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Authors: Kate Walker

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BOOK: The Duke’s Secret Wife
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All around her, the murmured comments told Isabelle that Luis had won. He had swung the group’s loyalty to his side and there was no way she could fight that.

‘I really needed some time alone with her. I’m sure you understand.’

Oh, yes, they understood all right. But at least the chivalrous American wanted to be sure.

‘Will you be okay?’ he asked solicitously.

‘Oh, yes, I’ll be fine,’ Isabelle assured him emphatically. ‘Really I will.’

It was nothing less than the truth. Whatever his faults—and he had plenty of them—Luis was not a thug. He was hot-tempered, ruthless, totally convinced of his supremacy above all others, arrogant as the devil, but he would never knowingly hurt her.

At least not physically.

Emotionally it was a very different matter. That way he could hurt her simply by existing. By existing and not loving her as much as she had loved him. And when that ‘not loving’ had turned to hate, that was when he had totally devastated her soul.

But she wasn’t prepared to give in to him so easily. If you let him, Luis was perfectly capable of riding roughshod over anyone else’s feelings.

‘But I can’t come with you now, Luis. I’m at work—this is my job. I have this tour to finish.’

‘I am aware of that,
mi angel
.’

If she had hoped to disconcert him, then clearly it hadn’t worked.

‘And that is why I have made arrangements…’

One long, bronzed hand was lifted in an autocratic gesture, summoning someone from the darkness of a shop front.

‘Señor Morris!’

Isabelle’s heart sank to somewhere on the pavement, beneath the soles of her neat ankle boots, as, in answer to the command, the errant Andy, resplendent in his highwayman costume, appeared out of the shadows and strolled towards them, a slightly sheepish grin on his boyish face.

‘I’ll take over for you, Izzy,’ he said. ‘I know the rest of the route from here—and all the stories.’

‘But…’

She tried to protest but her weak-voiced interjection was ignored as Luis took things right out of her hands.


Señoras y señores
, thank you for your patience with this unexpected interruption to your evening. I trust you realise that I would never have acted in this way if I had not thought it was the only thing I could do. Andrew here will be your guide from now on. If you will follow him…’

And they did. Isabelle could only stand and watch as the group headed off, with Andy launching straight into the familiar patter about the history of Clifford’s Tower. What else could she possibly do? Luis had outmanoeuvred her, checkmated her like a chess Grand Master.

Not that she was going to give in without a fight.

‘So now they’ve gone…’

Whirling, she faced Luis, her chin coming up defiantly, her eyes flashing challengingly.

‘What exactly did you want to talk to me about?’

‘Not here.’ He shook his dark head.

‘Yes! Here and now!’

If he was going to tell her that he agreed to a divorce, then she wanted it over and done with. Wanted the words spoken, the blow delivered. It was like waiting to hear that some part of her had to be amputated. Better to get it done, quickly and sharply. Hopefully, the event would hurt less that way. It was the pain that was waiting for her in the future that she couldn’t bear to think about.

‘Say what you have to say, Luis…’

‘I said not here! I do not want the whole world knowing my business.’

He couldn’t just blurt this out cold, here in the street. If he did, he was sure she would just laugh in his face and walk away.

‘My car is parked just here. We will go back to your house.’

‘We will do no such thing!’

Each minute she spent with him was only making things so much worse. Making it harder to let him go a second time. After those long, lonely years without him, just the sight of him was like a banquet to someone dying of starvation. She couldn’t look at him enough, couldn’t take enough of him in to appease her hungry senses.

And if she ever let him into her home, then it would be much worse. She would never be able to forget that he had been there; never erase the shadow of his presence from her flat.

‘Isabella…’

The low growl was a warning not to try his patience further.

‘It is late and I have no wish to make a public spectacle of myself by discussing what should be a very private matter between a husband and wife in the street like this. You will get into my car and I will drive you to your house—’

‘I will…you will,’ Isabelle tossed in, imitating the autocratic tone of his command with bitter satire. ‘Whatever happened to please and thank you, Luis? Or does your lordship not use such courtesies with the peasants?’

His breath hissed in between his teeth, warning her that he was very close to losing his grip on his barely reined-in temper.


