Authors: Kate Walker
‘Okay, maybe we can never go back to that innocent, idyllic time, but perhaps we can find something to put in its place.’
‘What sort of something?’
Abruptly Luis caught himself up, a prey to a sensation of doubt, as cold and sneaking as if a cloud had just passed in front of the sun.
I loved you
, she had said. Not I
you. He wanted to tell her everything that was in his heart. Let her know that the past didn’t matter—that all that mattered was her and the way he felt about her. But if he did—and she didn’t feel the same way…
‘Something’ of that feeling was all she wanted back. Not the whole, heartfelt loving that had once been the most essential part of his life.
Better not to rush things. Better to take it one step at a time. To offer only a part of what he was feeling and then see where that took them. At least then, if she couldn’t give him the same love back, he wouldn’t risk the pain of loss all over again. It had taken him two long years to get over that sensation, the feeling that she hadn’t loved him as he had loved her. He didn’t think he could ever recover from it a second time.
So he caught back the impulsive declaration he had been about to make, stamping down on the protestations of love and belief in her, and instead substituted a careful, controlled explanation of the future they might have.
‘We could have a future together—children…’
Her reaction was not at all as he had anticipated.
‘Children? You want children?’
Any hope she’d had that she’d been wrong, that Catalina had lied, died as soon as she looked into his face. Suddenly too much on edge to stay still, she got to her feet, pacing restlessly about the room.
‘Of course I want children. I told you—I want a proper marriage and everything that it entails.’
‘Your father wants you to have children too. I get the impression that he’d like us to have them as soon as possible.’
Luis nodded swift agreement.
‘I think it’s the most important thing in the world to him.’
Abruptly Luis got to his feet, moving to stare out of the huge arched window through which the vast gardens of the castle could just be seen in the moonlight. His head was bent slightly, his shoulders hunched, his hands pushed deep into the pockets of his trousers.
‘I really believe that he is holding on because of his dream of grandchildren. That he is fighting harder because he wants to stay alive for that.’
There, it was out. He had never thought that he would ever tell anyone the truth of his beliefs. But he had not been able to hold the words back. Somehow being with Isabelle again had broken into the reticence that was so much a part of his relationship with his parents. To her he had been able to say the things he had never been able to say to his mother or anyone else.
‘You could be right.’
Her voice behind him was surprisingly soft. He turned slowly back to face her.
‘A positive attitude seems to be a very strong weapon in the fight against such illnesses.’
‘You sound as if you know about such things.’
‘My grandmother—the one who brought me up after my parents were killed in that motorway pile-up—had cancer. She refused to give in to it. Believe me, I know what you’re going through.’
‘Then you’ll see why it matters to me too. He started talking about my getting married as soon as he knew I would be his heir. His one wish is to see the future of the de Silva dynasty secure—the prospect of grandchildren to inherit the dukedom when he is gone. That’s why Diego’s death hit my father hardest of all. He had been grooming my brother as his successor. Now he had to start all over again.’
He didn’t have to elaborate on what had put that note into his voice. Isabelle remembered only too well how he had told her of the way his father, Duke Alfonso, had always favoured his elder son. As an adolescent and a young man, Luis had rebelled against both this and the formal dignity of his position. That was why he had been in England, taking any unskilled job he could, in the first place.
Isabelle had never dreamed that the charming drifter with the melting eyes and equally liquid accent, who worked as a
waiter in a wine bar, was actually a member of one of the noble houses of Spain, only a step away from the royal family. By the time he’d told her, she had already fallen totally in love with him.
‘So, naturally, you wanted to please him.’
A quick, abrupt inclination of his head indicated agreement.
‘And make what time he has left happy. In one way, it would be no hardship. I am of an age when most men think about settling down, having a family, and I certainly want children some day.’
‘But…’ Isabelle supplied when he paused, uncharacteristically hunting for words.
Because there had to be a but. It was there in his sudden hesitation, in the clouding of those brilliant eyes, the way his mouth clamped tight shut.
