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'Dr Khapur will see you now, Mrs Adams.' 'Thank you.'
Mia Adams stood up and followed the receptionist along the corridor. It had been almost six years since she'd last visited the fertility clinic. Although she had intended to come back after Harry was born, to thank everyone, somehow she had never got round to it. The journey into central London from Kent had seemed too daunting with a baby in tow, plus there'd been Chris to consider.
Although Chris had coped remarkably well with the problems of living his life as a paraplegic, there had been times when he had needed that extra bit of care and attention. Consequently, the months had slipped past before she had realised it. It was doubtful if she would ever have come back, in fact, if she hadn't received that letter.
Mia frowned, wondering once again why Dr Khapur had contacted her. Harry was five now and she couldn't understand why the consultant wanted to see her. It wasn't as if she was hoping to have another child; Chris's death two years ago had ruled out that possibility. So what did Dr Khapur want? Had something happened? Something to do with Harry?
Mia's stomach lurched at the thought. It was an effort to appear composed as the receptionist ushered her into an elegantly appointed office. Dr Khapur rose from his seat, smiling warmly as he came around the desk.
'Mrs Adams! Thank you so much for coming. Please take a seat, my dear.'
The elderly doctor guided her towards a group of comfortable chairs near the window and Mia felt her unease intensify. Whenever she had visited the clinic in the past, she had sat at one side of that huge mahogany desk and Dr Khapur had sat at the other. Maybe it was silly but this new approach made her feel more nervous than ever so that her hands were shaking as she placed her bag on the floor.
'Did you have a good journey?' Dr Khapur asked solicitously as he sat down. He smiled at her but Mia detected a certain strain about his expression that heightened her feeling that something wasn't right. It was an effort to reply calmly when her nerves seemed to be stretched to breaking point.
'Fine, thank you, Doctor. Chris and I moved to London a few years ago, so I didn't have as far to travel.'
'Ah, I see. Good. Good.'
He rubbed his hands together and Mia had the distinct impression that he was finding it difficult to decide how to continue. She leant forward, knowing that she had to get to the bottom of what was going on. If something was wrong, and if it had anything to do with Harry, she needed to know what it was.
'Dr Khapur, I .'
She got no further when the door suddenly opened. Mia looked round in surprise, frowning when she saw the tall, dark-haired man who had entered the room. Privacy was of the utmost importance to the clinic's clients and she couldn't understand how he had got past the receptionist. That Dr Khapur was less than pleased by the interruption was obvious from the way he jumped to his feet.
'Mr Forester, please! I really cannot allow you to come barging in like this.'
'Is this her?' The man ignored Dr Khapur as he turned to Mia and she shivered when she felt his cold grey eyes sweep over her. Colour rushed to her cheeks as she imagined what he would see. Medium height, medium build, mid-brown hair and regular features didn't add up to all that much in her opinion. Her eyes were her best feature, a pure emerald green that lit up her face when she was happy. However, as she was feeling far from happy at that moment she doubted they would do much to enhance the impression he formed of her.
She stood up, surprised that she should care one way or the other what he thought of her. She had no idea who he was even though it appeared he knew her.
'I'm sorry but what exactly is going on?' She looked away from that searching grey gaze and turned to the doctor. 'I think I deserve an explanation, Dr Khapur.'
'I.ehem.' Dr Khapur began unhappily.
'Of course you do. And if I'd had my way, you would have had that explanation months ago.' The man's voice was hard, edged with an anger that Mia didn't understand, although it still affected her.
'In that case, why don't you explain it all to me, starting with your name and why you're here?' She heard the tremor in her voice and knew that he must have heard it too but it was the least of her worries. She didn't care what he thought about her. She only cared about what he was going to say and if she was right to suspect that it had something to do with Harry.
'My name is Leo Forester.' His tone was still hard but the anger had disappeared now and been replaced by something that sounded very much like compassion. Mia shuddered. She had a feeling that Leo Forester wasn't a man given to feeling compassion very often. She was already steeling herself when he continued but there was no way she could have prepared herself for the shock of his next statement.
