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Мортимер Кэрол

The Failed Marriage

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CHAPTER TWO

POOR Joshua, he should never have had a wife like her; he would probably never have even considered it if she hadn’t pursued him so relentlessly, would probably never even have noticed her if she hadn’t made sure he had.

The holiday in Canada with her parents had been part of a few months’ holiday together before she went to finishing school in Switzerland during the summer, her mother insisting that she had to learn to ski before she went there, sure that all the other girls would be able to do so and Joanna would feel the odd one out.

So while her mother and father spent the days with another couple they had befriended at the ski complex in Banff, Joanna spent her days travelling up to the nearby Mount Norquay learning to ski on the nursery slopes.

The first few days were great fun, spent with a family of five, two teenage girls, a boy, and their parents as they too attempted to find their feet in the skis that seemed to have a life of their own. They all had a hilarious time, and it wasn’t until her parents asked how she was getting on that Joanna realised she should get down to some serious lessons.

After that her progression was very rapid, and after the first week she was more than ready to progress from the real beginners’ slopes to the longer more interesting runs.

Her speedy grasp of the sport might have had something to do with the rather handsome instructor she had, the two of them often meeting in the cafeteria for lunch even after she didn’t need his teaching any more.

And then she had seen Joshua, had watched in admiration as the figure in the dark blue ski-suit manoeuvred the most difficult run of all with an ease that still made her look very much the amateur. When the skier had reached the bottom of the run he slowed to a halt inches in front of a laughing redhead, his own austere features breaking into a smile as his arm went casually about the woman’s shoulders with a familiarity that spoke of several days’ acquaintance at least.

Joanna’s attention left the smiling woman to return to that handsome face, taking in everything about the man as he removed the woollen hat that had been keeping him warm, his hair long and dark, his eyes so light a grey they looked almost silver. He moved on his skis as if he had been born on them, kissing the redhead lightly on the mouth before taking the chair-lift back up to the top once again. The woman moved to sit on one of the bench seats outside the cafeteria, her bright red ski-suit obviously just for show as she preferred to spend hours just watching the tall dark man.

And he was worth watching; he became almost an obsession for Joanna. To her amazement, and pleasure, he turned out to have a cabin in the same complex as her parents’, and so she saw him often. Not that he noticed her. When he wasn’t skiing he was wrapped in the arms of the redhead, and Joanna felt her chagrin grow as a second week passed and all she could do was gaze at him from afar.

Then one day the redhead wasn’t waiting at the bottom of the run for him! The first day Joanna saw him at the ski-run on his own she thought perhaps the redhead had decided to spend the day in Banff for a change, but when she didn’t put in an appearance for three days in a row Joanna knew the other woman had left, that it had only been a holiday romance after all and not a cosy getaway for two in Canada.

As far as she was concerned it was the ideal opportunity for her to make him aware of her, something she hadn’t so far achieved, for all that she had tried to.

And it wasn’t so easy now either. He spent all of his days on the most experienced ski-slopes, the ones that she hadn’t progressed to yet, disappearing completely in the evenings, making Joanna wonder if he had found yet another lady to share his nights. Unless, like her, he was so exhausted by the physical exertion of a day’s skiing that he preferred to go to bed early, alone. She had got over her first initial aching body but still found the pure mountain air made her sleepy in the evenings.

Her parents felt no such inhibitions, spending most of their evenings out at dinner in one of the local restaurants with the other couple, and Joanna’s interest quickened one morning as they all lingered over breakfast, listening intently as her mother mentioned the man she herself had become so interested in. It had to be him, she hadn’t seen another man here who fitted that description!

‘Who is that fascinating man I occasionally catch a glimpse of in Banff?’ her mother asked her father. ‘The tall handsome man sitting alone in the restaurant last night.’

‘In the restaurant?’ Joanna echoed sharply, her disappointment acute that she had once again chosen to spend the evening alone in the luxury two-bedroomed cabin her parents were renting for their stay here. ‘Was he?’

