Her lovely mouth was sulky, her eyes downcast. In the sunlight her hair was the colour of champagne. His throat constricted and his voice emerged thickly, gently. ‘Start packing. And if it eases your conscience, we can visit your pets each weekend. I can put up with that sofa for one night out of seven.’ And make sure she didn’t wander Sherman-wards.
It was the voice of a man humouring a child, making concessions in return for good behaviour, Zoe recognised, furious with herself. Her error had been in making that instinctive objection in the first place. Her head coming up, a slight smile in place, she remedied it. ‘I hadn’t looked at it in that light. You’re right, of course. Ethel’s got sharp eyes and it would be difficult to keep up a lovey-dovey act for her benefit. Drive us both insane.’ The smile slanted wider as unconcealed surprise glinted in his eyes. ‘I’ll go and pack.’
The London apartment was just as she remembered it from the overnight stay before she and Javier had flown out to Spain that Easter. She’d taken in every detail with eyes greedy for everything that made up his personal space.
The plastic-card-activated lift took them directly to the foyer, cool off-white walls, a single Venetian salon chair, a mahogany door that led into a long sitting room, one wall entirely of glass giving fabulous views over the city. A minimum amount of furniture, understated, expensive, classy. It needed a woman’s touch, Zoe thought now as she’d thought then, when her feet had first touched the bland oatmeal-coloured carpet. Flowers, jewel-coloured cushions, bright paintings to break the severity, a clutter of magazines and books to make it look more home-like.
Was this to be her home for the next two years? Sterile, to suit a sterile marriage? Her stomach curdled. Then she railed at herself for being such a wimp. Two years gave her enough time to make him fall in love with her!
Taking her small suitcase from him, she told him calmly, ‘I take it I’ll be using the room I had before? I remember the way.’ She gave him the smallest glance. Too dangerous to allow her eyes to linger on her stunningly gorgeous new husband. He made her heart turn over, pound and clatter, drying up her throat, made the softness of love shine from her far-too-revealing eyes. She’d once made the crass mistake of telling him she loved him. By now he would have written it off as silly girlish infatuation. Let him keep his misconception.
Almost as soon as she had started to walk away she turned again to face him, very slowly. ‘Look, I’m fully aware of why you married me, Javier—to stop me making a fool of myself with unsuitable people. I admire your sense of duty.’
Was there a trace of utter wickedness as her sexy mouth curved in a slight smile that held his fascinated gaze? Probably. She could be a witch when she wanted to be.
‘And I accepted because it was a way out of an empty, pointless life.’ Amazed that her face hadn’t gone fierily red at the outright lie, Zoe reminded with commendable cool, ‘You offered your guidance. And I’ll take it. But we need to discuss my place in this marriage. This evening, if you have no other plans?’
Definitely a challenge in those beautiful golden eyes. A sexual challenge? Something gave a violent wrench inside him. Was she about to tell him that she wanted her place to be in his bed? Watching the sensual sway of her body as she finally walked to the door that accessed the rest of the penthouse apartment, he wondered if he would have the strength to resist.
His breath felt hot in his lungs. The way the little minx could get under his skin was beginning to seriously annoy him. Behaving with natural, almost childlike innocence at one moment, sulking because he was keeping her away from her lover the next, then acting like a poised adult.
And all the time the undercurrent of hot sex…
His smoky eyes grim, he stalked after her. No one was going to run rings round him! They could have that discussion right here and now. And if she so much as hinted at a desire to make this marriage a real one he’d shoot her down in flames and throw the fire extinguisher straight out of the window.
He didn’t knock. Just walked right in. Her suitcase was open on the bed. And in answer to his terse question, she merely straightened, hooked a strand of silky hair behind one ear and gave him the bland smile that made him grind his teeth because it just made him want to use his own mouth to ravage it away, and casually answered him, ‘I’m your wife. I only wanted to know whether you expect me to do wifely things—cook your meals, iron your shirts, that sort of stuff.’
Minutes later, closing the door of his home office behind him, Javier couldn’t remember what answer he’d given back. None, probably.
And just why had her prosaic reply—the last thing he’d expected to hear—flooded him with cold disappointment?
ENTERING the silent apartment, Zoe dropped her handbag on the nearest coffee-table and walked out of her high heels. Once again the long evening stretched emptily ahead and depression settled heavily on her slim shoulders.
Next month they would be celebrating their first wedding anniversary, though celebrating was hardly the word to use, she amended with a tight laugh that wasn’t a laugh at all. Halfway through the time Javier had allotted their marriage. And what, exactly, had she achieved?
Zilch! In fact, the miracle of having Javier fall headl
ong in love with her simply wasn’t going to happen and she might as well face it.
Her shoulders drooping, she walked through to her bedroom on leaden legs. She’d given it her best shot, turned herself inside out trying to become special to him, a woman he could respect, admire—a woman he could find desirable and eventually grow to love.
Getting out of her tailored primrose-yellow suit, she took her usual quick shower and dressed in light cotton trousers and toning dark green shirt, avoiding her eyes in the mirror because she couldn’t bear to see defeat looking back at her.
She knew she should make herself something to eat but couldn’t be bothered. She’d have something to drink when she’d glanced at the post that had arrived after she’d left. A couple of bills, a letter for Javier addressed in a flowing female hand and something for her.
An invitation to Guy and Jenny’s wedding. She must have been an afterthought because the ceremony was to take place this coming weekend, she decided with a wry smile. Javier had effectively taken her out of circulation, so her friends would have as good as forgotten about her.
The ceremony was to be held at the village church, she noted, the reception at the White Boar.
So those two had decided to formalise their sizzling relationship—they would have a proper marriage…
And she’d have to pass. Javier had made no secret of his dislike and distrust of her wild friends. She laid the invitation back on the pile of post awaiting Javier’s return and the wall-mounted phone rang as she was reaching for a carton of fruit juice from the fridge.