'The reason why I am here, Mrs Adams, is quite simple. I am your son's father.'
Leo could feel the tension that had gripped him ever since he had woken up that morning reach breaking point. Just for a second his vision blurred before he ruthlessly brought himself under control. This wasn't the time to weaken. He had to get this sorted out. It wasn't only his life that would be affected by the outcome of this meeting but Noah's as well.
The thought of his son was the boost he needed. Leo ignored the fact that Mia Adams's face had turned the colour of putty. Maybe he should have tried a gentler approach but at the end of the day it wouldn't change anything. He was her son's father even if she was going to find it very hard to accept that.
'If this is some kind of a joke,' she began, but he didn't give her a chance to finish.
'It isn't. Believe me, Mrs Adams, I wouldn't joke about a thing like this.' His tone was harsh and he saw the rest of the colour leach from her face and regretted his bluntness. For a man like him, who made a point of never regretting his actions, it came as a shock, an unpleasant one too. He couldn't afford to make allowances for Mia Adams's feelings or Noah could suffer.
He turned to Dr Kahpur, needing to get back onto a more solid footing. 'Mrs Adams and I need to talk. Is there a room we can use?'
'I'm sorry but I have no intention of going anywhere with you until I know what's going on and why you've made that ridiculous claim.'
Leo could still hear the tremor in Mia Adams's voice but it didn't disguise the steel it held as well. He realised with a start that even though she had suffered a massive shock, she wasn't simply going to accept what he had to say. A flicker of something akin to admiration rose inside him and he nodded, trying to hide his surprise. If he rarely regretted his actions then he was even less likely to form a favourable opinion of a person with such speed.
'Of course. Perhaps Dr Khapur would care to explain the situation to you.'
Leo sat down, waiting while the others resumed their seats. Mia Adams didn't look at him as she smoothed her skirt over her knees. She appeared completely composed as she waited for the elderly doctor to begin and Leo's admiration cranked itself up another notch or two. After dealing with Amanda and her constant histrionics, it was a pleasant change to meet a woman who didn't feel it necessary to create a scene to get her own way.
'This is all very difficult, my dear,' Dr Kah-pur began. 'Nothing like it has ever happened before, you understand, so it's been extremely hard to know how to handle things. All I can say is that we shall do everything possible to put matters right.'
Leo forbore to say anything, although how Dr Khapur could make this situation right was beyond him. He waited in silence for the older man to continue, wishing he would get on with it. The sooner Mia Adams was in possession of the facts, the sooner they could decide what they were going to do.
'It would be a lot easier if you'd explain why this gentleman claims he is Harry's father.' Mia Adams's tone was firm. Leaning forward, she looked Dr Khapur straight in the eyes. 'I want to know the truth, Dr Khapur.'
'I Yes, of course you do.'
Dr Khapur looked more uncomfortable than ever at being asked a direct question and Leo realised that they wouldn't get anywhere if he left it to him to explain what had happened. Time was of the essence and every wasted second was a second too long.
'It appears there was some kind of a mix-up,' he said shortly. He adopted his blandest expression when Mia Adams turned to look at him, the one he used when he needed to break particularly bad news to one of his patients. In his opinion, the absence of emotion helped people cope with even the worst prognosis.
The fact that he knew Mia Adams would consider this the worst thing that could have happened to her made his heart pang in sudden sympathy but he ruthlessly blanked it out. He wasn't interested in her feelings, he reminded himself. It was Noah who mattered, Noah and her child, Harry. His son.
A wave of emotion rose up inside him at the thought. Bearing in mind that he had spent his adult life divesting himself of any hint of emotion, it took him by surprise. It was an effort to continue when he felt so out of control.
'It seems that the embryos were implanted in the wrong women. My ex-wife received the embryo that had been created from your egg and your husband's sperm while you received ours. In short, Mrs Adams, Amanda gave birth to your son and you gave birth to ours.'
