She could feel Thane’s eyes searing into her cheek, but before either of them could exchange a glance or say a word Nate launched himself at Thane like a cannonball, almost knocking him over.
Luciana watched those big, strong, protective arms curl around their son, wrapping him in instantaneous instinctual love. And knew, no matter what the future held, she’d done the right thing.
So while she kissed goodbye to any chance of a loving marriage those glorious sounds of male bonding were sure to keep her warm at night. And as Nate tugged on Thane’s hand, to coerce him down to the water’s edge, half of her felt as if she’d lost her little boy. The other half reasoned that there had merely been a part of her son that was never hers to begin with. That part was solely for his daddy.
As for her and Thane… Some things were meant to be. And some things were not.
HIS SON NEVER stopped talking, Thane realised, not even to take a breath. And within three days he had the entire household wrapped around his tiny butterscotch pinkie finger.
He said, ‘Christmas tree!’ and Pietro was lugging ten-feet-tall firs into the main lounge, trailing dirt across the antique Persian rugs. The biggest monstrosity Thane had clapped eyes on was deftly smothered with garish ornaments and enough twinkling lights to illuminate the Taj Mahal.
To say Thane didn’t ‘do’ Christmas was the understatement of the millennia, since it ordinarily tainted his mind with an abundance of achingly dark memories. But he couldn’t seem to say no to Nate any more than anyone else could.
Which was how now, fresh from his shower and dressed to kill in sharp business attire at the ridiculous hour of seven in the evening, he’d known where to find them. Known she’d be clearing the debris in the kitchen after baking Nate his favourite white chocolate cookies for supper while he happily munched and drank his milky way into bed.
Pandering to his every whim. As if she yearned to be needed. As if she had to keep busy or she’d shatter to smithereens. Not that her outward regal poise had faltered, but he didn’t trust that cool façade of hers. It wasn’t the real Luciana and it set his teeth on edge. Though he only had himself to blame. By creating this ever-widening gulf between them.
But, Dios, he’d felt so volatile after her revelation. Drowning in emotions he was ill-equipped to handle. So angry. Betrayed and devastated. So black inside he’d been petrified to go anywhere near her. Unsure whether he wanted to yell and vent or bury his pain inside her. Beg her to touch him, make him forget—which felt tantamount to an insult to his pride. So conflicted. Torn. His usual ruthless decisiveness obliterated until he felt weak. Less of a man. At the whim of dangerous emotions that no hardened commanding warrior should feel.
Every day he waged an internal war. Knowing that in many ways her arguments held weight. They’d been enemies for centuries. He had almost assassinated her father. And for the last three nights he’d been engaged in political warfare with his uncle, who was going to extreme lengths to keep Thane from his throne. Instigating trouble left and right. Leaving Thane uneasy, in no doubt that he needed to get Luciana down the aisle—preferably yesterday. Needed to claim his heir before Christmas. Ensure his absolute safety.
And if this was the way she’d felt years ago—afraid, panicked, verging on desperate to shield their son—Thane would have to be made out of stone not to understand her predicament. His uncle’s reputation wasn’t founded on fresh air, and nor was Thane’s. He was lethal even in his sleep. So, prevaricating aside, could he honestly blame her or hate her for doing what any mother would? No.
But all the reasoning in the world wasn’t eradicating the ache. Or helping him forget that he’d missed four years of his son. Lost the sound of his cry when he came into the world. Had Nate’s first word robbed from his ears. Missed the amazing sight of his first step. And the thought that he couldn’t get any of that back drenched his heart in sorrow. Coated his mind with resentment and fury.
It was taking everything he had to switch off, just so he could function like a rational member of society, wrestle for control where he could and pave the way for their future.
Leaning against the kitchen doorframe, he crossed his arms over his chest and did a swift recon of his flour-bombed kitchen. Only to be hit with bone-deep longing, wishing he was a part of the warmth that pervaded the room. But, no matter how much time he spent with Nate, at times like this he felt like an outsider looking in. Unable to breach the dense walls of their love. As if they were the family and he the dark intruder who didn’t belong. Unworthy as he was. And envy was so thick and poignant it pervaded his chest, making it hard to breathe.