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‘How is that possible? Everyone says that...?’

He saw her shiver and slid off the jacket he was wearing, draping it over her shoulders. ‘You need to keep your muscles warm.’

She wasn’t cold, but she liked the second-hand warmth of his skin in the fabric and the smell of his signature fragrance. ‘But I thought—People say—’

‘I know what people say,’ he cut in with a cynical smile. ‘We had the perfect marriage, never a cross word...?’

She nodded.

‘No expectations, no disappointments, that was what our marriage was meant to be about, but Belle did love me. I think there were clues, but I didn’t see them, didn’t want to.

‘I loved her, but I was notinlove with her. And I hurt her, she was my dearest friend, the mother of my child and I hurt her.’

‘Oh, Marco!’

‘Belle married me, believing she could make me love her. She got pregnant because she thought a baby, an heir would... But I couldn’t love her. I didn’t think I could love anyone.

‘At the end, she was too ill to even hold Freya. There was... It was chaos.’ He closed his eyes to blank the images playing in his head. ‘She would have grown to love Freya so much. I know she would.’

Kate caught his hand, took it between both of hers and raised it to her lips. ‘Of course she would.’

‘One day Freya will know that I killed her mother and—’

‘No!’ Kate shuffled along the bench, moving in close so that his free arm automatically went around her, pulling her into his side.

‘You didn’t kill her, Marco.’ She turned and caught his beloved face between her hands. ‘Or you would be banged up in jail,’ she told him bluntly. ‘What happened was a tragic accident.’

He shook his head, hugging her so close that she struggled to breathe and not even seeming to be aware of it. ‘She got pregnant because she thought that’s what I wanted. If she hadn’t...well, she’d still be here. I was the catalyst and if I had paused to see that being what was convenient for me, I... None of this would have happened if I had noticed she was unhappy.’

The self-loathing in his voice made her heart ache.

‘It’s crazy to blame yourself, as crazy as your father-in-law blaming Freya. Bad things happen. You can’t spend the rest of your life wearing a hair shirt, you’re alive,’ she said, pressing a hand to his chest, feeling his heart beat beneath her fingertips. ‘And Freya is alive.’

‘I love Freya.’

‘I know you do,’ she said, her eyes warm and loving on his face. She caught his hand between her own and froze as she let it go. ‘You’re not wearing your ring?’

He shook his head. ‘I wore it to remind me that I didn’t deserve to be happy, that I didn’t deserve Freya’s love, and then you...’ He framed her face between his big hands and took a deep breath, looking like a man who was building himself up to take a leap into the unknown... Kate watched him, her heart thudding hard against her ribcage.

‘A word not spoken can change the course of your life. There is a word I have not allowed myself to speak or hear or even believe existed... Has my moment gone?’

The agonised expression on his face bewildered and alarmed her. ‘It depends on what the word is.’

‘Love. You are exasperating, beautiful, you swept into my life, changing ever... I love you, Kate,’ he said, giving voice finally to the words that he’d held in his heart. ‘I cannot believe that I let you go because I was too much of a coward to speak. Is there any possibility that you still feel something for me...?’

A slow smile spread across her face. For Marco it was like the sun coming out.

She gave a crooked little smile the tears streaming down her face. ‘I love you, Marco!’ she cried joyously. ‘You have no idea. I’ve missed you so much this real?’

The kiss that went on and on proved that it was very real indeed.

‘Coming up for air any time soon?’

Kate pulled away, though not too far, clinging to Marco as if she were afraid he’d vanish. ‘Oh, Jake—this is Jake, my brother. Jake, this is Marco, my—’

‘Future husband,’ Marco inserted, nodding to Kate’s brother. ‘We have met.’

‘Future husband...married? Should you not ask me first?’

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