Her sighed heavily. ‘Obviously not.’
‘What if he had died, Mia, and you never saw him again?’
Mia tried not to shudder at the thought. As much as her father had hurt her badly, she still questioned whether she had done the right thing. But Ethan didn’t need to know that, so she shrugged. ‘I have no intention of ever seeing him again.’
‘And what if I were to tell you that it was another erroneous sighting of you that caused his heart attack?’
‘It’s been five years, Ethan—don’t try and lay that guilt trip on me!’
‘Five years or fifty—your father will never stop loving you. Never stop looking for you!’
Her expression remained unrelenting. ‘I’m not, nor have I ever been—obviously!—answerable for anything my father may or may not choose to do.’
Ethan looked at her for several long, tense seconds before standing up abruptly. ‘I’m wasting my time even trying to talk to you, aren’t I?’ It was more a flat statement than a question.
‘I’m glad you’ve finally realised that.’ Mia looked up at him unemotionally.
He gave a shake of his head. ‘Obviously the changes in you aren’t just on the surface, but go all the way to your selfish and bitter little heart!’
‘How dare you …?’ Mia gasped.
Ethan looked down at her as if he had never seen her before. ‘You were so beautiful, so sweet and trusting—’
‘Well, I certainly had that knocked out of me, didn’t I?’ She eyed him wearily.
‘Are you referring to me or to your father now?’
‘Forget about me—’
Ethan gave an impatient shake of his head. ‘William did everything for you. Loved you. Damn it, he adored you—’
‘And then he betrayed everything I believed about him by having an affair with your mother!’ Mia finished heatedly as she stood up to face him. ‘And just because the two of them finally married each other it doesn’t make your mother any more my stepmother than it makes you my stepbrother! None of those things changes the fact that long before my mother died my father was involved in an affair with your own mother.’
‘It wasn’t like that. You make it sound so—’
‘Sordid?’ she suggested. ‘Maybe that’s because it was sordid. My mother was in a wheelchair for the last four years of her life, and all the time my father and your mother—’
‘I’ve told you—it wasn’t all the time.’ His eyes glittered. ‘They didn’t even know each other until after you started attending Southlands School.’
Mia gave an inelegant snort. ‘You really expect me to believe that?’
‘I’m telling you how it was—’
‘And beware anyone who dares to disbelieve the arrogant and powerful Ethan Black?’ She eyed him mockingly.
‘This isn’t about me, Mia. And it isn’t about you, either,’ he added grimly, cutting her off as she was about to speak. ‘Yes, your father and my mother made the mistake of falling in love with each other while your father was still married, but they didn’t do anything about those feelings until after your mother died. I know you would rather believe otherwise, but—’
‘My God, I can’t believe you actually fell for any of that sanctimonious rubbish they spouted after my mother died.’ She looked at him with pity. ‘That whole story of how the two of them fell in love but fought against their feelings! I always gave you credit for having more intelligence than to believe something so lame, Ethan.’
He eyed her derisively. ‘From what I’ve observed of the emotion, intelligence has very little to do with falling in love.’
‘The two of them were together on the day my mother killed herself, Ethan,’ she continued fiercely. ‘They were together at your mother’s house while my mother sat at home and downed a bottle of sleeping pills with a bottle of wine!’
He winced. ‘Your mother didn’t even know about their friendship.’
‘How can you possibly know that?’ Mia scorned. ‘She didn’t so much as leave a note, so how can anyone know what my mother was thinking when she swallowed that bottle of pills?’
Ethan hesitated, thinking of the promise William had extracted from both himself and his mother never to tell Mia of the real circumstances behind her mother’s death, or the letter Kay had left for him. It was a promise they had both kept for the past five years. But at what price …?
He bit back his frustration. ‘I’m sorry your mother did what she did, but you have to believe that it had nothing to do with the friendship that existed between my mother and your father.’
‘I don’t have to believe anything, Ethan.’ Her face had paled to a ghostly white.
Damn it, Ethan hadn’t come here to hurt Mia. Just like William, Ethan had never wanted to do that. ‘Mia, I know how you must have felt—still feel—’
‘You don’t know anything about me, Ethan!’ Mia shook her head. ‘Certainly not how I felt then. Or how I still and will always feel about the circumstances of my mother’s death.’
‘Maybe that’s because you refused all my attempts to see you after she died?’ Ethan reminded her harshly.
Of course Mia had refused to see Ethan again after her mother had died and her father’s affair with Ethan’s mother had made front-page headlines in every newspaper in the country. How could she have done anything else, behaved in any other way, when the knowledge of that affair had shown her all too clearly the unfolding of past events and the reasons for them? All of them. Including the reason for her own brief relationship with Ethan.
‘We had nothing left to say to each other, Ethan. You were just using me. Just—’ Mia broke off abruptly as she heard her the emotional break in her voice.
She would not do this! She didn’t care what Ethan thought of her now, what he accused her of—or how hurtful she found those accusations—she would not allow herself to be put through this emotional wringer a second time.
The worst part of it was that she had loved her father so much—worshipped him, almost. She had liked Grace Black too, for the two years she’d been a pupil at her school. Until she’d later found out about the affair.
As for her feelings for Ethan …!
She had worshipped him from afar for years too—already been crazily in love with him when he’d asked her out for the first time. She would have done anything—been anything that he wanted her to be. And all the time—all the time his mother had been involved in a relationship with Mia’s father.
She dropped down abruptly onto the bench, her face averted. ‘You’re right, Ethan. We’re done here.’
Ethan looked at the sharpness of her profile: pale and hollow cheeks, haunted eyes, the slenderness of her body poised as if for a fight.
He knew how much the past had hurt Mia. How much his own connection with the woman her father loved had and still did hurt her. But she would not believe—how could she, when she refused to believe everything else he told her?—how hurt and upset he had been about that friendship too, until William and his mother had explained the truth of the situation to him.
A truth that William had refused absolutely ever to confide in the grieving Mia, insisting that he had no intention of trying to win back his daughter’s love at the cost of damaging Mia’s memory of the mother she had loved.
Ethan thrust his clenched hands into the pockets of his overcoat. ‘I take it you still know where the offices of Burton Industries are? If you should change