The Consultant's Secret Son

By: Joanna Neil

CHAPTER ONE
 



'Matty, you need to slow down,' Allie said, frowning as she watched her two-year-old son dig vigorously into a pile of pebbles for the umpteenth time. 'And don't try to lift so many all at once. They're too heavy for you to manage.'

Matty's chin jutted. 'Me can do it,' he retorted crossly, puffing a bit, and not paying the slightest attention to Allie's worries. Engrossed in his game, he was certainly in no mind to give it up.

Allie watched him, filled with apprehension. It was a difficult balance, knowing when to let go, trying not to interfere too much, but she was always conscious that he wasn't strong, like other children. He was ill, there was no getting away from it, and at the back of her mind there was the constant fear that his tenacious refusal to admit defeat would cause him to collapse through sheer exhaustion.

The tip of his tongue was thrust out as he concentrated on his task, and the plastic spade wobbled as he swung it precariously over the tipper on the back of his tricycle. There was a noisy clatter as the pebbles landed in the bright red container, and in the next moment he had climbed onto the bike and was beginning to. pedal along the garden path.

His little face was tense with the effort of getting to the far end of the garden, but he didn't falter.

Reaching his goal, he stopped to empty the load onto a cleared square earth where the pile of stones was growing after all his exertions.
'See,' he said in triumph, turning towards her, his breath coming in spurts as he surveyed the result of his labours. 'Telled you me could do it.' His blue eyes were bright with the glow of achievement.

Allie smiled, and tried not to show her concern. He was a single-minded little boy, doggedly determined once he had decided to do something, and the thought crossed her mind that he was so much like his father in that.

Nathan's image came flooding back to her in full force, taking her breath away, leaving her shaken by memories, and she closed her eyes tightly as though that would push it away.

It didn't work. Nathan's strong features were still there, as vibrant as ever, his mouth curved in a faint smile, his compelling blue eyes tugging at her heart, but she knew that she had to be strong and put up a barrier. She couldn't allow him access. Nathan wasn't part of her life any more, could never be part of her universe. He had his own priorities, his own path to follow, and thinking about him would only make things harder to bear in the long run.

She looked at Matty. He was digging again, but already his lips had taken on the familiar blue tinge and she was desperate to distract him before he overdid things.

Perhaps the fact that she was a doctor made her fears worse. She knew exactly what might happen to him, and it was so much harder to bear because it was her own child who was suffering.

She saw Matty put down the spade and instinctively squat down on the ground, his knees drawn up to his chest because that seemed to lessen the strain on him. It was a sight that was becoming more familiar to her these days. His breathing was ragged, and Allie recognised the signs with a sinking feeling. He needed these few moments to recover, and it took all she had to leave him be and let him do it for himself.

'You've done well,' she acknowledged, when she felt he'd had time to recover a little. She put on a cheerful tone. 'I think you deserve a drink of juice and some cookies after all that hard work, don't you? All workmen have to take a break some time. Shall we go into the house and see what we can rustle up?'

He hesitated for a moment, but thankfully her ploy worked and the temptation of being able to tuck into his favourite biscuits was more than he could resist in the end. He abandoned the tricycle and went with her to the kitchen, where she sat him down at the table and surreptitiously watched him get his breath back before he tackled the juice she put in front of him.

'Shouldn't you be getting ready to leave?' her mother asked, coming into the kitchen just then. 'Doesn't your course start in a little while?'

Allie nodded, distracted momentarily, her shoulder-length chestnut curls dancing with the movement. 'I'm almost there. I just want to make sure that Matty's all right before I go.'

'You don't need to worry about him. I'll see to it that he comes to no harm.'

'I know you will.' Matty was playing with his toy cars while he chomped away at his biscuits, oblivious to everything going on around him, but Allie was still troubled.

He wasn't quite three years old, but he was pale and small for his age, and the knowledge weighed heavily on her. 'It's hard for me to take it all in sometimes,' she said. 'He's so precious to me, and I worry all the time that I'm not doing the right thing for him.'

Her mother's glance was thoughtful. 'Do you ever think that Nathan should know about his son? Perhaps it would help if you could share some of your worries with him.'

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