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Why hadn't she been paying attention?
Why hadn't she registered the horribly familiar sound of footsteps on gravel?
If Lexi hadn't been thinking about silver earringsthe type which caught the light when you movedshe might have ignored the sharp ring on the bell. As it was, she was completely distracted when she pulled open the door to see the towering form of her estranged husband standing there, sunlight glinting off his ebony hair.
His stance was fixed and immovable. He seemed to absorb all the light which surrounded him, like a piece of blotting paper drinking up a dark spill of ink.
Lexi's heart contracted with pain. The last time she'd seen him he'd been knotting his tie with fingers which had been trembling with rage. A blue tie, she recalledwhich had matched his eyes perfectly.
His gaze licked over her now like a cobalt flame. She got the feeling he was undressing her with that gaze. Was he? Didn't he once tell her that whenever a man looked at a woman he was imagining what it might be like to make love to her? And she had listened to him of course, because Xenon had been the expert when it came to sex and she had not. Her heart began to thump heavily in her chest.
Why was he here?
She wished she'd had time to brush her hair. She wasn't trying to impress him, but even soa woman still had her pride. She thought he looked shocked. As shocked as she feltthough she suspected his momentary loss of composure was for very different reasons. She knew she looked nothing like the woman he had married. The gilded creature who had gazed up at him from behind a misty veil of tulle was nothing but a distant memory. These days she wore the same clothes as other women. She did the same things as other women. No more couture and fast cars. Her hand strayed up to push an errant strand of hair behind her ear. No more expensive trips to the hair salon either.
While he, of course, looked exactly the same.
Six feet two and eyes of blue. Xenon Kanellis. An olive-skinned powerhouse of a man and a legend in his native Greece. A man with a face of dark and rugged beauty. And a man she had never wanted to see again.
'X-Xenon,' she said, her voice stumbling over a word she hadn't said in a long time.
'Thank heavens for that.' He gave the sardonic smile she knew so well. 'For a moment back then I thought you'd forgotten me.'
Lexi almost laughed because the suggestion was so ludicrous. Forget him? It would be easier to forget her own name. True, he wasn't on her mind 24/7 the way he used to be when they'd first split. Before she had decided to take herself in hand. She'd known she would never recover if she continued to obsess about him. The stern talking-to she'd given herself had carried her through the worst. It got her through those bleak, dark days when she had missed him so much that it had felt as if someone had ripped her heart out and crushed it.
But she had recovered because people always recovered, even if at the time they never thought they would. And she had survived worse things than a marriage which should never have happened in the first place.
'You're not an easy man to forget, Xenon,' she said, and then added as an afterthought, 'More's the pity.'
He laughed then but it sounded strange. Maybe she just wasn't used to the sound of male laughter any more. Or the sight of a manany manturning up on the doorstep of her cottage and staring at her with such a disturbing sense of entitlement.
His blue eyes bored into her. 'Aren't you going to invite me in?'
Something about his demeanour was unsettling and Lexi felt a flicker of foreboding. 'Is there any point?'
'You're not even a bit curious to discover why I'm here?' He gaze moved over her shoulder, to glance into the cosy interior of her cottage. 'Why I've driven all the way down from London to this godforsaken little place you've chosen to live in?'
'I imagine it must be for your benefit and yours alone,' she answered. 'And if that's the case, then I'm not interested. I've got nothing to say to you that hasn't already been said.'
'I wouldn't speak too soon if I were you, Lex.'
'Veiled threats won't work, Xenon.' She gave him a tight smile. 'Time after time you've refused to give me a divorce and we seem to have reached a stalemate. So unless you've got the papers with you, it's going to have to be hello and goodbye. I'm sorry if you've had a wasted journey but..'
She began to close the door on him but was stopped by his frankly outrageous action of inserting one soft Italian shoe into the narrowing space. For a moment she actually thought about pushing all her weight against it but Lexi knew there was no point in trying. She was strong for a woman, but he was built like an ox. She remembered the first time he'd picked her up and carried her effortlessly to bed. How she had purred her pleasure out loud. Lexi shuddered at the memory. How could she even have been that woman?
