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His Scandalous Mistress: The Master's Mistress / Count Toussaint's Pregnant Mistress / Castellano's Mistress of Revenge

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CHAPTER SEVEN

‘DOING some late spring-cleaning… ?’

Elizabeth straightened to turn and stare numbly across the room at Rogan as he stood in the doorway of the library. ‘I found it like this when I came in just now.’

‘Like this’ was with dozens upon dozens of books tumbled haphazardly from the shelves onto the floor, until hardly any of the carpet remained in view.

Elizabeth had been dreading seeing Rogan again after the incident down in the cove earlier this morning. But coming into the library to find the room in complete chaos had put that embarrassment completely from her mind. All she wanted to do now was just sit down and cry in the midst of all this wanton destruction.

She dropped down heavily into the chair that sat in front of the desk. ‘Who could have done such a thing?’ She stared down at the piles of books in disarray around her. ‘And why?’

‘I think at this moment I would be more interested to know when.’ Rogan stepped carefully over the piles of scattered books as he came further into the room.

‘When… ?’ Elizabeth echoed dazedly.

He shrugged. ‘Did this happen last night, after we had gone to bed, and we just didn’t hear it? Or did someone enter the house earlier this morning while we were down at the beach?’

Some of the colour returned to Elizabeth’s cheeks at his reference to ‘earlier this morning’.

‘Is there anything missing? Stupid question,’ he instantly acknowledged as Elizabeth gave him an impatient glance. ‘I was just trying to decide whether we should tell the police it was simple vandalism or theft.’

‘Theft?’ Elizabeth repeated breathlessly, her gaze instantly going to the glass cabinet that stood against the wall near the door.

A glass cabinet that Rogan could see stood completely empty, with both of its doors smashed. ‘Is that where you put all the valuable books? The Darwin and other books you mentioned yesterday?’

Elizabeth gave a pained wince. ‘Yes. I—I thought it best to keep them all together… But I just made it easier for a thief, didn’t I?’ she realised self-disgustedly. ‘I—Do you think we should call the police?’ She frowned as Rogan’s earlier comment finally registered.

He arched dark brows. ‘Don’t you?’

‘I… Yes. Of course.’ She stood up again to run the palms of her hands down her denim-clad thighs. ‘If you’re comfortable with that?’

‘If I’m—Why the hell wouldn’t I be comfortable with it?’ Rogan demanded.

Elizabeth could no longer meet Rogan’s dark and probing gaze. ‘I just thought—’

‘I don’t think I want to know what you thought, Elizabeth!’ he bit out. ‘Did imagining I might be involved in something illegal add to your pleasure this morning?’he continued scornfully. ‘Did it make it more exciting for you?’

Elizabeth felt the colour quickly drain from her cheeks at Rogan’s tone. ‘There’s no need to be insulting—’

‘Oh, I think there is,’ he insisted. ‘What do you imagine it is I do in the States, Elizabeth? Something illegal, obviously. Gun-running, maybe? Or selling drugs?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ she snapped uncomfortably.

Elizabeth had no idea what Rogan did or was in America; how could she, when he refused to talk about himself?

He folded his arms in front of that broad, muscular chest. ‘So what else did you come up with after you had eliminated gun-running and drugs?’

She made an agitated movement. ‘Stop this, Rogan.’

‘No, seriously,’ he grated, ‘I’m interested.’

He might be ‘interested’, but Elizabeth was under no illusion as to the fact that Rogan was furiously angry too. With good reason… ?

She moistened dry lips. ‘I imagined—thought that—that maybe you’re a mercenary… ’

Rogan’s eyes glittered as hard as jet. ‘From being a soldier for my country to becoming a hired killer for whoever can pay the most money?’

When he put it like that… ‘Perhaps not.’ Elizabeth grimaced. ‘Maybe if you were willing to talk about yourself more… ?’

‘And spoil all your fun?’ he taunted glacially. ‘I wouldn’t dream of it!’

Elizabeth wasn’t having fun at all! ‘I apologise if I’ve insulted you, Rogan—’

‘I can’t imagine why you would think I might be insulted at being thought a mercenary?’ he said.