Please
,’ he said with a sarcasm that matched her own. ‘Isabelle, I just want to talk.’

‘But it’s what you want to talk about that worries me. You’ll have to tell me more than that, Luis, or I’m not going anywhere with you.’


Muy bien!

His hands flew up in a gesture that was a perfect blend of exasperation and resignation.

‘All right! We will do it your way if that’s what you prefer! The reason I am here, Isabella, is because…’

‘Because you want to end our marriage,’ Isabelle supplied unhappily when he paused, seeming uncharacteristically at a loss for words. ‘You don’t have to spell it out, Luis. I sent you that letter, after all. I guessed from the start that you were here to arrange for our divorce.’

‘Then you guessed wrong,
querida
. Totally wrong. I have not come here looking for a divorce. On the contrary, I am here because I want you to come back to me.’

CHAPTER TWO

‘I
WANT
you to come back to me.’

When she had been expecting something so totally different, the words made no sense at all to her.

‘Come—back?’ she managed through shock-stiffened lips. ‘I don’t…’

‘Come back, as in return to me.’

Luis sighed his exasperation.

‘You are, after all, my wife.’

But when she still stared at him, blank-faced, her eyes looking bruised, he elaborated further.

‘I want you to come to Spain with me as my wife.
Madre
de Dios
, I did not think that my English was so—’

‘It’s not that!’ Isabelle protested sharply, still unable to believe what she had heard. ‘Your English is perfect and you know it. It’s just that I can’t see what you want with me.’

‘I need you.’

And he hated himself for saying it. That much was there in the tight clench of his jaw, the way the words had to be forced out past lips that would clearly rather be saying anything else.

‘Why?’

‘Do I have to explain here?’

He was every inch the arrogant aristocrat once again, proud head flung back, eyes flashing. She would have sworn that even his nostrils flared in an expression of disapproval.

‘You certainly have to explain. Where you do it is immaterial to me.’

‘Then we will go to your house.’

‘Oh, no…’ That was not what she had meant.

‘Isabella, what I would like right now is to get inside and out of this wind. This damn northern climate is so very different from what I am used to and I need a cup of coffee.’

His shiver was exaggerated for effect, deliberately so, she knew, a reluctant smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.

If he had wanted to appeal straight to her heart, using the tug of shared memory, then he couldn’t have chosen a more effective way of doing so. Luis had always hated the colder climate of Yorkshire as opposed to the warmth of his native Andalucia and had complained bitterly about it. So now his gesture, his expression, his tone of voice, all revived images of him doing just the same in far happier times.

And he knew it, damn him! She was sure he had planned it this way.

‘Oh, all right.’

What was she hesitating for anyway? she asked herself. If there really was a chance of the two of them getting back together, then she wanted to know about it. She wanted to hear what he was going to say and find out just why he had changed his mind. So why did it matter
where
they talked?

‘We’ll go to my place. You said you have a car?’

Of course he had a car. A sleek, powerful, softly growling monster of a vehicle that she couldn’t even name. But she knew that she was sitting in the financial equivalent of the mortgage on her flat—and then some. Luis de Silva loved speed, he loved luxury, and as a result he only ever had the very best of everything.

Which begged the question why was he here, like this, with her? A man like Luis, with the title he possessed, the fortune that was his to command, could have had anyone. All he had to do was to click his fingers and women fell into line, just waiting for him to pick them. There must have been dozens in
the years since she had last seen him. Rich, sophisticated, beautiful women, like Catalina, the only one of his former lovers she had ever met. Women who would have been only too happy to grace his life, be photographed on his arm, warm his bed…

The sudden shiver that ran down her spine at the thought made her twist nervously in her seat.

‘Turn left here.’

Her voice was strained and tight with the emotions she was struggling to hold back, and she made herself stare straight ahead, forcing away the hot, bitter tears that threatened. She would
not
let them fall!

‘Go right to the end of the street. It’s the last house.’

‘I know.’

The quiet comment stunned her, making her heart stop dead in astonishment. But then she remembered.

‘You said I didn’t answer my door… You’ve been here before?’

His dark head moved in a curt nod.

‘You’ve been watching me!’

