Authors: Kate Walker
are you doing here?’ Isabelle repeated when Catalina didn’t answer her, her black eyes going instead to the man still standing in the doorway.
‘I…’ she began, then obviously lost her nerve.
‘Tell her!’ Luis rapped out the command like a bullet from a gun.
‘Yes—please,’ Isabelle murmured. ‘Tell me.’
What was Catalina doing here again? Why had Luis brought her? Because clearly Luis had brought her here. That much was obvious from the uncomfortable interplay between the two of them.
Turning to Luis, she was stunned to see he was actually backing out of the room.
‘Why?’ she began, but Luis shook his head, silencing her.
‘This is between you and her. She knows why she’s here.’
Isabelle could only watch in confusion as he left the library, shutting the door firmly behind him.
‘Why are you here this time?’ she tried again with Catalina.
‘Are you telling me you don’t know?’
Clearly the other woman had regained a little confidence with Luis’s departure.
‘I thought you’d sent that crazy husband of yours after me and told him to bring me here.’
‘But Luis has never even mentioned your name. I never told him you were here.’
‘But he already knew. He tracked me down where I was on holiday in America and said he wanted to see me. He even paid my fare back to Spain. That was why I was here yesterday.’
‘You came to see
, not the duke?’
‘I thought he wanted me back. So you can imagine how I felt when I found that
The black eyes burned with jealous fury and suddenly Isabelle knew without being told that the story the other woman had told her the day before had been nothing but a lie.
‘Luis found out you were here yesterday—and he wants you to tell me that everything you said then was just a pack of lies?’ she hazarded nervously.
‘That and the rest.’ Catalina showed little sign of any repentance. ‘He came to me today and told me that he only wanted me back here so I could apologise to you.’
‘Apologise. For what?’
But deep down she knew and so, clearly, did Catalina. She looked most uncomfortable, pushing her hands deep into her jacket pockets, then taking them out again, shifting from one foot to another.
‘For that night in York.’
And then of course there was no need to explain. They both knew exactly which night she meant. Just remembering, Isabelle shivered faintly.
‘He sought you out so that you could prove to him that I was innocent that night?’
To her consternation, the Spanish woman shook her dark head emphatically.
‘Now that I could understand. But, no—that’s the weird thing. He didn’t want me to
him anything. There was no doubt in his mind that I was behind it all and that I owed you an apology.’
Isabelle’s head was spinning now. If Luis had brought Rob to her, to apologise, then that she could have coped with. But Catalina?
‘Do you know how much I hated you?’ The Spanish
woman’s tone was almost conversational but the way her black eyes flashed, the burn of anger in them, told its own story.
‘Hated me?’ She had never shown any sign of it. ‘But I thought you and Luis had broken up long before.’
‘Not long enough. I always thought we’d get back together. That one day we would be married.
, how I dreamed of being Duquesa! And you ruined all that! And I vowed I’d have my revenge.’
Isabelle was remembering now. Recalling the way she had felt miserable, missing Luis and suffering with a cold.
‘You thought they were cold relief, but in fact they were sleeping tablets. You were very young—a naïve, gullible fool. And Rob—ah, poor Rob! He was very, very drunk—and he had fancied you for months. It was the easiest thing in the world to persuade him that you had told me you fancied him too—to suggest that he might join you in your hotel room. After all, you had made it plain to anyone who would listen that you and Luis had rowed. All I had to do was to make him promise to lock the door…’
Her words rolled on, but they broke over Isabelle’s head, not penetrating her thoughts. Instead, her mind was preoccupied with only one thing. A comment that Catalina had made earlier and that now was fretting at her brain, telling her something important.
‘He didn’t want any explanations,’ she exclaimed suddenly, stopping Catalina dead. ‘You said that Luis didn’t want you to tell him anything. Just said he
‘I assumed you had told him.’
Isabelle’s head came up, a brilliant glow lighting in the emerald depths of her eyes. Her heart was singing, soaring in delight, and she couldn’t stop smiling.
