Authors: Caitlin Crews
nothing out of the ordinary," Safir had said in summary of Lucy's calls,
course not," Rafi had replied curtly, remembering with searing pain the
last phone call he had taken from her, the one where she'd revealed her true
nature. "My wife is nothing if not consistent."
then, even as he'd pretended otherwise, he'd ached for her. Ached for all the
things he'd believed she was, that he knew she could never and would never be.
in a breath and turned to look out at the falling snow. Still it came, trapping
him. Stranding him. Making him a captive in his own home. Making a mockery of
the lies he'd told himself about the distance between him and Lucy.
But maybe he
had been seeing this from the wrong angle all along, he thought then, as his
body hardened, readying itself. Perhaps he should not have distanced himself
when he learned the extent of her betrayal. In the end, what did it matter? There
would be no divorce. And one day, there would be heirs. So what was he
prepared for more fireworks. In fact, he craved them. He didn't care what lies
Lucy told tonight, he assured himself as he prowled through the old house, the
seat of his family's power for centuries. He didn't care that she was the most
inappropriate bride he could possibly have chosen and that she had used his
honor against him. He didn't care about any of it.
wanted her—badly—and if they had to fight in order to light that spark between
them…he was happy to fight.
He was almost
smiling in anticipation when he swung into the master suite, expecting to find
her once again tucked away in the small sitting room she preferred. But instead
he stopped dead, his heart hammering against his chest in a manner he refused
to examine too closely.
curled up on the far side of the great bed, fully dressed, her hands beneath
her cheek. From the doorway, he could see only the shape of her in the low lights
that spilled from the dressing room. That perfect hourglass that called to the
male in him, that delectable shape that had inspired artists and lovers
throughout the ages. The beauty of a woman's curves—
curves—nearly took his breath.
He moved to
the side of the bed and looked down at her, aware that he was scowling again,
though he could not have said why. In sleep, she appeared younger than she
ought to, and infinitely more fragile. He saw not a scheming tramp who'd set
out to ensnare him, but an exhausted, beautiful woman. His gaze shifted to her
mouth, that wicked, deliciously carnal mouth.
reached out of its own accord and he watched it as if it belonged to someone
else, watched his fingers trace a pattern over the flushed, warm satin of her
cheek. She murmured something in her sleep, incoherent and soft, and then
settled against the bed.
He should not
have felt that clutching sensation in his chest, as if his heart were involved
in this. He should not have felt the quiet of the room and the blanketing
silence of the snow outside as some kind of sacrament. The lust that had
spurred him into coming here melted into something else, something far more
But he could
not seem to help himself. He crawled onto the bed beside her, yielding to a
compulsion he did not dare study too closely. For a while he lay next to her,
soaking in the peace of it. The quiet sense of belonging that he now admitted
had always existed, no matter what betrayals were piled on top of it.
And still she
slept. Even when he moved closer and pulled her into his chest. Even as he held
her, stroking her hair and freeing the wild golden curls from the tight bun
she'd kept them in. Even when his lips gently brushed the crown of her head.
And even as he drifted off himself, holding her as if the only thing that had
ever been between them was this.
deliciously, impossibly warm. She woke slowly, savoring the heat, and it took
her a long time to realize where it was coming from. She was sprawled across Rafi's
chest like a cat in a sunbeam.
reared back—to find Rafi wide-awake and watching her.
of me." But her voice was the barest thread of sound. His fascinating
not holding you," he pointed out, entirely too rationally. Very nearly
amused. "You are lying on me."
lay down for a moment," she began, but then he shifted beneath her. The
slide of his body against hers made her shiver, as a heat of a different kind
washed over her, humming into something molten and incandescent. Nor was he
immune. She could feel the evidence of his desire, hard between them. She could
see the flare of passion in his dark gray gaze.
It would be
so much easier if she didn't want him, too. If she didn't love him.
cannot divorce you," he said then, his hands moving to tangle in her hair.
"I cannot let you leave. Qaderis keep their vows. They do not bow to the
whims of modernity and merrily divorce."
seem to catch her breath. She couldn't seem to pull away. She felt caught in
his eyes, suspended. Her breasts were too full, pressed against the hard wall
of his chest.
you know about vows?" she asked. "You keep yours in name only from as
far away as possible, don't you?"
not far away now," he said quietly, his gaze intense. Searing into her.
"With my body, I thee worship." His lips crooked. "If you'll let
as one of his hands traveled down her back, spreading fire down the length of
her spine, making her yearn to move against him. With him.
It had always
been like this. He need only touch her, and she was his. She had followed him
out of the nightclub, into his hotel room and then all the way across the
planet to this tiny little country. She should hate him for it, for this power
he wielded over her treasonous body, but she didn't. She couldn't.
down at his beautiful face, so male and arrogant and uniquely
she could not even manage to berate herself for that weakness as she had over
these last months.
treated her terribly, there was no denying it. The parts of her he'd hurt still
ached with it, and she thought sometimes they always would. But that didn't
change the man she knew was there, beneath all that, beyond what had happened
between them. She still believed in that man. The honorable person who had
vowed to protect her—and he had done so.
