‘Are you afraid of me now?’ he asked, his voice gruff as if she’d sanded the edge off his volatility.
Was she afraid of him? Genuinely?
No. Though she couldn’t really understand why.
Because deep down you know he won’t hurt you. Deep down you know the man who took your innocence with such gentle passionate persuasion would never physically hurt you in a million years.
But that didn’t mean he couldn’t emotionally destroy her. And Nate. That he was capable of.
So maybe she did fear him. Just not in the way he meant.
Luciana gave her head a little shake and he picked up a lock of her hair and rubbed the strands between his fingertips. ‘I wouldn’t have recognised you. How different you look this way.’
She had the ludicrous desire to ask him if he liked the way she looked. The real her. Or if he’d fallen for a black-haired hippy who didn’t exist. But the reality was it was best she didn’t know.
‘It was a lifetime ago,’ she said, immensely proud of her strong voice when she felt so weak when he was close. ‘Forget the person I pretended to be in Zurich. I was just…’ She had to swallow hard to push the words out. ‘Acting out. Letting loose. Having a bit of fun.’
Such a lie. But maybe if he thought their wild, hedonistic fling meant nothing to her he’d hate her. Let her go…
Easing back, he created a distance that felt as deep and wide as the Arunthian falls.
‘Fun,’ he repeated tonelessly. ‘Well, that makes both of us.’
Her stomach plunged to the leather seat with a disheartened thump. Because it was just as she’d always suspected.
Stiffening her spine, she brushed her hair back from her face. ‘There you go, then. There really is no point in dragging this out.’
He said nothing. Simply leaned back and glared at her with such intensity she felt transparent.
Jittery, she shifted in her seat and rammed her point home.
‘Thane, you have to let me go back to Arunthia. To my family. They need me. I’ve got to get married soon. I—’
‘No? But haven’t I given you an explanation? What more could you possibly want from me?’
‘That is a very good question, princesa.’
And Luciana had the feeling she wasn’t going to like the answer. Not one bit.
THANE IGNORED THE EYES that were boring into his skull and riffled through the mini-bar of the limousine for some hard liquor. She was turning him to drink already—he was insane even to contemplate what enticed his mind.
Snatching a miniature of bourbon, he unscrewed the lid, then tipped the contents onto his tongue and let the fiery liquid trickle down his throat in a heavenly slow burn.
From the corner of his eye he saw Luciana pick up a bottle of sparkling water and commanded himself not to look, to watch. To devour all that beautiful, riveting bone structure—her nose a delicate slope of pure femininity, pronounced razor-sharp cheekbones a supermodel would kill for—those intoxicating brandy-gold eyes and that glossy, over-full wanton mouth as she drank.
Dios, she made his flesh and blood blaze. And it had been so long since he’d felt anything that he was consumed. By want. By hate. It was a terrifically violent and lethal combination that was taking all of his will power to control.
While she speared darts of ire or disbelief in his direction, poised and elegant in her glamorous couture black and white ensemble, all he could think of was her pupils dilated, her hair tossed over his pillow in gloriously messy abandon, and raw, primal sheet-clawing passion.
But it was more than that, wasn’t it? He’d thought his memories were long dead, murdered by the passage of time and the strife in Galancia, but since he’d touched her he’d started to remember.
Remember being held close against her bare skin, feeling truly wanted—a real man made from flesh and hot blood, willing to pay whatever price it took to sustain that feeling a while longer. And, while he wanted that back, he knew it was lost to him.
‘Having a bit of fun. Letting loose.’
Any molecule of hope he’d harboured that she’d felt something for him disintegrated, and inside his chest that lump of stone where his heart should be cracked down the centre and crumbled to dust.
Good. He didn’t want the weak and tender emotions involved in this. Never had to begin with. But the beguiling creature had lured him in. Lesson learned.