‘No, don’t bother, Luis—I’ll say it for you, shall I? It would have been no hardship but for the fact that you are already married. To a thoroughly inconvenient sort of a wife. The sort of a wife that you thought you had got rid of, left behind you, years ago, and you never wanted to see again.’
She had never expected him to deny it, but, even so, his silence as she paused to draw breath had an effect like a blow to her face. He didn’t even trouble to confirm her suspicions, simply stood there, regarding her stonily, no flicker of emotion on his dark features.
It was stupid, she knew, frankly naïve to have hoped for anything else. But she
hoped, she realised now. She had hoped that every word Catalina had said was a lie. That the inheritance of the dukedom had nothing to do with why Luis had wanted her back. And now she was being punished for that bit of presumptuous ingenuousness by the sharp slash of pain in her heart.
, then? Why am I here?’
why you’re here.’
‘No, I don’t!’
She had thought she’d known. Had believed that even if he
didn’t love her the way that she loved him, then at least he had
her desperately—so much so that he couldn’t live without her. But what Catalina had said had destroyed even that delusion.
‘I mean, I know you needed a wife, but did it have to be me? Why not just get rid of the problem once and for all? I was asking for a divorce—why not just give me one? Why not divorce me and marry someone else—someone much more suitable?’
‘Divorce wouldn’t have been possible in this case, because our religion forbids it—certainly if I am to inherit my father’s position. I cannot be divorced and also be Duque de Madrigalo.’
Isabelle almost doubled up under the impact of the brutal pain. The words were almost an exact echo of the sneering declaration that Catalina had made.
‘Luis needs a wife. You’re the only wife he has, and as his religion doesn’t accept divorce—not if he is to inherit the dukedom—then you’ll have to do. It’s that simple.’
That simple and that appalling.
‘And so you were forced to come to me? To ask me to come back to you.’
‘I need you,’ he had said. And he had sounded as if the words had had to be dragged out of him. As if he had hated speaking every single syllable.
‘Are you going to tell me it had nothing to do with it? Because quite frankly I won’t believe you. Your father made it plain that he believes marriage and the creation of heirs are your duty.’
‘That’s the way he sees it.’
‘And you don’t?’
He actually winced at the acid sarcasm in her tone.
‘What do you expect me to say? That it never entered my head? We both know that would be a lie. But there was more to it than that.’
All he wanted to do was to take her in his arms and show her just how much more there had been to it. If he could just hold her, kiss away her anger and her fear, she might listen to
him. Perhaps he could even tell her how close he was to proving it. But it was as if there were a glass wall between them, and her face had a frozen, hostile look that forced him to hold back. Her beautiful green eyes were just chips of emerald, icy and distant.
And the damn foolish vow he had made to himself also held him back.
‘Of course there was
From the black depths of her memories came the unwanted and unwelcome recollection of the night when they had made love. She could hear his voice, rich with dark satisfaction, when he had held her close.
‘Now you know
why I want you back.’
Oh, yes, she knew all right.
She had let herself dream of a chance of starting again, of building a future together. But what would that future be based on?
. That was all. She’d even been deceiving herself when she’d let herself call it
. She knew different now. That deeply satisfied tone had told its own story. It had been rich with dark triumph, smug with the confidence of the conqueror. Luis had wanted her back to please his father, but once he had seen her he had wanted her for himself too. He had admitted as much. And she knew that what
wanted her for was
He didn’t want her as a wife, except in his bed. All he wanted was a warm, responsive body on which to satisfy his own desires, sate his lust. His heart was not involved in any part of this at all.
And she, poor, blind, besotted fool, had been every bit as responsive as he could have wished. She had given him exactly what he wanted. Exactly the sort of wife he had been looking for.
Luis was coming towards her. Hastily she backed away, holding up a hand to stop him.
‘What does it matter
I wanted you back? You are back—and it’s the future that matters from now on. The future we make together.’
He was going to kiss her; she could see it in his eyes. To take her in his arms and kiss all the anger, the defiance out of her. And if he did so then she would be lost. She would never be able to resist him.
‘Don’t touch me!’
Cold and hard, it stopped him dead, and she forced herself to meet the burn of his amber gaze.
