A Spanish Affair: Naive Bride, Defiant Wife / Flora's Defiance - Линн Грэхем - CHAPTER TWO Читать онлайн любовный роман

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A Spanish Affair: Naive Bride, Defiant Wife / Flora's Defiance

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‘WE HAVE UNFINISHED business,’ Alejandro intoned softly, his keen gaze wandering slowly over her small figure.

And Jemima went from cold to hot as if he had turned a blowtorch on her. She flushed because she knew she looked less than her best with her hair loose round her to keep her ears warm and only a touch of mascara and lip gloss on her face, not to mention the worn jeans, fleece jacket and shabby low-heeled boots that completed her practical outfit. And even though it was bloody-minded—for she wanted nothing between them to be as it had once been, when she’d had no control over her responses—she deeply resented his cool stare and businesslike tone: it was the ultimate rejection. She leant against the door frame, her slender spine taking on an arch that enhanced the small firm curves below the neat fit of wool and denim, her head lifting so that the pale foaming ringlets of her eye-catching strawberry-blonde hair rippled back across her shoulders.

An almost infinitesimal tightening hardened Alejandro’s darkly handsome features, his sculpted jaw line clenching, his brilliant gaze narrowing and brightening. Then Jemima knew he had felt the challenge from her as stridently and clearly as though she had used a loud hailer. Suddenly the atmosphere was seething with tension. At that point, she suffered a dismaying reduction in courage and veiled her gaze, drawing back a step while being terrifyingly aware of the swelling tightness of her nipples inside her bra and the twisting slide of sexual awareness low in her pelvis. It shocked her that a man she now hated as much as she had once loved him could still have such a powerful effect on her body.

‘Always the temptress,’ Alejandro drawled with a roughened edge to his dark deep voice that vibrated through her like a jamming wireless signal and made her rigidity give way to a trembling vulnerability. ‘Do I really look that desperate?’

The fierce chill of his rejection might have cut her like a knife had she not been more aware of the way his strikingly beautiful eyes lingered on her. As she tore her attention from the lean, strong face that haunted her dreams and her gaze dropped she could not help noticing the distinctive masculine bulge that had disturbed the perfect fit of his trousers. Her cheeks flamed as hot as a kettle on the boil as she was both mollified by that reaction and burned by it at the same time.

‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded for the second time.

‘I want a divorce. I need an address for you to obtain it,’ Alejandro spelt out in a driven undertone. ‘Or didn’t that occur to you? Your staging a vanishing act was selfish and immature.’

That fast Jemima wanted to lift one of the buckets of flowers and upend it over him. ‘You forced me to behave like that,’ she told him heatedly.

‘How?’ Alejandro growled, striding forward to brace his lean, well-shaped hands on the counter, clearly more than ready for an argument.

‘You wouldn’t listen to a word I said. We had reached stalemate and there was nothing more I could do.’

‘I told you that we would work it out,’ Alejandro reminded her in a tone of galling condescension.

‘But in the whole of our marriage you never did work anything out with me. How could you when you wouldn’t talk to me? When I told you how unhappy I was what did you ever do to make anything better?’ Jemima demanded, her violet eyes shimmering with pain and condemnation as she remembered the lavish gifts he had given her instead of more concrete and meaningful things like his time and his attention.

Straight away, anger flared in Alejandro, his stunning eyes flaming bright gold with heat just as the bell on the shop door rang to herald the arrival of Jemima’s assistant, Sandy. The silence inside the shop was so deep and so tense it could have filled a bank vault and as she came in the dark-haired, neatly dressed older woman shot Jemima a look of dismay. ‘Am I late? Were you expecting me to start early today?’

‘No, no,’ Jemima hastened to reassure her employee. ‘But I’m afraid I have to go back home for an hour, so you’ll be in charge.’

