Spanish Nights

By: Jennifer Taylor

CHAPTER ONE


SHE had known that he would find her, known that unbending pride of his would demand he seek her out. All she had hoped to gain by running away was a few months’ breathing space, time to gather her strength so that when he did come she would be able to make him listen to her. Now, however, as she saw him standing on the doorstep, his face cold and set, Laura wondered if she was equal to that task yet.

‘You’d better come in.’ She held the door wide, forcing herself not to flinch as he brushed past her to step inside the narrow hallway. Closing the door, she took a slow breath then turned to face him, letting her eyes linger on the leanly powerful lines of his tall frame, the gleaming blackness of his hair, the smooth pale olive of his skin. He looked little different from when she’d last seen him two months before, his handsome face showing no signs of strain or suffering. Had he missed her, or had he come to find her purely out of a sense of duty? She wished she knew, because maybe then she would know how to handle this meeting.

‘You are looking well, Laura. Obviously the English climate agrees with you far more than the Spanish one.’ There was faint mockery in his voice and in the dark gaze which traced her soft oval face in its frame of long blonde hair, the huge grey eyes under delicately arched brows, the full curve of her mouth. Laura flushed, self-conscious under the intent scrutiny and achingly aware of the effect those lightly accented tones were having on her. Luis had been educated in England as all his family had, and spoke the language perfectly, but there was always that faint inflection in his deep voice which gave the words a disturbingly foreign flavour. Now Laura let the rich deep tones flow through her, trying desperately to stem the shudder which followed them. She had always found the sound of Luis’s voice sensuously stimulating and it seemed that hadn’t changed.

‘I am very well. However, I doubt you came all this way just to enquire after my health.’ She glanced up the stairs, realising that the hall wasn’t the best place to hold a conversation, then led the way into the small, old-fashioned sitting-room.

Luis followed her, his eyes skimming the shabby furniture with a hint of distaste which she took immediate exception to.

‘I know these aren’t the surroundings you are used to, Luis, but if you wish to speak to me then I am afraid that you will have to put up with them. Can I get you anything—coffee, perhaps?’

‘No, thank you. I had lunch before I drove down here.’ He sat down on one of the over-stuffed chairs, crossing one long leg over the other as he looked up at her with glittering dark eyes. ‘Shall we cut out all the pretence of politeness, Laura? It isn’t necessary, is it?’

She sat down opposite him, forcing herself to meet his icy gaze. ‘No, of course not. So why have you come, Luis?’

He laughed softly, leaning back in the chair so that his head rested comfortably against the cushions as he studied her. ‘That is what I like about you, querida. You exhibit no shock, ask none of the questions another woman would ask, like how did I find you?’

She arched a brow as she pushed the silky fall of hair back from her face, feeling the tension coiling and uncoiling inside her. Luis might be playing this very low-key at present but she wasn’t fool enough to underestimate him in any way. She had hurt him in a way he would never forgive, struck what he saw as a blow against both him and his family, and while she might nurture the hope that the past two months had cooled his anger and made him more responsive to her explanations, she couldn’t afford to forget what he had said to her then.

‘Why should I ask that? You have the money and the power to accomplish anything you want to, don’t you, Luis? It just surprises me somewhat that it has taken you this long to track me down. Surely the name of Rivera isn’t losing some of its potency?’

His eyes narrowed, glittering like black ice as they met hers. ‘Careful, querida. Don’t make the mistake of pushing me too far or too hard, will you? Or you might not enjoy the consequences of such an action.’

She laughed bitterly, pain tearing at her heart. ‘Could it be any worse than how you treated me a few months ago? Could I be made to feel any lower, any more unworthy of the great honour you bestowed upon me? I am your wife, Luis, yet you treated me like a leper!’

‘And is it any wonder? How did you expect me to react, Laura? What did you think I would say when you made your confession?’ He leant forwards suddenly, his face set into lines of icily controlled anger as he glared at her. ‘Did you really imagine that I would forgive and forget that easily?’

‘I thought you loved me! I thought that even though you would be upset, maybe angry at first, that you would listen and try to understand. But you didn’t do that, did you, Luis?’ She got up and walked to the window, rubbing her hands up and down her arms to ward off the chill that seemed to be seeping deep into her bones. How many times had she imagined this meeting, worked out what she would say, how she would handle it? It didn’t matter now because it was all going wrong, all the bitterness reawakening inside both of them. The plain, unpalatable fact was that Luis hadn’t loved her enough to accept something that had been a part of her past, and it seemed he still wasn’t prepared to do so.

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