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

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

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THE LONDON APARTMENT was not the same one that Jemima remembered. The new one was bigger, more centrally located and sleek and contemporary in style, while the previous accommodation had been knee deep in opulent antiques and heavy drapes, a home-from-home backdrop for a family accustomed to life in a medieval castle.

A manservant showed her into a huge elegant reception room with the stark lines and striking impact of a modern artwork, again a very appropriate look for a family that owned a famous chain of art galleries.

She caught her reflection in the glass of an interior window and decided that, even though she was wearing the smartest outfit in her wardrobe, she looked juvenile in her knee-length black boots, short black skirt and red sweater. But her lifestyle no longer required dressy clothing and she preferred to plough her profits either back into the shop or into her savings. Having survived a childhood in which cash was often in very short supply, Jemima only felt truly safe now when she had a healthy balance in her rainy day account.

In the act of putting away a mobile phone, Alejandro emerged from an adjacent room to join her. His elegant black pinstripe suit and blue shirt fitted him with the expensive fidelity of the very best tailoring and the finest cloth, outlining broad shoulders, narrow masculine hips and long, long, powerful legs. Her attention locked to his lean dark features, noting the blue-black shadow round his handsome jaw line, and for a split second she was lost in the memory of the rasp of stubble against her skin in the mornings. She could feel a guilty blush envelop her from her brow to her toes. His black hair still damp and spiky from the shower, Alejandro was the most absolutely beautiful man she had ever seen and her heart was jumping inside her as if the ground had suddenly fallen away beneath her feet.

‘Is your friend looking after Alfie?’ he enquired.

‘Yes, but he attends a playgroup in the afternoons,’ she explained.

She turned down an offer of refreshments and hovered while Alejandro helped himself to strong black coffee that scented the air with its unmistakeable aroma. Memories she didn’t want were bombarding her again. He had taught her to grind coffee beans and make what he called ‘proper’ coffee. There had been so many things she didn’t know about that he took for granted. He had even been a better cook than she was and right from the start she had been captivated by his knowledge and sophistication. But before their marriage—when things had gone wrong between them—he had scooped her up into his arms and swept her off to bed and she had been so ecstatic that she wouldn’t have cared if the roof had fallen in afterwards. But once their sex life had ground to a halt, they’d had no means of communication at all and it had seemed natural to her that their marriage had then fallen apart. He had just lost interest in her, a development she had seen as being only a matter of time from the outset of their acquaintance.

‘I couldn’t sleep last night,’ Jemima admitted in a sudden nervous rush, her eyes violet as pansies in the sunlit room. ‘I was worrying about what you said about Alfie.’

‘You named him Alfonso after my father. That was a pleasant surprise,’ Alejandro remarked.

‘He was named in memory of my grandfather, Alfred, as well,’ Jemima advanced, not choosing to admit that the kindly vegetable-growing maternal grandfather she recalled had probably been the only presentable member of her former family circle, in that he had worked for a living and had stayed on the right side of the law. ‘That’s why I call him Alfie, because that was how my grandpa was known.’

Alejandro studied her with stunning dark golden eyes ringed and enhanced by black inky lashes. His charismatic appeal was so powerful that she couldn’t take her attention off him and her mouth ran dry.

‘We can’t reasonably hope to share a child when we’re living in different countries,’ he told her.

Jemima tensed and smoothed her skirt down over her slight hips with moist palms. ‘Other people manage it—’

‘I want my son to grow up in Spain—’

‘Well, you can’t always have what you want,’ Jemima pointed out flatly.

Alejandro set down his empty cup and strolled across the floor towards her. ‘I too gave this matter serious thought last night. I can give you a choice…’

Her spine went rigid, her eyes flying wide with uncertainty. ‘What sort of a choice?’

‘Option one: you return to Spain and give our marriage another chance. Or, option two: I take you to court over Alfie and we fight for him.’ As Jemima lost colour and a look of disbelief tautened her delicate pointed features Alejandro surveyed her with unblemished cool. ‘From my point of view it’s a very fair offer and more than you deserve.’

As an incendiary response leapt onto Jemima’s tongue she swallowed it back and welded her lips closed, determined not to say anything before she had thought it through. But sheer shock was ricocheting through her in wave after wave. Alejandro was asking her to go back to him and live with him as his wife again? She was totally stunned by that proposition and had never dreamt that he would consider making it. ‘That’s a crazy idea,’ she said weakly.

