Read an Excerpt
The hands on the clock didn't seem to have moved even once in all the time that she had been sitting here. Alannah could have sworn that every time she glanced up at the big white circle that hung on the green-painted wall opposite the big hand and the little hand were in exactly the same position as they had been the last time she had looked, making a mockery of the audible sound of the minutes ticking away.
She felt as if she had been here all afternoonalmost all her life. And yet time hardly seemed to have moved on from the moment she had arrived and taken her place in the rather worn armchair in the middle of the room.
From here she could watch the door. She could see the approach of anyone coming near through the clouded pane of glass, and be ready if the door should open and the man she was expecting appeared.
The man she was expecting? Dreading would be more like it, Alannah admitted to herself, green eyes clouding rapidly.
She shook her head so that the red-gold swathe of her hair tossed along her shoulders, straggling strands escaping from the black elasticated band into which she had confined it before leaving home that morning, and rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes in a vain attempt to drive away the weariness and apprehension that clutched at her.
She knew she looked pale and wan. The stress and sorrow of the past few days had drained every last drop of pink from her cheeks, tears had dimmed the brightness of her eyes and the set of her fine features reflected the strain of the nightmare week she had just endured. The jeans she had pulled on together with a plain black long-sleeved T-shirt, her mind too battered to even think of anything else, did nothing for her appearance. It took even more colour from her skin and left it looking lifeless and washed out. And she hadn't had either the time or the inclination to add any artificial colour with a touch of make-up before she had left her flat. The need to know that her mother was settled at her aunt's house, heavily sedated because of the shock, had been much more important than any personal grooming.
Still, what did that matter? The man she was here to see wouldn't give a damn about her appearance or how she was dressed. He wouldn't want to see her here in the first place and he'd be even less happy about it when he heard what she had to say.
'Of course, Mr Marc n
A sudden bustle in the corridor beyond the door alerted her, the sound of the all-too-familiar name confirming her suspicions. Not that she'd needed them confirmed. Whenever and wherever Raul Marc n appeared, it seemed that instantly everything was bustle and activity. Even the air around him appeared enlivened, stirring and swirling in a way that left other more ordinary humans catching their breath in the suddenly rarefied atmosphere.
Once she had been part of that atmosphere, carried along on the tidal wave of energy and power that Don Raul Esteban Marquez Marc n created as he strode through life, arrogant dark head held high, golden eyes blazing. But not any more. Not since she had fled that world and all it brought with it.
And she was well out of it.
It was a world of power and money, yesbut there had also been cold deceit and even icier manipulation. Don Raul Marc n took what he wanted from people from womenand used them to fulfil his own desires, without a thought for their feelings. He'd done that to her. And he would have discarded her too, she had no doubt. He would have tossed her aside when the purpose she had served was finisheddone with. But luckily for her vulnerable heart, and before the foolish emotions she had allowed herself to feel had become so deeply embedded in her spirit that she could have had no hope of ever tearing them out, she had discovered the truth about their relationship. And that truth had set her free. Making her run as far and as fast as she could, never looking back, and never wanting to see Raul Marc n ever again.
Which was how she would have wanted it to stay. Except that now she had no choice. None at all. She had to face Raul Marc n once again. Face him and tell him things she had no doubt that he did not want to hear.
'If you would just wait in here
A hand pushed open the door, bringing with it, Alannah would have sworn, a rush of swirling air, and a male voice murmured a word of thanks, although with an edge of impatience on the sound.
Immediately Alannah found that her hands had gone to smooth her hair, straighten her top, and with a mutter of annoyance and reproach she forced them still again. She didn't want him thinking that she wanted to improve her appearance for him; or believing that she was in the least concerned what he would think of her. Once that might have mattered to her; once she might have wanted more than all the world that he would look at her and smile, desire flaring in his eyesbut that had been in the past. Now desire was the last thing she wanted him to feel, so it didn't matter a damn if she was as scruffy and unkempt as some street urchin in a small village on his family's vast estate.
'I'll get that sorted out straight away.Gracias,' that voice said again, sending shivers of recognition down Alannah's spine. She wasn't going to let herself feel anything. Not now. Not after all that had happened.
She heard him come into the room, felt his presence in the atmosphere, but still didn't dare bring herself to lift up her head and actually look at him. The sudden quiver of awareness that flashed through her body twisted in nerves that were already stretched, turned her natural apprehension into something that was close to a physical pain. It took all her strength to subdue it so that she could only stare at the floor, focusing her gaze on the green and grey pattern of the slightly worn carpet at her feet.
He had become aware of her silent presence at the far side of the room and out of the corner of her eye she noticed how the tall, lean body stilled, stiffened. She couldn't see his face but there was a quality in his stillness, in that worrying silence, that told her his expression was changing, turning from polite greeting to realisation, to awareness. To
Oh, dear God, but she had forgotten the way his use of her name affected her. That husky accent, the way that just the sound of his voice seemed to coil around her like warm, scented smoke, making her heart clench painfully.
She had to look at him now. She had no option. It was either that or let him guess just how much he affected her, and that was something she really didn't want him to know.
If she was honest, she'd been taken by surprise at it herself. She'd told herself that she could do this. That she could meet him, face him, tell him what he had to know and then go on her way, back to her life, the life she had built since she'd left him, all over again. She was away from him, she was free and nothing could change that. She was never going back.
