

Her heart pounded. “How do you know that?”

“Because he told me. Besides a blind man can see the vibe between the two of you.”

“He told you?” She didn't know whether to be appalled or to laugh with relief.

“Every chance he got that's all he talked about. I had to kind of stop him before he got to the juicy parts,” he teased. “After all, you are my baby sister.”

She jumped down from her perch on the window ledge and began to pace. She turned to her brother, her expression as bright as a Fourth of July fireworks display. “What did he say about me?”

Alan tossed his head back and laughed. “Us men have to have some secrets,” he taunted her.

“Grrrr. If you weren't an invalid I would jump all over you!”

Alan laughed some more. “Lucky me.”

She stopped pacing and planted her hands on her hips. “Why won't you tell me what he said? Can't you at least give me a tiny hint?” she whined.

“Why don't you ask him?” His smile was soft and loving. “I have a strong feeling that he's ready to tell you what's been on his mind.”

But would he still feel the same way when she told him her news?

 

She returned to her room and put in a call to her doctor, insisting that she squeeze her in. It was an emergency. The nurse said she could have the last appointment of the day at six. Melanie assured her that she would be there. With that task aside she called Cynthia. She needed some girl talk and the ear and support of her best friend.

Vincent had taken the day off and Jessica and Veronica were busy going over some new files. She told them she was going out to run an errand and meet with Cynthia and that she would be back later in the evening.

She drove into town, stopped at the local bakery and picked up some fresh bread and rolls. Then she stopped in the florist and placed an order for a flower delivery. With those tasks out of the way she walked down to Cynthia's gallery.

The gallery was relatively quiet with only a smattering of visitors. Cynthia was just finishing up
on the phone and waved Melanie over. She leaned across the counter and kissed Melanie's cheek.

“I knew from your call that something was wrong. And now it's in your face.” She reached for her purse from beneath the counter. “What is it? Come on in back and we'll talk.”

Just hearing Cynthia's gentle words of concern eased the tension that had a stronghold on Melanie's insides. She followed Cynthia to her back office. She closed the door and sat down on the comfortable love seat.

“First, how is Alan?”

“He is doing so much better. He was sitting up today. His nurse said that she's going to let him do some walking.”

“Oh, thank God. I was so worried.” She breathed a sigh of relief, then focused all of her attention on Melanie. “Now, what's going on with you?”

Melanie folded her hands in her lap and in measured words took Cynthia on the journey of her and Claude's worldwind affair, right up to the results she'd gotten that morning and Alan's intimation.

For a moment, Cynthia was completely speechless as she tried to process it all. “Girl, you don't have a relationship for decades and then when you do it's an Oprah moment.”

Melanie didn't want to laugh but she couldn't help it. “Ain't that the truth?”

“I know you're torn right down the middle about everything right now. But let me ask you this one question: How do you feel about Claude? I mean really feel deep down in your soul?”

Her lips quivered as the intensity of what she felt for Claude tried to form words. She looked straight at her friend. “I'm in love with him.”

 

Cynthia flipped through the magazines on the table and watched the women in various stages of pregnancy come in and out of the office. Just thinking about her friend as one of them gave her pause. She knew that Melanie would make a great mother. She'd spent her entire adult life taking care of others. She only wanted her to be happy and for Claude to be happy when he got the news.

She checked her watch. Melanie had been in with the doctor for more than half an hour. Now she was getting nervous. Just when she didn't think she could take the suspense a moment longer, Melanie emerged. She couldn't read her expression. She tossed the magazine onto the table.

“Well?” she said the instant Melanie was close enough.

Melanie hooked her arm through Cynthia's and ushered her toward the door.

“I'm not pregnant,” she said once they'd stepped outside.

“What? But I thought…”

“I know. It's the same thing I said to my doctor who, after a thorough exam, assured me that I'm not pregnant, just late. She said that every now and then those little tests are wrong.”

They walked arm in arm toward Melanie's car. “She went on to give me a thorough lecture on safe sex.” She snickered. “I felt like I was twelve. ‘You should know better Melanie. There are a lot worse things you get besides becoming pregnant,'” she mimicked.

Cynthia laughed. “Ouch.”

Melanie stopped and opened her purse for Cynthia to see. She looked inside. The entire bottom was filled with condoms in a rainbow of colors and flavors. They both cracked up laughing.

“So how do you feel about finding out that you're not pregnant?” Cynthia gently asked while Melanie drove her home.

Melanie took a deep breath. “At first I was so nervous I couldn't process the information. After the reality hit me, I was relieved and then oddly disappointed.” She turned and stole a glance at Cynthia, who watched her intently. “But…it's a good thing. I want to move on in this relationship the right way without the added responsibility of a child that neither of us is prepared for. I have no idea how Claude would have taken the news. He may have done the gentlemanly thing or he may have lost it.”

“From everything you've told me about him I don't think he would have lost it.”

“You're probably right. But I want him to want me for all the right reasons, not because he feels that he has to.”

Cynthia nodded and reached out to cover Melanie's hand with hers. “Well, now you have all the time in the world to find out.”

BOOK: Heart's Reward
10.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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