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The Consequence He Must Claim(3)

By:Dani Collins

But then, here was Diega claiming they were engaged...

“I haven’t wanted to bring this up. With anyone,” Diega said firmly. “What is the use in smudging reputations or pointing fingers when faced with much more serious concerns? Especially when he assured me that he was simply sowing his final oats.” Her lip curled in a reflection of distaste.

“What?” That’s what he had called her? Oats?

The persistent ache in Sorcha’s chest, the one that had been seeded by his leaving her and going to Diega in the first place, expanded with a creeping burn. “That wasn’t—”

“You needn’t deny it,” Diega said with a muted smile. “I appreciate your trying to spare my feelings.”

Did Diega have feelings? As far as Sorcha could see, Diega’s ego had caught a brush of dust. Only mild annoyance tainted her expression. No genuine hurt.

Nevertheless, she gave a little nod of determination that Sorcha read as being seen as an unwelcome bug in the house. Something to be squashed and swept out.

“I had hoped we could both be spared this conversation, but... He said you were planning to resign when we marry. That’s right, isn’t it?”

Sorcha searched Diega’s dark eyes, trying to find the trick because she was sure there was one in the question.

“You told him you don’t care for me,” Diega explained, her smile now philosophical. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“I didn’t say it like that,” Sorcha blurted. It struck her as bizarre that, for some reason, she found herself trying to cushion the impact to Diega’s feelings, trying to salvage a relationship she didn’t care about, but it was ingrained in her not to upset the women in Cesar’s life.

She was glad she was sitting because she felt very off balance. She had told Cesar that it was one thing to field calls from last night’s airline hostess or a model he took on vacation. It was something entirely different to stand between a wife and her husband. A potential fiancée in this case, but she’d seen the writing on the wall. Diega was gracious and elegant, but completely unafraid to pull rank.

While Sorcha had grown fond of being the most important woman in Cesar’s life.

He had told Diega she had said she didn’t like her? That was really unnerving.

“However you said it, once he realized you would be leaving, he did what he does. Didn’t he?” Diega said with a condescending tuck of her chin.

“What do you mean?” Sorcha asked, but one glance at Diega’s pitying smile told her exactly what she meant. “It wasn’t like that,” Sorcha muttered, heart skidding through its own roadside barrier to plummet down an embankment. She had meant more to him than a notch on his bedpost, hadn’t she? She was an honest person, especially with herself. She hadn’t been delusional about his feelings toward her.

Had she?

But had she really thought they were going to marry and live happily ever after? Their lovemaking had been impetuous, but somewhat inevitable. She had given in to yearnings that had gripped her from the first. But had she really imagined it was the beginning of something serious? Of a life with him?

Deep in her heart of hearts, she knew she wasn’t the kind of woman a man like Cesar married. Facing that made her squirm inwardly, putting her right back in that mind-set of being small and worthless again.

She had thought they were friends, though! That he really cared for her.

“You’re legendary among his inner circle, you know,” Diega said. “The PA who held out and therefore held her job for three whole years.” Like that was a joke.

It was a deep mark of pride for her, but Sorcha found herself tightening her lips, not mollified in the least that gossip abounded about her even when there was no shame attached to how she was conducting herself. She hated being talked about.

“To be honest, I would have trusted you after we were married,” Diega said with a lofty elevation of her head. “You could have had a successful career for years to come. But of course we can’t go backward now. I’m very sorry it’s come to this.”

Liar, Sorcha thought. Then, in a panic, wondered, Come to what?

“He was very remorseful. Sorry he’d done it when we were so close to announcing things. Sorry, I think, that he’d made you into a conquest when he had had so much respect for you before.”

His respect was gone? Sorcha’s heart stopped, ears ringing so loudly, she barely heard the rest of what Diega was saying. She had a terrible feeling her mouth was hanging open. She was really nauseous now. Bile burned the back of her throat.

“His ego got the best of him, Sorcha. You know what he’s like. You were the one that looked about to get away. It’s, well, it’s sad, isn’t it?” She cocked her head. They were friends, discussing the pitiful behavior of an incorrigible rake. “He promised he would be faithful once we were engaged and married, but he wanted me to know because you’d still be working for him.”