That information had genuinely shaken Luc. The suggestion that Star might have been involved in ripping off Emilie had turned his stomach; Star had always been so honest.

However, what had truly shattered his legendary nerves of steel during that interview was hearing the entirely incidental news that Star had apparently become the mother of twins. Infants still in hospital at the time of Star’s visit to Emilie last autumn. A mother…Luc’s teenage bride, Luc’s runaway wife. Star had given birth to another man’s children while she was still his wife!

Luc had been incandescent at that revelation. He recalled little beyond that point. And he still felt wild with rage. He wanted to smash something; he wanted blood to flow. How dared Star do something so sordid? How dared she run around sleeping with other men while she was still legally married to him? But then she was faithfully following in her mother’s footsteps, wasn’t she? Juno, whose dangerous influence he had impulsively tried to protect her from. What a fool he had been to have any faith in the daughter of a blackmailer!

No doubt Star currently believed herself safe from retribution. In spite of all his efforts over the past eighteen months, Luc had been unable to find out where his runaway wife was living. But that very morning Luc had obtained entrance to the art gallery which Juno had abandoned. There he had found the address book which the older woman had left behind in her hasty departure…

* * *

That evening, Star had just finished settling the twins into their cots when the ancient front doorbell shrilled noisily on the old servants’ call board in the kitchen. Only a stranger would go to the front entrance, which was hardly ever used. Indeed, the bolts had long since rusted into place. But, even though there was a sign directing all callers to the rear entrance, it was amazing how many people chose to ignore it.

Not in the mood to rush out of the back door and trudge all the way round to the front, Star groaned. The bell shrieked again in two long, ferocious bursts. She tensed, wondering if urgent need lay behind such unreasonable impatience. Perhaps a walker had been injured or a car had crashed out on the road.

She raced out into the teeth of the wind that had been rising steadily throughout the day. It blasted her copper hair back from her brow and plastered her long fringed skirt to her legs, making it difficult for her to move quickly. As she struggled round the wall into shelter, she winced at the racket the scaffolding was making as it rattled in the gale.

The first thing her attention centred on was a stunningly expensive sports car, with a sleek golden bonnet. With disconcertion, her gaze whipped from the car to the tall, dark male positioned by the Victorian bellpull. Luc…it was Luc! But how could it be Luc? With Emilie Auber sworn to secrecy about her whereabouts, how could he possibly have found out where she was living?

The sheer shock of recognition stopped Star dead in her tracks. A wave of disorientating dizziness currented through her. She rocked back unsteadily on her heels and shivered violently in reaction. Registering her presence, Luc strode towards her, his devastatingly dark and handsome face hard as granite.

Huge aquamarine eyes fixed to him as her head tipped back to take in all of him. He was so big. Somehow she had forgotten how big. There he stood, six feet three inches of potent masculine intimidation, exuding a twenty-two-carat sophistication that came as naturally to him as breathing. He was, after all, one of the most powerful investment bankers in the world. He had the sleek, honed elegance of a prowling jaguar and a physical presence that was sheer intimidation.

Eyes dark as midnight glittered down like shards of ice crystal into Star’s. A pulse at the base of her slender throat beat convulsively fast and made it impossible for her to catch her breath.

‘Shock…horror,’ Luc enumerated with a sibilant softness that trickled down her sensitive spine like a hurricane warning. ‘You still wear every thought and feeling on your face, mon ange.’

While he still showed nothing, Star reflected in feverish abstraction, her attention glued to the smooth, hard planes of his lean, strong face. ‘Luc…’ she managed in a choky little voice before the tidal wave of horribly familiar guilt engulfed her and reduced her to squirming silence instead.

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