‘No, I’d told him nothing. Nothing at all.’
Nothing at all
. But he had believed in her enough to track down Catalina and bring her back.
Whirling round, she picked up her silk skirts and ran. Out of the library. Along the corridor, calling his name as she went.
‘Luis! Luis! Where are you?’
Hot tears of joy were blurring her eyes so that she didn’t see him coming and ran head first into the hard strength of his body, reeling backwards awkwardly, almost falling to the ground. But powerful hands came out to support her, long fingers closed around her arms, holding her up.
, what has she done to you? I will kill—’
‘No, Luis, no!’
When he would have moved away, furiously intent on finding Catalina, she caught at his arm and held him back.
Half laughing, half sobbing, totally ecstatic, she caught her breath and looked deep into the blazing golden eyes.
. There’s no need for that.’
His own language got through to him where her English had not. She could feel the jolt of shock that ran through his powerful body, followed by an instant second of relaxation. But then almost immediately he tensed again.
‘What did you say?’
Laughter bubbled up into her throat at the sight of his wonderful face looking so stunned, the dazed look in his eyes.
‘I said, “Luis,
,”’ she repeated. ‘What do you think I said?’
‘But—do you know what that means?’
‘Of course I know what it means! My Spanish isn’t that bad! But if you’d prefer it in English, so that you know I know what I’m talking about, and that I mean what I say…’
She laid a gentle hand against the lean plane of his cheek, looked deep into the burning pools of his eyes.
‘Luis, my beloved, my dearest, my darling husband. I love you and—’
But the rest of her sentence was stopped in its tracks, kissed
away by the passionate assault of Luis’s mouth, the pressure of his lips on hers. It was a kiss that scorched through every cell in her body, searing along every nerve, snatching the soul from her body and taking it captive for ever. It drove all thought, all hesitation from her mind so that she kissed him back willingly and happily and gave herself up to the force of his caress, her slender arms up around his broad shoulders, clinging on for much-needed support.
‘I love you!’ Luis gasped when at last he lifted his head to draw air into his raw lungs. ‘I love you—I adore you.’
He punctuated each phrase with another kiss, drugging, mind-numbing, setting her head spinning all over again.
‘You are my life, my whole reason for being. I can’t believe how totally crazy I was to come so close to losing you.’
He shook his dark head in bitter despair at his own actions.
‘I should have believed you,
. Should have known that you could never betray me like that. I’ve been such a fool. Such a blind, stupid fool.’
‘But even I never suspected Catalina,’ Isabelle reassured him. ‘I was blind there too. And you saw the light in the end. You trusted me, valued me enough to find her.’
‘I would have walked barefoot to the end of the earth if it had meant that I could win you back,’ Luis vowed and the depth of his words, the intensity of his voice, left her in no doubt about the truth. ‘I couldn’t have gone on without you. My life would have been empty—nothing.’
Another kiss enchanted her, made her melt against him, her blonde head going back, emerald eyes locking with bronze, oblivious of everything else. It was a long, long time before either of them could speak, but then at last Luis sighed deeply and, fastening one arm around her slim waist, he fitted her tight against him.
‘I have a confession to make,’ he told her softly.
‘A confession?’ Isabelle’s momentary apprehension faded in the moment that she saw the warmth in his eyes, the glow that lit them from within.
‘I would have come to find you anyway,’ he told her huskily. ‘I already knew that I couldn’t stay away any longer. And when I got your letter it gave me just the push I needed. The fear that you might actually want a divorce—that I might lose you—was more than I could bear.’
He was pushing his hand into his pocket as he spoke, pulling out a large white envelope.
‘This is for you,’ he said gruffly, holding it out to her.
The look deep in his eyes told her how important the contents of that envelope were and her hands shook as she opened it, pulled out the papers it held.
‘Luis—what? Divorce papers! But why?’
‘If you hadn’t believed Catalina when she told you what she’d done. If you’d still thought that the only reason I wanted you back was so that I could one day be the Duke of Madrigalo…then I would never have held you to our marriage. I had the papers drawn up ready just in case they were needed.’
