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Грэхем Линн

Bride for Real

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BUT mere minutes after Tally’s fiery exit, Sander stepped into the shower cubicle with her, bold as brass as he always was in a challenging situation.

Before she could react, he caught her wet slippery body to his and plunged his mouth down on her angrily parted lips. And what she might have said was forgotten when she did not get the chance to say it. Indeed, it did cross her mind that, although they might have spent many hours together during their marriage, they had shared very few verbal exchanges. But then Sander had always been a man of action and, equally, a man of few words. She acknowledged this dizzily, her hormones surging up with greedy enthusiasm to interfere with such clear-minded thoughts.

In the aftermath of that sizzling bout of lovemaking in the shower, Sander held her close while she tried to persuade her legs to hold her up without his support. Still breathing heavily, he lifted a thick strand of dripping straight hair to ask in bewilderment, ‘Why isn’t it curling again now that it’s wet?’

His mystified expression provoked a spontaneous laugh from Tally. ‘I had a special straightening treatment done at a salon and it won’t curl again for months now. It’s much easier to handle,’ she told him brightly.

Releasing that recalcitrant strand from his fingers, Sander stared down at her with a very masculine frown of incomprehension. ‘Let it go back to normal,’ he urged. ‘I loved your hair the way it was …’

Tally was amazed. He had loved the corkscrew curls that were the bane of her life? Well, he had never mentioned the fact before. The water was running cool. Switching it off, Sander thrust back the shower doors. As she stepped out he enveloped her in a big fleecy towel. It awakened reminders of the way he had quietly taken care of her in the later stages of her pregnancy when her body had grown heavy and clumsy, restricting her ease of movement. That extra degree of consideration had seemed to come so naturally to him that it had made her heart sing with hope for their future as a new family. And then cruel fate had struck down her fond hopes with tragedy. When their little son had been born dead, let down by placental insufficiency, the hope of them becoming a family had perished with their child and their marriage had followed suit.

Stunning, heavily lashed dark golden eyes resting on her troubled face, Sander tugged her back to him with hands that would not be denied. ‘I want to forget the past eighteen months.’

An uneasy laugh fell from her lips. ‘It’s not that simple.’

His strong jaw line squared. ‘It can be as simple as we want it to be. We are the only two people involved here, moli mou.’

Sander wanted her back. Maybe he had set her up by inviting her to the house and arriving when she wasn’t expecting him, but seemingly he had done so with good intentions. Here she was and, in her own opinion, she wasn’t beautiful, wealthy or even particularly talented. But Sander, who enjoyed every one of those worldly advantages, still wanted her back as his wife. That was a truth that could only flatter Tally and it reminded her once more of his eagerness to make love to her again.

And Tally’s mouth opened, strong curiosity sending words to her lips before she had even taken the time to think them through and question whether or not she might be asking something without being properly prepared for the answer she might receive. ‘If I thought that you hadn’t been with anyone else since we parted, maybe I could consider that possibility,’ she dared to suggest.

A deathly silence fell in which her words hung like a precariously balanced pane of glass ready to drop and noisily shatter. The instant she looked up at Sander she knew that her fond hopes had roamed dangerously far from the truth. His bronzed skin tone could not hide the fact that in receipt of that declaration he had lost colour, his classic cheekbones prominent beneath his brown skin, his wide sensual mouth clenching into a troubled line.

Sander was rigid with heated incredulity, as Tally’s need for that assurance had come at him out of nowhere and far too late in the day to have any value to him. It was also a cautionary reminder that Tally’s apparent spontaneity and lack of calculation could be misleading because there was often far more going on below the surface than she was prepared to acknowledge. And she had just placed a deadly explosive tripwire right in his path and he fiercely resented the fact. What right had she to ask him that now? In the circumstances it was unreasonable. More than eighteen months ago, Tally had barred him from her bed and turned her back very firmly on him as a husband. Refusing even to admit that their problems might still have a remedy, she had walked out on their marriage. She had made it clear that she wasn’t coming back and that she wanted a divorce. Furthermore she had excluded him from every one of those decisions. The period that had followed their break-up was a blurred black hole of deeply unwelcome memories for Sander, a reality that he was too proud to even consider sharing with her.

‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you what you seem to want to hear,’ Sander delivered in a grudging undertone, his discomfiture patent.

It was Tally’s turn to pale and the fierce tension made her tummy roll with nausea. For a disturbing instant she just wanted to burst into distraught tears at having received confirmation of what she now knew she had most feared. She was intensely mortified.

What on earth had possessed her? She felt unbelievably stupid and naïve for ever having dreamt that Sander might not have sought sexual solace while they were living apart and divorcing. Where had her wits been while she entertained such an unlikely possibility? Sander was, and always had been, a very sexual being.

