âNo, she didn't. God!' He stood up and raked his fingers through his hair and began pacing the room as if he needed the physical activity to think better. âYou're not making this any easier for me,' he said, stopping in front of her. Looming so that she had to look up at him.
âShe seemed to think that you and I are rather well suited, which happens to be my opinion as well.' Jessica opened her mouth and he held up one hand for her to be quiet, then he sat down heavily next to her on the sofa. âAnd it has nothing to do with the baby. Well, obviously the baby comes into the equation. The fact is I happen to enjoy your company even if
spend half your time running away from my questions and the other half giving me a hard time for asking them in the first place.'
Jessica could feel her heart beating quicker and quicker, and she thought that she might well be holding her breath, so she exhaled very deeply and told herself not to get worked up over what he was saying because it probably wasn't leading where she would dearly have wanted it to lead.
âWell?' he prompted challengingly. âAren't you going to rush in here to defend yourself?'
âI'll wait until you reach the end of your speech. I wouldn't want to be accused of interrupting you.'
âThere you go again! Throwing me off my stride!' He glared at her. âYou've done that from day one! I'm not accustomed to having to be alert one hundred per cent of the time when I'm with a woman, just in case some stray verbal arrow comes flying my way!'
what you've been accustomed to, Bruno. Isn't that why marriage would never work between us? Because you're not accustomed to women like me? Because at the end of the day, whatever your mother says and however much your head agrees with her, your heart is firmly rooted in another type of girl?'
âSo I've told myself for the past few weeks,' he muttered, and she strained across to hear what he was saying.
âWhat was that?'
âYou heard me!' He looked at her, tilted his head slightly to one side and gave her a winningly boyish âcan't you see where I'm heading?' look, which she returned with a perplexed frown.
âIt seems that I rather like the intelligent, bossyâ'
âI am not bossy!'
âAnswer-me-back at the drop of a hat style of woman.'
Jessica, listening intently to every word, found that she was having trouble swallowing. Her throat appeared to have become very dry.
âIt seems that...' he began, and then, once more, left the sentence unfinished.
âI wish you'd get to the point, Bruno.'
âBecause you can't wait to see the back of me?'
âAre you telling me that you don't want me to go?' He gave her a sly, charming smile and she flushed. âMy mother informed me that she thinks you're not quite as hostile towards me as you like to make out...'
âOh, she does, does she?' Traitor, Jessica thought.
âYes. What do you say?'
âOh, what does it matter?' she said on a sigh. âIt doesn't matter how many roads we go down, we always seem to end up right back at the place we started, which, in case you're wondering, is nowhere.'
âI disagree. Have I told you that I've been doing some thinking?'
âI think you might have.'
âI don't repulse you, do I, Jessica? Admit it. It's just the opposite, isn't it? I turn you on and that terrifies you. That's why you didn't want to continue what we had once we got back to England. That's why you've been fighting me every inch of the way. Because you're not indifferent to me at all. Okay, I'm going to lay all my cards on the table and tell you that I think youâ'
âDon't you dare say it!' She felt the customary panic at the prospect of having her emotions laid bare for him to pick over, but hard on the heels of panic came a kind of weary lassitude. She was fed up playing games. What was the point of it all? It didn't change the way she felt.
âWhy not? Because you might give yourself away?'
âIs that why you came over here, Bruno?' she asked quietly. âSo that you can gloat at yet another conquest?'
He looked at her startled, then confused, but she was too dispirited to react to the fact that he had just pulled off the greatest piece of bluffing he had probably ever done in his life.
âNo, that's not why I came here.'
Jessica looked at him, mildly surprised at this admission.
âI came here to tell you that...it seems that...well, my mother put two and two together to be honest... nothing better to do with her time than try and analyse other people's motivations... I don't suppose you have a glass of whisky lying about, do you?' When she shook her head, he continued, flushing, âIf you really want to know, I think you've managed to pull the rug from under my feet...'
âRug? What rug? What on earth are you on about?'
âYou've made me fall in love with you.' He stared at her defiantly, and his admission was so overwhelming that for a few seconds she sat there and stared back at him with her lips parted. âI couldn't stop thinking about you when I got back to England. I was pretty sure that you'd make contact, and when nothing happened I told myself that it didn't matter. In fact, that it was the best thing that could happen. I tried to launch myself back into my social life, I even dated a couple of other women, but it was a ridiculous farce. I compared all of them to you, and I missed you.'
with other women?'
âI don't think I could have even if I'd wanted to,' he replied with a dry, ironic laugh. âHow could I when my head was filled with you?'
