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

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

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JEMIMA LEFT HER teenaged babysitter in charge of the house and closed the front door as quietly as she could behind her. Thursday nights she and Flora went to choir practice and enjoyed a convivial evening in the company of friends. As a rule she looked forward to getting out. But, recently, Jemima had been in a thoroughly bad mood and indeed was still stiff with the angry resentment that she had been struggling to suppress for two long weeks.

‘Cheer up,’ Flora urged as the two women walked in the direction of the quaint little medieval stone church and village green that made Charlbury St Helens so pretty a village. ‘You’re letting this whole DNA-testing business eat you alive and it’s not healthy for you.’

Jemima flung her friend an apologetic glance. ‘I can’t help feeling as though I’ve been publicly humiliated by it,’ she confessed ruefully.

‘Both the notary and the GP are bound by rules of confidentiality,’ Flora reminded her with a reassuring glance. ‘I seriously doubt that either will discuss your private business with anyone, particularly if it may end up in a civil courtroom.’

Unconvinced, but recognising her friend’s generous attempt to offer comfort, Jemima compressed her lips, not wanting to be a bore on the subject, even though the DNA tests had proved to be an exercise in mortification in which she felt that her anonymity and privacy had been destroyed. When such tests were required for a case that might end up in a court they had to be done in a legal and formal manner. A snooty London solicitor acting on Alejandro’s behalf had phoned her to spell out the requirements. Jemima had had to make an affidavit witnessed by a public notary as well as have photos taken to prove her identity before she could have the tests for her and Alfie done by her own GP. The actual tests had been swabs taken from the mouth and completed in seconds, but Jemima had writhed in mortification over the simple fact that both the notary and the doctor were being made aware of the fact that her husband doubted that Alfie was his child. She knew that she would never, ever forgive Alejandro for forcing her to undergo that demeaning process, all because he was convinced that she had broken her marriage vows.

Yet how could she have refused the tests when refusal would have been viewed as a virtual admission of wrongdoing? she asked herself as she moved into the comparative warmth of the church and greeted familiar faces with a wave and a determined smile. Common sense told her that it was essential that Alfie’s father should know the truth; for Alfie’s sake there should be absolutely no doubt on that score in anyone’s mind. Those were the only reasons why she had agreed to the tests being carried out.

The effort of raising her voice in several rousing choruses and then singing a verse solo in her clear sweet soprano took Jemima’s mind off her combative feelings. She was definitely feeling more relaxed by the time she helped to stack the chairs away. Fabian Burrows, one of the local doctors and a very attractive male in his mid-thirties, reached for her jacket before she did and extended it for her to put on.

‘You have a really beautiful voice,’ he told her.

‘Thanks,’ she said, her cheeks warming a little beneath his keen appraisal.

He fell into step beside her and Flora. ‘Are you going for a drink?’ he asked, a supportive hand settling to her spine as she stumbled on the way down the church steps.


‘Fancy trying The Red Lion for a change?’ he suggested, coming to a halt by the church gate while other members of the choir crossed the road to the usual hostelry.

‘Thanks, but I’m with Flora,’ Jemima told him lightly.

‘You’re both very welcome to keep me company,’ he imparted while Jemima tried frantically to interpret the frowning meaningful expression on her friend’s face. Did that look mean that Flora wanted to take up the invitation or that she didn’t?

‘I’m afraid this isn’t a good night,’ Flora remarked awkwardly, turning pointedly to look out onto the road.

Jemima saw the sports car parked there a split second before she saw the tall dark male sheathed in a cashmere overcoat leaning up against the bonnet and apparently waiting for her. Dismay gripped her and then temper ripped through her tiny frame like a storm warning. After all, she had specifically asked Alejandro to give her notice of his next intended visit. How dared he just turn up again without giving her proper notice of his plans?

But somehow the instant her attention settled on Alejandro an uninvited surge of heat shimmied over her entire skin surface and sexual awareness taunted her in tender places. His dangerous sensuality threatened her like the piercing tip of a knife. Scorching dark golden eyes set in a lean dark-angel face assailed her and suddenly it was very hard to breathe because, no matter how angry she was with him, Alejandro was still drop-dead gorgeous and sinfully sexy. Even the lean, well-balanced flow of his powerful body against his luxurious car was elegant, stylish and fluid with grace. She wanted to walk past him and act as if he were invisible while the compelling pull of his attraction angered her almost as much as his unexpected appearance.

