Chapter 1 Choice, Despair
The sweltering heat of July in Ingford was suffocating and irritating. Alina Hughes stood at the doorway of the study, trembling uncontrollably and wrapping her hands around her swollen belly. The fear in her eyes was evident as she struggled to steady her breathing.
Inside the study, a conversation unfolded between two individuals. The man took two deep puffs, clearly distressed by the rapid deterioration of her condition. He asked about the need for more blood tests.
"About three more times, but it won't be enough. A bone marrow transplant is the only option," Nova Turner, a doctor, replied with a heavy heart.
Nova couldn't bear the weight of the situation any longer, but she knew she had to push Caleb Collins to make a decision for the sake of his wife's life.
"If we proceed with the operation, you will risk losing your baby," she warned, her voice filled with concern. "Even if the baby survives, the medications could cause deformities or mental retardation. Alina's life will also be in danger. Please consider this carefully."
A heavy silence settled in the study as Caleb contemplated his decision. Through the doorway, Alina watched anxiously, her heart pounding in her chest.
"Terminate the pregnancy," he said coldly. "Arrange for the operation as soon as possible."
Alina's eyes widened in shock, and her body trembled violently. She couldn't bear to hear anything else. She rushed to her room, locking the door behind her, seeking solace and privacy.
Inside the bathroom, she removed her pajamas and gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Her once-smooth skin now bore the evidence of numerous needle marks and bruises. It dawned on her that the bruises were not accidental but the result of someone carelessly removing the needles.
Tears welled up in her eyes, and she covered her mouth to muffle her sobs. Since becoming pregnant, her husband had taken care of her, bathing her and attending to her needs. She had never paid attention to her own back. Now, she recalled his recent strange behavior.
His affection and tenderness were all a facade. He hadn't married her out of love but rather for her blood, and ultimately, for her life.
Alina clutched her protruding belly, aware that she was carrying a nine-month-old fetus. Her child was due to be born soon. She vowed to protect her baby from harm, no matter the cost.
During dinner, Caleb's expression appeared indifferent, although not as icy as it had been in the study. He handed her a bowl of soup. "You're weak. Drink up."
Since their marriage, Caleb had always spoken to her in a commanding tone, and she had grown accustomed to following his lead. But this time, Alina's fork froze midway to her mouth.
She stared at the man she had been wedded to for two years. In that moment, his tenderness was as addictive as a drug, but it also drained the life out of her. He had insisted on terminating the pregnancy.
Without warning, Alina flung the soup bowl onto the floor, shattering it into pieces, much like their crumbling marriage. The scalding soup splattered on the man's pants.
Caleb erupted in anger, but swiftly regained his composure. He attempted to calm her by gently brushing his fingers across her forehead. "What's the matter? Do you want Nova to come over?"
"Summon Nova to draw my blood? Is that what you're suggesting?" The air turned thick with silence, engulfing the room. Alina clenched her lip, fighting back tears, and stared at Caleb with fierce determination. She awaited an explanation, demanding him to justify his words.
She had been forcefully brought to him, enduring his rough treatment all along. The facade of tenderness he once wore had vanished, exposing his true intentions. "You understand the situation, don't you?" He tightened his grip around her neck, making it hard for her to breathe. "Then you should know your place. Cooperation is your only option."
Alina nodded, her eyes burning with tears, unable to escape the iron grip on her neck. She knew all too well that she had no choice when it came to him. The Collins family was a powerful dynasty, with vast business empires under their control. And Caleb? He was the man who ruled over the Collins empire. No one had ever dared to defy him, and no one could.
As Alina met his cold gaze, tears streamed down her face uncontrollably. Gasping for breath, her face turned pale under the strain of his hold.
Caleb noticed her fading color and swiftly released her, speaking in a stern tone, "Now that you know the truth, tell me what you desire in return, and I will do my best to fulfill it." He turned away without a second glance, leaving Alina pressed against the wall, falling to the floor.
