‘She…Mirrie, that is, made me come,’ Paul admitted.
Angolos nodded. ‘And I’m glad she did. I would be insulted if you hadn’t come to me with your problem. Just hold on a sec and I’ll be with you.’
‘My…prob…? But I haven’t got…’ Paul stopped and watched with an expression of comical dismay as his friend exchanged words with the brunette, who looked far from happy with what he said. Seconds later Angolos had returned to his side.
‘Let’s get out of here,’ Angolos suggested. ‘There’s a bar around the corner. We can talk.’
The first thing Paul said when they had ordered their drinks was— ‘Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not here to touch you for a loan, Angolos.’
‘I’m well aware that not all problems can be solved by throwing money at them, Paul.’ The level dark-eyed gaze made the other man shift uncomfortably. ‘But if yours ever can be I will throw money at them whether you like it or not.’ The hauteur in his strong-boned face was replaced by a warm smile as he added, ‘My friend, if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be here at all.’
The other man’s patent discomfort made Angolos grin, his teeth flashing white in the darkness of his face. ‘Your British self-deprecation borders on the ludicrous, Paul,’ he observed wryly. He set his elbows on the table and leant forward, his expression attentive. ‘Now what’s the problem?’
‘I wouldn’t call it a problem… It’s just that Dr Monroe retired and his patients have been relocated to us…’ In response to Angolos’s frown Paul breathed in deeply and went on quickly. ‘Yesterday my partner was called out on an emergency and I saw some of the new patients.’ He swallowed. ‘Georgie…your Georgie was one of them.’
Angolos’s expression didn’t change, but his actions as he picked up his untouched drink and lifted it to his lips were strangely deliberate. A moment later, having replaced the glass on the table, he lifted his eyes to those of the other man.
‘Is she ill?’
Almost imperceptibly Angolos’s shoulders relaxed.
He privately acknowledged that it was slightly perverse, considering he had cursed his faithless wife with all the inventive and vindictive power at his disposal three and a half years earlier, that the possibility of her being ill now should have awoken such primitive protective instincts.
‘Actually she looked fantastic…a bit thin, perhaps,’ Paul conceded half to himself. ‘She always had great bones.’
‘I have not the faintest interest in how she looks.’ Angolos’s jaw tightened as the other man turned an overtly sceptical gaze on his face. ‘And I don’t remember you mentioning her great bones when you told me I would be making the greatest mistake of my life if I married her…’
‘Ah, well, I was afraid that you were…’
‘Out of my mind?’ Angolos suggested when his friend stumbled. ‘You were right on both counts, as it happened.’ Elbows set on the table, he leaned forward slightly. ‘Did she ask you to intercede on my behalf? I thought you had more sense than to be taken in by—’
The doctor looked indignant. ‘Actually, mate, I got the distinct impression you’re the last person she wants to contact,’ he revealed frankly.
‘She was pretty shocked when she saw me. In fact,’ he admitted, ‘I thought she was going to run out of the office. And when I said your name she looked…’ He stopped; there were no words that could accurately describe the bleak expression that had filled the young mother’s eyes. ‘Not happy,’ Paul finished lamely.
Angolos leaned back in his seat and, loosening a button on his jacket, folded his arms across his chest. ‘Yet you are here.’
‘I am.’ Paul ran a hand across his jaw. ‘This is hard. Mirrie does this sort of thing so much better than I do.’
At this point, if he had been having this conversation with anyone else Angolos would have told them to get on with it, but this was Paul, so he controlled his impatience and made suitably encouraging noises.
‘The thing is, Angolos, she brought the boy.’ The expression on his friend’s face as he looked at him from beneath knitted brows was less than encouraging, but Paul persisted. ‘Have you ever seen…?’
‘No, I have never seen the child,’ Angolos responded glacially.
‘He’s a fine little lad and not spoilt either. Georgie’s done a fine job, though I got the impression reading between the lines that money’s tight.’
Angolos’s lip curled contemptuously. ‘So this is what this is about—she’s been playing the poverty card. I deposit a more than adequate amount of money in a bank account for the child’s needs. If Georgette has got greedy, if she has some deluded hope of extracting a more substantial amount from me, she can forget it. She’s taken me for a fool once…’
‘She honestly didn’t mention money, Angolos, but if she wanted to bleed you… Did you see how much that rock star who denied paternity got taken for when the girl took him to court? DNA testing can—’
‘DNA testing,’ Angolos cut in, ‘has robbed her of the opportunity of passing the child off as mine. If she’s that desperate she could always sell her story to some tabloid.’ His nostrils flared as he drummed his long fingers on the tabletop. ‘That would be her style.’
‘Wouldn’t she have done that before now if she was going to? And if she wanted money I imagine the divorce settlement would be pretty generous.’
‘Over my dead body.’
‘I get the feeling you mean that literally.’
‘I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that,’ Angolos returned smoothly. ‘Are we drifting here, Paul?’
‘Yes, well, actually, it’s…the DNA thing…’
‘The DNA thing?’ Angolos said blankly.
‘Are you totally sure a test would come up negative?’
‘Sure…?’ Angolos looked at his friend incredulously. ‘You of all people can ask me that? The chemo saved my life but there was a price to pay—it rendered me sterile. My only chance of having a child is stored in a deep-freeze somewhere.’
‘It was tough luck,’ Paul, very conscious of his own impending fatherhood, admitted.
‘Tough luck?’ Angolos’s expressive mouth dropped at one corner. ‘Yes, I suppose it was tough luck. However, considering that without the treatment and, more importantly, your early diagnosis I would not be here at all, I consider myself lucky.’
‘But it’s not an easy thing to come to terms with.’
‘Actually, intellectually I have no problem with the situation, but somehow, no matter how many times I tell myself there’s more to a man’s masculinity than his sperm count, I still feel…’ His mouth twisted in a self-derisive smile, he met Paul’s eyes. ‘Maybe Georgette was right about that, at least—perhaps at heart I am an unreconstructed chauvinist…’
‘Was there ever any doubt?’
This retort drew a rueful smile from Angolos.
‘Is that why you never told her about the chemo and the cancer? Were you afraid she’d…?’ Paul gave an embarrassed grimace. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t…’
‘Was I afraid she’d think me any less a man, you mean? What do you think, Paul?’
‘I think if I knew what went on in your head I’d be the only one,’ his friend returned frankly. ‘You know, when it comes to answering questions you’d give the slipperiest politician a run for his money. If you want my opinion, you were wrong. I know Georgie was young, but she always struck me as pretty mature…’
‘Mature enough to cheat on me and try to pass off the product of her amorous adventures as mine.’
Paul winced. ‘Ah, about that, Angolos…’
‘You want to discuss my wife’s infidelity?’
‘Of course not.’
‘If you’ve discovered who her lover was…’ Right up to the end she had refused to admit her guilt or provide the name of her lover. Though he knew who he was. ‘I’m really no longer interested.’
‘Maybe there was no lover?’
Angolos’s dark brows knitted as he gave a contemptuous smile. ‘Was no lover…? What are you suggesting—immaculate conception?’
Paul held up his hand. ‘Angolos, hear me out. I know that the sort of chemotherapy you had normally results in infertility, but there are exceptions…you didn’t have any tests post—’
‘No, or the counselling, which apparently would have made me content to be less than a man.’