Malcolm stared at her in disbelief. Bella could hardly believe it herself when she returned from the doctor a few days ago. It explained her inexplicable desire to throw up all of her food, and the dizzying headaches she had been getting. She had originally chalked them up to stress.
“Yes, I’m pregnant,” she said.
“Are you sure it’s a hundred percent?” he asked weakly.
“Yes, I’m one hundred percent positively pregnant,” Bella grunted in frustration.
Malcolm collapsed on the couch, running his hands through his hair. Bella could tell he wasn’t happy. He was married now, and she was supposed to be getting married in a month. Bella couldn’t believe how badly she screwed up, but she remained resolved to avoid crying, and to stick to her plan.
“Are you sure it’s mine?” he whispered.
“Um… yeah… it takes two to make a baby, Malcolm, and we were having quite a romp in Rio de Simnero,” she said, annoyance creeping into her tone.
“But… but…but…” he blubbered, and then cleared his throat. “We were all pretty drunk, Bella.”
“I think I remember who I slept with,” she snapped.
“So you’re positive it’s mine and not Mortimer’s?” Malcolm asked, seriously.
“Mortimer wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole,” Bella sniffed.
“And not someone else’s?”
Bella furrowed her brow. “You could have a paternity test done, Malcolm, but by that time, I could be settled in Sunlit Tides after going to the papers.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” he gasped, leaping to his feet.
“I would,” Bella snapped, grabbing her abdomen.
This was her ticket to freedom. She would dare. She would dare with every fiber in her being. Malcolm stomped across the room and braced against the piano, seething with anger. She didn’t blame him, but the emotion would motivate him, she was sure of it. He swept his arm aside, knocking a marble dragon statue from its place on the top.
“Damn it, Bella!” he growled, and shook out his hand.
She resisted the urge to ask if he was okay, knowing it would only dampen her determination. She couldn’t afford to feel right now.
“Gah!” he yelled. “My mother brought that back from Shang Simla. Do you have any idea what that costs?”
Bella hiked her chin in the air. “Malcolm, I would think you’d be more concerned about our baby than your precious statue right now.”
“It’s going to be impossible to replace this,” Malcolm exclaimed, as if unable to focus on the bigger picture. “The dragons are one of a kind.”
“And our child is not?” Bella bit out, holding her hands over her stomach.
She promised herself she wouldn’t cry, but she felt the lump forming in her throat.
“No,” he said forcefully. “I mean, yes…” he shook his head in confusion. “Bella, I don’t know. Can you get rid of it?”
“Rid of it?” Bella repeated in an unnaturally high voice. “Like I’m carrying around a bag of trash?”
“Well, this is a grave predicament,” Malcolm said, his shoulders slumping forward as he calmed down. “I think it would be the best thing to do in your situation.”
“My situation!” Bella cried. “This is every bit yours as it is mine! It’s our situation frankly, and I don’t think killing this child is going to help.”
“We wouldn’t be killing it, just helping it leave,” Malcolm disagreed, shaking his head.
“Helping it leave? Ha!” she snorted.
“Bella, you aren’t in a state to be making wise decisions. . .” Malcolm began. “You came to me for help, didn’t you? For money? I’ll pay for it. You don’t have to worry about that.”
“And this is wise?” she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “And who says I’m not in a state to be making decisions? I’m the one carrying the baby. It’s my child. I have as every bit of right to make a decision concerning his or her future as anyone. And what if I don’t want to abort this child? What then Malcolm?”
“You can’t seriously be considering carrying this baby nine months?”
Bella stared at the ground in shock. It was in that moment she made up her mind to spite him in every way possible. If he wanted absolutely nothing to do with this baby, and her, she would leave and find another option. It was a mistake to come here.
“Bella,” he said quietly, then cursed under his breath. “What are you thinking? You’re ruining your future with Mortimer. And my future with Brittany. And you know I love you, and I’ll be with you if you want. But not like this. This is not in our future.”
“We don’t have a future,” she snapped, stepping around him. “Have a nice life Malcolm.”
Bella cried all the way back to Neighborly City. Twice, she barely had time to pull over to the side of the highway and open her door before throwing up. She stopped at a gas station and locked herself in the bathroom to change into more suitable clothes and to let the tears flow without worrying about causing an accident. Malcolm had come at her sideways. She should have expected that. He loved me. Ha! He only loved himself. It was all fun and games until a baby interrupted their plans.
Blackmailing him into letting her stay on his property in Sunlit Tides had been her last hope. With her insurmountable credit card debt and a burgeoning belly, Bella had no future. Mortimer would break up with her for sure, cancelling his generous scholarship and allowance. She wouldn’t be able to graduate and her parents would disown her. Without a way to pay her bills, she would be on the streets for certain. Was getting rid of the baby her only way of ensuring her survival?
Bella pulled up outside the Crumplebottom Estates, and was surprised to see the lights on inside. She saw John Burb’s car in the driveway and she realized they had returned from Dragon Valley. Jennifer had said she was planning to come back a month early to help Bella get ready for her own wedding, after all the help Bella had given her. Bella wasn’t sure she could face her friends yet. She wasn’t sure she could face anyone. She wasn’t showing yet, but she was at least six weeks along. She pulled her car around back and slumped against the steering wheel. How had her life gotten so screwed up?
