‘I have a one-track mind.’ His sensual lips twitched at the correction, but his manner remained just as intense as he continued to speak, ‘One-track when it comes to one beautiful witch with eyes that see into my soul.’

‘Me?’ she said in a small voice.

‘You, querida.’

He smiled and the rush of emotion that surged through Nell made her knees sag in ecstatic relief. ‘You think about me?’

Luiz bent his head and brushed her delicate eyelids with his lips before framing her face in his hands and declaring in a voice that shook with emotion, ‘I go to sleep thinking about you, I wake up thinking about you and in between I think about you, Nell…’ He dragged a not quite steady hand through his dark hair and admitted, ‘This situation needs to be dealt with—I am not functioning well.’ As understatements went this was massive.

Despite the incredible nature of his confession and the way her optimistic romantic heart had gone into happy-ending mode, Nell regarded him with wary caution.

‘How do you propose dealing with it?’

‘Marry me.’

She turned her head away to hide the tears that sprang to her eyes. ‘We have been here before, Luiz.’

‘I know, and I know why you said no. It was not because you don’t love me, because I think…no, I know you do, Nell. You don’t have to say anything…’

Nell looked him and thought, Good, because at that moment she couldn’t have spoken if her life depended on it.

‘Marry me, Nell, because I love you. Is that not what you wanted me to say, mi querida?’

Nell shook her head, unable to allow herself to believe the message that shone in his incredible eyes. ‘You’re saying this now because you know that’s what you think I want to hear…?’ She couldn’t bear for him to say the things she longed to hear if he didn’t mean them—it would be too painful. ‘I can’t bear it!’

Luiz felt the broken whisper like a knife to his heart. He stepped into her, his hands closing over the feminine curve of her hips, moulding her soft body into his hard angularity as he drew her towards him until they stood thigh to thigh. He breathed in her scent… Madre de Dios, he had missed her.

‘No, I’m saying it now because I can’t keep it in any longer.’

Nell heard with wonder the total sincerity in his voice and saw infinite tenderness in his face as he looked at her. She felt her doubts and uncertainties vaporize; she felt lighter than she had done in weeks.

‘No, I’m saying it now,’ he continued in the same driven voice, ‘because I want the world to hear.’

Nell loosed one hand and, with a strangled sob that caused his brow to crease in anxiety, she dashed it across her tear-filled eyes.

He cupped the side of her face with one big hand and rubbed his thumb across the gentle curve of her cheek.

‘Don’t cry,’ he begged. ‘I cannot bear it. I have missed you so much, mi querida. I have been a fool, a coward.’ The self-disgust in his face spoke volumes. ‘I told myself that a man only loves once in his life, because it seemed to me that a man could only survive losing the sort of love I had with Rosa once. After she died I retreated into myself and constructed walls.

‘But I realise now that I didn’t really survive. Part of me has been dead, Nell.’ He looked at her with glowing, loving eyes and clasped her hand to his chest, pressing it against his heart. ‘Until you, mi querida, woke it up.’

A little cry was wrenched from Nell’s aching throat. The tears that clung to her eyelashes were cleansing.

There was wonder in his eyes as his glance drifted across her face. ‘You are incredible, so beautiful—no wonder I fell in love with you at first sight.’

Nell’s throat ached with emotion as she lifted her hand to his lips and said, ‘Hush, you don’t have to say that—’

She cut him off with a shake of her head as she struggled to be grown up and mature about this. He had baggage—it was not rational to expect him to come to her as a blank slate.

Rosa had been his first love. She could ask him to choose between them and he might even feel he should, but Nell knew that in the long run he would resent her for it.

‘I believe you love me, but I know that you’ll never love me the way you loved Rosa.’ She didn’t want him to feel he had to compensate by pretending he felt things he didn’t.

‘I loved Rosa not as I love you?’ He tilted his head to one side as if considering her words. Then nodded and said, ‘This is true.’

Nell smiled in the face of her misery and told herself she could settle for being his last love and not his first.

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