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Holding her sleeping baby against her chest, Carrie Powell looked up at the French castle in the moonlit night. She shivered as a warm breeze blew tendrils of hair across her hot skin.
After a year of cold silence, Theo St. Raphael, Comte de Castelnau, had finally sent for her. He finally wished to meet their threemonthold son.
Carrie's shivering intensified as she stared up at the castle where Theo had first seduced her, before he'd abandoned her in Seattle two weeks later, leaving her pregnant and alone.
Once, she'd loved him more than life. She'd thought he was her knight in shining armor, this titled tycoon who'd made his own fortune. She'd loved him with blind, girlish devotionher only lover, the only man she could even imagine loving.
Carrie took a shaking breath. She'd been such a fool.
Growing up, her older brothers had rolled their eyes at the way she saw the best in people. Even her parents had teased herdreamy, cheerful Carrie with her head in the clouds, who defended people who cut in line at the supermarket or were rude for no reason at all. But those people were doing the best they could, Carrie thought. The grumpy woman who cut in line at the grocery store might have some private tragedy or worry she could hardly bear. Carrie tried to like everyone. She'd maybe disliked one or two truly unpleasant people in her life, but she'd certainly never hated anyone. Until now.
"Come, mademoiselle" the bodyguard said, holding out the baby seat he'd taken from the luxury sedan as the driver retrieved her luggage from the trunk. "We are late."
Grabbing the handle of the baby carrier, she glared at him, then sighed. He'd practically kidnapped her from her parents' house, but the man was just doing his job. The one she really blamed was his boss.
Setting the baby carrier down on the cool grass, she gently tucked her sleeping baby inside the padded frame and wrapped a warm blanket around him. She certainly hadn't planned on Henry wearing footsie pajamas when he was introduced to his father for the first time, but the baby was exhausted and had only slept an hour on the private jet. An hour more than Carrie had.
Every muscle in her body felt tight as she rose back to her feet, lifting the handle of the baby carrier to gently sway her baby back and forth.
After deserting her when she needed him the most, yesterday Theo had sent his bodyguard to collect her without even the courtesy of a phone call. But what should she expect of a man so selfish, so ruthless, so cold?
Thank heaven she'd stopped loving Theo long ago. There was only one thing left between them now. One thing that mattered. Emotion choked Carrie's throat as she looked down at the downy head of her tiny sleeping baby nestled against his soft blue blanket.
Even though she hated Theo with all her heart, she would not deny him the chance to meet his son.
The bodyguard held the door open, waiting for her. "Mademoiselle, s 'il vous plait."
Carrie stared past him into the dark entrance of the castle, suddenly nervous. She glanced at the bodyguard. "You will stay with us?"
The man shook his head. "He wants to see you alone."
Alone. Carrie bit her lip. "But you'll be back in the morning to collect me?" she persisted. "Or sooner? Later tonight?"
The man's face was blank. "That is as Monsieur le Comte wishes."
Monsieur le Comte? Had she just gone back in time to some feudal age where everyone trembled and obeyed Theo as master? Carrie took a deep breath, clenching her hands into fists. Well, not her. There'd be no more trembling and no more obeying. She would go into Gavaudan Castle and be coldly polite. She'd show Theo the beautiful child he'd unthinkingly rejected, and by this time tomorrow he'd be bored with them both. She and Henry would be on their way back to Seattle, secure in the knowledge that Theo would never trouble them again.
Lifting her chin, Carrie gripped the handle of the baby carrier and slowly walked inside the darkened foyer. Her feet felt as heavy as bricks. Once inside, she heard the crystal chandelier chiming discordantly above them and terror seized her heart.
Her hands shook so violently she set the baby carrier down on the marble floor as she turned back with desperation. "But, really, I don't mind if you stay"
"Bon courage, mademoiselle," the bodyguard said.
The driver set her luggage inside the foyer and the men closed the door behind her with a sonorous bang.
Carrie was alone inside the castle. With her baby. And with Theo. Her hands shook as she looked around, trying to calm her fiercely beating heart.
The shadows of the silent castle were all around her. As she looked at all the dark hallways leading off the foyer, memories went through her like waves. She heard the echoes of their playful lovers' laughter, like ghosts of their former happiness.
Down that hall, she remembered, Theo had fed her strawberries and champagne in the glorious warmth and flowers of the summer garden. Through that door, in the twostory library, he'd read her poems in French. She'd felt the dark heat of Theo's eyes, heard the beauty of the language as it shaped his beautiful, sensual lips. She hadn't understood his words, but she'd known their meaning: desire.