"What do you mean by compensation?" Alina's voice quivered with a mix of fear and desperation. She shut her eyes, questioning whether this entire marriage had been a setup. Trembling, she whispered, "Who is she?" The woman who had driven him to abandon his wife and child. What kind of person could hold such a significant place in his heart?
Caleb halted in his tracks, taken aback by her direct inquiry, but he remained silent. "Your surgery is scheduled for three days from now. Decide what you want," he said, leaving without turning back. He would offer her whatever he could, but dwelling on what he couldn't provide was pointless.
As the door closed, Alina opened her eyes, overcome with sorrow and despair. She gathered her precious belongings, casting a last glance at the room she had once called home for two years. It had been cozy, immaculate, adorned with lavish gifts that Caleb had showered upon her. But now, bitter irony tainted her perception.
Lois, witnessing Alina's struggle to carry her suitcase down the stairs, felt a surge of concern. "Lady Alina, it's late at night. What are you doing? Let me assist you."
"You're nine months pregnant. Don't exert yourself. Master Caleb cherishes you and the baby above all else."
A sardonic chuckle escaped Alina's lips. Little did they know that he wanted to end the life of their unborn child with his own hands. Suppressing her tears, her voice hoarse and pitiful, she uttered, "Lois, convey a message to him."
Alina took a deep breath, summoning her strength. "I have already prepared the divorce papers and sent them to his email. I refuse to undergo the surgery."
Ignoring Lois' pleas, Alina departed with her suitcase, each step accentuating her vulnerability as a pregnant woman on the brink of giving birth. The rain poured down heavily, drenching her to the bone, yet she pressed on with unwavering determination. The screeching sound of tires echoed in the air as a car pulled up, splashing water all over Alina's already soaked clothes. A man emerged from the vehicle and approached her respectfully. "Lady Alina."
It was Brandon Porter, one of Caleb's trusted assistants. Alina pretended not to notice him and continued walking, a ghostly figure in the rain. Brandon caught up to her, gently taking hold of her suitcase and opening the car door with deference. Many women would have eagerly entered his car, but Alina felt as if she were stepping into a hearse, destined for her own funeral.
"I'm not going," she firmly declared.
"There has been a sudden emergency at the hospital, and the operation must proceed immediately. Mr. Collins insists that you be brought there at any cost, Lady Alina. Please do not make this difficult," Brandon responded, his tone polite yet laced with a subtle threat.
Alina forced a smile, though her eyes betrayed her sorrow. She had no choice but to comply. Nine months pregnant, she lacked the strength to resist a man like Brandon. The car made its way to the hospital, and Alina spoke calmly, her voice tinged with resolve. "If I refuse to go, will that woman die?"
"Yes," Brandon answered.
"Then let her die," Alina replied, her tone cold. After all, he had chosen that woman over her. But Caleb knew she was carrying his child, a baby who moved within her every day, on the verge of entering the world.
No one offered a response.
Alina took a deep breath and gazed out of the car window at Hasnan Bridge. "Who is she?" she inquired.
"Emma Bell," Brandon responded.
Alina was taken aback. "Emma Bell...! How can it be Emma? She... How?" Her mind raced with disbelief.
Suddenly, Alina reached out and gripped the steering wheel with all her might. "Lady Alina, what are you doing? Let go!" Brandon panicked.
In that moment, Alina heard nothing but the rushing of her own heartbeat. She had nothing left to lose and would not allow Emma to go on living while sacrificing her own child. Summoning all her strength, the car crashed through the railing of Hasnan Bridge, hurtling into the river below.
As water filled her lungs, Alina struggled to breathe, feeling a sharp pain in her stomach. Did her unborn child understand that they were being abandoned and facing imminent death?
Within minutes, the bridge became congested with traffic. Police cars and vehicles belonging to the Collins family were stranded at the bridge's end, trapped by a long line of halted cars.