But just the softly accented sound of her name on his lips had threatened that conviction disturbingly. She didn't know what it meant, but she was sure as she could be of one thing: she didn't want him to know about it.
Trite and inane as it was, it was all that she could manage. And now she had to look at him. It was either that or make it obvious that she was holding back deliberately, that she was trying to do anything but look into his face.
So she lifted her head, forced her drooping eyelids wide open and met his bronze stare head-on.
He was bigger than she remembered. Or, rather, she had forgotten how tall, how strong and imposing he was. And it seemed that the passage of time had only added to the impact he made simply by walking into a room. She couldn't help wishing that she was not sitting down. The armchair was low and squat, making her feel uncomfortably vulnerable as Raul towered over her, overwhelming and ominously threatening.
In the two years since she had seen him, time had turned him from a young man into a dynamic, mature male. His powerful frame had become tauter, stronger, tightening muscles and enhancing his forceful stature. And nowhere were the effects of time on his bone structure more pronounced than in his face. The already lean shape, the high, slanting cheekbones were emphasised by the passage of time that had etched a few lines around his eyes and mouth. His brows seemed darker, thicker, and on either side of the straight slash of a nose his bronze eyes burned like molten gold, fiercely intent on her face.
Unlike her, he was immaculately dressed, the perfectly tailored lines of the elegant steel-grey suit he wore with a crisp white shirt clinging to those honed muscles, broad shoulders and narrow hips as if they had been moulded onto him. That suit and the pristine shirt were so much Don Raul Marc n, she reflected bitterly. So much the Raul she had known in the past. A man she had rarely seen in anything other than those tailored suits, almost never anything casual and relaxed. And his mind-set was the same. Always focused, always business, always working, making money. And when he wasn't working then his attention was on the one other thing that mattered to himthe dukedom of Marquez Marc n and all the land they owned.
'Buenas tardes Alannah.' It came stiffly, curtly, with an arrogant inclination of his head, barely acknowledging her and sending stinging pricks of indignation skit-tering over her skin.
Long time, no see. The flippant words hovered on her tongue but she caught them back, swallowing them down hard, knowing they were not in the least appropriatenor would they be welcome.
'What are you doing here?'
The harsh demand in his tone drove all other thoughts from her mind, pushing her to her feet in a rush, her hands on the arms of the chair for support.
'The same as you, I presume. This is a hospital.'
The dawn of understanding in those burning eyes eased the sear of them over her skin, making her swallow again as her throat closed up in response to the sight.
'Someone is ill?' It came grimly, sharply. 'One of your family
'My brother,' Alannah managed, nodding almost fiercely for fear that he might see what was in her eyes; the tears she was having to blink back hard. She would have to come to the truth soon enough but who could blame her if she needed a little time to draw breath, to prepare herself? Find the courage to go on?
And especially when it was this man she had to tell.
'Is it bad?'
Another change of expression almost defeated her, sweeping away all the strength she had gained. His look of sympathy, of understanding, seemed genuine, so much so that it knocked her sideways, emotionally and physically. She actually staggered where she stood for a moment, uncertain fingers clutching at the chair for support. He looked as if he really caredthough she knew it was only a polite mask, assumed by social necessity. And one that would soon be wiped straight off those handsome features when she explained everything further.
The worst, she should say. But how could she tell him that when admitting what had happened brought with it so many other admissions, so many other complications?
Raul said it automatically and even though he knew that it sounded cold and distant, his voice harsh, abrupt, he didn't have the energy or the concentration to change it. It wasn't that he didn't feel sympathy for her sick brother, but at this foul end of a long, foul day Alannah was the last person he needed to see right now. The last person he wanted to see now or at any other time.
When she had walked out of his life twenty-five months before, he had been glad to see her go. More than glad. If he had never seen her again, it would have been too soon. He had let her get under his skin in a way that no other woman had ever done before or since. In fact he had come close to wanting to spend his life with her. He had even gone so far as to ask her to marry him.
But when he'd proposed she had laughed in his face.
'Why on earth would I want to marry you?' she'd said, her voice showing the scorn that was so clear in the coldness of her eyes, the mocking smile on her lips. 'That's not what I'm in this relationship for. It was funand the fact that you're so rich is great. But if you're thinking of anything permanent, forget it! That's just not going to happen.'
And that was when she had told him that she had already met someone else. The wound to his pride still burned like an open sore and her presence here like this had only wrenched away the scar that covered it. SeeingAlannah was the only thing that could make him forget just for a second exactly why he was here at all.
And that he didn't want to forget. If he could have made it that it had never happened then he would, but that was impossible. If he forgot, if he put it out of his mind for a moment, then, inevitably, at some point he had to go through the agony of remembering all over again.
'I'm sorry,' he said again, knowing that, even through the black fury and the hatred of her that had filled his mind since she had walked away from him, if she was going through one quarter of what he was feeling then it was only human to feel sympathy for another person caught in the same horror.
'Thank you.' She sounded almost as unfocused as he felt, but then that was only to be expected if her brother was very ill.
It explained the way she looked, he told himself, his numbed and bruised mind finally registering more about her than the unwanted fact that she wasAlannah Redfern, the woman he had never wanted in his life again.