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The Purchased Wife(4)

By:Michelle Reid

She began to fret, worrying as to what could have happened out there that they didn't want her to know about. Her father? Could something have happened to him? Stunned that she hadn't thought about him before now, she sat up with a thoughtless jerk that locked her into an agonising spasm across her chest.

That was how Xander found her, sitting on the edge of the bed clutching her side and struggling to breathe in short, sharp, painful little gasps.

'What the hell...?' He strode forward.

'Daddy,' she gasped out. 'S-something's happened to him.'

'When?' He frowned. 'I've heard nothing. Here, lie down again...'

His hands took control of her quivering shoulders and carefully eased her back against the high mound of pillows, the frown on his face turning to a scowl when he saw the bruising on her slender legs as he helped ease them carefully back onto the bed.

'You look like a war zone,' he muttered. 'What did you think you were doing, trying to get up without help?'

'Where's my father?' she cut across him anxiously. 'Why haven't I heard from him?'

'But you did.' Xander straightened up, flicking the covers over her in an act she read as contempt. 'He's stuck in Sydney. Did you not receive his flowers and note?'

The only flowers she'd received were the...

Turning her head, Nell looked at the vase of budding red roses and suddenly wished she were dead. 'I thought they were from you,' she whispered unsteadily.

He looked so thoroughly disconcerted by the idea that he would send her flowers that being dead no longer seemed bad enough. Curling away from him as much as she dared without hurting herself, Nell clutched her fingers round the covers and tugged them up to her pale cheek.

'You thought they were from me.' He had to repeat it, she thought as she cringed beneath the sheet. 'And because you thought the flowers were from me you did not even bother to read the note that came with them.'

Striding round the bed, he plucked a tiny card from the middle of the roses then came back to the bed. 'Shame on you, Nell.' The card dropped against the pillow by her face. It was still sealed inside its envelope.

And shame on you too, she thought as she picked it up and broke the seal. Even a man that cannot stand the sight of his wife sends her flowers when she's sick. Her father's message-brief and to the point as always with him-read: 'Sorry to hear about your accident. Couldn't get back to see you. Take care of yourself. Get well soon. Love Pops.'

Saying not a word, she slid the little card back into its envelope then pushed it beneath her pillow, but telling tears were welling in her eyes.

'He wanted to come back,' Xander dropped into the ensuing thick silence. 'But he is locked in some important negotiations with the Australian government and I...assured him that you would understand if he remained where he was.'

So he'd stayed. That was her father. Loving in many ways but single-minded in most. Money was what really mattered, the great, grinding juggernaut of corporate business. It was no wonder her mother had left him to go back to her native Canada. When she was little, Nell had used to wonder if he even noticed that she'd gone. She was a teenager before she'd found out that her mother had begun an affair with a childhood sweetheart and had returned to Canada to be with him.

Like mother like daughter, she mused hollowly. They had a penchant for picking out the wrong men. The duration of her mother's affair had been shorter than her marriage had been, which said so much about leaving her five-year-old daughter behind for what was supposed to have been the real love of her life.

'You've washed your hair...'

'I want a telephone,' she demanded.

'And the bruises on your face are beginning to fade...' He spoke right over her as if she hadn't spoken at all. 'You look much better, Nell.'

What did he care? 'I want a telephone,' she repeated. 'And you left me with no money. I can't find my purse or my clothes or my mobile telephone.'

'You don't need them while you're lying there.'

She turned her head to flash him a bitter look. He was standing by the bed, big and lean, taking up more space than he deserved. All six feet two inches of him honed to perfection like a piece of art. His suit was grey today, she noticed. A smooth-as-silk gunmetal grey that did not dare to show a single crease, like his white shirt and his silk-black hair and his-

'They won't let me have a newspaper or a magazine.' She cut that line of thinking off before it went any further. 'I have no TV and no telephone.' She gave a full list of her grievances. 'If it isn't my father, then what is it that you are trying to hide from me, Xander’ she demanded, knowing now that her isolation had to be down to him. Xander was the only person with enough weight to throw about. In fact she was amazed that it hadn't occurred to her to blame him before now.