‘You said you’d been away,’ he explained with overly patient reasonableness. ‘I could hardly watch you if you weren’t there. Where did you go?’

‘To Lynette’s. If you remember, she…’

No, reminding him of her friend was a bad mistake. Talking about Lynette meant turning his thoughts towards Rob, Lynn’s brother-in-law, and the man Luis thought she’d betrayed him with. The reason why he’d walked out on their brief marriage years before.

‘You can park here,’ she muttered hastily.

Luis swung the car to the side of the road with a suddenness that had her glancing at him in surprise. This husband of hers usually prided himself on his driving, handling his expensive vehicles with practised skill. The mention of Lynn had changed the atmosphere in the car. The tension between them had thickened suddenly until it was almost impossible for her to breathe.

‘I’ll go and open the door,’ she said, scrambling inelegantly in her haste to be out of the car. ‘That way you won’t have to stand out in the cold too long.’

Luis watched her walk up the short path to the lighted porch, willing himself to calm down, to get a grip on himself. Strong fingers drummed a restless tattoo on the rim of the steering wheel in an outward expression of the inner turmoil of his thoughts.

The drive from the city centre had been a particularly sophisticated sort of torment, with every cell in his body reacting urgently and painfully to the presence of Isabelle’s slim form so close to his after all this time.

She was so familiar and yet so unknown.
Dios!
She still wore the same perfume as she had done then, the mixture of rose and sandalwood tantalising his nostrils and making him harden instantly. And then, while he’d still been struggling to control the hungry need that simply being with her had sparked off, she had had to mention Lynette Michaels.


No!

He muttered the word aloud as he pulled his key from the ignition and pushed the door open. He would not think about it. Wouldn’t even let the memory of Rob Michaels into his thoughts. If that happened then he would turn and leave, heading away from here like a bat out of hell.

So he made himself walk down the road towards her, follow her into the small, narrow hallway. He watched in astonishment as she took out another key and pushed it into the first door on the right.

‘What? You have a
flat
here?’

Her face was turned to him sharply, confusion stamped clearly on it.

‘Of course—what did you think? You didn’t think I owned the whole house, did you?’

‘I thought…I sent you money.’

‘I didn’t want your money.’

‘Evidently.’

The door was open now and those golden tiger’s eyes were
scanning the small, slightly shabby room, taking in the deep brown, well-worn settee and chairs, the equally elderly table and dresser. The only saving graces in what was a rather ugly place were the clean, freshly painted cream walls, and the pretty floral-patterned curtains and cushion covers. Isabelle had made those herself in an attempt to brighten the place up.

‘I would have kept you better than this.’

‘You wouldn’t have
kept
me at all, Luis! I can look after myself. And you made it only too plain that you never wanted to see me again, that you wanted me out of your life for good.’

‘And does that surprise you? You slept with another man while you were married to me.’

‘I did no such thing. I
didn’t
!’ she emphasised as he eyed her sceptically, obvious disbelief darkening his eyes. ‘It never happened, Luis.’

Was he listening to her? He
had
to listen to her!

Two years before, he had refused even to hear a word she’d tried to say. He’d simply turned and walked out of her life without a backward glance. He had cut himself off from her so completely that it had been as if he had vanished off the face of the earth. Her phone calls had gone unanswered, her letters had been returned unopened.

That was why, in the end, she had resorted to sending him a solicitor’s letter telling him that she wanted to legalise their separation. It had been the most painful decision she had ever had to make.

‘I didn’t do it. I was innocent of everything you accused me of. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how Rob got there.’

He almost believed her. When she turned that pleading face on him, green eyes wide, the disturbing thing was that the sudden kick of his heart told him that he was still weak enough for it to matter. That, blind stupid fool that he was, he
wanted
to believe her.

But that was forgetting that she was an actress. That she had spent years training to do just this. To deceive an audience into believing that what she did, what she said, was the truth. He
had seen her act, knew how good she was at it. But he had never expected to see that skill of hers turned against him.

‘Luis, you have to understand…’

He had hesitated just long enough to light a tiny flame of hope inside her. A hope that flickered, steadied, grew for a moment…then died painfully abruptly as he shook his dark head, scowling savagely.

