And worst of all—Laney had suffered through far too many of Kassius’s business dinners in expensive restaurants, where the red-faced, oversize men all seemed to have stomachs of iron, and ate huge dinners of steak, foie gras and baked potatoes covered in butter and sour cream, then smoked cigars as they washed it all down with scotch and drank oceans of expensive wine. Their girlfriends and wives, skeletal as fashion decreed, seemed to meekly subsist on lettuce leaves and an occasional gin and diet tonic.
Kassius thought that was ludicrous and had threatened to end their engagement if Laney ever followed their example. “I like every single pound of you,” he’d told her firmly. “Don’t lose a single one.”
Laney had liked it when Kassius said it, but now she was in a panic. Because just this last week, without trying, she’d lost five pounds.
All the fault of this exhausting lifestyle, she thought grumpily. And since they had sex at all hours, she hadn’t had nearly enough sleep. No wonder her body was breaking down. She’d felt so nauseated that four days ago, she’d actually sent Kassius off alone on his business trip to Hong Kong. He’d been none too pleased about it.
She hadn’t been, either. She hated having him so far away from her, even just for a few days. Though she didn’t always love the forced luxury of their overscheduled, shallow lifestyle, she did love living with Kassius, being in his arms, in his bed. She loved that he was the first person she saw in the morning, and the last person she saw at night. It was starting to feel like...a relationship.
She shivered at the thought.
All the plans she’d once had for her life seemed like pale shadows compared to her daily joy of being with him. All thoughts of going to college or getting a job had flown out the window. The thought horrified her. Here she was, a twenty-first-century woman, but all she wanted to do, all she wanted to be, was the lover—the wife—of this intoxicating, infuriating, sexually electrifying man.
And soon, the mother of his child? They were going to be a family. As someone who’d always had to work for a paycheck, just being able to spend her days with him, for him, made her deliriously happy. Even if the activities that filled their days weren’t ones she would have necessarily chosen, somehow having Kassius beside her made it endurable. Even magical. Suddenly, all the fairy tales were making sense.
Did Kassius feel the same? she wondered. He hadn’t liked leaving her in London. He wanted her with him constantly. It was the reason why, after eight weeks together, he still hadn’t let her visit her family in New Orleans.
“You’ll see them soon enough, at the wedding,” he’d growled. “Until then, I need you with me. You’re my woman.”
Words that made her toes curl in happiness.
He was due to return from Hong Kong tonight. But it worried her. After four days spent alone in Kassius’s huge London town house, barely getting out of bed, she’d thought she’d be feeling better by now. She’d thought she would be back to her old self, and able to welcome him home properly—and by properly, she meant in bed.
Since they’d left Monaco, London had been their new home base. She’d liked the city from the moment they’d arrived at a private airport and a car had arrived to whisk them to a fancy neighborhood that Kassius told her was called Knightsbridge.
At the four-story town house, Laney had met additional house staff, besides the bodyguards and driver carrying their luggage. Four people were waiting to formally greet them as they walked in.
“Welcome home, sir,” a thin, elderly woman said.
“Thank you, Mrs. Beresford. I’d like you to meet my fiancée, Miss Laney Henry.”
Mrs. Beresford had shaken her hand politely.
But later, as Kassius led Laney up the sweeping stairs of the elegant mansion, she whispered to him, “I don’t think your housekeeper likes me.”
He’d looked at her, surprised, then shook his head in amusement. “She’s just nervous.”
That thought surprised Laney so much she stopped on the stairs. “Her, nervous?”
“You’re her new boss.”
He smiled. “As my wife, you’ll rule the home, and I have five of them—houses, I mean—with a paid staff at each. You’re now their boss.”
The thought astonished Laney. Her, the boss?
“Really?” she squeaked.
“Why? Are you afraid?”
Terrified. “Um...and they all live here?”
“Only Mrs. Beresford. But they all exist to serve our desires.” His eyes darkened, turned hungry. “As you, Laney, exist to serve mine.”
Then he’d taken her to bed.
