Suddenly Luc dragged his mouth from hers, bracing his hands momentarily on her shoulders to steady her, and laughed softly. ‘We have an audience…’

He strode away. Blinking in bemusement, Star spun round. Luc was now hunkered down by the pram, all his attention directed at Venus, who was holding out her arms and making little excitable noises of welcome. Feeling like a third wheel, Star stiffened and bit her lower lip.

‘Star…’ Luc extended his hand.

‘What?’

‘I have time to make up with you, but time to make up with our son and daughter as well,’ he murmured smoothly. Her face burned like a house fire. She had never been so grateful that he wasn’t looking at her. If she had been sixteen, she’d have stormed off in furious embarrassment. Four years older, she compressed her lips and approached the pram. Tugging her down beside him, Luc curved a strong arm round her.

‘This is what I want them to see. You and I together and relaxed,’ he shared softly. ‘Aside of weddings and funerals, I never saw my parents together. They despised each other. If they had to communicate they used the phone. I thought that was normal. I thought all families lived like that…each of them entirely separate under the same roof.’

Her discomfiture was forgotten. The images Luc evoked chilled her.

‘That’s why I want something better for our children,’ Luc continued in the same level tone. ‘Because I know the cost of getting something less. I’m not prepared to play at being married while you make up your mind about what you want to do.’

‘I wasn’t suggesting we—’

‘You were…and if you start out with the belief that it’s all right to fail, failure becomes that much more likely.’ Releasing her from his light hold, Luc vaulted back upright.

‘That’s not how I see it.’ Her aquamarine eyes frustrated, she scrambled up.

Luc gave her a cloaked scrutiny. ‘I won’t be put on trial.’

‘I’m not putting you on trial, for goodness’ sake!’

His eyes glittered like ice-fire in a shaft of sunlight. ‘I’ve already lost out on the first year of my children’s lives and yet you’re expecting me to spend the next few months wondering whether we’re likely to end up fighting over them in court!’

Taken aback by that statement, Star swallowed uncertainly.

‘And not only that,’ Luc continued with glacial cool, ‘At the same time you actually expect me to behave as if our marriage is normal and treat you as my wife—a bond which requires a sense of trust and security. What do you think I am? A split personality?’

‘How long did it take you to work out that argument?’ Star asked with helpless curiosity, eyes now wide with wonderment.

Disconcerted by that offbeat question, and by the way she was studying him, Luc frowned.

Star gave a slow, rueful shake of her bright head. ‘Never mind. I have to admit that I’m torn between resentment and admiration. You’ve made a very good point and pretty much trashed my argument.’

Without another word, she threaded her feet into her sandals and then whisked up the rug and carefully folded it. She planted the rug into his surprised hands and then, retracing her steps, wheeled the pram in the direction of the path. She glanced back, noting Luc was still poised like a devastatingly handsome statue in the same spot.

‘Aren’t you coming?’ she asked in surprise.

‘What you just said…’ Luc drawled as he strode onto the path. ‘What did it…mean?’

‘I’ll tell you when I work it out. Mmm…’ she sighed with a sunny smile. ‘I love the smell of the woods.’

‘Star, we need to sort this out—’

‘Relax…unwind…loosen your tie,’ Star urged pleadingly.

He wanted to organise their marriage along the strict lines of his daily schedule. Nothing unexpected, nothing outside normal boundaries, everything under his rational, structured control. He couldn’t help himself. His brain was like a steel trap. And arguing with him was a waste of time. She wasn’t about to be browbeaten into changing her mind on the spur of the moment. She was a lateral thinker who worked on gut instinct. Luc was just going to have to accept that.

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