‘It must be odd to keep moving around all the time,’ Molly observed thoughtfully. ‘Have you never wanted a place of your own?’
‘No. Well, not until recently, anyway.’ His voice was low but laced with so much anguish that it immediately made her set aside any qualms she had. Reaching out, she touched his hand.
‘Why, what’s happened to make you change your mind recently?’
‘I’m not sure. Maybe it’s being here—who knows?’ He turned his hand over and captured hers. ‘I don’t want to feel this way, believe me, but I can’t seem to stop. And it makes me feel so damned guilty!’
‘Guilty? I don’t understand. Why should you feel guilty about wanting a home of your own?’ It was impossible to keep the surprise out of her voice and she heard him sigh.
‘It doesn’t matter. Take no notice of me. It’s probably a case of the midwinter blues.’ He gave her a tight smile as he let go of her hand and started to walk back up the path, but if he thought he could fob her off like that he could think again.
‘Of course it matters!’ Molly declared fiercely. She stepped directly in his path so that he was forced to stop. ‘It’s obvious that something’s troubling you, Sean, so what is it? Surely it can’t be whether or not to buy yourself a house. I mean, that would be crazy!’
‘Maybe it seems crazy to you, but the situation is far more complicated than it appears.’
He gently eased her aside but there was such pain on his face that Molly knew she couldn’t let him leave. Catching hold of his arm, she held him fast. Maybe it didn’t have anything to do with her but Sean was hurting and she wanted to help him any way she could.
‘Then tell me about it.’ She stared into his eyes, willing him to trust her, wondering if he would. ‘I know things haven’t been exactly easy between us, Sean, but I want to help you. Really I do.’
* * *
Sean leant forward in the chair, warming his hands in the heat coming from the fire. He felt cold to the core, as though his very flesh and bones had turned to ice. The rational part of his brain knew that he’d been mad to let Molly persuade him to come home with her but the other part didn’t care. He couldn’t bear it if he had to spend the rest of his days eaten up by guilt for the part he had played in Claire’s death. For ten long years he had kept it to himself; even his family didn’t know the full story. But maybe it was time that he brought it all out into the open and faced the criticism that would undoubtedly follow. It had to be better than living like this—knowing he was to blame and constantly trying to avoid thinking about it.
‘Here we go. Hot chocolate to warm us up. I don’t know about you but I’m absolutely frozen!’
Molly came back with a tray bearing two steaming mugs of chocolate. Sean nodded his thanks as she placed one of the mugs on the table next to his chair. Going over to the sofa, she sat down, curling her legs under her, and the very normality of the scene helped to ease a little of the tension that gripped him. Reaching for his own mug, he cradled it between his hands, relishing the heat that flowed through his icy fingertips. He had no idea what Molly would think once he told her the whole sorry tale; he would just have to deal with it whichever way he could.
‘So, are you going to tell me what’s wrong?’
Her voice was gentle. Sean knew that if he changed his mind she wouldn’t push him. It was up to him if he confessed what he had done—how his actions had resulted in the death of the woman he had been planning to marry. Just for a moment, he wavered, unsure if he could face the condemnation that would surely follow. However, the thought of continually feeling this way was more than he could bear. Even facing Molly’s revulsion couldn’t be any worse than this.
‘It’s all to do with Claire and what happened to her.’ He placed the mug on the table when he felt his hands start to tremble. The only way he would get through this was by keeping a tight rein on his emotions. Once he lost control of them then all the remorse and guilt that had consumed him these past years would come spilling out and he couldn’t bear to think that Molly would witness it.
‘Who was she? Your girlfriend, I assume.’ Molly’s voice was just as gentle and undemanding and Sean felt a little more tension seep out of him.
‘Yes. Well, she was my fiancée, actually. We were childhood sweethearts; I suppose that’s how people would describe us. Our parents were friends so we grew up together. We were both only children, you see, and it was great to have a sort of surrogate sister to play with.’