Luciana knew he’d lost her young. And if the stories were true and his mother had been taken, stolen from her loved ones, his childhood must have been a war zone in more ways than one.

‘A tortured soul is a more apt description.’

She could hear the dark resonance of his painful past echo through him, distorting his voice, and her eyes flared as he grabbed hold of a tangled vine from above and ripped it down, its thorns spearing into his palm. Within seconds blood dripped from his fist.

Luciana scrambled to her feet. ‘Thane…?’

His eyes were the blackest she’d ever seen, and she realised he wasn’t even aware he’d hurt himself. Panic punched her heart.

‘Don’t do that, querido. Look what you’re doing. Thane? Thane!’

He blinked, over and over, refocusing on her. ‘Sorry, angel, what is it?’

‘G…Give me your hand.’ She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wrapped the white cotton round his palm, biting her lip when deep red stained the cloth.

Thane searched her face with a confounded expression, as if no one had ever cared enough before to stop him hurting. And that made her aching heart weep for him.

Pointing up to the small scar on his chin, she asked softly, ‘Did that hurt when you did it?’

‘I can’t remember. I do not think so.’

Good Lord, his pain threshold had to be off the charts.

‘When did you do it?’

‘This one?’

Up came his hand and he rubbed over the thin white line with one fingertip.

A fresh stab of wretchedness almost struck her down. It was just like when Nate talked about falling out of the blossom tree at their apartment near Hong Kong. He would touch the scar on his arm when he recalled it. The likeness in mannerism was uncanny—and so bittersweet.

‘I was twelve, I think. I’d dropped a thirty-five-millimetre and shattered the casing.’ He smiled and shook his head ruefully. ‘Let’s just say I never once fumbled with the damn thing again.’

‘Twelve? And he punished you? He beat you for…?’ She swallowed thickly. ‘How could he do that?’

He shrugged off her empathy. ‘It’s not an issue. I was born to rule, just as he was. Raised to defend, not to feel. A honed weapon. He did what he had to do. Probably what had been done to him. I accept that.’

‘No. No, Thane. No child should have to accept that. Don’t you dare accept that. He didn’t have to be brutal or so cruel. Are you saying because you were raised like that you would do that to your children? Your son?’

Snatching his hand away, he stepped back as if she’d physically backhanded him. Anger, affront and hurt flooded the space between them. ‘How could you think me capable of that, Luciana?’

Oh, God, she’d had nightmares about exactly that. As her father had filled her head with tales—and yes, okay, some facts too—she’d fought her own instincts. Scared witless, out of her mind. Missing him so badly she couldn’t eat or sleep or breathe without hurting. So she’d written letters. What seemed like hundreds of letters. Only to burn them.

Tears splashed up behind her eyes. She couldn’t stop them. And he didn’t like it—not one bit.

Panic laced his voice. ‘Luciana, what is wrong?’

‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered. ‘I’m so sorry.’

His riveting handsome face creased with confusion. ‘Why? Why are you sorry?’

Shaking her head, she forced a smile. She knew it wept with sorrow and dejection, so she made it brighter. Smoothed the damp hair from his brow.

‘Do you feel me when I touch you?’ she asked.

‘You’re about the only thing in the world I do feel, Luciana.’

Oh, God.

Out of control—as always with this man—she reached up in search of his mouth. Desperate to take his pain away. To take hers with it too. Because she now knew what she had to do and it would likely destroy them. Destroy this. Destroy any chance of happiness they would ever have.

As she lifted up on her tiptoes he surged downwards, closing the gap, pressing a frantic kiss to her lips.

She reached up and grabbed handfuls of his shirt, feeling the flex of his hard muscle beneath her fingertips. One kiss, she promised herself. Just one kiss so she could feel his lust and affection. Surely it would be enough to last? It would have to be enough.

Thane’s fingers speared into the heavy fall of her hair, cradling her nape, his grip fierce and exquisitely firm, and with one long, languorous flick and thrust of his tongue into her mouth her knees buckled underneath her.

Tags: Victoria Parker Billionaire Romance