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Sydney in late April often belied the fact that winter was just over a month away. The nights and mornings could be crisp, but the days were usually warm and rain-free, the skies clear and blue.
The day of Hugh's wedding was such a day. By mid-afternoon the temperature had reached a very pleasant twenty-four degrees, which was just as well, since Megan had little in the way of warm outfits to choose from in her wardrobe. She hadn't been clothes shopping since she'd come home from hospital in January. In actual fact, she hadn't been out of the house.
Megan sat stiffly, her handsome husband beside her, in the second row of seats which had been set up on the main deck of the father of the groom's super-yacht. When the invitation had first arrived, she'd immediately declined to attend. But James had said he wouldn't go if she didn't come with him. Then Hugh had called personally to ask her to reconsider. It wasn't going to be a big wedding, he'd assured her. Only sixty or so guests.
'It will do you good to get out,' he'd argued. 'You can't go on like this, Megan.'
Which was true, of course. She couldn't continue living the way she had, shutting the world out, shutting everyone out. Especially James. She had to make a decision whether to leave him or not, a decision which seemed beyond her. Making any decision seemed beyond her. The only way she made it through each day was by absorbing herself in the one activity she could rely on to provide some escape from the conflicting emotions which constantly besieged her mind.
Painting had always been an all-consuming passion for her, even when she was quite young. As a teenager she'd dreamt of becoming a famous artist one day, of having her works hung in the finest galleries in Australia. She'd begged her father to send her to art school after she'd graduated from high school and, much to her mother's disgust, he'd agreed.
Megan had spent three years honing her craft, receiving much critical acclaim from her teachers, but not from the art world at large. She'd only ever had one painting exhibited— in a small gallery in Bondi—so it seemed unlikely she would ever achieve the level of success she'd once craved.
But she'd kept on painting, even after she'd married James, though it had been relegated to more of a hobby by then.
Now it was her one and only survival weapon, a way of coping.
It was ironic that, if James ever saw the canvas she'd been working on since her miscarriage, he would sweep her back to the doctor who'd diagnosed her with depression a few days after her miscarriage. No doubt he'd give her another prescription of anti-depressants, along with some more sleeping tablets.
As if pills could fix her problem!
Nothing could fix her problem but herself. Deep down, Megan had always known that. She'd finally thrown all the pills away a few weeks ago and hadn't felt any worse. In fact, surprisingly, she'd begun to feel a bit better.
Deciding to leave the house and go to Hugh's wedding was still a huge step for her, but she made it.
So here she was, dressed in the pale pink suit which had been her own going-away outfit, and which was now a size too large. She'd had to move the button on the waistband over to make sure the skirt stayed put. The jacket was a bit loose, but that was all right. It had once been somewhat snug. Her long dark hair was caught up in a French roll. She hadn't been to a hairdresser in ages and this was the only sophisticated style which she could manage herself. Her make-up had taken her ages: foundation, lipstick and blusher to counter the pallor of her skin and lots of eye make-up, using toning shades of eyeshadow to complement her brown eyes and heaps of mascara. No eyeliner, however. She had tried it but her hands had trembled and she'd poked herself in the eye, making it water, so she gave up on that idea.
James had said she looked lovely when he'd first seen her today.
Inside, she'd shrunk from his compliment, in much the same way that she shrank from him whenever he tried to show affection to her. This time, however, she'd managed a small smile and a polite thank-you. Then, when he'd taken her hand as they walked up the gangway onto the yacht, she hadn't snatched it away. She'd left it there.
That had been a mistake, Megan now realised as she stared down at where James still had her hand clasped firmly within his. Hand-holding might not be all that intimate an activity, but it was closer than anything Megan had allowed since her miscarriage.
Not once since she'd come home from hospital had Megan let James make love to her. Frankly, the idea of going to bed with him made her feel ill. Whenever he tried to take her into his arms she'd pull away with a sharp 'no!', after which she would usually make some pathetic excuse, saying that she was sorry, that she just couldn't. Not yet.
He'd been amazingly patient with her, but she wasn't a complete fool. She'd glimpsed the frustration on his face at times, had seen it increasing over the last month. He'd started working longer and longer hours, probably so that he didn't have to be home with a wife who rejected him all the time. And she'd started spending more and more time down in her studio, painting. Sometimes she even slept down there.
Her letting James hold her hand might not seem like a big deal, but Megan could see that her husband was looking pretty pleased with himself just now. Pleased with her, too. He was sure to try to make love to her again tonight and he would be expecting her not to reject him this time.
The music started up—the traditional Bridal March— James's fingers tightening around Megan's as he pulled her to her feet. Their eyes met briefly, Megan startled by the sudden lurching of her stomach. She quickly looked away before he could see the shock in her face.
That couldn't have been a spark of desire she'd just experienced, could it?
How perverse if it was. Wickedly perverse.
She didn't want to want him. Ever again.
But if Megan was brutally honest with herself, this was what she'd been fearing all along, that, if she didn't leave James, one day he would succeed in seducing her again. That was why she'd avoided all physical contact. And why she'd gone on the Pill. Because she'd known, deep down, that she was still vulnerable to her husband's prowess in the bedroom.
Sex with James had far surpassed anything she'd ever dreamt about. Had from the word go, despite her virginity, and she'd simply thought him wonderful.
She'd thought him even more wonderful on their honeymoon. She'd been suffering a slight case of morning sickness during their two weeks in Hawaii and he couldn't have been more considerate.
But when James had been away on business during the weeks leading up to their wedding, Megan had experienced a taste of what frustration was like. Memories of his expert lovemaking had tormented her every night during his absence, and she'd lain awake for hours as she'd relived every exciting moment.