Jessica could feel a foolish grin spread over her face.
âGood,' she told him comfortably. âCarry on.'
He shifted slightly. “Course, I'm only admitting all this because I know you feel precisely the same way about me...don't you?' He paused. âDon't you?'
âI...well, yes...I do happen to like you very much...' She smiled to herself.
âPerhaps a bit more.'
âYou mean you're deeply, irretrievably, passionately in love with me?'
Jessica laughed and gazed at him tenderly. She inched her way towards him until she was curled against him, and could hear the beating of his heart through his shirt. He kissed her hair and stroked it, then kissed it again.
âI might well be,' she said softly. âYou might well have pulled the rug from under my feet as well.' She raised her face to his and her heart, which had been doing all sorts of odd things ever since he had appeared on the scene, seemed to settle in just the place it belonged. âI thought I could do without men and I could. I just found that I couldn't do without you.'
âWhat do you mean by that?' he asked in mock hurt, kissing the tip of her nose while he stroked her neck very gently. âI'm not an act at a circus show, you know.'
âI couldn't bear the thought of marrying you when you didn't love me and I couldn't bear the thought of leaving you, of only being tied to you through our child.'
He smiled and kissed her very thoroughly on the mouth and she moaned and guided his hand to her breast.
âSo. Will you marry me?' he asked huskily.
âDo you know, Bruno Carr? I think I just might.'
âMUMMY! Mummy! Mummy!'
Jessica looked at her daughter and against the flickering night shadows she could make out the glowing eyes and rosy-cheeked smile. Beyond her, she met Bruno's eyes and they smiled at one another. With Amy in his arms, her little face was at the same level as his, and even without the benefit of bright lights it was easy for her to see how closely they resembled each other.
âStrong genes,' he had told her with proud satisfaction two years ago when he had gazed down at that seven-pound three-ounce scrap of closed-fisted baby wrapped in blankets. âSpit image of me. A little clone.'
âPoor child!' Jessica had teased, looking at the thatch of dark hair.
âAmy! Amy! Amy!' Jessica replied, reaching to stroke her daughter's face. It was after seven and they had wrapped her up warmly for this little expedition to the local village school.
âIsn't she a little nag?' Bruno murmured, nuzzling Amy's cheek with his nose and then planting a kiss on her neck. âI knew she'd inherited certain important character traits from you!'
Jessica laughed, and wondered, not for the first time, how she could still be so thrilled with this extraordinary man. She still felt that magical tingle of awareness whenever he was near her and that warm feeling of security, as though the sweetest things in life had somehow found her and were there to stay.
âMe like de fireworks!'
âI can see that you do, darling.'
Bruno said in wonderment, for the umpteenth time, and Jessica's arm around his waist circled him even closer.
âNot at all. How many children of her age do you know can hold a conversation?'
Jessica doubted whether her daughter's ability to string words together could actually be labelled âholding a conversation' but she knew better than to argue the point. Bruno, the archetypal single man, had become the most devoted father.
âAbsolutely none,' she agreed and she saw the glimmer of teeth as he smiled and looked upwards to where a shower of light was descending back to earth. The ground was packed to the rafters, but here, at the back, it was as though there were only the three of them in the entire universe. Amy's face, tilted upwards, was alight with childish amazement.
âAgain!' she cried. âAgain! Again! Again!'
âTime to go, Amy,' Jessica said, laughing, as her daughter pushed out her mouth in stubborn disagreement.
They walked past groups of milling people towards the car and, despite the childish protestations and tears, within five minutes Amy was sound asleep, her thumb half falling out of her mouth, her head curled to one side.
âIsn't she an angel when she's asleep?' Jessica said, resting her head back and half closing her eyes.
âSomething else she's inherited from you,' Bruno said softly. She felt his hand cover hers and their fingers entwined into a solid bond. âNow admit it, aren't you glad you persuaded me to marry you?'
She laughed and squeezed his fingers. âOh, yes, my lord and master!'
âAnd, of course, you can prove that when we get back,' he growled, and then he shook his head. âBut then again, maybe not. Not quite yet, anyway.'
âI know. Things
getting a trifle difficult on that front, aren't they, my love?' she said ruefully, glancing down at her stomach.
âAnd a more beautiful reason for that I can't imagine.' He smiled and glanced across to her, his eyes warm and loving. âJust think, by Christmas, no more stomach.'
âI know,' she sighed contentedly. âBut lots of broken nights.'
âCould things be better?'
And they laughed in unison.