She regarded him as if he had taken leave of his wits.

‘If you laugh…if you laugh…’ Luc warned her thickly.

But Star was already picturing the extreme anxiety it would have taken to persuade Luc to embark on such a search. Her stomach turned over sickly. There was no risk of her being amused.

‘Not once did it occur to you that I might be concerned for your welfare. Not once in all those months we were apart did you even phone to tell me that you were all right!’ Swinging away from her, Luc sent the goblet in his hand flying into the fireplace, where it exploded noisily into crystal fragments.

Star studied those gleaming fragments in deep, deep shock. ‘I…I didn’t think—’

‘You don’t ever. You live every day like it’s going to be your last. You don’t look back, you don’t look forward, you just do what you feel like. That’s a luxury some of us have never known,’ Luc stated glacially, his anger clearly spent.

Trembling in the face of all those sins he had piled up into a giant weight with which to crush her, Star was parchment-pale. Irresponsible, selfish, flighty. It seemed she had no redeeming graces. She was guilty as hell, she conceded wretchedly. She had thrown herself at him. She had also allowed him to marry her when she should have confronted her mother and at least tried to persuade her into withdrawing her unjust threats. During their brief time together after their marriage, she had refused to accept rejection. But, surprisingly, it appeared that in Luc’s eyes her biggest sin had been vanishing and failing to contact him in all the months that had followed.

‘You even persuaded Emilie to pretend that she didn’t know where you were all that time,’ Luc concluded grimly. ‘Do you think I didn’t realise that today? Emilie who might have been my mother, had my father had the courage to stand by her!’

Her utter confusion at that allusion made him release a weary laugh.

‘You see nothing but what relates directly to you.’ Luc shook his proud dark head in despair. ‘Why do you think it was so important for Emilie to be there for my father when he was dying? Why do you think her presence was such a comfort? When they were young, they were in love. But my grandfather disapproved because Emilie was a poor relation. My father was afraid of losing out to his younger brother in the inheritance stakes and he gave Emilie up. She went on to make a happy marriage; he didn’t.’

Listening to Luc spell out what she felt she should have sensed or worked out for herself made Star feel even worse. It was like the missing piece in a puzzle, which she had been too self-absorbed to recognise as a puzzle…Emilie’s constant attendance on Roland Sarrazin that winter, her quiet, but undeniably deep grief when he finally passed away.

‘Emilie felt sorry for him, desperately sorry for him, because he never stopped caring for her. After my mother died, my father would have married Emilie, but she turned him down.’

‘You’re right…’ Star mumbled ruefully. ‘I don’t see anything that’s not directly under my nose. I thought I was so perceptive too.’

‘Go to bed…it’s three in the morning.’

Star still hadn’t told him about Venus and Mars. Now the prospect of making that announcement loomed over her like a death sentence. If he didn’t hate her yet, he could only be a hair’s breadth from doing so. She saw that in so many ways Luc had been amazingly tolerant of her behaviour. And she didn’t think tolerance came naturally to him. Indeed, with his legendary reputation for cold rationality and ruthlessness, all of a sudden it was very hard to grasp why Luc had allowed one foolish teenager to cause him so much grief…

‘Just one more thing…’ Luc remarked flatly, breaking into her thoughts. ‘What I said about buying a house here for you? It was a foolish impulse, and I apologise for making the suggestion.’

‘Maybe you wanted revenge…’ Star suddenly felt as if she had been smacked in the face with the ultimate of rejections. His apology was undeniably sincere. Evidently one good long look at the catastrophic results of having her in his life had cured Luc of the smallest desire to continue their relationship in any form. And she really didn’t feel that she could blame him, which felt even worse.

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