'I don't need your strong-arm tactics,' she said.
His eyes met hers and Lexi knew this was one battle she wasn't going to win. 'Then I suppose you'd better come in,' she said ungraciously. 'Perhaps you'd like to beat your chest like an ape while you're at it?'
'I might,' he agreed. 'I know how much that macho stuff turns you on.'
Don't rise to it, she told herself even though she could tell from the cool smile on his face that he seemed to be enjoying this. But then Xenon thrived on battle, didn't he? He liked the frisson and the taste of triumph. That was one of the reasons for his global success and his boardroom victories.
Over his shoulder, she could see his gleaming limousine parked awkwardly at the bottom of the tiny lane. It couldn't have been more in-your-face if it had tried and she hoped none of her neighbours were home. She had tired of the fame which had once been hers and had done her best to leave it all behind. She worked hard at being normal. She'd spent time blending into her local community, trying to prove that she was just like everyone else. The last thing she wanted was for Xenon Kanellis to come along and blow all her efforts with one ostentatious display of wealth. 'You're taking up a lot of space with that gas-guzzling piece of machinery.'
'You want me to ask my driver to move it?' He raised his eyebrows. 'I could send her away for a couple of hours, if you like.'
Stupidly, one word registered above all the others. A word which echoed annoyingly in her head. 'You have a female driver?' she questioned, unprepared for the flash of primitive jealousy which shot through her.
'Why not?' He shrugged. 'Weren't you always telling me that I should practise a little more equality?'
'Your idea of equality ended when women got the vote, Xenon. I thought you didn't like female drivers? You went on about my driving often enough.'
'That was different,' he said, shutting the door behind him and giving her a patronising smile. 'You are temperamentally unsuited to being behind the wheel of a car, Lex. Probably because of your artistic nature'
She'd only been in his company for five minutes but already Lexi wanted to tip her head back and scream. But anger was good, she told herself. It kept the adrenalin flowing. It stopped her thinking about the pain of the past. It stopped her from wanting him. And that was the crazy and scary thing. That she still wanted him.
'So why are you here?' she asked. 'To remind me how lucky I am not to have to put up with your sexist attitude any moreor is there something else on the agenda?'
For a moment Xenon didn't answer. Instead, he let his eyes travel over her, slowly acquainting himself with someone he'd once known better than any other woman. But the truth was that he was taken aback by her appearance.
The Lexi he'd met and fallen in love with had been a glossy pop-star. A woman with fame at her fingertips and a world who couldn't get enough of her. Sexy Lexi the press used to call her and they hadn't been wrong. Everyone had told him she was the last woman he should have married. That a woman like her was ill suited to a man with such fiercely traditional Greek values. Even when she had abandoned her singing career and tried to play the good wife with varying degrees of success, people had still regarded her with suspicion and subsequent events seemed to have proved them right.
Yet the Lexi who stood before him now was a low-key version of the woman who had turned heads whenever she'd walked down the street. The shiny red hairher trademark lookhad gone. She still wore it long, but now it was back to its natural colour; it hung over one shoulder in a thick plait of strawberry-blonde. Gone were the contact lenses she was always losing and, instead, her silvery-green eyes were accentuated by a pair of dark-rimmed spectacles. He didn't think he'd ever seen her wearing glasses before and they made her look oddly serious and surprisingly sexy. The only jewellery she wore was a pair of silver earringsheavy twists of metal which caught the light as she moved.
In faded jeans and a plain cotton shirt, her transformation couldn't have been more dramatic and it was hard to reconcile this new sober image with the glittering woman he'd married. But with Lexi, what you saw wasn't necessarily what you got. Of every woman he'd ever knownand there had been quite a fewshe had depths like no other. Hidden, mercurial depths which had captivated him from the start.
'You've changed,' he said slowly.
