She slid into the passenger seat, cupping the sundress she wore firmly to her rounded abdomen so the ends wouldn’t billow up. The city was on the cusp of spring. Still raw and windy, prone to chilly rains and the occasional snow flurry, but today the temps had soared into the sixties and the sun shone brightly, a promise of what was to come.
The past few months had been…nice. It seemed too tepid a word, but it fit. Accepting friendship from Cam had been hard—it was still hard. There were times when she could so see them together long-term. Then it was almost as if Cam realized how close they were getting, and he would back off and erect the wall between them once more.
Today, though? Today was special, and in her heart of hearts, she hoped their relationship would move forward just a bit. How could it not? Today they’d “meet” their child and for the first time see the tiny little life inside her.
“Are you nervous?” Cam asked as he drove toward the clinic where Pippa had her regular checkups.
Pippa took a deep breath. “Maybe?”
Cam smiled indulgently and reached over to squeeze her hand. “Still want to find out what we’re having?”
She nodded. “I do. I have to know. I want to be able to establish that bond early. Figure out a name. I can start buying clothes and decide how I want to decorate.”
She didn’t even realize she had drifted off into a dreamy smile until she became aware of Cam watching her.
“Have you given thought to what you’d like? Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?”
She grinned ruefully. “Depends on what day you catch me on. Yesterday I was sure I wanted a boy. Today I’m leaning toward a girl. What about you?”
His eyes went bleak for a moment. She watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallowed. Then he attempted a smile, but it was lame at best.
“I think I’d like a daughter.”
“Really? I thought guys always wanted sons.”
His eyes grew dimmer. “No. I think a daughter would be great. A little miniature Pippa. All that dark hair and green eyes.”
Her cheeks grew warm and she smiled at how pleased he seemed over the idea of having a daughter who looked like her.
A moment later, they pulled into the clinic’s parking garage and Pippa’s stomach burst into nervous flurries.
“Oh, my God,” she breathed. “We’re going to find out in just a little while.”
Cam smiled faintly, then reached over to squeeze her hand again. “Let’s go do it.”
* * *
Maybe it was her nerves, but Cam looked like he’d rather be anywhere but sitting in the tiny room where the sonogram tech was about to perform the scan. He looked…tormented. There was raw emotion in his eyes and he kept glancing toward the door like he was seriously contemplating bolting for it.
She bit her lip and controlled the urge to reach for his hand. He wasn’t even paying her any attention. He kept eyeing the tech and growing more uneasy by the minute. Instead, she took several calming breaths as the tech rolled her gown up and tucked it just over the slight swell of her belly.
She flinched when the cool gel smoothed over her skin and then the young man smiled at her as he placed the wand over her belly.
She strained closer as the blob took shape on the screen. Tears burned her eyelids when the tech explained that she was seeing the beating heart. She glanced over at Cam to see him equally awestruck. But there was such deep sadness in his eyes that she wondered what he could possibly be thinking.
Several long minutes later, the tech moved the wand again. “Ready to see what flavor of baby you’re having?”
“Oh, yes,” she whispered.
“Let’s take a look here. Hopefully we won’t have a shy one. Oh, hello! No shyness here. Look at the little guy.”
Pippa sat forward as she stared in amazement at the tiny appendage that clearly signaled the baby’s sex. “Oh, my God, it’s a boy! Cam, we’re having a son!”
Her excitement dimmed when she caught sight of Cam’s expression. And then to her shock, he simply got up and walked out of the room, leaving her on the table with the image of their son still vivid on the monitor.
* * *
Cam walked straight out of the building. He shoved at the door, needing freedom, needing air. Tears burned his eyes and he was desperate to get as far away from anyone as possible.
The sunlight assaulted his senses. A cool breeze blew over his face, freezing the unshed tears in place. The knot in his throat was so big he didn’t have a prayer of taking a breath. So he stood there, chest burning, throat so raw that it felt like he’d swallowed a razor.
A son. Another son.
Why couldn’t it have been a daughter? No threat to the memory of Colton. And it wouldn’t seem so damn much like he was replacing his first son with another. How could he even bear to look at this child, knowing he’d lost one before?
He fumbled for his cell, punched in his driver’s number and then gave a terse order for him to collect Pippa from the clinic. He was being the worst sort of ass. He was walking away from her when she needed him the most. But he couldn’t pretend. He couldn’t smile and be excited when he felt like he was dying all over again. He wouldn’t stand there and suck the joy from her.
After making sure John would take Pippa home, he turned and walked back to where his car was parked. In the past couple of months, he’d been staying more in the city so he could be closer to Pippa, but right now he wanted more than anything to retreat behind the iron gates of his Connecticut estate.
* * *
“He just left?” Pippa asked in bewilderment.
John looked discomfited as he led Pippa to where he’d parked the car. “I believe something urgent came up, Miss Laingley.”
“Like what?” she demanded. “What could possibly be more important than this? And he couldn’t simply tell me he had to leave?”
The more she pondered the matter, the more pissed she got. She was working herself into a righteous fury as John ushered her into the waiting car. All the way home, she fumed. This should have been special. They should even now be celebrating. Instead, she was on her way home alone not knowing what the hell kind of bug was up Cam’s ass.
The past couple of months had been terrific. Cam had lightened up. He had seemed to relax his guard around her and didn’t act so freaking stiff and uptight all the time anymore. They’d had fun together. If nothing else, they had become friends and for the first time Pippa hadn’t looked to the future with gnawing uncertainty that somehow Cam wouldn’t be in it for the long haul.
So much for that assumption.
What the hell was wrong with him?