Her mother, looking very attractive in a light blue cashmere jumper and perfectly matched in colour trousers, gave her a sharp look. ‘What do you know about him, darling?’

‘Nothing.’ She flushed, looking very young with her hair secured at her nape, her face completely bare of make-up, already dressed for another day’s skiing. ‘I’ve just seen him about the town too.’

Her father shrugged, a man several years older than than her mother, often giving the appearance of being slightly bemused by his beautiful wife at times. He had prematurely grey hair, was of medium height, retaining the lean masculinity of his youth. ‘I have no idea who he is. Does it really matter, Cora?’

She looked irritated by his lack of curiosity. ‘I suppose not,’ she stood up. ‘Although I do think you could show some interest.’ She lit a cigarette. ‘He’s English, you know.’

‘So are several other people here,’ he shrugged.

‘But he’s staying right here at the complex,’ his wife snapped.

‘Then ask the manager who he is,’ Joanna’s father dismissed.

‘I will not!’ her mother said indignantly.

Joanna left before she could hear her mother’s outraged reply, knowing she wouldn’t stand for her husband’s uninterested attitude towards the stranger any longer. Well, Joanna had decided that today he was going to stop being a stranger to her!

She took her skis and boots up to Mount Norquay as usual, her mother insisting that she couldn’t possibly use the rental gear available, that she must have all her own equipment, even though the whole thing had cost a complete fortune. But money had never bothered her parents, and Joanna had grown up knowing she could have anything she wanted. And now she wanted a tall dark stranger with enigmatic grey eyes that could be silver with amusement and like a storm-tossed sea in anger. She had seen the latter once when one of the young skiers came hurtling down the slope so fast he had lost control and almost ploughed down a young child in his way, only just managing to avoid her at the last moment by falling down. The man with the storm-tossed eyes had verbally ripped into the teenager, the young boy’s ears burning red at the justification of the reprimand.

But today Joanna was determined the eyes should be silver, with laughter, for her. She had never been denied anything before, and she had never waited so long for anything before either.

She could hardly believe her luck when she reached the ski area and saw the man was also in the locker-room putting on his boots.

And they were completely alone. It was all turning out so beautifully!

She saw him glance over at her, but his interest wasn’t held in any way as he once again concentrated on his task. She would make him notice her! And luckily she had just the way.

‘Oh damn,’ she muttered loudly as she put on her own boots. ‘Now what am I going to do?’ She spoke as if to herself, but made sure she was loud enough to be heard by the man. She could see him moving towards her out of the corner of her eye, and was amazed at how easily he could move in the restrictive boots, always feeling ungainly in them herself until she had her skis on. But he suffered no such inhibitions, he moved easily and smoothly. Joanna looked up as if surprised to see him there. ‘Oh, hello, I thought I was alone,’ she smiled at him warmly.

He didn’t smile back. ‘Anything I can do to help?’ His voice was deep and husky, and as her mother had said, he was English.

She straightened, overwhelmed by the sexual magnetism of him now that she was this close to him, realising that he was older than she had thought, must be in his early thirties at least, that he smelt of tangy cologne and sandalwood soap. ‘I—–’ she wet her lips nervously. ‘One of the straps on my boot has broken. Do you happen to have a spare?’ She ignored the spare straps that were burning a hole in the side of her carryall.

‘I think so, yes,’ he nodded, going back to his own bag and coming back with a blue strap. ‘Will this do?’ He held it out to her.

‘I’m sure it will,’ she confirmed huskily. ‘Would you mind putting it on for me?’

Dark brows rose beneath the blue woollen hat, but he made no demur, bending down to fit the strap easily, clipping the clasp into place. ‘All right?’

‘Er—Could you tighten it a little for me?’ As he bent forward so did she, her long blonde hair softly brushing the hardness of his cheek.

He glanced up at her, his eyes silvery grey. ‘Would you mind…?’ He brushed her hair away.

