Oh, stop being so ridiculous, she remonstrated with herself silently as she left the room and slipped quietly out onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air. That champagne has just made me maudlin, she thought crossly as she took a deep breath and inhaled the sweet scent of the winter-flowering jasmine.
She stood, silent and spellbound, oblivious to the cold as she gazed at the beautiful vista before her. The snow-covered grass was glitteringly silver, and high up in the sky the moon looked like a brilliant white discus, hurled there by some Olympian athlete, and as she watched a cloud obscured it completely.
Scarlett’s eyes narrowed as they accustomed themselves to the dimmer light, and she blinked as she saw a man’s figure standing at one end of the terrace. He was staring at her.
She felt her heart pound in shock as she registered the immense height of him, the formidable breadth of his shoulders. She shook her head in horror, as if expecting him just to disappear. But he did not disappear. Instead he began to walk towards her with a confident and cat-like stealth.
Scarlett blanched as the man grew closer. Her eyes took in the beautifully sculpted planes and angles of his face, the harsh slash of his mouth and the proud line of his jaw.
He was taller than anyone else at the party, and his shoulders would have put deep despair into the heart of any rugby scrum. His hair was black, as black as Scarlett’s, and his eyes, which she knew so well were blue, also looked black tonight. And his heart, she thought bitterly. He has a black heart too. The beautiful mouth was curved and twisted into its customary derisory smile as his eyes met Scarlett’s—and never left them.
For a second she shook her head a little, as if she had manufactured the image of Liam Rouse. For surely this could not be Liam—this man whose formal black jacket would have knocked spots off everyone else’s in the room? Surely not Liam—in a silk shirt as white as a soap-powder commercial, with a black bow-tie knotted around his elegant neck? Liam’s long legs would surely never have allowed themselves to be encased in the beautifully cut black trousers. Liam wore jeans. Nothing but jeans.
She stared up at him as he towered over her, momentarily shocked into disbelieving speechlessness. She saw his eyes glittering, like some living metal, and she had to reach out to grasp the balustrade which ran round the terrace.
Her heart pounded with unwilling excitement, and her mouth dried. It simply wasn’t fair, she thought desperately. He shouldn’t, shouldn’t still have this effect on her. Not after all this time. ‘Liam!’ she gasped as the vision of the man she had not seen for almost ten years swam in front of her eyes. And then she found herself saying inanely, ‘Is it really you?’
He gave a small, cynical smile. ‘Judge for yourself,’ came the deeply drawled reply, and totally without warning he pulled her into his arms and bent his head to kiss her.
At first she was so shocked by what was happening that she simply stood motionless in his arms, while his mouth claimed hers with arrogant possession.
And Liam’s kisses were like no others...
Oh, no! she thought helplessly, but nonetheless swayed against him as his mouth drove down on hers, her body quivering with shock as she realised just how blatantly he was kissing her. For his kiss was as deep and as insistent and intimate as if he were lying naked on top of her and actually making love to her.
He pulled her closer, then even closer... And to her absolute horror Scarlett found herself responding to him, her body starting to tingle and melt into the hard, muscle-packed frame which she had once known so intimately.
He knew so well what pleased her, she thought helplessly. She felt him lick a tiny circle around the inside of her mouth, and as she felt her breasts swelling and hardening in response she realised just what was happening to her. She wrenched herself out of his embrace, and he gave a low, mocking laugh.
‘Well?’ he said arrogantly. ‘Was that real enough for you? Or do I kiss like a ghost?’
She fought to get her breath back. ‘You kiss like the devil that you are!’ she fired back. ‘Now, get off our land, before I have you thrown off!’
‘Oh, Scarlett,’ he said mockingly. ‘No wifely concern? No, ‘‘Darling, where have you been all these long years?’’’
Scarlett stared into the face of the stranger who was as familiar to her as breathing—the man who had broken her heart into a million tiny pieces. ‘I don’t care where you’ve been,’ she retorted angrily. ‘You walked off and left me ten years ago without a word. Well, that was fine. But you’re history, Liam. And now I’m going inside to call the police to get you off our property—unless you’d like to go now, and quietly?’
He gave a short, completely humourless laugh and reached out to catch her wrist in an uncompromising hold. ‘Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong,’ he contradicted her, his voice as hard and as unmalleable as steel. ‘I’m not going anywhere—not until I’ve got what I came for.’
She heard the unswerving determination in the deep voice, and a deep foreboding chilled her. Liam at twenty had been pretty formidable. Liam ten years on was something else!
In a minute she would wake up from this nightmare, but until she did she might as well enter into this crazy conversation. ‘What the hell are you talking about? What have you come for?’ But her voice wavered just a little as she asked the question.
His eyes fastened with deliberate intent on the crimson gleam of her quivering mouth, and she saw his eyes briefly darken. ‘Why, you, of course, Scarlett. Didn’t you realise? I’ve come for you.’
‘Are you mad?’ she whispered.
His mouth was a hard, unremitting slash in the moonlight. ‘Are you going to come with me quietly?’
‘I’m not coming anywhere with you!’
He gave her a look of quietly controlled rage. ‘Oh, I think so, Scarlett. A word with my wife. In private.’
‘You are mad!’ she responded in disbelief. ‘I’m getting married to someone else! The divorce papers are through!’
He shook his head. ‘On the contrary. You’ve jumped the gun a little, my dear. The divorce papers are not complete. Admittedly, the decree nisi is through—but the absolute isn’t due for another five weeks.’ He gave a cold and cynical smile. ‘So legally, at least, you are still my wife, and I have a proposition to put to you. Now, are you coming quietly or not?’ he repeated.
The craziness of the last few minutes crystallised into one incredible and jarring fact.
Liam was back!
She found her voice again. ‘Coming? With you? You must be kidding! The last person on earth I’d ever go with is you—you no-good, low-down, rotten—!’
Again, he gave that cool, faintly cynical smile.
‘Oh, Scarlett,’ he said, shaking his head at her as he caught her wrist in a vice-like grip. ‘I should have known that you’d be awkward.’
‘Let go of me!’ she ordered. ‘Or I’ll scream the place down.’
‘Oh, dear,’ he murmured, almost conversationally. ‘I was hoping that we might be able to do this in a civilised manner. But then, I’d forgotten that legendary temper of yours.’
She tried to struggle, but it was no good. Even using her one free hand to flail at that impossibly hard chest was useless, and he bent down to scoop her underneath her knees and toss her over his shoulder, her head dangling down his back and his hand clasped possessively over the bare flesh of the backs of her thighs which lay above the line of her stocking-tops. He stroked one thigh with a long, lazy finger.
‘Mmm!’ he murmured, in a voice soft with sexual promise. ‘Nice!’
And then something unbelievable happened.
For one fleeting and betraying moment a spark of dormant humour bubbled up from