Her ready smile glowed into being. ‘I thought you were never going to come down and see this place,’ she confided helplessly.

The faintest rise of dark colour scored the slashing cheekbones that gave Leandro’s handsome face such strong lines. He glanced across the yard at the building housing the estate office and marvelled that it had not previously occurred to him that his wife was likely to become friendly with a man she was working virtually next door to several days a week.

‘You’ve managed an impressive transformation in here,’ Leandro conceded, quietly noting the scrupulous organisation and order that distinguished the studio. Molly might rush at the business of life like a tiny, intense and energetic tornado, but she did not wreak havoc on her surroundings.

‘I couldn’t have done it without Fernando’s help. He’s been invaluable. He introduced me to one of his friends who’s a painter. He was able to advise me on where to buy the kiln and my supplies,’ she told him.

His lean, powerful face taut and his sense of guilt growing, for he had offered her no support, Leandro picked up a bowl with a smooth, swirling mother-of-pearl finish and examined it. ‘This is very attractive, mi cielo. I should have done more to help and I’m relieved that Santos has made himself useful. Do you see much of him?’

Sensing his edgy mood, Molly was becoming tense. ‘I see him most days-I mean, his office is only across the yard.’

Luxuriant black lashes low over his stunning dark golden eyes, Leandro held her questioning appraisal levelly. ‘You need to be more careful in your dealings with him-’

‘What the heck is that supposed to mean?’ Molly launched at him in immediate angry interruption. ‘What are you trying to imply?’

Her husband looked grim. ‘I’m not implying anything. I trust you. I don’t think you’re foolish enough to get involved with another man, but I do think you’re likely to be careless of appearances. In a rural area like this where people have old-fashioned ideas about the sexes that can cause problems.’

‘I haven’t done anything that anyone could take amiss!’ Molly exclaimed.

‘I’m afraid that you must have done because one of my relatives came to tell me about it today-’

Molly took a furious step forward. ‘To talk about me? And tell you exactly what?’

‘No specifics, just a lot of suggestive mumbling and raised brows and dark hints,’ Leandro volunteered in a wry tone, reaching out for her small slender hands and enclosing them deftly in his. ‘I would not discuss you with anyone. I’m just warning you to watch your step for your own sake. This isn’t like London. You are a person of importance here and your every move will be noted. Our neighbours and employees do talk about us and I don’t want my wife to become the focus of damaging gossip.’

‘I haven’t done anything that anyone could talk about-unless it was your mother. I imagine Doña Maria could come up with a pretty good story to drop me in it if she wanted to!’ Molly condemned bitterly, yanking her hands free of his in a pointed gesture of condemnation.

His surprise at that response patent, Leandro frowned down at her. ‘This has nothing to do with my mother-’

‘You’re accusing me of getting too friendly with Fernando and it’s absolutely not true.’

‘I’ve nothing more to say on this issue and I’m not going to be drawn into an argument about it.’ Leandro surveyed her with forbidding cool. ‘I didn’t intend to upset you.’

‘Of course, I’m upset. You approach me with no names, no facts and tell me to watch my every move like I’m some silly airhead of a schoolgirl likely to cause you embarrassment! Well, I may not be from a fancy aristocratic background like yours, but I do know how to behave,’ she proclaimed fiercely.

‘Is Santos making a nuisance of himself?’ Leandro shot at her suddenly. ‘Is that the problem?’

‘No, you’re the problem, Leandro!’ Molly was trembling with furious resentment. It was humiliating that he should feel the need to warn her about her conduct with an employee. She shook her keys noisily and waited at the exit until he had walked past her. She then locked up the studio and stalked back towards her own vehicle.

‘Leave it here. I’ll take you back. I don’t want you to drive in a temper,’ Leandro breathed in a raw undertone, angry that she had reacted so badly to what he viewed as a mild and reasonable admonition. He was already wondering if there was more substance to the gossip than the narrow-minded rumours without foundation that he had assumed.

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