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Harlequin Presents January 2015 Box Set 3 of 4(252)

By:Lynne Graham

Twisting away from her, he jammed his hands into his jeans pockets and kicked at the moss-covered path.

‘I’m going back to the palazzo now. I suggest you do the same. Freezing to death out here is not going to solve anything.’

Lottie watched as his tall figure turned and marched its way between the ancient gravestones. At the top of the steps he paused, turning back to look at her, his anger channelled into uncompromising authority.

‘And don’t even think about running away again, Lottie.’ His words cut through the cold air. ‘I will be watching you.’

Back at the palazzo Rafael crashed into his office, kicking the door shut behind him. Away from the pitiful sight of Lottie, he felt the anger kicking in, slowly building and building until it threatened to engulf him completely. He had never felt like this before, so consumed with frustrated bile.

Turning on the computer, he realised his hands were shaking as they hovered over the keyboard. How could she talk about running away? Again. How dared she do this to him? And this time she was carrying his child, for God’s sake. His chest heaved with the fury and injustice of it all.

He logged on to his email, desperately looking for a distraction to steady his heart-rate, regulate his breathing, stop him from marching out and doing something really stupid. Like finding Lottie again and demanding that she stayed here, with him. Not just for now, not until after the baby was born, not even for the next twenty years while they watched their child become an adult. He wanted to make her swear that she would stay with him for ever.

His mind flashed back to the dinner last night, the agony of sitting beside her all evening. She had looked so enchanting in that silk gown, the pale colour against her skin giving her an ethereal beauty, a tenderness that had made him want to both protect her and ravish her—not necessarily in that order. She had somehow twisted her hair into a plait over the top of her head, fastening it in a bun at the back. And with the violet earrings he had given her catching the light in her eyes he had never seen her look more beautiful.

He had known then, more forcefully than ever, that his decision to move her to the south wing was the right one. If he had any chance of holding on to his sanity he was going to have to keep away from her. Or keep her away from him.

He had woken this morning knowing that something was wrong, fear clutching at his heart, tightening its grip when, hours later, there had still been no sign of Lottie. Eventually he had given in to temptation and knocked on her door, but had expressly forbidden himself from looking in when there was no answer. Instead he had charged around the palazzo and its grounds looking for her, finally tracking her down at their daughter’s grave. Only to hear the devastating revelation that she was leaving.

Like hell she was.

Rafael took in a heavy breath and, leaning forward, made himself concentrate on the growing string of emails. There was one from Dr Oveisi’s office, asking for information regarding Contessa Revaldi’s embryo transplant. Had she done a pregnancy test yet? Rafael quickly composed a brief affirmative message, saying that the Contessa was indeed pregnant.

Pregnant. Somehow now the news was leaking out it seemed more real. Lottie was pregnant and he was going to be a father. He should have been ecstatic, euphoric. When he had been lying in that hospital bed, adjusting to the devastating news that he was sterile, it had been all he could think about. The fact that he did have one last chance to be a father. He had plotted and schemed to achieve his goal and now it had worked just the way he had been determined it would.

So how had he ended up feeling like this? Why did his body hurt more now than it had when he had woken up from that damned accident, battered, bruised and broken?

Because of Lottie—that was why.

* * *

Lottie stood perfectly still, the clouds scudding across the sky above her. She couldn’t move, frozen, numbed to the core, by her harrowing confrontation with Rafael.

She had known that telling him she was leaving would be the hardest thing she had ever had to do in her whole life. Last time she had taken the coward’s way—‘sneaking away in the night’, as Rafael’s words had so painfully reminded her. This time she had had to do it face to face. She had foolishly tried to tell herself that she would be able to convince him, make Rafael see sense, that it was the only practical solution. That they could never live together, even in a place as huge as the palazzo, even if she was exiled to the south wing...

But nothing had prepared her for the onslaught of misery that had just happened. Never, in her most deranged of moments, had she ever envisaged admitting to him that she still loved him. Whatever could possibly have possessed her to do that? Had something deep in her subconscious persuaded her that he might say the same, say that he loved her too, that they could be together for ever? If so her subconscious deserved to die a long and painful death. Because now she no longer even had the one thing left she could call her own. Her pride. That lay in tatters at her feet, along with her shredded declaration of love for him and the gruesome mess that was her bleeding heart.