She clasped her hands tightly together. ‘I have apologised… ’

‘And that makes it okay, does it?’ he exclaimed.

‘No, it obviously doesn’t make it okay,’ Elizabeth accepted softly. ‘I had no right to make assumptions concerning your—your present profession.’

‘No, you didn’t,’ Rogan agreed. ‘I assure you I have absolutely nothing I need to hide from the police, Elizabeth. Can you claim the same?’

She frowned at the challenge she heard in his voice.

‘What could I possibly have to hide?’

Rogan folded his arms across his chest. ‘You tell me.’

Elizabeth gave a confused shake of her head. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about… ’

He scowled. ‘How much does a university lecturer earn, Elizabeth? Not nearly enough, I’m sure. And no matter how much it is, I’m sure you could still use a couple of hundred grand extra to put in the bank.’

‘You think that I did this?’ Elizabeth gasped weakly, her hand moving up to her throat. ‘That I came back from our swim and deliberately wrecked the library in an effort to cover up the fact that I’ve stolen the first edition Darwin?’

Rogan’s mouth thinned. ‘It doesn’t sound any less plausible than you thinking I’m a damned mercenary!’

No, it didn’t sound less plausible, Elizabeth acknowledged numbly. Except her salary as a university lecturer wasn’t her only source of income. A university lecturer was what Elizabeth was, what she did, but the money she earned doing it was nothing compared to the legacy her mother had left for her when she had died ten years ago.

But that happened to be Elizabeth’s business and no one else’s!

She straightened. ‘I believe we’ve possibly insulted each other enough for one morning, don’t you?’

‘Oh, I don’t know—’

‘Rogan!’ Elizabeth interrupted. ‘Let’s just call the police now and let them handle this investigation.’

Rogan studied her through narrowed lids, knowing by her suddenly closed expression that she was hiding something. Whether that something had anything to do with the wrecking of the library, he had no idea…

‘Well, that wasn’t too helpful, was it?’ Rogan said frustratedly an hour or so later, as he helped Elizabeth pick up the books and check the titles before putting them into neat piles.

The police had arrived, ascertained there were no signs of forced entry, taken their report, and then left again. All within the space of that one hour.

‘I did tell you that there had been several break-ins in the area recently,’ Elizabeth answered him distractedly, as she checked the titles of yet more books.

‘The police might stand a better chance of catching the thief if they took a little more interest in the scene of the crime!’ Rogan muttered scathingly.

‘We don’t know if there’s been a crime—except for the obvious vandalism—until we check whether or not any of the books are missing,’ Elizabeth reasoned. Much as the police had said a short time ago, which was why she and Rogan were now trying to sort the books into some sort of order.

Which, Elizabeth knew, could take hours. Days. It was one thing to catalogue the books when they were in some sort of order on the shelves, another thing altogether to know whether or not any of them had been stolen when they were piled haphazardly on the floor.

‘Perhaps it won’t take too long to establish whether or not the Darwin is missing,’ she added with a frown.

‘We’re more in need of your services than ever, it seems,’ Rogan drawled as he resumed checking the titles of the books before stacking them.

Elizabeth gave him a sharp look. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It wasn’t supposed to mean anything.’ Rogan sighed his impatience with the increased tension between them. The break-in and their insulting conversation just now had certainly put their lovemaking in the cove onto the back burner!

Made a nonsense of it, in fact.

Which was probably as well, because Rogan was more determined than ever to get out of here, and out of England, as soon as he possibly could.

He straightened. ‘I’ll go and ask Mrs Baines to make us a pot of coffee. It might help us get through this,’ he added dryly, before disappearing to the kitchen.

As Elizabeth distractedly resumed checking and stacking the books, she wished she could make this whole morning disappear: making love with Rogan, discovering the break-in, their conversation afterwards, the unhelpfulness of the police. A pot of coffee wasn’t even going to come close to taking away the suspicion and tension that now, more than ever, existed between them.

They hadn’t been acquainted with each other long enough to really know each other. They certainly didn’t trust each other.

The first might nullify the second, of course. But, as Rogan had stated his intention of leaving immediately after his father’s funeral, that was never going to happen.

