He could feel the frantic beat of her heart beneath the palm of his left hand, the heat of her smooth thighs beneath his right. As he leant back against the door to close it she lifted her head, her hair brushing like pale, perfumed silk against the hard plane of his cheek. Kissable lips a scant inch away from his. His loins jerked. His eyes closed as he fought the primeval instinct to set her on that bed, drag every scrap of clothing from that delectable body and brand her with his ownership, wipe the memory of all the others from her mind.
Red mist sprang beneath his closed lids. It was a tough call. He opened his eyes as she twisted within his arms, the thrust of her beautiful breasts pressed against his chest in open invitation. An invitation he would have little chance of turning down, he recognised with a savage burst of self-despising. And the first damn thing he saw was the gaudy bouquet from her former lover, glimpsed through the open door that led into the tiny sitting room.
Self-disgust dealt him another swiping blow. His behaviour, the thoughts in his head, put him on a level with Sherman, a man intent on grabbing what he wanted with no thought of the consequences. Zoe might look and act like a woman but she was still a child at heart.
Setting her briskly on her feet, he walked away from her, further into the room, furious with himself for thinking like an animal. She was just a kid. She’d proved it by the casual, almost insultingly off-hand way she’d fallen in with his suggestion that they marry. No adult discussion, no sensible stipulations of her own to make. As if she was viewing the novel idea of wearing a wedding ring as just another experience to be explored. He’d come damn close to giving in to lust and making this marriage a real one—he must have been mad!
A few strides took him past the bed, the centre of his dark, hot thoughts a few moments ago, and on through the wide-open doorway into the sitting room with its chaise upholstered in rich dark blue velvet, the cream marble-topped coffee-table sporting that hateful bouquet. Had she arranged the vulgar blooms herself? Placing them one by one in the crystal vase, remembering the ‘fun’ she’d had with her lover? Deprived of real love for so many years, had she made sex a substitute?
Was she hooked on it? Could any personable male meet that need? Remembering the thick sizzling shaft of the sex thing when their eyes had clashed down there in the conservatory, he answered his own question.
Watching Javier take the violently coloured roses and lilies, which the misguided Ethel must have arranged, and toss them out of the open window, Zoe felt the weight of rejection settle heavily on her slim shoulders.
She’d been so sure he wanted her, had changed his mind about his wretched paper marriage. The aura around them as he’d carried her up the stairs had been alive with sex, so heady she’
d felt intoxicated, convinced that need would follow want on the direct path to love.
She’d hoped that he had the acumen to realise that the message from Ollie had been nothing more than a spite-filled attempt to cause havoc, but he’d only had to see those horrible flowers to make him put her away from him as if she were contaminated material.
The volatile Spanish part of his make-up that had had him hurling the contents of the vase out into the night vanished as he turned back to face her, fastidiously brushing his fingers together, his features wiped of expression as he gave a casual shrug. ‘The smell of those lilies was overpowering. They had to go if I’m to get any sleep at all on that sofa. If you had a sentimental attachment to them, then I apologise.’
Zoe’s tummy gave a sickening lurch. Her face felt frozen. If he thought his violent disposal of Ollie’s flowers had upset her then he was completely off his trolley. It was so unimportant she didn’t waste breath on a comment. But, ‘Why don’t you sleep in your own room? That chaise will be torture.’ Act as if you hadn’t really expected him to share your bed on your wedding night, she silently adjured herself. Act as if you didn’t want it with all your heart, body and soul. She tried to smile and couldn’t.
He was unbuttoning his shirt. Zoe’s eyes widened as she forced back tears. ‘My mother’s an early riser,’ he imparted prosaically.
Her lovely eyes looked haunted. Had Sherman’s bouquet meant that much to her? The hard, hot knot in his gut tightened.
‘Mama is incorrigible, as you’ll discover when you get to know her better,’ he sliced at her. ‘Her dearest wish is to hold her grandchildren and if she discovered—and she would, believe me—that we had separate rooms she would raise the dead with her earsplitting shrieks of outrage. As it is, that little charade downstairs should have put her mind at rest for the moment.’
The shirt was flung over the back of a chair. Zoe’s mouth went dry. Faced with six feet plus of masculine power and perfection, bronzed skin covering sleek muscles, she almost exploded with the desperate need to fling her arms around him. Every taut inch of her racked by internal tremors, she resisted the insistent temptation of him.
Been there, done that, she reminded herself hollowly. And he’d run a mile. And the glorious thing that had seemed to spring to pulsating life between them had been a mirage, a charade of his own devising to hide the truth of the kind of marriage they had from his parents.
She had to be very careful to hide her feelings for him, create a part for herself to play, and stick to it. Almost always upfront, her emotions worn on her face and spilling from her tongue, she might find it difficult, but she’d give it her best shot. She had a chance within this sham marriage, maybe only a slim one, granted, but she must not blow it.
Dragging her eyes from him, she turned and made her weakened limbs carry her to the tall set of drawers. The discomfort of trying to fit his big frame on the narrow chaise would be nothing to the way his close proximity would torture her.
Ever since he’d turned from getting rid of Sherman’s gaudy flowers she’d been looking stricken, Javier noted grimly. She didn’t even have that explicit message to drool over because he’d disposed of that, too. Was she so hooked on sex that she would do what Sherman had suggested and sneak away to be with him to make up for what this marriage lacked? Was she that much of a slut?
‘Have you been sleeping with Sherman? Are you aiming to take up his invitation?’ His voice came brittly; he had to know. Watching her slim shoulders stiffen, he waited, his eyes narrowing.
The shock of his blunt question kept her rigid, her normally ready tongue stilled to silence. What did he think she was? He’d taken Oliver’s vile message on board, that was perfectly obvious. It hurt. It hurt a lot.
Plucking one of the oversized T-shirts she wore to bed from the drawer, she turned then, hurt squeezing her heart until she thought she would choke on it. She wanted to lash out at him, scream and scratch, but she wouldn’t allow herself that luxury.
Her voice as sour as vinegar, she pushed out, ‘That’s my business. I don’t ask you if you’ve slept with all those Glendas and Sophies.’ The reminder of how gut-wrenchingly jealous she’d always been of the women who’d briefly shared his life made her feel ill.
Refusing to spare him another glance in case he saw pain in her eyes, she made it to the en suite and closed the door behind her.
As he watched her go, the silky fabric of her dress clinging sensually to the shape of her lovely body, Javier’s brows met in a dark-as-the-devil frown. Was she criticising his lifestyle when he was supposed to be criticising hers?
But her response had hit home, he recognised guiltily, remembering the times he’d persuaded his current lady to accompany his ward on those holidays he’d promised. Hardly setting a good example, dammit!
Besides, his wild oats were sown. Uncommitted relationships had begun to pall and he’d been celibate for well over a year—but that was an irrelevance, he dismissed as he completed undressing down to his boxer shorts.
What was important was the way she’d avoided answering his question.
Which, in view of all he’d learned, was an answer in itself, he decided with mounting icy fury as he stalked over to one of the windows and stared out at the night, waiting for her to exit the bathroom.