‘I don’t want you near me. Is that understood?’
He didn’t move a muscle. Perhaps something flickered in the depths of his eyes, but that was all.
‘Perfectly.’ It matched her tone, ice for ice.
‘I don’t want to talk about this—or anything—any more. I’m going to bed now—alone.’
If he had fought her, she didn’t know what she would have done. But he made no move at all. Just stood and watched her as, with her blonde head held high, her back stiffly straight, she stalked past him and headed up the stairs.
She made it to her bedroom without breaking down. But when she sank down on her bed the tears would not hold back any longer. Too weak, too despairing to care, she gave into them and simply let them fall.
One large drop fell onto her hands as they lay on her lap and she wiped it away, her gaze going automatically to the beautiful ring that Luis had given her on her first night in the castle.
He might as well have stamped his brand on her skin, she thought bitterly, as burden her with this expensive proof of his possession. It was almost more than she could bear to think that the perfect diamond that gleamed so brilliantly might only be nothing more than a deception, a pretence, making a mockery of everything it stood for. Deep in her heart she knew that she would have welcomed something a quarter the size and a tenth as expensive if only it had come with the certainty of Luis’s love she had once known.
But now it seemed that that love—and even the hope of it—was lost for ever.
stared at her reflection in the mirror and wondered just how she was going to get through tonight. Somehow she had to go downstairs to the main ballroom of the castle and greet the hundreds of guests who had gathered there, ready for tomorrow’s ceremony. She would have to be polite and friendly, and make small talk, but most of all she would have to
And smiling was the last thing she felt like doing.
It was impossible not to contrast the way she was feeling now with the excitement that had fizzed through every cell in her body on the night before what she now thought of as her ‘real’ wedding, two years before, in York. Then she hadn’t been able to keep still, but had fidgeted from one task to another, too restless to settle to anything.
And as for smiling… Then her mouth had been stretched in one huge, permanent grin, and her eyes had sparkled in sheer joy and delight.
‘Try!’ she muttered now, directing the words furiously at her reflection. ‘Try and smile! You look like you’re going to a funeral, not a wedding party!’
But when she did try, then the exaggerated curve she forced onto her mouth looked like the painted-on grimace of a circus clown, totally unconvincing. And the green eyes that looked back at her were as dark and clouded as a mossy pool, no light showing in their depths.
‘Wait for me in your room,’ Luis had commanded in his phone call from who knew where earlier that day. ‘I’ll come and fetch you and we’ll go downstairs together.’
A month ago, he had promised to be at her side throughout the ceremonies and the social events that would lead up to this wedding of theirs, and then she had been so happy, so thankful to think of his support that it had seemed, if not a sign of love, then at least an indication of some sort of caring enough to want to help her.
But in the days since then, everything seemed to have gone downhill so fast that it had made her head spin. After last night, Luis had withdrawn from her so completely that it was as if he had become a total stranger. And this afternoon he had simply disappeared, giving no reason for his absence, and he had delayed his return for so long that she had been forced to wonder if in fact he would be here tonight at all.
The knock at the door, the sound of her name startled her out of her miserable reverie. Of course it could only be one man. Biting her lip in an attempt to bring some colour into its bloodless shape, she hurried to answer his summons.
She was unprepared for the impact of his appearance. It had only been hours since she had seen him, but for some reason it was like seeing him for the first time in a long, long while. She had never before seen him in the formal elegance of evening dress, and the superb tailoring suited his tall form with stunning style. The cut of the jacket emphasised the width of his straight shoulders and broad chest. The trousers enhanced the narrow waist and hips, the long, long legs. And against the stark black and white, the deep bronze of his skin and the burning amber eyes stood out even more than ever.
, I’m glad to see that you are ready,’ Luis declared without any other form of greeting. ‘And you look stunning in that dress.’
She resorted to one of the few words of Spanish she had
learned in the hope of keeping her emotions under control. It was the first hint of approval she had heard in his voice for days and it brought hot tears springing into her eyes.
‘I’m glad you like it.’
‘I more than like it.’
The flare of desire in his eyes told its own story and one long, tanned hand lifted in an autocratic gesture, indicating that she should turn slowly in order to display the dress fully to him.