Which was probably as well. Elizabeth’s uncharacteristic reaction to Rogan this morning—that wild, out-of-control response!—told her she knew him well enough, at least, to want to stay well away from him in future.

‘I’m sorry I was gone so long, but I couldn’t find Mrs Baines so I made the coffee myself—Elizabeth, are you crying?’ Rogan probed disbelievingly as he came back into the library carrying the tray of coffee things and saw tears tracking wetly down Elizabeth’s cheeks.

She raised a hand and touched her face, her eyes widening as she felt the wetness there. ‘I’m sorry. I simply don’t understand how anyone could have done this.’ Her expression was bewildered as she stared down at the tumble of books that still surrounded her. ‘Books don’t harm people. They’re here to provide knowledge.

Entertainment. They’re my life.’ Her voice wobbled emotionally. ‘My friends,’ she added shakily as the tears once again fell softly down her cheeks.

Rogan put down the tray before crossing to her side to look down at her searchingly, knowing by the bruised look beneath her eyes, the pallor of her cheeks and the slight trembling of her hands that she was genuinely shaken by this whole thing.

He liked and appreciated books as much as the next man—or woman—but, as with all objects, he considered them replaceable.

Elizabeth talked about them lovingly, felt pained at their having been tumbled from the shelves in this way. She called them her friends…

There weren’t too many people in his life that Rogan trusted, but he would certainly count Ace, Grant, Ricky and a couple of other men he had served with amongst them.

What sort of life had Elizabeth led—did she still lead?—that she considered books her friends rather than people?

‘Hey, it’s not the end of the world.’ He put his fist beneath her chin and raised her face so that he could look down at her. ‘A couple of hours and we should have restored some semblance of order.’

Elizabeth was totally aware of the touch of Rogan’s hand as it burned against her skin, knew she should move away, but as the darkness of his gaze captured hers, and the warmth of his body so close to hers acted almost like a narcotic, she felt unable do so.

She moistened dry lips. ‘I’m sure you must have other things you need to be doing… ’

He grimaced. ‘Such as sorting out my father’s personal belongings? Believe me, I’m in no rush whatsoever to start doing that.’

His father!

Elizabeth was crying over a few books and Rogan’s father had died only days ago. That father and son hadn’t been close didn’t change the fact that Brad Sullivan was dead.

She stepped away from the touch of Rogan’s hand. ‘I’m so sorry. You must think me totally insensitive to be so concerned over a few books after you have suffered such a terrible personal loss.’

‘As you said, books don’t hurt people,’ Rogan murmured huskily.

She had said that, Elizabeth recalled with an embarrassed wince. As well as crying over them. What must Rogan think of her?

That she was a sad individual. Very sad, Elizabeth ac-knowledged wryly.

‘Who hurt you, Elizabeth?’ Rogan probed softly. ‘Someone you were in love with? Or just your father?’

Elizabeth had never allowed anyone close enough to fall in love with them! Which only left her father…

Her father had only wooed and married her mother because she had been a wealthy heiress. As a consequence, he had made Stella’s life, and Elizabeth’s, a misery. Wasn’t that enough?

Elizabeth had always thought so. Which was why, even as a child, she had always preferred books to people.

She still preferred books to people!

‘No one hurt me, Rogan,’ she assured him dismissively as she moved to the tray of coffee things. ‘How do you like your coffee?’

‘Changing the subject, Elizabeth?’ he taunted.

‘Yes.’ She made no attempt to prevaricate.

‘So, no lover took advantage of you and then left you heartbroken?’

Her mouth firmed. ‘Not yet.’

Those dark eyes glinted with humour. ‘Are you saying I took advantage of you this morning?’

Elizabeth felt an icy chill down the length of her spine as she realised she should never have attempted to retaliate in that way to Rogan’s mockery. ‘I believe I asked how you prefer your coffee,’ she said stiltedly.

‘Black, no sugar,’ Rogan supplied slowly, recognising that the previous conversation was over.