‘How did you know where I was?’

‘The babysitter,’ Alejandro told her softly. ‘My apologies if I’m intruding on your evening.’

‘Who is this?’ Fabian demanded loftily.

‘Oh, I’m just her husband,’ Alejandro drawled in a long-suffering tone that made Jemima’s teeth grind together in disbelief.

The other man stiffened in discomfiture and muttered something about seeing Jemima the following week at practice. Turning to address Flora, who was also hovering, Fabian escorted her away.

‘How dare you say that and embarrass him?’ Jemima hissed like a spitting cat at Alejandro.

Alejandro, very much in arrogant Conde Olivares mode, gazed broodingly down at his diminutive wife. ‘It is the truth. Every time I come here you’re knee-deep in drooling men and flirting like mad.’

‘You don’t have the right to tell me how to behave any more.’ Jemima threw those angry words back at him in defiance of the manner in which he was looking down at her.

Alejandro closed lean, strong hands over her shoulders and, dark eyes glittering like polished jet in the moonlight, he hauled her close and his wide sensual mouth plunged down on hers in an explosion of passion that blew her defences to hell and back. She hadn’t been prepared, hadn’t even dreamt that he might touch her again, and she was so taken aback that she was totally vulnerable. Her legs wobbled below her as the fiery demand of his mouth sent a message that hurtled through her slight body like a shriek alarm and awakened the desire she had shut out and denied since Alfie’s birth.

In an equally abrupt movement, Alejandro straightened, spun her round and pinned her between his hard muscular length and the car. A gasp of relief escaped her as he pressed against her for, at that moment, pressure was exactly what her body craved; indeed, in the grip of that craving she had no shame. Her breathing was as ragged as the crazy pulse pounding in her throat while he ground his hips into her pelvis and heat and moisture burned between her thighs.

Dios mio! Vamonos…let’s go,’ Alejandro urged raggedly, pulling back from her to yank open the car door. He almost lifted her nerveless body into the leather passenger seat and with a sure hand he protected the crown of her head from a painful bump courtesy of the roof.

‘Let’s go,’ he said. Let’s go where? she almost shouted back in response. But she hid from that revealing question to which she already knew her own answer while being fully, painfully aware of what her body longed for. She shrank into the seat as he clasped the seat belt round her and then bent her buzzing head, her hands closing over her knees to prevent them from visibly shaking in his presence.

She had trained herself to forget what that desperate, yearning, wanting for him could feel like and she did not want to remember. But the taste of him was still on her lips, just as the phantom recall of his hands on her still felt current while the slow burn pain of his withdrawal of contact continued to shock-wave through her and leave her cold.

‘We really shouldn’t touch in public places,’ Alejandro intoned soft and low.

Jemima clenched her teeth together, hating herself for not having pushed him away. How dared he just grab her like that? How dared he prove that he could still make her respond to him? Of course, had she known what he was about to do she would have rejected him as he deserved, yes, she definitely would have, she reasoned stormily. But back when she had still been living with him, she had always wanted him. Need had been like a clawing ache inside her whenever she looked at him and the only time she had felt secure was when she was in his arms and she could forget everything else. Hugging that daunting memory to her, she hauled a stony shell of composure round her disturbed emotions, determined not to let him see how much he had shaken her up.

‘You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here,’ Jemima complained as he followed her to her front door.

‘We’ll talk inside.’

Jemima had to swallow back a sharp-tongued comment. In every situation Alejandro assumed command and that he rarely got it wrong only annoyed her more. She went in to her babysitter and paid her. Audra lived only two doors down from her and the arrangement suited both of them.

‘Do you make a habit of leaving a child in charge of a child?’ Alejandro enquired.

‘No, I don’t,’ Jemima countered curtly. ‘And though Audra may look immature, she’s eighteen years old and training to be a nurse.’

Alejandro did not apologise for his misapprehension. Jemima hung up her jacket and hovered, her face burning as she remembered the heat of that extravagant kiss.