Without even looking in Alejandro’s direction, Jemima went out to the backyard to retrieve Alfie, hoisting him into her arms and hurrying back indoors to say in a frazzled aside to Alejandro, ‘I live a hundred yards down the road at number forty-two.’

But before she could reach the door a broad-shouldered young man with cropped fair hair strolled through it brandishing a bag. ‘Fresh out of the bakery oven, Jemima!’ he exclaimed with satisfaction. ‘Cherry scones for our elevenses…’

‘Oh, Charlie, I totally forgot you were coming today!’ Jemima gasped in dismay. She had made the arrangement the previous week when she’d last seen Charlie at choir practice. ‘Look, I have to go out for a little while, but first I’d better show you that electrical socket that’s not working.’

Anchoring Alfie more firmly to her hip, Jemima dived back behind the counter with Charlie close behind her and pointed out the socket that had failed the previous week.

Full of cheerful chatter, Charlie rested appreciative eyes on her delicate profile. ‘If it would suit you better I can come back tomorrow when you’re here.’

‘No, that’s fine, Charlie. Today is perfect,’ Jemima insisted, turning back to head for the door where Alejandro waited in silence, his shrewd gaze pinned to the hovering electrician, who was making no attempt to hide his disappointment that she was leaving. ‘Sandy will look after you.’

Jemima stepped out into the fresh air, hugely conscious of Alejandro’s presence by her side but also perplexed, because if he had even looked at Alfie for ten seconds he had contrived to hide the fact from her. ‘I’ll see you at the house,’ she said flatly, setting Alfie down and grasping his hand because he was too heavy for her to carry any further.

‘I’ll give you a lift,’ Alejandro drawled.

‘No, thanks.’ Without any further ado, Jemima crossed the road and began to walk away fast with Alfie tottering along beside her. Outside working hours she used the van to get around, but when the shop was open it was needed to deliver orders.

She had only gone twenty yards before a neat, dark saloon car pulled in beside her and the driver’s door opened. Then a tall man in a business suit climbed out. ‘Going home?’ Jeremy prompted.

‘Get in. I’ll drop you off.’

‘Thank you, Jeremy, but I’m so close it’s easier just to walk,’ she declared breezily, though all her thoughts were miles away, lodged back on Alejandro and his assurance that he wanted a divorce.

Had he already met someone else? Some well born beauty from a moneyed background, much more suitable than she had been? She wondered how many other women he had been with since she had left him and it made a tiny shudder of agonising emotional pain arrow through her tender heart. She didn’t want Alejandro back, no, she definitely didn’t, but she didn’t want any other woman to have him either. Where he was concerned, she was a real dog in the manger. But it would be foolish to imagine that he might have been celibate since her departure, for that high-voltage libido of his required frequent gratification…or at least it had until he was faced with her enlarged breasts and thickening waistline and it had become painfully, hurtfully obvious that he’d found his pregnant wife’s body about as attractive as a mud bath. So how could she possibly care what he had done and with whom since then?

Jeremy yanked open the passenger door of his car. ‘Get in,’ he urged. ‘You’re both getting soaked.’

Belatedly appreciating that it had started raining while she’d stood there, Jemima scooped up her son and clambered in. Jeremy pulled in just ahead of the sleek sports car already waiting outside her home. He vented a low whistle of appreciation as he studied the opulent model. ‘Who on earth does that beauty belong to?’

‘An old friend of mine,’ she replied as she stepped out of his car. ‘Thanks.’

As she attempted to turn away Jeremy strode round the bonnet to rest a staying hand on her arm. ‘Eat out with me tonight,’ he urged, his blue eyes pinned hopefully to her face. ‘No strings, no big deal, just a couple of friends getting together for a meal.’

Turning pink, Jemima stepped back from his proximity, awesomely conscious that just feet away from them Alejandro was listening to the exchange. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t,’ she answered awkwardly.

‘I’ll keep on asking,’ Jeremy warned her.