But Laney’s whole life hadn’t been spent in bed, unfortunately. Or even on his very comfortable private jet, zipping to exotic locales.
Sadly, she was also expected to be his hostess, and his companion at social events and those awful business dinners. Those were the worst. She always feared she wasn’t interesting enough and they were laughing behind her back. When it all got too stressful, the only good cure was calling her family for a nice long chat. But even those weren’t the same as they used to be.
When she’d first phoned her grandmother and father to tell them she was engaged to Kassius, they hadn’t exactly been overjoyed. Her grandmother had been shocked and dubious. Her father had been downright mad.
And now, eight weeks later, not much had changed. Each time she called them, it was the same.
“You sure about this wedding, Laney May?” her grandmother kept repeating. “You just met the man, and marriage lasts a long time. It ain’t just about great sex.”
“Gran!” she cried, embarrassed. But talking to her father was even worse.
“What kind of man is he, to propose marriage after two days’ acquaintance?” her father growled into the phone.
“We just met, and we knew...” She blushed. “Kassius is amazing, Dad.”
“So amazing he won’t let you come home for a visit? So amazing he can’t be bothered to come meet your family and ask your father for your hand in marriage?”
“Of course he’s dying to meet you and Gran. He’s just such an important man, Dad, and so very busy...”
It had sounded pretty lame, even to her own ears.
“Busy?” he’d said scornfully. “Doing what—counting his money? Flying you all over the world on that private jet of his, traveling everywhere but your home? Face it, Laney May. The man doesn’t respect you. And he sure doesn’t respect us.”
No, talking to her family wasn’t nearly as comforting as it used to be. But at least she had assurances from Kassius’s business manager that her family had been informed they now had access to any and all financial resources they might desire. She’d been a little surprised they’d consider his offer, given their opinions about him, but since they hadn’t said no, she tried to take it as a good sign.
Her wedding day was almost here. She and Kassius were supposed to leave for New Orleans tomorrow, and their wedding would be held the day after. It was a tight schedule, but he’d been busy wrapping up a deal in Asia.
At least her wedding dress was finished—her grandmother had sent Laney her wedding gown, used fifty years earlier when she’d begun her own long, happy marriage to her grandfather. The elegant 1960s gown had been recut and tailored to Laney’s size, and lengthened for her extra two inches of height. Last week, when she’d first seen herself in it, she’d cried.
“Everything is set. Your wedding will be perfect, Miss Henry,” the wedding planner had told her that morning over the phone.
But it wouldn’t be such a perfect wedding, Laney thought unhappily now, if she was violently ill into her wedding flowers.
Maybe she should call a doctor. Because she was really starting to worry. In the four days since Kassius left, she’d existed on saltine crackers and lemon-lime soda. It seemed strange she wasn’t feeling better. She felt so tired all the time. And her breasts still felt so sensitive, when Kassius hadn’t made love to her for days. It was almost as if...
She sucked in her breath.
“Is there anything else you require, madam?” Mrs. Beresford peeked in at the door of the front sitting room. “I’m going to retire for the night.” She frowned, coming closer. “Are you quite all right, Miss Henry?”
Laney sat up straight on the sofa. “Can you help me find a doctor who does house calls?”
Two hours later, after Dr. Khan congratulated her and left the house, Laney walked back to the sofa in a daze.
She wasn’t sick. She hadn’t been feeling ill because she’d eaten too many fattening meals or traveled too much or had too much sex...or actually—she blushed—her situation was the result of precisely that last one.
She was pregnant.
“Oh, my dear,” Mrs. Beresford said gently, patting her on the shoulder, “I’m so happy for you. I did wonder all week if that might be the cause...”
“You did?” Of course Mrs. Beresford knew. Household servants were always the first to know. Often even before their employers did.
After the kindly older woman left for her own suite, Laney hunkered down on the sofa to wait for Kassius to come home from the airport. She cuddled beneath her grandmother’s homemade quilt, feeling dazed as she put her hands over her belly.