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Harlequin Presents January 2015 Box Set 3 of 4(250)

By:Lynne Graham

‘It’s not something I am likely to forget.’ Washed with grief, Lottie’s words were barely audible.

That lie—that terrible lie. ‘I don’t love you Rafael, and I never have.’ Delivered in a moment of tortured panic and accepted, just like that, as brutal, irrevocable fact.

‘Well, that makes two of us.’ He gave a derisive snort. ‘You had me fooled, Lottie, I’ll give you that. I had no idea—no idea at all—that that was coming. Idiot that I was, I thought we were for ever—imagine that? And all the time I meant nothing to you—you were desperate to be rid of me. When you finally came out with the fact that you had never loved me, well...’ He stopped, his throat moving as if he had swallowed something sharp. ‘If you want the truth, I will tell you. It crucified me, Lottie, totally crucified me.’

This was more than Lottie could bear. Her own pain she could cope with. She had to cope with. But seeing the suffering that twisted the muscles of Rafael’s beautiful face made something snap inside her.

‘I lied.’

‘Chiedo scusa? I beg your pardon?’

‘I lied, Rafe. When I said I didn’t love you.’ Her voice was very small.

‘Sì, right—of course you did. I was there, Lottie, I heard you say the words, saw the look in your eyes as you spoke them.’

‘I lied because I had to—because I knew it was the only way you would let me go.’

‘Che diavolo?’ Rafael snarled at her. ‘If this is some misguided way of trying to make me feel better then don’t bother.’

‘You were talking about telling the truth—well, this is my truth. When I said what I said it was for your benefit, so you would be free of me.’

‘How very kind.’ The sarcasm in his voice was chilling. ‘And why exactly would I want to be free of you?’

‘Because our marriage was a mess—nothing but endless trips to fertility clinics and failed IVF attempts. Because I saw no reason for Seraphina’s death to ruin both our lives.’ Lottie gulped in a breath of cold air. ‘I thought if I left I could take the pain of Seraphina’s death away with me. That you would be better off without me.’

Fury contorted Rafael’s face. ‘Don’t you dare bring Seraphina into this. You have never had the sole rights to that pain, no matter what you might think. She was my daughter, my little girl, every bit as much as she was yours, and I felt the pain of her loss—still feel the pain of her loss—every bit as deeply as you. More so, in fact, as I shoulder the guilt for her death.’

‘Well, I didn’t know that then. How could I have done when you refused to ever speak of her?’ Her words were squeezed out between strangled sobs. ‘I felt like I was grieving totally on my own.’

‘How dare you say that?’

‘I needed your support but you thought about nothing but producing another baby. It was like an obsession—as if without a baby there was no point to our marriage, no point in our staying together.’

‘That’s the most preposterous thing I have ever heard.’

‘And when it didn’t happen...when all the drugs and doctors and clinics failed...I knew that I had failed. I felt depressed and empty and useless.’ Deflated now, she reached out to the angel beside her for support, to stop herself sliding to the ground.

‘Dio, Lottie.’ Rafael looked as if a part of his body had started to hurt. ‘Don’t you realise that I was trying to be strong? Watching you grieve broke my heart. The last thing I wanted was to make it worse by showing you my pain.’

Lottie sniffed loudly, trying hard to hang on, not to collapse in a pool of misery. ‘Don’t you realise that you made it a million times worse by not showing me your pain? If we had been a proper couple we would have grieved together and then thought about trying for another baby when the time was right. But that wasn’t how it was. Getting me pregnant again was all that mattered to you.’

‘No, Lottie, I won’t have this. I won’t have you rewriting the past. I was trying to rescue what was left of the disaster that I had caused. I was responsible for the death of our baby, for the fact that you could never conceive naturally again. I had to try and put things right as best I could. That is the truth of the matter.’

‘Well, that may be your truth, but that was not how it felt to me.’ The anguish twisting inside her like a corkscrew gave Lottie the strength to go on. ‘To me it felt as if you’d only married me because I was pregnant. And when we lost Seraphina you realised it had all been a mistake, that you were stuck with me for no reason. That was why you were so determined to get me pregnant again—to justify our marriage to yourself.’