Jemima almost winced at that unnecessary assurance, as she had already discovered that Jeremy, the local estate agent and a divorcee in his early thirties, had the hide of a rhinoceros when it came to taking a polite hint that a woman wasn’t interested. Since the day she had signed the rental agreement on her cottage, he must have asked her out at least a dozen times.

Aware of the glacial cool of Alejandro’s scrutiny, Jemima hastened to slot her key into the lock on the front door.

‘Why didn’t you just tell him that you were married?’

‘He already knows that. Everybody knows that,’ Jemima fielded irritably, making a point of flexing the finger that bore her wedding ring as she pushed open the door. ‘But he also knows that I’m separated from my husband.’

‘There’s nothing official about our separation,’ Alejandro countered, crowding her with his presence in the tiny hall before he moved on into the small living room. ‘But I am surprised that you’re still wearing the ring.’

Jemima shrugged a slight shoulder and made no reply as she unbuttoned Alfie’s jacket and hung it up beside her fleece.

‘Juice.’ Alfie tugged at her sleeve.

‘Please,’ Jemima reminded him.

‘Peese,’ Alfie said obediently.

‘Do you want coffee?’ Jemima asked Alejandro grudgingly. He had taken up a stance by the window and his height and wide shoulders were blocking out a good deal of the light.

,’ Alejandro confirmed.

‘Peese,’ Alfie told him helpfully. ‘Say peese.’

‘Gracias,’ Alejandro pronounced in his own tongue, stubborn to the last and barely sparing the attentive toddler a glance.

Once again Jemima was taken aback by that pronounced lack of interest in her child. She had expected Alejandro to be stunned by Alfie’s existence and, at the very least, extremely curious. ‘Haven’t you got any questions to ask me about him?’ she enquired, her attention resting pointedly on Alfie’s dark curly head as he crouched down to take his beloved cars out of the toy box and line them up in a row.

Alfie liked things organised and tidy, everything in its place. She had a sudden disconcerting recollection of Alejandro’s immaculately neat desktop at the castle and wondered if there were other similarities that she had simply refused to see.

‘When the family lawyer engages a solicitor here to represent my interests, they can ask the questions,’ Alejandro responded very drily.

‘So, you’re already convinced he’s not yours,’ Jemima breathed in a very quiet tone, her lips sealing over her gritted teeth like a steel trap.

Luxuriant black lashes swept up on Alejandro’s gorgeous dark golden eyes, his handsome mouth taking on a sardonic cast. ‘How could he be?’

Seething frustration filled Jemima. For a crazy instant, she wanted to jump on him and kick him and punch him, batter him into a state where he would be forced to listen to her.

But she wasn’t a violent woman and if he didn’t listen to her, or believe in her, or even trust her, and he never had, at this stage of their relationship he probably never would. Wasn’t that another good reason as to why she had walked out on their marriage? The conviction that she was beating her stupid head up against a brick wall? Not to mention the sheer impossibility of staying married to a man who was utterly convinced that she had had an affair with his brother?

While she waited on the kettle in the galley kitchen, she reached a sudden decision and lifted the wall phone to call Flora, asking her friend if it would be possible for her to look after Alfie for an hour. ‘Alejandro is here,’ she explained stiffly.

‘Give me five minutes—I’ll come down and pick Alfie up,’ Flora promised.

Jemima set a china mug of coffee down near Alejandro. She knew what she had to do next but she just didn’t want to. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the scars. Flora arrived very quickly, bridging the awkward silence with her chatter while Jemima fed Alfie into his coat again.

‘Alejandro…Flora,’ Jemima performed the introduction stiffly.

‘I’ve heard so much about you,’ Flora said brightly to Jemima’s husband. ‘None of it good.’

Alejandro sent Jemima a censorious look of hauteur and she reddened, wishing that the other woman had kept quiet rather than revealing how much she knew about her friend’s marital problems.

