Her hands closed over her arms, and she rubbed up and down despite the heat that prickled over her skin.
“I knew you planned to propose to Alannis. I knew you’d planned your life with another woman. I was determined to try and seduce you away from her.”
He sucked in his breath and opened his mouth again, but she stared at him so hauntingly that he quieted again. Only the glitter in his eyes gave the impression of what he must be thinking.
“I pursued you relentlessly. I’d even planned to crash your engagement party but arrived too late. That was the reason that Marcus was in my room. He’d followed me home in the rain when I took off on foot to try and stop your proposal.”
His lips thinned, and he turned his face away to stare at the ocean.
“I thought I’d lost you, but then you came to the strip club, and then we made love in my suite. The next day you told me we had to be married, and I knew that you felt you’d dishonored me. I knew you didn’t love me, but I was determined to have the chance to make you love me, so I said yes. I let you say all those things. Because in the end I’d have the one thing I wanted most. You.”
She found his gaze again even as tears glided down her cheeks. “You see, Theron, I’ve loved you since I was a little girl. I thought it was infatuation, that it would go away, but each time I saw you, my love grew until I knew I had to try. I couldn’t just live my life standing on the outside of my dream, never giving us a chance.”
She took in a deep steadying breath, her quiet sobs shaking her shoulders. “But I was wrong. And I’m sorry. I ruined things for you and Alannis.”
Quiet lay between them. Theron stood stock-still, his hands shoved into his pockets.
“You don’t love me,” she said in a remarkably steady voice.
She hadn’t intended it to be a question, but it felt like a plea from the depths of her soul. And then he turned to face her again and her hopes shriveled and died. There were a host of things reflected in those golden eyes. Confusion, anger, but not love. Never love.
Quickly, before he could react, she stepped forward and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. “I hope someday you can forgive me.”
She slid her ring off her finger then slipped her hand inside his. Without another word, she turned and ran back up the path to the house.
“Bella! Bella!” Theron shouted after her.
She brushed past Chrysander at the top of the pathway, ignoring his hands as they reached out to steady her.
“Isabella!” he called.
She swallowed the sob caught in her throat and ran inside. The helicopter would be here soon. Her bag was where she left it, at the doorway leading out the back of the house, past the pool and to the helipad.
She grabbed it and after a look back at the house, she hurried out to wait on the helicopter.
T heron stared at the ring resting in his palm then at Isabella’s retreating back. He simply couldn’t comprehend everything she’d admitted. It sounded too far-fetched.
Had she really loved him for so long? It didn’t seem possible.
He watched as Chrysander slowly walked down the path toward him. He came to a stop a few feet in front of Theron.
“Trouble?” he asked.
“You could say that,” Theron murmured, still trying to come to grips with all she’d told him.
“She seemed pretty upset,” Chrysander said.
Theron closed his fist around the ring. “She gave me my ring back.”
Chrysander arched an eyebrow in surprise. “Did she say why? It’s easy for anyone with half a brain to see she’s crazy about you.”
Theron cocked his head then shook it. “She just told me the craziest story. I don’t even know what to make of it.”
“Care to share?”
Theron opened his hand to see the ring still lying there. It looked all wrong. It should be on Isabella’s finger. She should be glowing with happiness, not staring at him with tearstained cheeks.
“She said she’s been in love with me since she was a girl,” Theron said slowly. “And that her trip to New York was because I was there.” He looked up at his brother. “She said the entire reason she planned to go to London was because she thought I’d be there.”
Chrysander smiled. “Sounds like a determined girl.”
Theron nodded. “That’s not all. She seduced me.”
This time Chrysander laughed. “Now this I have to hear.”
Theron quickly told Chrysander everything that had happened since the day Isabella had walked into his office, now armed with the knowledge of what she’d really been doing. It all seemed so much clearer now. The sultry teasing, the apartment hunting, the shopping.
Chrysander remained silent for a moment. “So, are you angry?” he finally asked.
Theron gave him a strange look. “Angry?”
“You wanted to marry Alannis. Isabella prevented that.”