‘If you take into account our son’s needs, it’s a very practical idea,’ Alejandro contradicted levelly.

Jemima breathed in slowly and tried to concentrate her mind solely on her son’s best interests, even though her brain was in a total fog at what he had just suggested. Many children might be more contented with two parents rather than one but that wasn’t the end of the story. ‘If we’re not happy together, how could Alfie possibly be happy? I don’t understand why you’re even discussing the idea of us living together again.’

‘Are you really that naïve?’ His intent gaze was semi-screened by lush sooty lashes to a hot glitter of gold while the muscles in his strong jaw line clenched hard. ‘I still want you. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be offering you this alternative.’

The heat of that look welded Jemima to where she stood and colour ran in scarlet ribbons into her cheeks.

Once again he had taken her by surprise. ‘Are you saying that you’re able to forgive me for the past?’

Alejandro loosed a harsh laugh of disagreement. ‘No, I couldn’t go that far. I’m saying that if I get you back into my bed, I will make the effort to overlook your past transgressions.’

Her bosom swelled with wounded pride and resentment as she drew in a very deep and steadying breath. ‘Fortunately for me, I haven’t the slightest desire to be married to you again. You may have considered it an honour the first time around, but for me it was more like living in purgatory.’

Alejandro dealt her a stony look that chilled her to freezing point and she knew that she had angered him. She recognised that he believed that he was making an enormously generous concession in offering her—an unfaithful wife—the opportunity to live with him again. She even recognised that lots of women would bite off his hand in their eagerness to accept such an offer. After all, he was drop-dead gorgeous, amazing in bed and open-handed with money…as long as you could tell him what you’d done with it, she completed inwardly and suppressed a shiver, flinching from her bad memories. But at heart Alejandro was as flint-hard and unyielding as his centuries-old castle. He believed she had betrayed him and he was not the forgiving type and would never come round to seeing or understanding her side of the story. He thought she was a slut and even if she lived with him for another twenty years he would die thinking that she was a slut.

‘I’ve made a life for myself now in the village and I enjoy my life there,’ Jemima responded in a stiff tone of restraint that did not come naturally to her. ‘I was miserable in Spain and you didn’t seem any happier with me as a wife. Why would you want to revisit the past?’

‘Only because we have a son.’ Alejandro gave her a sardonic appraisal. ‘And this time around life could be much more straightforward.’

‘How?’ Jemima prompted baldly, wanting every detail of his thoughts even though she had no intention of accepting his offer.

‘I know you for who you are now. I would have no false expectations, no sentimental ideas. Our marriage would merely be a convenient agreement for Alfie’s benefit. All I would require from you would be the superficial show—’

‘And sex,’ Jemima added in a tight-mouthed undertone, because she felt demeaned that he had dared to include that aspect.

‘Be grateful that you still have that much appeal, mi-dulzura. Without the pull of that angle, I wouldn’t even have considered taking you back.’

Clashing unwarily with hot golden eyes, Jemima experienced a deeply mortifying sliding sensation low in her pelvis. It infuriated her that she could still react to him that way when so much else was wrong between them. Her body took not the smallest account of her brain or even of common sense, for being attracted to Alejandro was destructive and stupid and likely to get her into serious trouble. It occurred to her that maybe he felt the same way about her and that was such a novel suspicion that she stared at him, wondering if he too could be fighting the same rearguard action against his own natural inclinations.

‘You don’t like the fact that you still find me attractive,’ Jemima commented, daringly taking a stab in the dark.

‘But I can handle it. Familiarity breeds contempt—isn’t that what they say?’ His brilliant eyes were lit by a sensual golden glimmer that as his gaze wandered over her seemed to burn over her skin like a tiny point of flame. ‘I believe that this arrangement will give me a healthy chance of working you right out of my system.’

Jemima could not resist the sensual temptation of imagining what it would be like to be put to that kind of work in the marital bedroom. The more responsive parts of her treacherous body hummed with enthusiasm until shame and pride combined to suppress her facetious thoughts. She had never been able to escape the fear that wanting and loving any man as much as she had once loved and wanted Alejandro was weak and pathetic. It had inspired her into making numerous attempts to play it cool with him, most of which had blown up in her silly face as she had lacked both subtlety and good timing. She had acted all cool, for instance, once he’d stopped sleeping with her while she was pregnant; rather a case of closing the barn door after the horse had already bolted, she recalled impatiently. Those final weeks of their marriage he hadn’t seemed to notice her at all and his increasing indifference and long working days had made her feel invisible and insignificant.

