‘My anger dates back a lot further than yesterday. There was no “situation” until you decided that you were in love with me and refused to back off.’

Her natural colour receded under that surprise attack. ‘But—’

‘Before I married you, I saw only your youth and vulnerability. I didn’t appreciate how far you would go to get what you want!’ Eyes burnished gold with anger sought out and held hers. ‘The first time you approached me I should have squashed you beyond all hope of recovery! But I was reluctant to hurt you. You played on that—’

‘No…’ Star made a tiny awkward movement of appeal with her hand. ‘Not deliberately—’

‘I thought you were sweet, essentially harmless…’ A roughened laugh was wrenched from Luc. ‘But from the minute you came into my life you’ve been as destructive as an enemy tank!’

Star was paralysed to the spot by the shattering effect of Luc casting aside his reserve and getting truly personal. The anger and bitterness he was revealing really shook her up.

‘I’m drunk…’ Luc breathed grimly, as if she had asked a question.

Luc drunk? That struck Star as so extraordinary she just gaped at him. He didn’t look drunk, but he certainly wasn’t behaving with his usual chilling self-command. He had compared her to an enemy tank. She tried to force a smile at that colourful image, but she couldn’t. Shock went on spreading through her, and beneath it only guilt was rising in strength.

‘A lot of men would have taken you up on your invitation that winter.’ Shimmering dark eyes welded to her in unconcealed condemnation. ‘You were very sexy. I was never unaware of your attraction. I was never indifferent, but I kept my distance.’

‘Luc, I didn’t kn—’

‘I went against my father’s wishes when I reunited you with your mother. And how was I rewarded?’

At that unwelcome question, Star’s tummy just flipped.

‘One lousy kiss and I end up having to get married,’ Luc framed jaggedly, pale with sheer outrage at that recollection. ‘But that wasn’t the end of it, was it? You still wouldn’t take no for an answer.’

‘Please don’t say any more, Luc…’ Star urged in desperation. ‘If I could go back and change things, I would, but I can’t! I was obsessed with you…and I’m sorry…but I couldn’t help that, nor could I see how selfish I was being.’

‘You waited until I had a concussion,’ Luc continued between gritted white teeth, his husky accent fracturing audibly. ‘Then you slunk into bed with me when I was asleep. How low can a woman sink?’

Star studied the rug and watched it blur under her filling eyes. Seen through his eyes, framed in his words, her behaviour seemed even worse in retrospect. Yet after that night she had judged herself equally harshly. That was why she had left France. She hadn’t run away; she had simply seen that the very least she could do was get out of Luc’s life and leave him in peace.

Momentarily, she was tempted to mention the role which Gabrielle Joly had played in that final decision. But now that Gabrielle was gone from Luc’s life Star was too proud and still too sensitive on that subject to admit how disillusioned and hurt she had been by the other woman’s apparent hold on Luc. In those days, their marriage had been very much a fake, she reminded herself.

‘And when I finally dared to tell you that no woman was going to trap me into a marriage I didn’t want with sex, what did you do?’ Luc’s dark deep drawl had dropped to a seething whisper of what sounded like near uncontrollable rage.

‘The only thing I could do. I went away,’ she answered heavily.

At that response, Luc shuddered. ‘You went away,’ he echoed unsteadily. ‘You did not just go away!’

In bewilderment, Star stared at him. ‘What are you getting at?’

‘You left me a letter telling me you couldn’t live without me and vanished into thin air!’ Luc shot at her in savage condemnation, devastating her with the force of his anger.

‘What was wrong with that?’

‘What was wrong with that?’ Luc practically whispered his incredulity at that response, black fury emanating from him in blistering waves. ‘I thought you’d gone off to drown yourself! I had the moat dragged…I put frogmen in the bloody lake!’

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