‘It’s a little late for a social call,’ she remarked flatly, avoiding any visual contact with him, refusing to knuckle down and play hostess.

‘I wanted to see my son,’ Alejandro confided in a roughened undertone.

The import of that admission engulfed her like a tidal wave. So the DNA testing had delivered its expected result and backed up her claims, and thanks to that he now had to accept that she had not been lying to him yet he had not opened the subject with the fervent apology that he owed her. Her chin came up at a truculent angle. ‘Alfie’s asleep.’

‘I don’t mind looking at him while he sleeps,’ Alejandro confessed in a not quite steady rush, his excitement at even that prospect unconcealed.

For a split second that look on his face softened something inside her but she fought it. ‘But you didn’t believe me when I told you he was yours—’

‘Let’s not get into that. I know the truth now. I know he is my child. I only got the news this morning. This is the soonest I could get here.’

His eagerness to see Alfie dismayed her, even while she tried to tell herself that his reaction was only to be expected. He had just found out that he was a father. Naturally he was much more interested in Alfie than he had been when he had assumed that her son was some other man’s. ‘I’ll take you upstairs,’ she offered, striving to take control of the situation.

Alejandro moved quietly into the bedroom in Jemima’s wake and studied the sleeping child in the wooden cot. Black curls tousled, with his little sleep-flushed face, Alfie looked peaceful and utterly adorable to his besotted mother’s eyes.

Alejandro closed a strong hand over the cot rail and stared down, spiky black lashes screening his gaze from her.

Without warning Alejandro looked across the cot at her, brilliant dark eyes brandishing a fierce challenge. ‘I want to take him home to Spain.’

That announcement hit her like a bucket of icy water, shocking her and filling her with fear for the future. She backed away to the door and watched Alejandro award his son an undeniably tender last glance. Yes, he could be tender when he wanted to be but it wasn’t a notion that took him very often, she conceded painfully. He had looked at her the same way the day they learned that she had conceived and his initial unconcealed pleasure in the discovery that she was pregnant had made her swallow back and conceal her own very different feelings on the same score. Yet how could she recall those confusing reactions now when Alfie had since become the very centre of her world? Given the chance she would never have turned the clock back to emerge childless from her failed marriage, but it was already beginning to occur to her that a childfree marriage would have been easier to dissolve.

I want to take him home to Spain. That frank declaration raced back and forth inside her head as she led the way back downstairs. It was only natural that Alejandro would want to show Alfie off to his family while ensuring that Alfie learnt about the magnificent heritage and ancestry that he had been born into on his father’s side, she reasoned, eager not to overreact to his announcement.

‘What did you mean when you said you wanted to take him back to Spain?’ Jemima heard herself ask abruptly.

Alejandro took off his heavy cashmere overcoat and draped it on a dining chair by the table that filled the small bay window in the living room. His elegant charcoal-grey business suit accentuated his height. His classic profile was cool and uninformative when he turned back to her but his stunning dark eyes were bright gold chips of challenge.

‘I cannot allow you to have full custody of my son,’ Alejandro spelt out without apology. ‘I don’t believe that you can offer him what he needs to thrive in this environment. I wish I could say otherwise. I have no desire to fight you for custody of our child but I do not see how I can do anything else without betraying my duty to him.’

‘How…dare…you?’ Jemima threw back at him in a fiery temper of disbelief, her heart racing as if she were running a marathon. ‘I gave birth to your precious son alone and unsupported and I’ve been on my own ever since. Alfie is a very happy and well-adjusted little boy and you know nothing about him, yet the minute you find out he exists you assume that I am an unfit parent!’

‘Does he even know he has a father or a family in Spain? Is he learning to speak Spanish? What kind of stability can you give him? You are not a responsible person.’

‘What gives you the right to say that to me?’ Jemima interrupted thinly, her hands clenching into defensive fists by her side.

His lean, darkly handsome face tautened into censorious lines. ‘Look at the way you dealt with our marriage, your debts, your affair with my brother—’

‘For the last time, I did not have an affair with your brother!’

‘You don’t deal with problems, you run away,’ Alejandro condemned without hesitation. ‘How could you possibly raise our child properly and teach him what he needs to know?’

