Struggling to cope with her fluttering heart, she was oblivious to the collective fluttering of every female within a fifty-yard radius. By the time Luiz finally stopped a few feet away and stood there, one hand dug in the pocket of his dark jacket, the other sweeping his lush hair, which since their last meeting had grown, away from his forehead, Nell felt physically sick.
Brace yourself, Nell, she told herself. Don’t lose it, girl. She picked up the book she had dropped on the floor and adopted an exaggerated expression of surprise as she straightened up.
‘Luiz? Sorry, I didn’t see you there.’ Nell struggled not to wince. Luiz might be extraordinarily lacking in vanity considering he was a lot of people’s idea of perfect—or was that just hers?—but even he was not going to swallow that.
‘Some things do not change.’
But he had, Luiz reflected, and there was no going back to the man he had been. He didn’t intend to do so; his life for the first time in years was going forward. A flicker of tenderness warmed the somber, shadowy darkness of his eyes as he added huskily, ‘You still lie very badly, querida.’ ‘You shouldn’t be here,’ she husked. ‘We had an agreement…’ Her eyes drank him in, her nostrils widening as her starved senses inhaled the scent of his body. She took a step back and almost tripped over one of the bright floor cushions.
In her head she could see his arms opening and her walking into them. She blinked to clear the scarily real product of her wishful thinking.
‘Hello, Nell, and for the record I agreed to nothing.’
‘What are you doing here?’ She missed the casual she was aiming for by about a million miles and produced shaky scared.
The muscles in his brown throat worked convulsively as the knot of emotion behind his breastbone hardened. ‘I came to see you.’
‘You look…’ He stopped, unable to continue as the impulse to gather her in his arms became overwhelming.
Why was he fighting it? It was where she belonged.
Nell, practically able to feel the tension that rolled off his rigid body in waves, inserted, ‘Well, I can’t look much worse than you do. When was the last time you had a decent meal?’
‘Meal?’ he echoed, looking at her as though she had gone mad. ‘I’ve no time for food.’
Nell hid her anxiety behind a sarcastic façade. ‘You make it sound optional.’
‘I have not come here to discuss dietary requirements.’
‘You should not be here at all. I’m at work.’ She swallowed as tears filled her eyes. ‘Please, Luiz, I really can’t take this. You…don’t, Jack,’ she added, directing a distracted glance towards the small figure with a grubby face and very sticky hands who pulled urgently at Luiz’s immaculately tailored trouser leg.
She privately blessed the child for the interruption. Another second and she might have said something embarrassingly stupid. ‘I’m sorry, your suit…’
‘Relax…’ Luiz recommended. Dropping down into a graceful squat, head tilted a little to one side, he looked at the chubby-faced child. ‘It’s fine.’
Watching him smile at the toddler made Nell’s heart squeeze in her chest. Her hands went to her stomach. He would make a great dad. Was she being totally selfish refusing to marry him? Did she have the right to deprive her baby of a full-time dad?
She shook her head. A week earlier it had all seemed perfectly straightforward, but the intervening time had lessened her conviction—was she doing the right thing? What were the right reasons for marriage? Was compromise so bad?
Feeling torn apart by the arguments going round and round in her head, Nell wrapped her arms around herself and hugged tight in a protective gesture. It was impossible to make an objective decision when she ached so much to be with him it physically hurt.
Luiz, a smile curving his lips, glanced up at her. Nell, unable to hide her feelings—it was so damn exhausting and he was so damn gorgeous—watched his expression change, the humour fade, and saw the flicker of male satisfaction replace it in his dark eyes.
A second firm tug on his trouser leg dragged Luiz’s attention back to the child.
‘What can I do for you, Jack?’
The little boy fixed him with a critical eye. ‘You’re big, but not as big as my dad,’ he added loyally.
‘I expect you will be big one day like your dad.’
‘Have you got a dog?’
‘I do have a dog.’
‘He’s got a dog!’ Jack shouted to anyone who would listen. ‘I want a dog.’ He thought about it a bit and added, ‘I need a dog. My mum says dogs are—’