Why had Rafael come back?
In the five years since their marriage ended, Sarah had devoted herself to her beloved twins. She’d never expected Rafael to walk back into her life, nor had she realized he’d been unaware of the twin’s existence. Theirs had been a whirlwind courtship. Rafael loved with passion; he created hauntingly beautiful works of art with passion; and Sarah realized now on a tide of pain and regret, he hated with that same emotional intensity. Rafael hadn’t changed – he was still a determined, dangerous man. But with the wounds of the past unhealed within her, Sarah wasn’t going to get burned again!
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‘MARRY you?’ Luc echoed, his brilliant dark gaze rampant with incredulity as he abruptly cast aside the financial report he had been studying. ‘Why would I want to marry you?’
Catherine’s slender hand was shaking. Hurriedly she set down her coffee-cup, her courage sinking fast. ‘I just wondered if you had ever thought of it.’ Her restless fingers made a minute adjustment to the siting of the sugar bowl. She was afraid to meet his eyes. ‘It was just an idea.’
‘Whose idea?’ he prompted softly. ‘You are perfectly content as you are.’
She didn’t want to think about what Luc had made of her. But certainly contentment had rarely featured in her responses. From the beginning she had loved him wildly, recklessly, and with that edge of desperation which prevented her from ever standing as his equal.
Over the past two years, she had swung between ecstasy and despair more times than he would ever have believed. Or cared to believe. This beautiful, luxurious apartment was her prison. Not his. She was a pretty songbird in a gilded cage for Luc’s exclusive enjoyment. But it wasn’t bars that kept her imprisoned, it was love.
She stole a nervous glance at him. His light intonation had been deceptive. Luc was silently seething. But not at her. His ire was directed at some imaginary scapegoat, who had dared to contaminate her with ideas, quite embarrassing ideas above her station.
‘Catherine,’ he pressed impatiently.
Under the table the fingernails of her other hand grooved sharp crescents into her damp palm. Skating on thin ice wasn’t a habit of hers with Luc. ‘It was my own idea and…I’d appreciate an answer,’ she dared in an ironic lie, for she didn’t really want that answer; she didn’t want to hear it.
Had the Santini electronics empire crashed overnight, Luc could not have looked more grim than he did now, pierced by a thorn from a normally very well-trained source. ‘You have neither the background nor the education that I would require in my wife. There, it is said,’ he delivered with the decisive speed and the ruthlessness which had made his name as much feared as respected in the business world. ‘Now you need wonder no longer.’
Every scrap of colour slowly drained from her cheeks. She recoiled from the brutal candour she had invited, ashamed to discover that she had, after all, nurtured a tiny, fragile hope that deep down inside he might feel differently. Her soft blue eyes flinched from his, her head bowing. ‘No, I won’t need to wonder,’ she managed half under her breath.
Having devastated her, he relented infinitesimally. ‘This isn’t what I would term breakfast conversation,’ he murmured with a teasing harshness that she easily translated into a rebuke for her presumption in daring to raise the subject. ‘Why should you aspire to a relationship within which you would not be at ease…hmm? As a lover, I imagine, I am far less demanding than I would be as a husband.’
In the midst of what she deemed to be the most agonising d;aaenouement of her life, an hysterical giggle feathered dangerously in her convulsed throat. A blunt, sun-browned finger languorously played over the knuckles showing white beneath the skin of her clenched hand. Even though she was conscious that Luc was using his customary methods of distraction, the electricity of a powerful sexual chemistry tautened her every sinew and the fleeting desire to laugh away the ashes of painful disillusionment vanished.
With a faint sigh, he shrugged back a pristine silk shirt cuff to consult the rapier-thin Cartier watch on his wrist and frowned.
‘You’ll be late for your meeting.’ She said it for him as she stood up, for the very first time fiercely glad to see the approach of the departure which usually tore her apart.
Luc rose fluidly upright to regard her narrowly. ‘You’re jumpy this morning. Is there something wrong?’
The other matter, she registered in disbelief, was already forgotten, written off as some impulsive and foolishly feminine piece of nonsense. It wouldn’t occur to Luc that she had deliberately saved that question until he was about to leave. She hadn’t wanted to spoil the last few hours they would ever spend together.
‘No…what could be wrong?’ Turning aside, she reddened. But he had taught her the art of lies and evasions, could only blame himself when he realised what a monster he had created.
‘I don’t believe that. You didn’t sleep last night.’
She froze into shocked stillness. He strolled back across the room to link confident arms round her small, slim figure, easing her round to face him.
‘Perhaps it is your security that you are concerned about.’
The hard bones and musculature of the lean, superbly fit body against hers melted her with a languor she couldn’t fight. And, arrogantly acquainted with that shivery weakness, Luc was satisfied and soothed. A long finger traced the tremulous fullness of her lower lip. ‘Some day our paths will separate,’ he forecast in a roughened undertone. ‘But that day is still far from my mind.’
Dear God, did he know what he did to her when he said things like that? If he did, why should he care? In probably much the same fashion he cracked the whip over key executives to keep them on their toes. He was murmuring something smooth about stocks and shares that she refused to listen to. You can’t buy love, Luc. You can’t pay for it either. When are you going to find that out?
While his hunger for her remained undiminished, she understood that she was safe. She took no compliment from the desire she had once na;auively believed was based on emotion. For the several days a month which Luc allotted cool-headedly to the pursuit of light entertainment, she had every ttention. But that Luc had not even guessed that the past weeks had been unadulterated hell for her proved the shallowness of the bond on his side. She had emerged from the soap-bubble fantasy she had started building against reality two years ago. He didn’t love her. He hadn’t suddenly woken up one day to realise that he couldn’t live without her…and he never would.