‘I don’t have to stand here putting up with being criticised by you any more. We’re separated,’ Jemima rattled out, her voice brittle. ‘I want you to leave.’

Alejandro grabbed up his coat. ‘It’s impossible to talk to you,’ he vented in a driven undertone of frustration.

‘You call threatening to take my child away from me talking?’ Jemima exclaimed with incredulous force. ‘How did you expect me to respond to a threat?’

‘A threat is something that may not happen, but I will most assuredly fight you for custody of my son,’ Alejandro extended grittily, refusing to back down.

Jemima breathed in deep and slow to calm her jangling emotions and studied him with angry, anxious eyes. ‘What can I do or say to convince you that I am a good mother?’

Having donned his coat, Alejandro shrugged a broad shoulder as if she was asking him the unanswerable.

Jemima’s thoughts were already ploughing ahead to reach several fear-inducing conclusions. If a custody battle went to court, Alejandro had the wealth to hire the very best lawyers and nobody representing her interests would be able to compete. The very fact that she had kept quiet about Alfie’s existence for the first two years of his life would weigh against her. And how much importance might a judge lay on the truth that Alfie would one day be an influential member of the Spanish aristocracy in charge of a massive country estate and a very successful string of international family businesses? Such a background and his father’s ability to prepare his son for those responsibilities could not be easily ignored.

‘You can’t do this to me,’ Jemima protested. ‘I love Alfie and he loves and needs me.’

‘Perhaps it is my turn to be a parent for a change,’ Alejandro said drily, tugging open the front door to facilitate his departure with an alacrity that was ironically no longer welcome to her. ‘When it comes to sharing one little boy a divorce will leave few, if any, equitable solutions possible. We will both have to compromise.’

Jemima reached out in an ill-considered movement to thrust the door he had opened closed again before sliding between it and him like an eel. Violet eyes dark with strain in her pale heart-shaped face, she stared up at him and muttered tightly, ‘We need to discuss this now!’

Alejandro sent her a sardonic glance. ‘Madre mia, you change direction with the wind. You told me to leave…’

Jemima gritted her teeth. ‘Possibly I was a little hasty. I wasn’t expecting you to already be making plans for Alfie. You annoyed me earlier. Why did you kiss me?’

Alejandro took a small step forward that trapped her between the wooden door and his lean, powerful body. ‘Because I wanted to, mi dulzura.’

He called her ‘sweetness’ and she ran out of breath and rationality in the same instant. Awareness ran like a river of red-hot lava through her trembling length, her nipples swelling and blossoming like fire flowers while the tender flesh at the very heart of her burned and ached. The atmosphere was explosive and she couldn’t fight the hunger stabbing at her. She studied the full curve of his sensual lower lip, reliving the taste of him, and slowly tipped her head back to meet hot golden eyes.

‘Ask me to stay the night,’ Alejandro urged thickly, pushing her back against the door, letting her feel the hard, promising power of his erection through his well-cut trousers. Air scissored through her lungs in a breathless surge, sexual heat uniting with dismay to hold her there.

‘You want to stay?’ Jemima whispered, already visualising closing a hand into the expensive fabric of his overcoat to haul him down to her, already imagining the taste and passion of him that drew her like a fire on a winter day. Desire had her in the fiercest of holds.

A long brown finger skimmed along the quivering line of her white throat, pausing to flick the tiny pulse flickering wildly above her collarbone. ‘It’s what you want too—’

‘No,’ Jemima gasped strickenly, feeling her self-discipline shatter like glass in the ambience and below it the roar of need she had resisted for so long.

‘Liar,’ Alejandro countered without hesitation, his confidence in his own powers of seduction absolute.

Her slender body vibrating with awareness, she still managed to tear free of him and step back. It hurt like hell. She couldn’t think; she could only fight the craving that she recognised as a dangerous weakness. ‘Leave,’ she urged again, wanting to hug herself in consolation for the rush of cold and disappointment enveloping her.

‘Call me when you come to your senses,’ Alejandro drawled, hooded dark golden eyes undimmed by rejection as he tossed a business card down on the little shelf in the hallway.