Joanna sat back, sighing her chagrin, trying another approach. ‘I’ve watched you ski,’ she told him with breathless admiration. ‘You’re very good.’

‘Thank you. Better?’ He sat back on his heels, the blue insolated suit fitting tautly to his muscular body.

She blinked. ‘Better…? Oh—oh yes,’ she blushed, making a show of testing the comfort of the boot. ‘Thank you.’

He nodded and stood up. ‘Then if you’ll excuse me…’

‘Of course.’ Once again she smiled, her eyes almost the colour of violets. ‘And thank you once again, Mr—–?’

‘Radcliffe,’ he drawled. ‘Joshua Radcliffe.’

‘Joanna Proctor,’ she returned invitingly, looking at him beneath lowered lashes.

‘Miss Proctor,’ he acknowledged curtly, and instantly left the locker-room.

So much for getting him to notice her! Oh, he had noticed her, all right, and just as soon dismissed her, she thought indignantly. Well, Joshua Radcliffe was about to find out that she only became all the more determined when something was constantly denied her.

But he seemed equally determined to ignore her, barely acknowledging her cheery greeting and hand-waves if they should ‘happen’ to meet. The day she stopped him to return the strap was the day he couldn’t just walk away from her.

It was lunchtime, and the cafeteria was crowded as Joanna pushed her way through to the vacant seat next to Joshua, hardly able to believe her luck as she glanced round the room. He had almost finished his coffee and sandwich, but she hurried to the seat before he could leave.

‘May I?’ She looked down at him expectantly, knowing the light blue ski suit she wore showed off the slenderness of her figure and deepened the colour of her eyes.

His shrug wasn’t encouraging. ‘I think it’s a question of sit where you can today.’

Not very encouraging at all. And she was very conscious of the other couple sitting at the table as she put her fruit yoghurt and coffee on the table before disposing of the tray, smiling as she sat down next to Joshua Racliffe. ‘I’m glad I ran into you today,’ she told him breathlessly.

Puzzlement flickered briefly in the dark grey eyes, one brow raised in query.

‘You are?’

Her confidence wavered for a moment, although she quickly recovered. ‘Yes. I have a new strap for you.’ She had been walking about with the strap zipped in her pocket for days in the hope that she would be able to use just such an occasion to sit and talk to him.

‘New strap?’ he frowned.

‘Yes, I—–’ The man didn’t even remember her, there was not a flicker of recognition in the stormy depths of his eyes! She reached up a hand to release her hair from the restrictive hat, its honey blondeness cascading down her back. ‘I’m Joanna Proctor, we met in the locker-room the other day,’ she prompted as he still looked puzzled. Well, no one had ever accused her of being defeatist!

‘Ah yes, Miss Proctor.’ His words were obviously spoken out of politeness, still no recognition in his expression.

She didn’t know what to say now, and was glad of the diversion of the other couple leaving to shield her dented ego. Luckily the lunchtime rush was over now, so she had Joshua to herself. But he appeared to be getting ready to leave too, picking up his gloves and ski-goggles.

‘I have a new strap for you here.’ She unzipped her pocket and handed it to him. ‘I bought it in town.’

He made no effort to take it. ‘There was really no need—–’

‘Of course there was,’ she insisted softly. ‘You were kind enough to lend me one of yours, the least I can do is replace it with a new one.’

He shrugged. ‘If you insist.’ He took the strap and pushed it carelessly into his pocket.

‘Oh, I do,’ she nodded eagerly. ‘Er—could I buy you another cup of coffee?’ she asked desperately as he seemed about to get up and leave.

He froze in the action of standing, looking down at her slowly. ‘Are you in the habit of buying strange men coffee?’ His voice was icy.

She laughed nervously, ‘No, I’m not in the habit of doing it,’ and here was a man who obviously didn’t appreciate the feminine prerogative of making the first move. Or did she mean moves—so far she seemed to have done all the chasing. And the man was making it very difficult for her to catch him. ‘And I wouldn’t call you strange,’ she added mischievously.

