‘Duration?’ she repeated dutifully, rather like someone knowing only about five words of a foreign language but working hard to follow and comprehend.

‘Inevitably this attraction will burn out.’

As Star stiffened, Luc locked both arms round her, brilliant megawatt eyes intent on her now troubled face. ‘On the other hand, it could last for ages,’ he extended, quick as a flash. ‘But the other little condition I need to mention is that you’ll have to be more discreet as my lover than you were as my wife. Emilie must not know.’

Star worked out the significance of that assurance very, very slowly, because her brain was functioning very, very slowly. And when it came to working out something that crucial to her life and her happiness, and she saw with stricken insight that nothing but sheer pain and disappointment awaited her, she didn’t want to think any more.

But comprehension still marched on at supersonic speed. She had picked Luc up wrong. And wasn’t that huge misapprehension as to his meaning entirely self-inflicted? She had been pathetically eager to believe that Luc was willing to give their marriage a real chance. But he had no intention of doing that. He still wanted a divorce.

Yet, in spite of that, he could ask her to stay on in France as his lover. Lover? A euphemism. Without love, she would just be his sexual partner, his mistress. Did he really think that she was that desperate to hold onto him? Enormous hurt enfolded Star like a blanket, chilling her overheated body to ice.

‘Let go of me…’ she said unsteadily.

‘Yes…switch off that blasted phone of yours!’ Luc agreed in exasperation, and willingly released her.

‘Phone?’ Star blinked, and only then did she hear the irritating buzz. She peered blankly at her bag, which was lying in a heap where she had left it earlier.

‘I’ll do it!’ Luc offered.

‘No…no!’ Suddenly Star was flying off the bed and running to answer that phone as if her life depended on it.

In a sense it did. As the pain of renewed rejection settled on her, she just wanted to run and run from Luc. She snatched the mobile phone from her bag. Rory’s voice greeted her. The tears came in reaction then, great, unstoppable rivulets pouring down her quivering cheeks. ‘Rory…oh Rory!’ she sobbed, and raced for the bedroom door to take the call in private.

CHAPTER SIX

STAR paced the floor of the giant front hall at Chateau Fontaine. ‘I’ve got to be honest, Rory…I still care about Luc. I can’t lie about that. All I’ve got to offer you is friendship, and you’d probably be better off without it while I’m feeling like this…’

‘You’re not short-changing me.’ Rory’s sigh carried down the phone line. ‘You’ve never offered anything else; you’ve always held back.’

Still in the act of zipping up a pair of beige chinos, Luc reached the galleried landing above just as Star spoke again.

‘I’m so grateful you’re still speaking to me…you know, after everything I’ve just told you. I really, really love you for that!’ Star admitted with tears stinging her eyes again.

‘You married a really smooth rat—’

‘I know he’s a rat, but maybe that was the attraction,’ Star muttered. ‘I imagined I saw all sorts of other things, but now I see how stupid I was, and that has to be for the best, hasn’t it?’

This was not eavesdropping, Luc told himself. He was in his own home listening to his wife telling her boyfriend she loved him. Loved him. The way she had loved him once? He wanted to yank the phone out of her hand and smash it to bits. Star was his wife! Wheeling round in his tracks, Luc strode away again, suddenly knowing only one thing for sure. He had no desire to hear any more.

But the strangest sensation of cold had begun spreading through Luc. He didn’t like it. It was as if a big black cloud was rising at the back of his mind. In the space of little more than twenty-four hours, Star had got under his skin to the extent that he felt he wasn’t in control any more. He liked that suspicion even less. But the inexplicable gap between what he was thinking and what he was actually doing could no longer be ignored. How else did he rationally explain asking Star to be his mistress? Where had that insane idea come from? Exactly when had a concept that far removed from reality crept into his subconscious mind?

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