The tears flowed fast and free, and Bella choked as she tried to swipe them from her face, but she couldn’t keep up. Before she realized what she doing, she pulled out her cell phone and began dialing. Through blurry vision, she somehow managed to punch in the correct numbers.
“Please… come… please… come…” she begged. “I need you. I need you now more than ever.”
She let the phone slip from her fingers and fall into the abyss of her car. She wasn’t even certain she was still fully coherent, but she somehow managed to pull herself from her vehicle and began walking around the side of her house. As if he had been planning to meet her there all along, Emit appeared in her view. He pulled her into a deep embrace.
“I am here, milady, I am here,” he repeated. “I am here, Bella.”
He said my name?!? She blubbered into the sleeve of his yellow sweater until she had no drops of water left, until her emotions were raw, and her heart felt broken.
“Eh…mit…” she hiccuped. “You…you…ca…came…”
“Shh,” he lifted his hand and brushed a stray hair stuck to her tear-stained cheeks. “I came. I will always come when you need me. I am here for you, milady.”
Despite her sadness, Bella laughed as she exhaled. He was still calling her by that blasted name. The wind picked up, caressing her cheeks, feeling good against her heated skin.
“It is okay that you dampened my sleeve,” he said softly.
“No, it’s not,” she shook her head, vehemently. “It’s not…”
“I meant, you deserve to cry,” Emit said gently.
“What?” she looked up at him, bewildered. “That’s a funny expression,” she cleared her throat and unzipped her jacket. “I’m surprised you came.”
“Oh Bella, I came. I came because you called me. I came because you said you needed me,” he replied. “What is wrong? I am here to serve, milady.”
“Emit…” she half-laughed and half-cried. “Are you still living with that silly notion that you are bound to me?”
Emit frowned as if surprised by her question. “You entered my space,” he said simply. “I am bound to you.”
“I entered your space?” she chuckled sadly, and puffed hair out of her eyes. “What does that even me?” she screeched, dropping her arms in despair.
“Milady?” he exclaimed, more as a question than a statement.
She fell to the ground, too weary to cry, and he caught her in his arms, to keep her from hitting her head on the exterior of the brick fireplace. He held her head and patted her hair tenderly as she shuddered tearless cries. She curled into his arms for comfort, longing for answers, wishing to undo the past. She wished she had never met Malcolm or Mortimer or made all the dumb decisions she had. She wished she had never come to Sim State University.
“No, you do not,” he said.
“Wha…?” she looked up at him, feeling aching emptiness as she stared into his face.
“You are happy you met me,” he remarked.
She sighed, and leaned her head back against his shoulder. “I am. But Emit… I’m in trouble.”
“I know,” he replied.
“You do?” she asked hoarsely.
“I do… Bella… I… did not want to pry…” he started, and chewed his lower lip. “Bella, milady… I am sorry. I am sorry with the pain I have caused you. What a fool I have been! I left you alone after that night, and I never tried to contact you again. And I know now that I have missed you. Try as I might, I cannot keep myself from you. I cannot keep you from my mind.”
“Thanks…” she snorted, and then covered her mouth, embarrassed. “I think…”
“I have not stopped thinking about you. I have not stopped wondering about you. I have not stopped trying to figure this life out without you. I cannot. I cannot be apart from you, Bella. I cannot. I have been a jerk and a fool,” he reached for her waist, and stopped when his hand touched her abdomen. “Bella!” he gasped, his eyes widening.
“I am… with child…” she confirmed, dropping her eyes, feeling terribly humiliated.
“Bella,” he lifted her chin. “Does the baby belong to the father, Mortimer?”
“No,” she wailed, jerking free of his grasp as she pushed herself up off the ground. “It’s not his. He… hasn’t touched me. He’s barely seen me. I am marrying a complete stranger in less than five weeks and I’m pregnant with another man’s child.”
Bella hugged herself, waiting for Emit to run away, waiting for him to realize just how hopeless she was, and how much better off he would be somewhere else. Instead, she heard soft footfalls on the squishy grass, and felt his hand on her shoulder.
“I am bound to you, Bella,” he said slowly. “You asked what this means. It means that I will forever be at your side. Even if you should choose another, I will be there… as your protector and deval’le’ac.”
“My what?” Bella blinked rapidly.
“Milady,” he bowed his head. “I am your deval’le’ac… I will work by your side, fight by your side, and protect you. I will see to your needs. I will raise your child with you.”
“You will?” she blubbered, consumed with shock.
“And if you should so choose… I will be your prija’telj… your mate… I will be yours completely, milady. You have only to say the word,” Emit reached for her, and she tackled him with a hearty embrace.
“Oh Emit,” she cried.
“Bella, I have been thinking,” he began. “I have a question for you.”
Her reassuring tone was all he needed to continue. “Bella, will you marry me?”
“Will I what?” This was the second time today that she had been asked to do something outrageous, but Emit seemed as sincere as possible.
“Bella, do not marry Mortimer,” he said softly. “You need something more than stability in your life. You need someone now more than ever. I want to be that person. Please let me be that person.”
“I’m. . .I’m not the marrying kind,” she blinked. “The only reason I’m marrying Mortimer is because I’m being forced to. I’m a disaster, Emit. A walking, living, breathing disaster. And even if a guy other than Mortimer was foolish enough to want to marry me…I…I…”
“You what?” his lips brushed hers.
“Wouldn’t,” the words melted off her lips as Emit pulled her closer to him and enveloped her with a passionate kiss.
And try as she might, Bella couldn’t resist.