The eyes flickered silver, although his expression remained stern. ‘How old are you?’ he rasped.

‘How old—–?’ She was taken aback by the question.

‘Yes,’ he bit out grimly. ‘How old?’

Joanna tentatively touched the tip of her tongue to her lips. ‘Er—twenty,’ she lied, meeting his gaze unflinchingly.

For a moment he said nothing, then his mouth twisted into a mocking smile. ‘And I suppose you’ve been tempting men since you were in your cradle?’ he mused.

He was actually flirting with her! ‘Not exactly,’ she grinned.

All humour left him, leaving his face more austere than usual. ‘That’s probably because you haven’t left it yet!’ And with this abrupt comment he left her.

How could he do that to her, how could he flirt with her one second and treat her like a child the next! Well, it wasn’t fair, and she was far from beaten yet.

He didn’t put in an appearance for the next three days. The first day she didn’t worry too much—after all, he didn’t have to spend all his time skiing. But by the third day she began to suspect that he had left Banff, and Canada, to go back to wherever he came from. She cursed herself for not taking better advantage of her chances, knowing she would never again meet a man as fascinating as Joshua Radcliffe.

She moped about the cabin for the next two days, losing interest in the holiday that to many would be the highlight of a lifetime, no longer wishing to ski now that the possibility of seeing Joshua was gone. But finally it was her parents’ promptings that persuaded her to go back to Mount Norquay, utterly bored by Greg’s attempts to flirt with her, no longer interested in the ski-instructor when she had known the effect of a real man.

And then she saw a familiar navy-blue-clad figure skiing easily down from the top of the mountain—she would recognise that lithe figure anywhere. Joshua hadn’t left after all! Suddenly the day took on a new glow, even Greg’s conversation seeming interesting, although she was relieved when he excused himself to take his next class. Joshua was still here, and this time she didn’t intend to let him disappear, possibly for good, without making some sort of impression on him.

The tangled mess of arms, poles, legs, and skis wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but it achieved its objective!

She had watched Joshua go up in the chair-lift once again and had tried to time her descent from one of the small slopes to coincide with the time he too reached the bottom. Unfortunately she spent so much time watching how well he skied that she forgot her own control, suddenly realising she was heading straight for him. It was too late to do more than close her eyes and hope there would be no broken bones.

They met with a crunch of bodies, the force of it knocking all the breath from Joanna’s body, leaving her lying on the ground gasping, her legs and skis completely entangled with Joshua’s as he lay panting beside her.

He straggled to sit up, brushing the powdered snow from his goggles, finally removing them altogether to look down at her. ‘Joanna!’ he bit out gruffly. ‘Are you all right?’ His eyes narrowed as she didn’t move.

Her eyes flickered open and she felt slightly dazed, although the fact that he had remembered her name did a lot to help her feel better. ‘I—–’ She seemed to be having trouble talking, completely winded by the fall.

He bent over her now, concern etched into his pale face. ‘Are you hurt?’ he repeated in a rasping voice.

Was she hurt? She tentatively moved all her limbs, feeling not the slightest twinge, although she knew from experience that she would probably be bruised and aching tomorrow. But if she told Joshua she was all right now would he just get up and leave? She daren’t risk it.

She grimaced. ‘My wrist hurts.’

His gaze instantly moved down her body. ‘Which one?’

Joanna held up her right arm. ‘This one.’

‘Hm,’ his mouth was tight. ‘Well, you haven’t broken it, or you wouldn’t be able to move it that freely.’

Mistake number one! She adopted what she hoped was a pained expression. ‘It does hurt quite a lot, though, Joshua.’ She saw his face darken at her casual use of his name. Well, she was damned if she would call him Mr Radcliffe!

‘Probably just a sprain,’ he mumbled, bending down to free himself from his ski, the other one having come loose as he fell and was lying several feet away.

Just a sprain?’ she repeated indignantly.

