‘Why? What did they tell you?’
‘That Claire had been having an affair with someone she worked with and that the baby might not have been mine after all.’
‘What?’ Molly stared at him in shock, and he grimaced.
‘I know. I was stunned too. I still am. I had no idea that Claire was seeing someone else. Crazy, isn’t it?’
He started the engine and drove out of the car park, feeling echoes of the shock he had had that afternoon spreading through him once more. Surely he should have suspected that something had been going on, he thought as he headed along the bypass. Especially when he and Claire had kept arguing all the time. He sighed because it was easy to paint a very different picture of events with the benefit of hindsight. However, the truth was that he had never imagined for a second that Claire had been seeing someone else. He had been far too bound up in making a success of his career to focus on his relationship. He glanced at Molly and felt his heart well up with love. It was a mistake he would never make again.
* * *
By tacit consent, they didn’t discuss the subject any more until they were back in Molly’s house. Molly had needed a bit of time herself to absorb what Sean had told her. She led the way into the sitting room and sank down onto the sofa, wondering what to say to him. It must have been a terrible experience to discover that the woman he had loved so much had been unfaithful to him. Her heart ached at the thought.
‘I’m so sorry, Sean,’ she said gently as he dropped down into a chair. ‘It must have been such a shock for you to hear that. What I don’t understand is why your parents, or Claire’s, didn’t tell you the truth before now. I take it that they knew, so why did they keep it a secret for all these years?’
‘Basically because they didn’t want to hurt me any more. Both my and Claire’s parents decided that it would be better if they didn’t tell me immediately after Claire died. And, of course, the longer it went on, the harder it became to tell me the truth.’ He shook his head. ‘In a weird sort of a way, I can understand their logic but to have let it go on for so long...’
He stopped as though words had failed him, which they probably had. Molly touched his hand, wanting him to know that she was here for him. It was heart-rending to imagine what he must be going through. ‘So how do you feel now that you know?’ she said softly.
‘I’m not sure, to be honest. Shocked, I suppose. Amazed that I never even suspected what was going on. And sad too, because Claire didn’t feel able to tell me herself.’
‘It must have been awful for you, Sean. I’m so sorry.’
‘It wasn’t pleasant and if I’d learned the truth even a couple of years ago then I would have been devastated. However, although I do feel shocked because it’s completely altered my view of the past, I can see now that if Claire and I had got married then it would never have worked.’
‘Really?’ Molly exclaimed in surprise.
‘Yes.’ He captured her hand and raised it to his lips, dropping a gentle kiss on her knuckles. ‘I loved Claire very much but I was never in love with her. We had grown up together and we were fond of one another, but love? No. It wasn’t that. Not as I now understand it. Maybe she’d realised that too and that is why she had an affair. She sensed that what we had together wasn’t the real thing.’
‘Are you sure?’ Molly had to swallow the knot in her throat. ‘You’ve had a shock, Sean—you’ve already admitted that. So how can you be sure that your judgement hasn’t been affected by it?’
‘It’s quite simple.’ He smiled at her, his face filled with so much love that her heart started to race. ‘I know how I feel about you, my darling, and it’s very different from how I felt about Claire. I’m in love with you, mind, body and soul, and it is a world removed from anything I have ever felt before.’ He stood up and drew her to her feet, enfolding her in his arms and holding her so close that she could feel his heart beating in time with hers.
‘It’s such a relief that everything is finally out in the open and I don’t have this guilty secret burning a hole inside me any more. It means I can now move on, or I can do if you will agree to move on with me, Molly. Will you? Will you take a chance on me, let me love you and care for you for ever and ever?’
‘For only as long as that?’ she said teasingly.
‘How about from here to eternity?’ he suggested and then grimaced. ‘Sorry! That’s the most hackneyed line I could have come up with!’
‘Don’t you believe it.’ She nestled against him, her heart overflowing with happiness. ‘Funnily enough, it sounds absolutely perfect to me.’