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Harlequin Presents January 2015 Box Set 3 of 4(253)

By:Lynne Graham

Lottie bent down and picked up Rafael’s jacket, slipping her arms into the oversized sleeves, pulling it close around her, her body still shaking uncontrollably beneath it.

She had to leave. There was no doubt about that. Somehow she had to find the strength to explain to Rafael, coldly and clearly, why it was impossible for her to stay.

* * *

Pacing savagely round his office, Rafael stopped in front of the window. He had never felt like this before. So close to losing control. It was as if everything he thought he knew—everything about his character, his life—was being challenged. And found wanting.

He had been so protective of his own pride that he had refused to listen to Lottie, refused to let himself open up to her. Why had he not even considered that what she had just told him might be true? That maybe he had handled things badly after Seraphina died. That maybe he hadn’t taken time to grieve. That maybe, just maybe, she did still love him.

And what the hell did he think he was doing now? Shutting himself away in his office when she was out there somewhere, hurting? Lottie—the woman who was pregnant with his baby, the woman who meant more to him than anything in the world. One thing was for sure: if he let her slip through his fingers again he would never forgive himself. He had to do something about it now. Before it was too late.

They collided in the hallway. Lottie, running in from outside, coming up against the steel wall of Rafael’s chest. As his arms went out to steady her she pushed herself away and they stood there, facing each other, for several long, silent seconds.

‘I was just coming to look for you.’ Lottie brushed back the wild mess of curls from her face, from cold cheeks that were streaked with tears. She forced herself to meet his eyes, to squeeze the words past her closing throat. ‘To tell you that I’m sorry, Rafael, so sorry...but I meant what I said about...’

‘About having always loved me?’

She stopped dead.

‘About...about...’ she stammered, eyes wide with confusion, her heart swerving in her chest. ‘About having to leave.’

His eyes were scanning her face with such intensity it felt as if he was searching her soul for the truth. But she mustn’t falter now—not when she had got this far. She sucked in a breath, feeling it shudder down the length of her body. Somehow she had to find the strength to carry on, force the jagged words out of her mouth. Then it would be done.

‘We both know I can’t stay here, Rafael. I will return to Monterrato in time to have the baby, of course, and then we can work out the best way to proceed after that.’

There—it was said. She allowed her gaze to slide to the floor.

‘Did you mean it, Lottie? When you said you had always loved me?’

The black and white squares of marble blurred beneath her feet. Why was he doing this to her? She was waiting for anger, denial, refusal, bracing herself for more of the blind rage that he had showed her earlier. She could cope with that. But this...? This was a far more excruciating form of torture.

‘Yes.’ Her voice was very small.

Tipping up her chin with his finger, Rafael locked his eyes on hers again. ‘So when you walked out...when you said those words to me...?’ He faltered, drinking in the violet-blue of her eyes, still searching for the answer, sure that it had to be held in there somewhere.

‘It was a lie, Rafe. The biggest lie of my life.’

‘And now? This is the truth?’

As he removed his finger from her chin Lottie realised that his hand was shaking.

‘Yes—yes, Rafael, it is. This is the truth.’

‘Then say it,’ he growled from somewhere deep in his throat. ‘Say the words, Lottie.’

Lottie gazed upwards, scanning his scarred, handsome face as if for the last time, before surrendering to the force in his eyes.

‘I love you, Rafael.’

Lowering his head, Rafael brushed his mouth against hers, capturing her words with his lips, holding them, tasting them, letting the truth in all its naked glory pass from her body to his.

With aching tenderness the pressure of his kiss increased, until it flooded through Lottie’s body like warm water, melting her against him, washing away everything else that had ever passed between them. Closing her eyes, she let herself float away. If this was their final parting kiss, then so be it—she would give herself up to it, surrender to the glorious feeling that obliterated every other thought. And remember it for ever.

Finally she felt Rafael’s lips leave hers, felt him loosen his hold on her, and knew she was going to have to open her eyes to the cold reality of the future. She waited, looking up into his dark returning stare. There was an agonising pause before he lifted his hands, cupped them around her face and looked deep, deep into her eyes.