‘I couldn’t just go back to Spain,’ she told him again. ‘I’ve worked hard to build up my business. I don’t want to lose it—’

‘I’m willing to cover the cost of a manager for several months. That would give you the time and space to come up with a more permanent solution.’

Cut off at the knees by that unexpectedly practical proposal, Jemima muttered, ‘I couldn’t live with you again.’

‘That decision is yours to make.’ Alejandro shifted a broad shoulder in a fluid and fatalistic shrug, his lean, strong face full of brooding dark Spanish reserve and pride. ‘But I’ve already missed out on two years of my son’s life and I don’t want to waste any more time. My English lawyer is waiting to hear whether or not I wish to proceed with a custody claim.’

That assurance hit Jemima like a bucket of snow thrown across unprotected skin.

Every anxious cell in her body plunged into overload. ‘Are you simply expecting me to make up my mind about this here and now?’ she gasped.

Alejandro quirked an ebony brow. ‘Why not? I’m not in the mood to be patient or understanding. I doubt that you suffered many sleepless nights while you were denying me the chance to get to know my son.’

In receipt of that shrewd comment on her attitude, Jemima turned almost as red as her sweater. It was true. She had pretty much celebrated her escape from Spain. She had regretted her failed marriage and cried herself to sleep many nights but she had blamed him entirely for that failure. Now sufficient time had passed for her to be willing to acknowledge that she, too, had made serious mistakes that had undoubtedly contributed to their break-up. She had certainly kept far too many secrets from him, had spent a lot of money, but that did not mean that she was prepared to have another go at their marriage. But she did, however, love her son very much and she did appreciate how much she had denied Alejandro when she chose not to inform him that he was a father.

‘I could come and stay in Spain for a few weeks,’ she suggested limply as an alternative.

‘A temporary fix of that nature would be pointless.’

‘I couldn’t possibly sign up to return to our marriage for the rest of my life. That’s an appalling idea. Even convicts get time lopped off their sentences for good behaviour!’ Jemima pointed out helplessly. ‘Maybe I could consider coming out to Spain for a trial period, like, say…three months.’

Alejandro frowned. ‘And what would that achieve?’ he derided.

‘Well, by then we would know if such an extraordinary arrangement was sustainable and I would still have a life to return to in the village if it wasn’t working,’ she argued vehemently. ‘I’m not saying I will do it, but you would also have to give me a legal undertaking that you would not try to claim custody of Alfie while he was still in Spain because that would give you an unfair advantage.’

‘The exact same advantage that you would have as an Englishwoman applying for custody in an English court,’ Alejandro traded drily.

Her eyes fell before his at that response. ‘But we just couldn’t do it…live together again,’ she protested in an enervated rush, folding her arms and walking round the room in a restive circle.

‘There has never been a divorce in my family!’

‘That’s nothing to boast about. We’re not living in the Dark Ages any more. People don’t have to live with a mistake for ever.’

‘But you think it’s all right for our son to suffer all the disadvantages of coming from a broken home?’

Jemima groaned out loud in frustration, all shaken up at the very idea of reliving any part of their brief marriage. ‘We can’t make everything perfect for Alfie.’

‘No, but it is our responsibility to give him the best of ourselves, even if that means making personal sacrifices. I respect that,’ Alejandro intoned with insistent bite.

‘You’re always so superior. I want the best for Alfie too.’

‘Yet you didn’t see a problem bringing him up without a father,’ Alejandro lashed back soft and low.

Her face flamed.

‘If you truly do want the best for our son, come back to Spain.’

It was blackmail whichever way she looked at it: emotional blackmail, moral blackmail. He knew which buttons to push. He knew how to make her conscience writhe. He was too clever for her, she thought worriedly. If her best hadn’t been good enough two years back, how much worse would she fare now with him? But had she ever really given him her best? a little voice asked her doggedly and the abstracted look in her gaze deepened. She was older and wiser and more confident, she reminded herself fiercely. Would it do her so much harm to give their marriage another shot? Of course it went without saying that it wouldn’t work out and that both the trial and the subsequent break-up would hurt her again, but wouldn’t agreeing give her the satisfaction of knowing that she had tried every option and made the best effort she could?