By the time their wedding night had come around, she'd wanted him like crazy. She'd wallowed in their seemingly mutual passion that night, and had been upset when her nausea each morning had interrupted their lovemaking. She'd been looking forward to spending long hours every day in his arms. As it was, James had still made love to her each evening, and occasionally in the middle of the night as well, before her morning nausea kicked in.
By the time they'd returned from their honeymoon, Megan had become used to being made love to at least once a day. When James went back to work, however, their sex life had lessened somewhat. Megan had thought this was because James was tired. As the owner of one of Sydney's most successful advertising agencies, he worked very hard. She realised now that he was probably bored with her. His mission had been accomplished, after all: she had been carrying his child and was blindly besotted with him.
She supposed it was possible that he thought she wouldn't want him as much, once she became pregnant. Just the opposite was the case, however. She'd wanted James more than ever.
There'd been a few times when Megan was so frustrated that she thought of initiating things herself. Once, when they'd been swimming in the pool together on a hot summer night. Another time, when they'd been getting ready to go out on New Year's Eve. James had been in the shower, whistling, and she'd suddenly been tempted to strip off and join him. She'd experienced a strong urge to do some of the things to him that she'd read about in books: bold, sexy things, with her hands and her mouth.
But, in the end, she hadn't had the confidence.
Still, her desire for her husband, Megan now understood, had always been far greater than his desire for her. Which was only natural; she loved him.
She still loved him, despite everything. Loved him and, to her shock and shame today, still wanted him.
Where, in heaven's name, was her pride?
Not much in evidence at that moment, her heartbeat quickening when he turned to her and smiled one of those super-sexy smiles which had used to turn her to mush.
In desperation, she managed to extricate her hand with the excuse that she always cried at weddings and needed to get a tissue from her handbag.
'I have to admit,' James said as she rifled through her handbag, 'that I never thought this day would come. Hugh always vowed and declared that he would never get married.'
Megan recalled what she'd overheard Hugh saying at the hospital; that marriage should be the result of true love, and nothing else.
'Still, I have a feeling he'll be more successful at marriage than his father,' James whispered to her. 'Not that that'd be hard. I've lost count of how many wives Dickie Parkinson has had, each one younger than the last. Hugh's chosen very well, I think. Kathryn's a lovely girl. And very sensible. Oh, wow!' he exclaimed. 'What is it about brides that means they always look absolutely gorgeous?'
Megan was glad to have something to distract herself from the turmoil in her heart, her head turning to watch the bride walk down the aisle.
Megan didn't know much about Kathryn Hart, only that she'd been Hugh's PA. But James was right. She made an absolutely beautiful bride, dressed in a strapless white gown which had a tight beaded bodice and a gathered floor-length skirt. It was very similar in style to her own wedding gown, though hers had been ivory, not white. Kathryn seemed to float down the strip of red carpet which bisected the rows of seats, a long tulle veil trailing after her, her dark hair up and anchored in place by a tiara of white roses.
Megan's eyes swung back to where the minister was standing along with Hugh and Russell, both looking resplendent in black dinner suits, white roses in their lapels. As handsome as both men were, neither of them could hold a candle to James, in her opinion.
Her eyes slid surreptitiously back to her husband, whose attention, thankfully, was elsewhere.
There was no doubt James was a striking-looking man: very tall and well-built, with a masculine face and deep-set, extremely dark eyes that commanded immediate attention. His cheekbones were prominent, his nose strong and straight, his mouth nicely shaped. His ears sat flat against his well-shaped head, which was just as well, because he always wore his dark brown hair very short, giving a tough-guy edge to his otherwise conservative image.
Women would still have thrown themselves at him, Megan conceded, even if he hadn't been rich and powerful.
On top of that, he was always superbly dressed. The white-jacketed dinner suit he was wearing today was no off-the-peg variety. It had been tailored especially to fit him. But he looked just as good without clothes, she knew, his shoulders naturally broad and his muscles well honed from regular workouts in the gym. His quite magnificent male body was well-equipped to satisfy a woman in every way.
He satisfied me, she recalled. Every time.
And he'd satisfy you again, a devilish voice piped up in her head. All you have to do is let him…
Her face flushed at the temptation, a small groan escaping her lips.
When James's head whipped round, she brought the tissue up to her mouth and tried not to look embarrassed.
'You're not crying already, are you?' he said, but with an indulgent little smile.
'Not yet,' she croaked out.
'You are a real softie, aren't you? But I love that about you.'
Do you? she wondered as she wrenched her eyes away from his. Do you actually love anything about me?
Russell had said he was fond of her. That could be true, Megan conceded. James was always very nice to her.
But being fond of someone was a wishy-washy, lukewarm feeling, no match for the mad passion James had evoked in her from the start, and which she'd believed was mutual. How much of his so-called passion on their wedding night had been pretend? Did he have any real desire for her? Or was she just a means to an end?
Megan was well aware that men could not fake an erection. But it didn't take much for a man in his prime—and James, at thirty-six, was still a young man—to become aroused. It was a well-known fact that men didn't need love to want to have sex; just a willing woman in most cases.
She'd been very willing. And very naïve.
But not so naïve any longer.
If she ever went to bed with James again, she would have to do so with the full knowledge that he didn't love her.
Could she do that? Could she really?
Before today, she would have said no. Definitely not!
Now she wasn't quite so sure…
'I hope Russell hasn't forgotten the rings,' James said. 'We don't want any dramas like we had at his wedding. Remember how that dreadful mother of Nicole's showed up at the last minute and accused him of marrying her daughter for revenge?'
'Yes, I remember,' Megan said tautly.
'Stupid woman. As if any man would marry for revenge. Anyone with half a brain could see that Russell was madly in love.'