‘But that would have meant you… Oh, Luis!’
A choking sob caught in her throat at the thought of the sacrifice he had been prepared to make.
‘You would have given up your claim to the title—and all that it entails—for me?’
‘The dukedom and all its money, all the privilege, would be nothing without you in my life. Even if my position hadn’t meant that I couldn’t divorce, I would never even have thought of finding another wife. There could only ever be one woman for me and that is you…’
Once more his mouth took hers, making her moan softly with delight.
‘My love for you is a once-in-a-lifetime commitment. I could never, ever marry anyone else.’
‘And neither could I,’ Isabelle assured him. ‘You’re the man I gave my heart to the moment I met you—the only man I’ll ever love this way.’
But then a thought struck her and she caught hold of his hand, looking up into his handsome face in some concern.
‘Luis—the wedding—what are we going to do? What are we going to tell everyone?’
Luis didn’t hesitate even for the space of a heartbeat. This was what he had hoped for, what he had prayed might happen if he found Catalina and brought her here to tell the truth. It might prove a little awkward having to explain to his parents and their hundreds of guests, but, with Isabelle at his side, he knew that nothing else would matter.
‘We tell them the truth,
. Nothing else will do.’
Lacing her fingers through his, he gave her hand a quick, warm squeeze and led her down the corridor, across the hall. Pausing outside the door of the huge ballroom, he looked down into her wide green eyes, smiling reassurance into her concerned face.
‘Ready?’ he asked softly. ‘We’ll do this as we’ll do everything else in our lives from now on—we’ll do it together.’
And that ‘together’ lifted her heart, sending a rush of confidence and courage through her. It straightened her back, brought her head up high, put a light into her already brilliant eyes.
‘I’m ready,’ she assured him. ‘With you at my side—as my husband—how can I ever be anything else?’
As the door of Luis’s suite finally closed behind them, Isabelle gave a deep, heartfelt sigh.
It had been a long day. A long, perfect day. The sun had shone from dawn to dusk and there hadn’t been a single cloud in the sky. In fact, there hadn’t been a single thing to mar the day in the slightest way.
Of course, Luis’s announcement that they were already married had caused some shock and consternation, but, once the surprise had died down, no one had truly minded. Instead, every one of their guests had been only too happy to attend the ceremony in the cathedral—only now the ceremony was to mark not their wedding but the renewal of their vows and to have their marriage blessed by the archbishop.
‘Tired?’ Luis questioned softly, hearing her sigh.
‘A little.’ Isabelle nodded. ‘It is very late.’
In Spanish style, the ceremony hadn’t started until seven in the evening and there had been a huge party to which all the village had been invited.
‘I’ve danced my feet off.’ She laughed, reaching up to unpin the beautiful lace mantilla she had worn instead of a traditional veil and then rubbing her temples wearily. ‘And my ears are still ringing from all the fireworks.’
The first firecrackers had been set off as they had emerged from the cathedral and the explosions had continued all through the night, only dying away, reluctantly, as the faint pink threads of dawn had begun to creep through the night sky.
‘It was a wonderful day!’
Through slightly misty eyes she looked down at her hand, softly touching the ring that gleamed there. A new ring for a new beginning.
It was of an unusual design, two hands holding a heart between them. And inside the ring was engraved the words, ‘
tengo nada, porque darte
.’ The design was taken, Luis had told her, from a ring that had been found in a sunken Spanish galleon. And the words meant, ‘I have nothing, for it is given unto you.’
‘The best day of my life.’
Luis had come behind her, strong fingers stroking the exposed nape of her neck, massaging weary muscles.
‘Better even than our first wedding?’
Emerald eyes meeting bronze in the mirror, Isabelle considered thoughtfully, then slowly she nodded.
‘Our secret wedding was wonderful—magic—but I was so young then. Little more than a child. I loved you but I was immature and unrealistic, I was just a girl; I didn’t really know what I was doing.’