It was bittersweet, watching him at such a domestic task, and it took her back to Greece. Except the man she’d known then wasn’t this man before her. He’d been a mirage concocted to seduce a naïve foreigner into a brief romance.
The only thing real between them had been the incredible sexual compulsion that had led, on her side, to impossible fantasies. The affection, connection and understanding—those had been figments of her imagination.
Isla set her jaw and tried to survey him with a clear head. It wasn’t just his clothes that had altered. He held himself differently, with rigid shoulders and a guarded expression.
He was uncomfortable? He deserved to be.
He swung around, gaze capturing hers, and she felt it like a blow to her heart. Those leonine eyes glowed molten gold, taking her straight back to the wonder of his lovemaking and the tender acceptance she’d felt in his arms.
Clearly it was a trick of the light.
She blinked. There, the impression was gone. His eyes were brown and unreadable.
He didn’t move, just surveyed her in a way that made her feel scraped bare.
In the past she’d revelled in the fact he took his time to see her, understand her, make her feel unique and appreciated. Now she knew it was a clever seduction technique. He’d probably been seducing gullible women for years. It meant nothing.
She’d meant nothing. He’d told her so and backed it up with threats of legal action if she contacted him again.
Her heart dipped. She’d had a lifetime of feeling like an outsider. Theo’s rejection had devastated her because she’d finally let down her defences. She’d believed in him, in them.
What was he doing here?
Whatever his motivations, this man was trouble. With a huff of feigned impatience she moved to the edge of the couch as if to get the tea herself but he forestalled her.
‘Don’t move.’ He didn’t raise his voice but there was no mistaking it as anything other than a command.
Deftly he assembled plates and mugs, poured tea and shared out the food. He put hers on the little table beside the couch, then with a stern look as if warning her from moving, he took a plate and mug through to Rebecca.
As soon as he left the room Isla leaned back, closing her eyes and suppressing a shudder of reaction. Being close to him again made her feel too much. She’d like to pretend it was simply surprise and anger but it was far more. The tell-tale pulse between her legs told its own story, as if her eager body still hadn’t got the message that he was trouble.
Her mouth wobbled and she bit hard on her bottom lip, grappling with unresolved feelings she’d tried so hard to conquer.
When she opened her eyes, he was in the doorway but she pretended not to notice. Instead she sipped her tea, clasping the mug in her palms as if its heat could counteract the chill crackling her bones.
The door snicked shut and he strolled closer. With every step the air thickened, making it harder to breathe. She took another sip and wished she’d started with the brownie. Her stomach felt hollow but it was roiling so much she didn’t want to test it by eating in front of him.
‘When you’ve had that I’ll take you to a doctor.’
Her head snapped up and she saw him, stance wide, cashmere coat thrust aside and hands shoved in his pockets, drawing the fabric of his trousers taut over powerful thighs.
‘A doctor. You’re as white as milk and you’ve lost weight.’ He frowned, his gaze skimming her collarbone. ‘You look gaunt.’
Isla clutched her tea close, her heart hammering so fast it couldn’t be good for her. She wasn’t ready for this. Had never expected to see him again, much less have him deign to talk with her.
‘Thanks for your opinion. But I don’t need a doctor. I’m perfectly healthy.’
His eyebrows rose. ‘Fainting for no reason isn’t a sign of good health.’
Deliberately she shrugged. ‘I imagine no one reacts well, coming face to face with the single worst mistake of their life.’
He stiffened, streaks of colour slashing those high cheekbones. But instead of retreating he moved closer.
‘That doesn’t explain the weight loss or the faint.’
Isla flattened her lips. She could tell him. She should tell him.
But her one attempt to contact him since returning to England had produced a threat of legal action. That rankled. Yet here he was on her turf, swaggering in as if he had a right to be here, demanding explanations.
Isla felt like she was on a seesaw, swinging wildly as the world tilted and turned upside down. ‘Why are you here? Why the sudden concern?’
It couldn’t be real.
Something flickered in those eyes and for a second she felt tremulous hope flare. The hope she thought she’d stamped out through the tough months since they’d parted.
‘Simon is worried about you.’ His words ground low as if dragged from his throat. ‘He was stunned you’d rejected his offer of work next season and that you’d dropped out of university. He knew I was coming to the UK on business and asked—’
‘Asked you to check on me?’ Isla’s laugh sounded like a winter wind rushing through an empty corridor. Not surprising as inside she felt hollow and chilled.
Of course Theo hadn’t been worried. He was acting for his friend. This was second-hand concern.
A sour tang filled Isla’s mouth and she put down her barely touched tea.
‘Amazing. I can’t imagine someone like you being close to someone as nice as Simon.’
His jaw clenched so hard he reminded her of a chiselled marble statue of a warrior, ready for battle.
Except this man’s flesh was warm and hot, not cold marble. Her palms tingled at the phantom memory of his silky skin, tight over a body of hard-packed muscle and bone.
It was the final straw. She shot to her feet. ‘You can tell Simon I’m fine. I want you to leave.’
‘Not without an explanation.’
A red mist descended, blurring the edges of the room. Vaguely Isla realised this was bad for her blood pressure, but the nerve of the man, pushing into her world and making demands…
Suddenly the energy Isla hadn’t felt in weeks was running through her veins. She sparked with indignation and roaring fury. Disillusionment and despair melded with her lifelong sense of abandonment, the knowledge that she was always second best, never important enough to matter to anyone.
She should have known better than to believe she mattered to him, but she hadn’t been able to resist building up hopes. She’d let herself believe and the disillusionment was crippling after having let down her guard.
All that hurt erupted in one lava-hot, volcanic burst.
‘I don’t owe you anything, Theo Karalis.’ She spat the words so fast it was a wonder she didn’t stumble over them. ‘If you don’t leave immediately I’ll call the police and have you charged with harassment.’ She drew a deep breath, holding his blazing stare, then spoke slowly so he heard every word. ‘I have nothing to say to a murderer.’
Excerpt slightly abridged.Reviews Return