'No!' Mia Adams leapt to her feet. She glared at him, twin spots of colour burning in her cheeks. 'I have no idea why you're making up these ridiculous lies but I refuse to sit here and listen to anything else.'
She spun round on her heel, her back rigid as she strode to the door. Dr Khapur stood up as well but Leo didn't give him the chance to intervene as he went after her. Gripping hold of her wrist, he drew her to a halt, feeling a ripple of awareness run through him when he felt the delicacy of the bones beneath his encircling fingers. They felt as fragile as a bird's, so easily crushed that unconsciously he loosened his hold even though he didn't release her.
'I am not lying. Every word I've said is true.' He bent and looked into her eyes, feeling another frisson pass through him when he found himself suddenly enmeshed in that glittering emerald gaze. He had never seen eyes that colour before, he found himself thinking inconsequentially before he brought his mind back to more important matters.
'The child you gave birth to, Mrs Adams, is, in reality, my son. And now we need to decide what we're going to do about it.'
* * *
Mia sank down onto a chair, praying that she wouldn't pass out. Her head was spinning from a combination of shock and fear. It couldn't be true. Harry was her son; she knew he was! Maybe a mistake had been made but what proof was there that she'd been involved in the mix-up?
Oh, she could understand Leo Forester's desperationwho couldn't? To discover that the child he had believed to be his wasn't his biological child must have been a terrible shock. But there was no way that he was going to lay claim to Harry!
She looked round when the door opened, feeling her heart contract with fear when she saw Leo Forester come in. Dr Khapur had acceded to his request that they should be allowed some time on their own to talk and this time she hadn't objected. The sooner this was sorted out, the better.
'Mrs Rowlands is making us some coffee. It should be ready in a moment.'
He sat down opposite her, stretching out his long legs under the coffee table. Mia studied him in silence, wondering how it must feel to discover that everything you had believed to be true was no longer certain any more. She knew how she felt, yet there was little sign of the confusion she felt apparent on his face.
How old was he? she wondered suddenly. Late thirties? Older? His hair was very dark with only a few threads of silver shining through. It was expertly cut, too, the crisp dark waves clipped close to his well-shaped head. His features were strong and very masculinea firm jaw and well-defined cheekbones giving him an aristocratic appearance that befitted his whole bearing. Leo Forester looked like a man who was used to being in charge, a man who rarely took account of other people's opinions. It wasn't the most comforting thought in the circumstances.
A knock on the door roused her from her reverie. Leo Forester got up to answer it, taking the tray from the receptionist and carrying it over to the table. Without bothering to ask, he poured them both coffee, pushing the sugar bowl and milk jug towards her before picking up his cup. Mia added a dash of milk to her coffee, although she didn't feel in the least like drinking it. However, it gave her something to do, a few extra minutes' grace before she had to tell Leo Forester that she was very sorry but he would have to look elsewhere for his missing child. Harry was hers, hers and Chris's, and nobody was going to take him away from her.
'Before we go any further, Mrs Adams, I want to show you something.' Leo Forester put down his cup then reached into his inside pocket and took out his wallet. Flipping it open, he passed it across the table. 'This is Noah.'
Mia reluctantly took the wallet from him and glanced at the photograph, wishing that he hadn't shown it to her. It seemed wrong to build up his hopes, wrong and unnecessarily cruel. Maybe he did believe that ridiculous claim he'd made but she knew the truth, knew that Harry was her child.
Her breath caught as her eyes alighted on the solemn face of the little boy in the photograph. He had blond hair, so blond that it appeared more silver than gold. His eyes were blue, a deep dark blue framed by thick black lashes that matched the dark slash of his eyebrows and created a startling contrast to his fairness. Just as Chris's had done.
Mia felt the ground roll beneath her feet as she stared at the picture, at the small straight nose, at the determined little chin with that hint of a dimple in it. It was pure coincidence, of course. Maybe the child did look very like her late husband but it didn't prove that he was hers and Chris's child, as Leo Forester claimed.
'I take it from your expression that there's a resemblance between Noah and your husband?'