The silence left after Flora’s departure spread like a sheet of black ice waiting to entrap the unwary. Jemima straightened her slight shoulders, her blue eyes so dark with strain they had the glimmer of purple against her skin. ‘I hate that I have to say this again, but you don’t give me much choice—I did not sleep with your brother.’

Alejandro shot her a grim dark-eyed appraisal. ‘At least he had the courage not to deny the charge—’

‘Oh…right,’ Jemima sliced in, rage bubbling and pounding through her like a waterfall that had been dammed up inside her. ‘Marco didn’t deny it, so therefore I have to be lying!’

‘My brother has never lied to me but you have,’ Alejandro pointed out levelly.

Jemima’s hands clenched into fists. ‘What lies? What are you talking about?’

‘You went through thousands and thousands of pounds while we were still living together, yet you had nothing to show for your extravagance and could not even cover your own expenses in spite of the generous allowance I gave you. Somewhere in that financial mess, when I asked you for an explanation, there must have been lies,’ he concluded.

Jemima had turned white as milk, for those were charges she could not deny. She had got through a terrifying amount of money, although she hadn’t spent it on herself. Sadly, she had had nothing to show for it, however, and she had found herself in the embarrassing position of not being able to pay bills during the last weeks of their marriage. All her sins had come home to roost by then, all because of the one seemingly harmless and seemingly even sensible little lie that she had told him when they’d first met.

‘Did you give all that money to Marco?’ Alejandro asked her abruptly, his voice harsh. ‘He often overspent and I was afraid that he might have approached you for a loan.’

For a split second, Jemima was tempted to tell another lie to cover herself and then shame pierced her and she bent her head, refusing to look at him. Although, while on one level she was still angry with Alejandro’s brother for dropping her in the mire by refusing to deny the allegations of an affair, she still retained enough fondness for the younger man not to seek revenge and to tell the truth. ‘No, Marco never once asked me for money.’

Alejandro’s lean, powerful body had tautened. He flicked her a narrowed glance so sharp that she was vaguely surprised it didn’t actually cut her. ‘I assume that you are still in contact with my brother?’

That comment startled her. ‘No, I’m not. I haven’t talked to Marco since I left Spain.’

Alejandro made no attempt to hide his surprise at that news. ‘I’m amazed, when you were so intimate.’

Her teeth clenched at that crack. Not for the first time she was tempted to give way and simply tell him the truth. Unfortunately the repercussions threatened to be too great. Furthermore she had once faithfully promised Marco that she would never betray him. After all, she had seen for herself and on more than one occasion why the younger man was quite so determined to keep that particular secret from his family. Unfortunately, Marco’s selfishness did not release her from her pledge of silence. In any case, she reminded herself ruefully, it was not solely Marco’s fault that her marriage to his brother had broken down.

‘Marco has been working in New York at our art gallery for the past couple of years. You haven’t had any contact with him at all?’ Alejandro persisted in a silky smooth tone, his accent growling along the edges of every syllable.

‘But presumably he is supporting his child?’

‘Alfie is not his bloody child!’ Jemima raked at him furiously.

‘There is no need to swear,’ Alejandro murmured smooth as glass.

Jemima trembled and struggled to master a temper that was threatening to overwhelm her. Two years ago when she walked out on her marriage she had been exhausted and worn down to the bone by the weight of her secrets, but since then she had made a strong recovery. ‘Alfie is not Marco’s son,’ she pronounced flatly.

‘Your child is only the smallest bone of contention between us,’ Alejandro intoned in a driven undertone, his stunning eyes full of condemnation bright as sunlight in his lean, saturnine face.

‘Is that so?’ Jemima asked tightly, ridiculously annoyed that he could so easily dismiss Alfie’s existence as an unimportant element.

Alejandro bit out an unamused laugh. ‘You know surprisingly little about men,’ he breathed roughly. ‘I’m much more interested in what you did in my bed with my brother and why you felt the need to do it.’