Her head came up as she obeyed him, a touch of pride coming into her own eyes. She knew that the deep rose-pink silk suited her, its rich colour warm against the creamy pallor of her skin. The fitted strapless bodice emphasised the narrowness of her ribcage and her waist, the swelling fullness of her breasts, and the long, flowing skirt enhanced her slender height.
,’ Luis breathed when she finally came full circle to face him once again. ‘You look lovely, but that dress needs a little something…’
From his jacket pocket he slid a slim, leather jewellery box and held it out.
‘Wear this for me tonight.’
His tone startled her. When she had anticipated command, there was an unexpected softness in his voice and his golden eyes seemed to scorch her skin as he watched her take the box and flip it open.
All words escaped her. Her eyes were blinded by the fierce glitter of diamonds, accentuated by the sudden burn of tears.
The necklace was a glorious river of jewels, delicate and spectacular, and the earrings that went with it were like the cascading tumble of a waterfall, curved and sparkling.
‘They—they’re perfect. But, really, I don’t need…’
‘Put them on,’ Luis commanded huskily. ‘I bought them with that dress in mind.’
He had known how they would look, he thought as he watched her move to the mirror, fix the earrings in place. He
had imagined as soon as he saw them just how the diamonds would glow against the peach softness of her skin, the earrings falling in a scattering of stars from under the shining blonde hair and along the delicate lines of her neck. And the necklace just clasped the base of her throat, then spread out to fill the space above the line of her breasts, drawing attention to the soft beginning of the creamy curves.
Isabelle was struggling with the fine clasp of the necklace.
‘Here, let me.’
It was the first time he had touched her in days. The only time, in fact, since he had come to her room on the night of her arrival in Spain. And because of that Isabelle froze into total stillness at the first brush of his fingertips on her skin.
Everything that was female in her reacted to the tiny physical contact between them, sensation burning through every cell, spreading throughout her body like wildfire. With her head bent, the fall of her blonde hair coming forward to hide her face, she closed her eyes so as to concentrate better on the delicious feelings.
She hadn’t realised how hungry she was for his touch until she felt it again and then her response was so instant, so fierce that she was sure he must feel it. That he must be able to sense the change in her breathing, the increased rate of her heart.
The fear of discovery made her flinch inwardly and immediately Luis froze behind her.
—I’m sorry,’ he muttered roughly, and as she glanced up swiftly her eyes met his in the glass of the mirror.
It was as if someone had tossed a bucket of icy water over a fizzing firework, dousing it immediately. His gaze was so distant, so withdrawn, totally opaque. With what physical closeness they’d had gone, there was nothing there but coldness and total lack of emotion.
It was the first time he had touched her in days. But not because he hadn’t wanted to. Because he hadn’t felt he had the right to act as her husband physically, until he did so mentally.
I didn’t want forgiveness for something I didn’t do! I wanted
trust! The sort of trust that doesn’t need proof—that believes
in me completely and totally
. Her words had hit him right where it hurt—in his heart.
Trust. He knew he hadn’t given her that. He had walked out on their marriage in an agony of rage and hurt pride. He hadn’t stopped to listen to see if there could be any other possible explanation, and he had stayed away, nurturing that anger all the time.
His fingers fumbled with the fastening of the necklace and Isabelle shivered slightly.
,’ he muttered again, automatically glancing into the mirror where he met the wide emerald gaze head-on.
‘It doesn’t matter.’
Her voice was soft and the look in her eyes made his heart clench sharply. How could he not have seen the truth in those eyes? The way that her soul seemed to shine out from them?
‘It matters,’ he said roughly. ‘I want you to look perfect tonight.’
And then, because he had to hide his body’s instinctive, automatic reaction to her, to the touch of the silken fall of her hair, the soft perfume of her skin, he swung away abruptly.
It was either that or take her in his arms and kiss her senseless. Kiss her until both of them were past thought and into the place where only the wild, urgent responses of their bodies mattered. And he’d promised himself that that would not happen—at least not until he’d made everything right. He’d been caught that way before, and he had told himself that it was what would get him through this. Now he saw that in fact it was what had been blurring his vision, blinding him to the truth.