Carrie's eyes fell on the sweeping staircase. He'd carried her up those stairs as if she weighed nothing at all. He'd laid her upon his enormous bed and he'd seduced her, taking her virginity, kissing and suckling and soaring her to the heights of ecstasy. She wrapped her arms around her jean jacket. She could still feel his arms, feel his lips, feel his hard muscular body against hers as he'd pressed her back on the bed and caressed her naked skin as she trembled and shook and cried out beneath him
She heard a noise behind her, and whirled around with a low gasp.
Theo St. Raphael, Comte de Castelnau and lord of Gavaudan Castle, stood in the open doorway, his powerful body a dark shadow.
"Theo." She whispered his name with the French pronunciationhard T, silent H.
He was breathtaking, almost terrifying in his masculine beauty. He was so dark. Black hair, black trousers, black shirt open at the neck. Dark stubble covered the hard line of his jaw. But it was the expression in his piercing eyes that was darkest of all.
Across the shadowy foyer, his black eyes glittered at her. "Enfin."
His low, deep voice went through her like a hot knife through her heart. Carrie couldn't move. Couldn't even breathe as he moved toward her, stalking her, never taking his eyes from hers.
"I have waited." Stopping in front of her, he looked down at her. "For too long," he murmured, "I have wanted you."
She could hardly believe she was standing in front of him now, close enough to feel the warmth of his body. She had to tilt her head way back to look up into his hard, handsome face. Theo. A lump rose in her throat. Theo, in the flesh. The man she'd once loved, the man who'd left her, the man who'd dropped her so completely he'd never even given her the chance to tell him she was pregnant.
For almost a year Carrie had dreamed of what she would say to him if she ever saw him again. She had a little speech prepared, practiced many times during long, lonely nights, that she planned to deliver in the same cold, dispassionate tone that he'd used when he'd left her that morning in the hotel room.
But in the shock of the moment her entire speech fled from her mind. She felt overwhelmed by the intensity of his closeness. Her body trembled from her hair to her earlobes to her toes as she looked into his darkly handsome face.
He reached out a hand and stroked along the top edge of her shoulder, over her jean jacket, up her neck to her cheek. Cupping her face, he tilted up her chin, and she couldn't fight. Couldn't even protest. She just trembled.
"Now, at last," he whispered, lowering his mouth to hers, "you will be mine."
And, ruthlessly, he kissed her.
His lips were hot and hard against hers, bruising her mouth, sending sparks of electric current sizzling down the length of her body. As one of his hands roughly cupped her chin, his other arm wrapped around her body, holding her tight, pressing her breasts against his muscular chest. She felt trapped, overpowered by the strength of his body, by the force of his overwhelming hunger. And out of nowhere she suddenly realized that, against her will, she was kissing him back.
His lips gentled against hers, caressing and luring where a moment before they had demanded and roughly taken. She felt his tongue flick against hers, luring her into a deeper sensuality as his hand stroked lightly against the skin of her cheek. She felt feminine, vulnerable beneath his masculine power.
His hand tilted back her head, exposing her throat. His fingers moved through her hair as he kissed down her neck. A gasp of surrender escaped her as his lips moved down her skin. His caress was smooth as silk, his jawline and upper lip rough as sandpaper, and as he nipped at the sensitive corner between her neck and shoulder all her nerve endings sizzled. Her breathing was hoarse and she sagged in his arms. Her eyes were closed, her body shivering with need from a year of repressed, agonized desire.
"I missed you, ma petite," Theo whispered, his lips brushing her ear. "And I see you missed me."
She'd missed him?
Carrie's eyes flew open at his smug male satisfaction. She remembered months of ignored messages, the nights she'd spent sobbing for him with a broken heart after he'd deserted her without explanation. Pride stiffened her body. With a gasp, she ripped away from him, drawing back her hand in fury.
But before she could give him the slap he deserved he caught her wrist. Amusement twisted his sensual lips. "So you did not miss me quite as much as I missed you, hein?"
Glaring at him, she yanked her hand from his grasp, angry at the way he'd kissed herand the way she'd allowed him to do it! He clearly believed she was still the naive girl she'd been last yearstill ripe for the taking, still putty in his hands! He obviously assumed she'd spent the past year dreaming of him. And she hadn't dreamed of him. Not for weeks now!
She lifted her chin furiously. "You think you can just kiss me and I'll swoon into your arms?"
