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Sorrel had been dreading this day. The almost absurdly formal room she'd been shown into seemed to echo her dread, and multiply her fear that nothing good could happen inside its singularly unwelcoming oak-panelled walls.
Despite it being the kind of glorious spring day outside that made a person glad to be alive, inside this forbidding room there was no such complement ary feelingno glimmer of hope or renewal at all. How could there be when Sorrel was about to come face to face with the husband she'd left three months ago and discuss their divorce?
Her stomach felt as if it had one huge knot inside it had, in fact, been feeling like that for days now, with no relief. Absently, her fingers curled into her clothing, but they were so coldas though they'd been plunged into icethat they would hardly flex at all.
The thought of seeing Reece again filled Sorrel with one part joy and three parts sorrow. She'd always thought that their love was unbreakable that it could withstand any rocky terrain or crashing wave that threatened to unbalance it. The last few months had tested that belief to the limit.
Reece had been a cold, unfeeling stranger to her the night she'd finally decided to leave him. An impenetrable stone eleventh-century castle wall couldn't have been more impervious. He'd been so caught up in the whirlwind of activity and demand that was his work that he simply hadn't even seemed to see that Sorrel had also had needs that were crying out to be met. Her husband had thought that she was the intolerant onethe one who was deliberately making difficulties where there really weren't any to begin with.
The following day, after the worst argument their marriage had ever endured, he'd left the house in the early hours of the morning to catch a train to York, to discuss a classical concert he was promoting, and Sorrel hadn't seen him at all. She'd told herself that if he'd cared sufficiently about repairing the damage that had been done between them he wouldn't have left to catch that train. He would have postponed his 'pressing and important' business meeting and stayed home, to attend to the far more important subject of his marriage. The fact that Reece hadn't done any such thing had left her with little alternative but to pack her bags and leave.
Disheartened and melancholy, Sorrel had moved out of the architect-designed house they'd shared in Pimlico, London, and temporarily moved in with her sister Melody and her family in Suffolk. She'd had to get away.
Everything had been getting her down the rows, the hurt, the accusations, the horrible suspicions about who Reece spent his time with when he was away, and the long periods apart when time crawled by so deathly slow that Sorrel wanted to scream inside with loneliness. No amount of activity or socialising with friends could make up for the aching chasm deep inside her very soul that could only be made whole again by her husband's friendship and love.
She'd known when she'd married Reece that, being the internationally acclaimed music impresario he was, his job would naturally involve a lot of travel. Being a fashion model herself, Sorrel was not unused to travelling the world. But then had come the time when she'd stopped looking forward to boarding yet another plane or another private yacht and had simply longed to be home in her own placea real home, with Reece. She couldn't explain it she'd just suddenly needed to put down roots.
The rows had started when he had demonstrated no sign of wanting such simplicity at all. In fact, perversely, his work commitments had seemed to accelerate, and Sorrel had barely seen him from one week to the next unless, of course, she'd travelled with him. Increasingly she had not wanted to do that.
'We'll have some coffee shortly, Mrs Villiers we're just waiting for Mr Villiers to arrive. Are you comfortable? You look a little chilly, if you don't mind my saying. Shall I close the window?'
As the impeccably attired solicitor rose up from his seat at the head of the long formal table, Sorrel glanced up at him in alarm. 'No! Please don't shut the window.'
There was a real danger of her not being able to breathe if he shut out the vital supply of fresh spring air that just at that moment was helping her keep her anxiety at a level that was manageable. If he closed it off, the already daunting and chilly room would be even more like a tomb encasing her, and she wouldn't be able to sit still and face Reece across that alienating formal table and accept that he obviously didn't love her any more.
It was he who had instigated this discussion with his solicitor about a divorce. When Sorrel had received his letter at her sister's house a fortnight ago, she had wept until her eyes were dry of tears. She'd been hoping for an entirely different content in his coldly brief missive. Foolishly, and perhaps naively, she'd been hoping there might be talk of forgiveness and compromise even starting over. But it wasn't to be
Muted voices outside the door told her that her husband had arrived. Steeling herself for the sight of him, and unable to stop shivering at the prospect, Sorrel lifted her chin a little and silently prayed that she would not betray her distressing inner turmoil. Why give him even more ammunition to shoot her down with than he had already? This man had been her whole world, and now he was showing her that he no longer wanted to be part of her world at all. She almost couldn't bear it. She certainly didn't want him to see her devastation.
Just then he walked in the door, his heat-provoking glance immediately seeking her out, then frostily disregarding her as though she were an insignificant stranger. The stunning verdant gaze that had once studied her with such adoration now appeared as hostile as a sworn enemy as if love had never visited their captivating emerald depths at all
Sorrel didn't know how she remained in her seat instead of flying out through the door with grief.
'Welcome, Mr Villiers. Won't you sit down and make yourself comfortable? I will just have a word about some coffee for us all. Excuse me '
Edward CarmichaelReece's wealthy and dapper solicitormade himself scarce from the room. Sorrel could feel the tension roll off her husband's impressive broad shoulders in almost tangible waves, and his formal grey pin-striped suit added to her already deepening sense of alienation and fear. She hardly knew what to say. In the end the dilemma was taken out of her hands.
'Did you drive into London?' Reece questioned her, his familiar transatlantic tones as formal as the lofty room that surrounded them.
