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Damien Trent acknowledged two things when Gabrielle Kane stepped from the elevator and walked along the corridor toward her office.
She was even more gorgeous than he remembered. And he'd been a fool to let her go. "Hello, Gabrielle," he said, straightening away from the wall, his gaze sliding over the soft gray material of her pantsuit that hugged her breasts and clung to her hips, down to the matching strappy sandals. She'd never looked more elegant and feminine than she did right now.
Her blond head shot up from searching through her purse, and her steps faltered. She paled. "My God! Damien?"
"You remembered?" he drawled, then felt something shift inside his chest when those blue eyes met his fullon. For a split second time reversed itself to five years ago. She'd walked into that business function with her father, and their eyes had met across the room, jolting him, making him want her.
Just like they were doing now.
She moistened her mouth, then appeared to pull herself together. "How could I forget?"
"That's something we have in common, then." He moved closer, pleased to see two spots of color rush into her smooth cheeks. "You've grown very beautiful, Gabrielle."
Her delicate chin angled. "Is this a social visit, Damien? You're a long way from home."
He mentally pulled back from wanting her. He was here for a reason. "We need to talk."
"After five years?"
His mouth tightened. She'd been the one to leave him. "It's important, Gabrielle."
Alarm flashed in her eyes, then was banked. "It's my father, isn't it?" she said, her tone without inflection now, but he'd seen her immediate reaction. She still cared for the father who'dcut her off after she'd walked out.
He cupped her elbow. "Let's go into your office," he said, feeling the slenderness beneath his palm, conceding that he'd missed touching her.
She turned away and with a shaky hand that was a dead giveaway she unlocked the door to a suite of offices with a sign reading Events by Eileen-The Events Organizer.
He followed her through the main reception area and into another office, taking in the plush carpet and quality furniture and fittings. "You seem to have done well for yourself."
She walked around the desk and stood with her back to the large glass window, a breathtaking view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House behind her. "Let's not pretend you don't already know all about me, Damien. I'm sure whatever report you had done on me must have told you what I do and who I work for." She crossed her arms, her face closed. "Just say what you have to say."
So. She was going to play it cool now, was she? It didn't surprise him. She'd always been a mixture of fire and ice. It was one of the things he'd liked about herall that passion beneath a cool exterior.
He inclined his head at the high-backed leather chair behind her desk. "You might want to sit."
"I'd rather stand," she said, but her shoulders went back, as if preparing for a blow.
There was no easy way to say this. "Your father's had a stroke, Gabrielle," he said, hearing her gasp, seeing the shock she couldn't hide now. "It caused a cerebral hemorrhage in his brain. It was touch-and-go so they had to operate."
She swallowed hard. "Is he-" "No, he's not dead. They're hopeful he'll pull through and will recover fully in time."
"Oh God," she murmured, all pretence gone now as she finally sank onto her chair.
He watched her, seeing the whiteness of her skin and the way she bit her bottom lip, and he knew he'd done the right thing by coming to get her. "My private jet's ready when you are."
She blinked up at him. "What?" "You'll be coming home to Darwin to see your father." She shook her head. "No-I can't."
His mouth thinned. "He's your father, Gabrielle." She made a choking sound. "Obviously that hasn't worried him too much these past five years."
It was one thing to ignore your father's existence when he was in good health, but Russell had come close to death. It was time they sorted things out between them. Damien had told Russell the same thing not long before his stroke, when the other man appeared to be fretting over the loss of his daughter. Perhaps Russell sensed something had been about to happen.
"You were the one who walked out on him," he pointed out. "Your father found that hard to forgive."
"Perhaps I find it hard to forgive a few things, too," she said, remaining firm.
He was instantly alert. "Such as?"
A wary look suddenly entered her eyes. "It doesn't matter."
"Obviously it does or you wouldn't have mentioned it." She looked across the desk at him. "Nothing can change the past now. Let's just say that when I left home five years ago I never looked back."
He arched a brow. "Never? I find that hard to believe." She shrugged her slim shoulders and leaned back in her chair. "That's your problem, Damien. Not mine."
Her comment irritated him. "You walked out on me, too," he reminded her silkily.
Her chin rose in the air. "And did you find that hard to forgive?"
His jaw clenched. "Your note was sufficient." "I'm glad you think so," she said with a touch of sarcasm.
He scowled as her comment slammed into him. "You said you wanted to end our affair," he reminded her. "You also said not to try and change your mind."
"And it suited you to believe me, didn't it?"
"Are you saying you lied?" he demanded, his stomach knotting.
Her eyelids flickered, as if she knew she was in dangerous waters. She sighed. "No. It was the truth. It was over between us."
