Luc studied her with even more glacial cool. Star got redder and redder, and eventually dropped her head. ‘I’m sorry.’ She hesitated, and then rushed on, ‘Are you going to avoid me now? I couldn’t bear that!’

‘Of course I will not avoid you,’ Luc rebutted in exasperation. ‘But nor will we discuss this subject again. Is that understood?’

That same week, Luc had taken Emilie and Star to a dinner party held by some friends of his. Gabrielle Joly had been a guest as well, seated close to Luc and regularly engaging him in conversation. Gabrielle, with her endless legs, gorgeous blonde hair, exquisite face and svelte sophistication. Star felt so sick at the sight of what she feared might be the competition that she just couldn’t eat.

‘Tell me what you know about that Gabrielle woman,’ Star urged Emilie later that evening.

Emilie reddened almost guiltily. ‘I believe she was once a fashion model.’ The older woman hesitated. ‘I know no other way of putting this, Star…Gabrielle is Luc’s mistress, and has been for quite some time.’

‘His…mistress?’ The bottom fell right out of Star’s world.

‘Don’t look so horrified, Star. Frenchmen have always made convenient arrangements of that nature. Luc will never ask his mistress to play hostess at the chateau, but he’ll socialise freely with her everywhere else. Gabrielle would’ve been invited for his benefit this evening. She uses a house just a few miles from here.’

Pale as death, hearing the hollow note in Emilie’s recitation, Star produced a ragged laugh. ‘I wish you’d mentioned her existence sooner, Emilie.’

‘I didn’t want to put you off Luc,’ Emilie admitted ruefully. ‘Whether he realises it or not, he’s already very much attracted to you. Your warmth draws him like a magnet. When he walks into a room, you’re the first person he looks for, and if you’re not there he can’t settle until he knows where you are.’

‘But he already has her—’

‘Oh, well, if you can’t accept that a man of almost thirty comes with some worldly experience, you’d be wise to give up on him. And that would be a shame. We all need to be loved. If he doesn’t meet the right girl soon, the kind of girl who’s not afraid to fight through those barriers of his, he’s likely to end up as unhappy as his poor father is now.’

Was it any wonder that with such constant eager encouragement Star continued to love Luc to distraction? And Emilie might have known how Star felt about Luc, but Star didn’t confide in her mother, who was by then renting an apartment in Nantes. Determined to have nothing to do with the Sarrazins, Juno refused to visit Star at the chateau. For her daughter to love Luc Sarrazin would have seemed the ultimate disloyalty. So Star kept quiet.

But then fate took a hand: Roland Sarrazin had a heart attack and was rushed into hospital with Emilie by his side. In all the fuss, Star forgot that she should have visited her mother that day. That evening, Luc returned from the hospital, looking exhausted. Star rushed to offer sympathy.

‘Do you want to talk about how you feel?’ she asked.

‘No.’

‘Do you want me to talk about something else?’

‘No.’

Luc nodded grim agreement.

‘But you can’t want to be on your own!’ Closing her hand over his sleeve to prevent him from moving away, as he always did when she got too close, Star looked up at him with pleading eyes. ‘Isn’t there anything I can do to make you feel better?’

Glittering dark eyes gazed down into hers. ‘Go—’

‘Luc, please—’

And then he just grabbed her, literally grabbed her up into his arms and brought his mouth down hot and hard and hungry on hers. The shock of that sudden onslaught knocked Star sideways, but his explosive passion blazed up through her like a bush fire. She couldn’t get enough of him and clung like superglue. When Juno was shown into Luc’s library by the housekeeper, Star was welded to every available inch of Luc in enraptured surrender.

There was the most awful scene, with her mother hurling all sorts of ridiculous accusations and threatening to go to the newspapers. After Juno stormed out again, Luc, who had uttered not a single word in his own defence, turned to Star, where she was cringing with shamefaced guilt. ‘We’ll have to move fast to spike your mother’s guns.’

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