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The Unfaithful Wife(10)

By:Lynne Graham

Leah snatched at a croissant, conscious of night-dark eyes tracking her every movement. He was etched in her mind’s eye. Immaculate in a navy pinstriped suit and red silk tie. No bags under his eyes. No visible sign of last night’s horrors marred his natural vibrancy. Her nerves were shattered and he was as laid-back and in control as he had ever been. In fact he looked bloody smug. Hatred coursed through her. Her hands shook as she tore apart the croissant.

‘I intend to see a solicitor this morning,’ she announced without looking at him. ‘I want a divorce.’

‘In your dreams,’ Nik said softly.

Her silver head shot up. ‘I—’

‘Shut up,’ Nik told her with hard emphasis.

‘You can’t prevent me.’

‘I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that.’

‘And I’m not going to sit here and be insulted.’

‘Sit down!’ he bit out, his hard voice cracking like a whiplash down the table at her. And Leah got such a shock that she sat again. ‘I want you to listen to me.’

She sugared her coffee, refusing to look up. Let him have his say. He was not going to stop her starting a divorce. She was entitled to her freedom and nothing he could do or say was likely to stop her reaching out and simply grabbing it.

‘Five years ago I was twenty-five and you were seventeen, a very young seventeen. A child inside a woman’s body. And I don’t get all hot and excited at the idea of sleeping with an adolescent, even if she is my wife! I found that a complete turn-off,’ Nik delivered with excruciating candour. ‘Some men like very young girls. I’m not one of them.’

Leah kept on stirring her coffee. She was very pale, painfully embarrassed and oddly guilty that it had never once crossed her mind that Nik might feel that way about the teenaged bride he had had forced on him. ‘You hated me anyway,’ she said tightly.

‘I resented you. I don’t think I ever got as far as hating you. I just closed you out,’ Nik mused. ‘We were stuck with each other and I dealt with it my way.’

‘Excuse me if I throw up,’ Leah inserted jerkily, unable to still the juvenile response but suddenly blatantly conscious of just how juvenile she had sounded. Nor did she want the past raked up, she registered uneasily. There was so much pain and turmoil there. She might have learnt to put it behind her but he was dragging up very raw memories...

‘I started work when I was fourteen on one of my father’s ships. He was an old-fashioned man. He wanted me to start at the bottom and work up because he had done it that way. I knew I needed an education. The next eight years were filled with eighteen-hour days. When I wasn’t slogging my guts out I was studying to try and keep up and playing the stock market on the side. I didn’t have a misspent youth. I didn’t have time for one,’ Nik completed drily.

He had never talked to her like this before. It disturbed her. She lifted her coffee-cup and hugged it to her, finding some kind of security in its warmth. She had had a rough idea of what his early years had been like but she hadn’t realised they had been quite as grim and joyless as he made them sound. ‘I don’t know why you’re telling me this.’

‘I want you to understand what it was like for me being forced into marriage when I wasn’t ready for it.’

‘I understand perfectly,’ Leah said frigidly.

‘I had finally reached the top. I was at last free to do everything I never got to do when I was younger,’ he asserted in a driven undertone.

‘You were free to sleep around,’ Leah rephrased with icy distaste. ‘And then Max came along and saddled you with me, right?’

‘Theos,’ Nik exclaimed. ‘Ne...yes, if you must put it like that, but I did not sleep around. You’re a woman. You couldn’t possibly understand what it is like for a man. It is a stage every man has to go through but I went through it later than most.’

Sexist toad, she thought bitterly, drinking down her coffee in one gulp. There was a whole world of gasping, gushing women out there and she sincerely doubted that he had left one willing woman unexplored. Apart from his wife. Leah had been left in frozen animation, denied everything he took by right for himself. Stowed away on a shelf to shrivel up in an empty, echoing London house where even the servants were foreign. A consuming bitterness assailed her.

‘I get the picture. As insidious an excuse for adultery as any woman has ever received. In fact, it’s so damned brilliant, you really ought to go public with it!’