The corners of his mouth quirked into a smile. ‘I’m sure it doesn’t feel trivial to you, but when I had visions of a broken leg at least, a sprained wrist seems quite mild by comparison.’

‘Well, I’m glad about that!’ She struggled to sit up without the use of her right hand, determined to carry out the pretence now that she had started it.

‘No, you aren’t,’ he smiled. ‘But I hope you’ll forgive me for what must seem like callousness. I just didn’t intend going home from here leaving a string of broken bodies behind me.’

Only broken hearts, she thought dreamily. She had fallen under his spell once again as he smiled at her, wouldn’t have cared if she had broken her leg, not if he came to the hospital to visit her. But she hadn’t broken anything, she knew that, even the hurt wrist was just an excuse to stop him getting up and walking away from her.

‘Here, let me.’ He moved to her aid as she struggled to unclasp her skis, the lock proving too stiff for her, his hand lightly brushing hers as he took over the task, although he seemed unaware of the almost electric shock that surged through her. ‘There,’ he straightened. ‘Now let’s see if you can stand up. Then I think we’d better move from here, we seem to be in the way,’ he said dryly as yet another skier manoeuvred past them.

With the aid of his arm about her waist Joanna was able to get unsteadily to her feel, more sure than ever that she was going to feel the bruising tomorrow. And the hardness of Joshua’s body as he pressed her to his side didn’t help the shaking of her legs or the racing of her pulse-rate.

‘I’ll drive you back to the cabins,’ he told her when they had reached the car park, Joshua somehow managing to keep an arm about her waist and carry their skis and poles in the other—and doing it with ease too! ‘I have a rental car,’ he explained as he leant the poles and skis against the side of the TransAm while he unlocked the passenger door for her, seeing her seated before attaching the skis to the roof-rack, putting their boots and poles in the boot.

She had seen the gold-coloured car with the brown eagle transfer across its bonnet about the complex, but she hadn’t realised it was being driven by this man. ‘My mother and father are renting a station wagon,’ she told him as he got in beside her.

‘So you’re here with your parents,’ he murmured. ‘I wondered.’

‘You did?’ she gasped.

He nodded. ‘They don’t ski?’

‘Oh yes, they do. But not very often,’ she confirmed his next unasked question. ‘I didn’t see you about at the beginning of the week.’ She made the statement into a question.

‘That’s because I wasn’t,’ he drawled.

‘Oh?’ she persisted, wondering if he had spent the time with a woman.

He sighed. ‘I went up to Sunshine for a few days,’ he named the other ski area at Banff.

Relief flooded through her. ‘Any good?’

‘Very. But a little more crowded than Norquay.’

He helped her out of the car once they reached the cabins, and Joanna didn’t feel it necessary to tell him it was her wrist that was injured, not her leg. She enjoyed having him touch her too much!

But when he took her to his own cabin she felt some of her brash self-confidence leave her. She dated a lot when she was at home, but they were usually boys, friends of the family; she had certainly never gone home alone with any of them!

The cabin had the same luxurious layout as the one. she was sharing with her parents, the large open-plan lounge and kitchen area, the beautiful stone fireplace in the lounge showing evidence of its recent use, although both the kitchen and lounge were very tidy. She knew there was a bathroom and two bedrooms leading off this, although Joshua took her straight into the lounge, inviting her to sit down on the sofa while he looked at her wrist.

Long sensitive fingers probed her loosely held wrist. ‘There’s no swelling,’ he seemed to speak almost to himself. ‘And I can’t feel any damage. But I’ll bandage it up anyway,’ he offered as he saw her mutinous expression. ‘It can’t do any harm.’ He straightened. ‘And it may do some good. I won’t be a minute.’

Joanna took advantage of his absence to slip out of her ski-suit, her soft wool jumper in the same blue as her eyes and the close-fitting denims she wore beneath the suit warm enough in the centrally heated cabin.

Joshua had removed his own ski-suit when he joined her a few minutes later, the black cords and thick black sweater giving him a satanic look, his warm virility tangible in the confines of the room Joanna’s pulse fluttered nervously.