Even so, it had been a conversation that told him more about Elizabeth than she perhaps wanted him to know…

He had already realised from what had happened down in the cove this morning that Elizabeth was capable of deep emotion. That she normally kept those emotions firmly under control, hidden, was also in no doubt. He now also knew that she preferred the black and white aspect of the written word to any of those emotions.

Well, that was fine with him. He had no interest in Elizabeth Brown’s emotions. Teasing her just now had been as much of a mistake on his part as making love with her this morning had been. One Rogan would do well to avoid in future.

‘I can manage here on my own, if you have something else you need to do,’ Elizabeth said as she handed Rogan his cup of coffee, and she saw the dark frown on his brow.

That frown darkened to a scowl. ‘Such as?’ Rogan scorned. ‘There is nothing else to do here!’ He impatiently answered his own question. ‘How the hell did I stand living here as a kid?’

Elizabeth shrugged. ‘It was your family home—’

‘This was never a family home!’ Rogan denied coldly. ‘My mother’s home, yes. My home, too, for the five years I lived here. But my father was never here; he lived in London most of the time. We were never a family together here. And after my mother died I didn’t want to be here either—’ He broke off abruptly, the flare of anger in those dark eyes as he glared across at Elizabeth telling her how much Rogan instantly regretted the revealing outburst.

And Elizabeth wondered at the reason for it…

Rogan thrust his hands into the pockets of his jeans. ‘You said your own father is still alive?’

Elizabeth’s expression instantly became wary. ‘Yes… ’

Rogan’s mouth twisted derisively. ‘Take my advice, Elizabeth, and put that particular ghost to rest before he dies and you’re the one who’s left with all the unresolved issues!’

Her brow cleared as she realised this was the reason for Rogan’s anger. ‘I don’t have any unresolved issues where my own father is concerned,’ she assured him coolly.

‘No?’

‘No,’ she said flatly.

Rogan didn’t believe that for a moment—was sure that behind her cool façade Elizabeth had plenty she could say to her father. But that reticence about her, that reserve, said that she never would.

Unlike Rogan, who had plenty he would have liked to say to his own father, and now never could…

‘Fine.’ He gave an uninterested shrug. ‘I do have a few calls I need to return this morning, if you’re sure you’ll be okay dealing with the rest of this on your own… ?’

‘It’s what I do best,’ she told him dryly.

What she preferred, Rogan easily guessed. No doubt she believed that if she didn’t rely on other people for anything then they wouldn’t—couldn’t—let her down. Rogan should understand that philosophy; apart from those few close friends, he followed the same credo.

He nodded. ‘Fine. We’ll contact the police again once you’ve definitely established whether or not those first editions are missing.’

Elizabeth chewed on her bottom lip. ‘Do you really think they’ve been stolen?’

‘Don’t you?’

Well… yes, Elizabeth did think it a distinct possibility, considering they hadn’t found any of them yet and the library seemed to be the only room in the house that had been vandalised in this way. But when could a burglar have got in? How had they got in?

‘Let’s hope not, for your sake,’ she said.

‘My sake?’ Rogan echoed guardedly.

Elizabeth nodded. ‘I realise how anxious you must be to get back to your life in NewYork after your father’s funeral.’

Rogan gave a humourless smile. ‘I assure you, the disappearance of a few books—even first editions—isn’t going to alter those plans in the slightest,’he said, his strides long as he crossed the room. ‘And, Elizabeth… ?’ He paused at the door.

She looked across at him warily. ‘Yes?’

He gave a humourless grin. ‘I no longer live in NewYork.’

Elizabeth felt a jolt in her chest. ‘You don’t?’

‘Nope.’

‘But I… ’ She gave a puzzled shake of her head. ‘I wrote to you there.’

‘And your letter was duly forwarded on to me, which is why I was a little late in responding.’ He raised challenging brows. ‘Are you even more convinced now that I must be involved in something illegal?’ came his parting shot, before he let himself out of the library and closed the door quietly behind him.

Elizabeth didn’t know what to believe about Rogan Sullivan any more. The man was a puzzle within an enigma.

He was also the only man to so completely breach—however briefly—the barrier Elizabeth chose to keep about herself and her emotions…

.

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