In one comprehensive sentence, he tore down the deceptive veil of civility and confronted her with the reality of his convictions and she was shocked into silence by that direct attack. The experience also reminded her that she had never found Alejandro’s moods or actions easy to predict and had often failed to identify the whys and wherefores that drove that hot-blooded temperament of his.

‘Did you have him in our bed?’ Alejandro gritted, lean brown hands clenched so hard by his side that she could see the white of bone over his knuckles. Intimidated, she stepped away, which wasn’t easy to do in that small room and her calves pressed back against the door of the pale modern cupboard unit behind her.

In the inflammable mood he was in she didn’t want to engage in another round of vehement denials, which he had already heard and summarily dismissed two years earlier. ‘Alejandro…’ she murmured as quietly as she could, trying to ratchet down the tension in the explosive atmosphere.

He flung his dark head back, his brilliant gaze splintering over her so hard that she would not have been surprised to see a shower of sparks light up the air. For a timeless moment and without the smallest warning she was entrapped by his powerfully sexual charisma and it was like looking into the sun. She remembered the hum of arousal and anticipation that had once started on the rare nights he was home on time for dinner, when she knew he would join her in their bedroom and take her to a world of such joyous physical excitement that she would briefly forget her loneliness and unhappiness.

‘Is my need to know such sordid details too raw for you? Did you ever once stop to think of what it might be like for me to be forced to picture my wife in my brother’s arms?’ Alejandro ground out wrathfully.

‘No,’ she admitted, and it was the truth because she had never been intimate with Marco in that way and had wasted little time wondering how Alejandro’s offensive and unfounded suspicions might be making him feel. Angry with her? Disillusioned? She had already been much too familiar with the knowledge that he had to be experiencing such responses while she failed to live up to the steep challenge of behaving like a Spanish countess.

‘No, why should you have?’ Alejandro growled, his accent thick as treacle on that rhetorical question. ‘Marco was simply a sacrifice to your vanity and boredom, a destructive, trashy way of hitting back at me and my family—’

‘That’s absolute nonsense!’ Jemima flailed back at him furiously.

‘Then why did you ever let him touch you? Do you think I haven’t wondered how it was between you?’ Alejandro slung back bitterly. ‘Do you think it didn’t hurt to imagine you naked with him? Sobbing with gratification as he pleasured you? Crying out as you came?’

‘Stop it!’ Jemima launched at him pleadingly, her face hot with mortification at the pungent sexual images he was summoning up. ‘Stop talking like that right now!’

‘Does it strike too closely for you?’ Alejandro hissed fiercely. ‘You got off lightly for being a faithless, lying slut, so stop staring at me with those big shocked eyes. I won’t fall for the little-fragile-girl act this time around—I know you for what you are.’

Disturbed by the implicit threat in those hard words, Jemima spun away and walked past him to the window, fighting to get a grip on the turmoil of her emotions. He had shocked her, he had shocked her very deeply, for it had not until that moment struck her that his belief in her infidelity could have inflicted that much damage. Two years back when he had confronted her about Marco, he had been cold, controlled, behaving almost as though he were indifferent to her. By then she had believed that Alejandro felt very little for her and might even be grateful for a good excuse to end their unhappy alliance. Only now did she recognise that she had been naïve to accept that surface show from a male as deep and emotional as he could be.

‘I’m not a slut because I didn’t have an affair with your brother,’ Jemima muttered heavily, slowly turning back round to face him. ‘And you should know now that my son, Alfie, is your son.’

‘Is that supposed to be a joke?’ Alejandro demanded with a look of angry bewilderment. ‘I’m well aware that you suffered a miscarriage before you left Spain.’

‘We assumed I had had a miscarriage,’ Jemima corrected with curt emphasis. ‘But when I finally went to see a doctor here in the UK, I discovered that I was still pregnant. He suggested that I might have initially been carrying twins and lost one of them, or that the bleeding I experienced was merely the threat of a miscarriage rather than an actual one. Whatever,’ she continued doggedly, her slender hands clenching tightly in on themselves beneath his incredulous appraisal, ‘I was still very much pregnant when I arrived in England and Alfie was born just five months later.’

