‘What happened to her?’ she asked.
The voice was calm again. Calm, cool and matter-of-fact. ‘What usually happens to women without husbands in late middle-age who are forced to start over again? I gave her what money I could from the labouring you so despised. But she was forced to accept benefits from the State. It was that which galled her more than anything else—she was a proud woman,’ he said, almost to himself.
‘Eventually, she found herself another position, in another big house. Hard-working women of that calibre always do.’ His eyes were steely. ‘But it was never quite the same for her. She didn’t know anyone. She was getting too old to make new friends. And, of course, I had left home. She lost her enthusiasm for life. The ingredients for catastrophe were all there—a poor diet, economies made on heating bills... She died two years later of a heart condition.’
‘Oh, Liam—I’m so sorry,’ said Scarlett quietly.
He turned, then, blue eyes blazing like the devil’s. ‘Are you?’ he demanded harshly. ‘Are you really, Scarlett?’
She recoiled from the bitter fury and accusation in his voice, staring up at him in utter bewilderment. ‘For heaven’s sake, Liam—are you blaming me for your mother’s death? Is that what this is all about?’
‘I don’t know what I’m blaming you for!’ he ground out. ‘Maybe I’m blaming you for still wanting to do this—even after all this time.’
She gasped and swayed as he caught her in a brutal embrace, hauling her up from the sofa and into his arms like some stormy-eyed, marauding conqueror. And it was like the very first time he’d kissed her all over again to be desired with such dark, elemental passion.
His mouth burned as it caught hers, setting her aflame instantly. He kissed her with a fierce, demanding pressure, and he met no resistance, because for that moment she understood his need to punish her—welcomed it, almost—and she kissed him back with her own bitter reprimand, utterly discounting the fact that each was trying to inflict hurt on the other with this savage kiss, and the fact that instead all they were succeeding in doing was becoming embroiled in a hot, sexual battle which could have only one satisfactory conclusion.
He moved his mouth away from hers a fraction, to give him enough air to speak. ‘Yes, you little bitch,’ he whispered huskily. ‘You still have the power to make me desire you like this—even though I despise myself for doing it.’
Scarlett shuddered in his arms, but even his cruel words were not enough to break the bars of this enchanting prison. Instead, she allowed him to push his hips into hers, allowed herself to feel the tantalising length of him, swollen hard with the desire he so despised.
His hand moved down her back to her buttocks, tightly encased in the black velvet of her dress, and he splayed his fingers to cup her possessively against him, giving the humourless laugh of the unwilling victor as he did so.
‘Oh, yes, Scarlett. I want to rip that pretty little dress from your body,’ he said thickly, and the slurred, heavy undertones of pure desire set her trembling again. ‘I want to see you in your fancy stockings and suspenders. Me, only me—do you understand that, Scarlett? For my eyes only. And then I want to take them off, as slowly as you like.
‘I want to see all that soft white flesh again. I want to bury my head in your breasts, to suckle you until you weep. I want to lie naked on top of you, inside you. I want to lose myself deep within you. Is that what you want? Do you want that too, my little temptress, Scarlett?’
Like an unwilling intruder she heard her treacherous little voice make a gasping little sound of assent. There was only this. Only them. How right it felt to be wrapped in Liam’s strong embrace again, to feel the hunger building up between them. Only this man could turn her into some frantic, wild, sensual being. Only Liam. Henry had never once...
As her fiancé’s name crept into her thoughts it was like being doused with ice-cold water. Her eyes snapped open as she prepared to see the passion written all over Liam’s face, but she was too late. He had felt her mental withdrawal instantly. The blue eyes had hooded over; his stare was nothing but cool and thoughtful. Only the darkness of his mouth gave evidence of what had just happened, the bruised fullness of his bottom lip a glaring testimony to the intensity of their shared kisses.
Scarlett was shamefully aware of the singing of the blood in her throbbing and swollen breasts. She saw his eyes flicker there briefly, saw the flare of predatory satisfaction light the blue eyes. And she knew that any stumbling protestations about that kiss would rightfully earn her nothing but his scorn and derision. Because you could have stopped him, taunted the voice of her conscience. And what is more you should have stopped him.
But could she have? Surely to have tried to stop something which had briefly filled her with the most delicious longing would have been about as futile as King Canute trying to hold back the tide?
What could she do other than pretend nothing had happened?
She stared at him quite calmly, her body now almost back to normal. ‘You aren’t serious about me coming to Australia, are you, Liam? Not really?’
‘Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong. I am. Deadly serious.’
She swallowed. ‘And the deal is that if I refuse you will call in my stepfather’s loans?’
‘You’ve got it in one.’
‘You bastard,’ she said softly. ‘And what do I tell Henry?’
He shrugged. ‘No need to tell him anything too explicit,’ he mocked, his eyes sparkling as they moved deliberately to her swollen breasts, and the temptation to slap his face was almost overwhelming. But violence would only add to this sizzling cauldron of emotions.
‘You’ll think of something, Scarlett. An enterprising young woman like you. Write him a note telling him you’ll be away for a fortnight at most. Imply that you’re shopping for your trousseau. Hint that there’s going to be something very
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