And in a moment he was gone and she was left in a disturbing mess of conflicting emotions and regrets. She was furious with herself because she hadn’t sorted out anything. Sex had got in the way and had only exacerbated the tensions between them. But she should have risen above the challenge to concentrate on Alfie and on Alejandro’s threats. He had wanted to stay the night with her. He had wanted to share a bed with her again. The blood ran hot below her fair skin. For just a moment he had been as vulnerable as she to the powerful attraction that could still flare between them. She adjusted that thought the instant she thought it. No, Alejandro had not been vulnerable. If she had let him he would have slept with her again but it wouldn’t have meant anything to him or led anywhere. He believed she had slept with Marco and he hated her for it. She lifted his business card and threw it down on the dining table in a fever of self-loathing. Alejandro was calling the shots again and she didn’t like that at all.

Yet over three years earlier when they were dating she had liked the way Alejandro had automatically taken charge and looked after her and had revelled in his masculine protective instincts. Looking back with hindsight, she marvelled at the way he had made her feel and how much maturity had changed her. Of course, she had been a virgin when they’d first met. As a result she had been far too quick to idealise Alejandro and believe that they had something special together. She had not even recognised him for the womaniser he was until one of the hotel maids had slid an old newspaper beneath her nose, pointed to a photo and said, ‘Isn’t that that Spanish guy you’re seeing?’

And there Alejandro had been, pictured at some snobby London party with a beautiful blonde in an evening dress. The accompanying prose had made it clear that he enjoyed the reputation of a heartbreaker who always had more than one woman in tow. She hadn’t wanted to believe the evidence even though Alejandro had already proved to be anything but a devoted boyfriend, cancelling dates as he did at the last minute and rarely phoning when he said he would. When she’d questioned him, however, Alejandro had been commendably frank.

‘I’m not looking for a serious relationship,’ he had told her without apology. ‘I’m not interested in being tied down.’

Feeling stupid and hurt over the assumptions she had made and grateful that she had, at that stage, stayed out of his bed, Jemima had put the brakes on her feelings for him and had begun going out socialising again with her friends. Before very long she too was dating someone else, a local accountant who was flatteringly keen to offer her an exclusive relationship. But when Alejandro had realised that she was seeing another man, he had had a furious row with her, which had made it perfectly clear that, while he expected her to share him, he was not prepared to share her. For a few weeks they had split up and, although she was heartbroken at losing him at the time, she had thought it was the only option left.

Barely a month later, though, Alejandro had come back to her and had said that he would stop seeing other women. Jemima had been overjoyed and their relationship had entered a far more intense second phase. Head over heels in love with him as she had been, she had plunged straight into a passionate affair. He had rented a house not far from the hotel where she worked and they had spent every spare minute there together. In her entire life she had never known such happiness as she had known then, during the romantic weekends he’d shared with her. The demands of business and family, not to mention the fact that he lived in Spain, had often kept them apart when they wanted to be together, and on her twentieth birthday Alejandro had asked her to marry him. He had not said he loved her; he had never told her he loved her. He had merely said that he could not continue spending so much time in England with her. He had made marriage sound like a natural progression.

But he had not invited her to meet his family before they took that crucial final step. No doubt he had known how much his relatives would disapprove of his ordinary English bride, who had so little to offer on their terms. Within weeks of his proposal they had married in a London church with only a couple of witnesses present. She had had no idea at all of what his life in Spain would be like. In fact she had been a lamb to the slaughter in her ignorance.

Dragging herself free of wounding memories that still rankled, Jemima lifted her head high. That silly infatuated and insecure girl was dead and gone. This time around she was in control of her own destiny and, with that in mind, she snatched up her phone and rang Alejandro.

‘We have to meet to talk about Alfie,’ she told him urgently.

‘Couldn’t you have decided that while I was still with you?’ Alejandro enquired drily.

‘I’m not like you. I don’t plan everything,’ she reasoned defensively.

He suggested that she and Alfie meet him the following afternoon at his London apartment.

‘I know you want to see Alfie again, but he would be better left out of it tomorrow—we’ll probably argue.’

Having agreed a time and won his agreement on the score of Alfie, Jemima put down the phone again and wondered anxiously what rabbit she could possibly pull out of the hat that might persuade him that their son was better off living with his mother in England…


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