Alejandro dealt her a seething appraisal, his disbelief palpable. ‘That is not possible.’

Jemima yanked open a drawer in the sideboard and leafed through several documents to find Alfie’s birth certificate. In one sense she could not credit what she was doing and yet in another she could not see how she could possibly do anything else. Her son was her husband’s child and that was not something she could lie about or leave in doubt because she had to take into account how Alfie would feel about his parentage in the future. It was a question of telling the truth whether she liked it or not. Emerging with the certificate, she extended it to Alejandro.

‘This has to be nonsense,’ Alejandro asserted, snatching the piece of paper from her fingers with something less than his usual engrained good manners.

‘Well, if you can find some other way of explaining how I managed to give birth to a living child by that date and it not be yours, I’d like to hear it,’ Jemima challenged without hesitation.

Alejandro stared down at the certificate with fulminating force and then glanced up, golden eyes bright as blades and as dangerous. ‘All this proves is that you must still have been pregnant when you walked out on our marriage. It does not automatically follow that the child is mine.’

Jemima shook her fair head and expelled her breath in a slow hiss. ‘I know it doesn’t suit you to hear this news now and I really didn’t want to tell you. Too much water has gone under the bridge since we split up and now we lead separate lives. But the point is, I can’t lie to you about it. Some day Alfie may want to look you up and get acquainted.’

Alejandro studied her with brooding dark ferocity. ‘If what you have just told me is the truth, if that little boy does prove to be mine, it was vindictive and extremely selfish of you to leave me in ignorance!’

Jemima had paled. ‘When I left you I had no idea that I was still pregnant,’ she protested.

‘Two years is a long period of time, yet you made no attempt to inform me that I might be a father,’ he fielded harshly. ‘I will want DNA tests to confirm your claim before I make any decision about what I want to do.’

Jemima compressed her lips hard at the reference to the testing. Once again Alejandro was insulting her with the assumption that she had been an unfaithful wife and that, for that reason, there could be doubt over who had fathered her child. ‘Do as you like,’ she told him curtly. ‘I know who Alfie’s father is and there has never been any doubt of his identity.’

‘I will make arrangements for the tests to be carried out and I will see you again when the result is available,’ Alejandro drawled, with lashings of dark Spanish masculine reserve emanating from his forbidding demeanour and cool taut intonation.

‘I’ll contact a solicitor and start the divorce,’ Jemima proffered in turn, determined not to leave him with the impression that he was the only one of them who could act and make decisions.

Alejandro frowned, dark eyes unlit by gold narrowing in a piercing scrutiny that made her uncomfortable. ‘It would be foolish to do anything before we have that DNA result.’

‘I disagree,’ Jemima flashed back at him angrily. ‘I should have applied for a divorce the minute I left you!’

Cool as ice water, Alejandro quirked an ebony brow. ‘And why didn’t you?’

Jemima dealt him a fulminating glance but said nothing, merely moving past him to yank open her front door in a blunt invitation for him to leave. She was shaken to register that she was trembling with temper. She had forgotten just how angry and frustrated Alejandro could make her feel with his arrogant need to take charge and do exactly what he wanted, regardless of other opinions.

‘I’ll be in touch,’ he delivered on the doorstep.

‘I’d appreciate some warning the next time.’ Jemima lifted a business card off the table and gave it to him. ‘Phone and tell me when you’re coming.’

Anger shimmering through her, she slammed the door in his wake and peered out from behind the shelter of the curtains to watch him swing into his fancy car and drive off.

Nothing had changed, she reflected unhappily. Even being in the same room again as Alejandro revived all the doubts, insecurities and regrets she had left behind her when she gave up on being his wife…


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