Once Touched, Never Forgotten - By Natasha Tate
Shocked denial cinched Colette’s stomach into a tight knot and she couldn’t seem to draw a proper breath. As she stared at the telltale blue line, the second in as many hours, Colette’s trembling hands nearly dropped the evidence she wanted so desperately to deny.
How had this happened?
It doesn’t matter. It’s happened.
She couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. One test might lie. But two? Never. Shaking, and feeling slightly ill, she placed the plastic testing wand on her flat’s scarred bathroom counter and then braced her quivering arms against the sink.
She was pregnant.
With Stephen Whitfield’s child.
Colette closed her eyes, leaned her forehead against the cool mirror, and tried to think through her options. As if she had any.
She knew Stephen. She knew his plans for the future, and they didn’t include her. They never had. How many times had he told her of his decision to never marry or have children? He liked his solitary life, loved his freedom. It allowed him to focus on business without messy, emotional distractions.
Through a tacit, unspoken agreement, neither of them had pressed for more. Neither had asked questions the other didn’t wish to answer. The past remained in the past; they lived for the moment. It was safer that way. For today, for the duration of their affair, he’d accepted her, pleasured her, and made her feel wanted. She’d told herself it was enough.
And it had been enough.
Until she’d fallen in love.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled sharply. She couldn’t change the rules on him. She wouldn’t. They’d been too careful to avoid talk of each other’s pasts, too careful to make no demands the other wouldn’t wish to fill. Though she suspected he carried scars no mere female could heal, she certainly was in no position to try. She wouldn’t be naïve enough to offer.
But you’re going to have his child.
It didn’t matter.
No way would she be one of those women who trapped a man into marriage by getting herself pregnant. No way would she repeat her mother’s mistakes and put her child in the middle of a loveless marriage. And she knew Stephen well enough to know that he’d demand just that. He’d forfeit his future for his child, and then hate them both because of it.
Curving a hand over her abdomen, she felt a rush of protectiveness bring the sting of tears to her eyes. It didn’t matter that her baby’s father had no desire for children. It didn’t matter that their fling was supposed to be a temporary indulgence with no strings. No expectations. No future.
She’d make her child feel loved regardless of the circumstances of her conception. No baby of hers would ever feel like a pawn in a marriage built on coercion, obligation and resentment.
She had to break things off with Stephen. Today.
And she had to make it believable.
Forty minutes later, she stepped from Stephen’s private elevator and walked into his absent secretary’s front reception area. For once, Colette was grateful not to have to talk to the friendly but nosy older woman. She didn’t think she’d be able to feign cheerfulness just now.
The Whitfield Grand’s thick carpet muffled her footsteps as she continued toward Stephen’s office, making Colette’s thudding pulse sound far too loud by comparison. Feeling like she’d swallowed ten pounds of lead, and with her mouth as dry as flour, she approached his open doors along the left wall of the reception area.
She heard Stephen’s voice, raised in a heated argument with two other men whose voices she didn’t recognize, and stalled just outside his door.
“Grandfather,” Stephen said, the subtle evidence of his temper edging his delivery. “You’re making assumptions that have no basis in fact.”
“Don’t take that tone with me,” barked the Whitfield patriarch. “And don’t talk to me about facts. My sources are impeccable.”
“Your sources are wrong.”
“She may as well have you fitted with a nose ring, the way you let her lead you around.”
Colette’s pulse picked up speed. Were they discussing her?
“You’re in so deep,” seconded a third male, his tone nasally and weak, “you don’t even notice other women.”
“I’m not in deep, Liam,” Stephen ground out. “But even if I were, whomever I choose to notice is no concern of yours.”
“The hell it isn’t!” snapped his grandfather. “Would you get your head out of your pants and think for a minute? Whether you deserve it or not, you’re a Whitfield, and everything you do reflects on us. I won’t have you making a mess of things like your idiot father did.”