He bandaged her wrist with quick decisive movements, his head bent as he concentrated on the task.

Joanna watched him without interruption, feeling the excitement surge through her. As if her pulse had leapt beneath his fingertips he looked up at her, his eyes narrowing as she blushed, her hair once again released to cascade down her back. ‘Er—very professional,’ she felt compelled to say something, looking down at the perfectly bandaged wrist to bide the flare of desire she felt sure must be in her eyes.

‘It should be,’ he drawled. ‘I’m a doctor.’

‘Oh,’ trust her! ‘Where in England do you practise?’ she asked interestedly.

He looked up at her unblinkingly. ‘Why do you want to know?’

She swallowed hard, knowing by the hardness in his eyes that she was being too obvious again. ‘I just—wondered,’ she said lamely. ‘It must be an interesting profession.’

‘It is,’ he nodded abruptly, securing the bandage. ‘And I have a practice in London.’

London. Well, at least they lived in the same city! Although she would be leaving for Switzerland at the end of the summer. Still, that was months away. She had his name and the fact that he worked in London. There couldn’t be that many Dr Joshua Radcliffes in town.

He looked up at her once again. ‘How does it feel?’

‘It—–? Oh—fine.’ She blushed as she realised he was talking about the bandage. ‘Your patients must feel very safe with you,’ she added softly, meeting his gaze in challenge.

He was still down on his haunches in front of her. ‘And you?’ he prompted huskily. ‘Do you feel—safe with me?’

Her breath caught in her throat at the sudden warmth in his eyes. ‘No.’

‘No?’ He quirked dark brows mockingly.

Delicate colour warmed her cheeks at the way he was deliberately tormenting her, her mouth tightening defiantly. He wouldn’t be amused by her, he wouldn’t! ‘No,’ she said determinedly, bending her head to put her mouth against his.

Because of the precariousness of his position the assault knocked him off balance, his hands coming out to grasp her arms, both of them tumbling to the floor, the deep-pile carpet and thick rug in front of the fireplace cushioning their fall.

Joshua raised his head, his eyes glittering like a storm-tossed sea as he glared down at her. ‘Why, you little—–!’ His mouth ground down on hers in anger,

determined to hurt her.

She had never been kissed with such intimacy before, her mouth parting beneath Joshua’s as he probed her lips, ravaging and raping her mouth as she lay stunned in his arms, her inexperience shocked by his sexual attack on her body, his hands beneath the thickness of her jumper now, laying claim to one taut breast, tantalising the nipple with sure fingertips.

‘No!’ He finally thrust her away from him, breathing heavily as he stood up, the tautness of his thighs telling of his own arousal. He turned away as he saw her gaze on him, raking a hand through his hair. ‘I think you’d better leave.’

‘But—–’

‘Joanna!’ he warned icily, his back still towards her as he shudderingly brought his body back under control. ‘Just go. Now.’

She scrambled to her feet, collecting up her clothes before going to the door. She gave one last longing look in his direction before quietly leaving.

But she was adult enough to realise that his anger had mainly been directed at himself, for his response to her. Her own body ached from her pleasure in his rough caresses, and she was determined that she would know that desire again.

Joanna’s thoughts came agonisingly back to the present as she heard the slamming of the Rolls’ door outside, knowing that Joshua was home. The clock at her bedside told her it was almost eleven. Joshua was later than he usually was, her own time since his departure being spent reliving the time they had met and she had fallen in love. Because she had fallen in love, during that first kiss.

She got to her feet now, hobbling into the bathroom to empty the cold scented water she had forgotten she had run as she became lost in thoughts of the past.

She was in bed reading a magazine when she heard Joshua coming up the stairs, knowing he must have seen the light on in her room, her windows facing the front of the house. Her face was a polite mask as his knock sounded on her bedroom door, and he entered immediately afterwards.