‘I don’t want to know any more,’ she told him starkly, turning away in outright physical rejection, clutching the towel round her trembling body with defensive hands. Her skin was clammy with shock while she struggled to suppress the most destructive wave of sick and bitter jealousy that she had ever experienced. In the space of seconds she had travelled from revived feelings of tenderness to pungent acrimonious hatred. Lost in grief for their infant son, she had fled back to England with a broken heart to lick her wounds and rebuild her life as a single woman while Sander had evidently partied and shared his beautiful body with a range of new lovers.

‘You’re not being fair,’ Sander murmured flatly, recognising that judgement was being meted out without further debate.

‘Perhaps not … but I can’t help how I feel,’ Tally responded in a cold tone of finality and mentally she was already shutting up shop on the events of the past twenty-four hours.

She had made yet another mistake but not an insuperable one, she reasoned in the first frantic surge of needing to sort her tumultuous emotions out before they swallowed her alive and destroyed her. Over the past year she had fought hard to regain her independence and overcome her heartache and she was determined not to revisit those dark days of depression and self-doubt. It wasn’t that unusual for husbands and wives on the brink of divorce to have one final reunion, she told herself urgently. She had mistaken familiarity for attraction and echoes of the love she had once felt for Sander had clearly confused her. She’d made a mistake, nothing more, nothing less. She didn’t need to make a production out of it and she didn’t need to flail herself for her stupidity either. Sander was a heartstoppingly handsome and sexy man and a long period of celibacy had probably made her more vulnerable.

‘We just did something very silly,’ she muttered, picking up clothes that she had been packing the evening before and sifting through them to find a fresh outfit to wear.

‘No, we did not,’ Sander contradicted with fierce conviction and then, thinking about what she had said and how she had reacted to his honesty, he frowned. ‘Are you telling me that you haven’t slept with Robert Miller?’

‘I’m not telling you anything!’ Tally shot back, refusing to be drawn on that topic and wishing she had had enough sense not to put such a revealing weapon within his reach. Were he to realise that her relationship with the other man remained platonic he would soon guess that she had moved on less smoothly than he had from their break-up and she could not bear to admit that truth to him. It was the wrong moment for her to appreciate that in her heart she had still felt married and loyal to Sander Volakis. ‘I won’t even discuss such a thing …’

‘But while practising your usual double standards, it was all right to put me on the spot,’ Sander traded harshly and then he groaned out loud as though he regretted the tone of that response and, with a bitten-off curse, he reached for her small hands instead. ‘Tally … come here …’

Rage suddenly lanced through Tally like a jet-propelled rocket and her green eyes flashed like emeralds. ‘Don’t touch me!’ she snapped, trailing her fingers pointedly free of his hold.

‘Obviously I should have lied when you asked me that question but that’s not my style.’ His long, lean, powerful body rigid, Sander cornered her and closed lean brown hands to her elbows instead of her hands. His dark eyes were bright with angry frustration. ‘I won’t let you do this to us. You still want me.’

‘No, I don’t. I don’t know what came over me—this was a mistake, meeting you here in this house again was like stepping into a time slip!’ Tally protested vehemently, desperate to make him believe that for the sake of her pride.

He watched her jerky movements as she dressed in front of him, disdaining a bra in her haste to cover up again. Against his will, his gaze was drawn by the bounce of her full rose-tipped breasts as she hauled on a T-shirt and even after the night they had shared the tightening at his groin was automatic. He didn’t want to listen to her spouting rubbish about mistakes and time slips. He didn’t want her to leave. Not only did he want his wife back, but he also wanted to keep her in bed for at least a week in the hope of sating a craving that no other woman could come close to satisfying.

‘The hunger is still there between us, moli mou,’ Sander growled. ‘As strong as ever …’

His dark deep drawl vibrated down her taut spinal cord and she glanced up from below feathery lashes and connected warily with hot golden eyes that challenged her. Her nipples tingled and swelled and she froze in disbelief that she could still be so susceptible to his allure.

‘You know exactly what I’m talking about,’ Sander pronounced with satisfaction.

But Tally was determined not to listen. Convinced that the more heed she paid him, the more likely it was that she would do something foolish again, she was determined to escape. Flipping the case that she had begun packing the day before open again, she began to settle a pile of garments into it.

‘You can’t just walk away and pretend this didn’t happen,’ Sander breathed levelly.

‘I can do whatever I blasted well want!’ Tally flared back, shooting his lean, strong profile a defiant glance.

Raking impatient fingers through his black, spiky hair, Sander dealt her a narrow-eyed intent appraisal. His dark eyes, sharp as knives, brought goose flesh up on her bare arms in spite of the warm temperature. ‘One way or another I’ll get you back, yineka mou.’

‘I don’t think so,’ Tally fielded flatly, her small face stiff with self-discipline as she flipped down the lid on the case and closed it. ‘We’ll be divorced in a couple of months. I don’t want anything else from this place.

This is the past and I’ve moved on—’

‘Only an hour ago you were happily reliving that past,’ Sander murmured, smooth as silk.

‘Everybody makes mistakes and you’re mine,’ Tally retorted curtly, heading for the door as fast as her legs would carry her.


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