She could hear the twins scampering up the path, Beth’s key in the door.
‘Tell me what?’ Beth half smiled, half frowned as she walked in on them. ‘Are you two rowing?’
‘I’m just telling my sister—’ Jake gave a tight smile ‘—that it would have been nice if she could have called round to tell us about her engagement, instead of us having to read about it in the papers.’
‘Oh, leave her alone, Jake! I spoke to her on the phone—I’m sure Emma’s got a million things to be getting on with…’
For the first time Beth was actually smiling, and there was lightness to her that, Emma realised, must have come when she’d finally known her marriage was back on track.
‘Anyway, she’s here now!’ Beth picked up Emma’s hand and gazed at the ring. ‘It’s gorgeous…’ Beth wrapped her in a hug. ‘It’s so nice to have some good news at last. Come on, I’ll make you a drink—and then I’ll bore you senseless about our trip to Disneyland…’
It was at that moment that Emma realised she’d lost close to a million dollars.
‘Where have you been?’ Zarios asked, when finally she made it home.
‘Don’t worry, I haven’t been kicking up my heels at The Casino…’ Exhaustion seeped out of her as with a sigh she sat on the sofa as far away from him as possible. ‘I was at my brother’s.’
‘I’m not checking up on you…I’ve been worried. You said you were going to the doctor.’
‘Which I did.’
‘Am I allowed to ask how it went?’
‘He asked if I was stressed…’ Emma gave an ironic smile. ‘I said that I thought I might be.’
‘Did he give you anything to help you sleep?’
‘No. I have to have some blood tests…’ She bent down to take off her sandals. A lousy liar at the best of times, she hoped her fringe would hide her blush. ‘So I’m afraid you’re going to have to put up with my carryon for a little while longer. Sorry if I’m disturbing your rest!’ she added as she sat up.
‘I’m not worried about my rest,’ Zarios bristled. ‘I’m actually rather worried about you.’
Zarios was seriously worried, in fact.
And he felt seriously guilty, too!
Watching her fade before his eyes, hearing her crying out in the night, made something unfamiliar twist inside him—something that felt suspiciously like guilt. But he had nothing to be guilty for, he had told himself over and over—they had made a deal and she was being handsomely paid for a few weeks’ work.
Staring over at her pale features, seeing that once smiling mouth grim now with tension, her head resting back on the sofa, her eyes half closed in exhaustion, he hated the mess she’d got herself into. But he couldn’t, just couldn’t, hate the woman. Couldn’t not put her out of her misery.
‘Emma?’ She didn’t open her eyes as he spoke, which made it somehow easier. ‘I’m not going to force you to marry me…and I’m not going to hound you if you can’t pay me back. You have helped me enough. The board are pleased—things are going well there. If we can just hold it together for a little while longer then that’s enough. I don’t want a loveless marriage any more than you do…’ He watched as a tear slid out from under her eyelid, and wished he could reach out and touch her—wished it were the middle of night, when he was allowed to hold her. ‘My mother didn’t love my father—I have no desire to recreate history.’
He was trying to say the right thing, to do as the counsellor had said and take away as much pressure as possible, so why was she crying? Only he didn’t have time to dwell. Taking a deep breath, Zarios said the hardest part. ‘I rang up some places today—places that deal with addiction…’ Now she did open her eyes, those bright blue eyes that had once danced and held his. They were tortured and confused now. ‘When this is over, will you think about going…?’
She shot up from her seat, her head buzzing. Jake’s cruel words, the doctor’s diagnosis, all were just fading into the distance as she stared at the father of her child—the man who had just admitted he didn’t love her, had never intended to marry her.
‘You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you? Ship me off to rehab, why don’t you? Even your father will understand then why you had to end it…’
She didn’t want to hear it. He shook his head hopelessly, lifted his hand to wipe away a tear. She brushed it off.
‘You have a problem…’
‘Jake’s the one with the problem.’ She was through lying for her brother—just through with it now.
‘Emma….’ Wearily Zarios shook his head. ‘When will you stop lying? Your father told me your business was going under, and I saw Jake give you money at the party. I spoke with Jake this evening and he confirmed it.’
‘You spoke to Jake?!’
‘Emma, I’m trying to help you.’
‘Well, it doesn’t feel like it!’
‘This might.’ He was angry now—angry at her denial, and hurt, too. This was the only woman he had truly put first—the one woman he had, hand on heart, offered to help. The million dollars didn’t matter a jot—it was her refusal to acknowledge her problem that incensed him. ‘I am flying to Singapore tonight. Hopefully things will be easier on you if I am not around. I’ll meet you in Sydney for the ball on Saturday. If we can keep up appearances for a couple more days it would be appreciated. And then I suggest you read the brochures—and really think about getting some help.’
‘Do you do it deliberately?’ Emma asked, furious at the games he played, at how much he must be enjoying setting his trap and watching his victim squirm. ‘Do you lie in bed thinking of ways to goad me, to put me down?’
‘No…’ Zarios didn’t bat an eyelid as he stood up. ‘I lie in bed at night thinking of you getting down…’ He walked over to her and ran a finger along her cheek. He put his hand to the back of her head, his fingers knotting in her hair as he stared into her lying eyes, scarcely able to comprehend how much he adored her. ‘I lie in bed thinking of you screaming my name. I lie in bed thinking of your legs wrapped around my head as I make you come so hard you beg me to stop.’ He lifted her chin with one finger, raising her burning face to look at him. ‘But then I remind myself we don’t do that sort of thing, because Emma doesn’t want to. Which is a shame…’
He dropped contact then, but she could still feel his hand, wished it were still there, wanted it there, wanted him to push her head down so she could kiss the erection that she knew was there waiting, wanted him to make her scream as he had described. She loathed the dignity that held her back as he picked up his suit carrier and headed out of the door. ‘It might take your mind off playing the tables.’
The slamming of the door left her reeling, her body as raw, as inflamed, as if they’d just had sex—hot, desperate sex. She headed for the bathroom, lifted her hair and gulped water from the tap. But it did nothing to douse the fire. The cauldron of living with him—of lying in bed and not touching him—she had thought unbearable. But without him…
She’d thought he was trying to goad her. Now she realised he had actually been trying to help her…
She scanned the brochures, reading about the help he was offering, and the words seemed to leap off the page. She realised that with each denial she had, in his eyes, reinforced that she had a problem. After all, her own brother had told him as much.
Well, what did she expect? Emma thought with a snort of scorn.
The thought of this incredibly proud man acquiring these, offering to wipe out her debts if only she sought help…Somewhere inside she felt as if she were being stroked. Somewhere in her heart she knew she was glimpsing the real Zarios.
A man who would give anything to help her.
A man who had just admitted how much he wanted her.
A man she wanted, too.
LIVING in fear, Emma realised as she stepped out of the lawyer’s office and onto the pavement, was harder than facing it.
Melbourne was delicious this morning, the trees that lined Collins Street giving off a bosky green haze, the heat from the pavement rising through her flimsy sandals, and Emma dipped into a side street café, ordering a large iced chocolate drink and sitting to sip on it, enjoying the simple moment.
Enjoying, for just a little while, the feel in her chest of the absence of fear.
She was doing the right thing.
Oh, any lawyer worth his salt would tell her that, but Emma knew she had been hearing the truth. Knew that, as hard as it might be to execute, the path she had chosen now to follow was the right one.
The only one.
She rolled her eyes at her bleeping phone—Zarios, who hadn’t contacted her since he’d left, reminding her that her plane took off at two. As if she didn’t already know!
In a few hours she’d see him again.
Only this time with honest eyes.
She would tell him her truth and listen as hopefully he told her his.