Isabelle’s voice sounded softly from behind him. Clamping down hard on his baser instincts, he forced himself to turn slowly and face her.
In spite of the warmth of the evening, Isabelle felt chilled to the bone. His abrupt reaction had taken all hope with it. He
was totally closed off from her. She couldn’t even reach him physically. The distance he had put between them told her that.
And who had she to blame for that? Only herself.
Right now, she felt she would trade every bit of her pride for some of his passion if only it meant that he would look at her with
in his eyes.
‘How do I look?’
Molten bronze eyes swept over her in a burning survey and her heart skipped a beat as she saw that she had touched him at last.
‘You look wonderful.’
‘Fit to be a duke’s wife?’ Her voice quavered on the question.
‘You’re fit to be anyone’s wife,’ he told her deeply. ‘The question is more whether they are worthy of you.’
His tone worried her. She didn’t understand the raw edge to his voice, the way a muscle jerked just above his jaw.
‘What—?’ she began but he held up a hand to silence her.
‘No more questions,
. Our guests will be here in half an hour, and before that I have one more thing for you.’
‘Something else? Luis, I don’t need another gift! I—’
‘You need this. And it is not a gift. More like something I have owed you for a long time—far too long.’
She frowned her confusion but he shook his dark head firmly.
‘No more questions, come and see.’
He held out his hand to her and, unsure but trusting, she put her own into it and felt his fingers close about hers, warm and firm.
He led her out of the room, along the corridor and down the huge, curving flight of stone stairs to the main hall. As she moved beside him, each step in perfect harmony with the other, she couldn’t help thinking that tomorrow she would walk with him in much the same way down the long central aisle in the cathedral.
She would be his bride, but not really his wife. She would have his position, his title, but she would not have what she most wanted—his heart.
‘Luis,’ she began uncertainly. ‘You still haven’t explained what will happen tomorrow—how things will go. We can’t truly be married all over again because the ceremony’s been performed. I know you said…’
‘That you should leave that with me,’ Luis filled in for her when she hesitated. ‘And you have nothing to worry about.’
‘But what are we going to do?’
‘I have spoken to the archbishop and everything is in hand. Forget about it for tonight.’
Forget about it for tonight
. The words echoed in his head, mocking him with their hollowness. How could he persuade her to do something that he found totally impossible himself?
. He had thought of nothing else over the past few weeks. Thought only of how to make this marriage of his into a real one in every possible sense. And tonight was make or break time. With his free hand he touched his jacket pocket, heard the faint crackle of paper, and his heart missed a painful beat.
Tonight, he would put his fate in Isabelle’s hands, and she would decide once and for all whether there would be any need to trouble the archbishop tomorrow or not. If things went the way he hoped, then tomorrow would be the start of a whole new life for both of them.
But if things didn’t work out, then instead of being a beginning, tomorrow would be the exact opposite—an end to this marriage. Because if he couldn’t convince her tonight, then he had no hope of ever enjoying a future.
He came to a halt outside the door to the library and forced himself to take hold of the handle and turn it.
‘In here—there’s someone who wants to meet you.’
The expression on Luis’s face told her that this was not just some new guest, some other member of his family she had yet
to meet. His head was held high, his eyes meeting hers with an expression that she had never, ever seen in them before. Under the elegant jacket, his broad shoulders were taut with tension, and his breathing sounded strangely raw and uneven.
‘Luis—what is it?’
He didn’t answer. Instead he pushed open the door and stood back to let her precede him inside.
‘See for yourself…’ he said at last.
The woman in the library had her back to them. One arm resting on the ornately carved mantelpiece, she was looking up at a huge oil painting of a long-ago Duke of Madrigalo. But she was instantly familiar. Isabelle had seen that tall, voluptuous figure, the fall of long black hair down her back, only the day before.
Her breath escaped her in a jolting gasp and the room seemed to spin round her sickeningly.
‘Catalina!’ she managed through lips made dry with shock. ‘What are you doing here?’