She answered his scrutiny with a shrug, even though she could feel the inevitable sting of wounded pride. Because she had seen that look in his eyes and had known exactly what it meant. She had been judged and found wanting and even if it shouldn't hurt, it did.
If she'd known he was coming she would have put on some make-up and changed out of her old jeans. She might have disagreed with such a plan on principle, but what woman wouldn't have made an effort if she'd known she was about to come face-to-face with one of the most desirable men in the world?
'Most people change, Xenon,' she said. 'It's one of the few certainties in life.' But she thought that, as usual, he had managed to buck the trend, because everything about him seemed exactly the same. The same thick black hair, which could never quite be tamed, no matter how expensive his barber. The same effortless eleganceeasy when you had a body of muscular perfection which radiated easy power. He always wore a suit when he was in England and today was no different. His only concession to the warm summer day had been to ditch his tie and loosen the top two buttons of his shirt, but that made him look disturbingly accessible. And he wasn't, she reminded herself. He definitely wasn't.
She fixed him with an inquisitive look, knowing that she needed to get rid of him and as quickly as possible. 'So are you going to tell me why you're here?' she said. 'Maybe it's my lucky day and you have got those divorce papers. Or are you still stalling?'
Xenon tensed, her flippant tone reminding him of the essential differences between them. Keep reminding yourself of those, he thought grimly. 'I prefer to think of it as giving time for the dust to settle rather than stalling. You know my views on divorce, Lex,' he said. 'Half the problems in this world can be laid at the door of broken marriages.'
'But when two people can't live togetherwhat's the alternative?' she questioned. 'A life of misery with two people trapped in a relationship which has become a nightmare? Surely the world has moved on from that?'
He ignored that. 'Aren't you going to invite me to sit down?' His gaze flickered around the cluttered room. 'To offer me some coffee and show me a little hospitality? Black mark for you, Lex. Have you forgotten all the things you learnt as my wife? Was all my tuition wasted?'
It was a dig at her background. She knew that. He was attacking her where she was at her most vulnerablea position from which she could never fight back. But today she wasn't going to take the bait because nobody could help where they came from. The only thing which mattered was the person they had become. And she had become a person who was no longer dazzled by the Greek billionaire's arrogance or impeccable background.
'I certainly haven't forgotten your high-handedness and sense of privilege,' she said coolly. 'But since you're clearly not going anywhere, we might as well do this with a degree of civility. Even if we both know it's only a veneer.'
'Oh, Lex,' he murmured. 'What a cynic you have become.'
'I learnt from the very best,' she retorted, leaving him standing in the middle of her sitting room as she went out into the kitchen to make coffee.
Her fingers were trembling as she boiled the kettle and spooned coffee into a pot. Why had he turned up now, when she'd just about got her life back on track?
When she'd seenif not exactly a light at the end of the tunnelat least some hint that the world didn't have to stay black and miserable for ever.
It hadn't been easy, going from being a famous pop-star to wife of a global magnateand then back to relative obscurity again. Sometimes her life seemed to have had more transitions than a quick-change artist. The failure of her marriage had been almost unbearably painful at times, but she had come through it. She had survived.
But now it all came rushing back. The pain and the fear. The look on Xenon's face when he'd finally arrived at the hospital with eyes like stone, when she'd lost her baby. The second pregnancy she had failed to carry. When she'd discovered just how unbearably painful a late miscarriage could be. The memory was so overwhelming that for a moment Lexi had to lean over the sink, sucking in several deep breaths of air until she'd composed herself enough to go back into the sitting room.
She set the tray down. He was sitting in a chair which seemed too small for him and his brooding figure seemed to dominate the room.
'So,' she said, handing him a cup. But she didn't sit down and join him. She didn't want to do anything remotely intimate because that was fraught with danger. She perched her bottom on the window sill, thinking that looking down on him from a height might give her something of a psychological advantage.
'So,' he echoed. Pushing aside a pile of brochures which were piled up on the coffee table, he put his cup down and looked around. 'This is a bit of a fall from grace, isn't it?'