‘I
have
to do nothing!’ he snarled.

But then, another second later, a disturbing change came over his face. The burn of anger disappeared from his eyes, leaving them cold and opaque, and his shrug was cool, totally indifferent. And Isabelle found that even more frightening than his icy rage.

‘It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. It doesn’t affect the present.’

‘But it has to.’

‘I told you, there is no “has to” about this.’

Another pause, even more deliberate this time. The bronze eyes watched her coldly, assessing her like some specimen on a laboratory table, one he was just about to dissect.

‘You have to understand about that night—’

‘What
you
have to understand,’ Luis inserted in a savage undertone, ‘is that you are wearing my patience very thin. I do not want to talk about that night—and if you are wise, then neither will you! Why do you persist in this?’

‘In—in what?’

‘In reminding me of that night—of all nights? Do you want to make me think of it—remember every disgusting detail? Do you want to etch it even more clearly in my mind so that I cannot forget it? Believe me,
mi belleza
, if you do that then you are risking my turning round and walking out of here and never coming back.’

‘No—please…’ Not a second time.

‘If you want me to stay,’ he swept on furiously, overriding her whispered protest, ‘then you would do better to help me forget. Never to mention it again and let the memory fade. Otherwise I can never take you back—my pride would not allow it.’

‘And can you do that? Can you really put it to the back of your mind?’

She didn’t believe he could. How could he push away all memory of that appalling night when the anger, the betrayal he must have felt then had kept him apart from her ever since? And as for his stubborn pride, she really couldn’t imagine that he could swallow it hard enough to start over again.

‘Can you pretend it never happened and let us have a new beginning?’

He had to struggle with himself to answer her. The fight he was having was there in the taut, drawn lines of his face, the tension in his jaw, the darkness of his eyes.

‘I have to,’ he said flatly, all emotion drained from his voice.

‘What?’ She couldn’t believe she’d heard him right. ‘Luis—what did you say?’

But his mood had changed again.

‘I believe you offered me coffee.’

And that was clearly as much as she was going to get from him, for now at least.

‘Of course. But first let me try and make things more comfortable in here.’

He watched silently as she lit the small, spluttering gas fire.

‘Do you want to take off your coat? It will get warmer—eventually.’

And she might feel a little easier, more able to talk, if he didn’t look as if staying was the last thing on his mind. As if he was about to get up and walk out at the soonest possible opportunity.

‘Do you promise me that?’

She remembered that dry tone of old, her heart jerking in her breast at the memory. And the bitter-sweet sensations were intensified sharply as he shrugged himself out of his coat and handed it to her. The jacket was of the finest, softest wool, still warm from the heat of his body, and the scent of the subtle cologne he wore rose from the expensive fabric, tormenting her with the memories it evoked.

‘W-well, I wouldn’t move too far away from it.’

It was the first time she had really seen him in the light and, having looked once, she found it impossible to drag her eyes away from him again. He had always had this effect on her. Had always possessed a hard-core sexuality that produced a kick like a mule in the pit of her stomach.

The worst thing was that he was completely unaware of it. He never even considered the effect that sleek black hair, gleaming bronze eyes and smooth olive skin might have on the opposite sex. And when his naturally dramatic colouring was combined with a fiercely carved bone structure, all angles and planes, hard chin and a devastatingly sensual mouth, then the whole effect was as potent as a crate of explosives.

There were new lines on his stunning face, etched there more by experience than the passage of time. She knew of the death of his brother a year before, and her heart ached for the loss he must have felt. He and Diego had always been so close, almost like twins rather than siblings separated by four and a half years in age. Luis would have missed his older brother terribly.

‘I—I’ll make the coffee!’ she said, as much to persuade herself to move as to inform him of anything.

Unnervingly, he prowled after her, coming to lounge in the narrow doorway, one broad shoulder propped against the frame. Just knowing he was there made Isabelle’s hands shake as she filled the kettle, splashing water everywhere. He was too big, too strong, too dark—too
much
, especially when in the confines of her tiny kitchen. Prickling awareness fizzed over her skin, making her heart lurch into a rapid staccato beat.

BOOK: The Duke’s Secret Wife
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