Clearly it wasn’t him who was crazy. It was her. She should know better. Since when had love or romantic happiness ever entered the equation of her life? Never. From the day she’d been born she’d been a means to a crown.
Her hands shook as she gripped the bed-rail and lifted one foot like a flamingo to tug off one kitten heel, then switched legs to yank off the other. And when she spied Thane walking through her door, his dangerous stride a purposeful prowl, only to close it behind him and lean against it, crossing his arms over his shirt-clad chest, ready for battle, she blew.
She launched her shoe across the room to clatter off the wall—and, God, that felt great!—then spun on him like a furious firestorm.
‘You seduced me for your crown, didn’t you? You played me from the start—abducted me from Courchevel, brought me here against my wishes—to get you your throne. Didn’t you?’
‘You could say that,’ he hedged, his easy stance belying the tension emanating from his honed, dominant frame.
How she didn’t go over there and slap his hideously handsome face, she’d never know.
‘Makes perfect sense, really. Why else would you want me “very, very badly”?’ she bit out, throwing his perfect passionate prose back in his face. ‘Your scruples really are abhorrent—do you know that?’
Fool, she was. Total, utter fool. She’d known he had an agenda but, as always, self-preservation had taken a darn hike and cowered in the woods with this man.
There she’d been, protecting Nate from a power-play, and she’d walked headlong into the lion’s den. Blind to the warning signs flashing in glaring pink neon, brighter than a Vegas strip. Hanna and Pietro going on as if she was their saviour, for starters…
He’d played her like a puppet on a string. And she’d followed his every beat.
She didn’t miss the way he shifted slightly on his feet, thrust his despicable hands through his hateful hair.
‘Ah, no, Romeo. You can forget the charm. No longer required. You’ve got me right where you wanted me. Bravo, Thane. Really, you should be proud.’
Was that her voice? That fractured aria of sarcasm and bitterness—that portrayal of a heart betrayed?
He rubbed at his temple as if she was one of those Sudoku puzzles that twisted her brain into knots.
‘I cannot see the problem, Luciana. You didn’t wish to marry Augustus and so we would both benefit.’
Of course he couldn’t see the problem. While he’d been polishing his crown she’d secretly been building castles in the sky. But that was her problem. Not his. One she’d simply have to accept. Because she’d given him the one guarantee that would get her down the aisle: Natanael. Not that she’d ever feel regret over that. Seeing them together made remorse utterly impossible.
Now all she had to do was face those portentous predictions she’d been battling for days. A loveless prison of an autocratic marriage would be her future if she wasn’t careful.
With a shrug she tore off her coat and slung it to the bed. ‘See, Thane? Right there. You decided we would both benefit. You made that choice for me. Much like the wedding you arranged yesterday, behind my back. Has it never occurred to you that I would like to be asked?’
Hopeless, pathetic romantic, she was.
‘I told you the other day we were getting married.’
‘Precisely. You told me.’ But she hadn’t argued the toss, had she? No,’ she’d allowed him to control her. For the last time.
He hiked one devilish brow. ‘So what is the problem?’
She shot him a glare which he impudently ignored.
Lord, he just didn’t get it, did he? While she could feel the ropes of a noose tightening around her neck.
From the start it had been the same. No choices. No requests. Only kidnappings and kisses and demands. Either it was ingrained in him to dominate, literally stamped into his DNA, or he respected her so little he didn’t value her opinion or her own wishes. Whichever the case might be, what kind of marriage would they have? A hell of a lot worse than her parents’—she knew that much.
Her lungs drew up tight, crowding her chest until she could barely breathe. She’d been under the command of a control freak all her life and suddenly she couldn’t commit to a moment longer. Heaven help her, she would not live under another man’s rule for eternity.
‘The problem is,’ she said, pleading with her strength not to fail her now, ‘I would like some control over my life. To at least be involved in decisions. I would like a partnership, Thane. Not a dictatorship. You talk about giving your people a voice. Yet you silence mine. Don’t you think that’s hypocritical?’