In the heat of that last inspiring thought, Jemima turned back to focus on her tall, darkly handsome husband. ‘All right. I’ll come back to Spain but initially I’m only agreeing to stay for three months,’ she extended, nervous tension rippling through her in a quivering wave as she realised what she was giving her consent to.

Alejandro stared back at her with brooding dark eyes, revealing neither satisfaction nor surprise at her surrender. ‘I will accept that.’

Jemima gazed back at him, suddenly horrified at what she had allowed herself to be persuaded into. He had the silver tongue of the devil, she decided wildly. He had made her feel that any decent mother would have another go at being married for her child’s sake. He had studied her with those smouldering dark golden eyes and told her that he still wanted her. Not only had she liked that news very much but her body had burned and her brain had shrivelled while she’d thought that truth through to its natural conclusion.

‘Have you had lunch?’ Alejandro asked.

Jemima backed away a step like a drug addict being offered a banned substance. ‘No, but I’m not hungry. I think I should get back to the shop.’

‘Of course, you’ll have a lot of arrangements to put in place. I’ll instruct a recruitment agency to find you a manager,’ Alejandro imparted smooth as ice, gleaming dark golden eyes raking over her with a subdued heat that she felt as deep as the marrow of her bones. ‘I don’t want this to take too long. I also want to see Alfie.’

‘Will you still be here over the weekend?’ At his nod of assent, Jemima added breathlessly, ‘Then come down and see him tomorrow.’

‘How soon will you come to Spain?’ he prompted.

‘Just as soon as I can get it organised.’

‘I should take you home,’ Alejandro murmured before she got as far as the hall.

‘No. I’m used to getting the train…’

‘I’ll take you to the station, mi dulzura.’

The immediate change in his attitude to her made a big impression on Jemima. All of a sudden he believed it was his job to look after her again and it felt seriously strange to have someone expressing concern on her behalf. She accompanied him down to the basement car park and climbed into his shiny car. As she clasped the seat belt Alejandro reached for her, a lean hand tugging up her chin so that his beautiful mouth could crash down on hers without anything getting in the way. It was like plugging her fingers into an electric socket or walking out unprepared into a hurricane. As he plundered her readily parted lips her hand rose and her fingers speared into his luxuriant black hair, holding him to her. The passionate pressure of his mouth on hers was a glorious invitation to feel things she hadn’t felt in too long and the plunge of his tongue stoked a hunger she had never managed to forget.

‘Dios mio! Te deseo.’ He told her he wanted her in a voice hoarse with desire and it sparked a flame at the heart of her and made her shiver with shock. That fast, he had contrived to turn the clock back.

As Jemima drew back from him, breathless with longing and self-loathing, his brilliant gaze scanned her flushed face. ‘If you stayed, I would give you so much pleasure.’

Jemima tore her stricken eyes from his, shame sitting inside her like a heavy rock because she was tempted. ‘I’ll see you on Saturday,’ she said tightly.

All the way home on the train she was picturing his lean, strong features inside her head and tearing herself apart over what she had agreed to do. He might as well have hypnotised her! Sandy picked her up in the shop van and dropped her at Flora’s cottage.

Twenty minutes later, Jemima was sitting at the island in her friend’s kitchen with Alfie cradled half asleep on her lap from his afternoon exertions. Flora was studying her with wide and incredulous green eyes. ‘Tell me you’re not serious…I thought you hated your ex.’

Jemima shifted her hands in an effort to explain a decision that felt almost inexplicable even to her. ‘What Alejandro said about giving our marriage another go for Alfie’s sake made sense to me,’ she confided ruefully. ‘When I walked out on him I didn’t know I was still pregnant and I’m not sure I would’ve gone if I’d known.’

Her friend’s face was troubled. ‘You were a bag of nerves when I first met you and you had no self-esteem. It’s not my place to criticise your husband but if that’s what being married to him did to you, something was badly wrong.’

‘Several things were badly wrong then, but not everything was his fault.’ Alfie snuggled into his mother’s shoulder with a little snuffle of contentment and she rearranged his solid little body for greater comfort. ‘Marco’s living in New York now and another…er…problem I had, well, it’s gone too,’ she continued, her expressive eyes veiled as she thought back reluctantly to those last stressful months in Spain, which had been, without a doubt, the most distressing and nerve-racking period of her life.

‘You want to give your marriage another chance,’ Flora registered in a tone of quiet comprehension. ‘If that’s what you really do want, I hope it works out the way you hope. But if it doesn’t, I’ll still be here to offer support…’


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