The Marakaios Baby

By: Kate Hewitt

CHAPTER ONE

‘WILL YOU MARRY ME?’

The question seemed to bounce off the walls and echo through the room as Marguerite Ferrars stared in shock at the face of the man who had asked the question—her lover, Leonidas Marakaios.

He gazed at her with a faint half-smile quirking his lips, his eyebrows slightly raised. In his hand he held a small black velvet box, and the solitaire diamond of who knew how many carats inside sparkled with quiet sophistication.

‘Margo?’

His voice was lilting, teasing; he thought she was silent because she was so surprised. But, while that was true, she felt something else as well. Appalled. Terrified.

She’d never expected this—never thought that charismatic playboy Leo would think of marriage. A lifetime commitment, a life—and love—you could lose. And she knew the searing pain of losing someone—the way it left you breathless and gasping, waking up in the night, your face awash in tears, even years later...

The moment stretched on too long, and still she said nothing. She couldn’t. Because she didn’t dare say yes and yet no seemed just as impossible. Leo Marakaios was not a man who accepted refusal. Rejection.

She watched as a slight frown pulled his eyebrows together and he withdrew the hand holding the open velvet box to rest it in his lap.

‘Leo...’ she began finally, helplessly—because how could she tell this impossibly arrogant, handsome, charismatic man no? And yet she had to. Of course she had to.

‘I didn’t think this would be that much of a surprise,’ he said, his voice holding only a remnant of lightness now.

She felt a surge of something close to anger, which was almost a relief. ‘Didn’t you? We’ve never had the kind of relationship that...’

‘That what?’ He arched an eyebrow, the gesture caught between wryness and disdain.

She could feel him withdrawing, and while she knew she should be glad, she felt only a deep, wrenching sorrow. This wasn’t what she’d wanted. But she didn’t—couldn’t—want marriage either. Couldn’t let someone matter that much.

‘That...led somewhere,’ she finished, and he closed the box with a snap, his expression turning so terribly cold.

‘I see.’

Words stuck in her throat—the answer she knew she had to give yet somehow couldn’t make herself say. ‘Leo, we’ve never even talked about the future.’

‘We’ve been together for two years,’ he returned. ‘I think it’s reasonable to assume it was going somewhere.’

His voice held a deliberate edge, and his eyes were blazing silver fire. Or maybe ice, for he looked so cold now—even contemptuous. And moments ago he’d been asking to marry her. It almost seemed laughable.

‘Together for two years,’ Margo allowed, determined to stay reasonable, ‘but we’ve hardly had what most people would call a “normal” relationship. We’ve met in strange cities, in restaurants and hotels—’

‘Which is how you wanted it.’

‘And how you wanted it too. It was an affair, Leo. A—a fling.’

‘A two-year fling.’

She rose from her chair, agitated now, and paced in front of the picture window that overlooked the Île de la Cité. It was so strange and unsettling to have Leo here in her apartment, her sanctuary, when he’d never come to her home before. Restaurants and hotels, yes—anonymous places for emotionless no-strings sex...that was what they’d agreed. That was all she could let herself have.

The risk of trying for more was simply too great. She knew what it was like to lose everything—even your own soul. She couldn’t go through that again. She wouldn’t.

Not even for Leo.

‘You seem upset,’ Leo remarked tonelessly.

‘I just didn’t expect this.’

‘As it happens, neither did I.’

He rose from where he’d been sitting, on the damask settee she’d upholstered herself, his tall, rangy figure seeming to fill the cosy space of her sitting room. He looked wrong here, somehow, amidst all her things—her throw pillows and porcelain ornaments; he was too big, too dark, too powerful...like a tiger pacing the cage of a kitten.

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