Luc smiled slightly. “Yes, I can deny it. Lia, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.”

“But admit it. That was just a bonus. You saw me as a way to get to my father. A way of finally getting your revenge. Revenge, which according to your mother was the one driving force in your life.”

He ran a hand through his already ruffled hair. “Maybe at one point. I was very young when my father died—impressionable—but by the time I met you, I’d put it behind me. Lia, it’s beside the point. You are not your father. What he did is in no way down to you; how could it be?”

“And what happens if he turns up?”

Luc took a deep breath. For the first time he seemed reluctant to speak. “He won’t turn up.”

“How can you be so sure?”

He reached out and took her hand. “Lia, your father is dead.”

Lia stared at him. “What did you say?”

“Your father is dead. He’s been dead for nearly nine years.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

“We followed up on those letters you gave me. He was living in Marbella under a different name, but it was easy once we knew where to search. He was killed in a car crash about a year after he left you and your mother. You were right—he had always intended to send for you.”


“How long have you known this?”

“A couple of days after you gave me the letters.”

“And you didn’t think I’d be interested?”

He stood up and she watched as he paced the room for a few minutes.

“I thought you would go. You told me you would stay and help me find your father. I believed that if you knew he was dead you would leave, go home.”

“Would that have been so bad?”

He sank back down onto the chair beside her. “I didn’t want you to go.”

She didn’t speak and he took a deep breath.

“Lia, I love you.”

God, how she would have loved to have heard those words that morning. Would she have given credence to anything Luc’s mother had told her if she had been certain of Luc’s feelings?

Now, she couldn’t be sure he wasn’t using the declaration to manipulate her. As her father had done so often with her mother. Just say the magic words and everything else could be forgotten. She shook her head again. It was too late.

She knew there was truth in what he was saying, but she had been hit by too many surprises today, and her poor battered brain couldn’t take much more. All she knew for certain was that Luc had withheld something so important from her, purely to get his own way. How could she trust him, and how could there be any hope for them without trust?

She was also battling an unexpected sense of grief. Why would she grieve for a father she had always despised?

Her mother waiting, hoping, believing he would come back to her all those years, and all that time he had been dead. Would her mother’s life have been different if she’d known?


Luc was waiting for some response to his declaration, but she really didn’t think she could give him one, certainly not the one he wanted or probably expected. She knew she loved him, but she wasn’t sure that was enough.

Love hadn’t made her mother happy.

She looked at him carefully. He was beautiful; she wanted him with a pain that was almost physical, and she forced it down. She needed to get away, get some distance between them.

“I’m leaving.”

“Lia, don’t go. We’ll work through this.”

“Just give me some time,” she whispered.

For a second, his fists clenched at his side, then the tension drained from him. “I’ll give you two weeks.”

Chapter Seventeen

“You know,” Lia said to the horse she was grooming, “two weeks isn’t long in the scheme of things.” She sighed. “So why does it feel like forever?”

It was actually ten days ago that she had walked away from Luc at the Rome airport. Walked away and regretted it with each heavy step she had taken. It seemed like a lifetime. And four more days to go. Could she bear to wait that long?

She realized now that she had been in shock that day, unable to see things rationally, but her mind had cleared in the time since. She’d spent long hours going over and over what happened, and it always came back to an immutable truth—she loved Luc, and she believed he loved her in return. She’d never wanted love, been terrified it would turn her into a clone of her mother, but she wasn’t her mother, and Luc certainly wasn’t her father.

Her father had been a cruel man, and she had always believed her mother was a fool for loving him. Strangely, though, over these last weeks, she had come closer to understanding her mother than she ever had while she lived, and that tore at her heart. She’d been so hard, so unforgiving. She’d never understood why her mother couldn’t move on, forget about her father, and get a life, and she’d made her views perfectly clear. Now, she winced at the guilt that ate at her because she’d discovered for herself that love wasn’t something you could switch off at will. She had always believed she didn’t want love, but would she really turn her back on these feelings? With Luc, she had felt complete. Now it was as though the very center of her was missing. A big, gaping hole only Luc Severino could fill.

Right from the beginning, she had told herself that there was no future for her and Luc, but it had been fear. She had been terrified of falling in love, of giving over her hope of happiness to a man who she had sensed from the start had the ability to take her over, body and soul.

When his mother had come that last day, it was as if Lia had expected it, but even so the truths she told were worse than anything Lia could have imagined, and it had knocked her feet out from under her. If only Luc had told her himself—but then she realized with an almost blinding insight that perhaps Luc had been afraid as well. It seemed an impossible concept, but she remembered his face at the airport. The pain in his brilliant green eyes.

How could she do this to him? She had never even told him she loved him.

She didn’t want to speak to him on the phone. She needed to see him face-to-face. Would he even be in the country? Should she go to his office?

She hurried inside and picked up her bag, searching through it until she found the card from The Crazy Frog. Her fingers were trembling as she pushed the numbers.

“Can I speak to Harley Watson, please?”

She sank down into the seat behind her while she waited. Her hands tightened around the phone as she heard the receiver being picked up at the other end.

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