He stared hard for a moment as something centered inside his chest. Things were far from over between them. He'd subconsciously realized that when she'd stepped out of the elevator and walked toward him like a vision from heaven.
"No, I don't think it was over at all," he said quietly. She stiffened. "Really? You obviously didn't think that at the time."
"True. But we had other priorities back then."
She inclined her head but couldn't hide a hint of relief in her eyes. "Yes, we both had a lot of things going on in our lives."
"And I let that get in the way of what was important." He paused. "Things have changed."
She looked startled. "Changed?"
Now that he'd seen her again, he would have to work her out of his system. In the most pleasurable way, of course.
"It's time to come home, Gabrielle. Your father needs you." Hell, he suddenly needed her, too.
Her gaze dropped, and she began to smooth her palms over the front of her silky jacket. Then she looked up as if making a decision. "I'm sorry. Please tell my father I wish him well, but I won't be coming back."
That wasn't acceptable. "And if he dies?"
She winced, then whispered, "Don't."
He couldn't let himself soften toward her. Not right now. He had a job to do. "You have to face facts. Your father is seriously ill. He needs to see you."
"Damien, I can't-I-"
"Not even for your mother's sake?"
Her mouth dropped open, her eyes widened. "Whwhat? My mother? When did you talk to my mother?"
"Caroline came home a couple of days ago when she heard about your father's stroke."
Gabrielle clenched her hands together. "No, she would never forgive him." Her mother would never have gone back to her father. When Caroline left, she'd sworn the marriage was over forever.
"She did. And I think you should, too."
"You're lying. This is a trick."
"No tricks, I swear. Gabrielle, your mother asked that I come and get you. She needs you right now."
She flinched. "That's not fair." "I didn't say it was," he said as he was jabbed by an old heartache. Despite everything that had gone on, at least Gabrielle had parents who cared about her. She wasn't totally nonexistent to them, unlike his own parents. She had a second chance with her family. He doubted his parents would have even wanted a second chance. They'd been too involved with themselves-too selfish to consider that their son might just need some of their attention.
Just the thought of it made the muscles at the back of his neck tense. "Look, if you can't come back for your father, then do it for your mother's sake."
She glared at him. "I just can't walk out of here and leave everything to the others. This is a thriving business. We've got some major events coming up."
"I'm sure they can cope without you."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is?" he challenged. She was only making excuses and they both knew it.
She held his gaze for a long moment, then her eyes clouded over and she sighed with surrender. "Okay, I'll come home. But I'm only staying until my father's out of danger."
"Deal." By then he would have her in his bed again and out of his system once and for all.
The thought was completely satisfying.
Long after they were airborne and heading toward Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia, Gabrielle finished making numerous calls to explain the situation to her clients, then turned off her cell phone to take a break from it all. Before the plane had left Sydney, she'd spoken to Eileen, who'd been supportive of her situation and had made her promise to phone as soon as she was settled.
Dear Eileen. If it hadn't been for the older woman taking her in and treating her like one of her daughters, Gabrielle didn't think she would be as "together" as she was now. Eileen had helped her through so much.
And so had Lara and Kayla, Eileen's daughters. Not only had she been homeless on her arrival in Sydney, but if it wasn't for all three, she would've had to swallow her pride and call her father for help when she'd been in that car accident.
Her heart wrapped in pain, she looked over at Damien Trent, sitting opposite her reading some business papers he'd taken out of his briefcase. If he only knewOh God. No, she wouldn't think about that. She'd think about him instead. That would give her something to do.
In his early thirties, he looked as trim and taut as ever, with dark hair and moss-green eyes that always made her catch her breath. He was a lethal combination of manhood.
The man she'd loved without question five years ago. The man she'd let glimpse her soul. The man she'd have died for. How had she found the courage to walk away from him, knowing she was carrying his child?
Yet how could she have stayed when she'd known he hadn't loved her? Their relationship had never been about emotional depth. Not on his part, anyway.
Oh, she'd had no doubt he would have married her once he'd known she was pregnant. But she hadn't wanted that. Not after her father's drunken rage that night telling her to go, when she'd decided then and there that she'd rather her child not have a father at all, than one who hadn't loved its mother. She just hadn't been able to bear the thought of Damien treating her with disdain in front of their child in the years to come. She'd been that child with her own parents, and it wasn't a nice feeling.
No, it had been better to cut the ties back then. And from that point on she'd decided she had to stand guard and protect herself from hurt. Love brought too much pain, and she'd wanted nothing more to do with letting anyone so deeply into her heart. And she hadn't.
Until Damien had stepped back into her life.