She glanced at her watch. It was approaching eleven. ‘I can’t wait for my stepfather to get here,’ she said calmly.
‘But not Henry?’
Henry? Scarlett stared at the hands which were clasped in her lap, wondering why she’d made the Freudian omission of neglecting to use Henry’s name. She looked up, and her eyes burned a golden fire as she met his steady blue stare. ‘Henry will take you to pieces. You can’t just walk into my house and carry me off against my will—you bloody great brute!’
‘But I just did,’ he pointed out.
‘If you wanted to speak to me didn’t it occur to you to just pick the phone up, like anyone else would have done, and ask to meet me?’
He gave her a coldly mocking smile. ‘And would you have agreed to meet me?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Well, then—I rest my case.’ And he lifted his glass to her in mock toast. ‘What shall we drink to?’ he asked conversationally.
‘How about divorce?’
‘So cruel,’ he remonstrated mockingly. ‘And yet, really I am the injured party—wouldn’t you say? After all, I was the one you trapped into marriage in the first place, wasn’t I?’
‘I didn’t...’ But her words of denial died away. Because wasn’t he right, in a way? She had trapped him. She had wanted him, and had lured him with all calculation of the spoilt child she’d been at the time. But she had loved him, or so she’d thought. And oh, how she’d paid a hundredfold for her youthful desire for Liam Rouse.
She watched as he slid down onto the squashy sofa opposite hers, the long black-trousered legs spread out in front of him.
Lord, but he looked good, she thought reluctantly. Still the same firmly packed muscular body, without a scrap of fat on it. The same broad chest, narrow hips and long, powerful thighs. But there was a change in him too.
She had known Liam in the very first flush of manhood, his virility untempered by anything other than need. But now... Now there was an element of rigid self-control about him, a steely determination—it was easy to see in the unperturbed watchfulness on that harshly handsome face, and even easier to read in those cold, blue eyes which unsmilingly underwent her scrutiny.
She took a deep breath and looked at him steadily, wanting to know what had turned Liam from that untamed and beautiful lover into this urbane and sophisticated man who now sat before her.
‘Have you been in England all this time?’
His mouth twisted in a parody of a smile. ‘Why?’ he mocked softly. ‘Did you miss me?’
More than he would ever know. ‘I missed you like the proverbial hole in the head!’ she shot back archly.
‘But I bet you missed my body, Scarlett?’ he murmured with ruthless accuracy. ‘Mmm?’
To her horror, just the thought of his body in the context to which he was referring was enough to produce a reaction: that familiar tug which hardened her nipples to frustrated tips which just cried out for the suckling of his moist, ravening mouth; the warm pooling sensation which culminated in a hot, hot aching at the juncture of her thighs. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, feeling the scalding flush of shame and arousal stain her cheeks, and knew that her eyes had darkened in conjunction with his. And knew that he’d missed nothing.
‘Yes,’ he affirmed softly. ‘You missed my body like hell, Scarlett.’
Hell was appropriate enough—the smug, arrogant devil! She took a slug of brandy and managed a chilly stare. ‘How tedious you can be sometimes, Liam. Have you lost all the art of polite conversation?’ She gave him a mocking little smile. ‘Oh! How silly of me! I forgot, of course, that you didn’t really have the skill to begin with—’
‘Such condescension,’ he reprimanded. ‘Really, Scarlett—did no one ever tell you that’s a sign of low intelligence?’
And why was it she never seemed able to get the better of him in an argument? she thought furiously. ‘Go to hell!’ she snapped.
‘Succinct,’ he murmured. ‘Now, what were we talking about before you sank to playground level? You were, I believe, quizzing me about my life, weren’t you?’
She should stick her nose in the air and tell him that she wasn’t in the slightest bit interested in anything he’d done—so it was rather strange to find herself asking, ‘Where have you been all this time?’
He sipped his own drink and put the glass back down on the table. ‘First I went to Australia. Then the States. My main home is still in Australia.’
And now? she thought with a sinking heart. Even out of sight, Liam had never been entirely out of mind. Surely he wasn’t planning to re-enter her life? ‘So now you’re back for good?’ she said, voicing the fear.
‘That rather depends,’ he said obscurely, ‘on the outcome of our talk.’
Something in the way he said it alerted alarm bells in Scarlett’s head. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. ‘You’d better tell me what this is all about, Liam.’
‘I told you. I have a proposition to put to you.’
Curiosity got the better of her. ‘What kind of proposition?’
He gave a distinctly wolfish smile. ‘I need a favour from you.’
She actually laughed aloud. ‘Well, if that doesn’t take the biscuit for arrogant, bare-faced cheek! You reappear after ten years and then try bargaining with me? You’re not in a position to negotiate.’
‘Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong, Scarlett,’ he said, in a tone of chilling assurance. ‘I always operate from a position of strength. It’s a lesson I learned very early on in life.’
Something about this new Liam made her feel uneasy. The years had redefined that ridiculously primitive masculinity he’d always exuded. Oh, it was still there, but tempered beneath the cool and worldly assurance he now carried with him. And, in a way, the impact was all the greater under its new guise. The hand of steel masked beneath the velvet glove...but just as hard and as impenetrable as ever...
He had been cold and unfeeling, she thought bitterly. He had walked away without giving her a second thought—well, she was damned if she’d let him back into her life on any terms!
She studied him, feigning impartiality. ‘Tell me what you’re asking,’ she said. ‘But I haven’t any money to give you,’ she added insultingly.
This brought a reaction. It was so fleeting that someone who had not made a hobby out of studying his harsh features might have missed it completely. But it was there, and Scarlett saw it. Rage, in about as undiluted a form as you could get it, burned like a blazing fire in those blue eyes. Rage, which somehow—sinisterly—managed to convey some kind of threat. And as she felt her heartbeat pick up she realised that it was a sexual threat, communicated silently to her traitorous and willing body.
Then it was gone. Instead, the eyes were narrowed, ill-concealed distaste replacing rage. ‘You think I need your money?’ he questioned softly. ‘That even if I did I would ever come crawling back to ask you? And I can imagine what you’d like in exchange for your money too.’ His eyes glittered with censure. ‘Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, Scarlett, but I played the role of stud just once in my life—and that was once too often.’
Scarlett stared at him in horrified disbelief. He couldn’t believe that—he just couldn’t! Surely he didn’t believe that it had just been the bed thing for her? He had been her entire world, her universe. For her, the sun had risen and set in Liam’s eyes. She shuddered at the memory before answering him.
‘While you may have the time or the inclination to sit around here discussing an episode of our lives best left forgotten—I do not.’ She stared at her wristwatch pointedly. ‘I have a party going on, guests waiting—so come on, out with it, Liam.’