A low deliberate cough came behind us. Startled, I turned my head, and Alejandro straightened. The Bulgarian ambassador stood at the cloakroom door, with his wife draped in pearls behind him.
“Excuse us,” he said gravely, and stepping forward, he took a black fur coat off the hanger behind us.
I heard his wife titter as they left, “See, Vasil? I told you it was a love match!”
“Poor devil deserves some pleasure, at least,” the man’s reply echoed back to us, “after the grasping creature tricked him into marriage with a pregnancy.”
Shamefaced, I looked up at Alejandro. The air in the cloakroom suddenly felt thin and cold.
“Let me go,” I said.
His hold on me only tightened. “Who cares what they say?”
“I care,” I whispered.
“Bull,” he cut me off ruthlessly. “You’re too strong to be ruled by gossip.” His hands moved slowly down the bare skin of my upper back, and I shivered, fighting my own desire. “It’s this you’re afraid of. This.” He stroked my arms to my breast, then abruptly pulled me up to stand, hard against his body. “This is all that matters....”
“It’s not,” I choked out. “There’s love. And trust....”
“Love for our son. And trust for your husband. Your partner.”
For a second, I trembled. I did want those things. A real home. I’d already accepted that we would need to live in the same town, or better yet, the same house. Why not accept a partnership? We could share a life, a son, even a bed. Would it be enough, without romantic love? Could I live without that? Could I?
For Miguel’s sake?
“Maybe I could accept a marriage without love,” I said in a small voice. I took a deep breath and raised my gaze to his. “But there is no partnership without trust. Can you promise you’ve never lied to me? And that you never will?”
I watched as the brief triumph in his eyes went out. “No.”
My lips parted in a silent gasp. I hadn’t expected that. My heart twisted as I thought how, with just a few hot kisses and the dream of giving Miguel a real home and family, I’d been perilously close to giving up my dreams.
“Well, which is it, Alejandro?” I choked out. “Did you lie to me in the past? Or will you lie to me in the future?”
His jawline tightened. For a moment, his face seemed tortured. Then, as I’d seen happen before, his expression shuttered, becoming expressionless, leaving me to wonder if I’d imagined the whole thing. “Take your pick.”
I stiffened. Hating him—no. Hating myself for letting him kiss me. Letting him? All he’d had to do was touch me and I’d flung myself into his kiss with the hunger of a starving woman at a piece of bread. “What have you lied to me about?”
“You expect me to tell you the truth about that?”
He glared at me. “I told you. I believe in honor. Fidelity. No. My lie is about—something else.”
“Me,” he ground out through gritted teeth. “Only me.”
Which didn’t tell me anything at all! “Fine. Whatever.” I glared at him. “You shouldn’t have kissed me.”
He relaxed imperceptibly now that we were no longer talking about his secrets.
“This isn’t the place,” he agreed.
“I didn’t just mean the cloakroom. I mean anywhere.”
“I can think of many places I’d like to kiss you.”
“Too bad.” My cheeks flamed, but I wouldn’t let him distract me. “Take your kisses, and your lies, somewhere else.”
“A marriage in name only?” He sounded almost amused. “Do you really think that will work?”
“Since I can’t even trust you, let alone love you, there will be no marriage of any kind,” I snapped. “And if you keep asking, even our engagement will be remarkably short.”
“Why are you trying to fight me, when it’s so obvious that you will give in?” he said. “You want to raise Miguel. So do I. What do you expect to do—live next door? In my stable?”
“Better that than your bed.”
His dark eyes glittered. “That wasn’t how you kissed me.”