He made no answer, just stood there looking down at her through unfathomable dark eyes set in his hard, handsome face-then he turned and strode out of the room without even saying goodbye!

Nell stared after him with her eyes shot through with pained dismay. Had their disastrous marriage come down to the point where he couldn't even be bothered to apply those strictly polite manners he usually used to such devastating effect? It hurt-which was stupid, but it did and in places that had nothing whatsoever to do with her injuries. Five days without so much as a word from him then he strode in there looking every inch the handsome, dynamic power force he was, looked at her as if he couldn't stand the sight of her then walked out again.

She wouldn't cry, she told the sting at the backs of her eyes. Too fed up and too weak to do more than bite hard on her bottom lip to stop it from quivering, she stared at the roses sent by that other man in her life who strode in and out of it at his own arrogant behest.

She hated Alexander Pascalis. He'd broken her heart and she should have left him when she'd had the chance, driven off into the sunset without stopping to look back and think about what she was leaving behind, then she would not be lying here feeling so bruised and broken-and that was on the inside! If he'd cared anything for her at all he should not have married her. He should have stuck to his-

The door swung open and Xander strode back in again, catching her lying on her side staring at the roses through a glaze of tears.

'If you miss him that much I will bring him home,' he announced curtly.

'Don't put yourself out,' she responded with acid bite. 'What brought you back here so quickly?'

He didn't seem to understand the question, a frown darkening his smooth brow as he moved across the room to collect a chair, which he placed by the bed at an angle so that when he sat himself down on it he was looking her directly in the face.

Nell stirred restlessly, not liking the way he'd done it, or the new look of hard intensity he was treating her to. She stared back warily, waiting to hear whatever it was he was going to hit her with. He was leaning back with his long legs stretched out in front of him and his jacket flipped open in one of those casually elegant attitudes this man pulled off with such panache. His shirt was startlingly white-he liked to wear white shirts, cool, crisp things that accentuated the width of his powerful chest and long, tightly muscled torso. Black handmade shoes, grey silk trousers, bright white shirt and a dark blue silk tie. His cleanly shaved chin had a cleft that warned all of his tough inner strength-like the well-shaped mouth that could do cynicism and sensuality at the same time and to such devastating effect. Then there was the nose that had a tendency to flare at the nostrils when he was angry. It wasn't flaring now, but the black eyes were glinting with something not very nice, she saw. And his eyes weren't really all black, but a dark, dark brown colour, deeply set beneath thick black eyebrows and between long, dense, curling lashes that helped to shade the brown iris black.

Xander was Greek in everything he thought and did but he got his elegant carriage from his beautiful Italian mother. And Gabriela Pascalis could slay anyone with a look, just as her son could. She'd done it to Nell the first time they'd met and Gabriela had not tried to hide her shock. 'What is Alexander playing at, wanting to marry a child? They will crucify you the moment he attempts to slot you into his sophisticated lifestyle.'

'He loves me.' She'd tried to stand up for herself.

'Alexander does not do love, cara,' his mother had drily mocked that. 'In case you have not realised it as yet, he was hewn from rock chipped off Mount Olympus.' She had actually meant it too. 'No, this is more likely to be a business transaction,' her future mother-in-law had decided without a single second's thought to how a statement like that would make Nell feel. 'I will have to find out what kind of business deal. Leave it to me, child. There is still time to save you from this...'

'Finished checking me out?' The mocking lilt to his voice brought her eyes back into focus on his face. She wished she knew what he was thinking behind that cool, smooth, sardonic mask. 'I am still the same person you married, believe me.'

Oh, she believed. Nothing had changed. His mother had been right but Nell hadn't listened. Not until Vanessa DeFriess had entered the frame.

'Want do you want?' She didn't even attempt to sound pleasant.

He moved-not much but enough for Nell to be aware by the way her senses tightened on alert to remind her that Xander was a dangerously unpredictable beast. He might appear relaxed, but she had an itchy suspicion that he was no such thing.

'We need to talk about your accident,' he told her levelly. 'The police have some questions.'

Nell dropped her eyes, concentrating her attention on her fingers where they scratched absently at the white sheet. 'I told you, I don't remember anything.'