'No, actually, I didn't. I came up on the train. I was going to drive, but then II decided against it in case the traffic was bad.' Self-consciously, Sorrel's words died away. She'd been about to explain that she'd been suffering from an upset stomach for the past few days and had worried about being carsick. But then she thought better of revealing such an intimate detail to her husband, because she was afraid to witness his undoubted lack of concern. Anyway ' She shrugged her shoulders in the butter-soft tan suede jacket she wore over her knitted cardigan, feeling ill with nerves. The sheer strain of the past three months and her dread of what the future might hold had taken its toll. 'At least I was able to read my book on the train.'
Drawing out the high-backed chair opposite her, Reece undid the buttons on his suit jacket and sat down. 'Hopefully we can get this over with as quickly and as painlessly as possible,' he remarked, reaching out to pour some water from the carafe in front of him into a cut crystal tumbler.
Did he really hope that? Then it was clear that he must possess a heart of stone, Sorrel thought in despair.
Her hurt blue eyes considered the aloofly handsome face before her, with its clean-cut and strongly defined symmetry of jaw and cheekbone, the slight cleft in his indomitable chin that she'd always found so disarmingly sexy, and the piercingly sharp intelligent green eyes that complemented his dark blond hair. It was hard to believe that he'd once told her that she was the woman of his dreams. Now he looked at her as if he could hardly bear to be in the same room as her!
'II didn't expect to get such a letter from you,' she forced herself to say, needing to make a more personal connectioneven if it was a somewhat wounded one. But just then the solicitor returned, followed by a woman bearing a tray with coffee. She deposited it between Reece and Sorrel then discreetly left. Edward Carmichael resumed his seat, settled his hands on the blotter in front of him and cleared his throat.
Reece's heart and stomach had seemed simulia-neously to somersault at the sight of his arrestingly beautiful young wife. He was quite aware that he'd spent a large part of their two-and-a-half-year-old marriage away, travelling for his work, but the last eleven weeks and two days had seemed like an eternity without her. At least when he had been away before Reece had always known that he had Sorrel to come home to. Now the stunning state-of-the-art house he had had constructed just for her seemed like a glass and steel prison without her in it. A luxurious glass and steel prison, full of expensive furniture and objets d'artrooms empty of anyone to appreciate them or even use them. Because being in the house for any time at all was a too-painful reminder of what Reece had lost.
But, even so, he couldn't gaze upon Sorrel's blond angelic perfection with any genuine delight or pleasure any more. The woman had walked out on him and left him, clearly demonstrating her contempt. She hadn't even had the decency to leave him a goodbye note. Instead, her partially denuded wardrobe and two missing suitcases had testified to the fact that she'd gone away, and in three long months Reece had had neither letter or phone call to let him know how she was or what she intended to do about their clearly disintegrating relationship.
He had tortured himself with the possibility that she might have met someone else, was having an affair and hadn't been able to confess to him the true reason that she had left him.
Sorrel's closest relationship outside of their marriage had always been with her sister Melody, so Reece had been in no doubt that she'd gone there. After ringing and checking that that was the case, and being reassured by Melody that Sorrel definitely wasn't seeing anyone else, Reece had had to force himself to come to terms with her absence.
Furious that she had eliminated the chance for him to express his feelings on her leaving, Reece had decided to wait no longer for Sorrel to make a decision. Instead he'd called her bluff and decided that a quick and easy divorce was probably the best solution all round. Why wait when all they had done for months now was argue anyway?
Reece was sick of it. He'd never dreamt in a million years that the slightly self-effacing, calm, even-tempered angel he'd married could make his life quite so difficult or inflame his temper more quickly than anyone or anything else. The tense situation between them had started to infringe upon Reece's work, too, tearing his mind away from it when his job required all the concentration he could muster. But he'd found it increasingly hard to detach himself emotionally and focus on business when most of his thoughts seemed to be concerned with Sorrel. Seeing her again now, after nearly three months, wasn't making things any easier 'Shall we proceed?'
Bestowing his best professional smile on both of them in turn, the unctuous Edward Carmichael straightened some papers on the blotter in front of him, clearly denoting that he was the one their attention should be focused on, and not each other.
His hands were small and very white, Sorrel noticedwith perfectly manicured nails and a thick gold wedding ring encasing one plump little finger. She turned her head forlornly away at the sight of it, suddenly wishing that she hadn't removed the slim platinum band that Reece had put on her finger on their wedding day only this morning, before Melody had driven her to the station to catch her train. Sorrel had only done it because she'd suddenly had the crazy idea that he might ask for it back. Now she saw that Reece might justifiably interpret her not wearing it as agreement to his suggestion that they end their marriage.
Guiltily, she covered the offending hand with its opposite one in her lap. She didn't want this divorce. She'd never wanted things between her and Reece to go this far or get this bad. If only she had relented and spoken to him when he'd rung Melody, or at least contacted him herself soon after she'd left to suggest they get together and talk about their troubles like civilised human be-ingsthey might have stood a chance of repairing the damage. Instead she'd stubbornly stayed silent and uncommunicative in the stupidly vain hope that he would contact her first and say sorry.
He'd said some terrible things to her that awful night, when they'd had the row to end all rows. His words had been like razor-sharp swords flailing through her heart, slicing it to shreds. Nursing her wounds, Sorrel had longed for Reece to be the one to make the first step towards reconciling. Lifting her gaze to study his expression on the other side of the table, she saw to her great pain that he appeared no less remote and no more amicable than he had when he'd first come through the door. He obviously couldn't wait to cut the ties that bound them together for good.
'If you wouldn't mind,' she heard him say in answer to the solicitor's suggestion, 'I'm catching a train to Edinburgh in a couple of hours, so I'd appreciate it if we could move things along fairly quickly.'