Theron shook his head. “Isabella didn’t prevent that, Chrysander. I did. I didn’t propose, and Isabella was nowhere near me when that happened.”
“Okay, so what are you then?”
“Flattered? Overwhelmed? Completely and utterly gob-smacked?”
Chrysander grinned. “That about covers it.”
“My God, Chrysander. She’s so gorgeous. She lights up the entire room when she walks in. She makes me crazy. Absolutely and completely crazy. She could have any man she wanted. And she wants me.”
“Enough to drive you to your knees, isn’t it? Finding the love of a good woman. They can certainly tie you in knots.”
“I love her,” Theron whispered. “All this time, I’ve been so focused on wanting a wife and children, wanting to settle down with the picture-perfect family, and perfection has been staring me in the face all along.”
Chrysander smiled. “Why are you telling me all this? It would seem you have a very upset young lady who seems determined to do what’s best for you, whether you like it or not.”
Theron frowned and clenched his fist around the ring. “Fool-headed, stubborn…” He shook his head and stalked up the pathway, Chrysander falling in behind him.
They were halfway to the house when Chrysander stopped. Theron turned around to see him frown.
“You hear that?” Chrysander asked.
Theron strained to hear. In the distance, he heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching helicopter. “Did you call for the helicopter?”
Chrysander shook his head. “One wasn’t scheduled until Piers’s departure tomorrow.”
Both men hurried up the pathway then cut left to circle the gardens to take the shorter route to the helipad. Even before the helipad came into view, they saw the chopper descend.
“That’s not one of ours,” Chrysander said grimly.
Chrysander broke into a run, and Theron followed. If Chrysander was worried then so was Theron. But when they rounded the corner and he saw Isabella standing as the helicopter door opened, his blood froze.
“Isabella!” Theron shouted.
She didn’t even turn around. She wouldn’t have heard him over the roar of the blades.
Chrysander waved frantically to the pilot, and Theron raced ahead of him, trying to reach Isabella in time. He watched helplessly as the door closed behind her, and then, as he reached the edge of the concrete, the helicopter lifted off.
The draft blew his hair and clothing, but he stood, waving his arms in an effort to gain her attention. The helicopter rose higher and then headed in the direction of the mainland.
Chrysander cursed as Theron stood there frozen.
“I’ve got to find out where she’s going,” Theron said as he turned back to the house.
Ahead, Marley and Piers came out the back door, Marley in the protective arm of Piers.
“What’s going on?” Piers shouted.
Theron strode past him and Marley while Chrysander hung back. He tore up the stairs and into Isabella’s room only to find her
things gone. There was no note, no hint of where she’d gone.
He ran back down, finding the others in the living room. Chrysander was on the phone trying to track down the pilot service and figure out a way to hold Isabella when she landed.
Piers approached him, a grim expression on his face.
“There’s something you should know.”
Theron looked sharply at him. “What?”
“This morning, Isabella was on the beach early. I found her on the other side of the patio, visibly upset by something she’d overheard in your conversation with Chrysander and Marley. She begged me not to say anything. She said she didn’t want you to feel any worse.”
Theron closed his eyes as he remembered waxing on about what he wanted. When what he wanted had been in front of his nose all along.
“I’m a damn fool,” he muttered.
“No arguments here,” Piers said with a wry smile. “The question is, what are you going to do to get her back?”
Isabella hadn’t considered the repercussions of landing a helicopter on the estate of what appeared to be an extremely wealthy, Greek family. As soon as they settled on the ground, they were surrounded by a dozen security guards. All carrying guns.
So maybe this wasn’t her best idea.
The door was wrenched open, and she found herself staring into the grim face of one of the gunmen. He barked out something in Greek, and Isabella stared helplessly back at him.
“I only speak English,” she said.
“What do you want? Why are you here?” he asked in heavily accented English.
She took a deep breath and tried not to stare at the muzzle of the gun which was precariously close to her nose.
“I’m here to see Alannis Gianopolous. It’s important.”
“Your name,” he demanded.