He lifted a dark eyebrow. "No?"
Carrie sucked in her breath at the arrogant expression on his wickedly handsome face. "You have no right to kiss me. No right to even touch me!"
"Perhaps I have no right." Looking at her, he gave a low laugh. "But you are here."
"You left me no choiceyour bodyguard gave me no notice!"
"He asked you to come to Gavaudan, and you agreed." Reaching out, Theo took her hand. She tried to resist, but he was too strong. She felt the sizzling heat of his palm against hers and a sizzle spread down her skin. "And what am I to make of that, cherie, except that you have wanted me just as I have wanted you?"
"Wanted me?" Her voice shook with incredulous anger. "You left without a word and never returned any of my messagesfor a year!"
He reached out a hand to stroke her cheek. "I never stopped wanting you, Carrie," he said in a low voice. "I left because you broke the rules. But I think we both understand each other now. This time there will be no more talk of love, yes?"
A bitter laugh escaped her. "Believe me. There is absolutely no way I'd ever love you again."
"Good." He smiled. "In that case, there is no reason for us to be apart. No reason for us to continue to suffer from unrequited desire." His hands slowly moved down her shoulders, stroking her arms, over her white denim jacket. Stroking back her long brown hair, he lowered his head toward hers, whispering huskily, "I have never forgotten how it felt to have you in my bed."
He was going to kiss her. Why couldn't she push away from him? Why couldn't her body even make a single move to safety?
A sudden plaintive wail came from the shadows near the doorway, and Theo straightened with a frown. "What was that?"
Carrie exhaled, grateful beyond measure that her baby had saved her from herself. "The only reason I'm here."
The furrows in his forehead deepened. "What do you mean?"
She turned away. "I'll get him."
Going to the doorway, she lifted her son out of the baby carrier. Henry's wail ended with a snuffle as soon as he was snug in her arms. But when she returned to Theo he didn't look pleased. He looked shocked and bewildered. "Why did you bring a baby here?"
She frowned in her turn. "Did you think I would refuse to bring him?" She stroked the back of the tiny warm baby cuddled up against her chest. "This is Henry, Theo. Your son."
His mouth fell open. His dark eyes, usually so arrogant and certain, were wide with shock as he staggered back from her.
"My son?" he gasped. "My son!"
She heard the harsh rattle of his breath, saw the way his hands clenched into fists. Then, with visible selfcontrol, he exhaled, relaxing his hands.
"Are you trying to claim," he ground out, "that we have a child together?"
Confused and heartsick, she looked up at him. "But you know that," she whispered. "Someone already told you about Henry. Why else would you have sent for me?"
Their eyes locked. Above them in the shadowy foyer she heard the discordant chime of the chandelier, blown by an unseen wind.
"That baby cannot be mine," Theo said through clenched teeth. "It is impossible."
"Yes, I thought so," she said helplessly. "But contraception is not one hundred percent effective"
He paced in front of her like a lion in a cage. "You are lying to me. Why?" He whirled on her, baring his teeth. "Is this some kind of revenge?"
Carrie gasped aloud. "Revenge? How?"
"An attempt to trick me." He clawed a hand back through his dark hair. "To trap me into marriage!"
"Marriagewith you?" She gave an incredulous laugh. "No way!"
"So you say. But women always want to marry me," he said coldly. "I thought you were different. I'm disappointed."
He stared at her as if she were dirtand didn't even look at the baby who'd traveled five thousand miles to meet him. With a trembling breath, she looked up at him.
"Let me make myself clear in a way that even your huge ego won't misunderstand." Her eyes narrowed. "I don't want to marry you. I hate you."
Theo stared at her.
"Hate," she emphasized.
Setting his jaw, he shook his head in disbelief. "Then why would you come here?"
She lifted her chin. "Because I thought even a bastard like you deserved to meet his child. When you sent your bodyguard to collect me like that I assumed you'd heard about our baby. What else would you want from me?"
He looked down at her, his black eyes like fire. Then, with a low growl, he grabbed her free arm. Pulling her down the hallway, he led her out through the back door.
Outside in the moonlight she saw the shadows of trees stretching up into the violet sky. In the garden, a table for two was lit by white candles. Dozens of roses surrounded the table.
"For this," he said harshly.
Shocked, Carrie took in the romantic scene, her eyes wide. She looked back at him. "You intended to seduce me?" she breathed.
Theo's eyes were pools of molten heat. "Yes."