She took his hand and he led her back along the terrace and then into the library. Her pulse skipped again at that simplest of touches. While she was relieved he’d wrapped the towel around his waist, it sat too snug and low on his hips, revealing his rock-hard, ridged abs. She forced her eyes front.
A sleek black case was on the desk. Eduardo pressed his thumb on the edge of it and Stella heard electronic beeping, then the unmistakable sounds of locks sliding open.
‘How very spy movie,’ Stella muttered.
But when he lifted the lid and pulled away the black velvet cloth covering the contents she couldn’t hold back her gasp.
Jewels. Necklaces. Tiaras. Rings.
‘No.’ She blinked rapidly, her decision to be agreeable zapped by the gleaming brilliance of so many precious stones and the subtle meaning they represented.
Eduardo was looking at her with a quizzical expression. ‘My bride must wear—’
‘I can’t wear any of these,’ she interrupted. She never wore jewellery. She didn’t even have her ears pierced. She didn’t fancy having it used against her in combat. ‘What do you do? Keep a selection on hand for all your mistresses?’
He sent her a sideways look. ‘I don’t have mistresses.’
‘Not while we are married,’ she snapped back.
‘You think you need to tell me that?’ He actually laughed.
‘You had sex with me within ten seconds of talking to me,’ she reminded him.
‘And you had sex with me within ten seconds of talking to me. So the same rule applies to you,’ he answered mildly. ‘I already know I am going to have to work extremely hard to keep you sated.’
Bereft of words, she could only glare at him. He turned away, his lips twitching.
‘These are not trinkets tossed to temporary lovers to placate them,’ he explained quietly. ‘These are royal jewels. Gifts from centuries past, kept within the family vaults and treasured for their personal value as much as for their supposed price. Which will you wear tomorrow?’
‘None.’ She couldn’t possibly pick any of them. She didn’t want to be adorned, to be reduced to a decoration. That hadn’t ever been a role of her choosing.
‘You do not even want to see them?’ A hint of steel underpinned the question.
‘No. I don’t wear jewellery.’ If she did she’d feel even more like a fake.
‘If you will not choose I will choose for you.’
‘They’re all amazing,’ she said, trying to pull together some politeness. ‘But I don’t want to wear any of them.’
‘My bride will wear what is appropriate and what is expected.’ She felt his gaze hard on her. ‘I will send my selection to you in the morning. If you are not wearing them I’ll put them on you myself.’
It was a threat. A promise.
‘Why do you want me all dolled up?’ she asked, not understanding him at all. ‘What’s the point? This is an elopement, right? No one is going to see me anyway.’
‘I am going to see you.’
That edge in his voice sliced, letting the lust within her stream out. Like smoke in a jar it swirled, constantly seeking escape—release.
‘I’m going to see all of you,’ he promised.
She knew he wanted to see only her body. He wasn’t interested in her soul.
And wasn’t that okay? She wasn’t interested in his either. She refused to be.
‘Then fine—whatever you want.’ She stepped back. ‘Send it to my room and I will wear it.’
‘So you are not going to jilt me?’ His lips twitched again, but there was seriousness in his eyes.
‘I’ll be there,’ she replied.
What choice did she have? She would marry Eduardo because he was right. He could give this child so much that she couldn’t. Together, they would give this child the best chance possible.
She’d stay fit. She’d survive the birth. And she’d tell her baby every single day how much she loved it. History was not repeating itself.
She’d marry a man who didn’t love her. She’d make that sacrifice because already she loved her baby. And she would do whatever was necessary to protect and defend not just its physical safety, but its emotional safety too. She’d give her baby everything she hadn’t had.
But at the same time she had to keep her heart safe. She had to rid herself of this physical infatuation as quickly as she could.
She walked out of the room without glancing back at him. ‘See you at the altar, Eduardo.’