‘I am not apologising for myself. I married you under duress. I would not have married you otherwise. I was not ready to make that commitment to any woman at twenty-five.’ Smouldering black eyes smashed into hers with unashamed force. ‘It was better that I left you alone than shared your bed and strayed as I probably would have done.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’ Leah was trembling with a combustible mix of emotions: rage, resentment, hatred and remembered pain and humiliation. She physically hurt with the control it took to hold them in.

Nik watched her from below lush ebony lashes. ‘And then there was the obscene idea of performing like a stud for Max’s benefit.’

Leah reddened as though he had slapped her across the face.

‘On many occasions I have looked at you over the last couple of years and been very tempted to take you to my bed but it would have been like surrendering to the enemy and I doubt if you would have enjoyed the effect that had on me.’

‘I really don’t want to hear any more,’ she admitted tightly.

Nik ignored her. ‘But now Max is gone. And I may not have that certificate as yet but I don’t believe you know where it is...or even what it is.’

‘You wouldn’t believe how relieved I feel. Tell me, is there some point to this deeply unpleasant walk down memory lane?’ Leah prompted stiffly.

Nik treated her to a wolfish smile. ‘I’m ready to settle down into being married.’

Her breath escaped in an audible hiss. Her lashes flickered. Incredulous sapphire-blue eyes clung to his darkly handsome features, her heartbeat sitting somewhere in the neighbourhood of her convulsed throat.


‘YOU LOOK as if you need a good, stiff drink.’ Rising gracefully upright, Nik strode across to the polished antique sideboard, extracted a brandy goblet and calmly poured a measure from the cut-glass decanter. With incredible cool, he settled it down on the table in front of her and strolled across to the marble fireplace.

‘You can’t be serious,’ Leah told him, dry-mouthed.

‘Apart from the taint of your family tree, you’re everything I want in a wife.’

‘Forgive me if I find that impossible to believe.’

‘You’re beautiful, sexually appealing and you’re already mine,’ he drawled with wry amusement. ‘And I haven’t met anyone else one half as suitable.’

‘Thanks but no, thanks.’ Shaken to her innermost depths by the proposition, Leah was bereft of the wit to come back with anything more sarcastic.

‘I don’t recall saying you had the right of refusal. And I’m prepared to be reasonable. I proved that last night.’ Nik dealt her a razor-sharp glance of explicit meaning. ‘I could have flattened you down on my bed there and then—’

‘No!’ Leah rose upright, rigid with rejection.

‘But I didn’t. I’ll give you time to adjust to the idea. I don’t expect you to behave as though the last five years never happened.’

‘I love Paul.’

‘And I don’t expect to hear his name on your lips again. I warned you. That is over. You’re allowed one mistake, one vengeful little fling and you’ve had it.’ Nik ran hooded dark eyes grimly over her pale, set face. ‘One mistake,’ he repeated in case she hadn’t got the message. ‘Phone him, go near him ever again and I’ll break both of you because whether you like it or not you’re my wife!’

‘You can’t do that...you can’t threaten me!’

‘That wasn’t a threat, pethi mou, that was a cast-iron promise. Cross the boundary lines I set and take the consequences. Don’t say you weren’t warned,’ he murmured with chilling emphasis. ‘Don’t think that because I was tolerant last night I’ll be tolerant again. I won’t be.’

‘You can’t make me stay with you.’

‘Try me; step out of line and see what happens,’ he invited darkly, scanning her with angry black eyes. ‘And don’t kid yourself that you’ve found true love. Woods has a history of chasing wealthy women.’

‘He didn’t even know I was wealthy!’ Leah spat at him furiously.

‘He’d have to be blind not to. Look at your jewellery...look at your clothes! Why do you think you have a bodyguard? You’re a walking invitation for every mugger for miles around! That bracelet on your wrist is worth more than he could earn in a lifetime!’ he slashed back rawly. ‘And he needn’t think you’d be bringing your father’s blood money with you because you will be signing your entire inheritance away to charity.’

‘Really?’ she gasped.

‘You want to keep it? Profit from all the misery he caused his victims?’