John pulled up to her apartment but Pippa sat in the backseat for a long moment. Frowning, she leaned forward. “John, where did Cam say he was going? Do you know where he is now?”
“I believe he’s returned to Greenwich.”
Home? Home? What the ever-loving hell? This big emergency brought him home? Oh, hell, no. She’d had about enough of his volatile moods.
She sat back with a bounce. “Take me to Greenwich, John.”
John did a double take in the rearview mirror. “Pardon?”
“You heard me. Take me to his damn cave.”
“Perhaps it would be better if you called first. Mr. Hollingsworth doesn’t like to be disturbed when he’s in residence.”
“I don’t give a damn what Mr. Hollingsworth likes,” she said sweetly. “Either you drive me or I’m taking a cab the entire way.”
With a resigned sigh, John pulled back into traffic.
She stewed for another hour, and by the time they rolled up the long winding driveway of Cam’s home, she was in a foul mood. He’d messed up everything and she was going to hear what his excuse was or else.
When John stopped in front of the house, Pippa was out before he could open his own door. She marched up the steps, considered knocking, but then decided if she came all this way she wasn’t going to chance that he wouldn’t answer.
She shoved the door open and went inside.
“Cam?” she yelled belligerently. “Where the hell are you?”
She stood a moment, waiting for him to appear, but she was met by resounding silence.
“Cam!” she yelled louder. “Get your ass down here!”
A moment later she heard footsteps and then he appeared at the top of the stairs, his brows furrowed.
“What the hell are you doing here, Pippa? Is something wrong?”
If it wouldn’t take so much effort, she’d march up the stairs and punch him. He had the nerve to act like he’d done nothing?
She shook her head, her fingers curling into a tight fist. She was already fantasizing about decking him.
“You ruined the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me and you have the nerve to ask if anything’s wrong?”
He descended the stairs in a slow, methodical manner, his footsteps sounding ominous in the quiet. When he reached the bottom, he took a few more steps until he was a short distance away and then he stared coldly at her.
She shivered under his scrutiny. There was no warmth in his eyes. None of the friendship and caring he’d demonstrated over the past weeks.
“What on earth is your problem?”
“You came all this way to ask that?”
She refused to be put off by the censure in his tone. She closed the distance between them, poking her finger into his chest.
“I thought we were friends. I thought you cared a little about me or at least about our child. Friends don’t pull what you pulled today. What were you thinking? You left me alone in that exam room and then had your driver come for me? I want to know what the hell your problem is.”
“Not everything is about you, Pippa.”
The ice in his voice just served to piss her off more because she knew he was holding back. Knew that something was wrong and he didn’t trust her enough to tell her what it was. But what right did she have to pursue it? They were “friends.” Nothing more. He didn’t owe her anything. It hurt to remind herself of that little fact.
“I thought we were at least friends,” she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion.
She turned away, realizing just how stupid she’d been to come here at all. It was the one place she wasn’t welcome. Had never been welcome since that night when they’d first slept together. He hadn’t been able to get rid of her fast enough the next morning and he’d never, ever brought her back here. They met in the city. Never here.
She needed this reminder because she’d come dangerously close to building larger expectations. Creating a fantasyland where she actually had a chance at a future with this man.
“Don’t bother coming to the next appointment,” she said stiffly, her back still to him. She began walking to the door and had almost reached it when he caught her hand. She hadn’t even heard him come up behind her.
The single word conveyed a wealth of emotion. Regret. Sorrow.
She paused, her hand trembling in his.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “Please don’t leave like this.”
She yanked around, fighting to keep angry, frustrated tears at bay. “Why, Cam? Give me one good reason. You don’t want me here. I don’t even know why we’re pretending to have any sort of a relationship at all. Let’s just cut our losses and get it over with now.”
“I don’t like anyone to come here,” he said harshly. “It’s not personal to you. But… Just stay. I’m sorry for the way the appointment went. I was an ass. I ruined your moment.”
“Our moment,” she corrected. “It was our moment, Cam. It was our child’s moment when he was revealed to his parents. It was a moment that neither of us should have ever been able to forget, but in all honesty, I now don’t want to remember. Because how will I ever explain to my child that his father walked out the moment it was told to us we were having a son?”
Cam flinched and went pale and those vivid blue eyes stared back at her, flashing with so much dark emotion.
The tears she’d tried so hard to hold back slid down her cheeks as she stood shaking before him. And then she was in his arms. He hugged her tightly. So tightly she couldn’t breathe. His body shook against her. She could feel his rapid pulse jumping against his skin.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, Pippa. Please just stay. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve this. Forgive me, please.”
And then he was kissing her. Hot, breathless, almost desperate. He touched her, frantically, as if his need for her was the most important single thing in the world. Like she was the single most important thing in his world.
She felt his sorrow, his uncertainty. It rolled off him in waves. His despair and grief. His regret. There was so much emotion churning inside him that it was tangible and thick in the air.
And then his touch became gentler, became more beseeching, almost as if he was begging her not to deny him. To touch him back. To offer him the comfort he seemed to crave.
She was unable to remain cold and distant when he was crumbling before her. She kissed him back, her breath hiccuping softly over his lips. And then she slid her palm across the slight bristle of his jaw, cupping his cheek in a simple gesture of acceptance and understanding. Of forgiveness.
He swept her into his arms as if she weighed nothing and carried her into one of the downstairs bedrooms. Leaving the door open, he moved to the bed and eased her down onto the mattress.
He hung over her, his eyes fierce and hungry. Her breath caught when he came down over her, hard and unrelenting. His mouth claimed hers once more and it was several long seconds before she could breathe again.