Just not from
The way he said her name, with the faintest touch of his Alakkulian accent and
that fire in his eyes, still undid her. Just as it always had.
She had lost
so much and been so alone. She loved him. Tonight he was her husband. He would
no doubt leave again as if he had never been, and she would return to England
and reality—so what harm was there in treating this like all those dreams she'd
had in all the lonely months she'd languished here, by herself?
want to think anymore. She didn't want to wonder and worry and rip herself to
pieces trying to understand what had happened to this marriage, what had stolen
this very connection away from them. Here, now, she just wanted to
No matter how
much she might live to regret it.
She bent her
head and kissed him.
between them blazed white hot. He pulled her closer, angling his mouth for a
deeper fit, and then rolled her over, his hands moving to learn her curves
could do nothing but delight in it. In him. At last.
The snow fell
all through the night, and into the next day.
them, Lucy thought sometime the next morning, gazing out at the drifts of
white. It softened the reality of their fractured marriage, let them
concentrate instead on what they had at that moment.
connection. This fire. The insatiable wildness of their passion that nothing
seemed to dim.
She shut off
her mind and pushed away all the darkness of the past months, choosing to bask
in Rafi as she had so long ago on that trip to Paris.
day, they fed each other in the great four-poster bed. They tasted each other
again and again. And they talked. About the world, about the small,
inconsequential things that made up their lives. He was funny, intriguing. And
so impossibly sensual.
If she had
not already been in love with him, Lucy knew, this little interlude would have
sent her head over heels.
But there was
so much left unsaid, so much pain and heartbreak, that even a stolen day or two
surrounded by the snow could not keep it all at bay. Perhaps it was her
knowledge that this bliss could not—would not—last that made the idyll that
It was Christmas
Eve, though Lucy had not dared mention it, aware of Rafi's dislike of all
they sat before the great fireplace that dominated one wall in the master
suite, both of them exhausted in the most delicious way. She leaned back
against his bare chest as he toyed with her curls, twining them around his
I will always remember this instant, this feeling,
No matter what happens.
we could be like this forever," she said on a happy sigh, caught up in the
joy of the moment—in the sense of
that moved through her.
the words immediately.
behind her, then set her away from him. She closed her eyes as all the pain and
hurt she'd been ignoring came rushing back, full force.
too," he said in a low, bitter voice. "But I am not the one who made
curled into fists, and she turned to look at him. His gray eyes were so
troubled, his mouth so grim. And he still glared at her as if he had every
reason to hate her. And did.
It was too
she'd been through, everything she'd struggled to survive—all of it rolled
through her, incinerating her, scalding her.
did this, Rafi." She threw the words at him, letting her anger show,
what he'd done to her. "You destroyed this
marriage, not me!"
going to play your games," Rafi said roughly, but he was shaken by what he
saw in her eyes. The condemnation. The deep, abiding pain, as if he'd wounded
her. But how was that possible? She was the one who'd betrayed him…hadn't she?
never have touched her again. He should have crawled through the snow to stay
away from her.
to me," she said in a low, serious voice. Her eyes locked on his. "I
am only going to say it once. I was pregnant. I never lied about that—why would
I? Did you think it was my life's ambition to marry a man I hardly knew? To
move to the other side of the world to a place where I'd be scrutinized, judged
and found wanting every time? But I did it because I loved you and I thought it
was the right thing to do for our child."
child," he repeated, hearing the fury in his own voice, feeling it surge
through him. "How dare you pretend—"
the baby," she hissed at him, her brown eyes filling with tears. She
jabbed a finger in the direction of the vast bathroom. "In that room. On
that floor. It was horrible, and do you know what was worse, Rafi? Being told
that you believed I'd made the whole thing up."
said it yourself!" he snapped, his temper blazing as his mind reeled. But
he remembered it vividly. "I was in Sydney. I'd had back-to-back meetings
for weeks on end in Singapore, New Zealand, Australia. But I called you the
second I could get away. I asked after your pregnancy and you said, as clear as
There is no baby.
' You admitted it."
she protested. "There was no baby because I'd lost it!"
were moving down her cheeks now and she did nothing to check them. She reached
for the blanket they'd kicked aside in their last round of passion, and Rafi
noticed that her delicate hands were shaking.
he began, but she made a slashing gesture through the air, cutting him off.
made it plain from the start that I was marrying far above my station,"
she said, each word like a bullet, each one slamming into him. "You made
no secret of the fact that I was beneath you—that sleeping with me was all
right for an illicit week in Paris, but should never have gone beyond that.
That I should be grateful that you were so honorable, so
would condescend to do the right thing by a trashy little nobody like me."
said that," he bit out, as a deep shame moved through him. "Not any