But oh, the thought hurt. She wanted him to love her. She wanted it desperately.
If only she could believe there was some chance, no matter how small...
“If you can’t accept what I offer you,” Kassius said quietly, “perhaps it would be better if I just let you go.”
Biting her lip, she looked up at him. “Perhaps we could just get to know each other better. I know you don’t like to talk about yourself,” she added hastily, “but I could start by telling you about me. How I grew up, and—”
“I already know everything,” he interrupted, sounding bored. “I had a private investigator pull up a dossier. I know absolutely everything about you.”
She froze. “You do?”
“About—my father’s injury? And how my mother left us?”
“Since before the New Year’s Eve ball.”
So before their first kiss, Kassius had already known about her private griefs—her father’s injury, her mother’s abandonment and death. While she knew almost nothing about him at all.
Laney felt sick. Violated. “If you wanted to know about my past, you could have just asked me.”
“More efficient just to buy the information.”
A chill went through her. “What made you this way?”
“What way?” he said.
“So cold,” she whispered. “Sometimes you’re so warm, and other times...so cold. Like you don’t care about anyone and you prefer it that way.”
“That’s about right.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it?” She gave a low, strangled laugh. “I should have known, just from your wealth.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Laney looked at him steadily. “Normal people do not become billionaires. The relentless pursuit of money requires cold sacrifice and single-mindedness that few people have.”
His sensual lips curved. “You’re just now figuring that out?”
“The only ones who can do it have a hole in their hearts,” she whispered. She looked at him in the shadowy bedroom. “What caused the hole in your heart, Kassius, that’s made you willing to sacrifice your own happiness in pursuit of money and power?”
He stared at her, his jaw tight. “I was poor and made myself rich. You think that proves me heartless?”
“That’s not what I said—”
“What do you want from me, Laney?” he demanded.
“I want you to...” To let me love you. And I want you to love me. But she couldn’t say those things, because she already knew what his answer would be—dismissive, cold, sarcastic. So licking her lips, she said, “I want to know a little more about you. As your future wife, I surely have that right. The obligation!”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine. What exactly do you want to know?”
“For starters—where are you from?”
“Lots of places.” He gave her a cynical smile. “I’m a citizen of the world.”
“Sure,” she said impatiently. “But where were you born?”
“Why does that matter?”
“Your first language—”
“I speak six of them. They all hold an equal importance to me.”
“You must have a passport.”
“I have a few.” She wondered if he was joking, but he bared his teeth in a smile. “All perfectly legal, of course. I make large investments in many countries. You heard about the building project in Malaysia that will be the tallest skyscraper in the world? That’s mine. Governments are grateful. I bring high-paying jobs for their citizens.”
“And profit for yourself.”
“Of course. Why else would I do it?”
She pounced. “So why do you keep lending money to Boris Kuznetsov? His company is on life support. You have to know you’ll never get that money back. Even Mimi said so. In what way is that profitable?”
His expression turned hard. “It’s not your concern.”
“What does it have to do with Mimi? Why did you bring her here and give her diamonds? If you’re not having an affair—”
“You want to know me? You won’t learn this way. Talking isn’t how people reveal themselves. It’s how they hide.” His jaw tightened. “I’m not having an affair with Mimi du Plessis, believe me. I’ll never betray you, Laney. If you don’t want me to lie to you, don’t ask me questions I can’t answer.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“I told you. It’s the same thing.”
“I’m to just stay out of your life—is that it? Just be sweet and grateful and warm your bed, without ever challenging you? Mimi was right.” She lifted her chin. “You want a servant. Not a wife.”
“I am who I am. If you don’t like it, leave.”
His voice was cold. As if he didn’t care either way. As if he could go out and get himself a new fiancée tomorrow. Which, she thought miserably, he probably could.
While Laney was utterly trapped, both by duty and devotion.
She’d let herself fall in love him, based on the exhilarating way he’d made her feel. She hadn’t bothered to ask serious questions or properly know him. She’d just let herself fall for him like a stone.
Laney’s fingertips traced the huge diamond on her left hand. She yearned to give in to the demands of her pride, to rip the ring off her finger and throw it back in his face. She yearned to tell him exactly where he could take the ring and his cold heart.
But she couldn’t. Not now. She was pregnant with his baby.
Laney thought longingly of her grandmother, and her father, and home, and the smell of magnolia blossoms, the bright red bougainvillea and weeping cypress trees. Her family had been right about everything. Romantic dreams had blinded her to reality.
Feeling heartsick, she whispered, “What about a baby?”
His expression changed. “What about it?”
“If we...had a child. You couldn’t love our baby, either?”
“That’s different. I’d always protect my children, and make sure they felt secure and loved.”
She exhaled, closing her eyes. That decided her.
Her unborn baby hadn’t been the one to make such a foolish mistake, getting engaged and pregnant and falling in love with a man before she ever thought to ask if he could someday love her. Laney was the one who’d made the mistake. She’d be the one to suffer for it.
Laney swallowed, feeling dizzy. She forced herself to say, “I have something to tell you.”
Kassius looked irritated, as if he assumed she was going to say something he didn’t want to deal with. Like I love you.
“Look, Laney.” He clawed back his dark hair. “It’s been a long day. We’re leaving for New Orleans tomorrow, and then we have the wedding the day after. I’ve had enough. I’m going to bed.”
I’m going to bed. They hadn’t seen each other for four days, and he wanted to go to bed alone. It was the first time he hadn’t tried to touch her or lure her into bed with his wickedly seductive smile. Lure her to bed? He hadn’t even bothered to kiss her hello!
Why? Why? Did it have something to do with Mimi du Plessis? Ugly suspicion choked her, and sick brittle fear. But whatever secret he held from her, it was too late to turn back now. She’d been innocent and stupid and naive. She’d jumped into bed, into love. And it had all led to this.
But she had to do the right thing. Just because he was unable to love her didn’t give her the right to take away the one person he could love—their child.
“Wait,” she said hoarsely.
“Fine.” He looked at her wearily. “What do you want to tell me?”
She had tears in her eyes as she choked out the words that, just a few hours ago, had made her so happy. When she’d thought they had a future. When she hoped they were in love.
Looking at him with despair, she whispered, “I’m pregnant.”
THE PILOT’S VOICE came respectfully over the intercom. “We’ve begun our descent into New Orleans, sir.”
Finally. Rising to his feet, Kassius glanced across the plane’s cabin, where his bride-to-be was huddled on a white leather sofa, as far away from him as possible. If Laney could have climbed out onto the edge of the wing to get a little farther away, he thought drily, she would have.
At least her nausea seemed to have improved. She’d only spent maybe an hour in the jet’s bathroom. Other than that, in the hours since they’d left London, she’d been hunkered beneath that quilt, refusing to acknowledge his existence, though she managed to be friendly and polite to the flight attendant who brought her fresh water and saltine crackers.
Kassius ground his teeth.
Well, what had he expected? He’d chosen Laney because of her kind heart, her honesty and good nature. Of course, for her, love would be an expected part of marriage. She wasn’t like Mimi du Plessis, who was coin-operated, motivated primarily by greed. Now that Mimi knew he wasn’t pursuing her, she’d been frankly suspicious about his motives for quietly buying up all the loans and assets of her employer, Boris Kuznetsov. So he’d bought off those suspicions with an arrangement—she would be paid with gifts. The one she’d received yesterday had been particularly rich, a five-carat diamond necklace she’d seen advertised in an auction brochure that had supposedly once belonged to the Empress Josephine. He’d had it delivered to his house by a private courier earlier that week so he could give it to her.