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Harlequin Presents January 2015 Box Set 3 of 4(248)

By:Lynne Graham

Walking around the bedroom, she gathered up her belongings, stuffing them into her suitcase. She picked up the oyster silk dress, holding it at arm’s length, watching the way the fabric shimmered down to the ground. Then, folding it over her arm, she took it over to the armoire and placed in on a hanger beside the other beautiful dresses that she would never wear again.

She caught sight of her reflection as she closed the mirrored door, shocked for a moment by what she saw: the dark circles under her eyes, the unnatural pallor of her skin. Yes, this was what Rafael Revaldi had done to her. Jutting out her chin, she attempted a defiant stance, balling her fists by her sides, practising the measured, authoritative way she would tell Rafael of her decision.

Just thinking about confronting him made her feel physically faint, but she knew it had to be done and it had to be done now. Whilst she still had the strength to go through with it.

Descending the staircase, Lottie strained to see if she could hear Rafael’s voice anywhere in the palazzo, but the only sounds came from the ballroom, where the cleaning up operation was obviously in progress.

He wasn’t in his office, or the dining room, nor in the grand salon or indeed the ballroom. Feeling increasingly sick, Lottie hurried outside. Standing at the top of the steps, she shielded her eyes from the low sun, scanning the calm vista with a thumping heart, as if Rafael might be about to jump out from behind a poplar tree at any moment.

She ran down the steps, round to the back of the palazzo, searching everywhere, anywhere she thought he might possibly be, getting increasingly frantic when there was still no sign of him. Where the hell was he? She could feel panic creeping over her, its icy fingers wrapping around her chest, restricting her breathing.

Finding herself at the edge of the woodland area, she stopped and took in a shuddering breath. A breeze had picked up and it whipped the hair across her face, catching it on her open lip, blurring her vision.

She would go to the graveyard. Go and see Seraphina—take a few minutes to calm herself down, gather her strength.

She shivered as she walked through the woods towards the chapel. The weak sunlight offered no heat as it filtered through the framework of bare trees. Finally reaching Seraphina’s grave, she slumped against the devoted angel, feeling the cold of the marble seeping into her bones. She wasn’t sure how long she’d leant there before a sudden noise had her heart thumping in her chest.

‘Lottie!’ Suddenly Rafael appeared from nowhere, crashing towards her. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’

Lottie jerked herself upright, swamped by anger, dread, and most of all pain at the sight of him.

‘I came to spend some time at our daughter’s grave.’ She threw back her head, the wind catching her hair again, lifting it from her shoulders. ‘Not that it is any of your business.’

‘Your irresponsible behaviour is making this my business.’ He sounded black with temper. ‘Per l’amor di Dio, you haven’t even got a coat on!’ What are you trying to do? Make yourself ill?’

Before she could reply he was beside her, tugging off his jacket and flinging it over her shoulders.

‘Dio, you are freezing—come here.’ He pressed her against his chest, wrapping his strong arms around her, rubbing her back through the waxed cotton fabric of the jacket.

‘Get off me.’ Her voice was muffled against his shirt and she wriggled herself free from him, stumbling round to the other side of Seraphina’s grave from where she glared aggressively at him. ‘Leave me alone.’

Rafael glared back, mystified. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ And then, as a terrible thought occurred to him, his voice dropped. ‘Is everything all right?’

‘Yes.’ Lottie forced herself to hold his stare. ‘If by that you mean the baby, everything is fine.’

Relief flooded Rafael’s eyes, but seconds later they darkened again. ‘So what, then? What are you doing here? What is going on?’

His questions shot at her like rapid gunfire.

‘Why are you behaving like this?’

‘I can behave however I want.’

‘No, you can’t. Not if it puts my child at risk.’ His voice was raw, clear and cold. ‘When it comes to protecting my baby’s life, you will do exactly as I say.’

‘Oh, you think so, do you?’ Lottie matched his anger with her own. ‘Well that is where you are wrong. As a matter of fact I have been looking for you.’ The warning look in Rafael’s eyes threatened to steal her courage but she blundered on. ‘To tell you that I am going back home—to England.’ She could feel her heart pounding frantically behind her ribs at the enormity of what she was saying. ‘For good.’