He looked even more tired than he had earlier tonight, sharpening Joanna’s suspicion as to the reason for the tiredness, although she didn’t ever remember lovemaking tiring him in the past.

He didn’t make the curt goodnight at the door as he usually did, and Joanna stiffened as he came in to sit on the side of her bed. ‘How is your foot now?’ he enquired softly.

She put her magazine down, her hands clasping together to stop their trembling. This situation reminded her too much of the time she had pretended injury to her wrist, swallowing hard as she remembered the way he had kissed her then. ‘It’s fine,’ she dismissed, just wanting him to leave.

‘Sure?’ he frowned, looking all of his thirty-seven years.

‘Yes!’ Her tone was sharp with tension.

His eyes took on the look of a storm-tossed sea as he continued to look at her, his breathing suddenly ragged. She had learnt during their married life together that it wasn’t only anger that made his eyes go that colour, that physical desire produced the same effect. It was the latter he was feeling now.

He confirmed her suspicions as he groaned low in his throat. ‘God, Joanna, I—–’

‘No!’ She recoiled away from him even as his hands tightened on her arms.

Yes, Joanna,’ he bit out grimly. ‘Tonight it has to be yes!’

His mouth claimed hers, parting her lips as he bent her to his will, kissing her with an intimacy she thought forgotten. His hands moved feveredly over her body from her hip to her breast, lingering over the latter, tracing the outline of the nipple through the silk of her nightgown, pushing the strap of the gown down as his mouth moved to claim her bare breast.

‘No!’ she looked up at him with wild eyes. ‘I don’t want to!’ She pushed his hands away from her.

Joshua was breathing heavily as he raised his head, refusing to be pushed off as he pinned her down to the bed. ‘You never do,’ he ground out. ‘But I do,’ he told her fiercely.

Her eyes glittered her rejection of him. ‘Then go and see your little receptionist. But don’t come to me!’

His eyes narrowed as he slowly moved up and away from her. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ he rasped.

Her mouth twisted, she pulled herself up the pillow now that the danger had passed, straightening the bedclothes about her with a calm she was far from feeling. It was a long time since she and Joshua had discussed anything on such a personal level, and she wasn’t sure she was ready for it yet.

‘Joanna!’ he prompted hardly at her silence.

She sighed, her head back defiantly. ‘You know exactly what I mean, Joshua, so let’s not play games. If you choose to have an affair with your receptionist then that’s your business, but don’t come to me after you’ve been with her.’

‘I’ve been working—–’

‘I think the whole of London is aware of the “work” you’ve been doing in the evenings lately,’ she said contemptuously.

He breathed angrily, his mouth tight. ‘In other words, your mother has been listening to one of her cronies again,’ he derided harshly. ‘No wonder she was concerned about you! When will you learn not to listen to gossip, Joanna?’

She flushed at the rebuke. ‘This wasn’t gossip, and you know it. And my mother actually defended you,’ she told him angrily. ‘She thinks a man is entitled to “stray”, as long as his wife finds out in time and puts a stop to it,’ she added disgustedly.

‘But you don’t want to do that, do you, Joanna?’ he taunted hardly. ‘Because if you did that you would have to share a bed with me yourself.’

‘Does this mean you admit to having an affair with Angela Hailey?’

‘I admit nothing—but I’m not denying it either,’ he added softly, too softly. ‘Does that give you an excuse to keep denying me access to your bed, and your body?’

‘I don’t need an excuse!’ she snapped, two bright spots of colour in her cheeks.

‘No,’ he agreed heavily, beginning to pace the room. ‘I realise that.’ He stopped his pacing to glare down at her. ‘Just why the hell did you marry me, Joanna?’ he asked wearily.

She looked down at her hands. ‘You know why,’ she mumbled.

‘Tell me!’ he ordered tightly.

Her head went back at the aggression in his tone, throwing back the bedclothes to stand up, her body tense with anger as she faced him across the room. ‘Because I was eighteen, terrified, and carrying your child!’

.

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