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The Unwanted Wife(10)

By:Natasha Anders

“But why keep them hidden?”

“They’re not good enough. Just a silly hobby, a complete waste of my time, really. I couldn’t compete with the real designers out there anyway.”

“It’s uncanny, I hear your voice, but it’s like listening to your father speak. He told you that you weren’t good enough, didn’t he? And you believed him?” He seemed uncharacteristically furious about that.

“No…yes…no. Look, I know that I’m not good enough. I have received no formal training. I printed stuff off the Internet, did a bit of reading, and started experimenting. I’m the only one who ever wears these, and then only around the house!”

“I think that you should have Rick’s brother, Bryce, or his partner Pierre de Coursey have a look at these.” She fidgeted slightly, not entirely sure what to make of his sudden interest and praise.

“I wouldn’t want to waste their time; they’re busy men.” Palmer and de Coursey co-owned one of the most exclusive jewelry companies in the world.

“I hardly think you’d be wasting their—”

“Look, Sandro, just drop it, please,” she interrupted harshly, and his eyes snapped up to her strained face. His own expression remained impassive, and he shrugged before slowly closing the portfolio and placing it back on her desk.

“Suit yourself,” he muttered before continuing his amble around the room. She watched as he picked things up, inspected, and replaced them. She remained seated, swiveling her desk chair ever so often to keep him within sight. He eventually stopped his restless pacing to come to a standstill directly in front of her. She lowered her eyes to his expensive size 11 Italian loafers and fidgeted with the pencil that she had picked up again.

She nearly leaped out of her skin and dropped the pencil with a muffled yelp when he captured her chin between his thumb and forefinger to gently tilt her face up until she raised her vulnerable gaze to his unfathomable chocolate brown eyes. He let go of her chin to stroke the back of his hand down her soft cheek, and she tried her best not to cringe from his touch. She wasn’t quite successful in masking her reaction, because his eyes iced over and his hand dropped heavily back to his side.

“What other secrets are you keeping from me, I wonder?” he mused beneath his breath.

“I have no secrets,” she responded.

“What would you call this?” He indicated the room with a sweeping gesture, and she laughed but there was absolutely no humor in the harsh and abrasive sound.

“This was hardly a secret.” She shook her head bitterly. “If you’d come up here at any time over the past year and a half, you would have known about this. I never lock the door, so you were free to enter at any time.”

“Why would I have had any reason to come up here?” he asked in his most maddeningly pragmatic voice. “It’s hardly the most logical place for a workshop.”

“It’s also the one place I spend most of my time, so of course you’ve never bothered to come up here,” she responded sarcastically. “You’ve never willingly sought me out before, Sandro, and I believe that the only reason you’re doing so now is because things aren’t going according to whatever master plan you have devised for this so-called marriage of ours. Pretending an interest in me is your latest way of trying to keep me compliant, isn’t it?”

“Stop trying to second-guess me, cara,” he reproved gently. “You have no idea what makes me tick or what’s going on in my head.”

“Oh, I think I could definitely say the same about you. In fact I think I know you a lot better than you do me!”

“I doubt that,” he dismissed, dropping his hands into the trouser pockets of his expensive tailor-made suit and half reclining against her work table. He crossed one long leg over the other in a pose of sartorial, casual elegance.

“Fine.” She tilted her head as she ran a contemptuous look over him. “How do I take my coffee?” He frowned at the question before shrugging.

“Black,” he stated with the utmost authority.

“No, you take yours black, I don’t drink coffee.”

“This is pointless,” he dismissed. “And juvenile.”

“Everything about me, or to do with me, is pointless to you,” she observed bitterly.

“That’s hardly—” he began, but she interrupted him again, barely able to credit her own daring. She had never once stood up to him this way, but she was done being a doormat. Just because she was temporarily trapped in this marriage did not mean that she would to allow him to walk all over her anymore.

“Everything except my womb of course.” She laughed half-hysterically. “You have a lot of use for that! That’s all I am to you, a womb on legs!”

“You’re being ridiculous and completely melodramatic,” he derided.

“What about my birthday?” she asked suddenly, still ignoring him. “When’s my birthday?” His jaw clenched and he remained mute, keeping his eyes glued to hers.

“I see no need to prove myself in this way.”

“You can’t answer it, can you?” she challenged. “Yours is on the third of January. You have four older sisters—Gabriella, Sofia, Isabella, and Rosalie—and a large extended family. You dislike spinach and are allergic to bee stings. You like—”

“Enough!” He sliced an impatient hand through the air in front of his face, cutting her off abruptly. “This is bordering on stalkerish and it proves nothing other than you possess a creepy excess of information about me, which I must admit, I am more than a little uncomfortable with.”

“Hardly stalkerish.” She shook her head. “I have been living with you for more than eighteen months, and I loved you when I married you. I was interested in knowing you. These are the kinds of mundane facts married couples know about each other. Everything I know about you, I had to learn for myself, none of it was ever volunteered. You didn’t know about my hobby, or how I take my coffee, or when my birthday is because you were not interested enough in getting to know me, not because I’ve been keeping secrets. That’s how it’s been for the last year and a half, and that’s how it still is, despite your sudden feigned interest in me.” He started to say something, but she raised her hand to quiet him. She was amazed when he actually shut his mouth.

“I know now that I wasn’t the bride that you would have chosen for yourself,” she managed to say despite the huge lump in her throat. She couldn’t meet his eyes as she acknowledged that painful fact. “You made that pretty clear on our wedding night and every day since then. But I think that at the very least, I deserve to be treated with some show of respect…” She bit her lower lip to stop its trembling and wrapped her arms around herself. He said nothing in response, just kept staring at her thoughtfully.

“I don’t really know what you want me to say,” he eventually admitted, and she smiled sadly.

“I know,” she acknowledged with a dip of her head. “That’s a major part of the problem.”

He unexpectedly shoved himself away from the table and took the couple of steps it required to bring him directly in front of her. He hovered threateningly above where she sat, and Theresa tried her best not to cower beneath his brooding regard. He then surprised her even further by dropping to his haunches in front of her, placing his hands on the arms of her chair, and trapping her in her seat.

“I may not know these things you asked of me, Theresa,” his sexy accent thickened as his voice dropped a few notches, “but I do know you.” She shook her head mutely, disconcerted by both his proximity and his direct stare. He was definitely not avoiding her eyes this time. She felt like a deer trapped in the headlights, and she wanted to look away, she wanted to escape but she could barely breathe, much less avert her gaze.

He raised one hand and Theresa braced herself for his unwanted touch, desperate not to flinch. In the end, she still jumped slightly when his fingertips brushed across her lips.

“I know what makes you tremble with desire.” His voice had lowered even further, nothing more than a seductive rumble now, and her lips parted slightly. “I know where to touch, where to kiss, where to suck…I know how to make you moan, scream, and cry out in ecstasy.”

“That’s just sex.” She found her voice but hardly sounded convincing. He merely smiled, lifting his other hand until he had her face framed, with his thumbs stroking across her cheekbones and his fingertips burrowing into the soft hair at her temples.

“It doesn’t solve anything,” she continued to protest, with the same lack of conviction as before.

“Maybe not”—he shrugged without concern—“but it feels fantastic.”

“But we don’t do it right,” she murmured, thinking about the fact that he’d never kissed her, not on the lips, not once. His fingers stilled and she realized, rather belatedly, that he may have misconstrued her comment. That was fine with her, if it meant that he would stop this blatant seduction of her senses.

“What do you mean?” She could tell how much it cost him to keep the affronted heat out of his voice. He started up the lazy stroking again.