“I love you,” he said against her lips.

“I know.” And the last lingering doubts were banished forever.

He kissed her again, his tongue slipping into her mouth. After a moment, he became still against her. He examined the room, his gaze settling on a hay bale. He backed her toward it, then turned, sank down, and pulled her down so she sprawled across his lap. He pulled the band from her hair, ran his hands through the curls so they fell around her shoulders.

His fingers shook as he unbuttoned her white cotton shirt, baring her breasts. She shivered in anticipation as he stared down at her.

“No bra,” he said, his hands brushing over the already swollen peaks. The light touch sent lightning bolts to her groin. Lowering his head, he took one taut nipple between his lips, sucking, then biting gently until she whimpered at the sensations running through her. She had missed this so much; she needed his touch, needed to touch him.

Reaching down between their bodies, she found him hard, and she fumbled with the button of his pants. Finally, it opened beneath her fingers, and she slid her hand inside. His mouth went still at her breast. He groaned against her hair as her fingers wrapped around the length of him. She felt all the masculine strength concentrated, eager, and impatient under her fingers, and the moist heat welled up between her clenched thighs.

She used her other hand to lower his zipper so he sprang free.

“Lia,” he muttered, and she squeezed him gently.

Someone banged on the door. “Lia!”

Pete. Lia closed her eyes for a moment, thought seriously about pretending she wasn’t there. Luc had no such thoughts. He swore softly, took a deep breath, and then swore loudly. At Pete.

Pete ignored the suggestion. “Lia, are you okay?”


Lia cleared her throat, unsure whether her voice would work.

“I’m fine,” she croaked, stumbling to her feet.

“I knew this was too good to be true.” Luc reached up to fasten her buttons. “I guess this is fated to stay a fantasy, unless I do buy you a stable. Though you know, there are stables at Shellwood.”

“Let’s go,” Lia muttered. “Now.”

Luc smiled. He stood up, wincing slightly as he refastened his trousers.

“Go on,” he said. “Go put your protector’s mind at rest, reassure him that I’m not in here ravishing you. Or worse.”

Lia went over and opened the top half of the stable door. “Hi, Pete.”

Pete’s eyes widened as he took in her disheveled state. He peered into the stable as Luc came up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder in a sure sign of possession.

“As you see, she’s all in one piece, and you can be the first to congratulate us. The engagement is back on.”

Resignation flickered across Pete’s face. Then he smiled. “Good, perhaps she’ll stop moping around now and get some work done.”

He leaned over the door and kissed her on the cheek. Lia felt Luc’s fingers tighten, but he said nothing.


“Thanks,” Luc said and gently shut the door in Pete’s face.

He pulled her against him. “Now where were we?”

Lia wriggled out of his grasp. “About to have that talk.”

He sighed but nodded. “So, why did you leave? Why didn’t you stay and work it out?”

“I was scared,” she said.

“Scared of me?” He sounded almost shocked at the idea, and Lia smiled.

“You can be very scary, you know. But no, not really of you. The thing was, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love, and the feelings were too strong. Everything seemed so perfect, and I was waiting for something to go wrong. And I knew there was something you weren’t telling me.”

She reached up and stroked her finger down the scar on his cheek again. “All that stuff about my father, if I’d thought about it at all I probably would have guessed. But I shut it out, shoved it to the back of my mind, pretended it didn’t exist.

“That time on the island was like a fantasy for me, a dream, totally cut off from real life, like we were existing in some sort of bubble that protected us from the real world. I didn’t want to spoil it. I told myself I could have that time, that it was all I would ever have of you, so make the most of it. Then your mother turned up, and the bubble well and truly burst.”

“I’m sorry about that. I’d gone to see her, to talk to her, but by the time I got to Rome she was on her way to the island. I raced back. All I could think about was getting there, telling you I loved you, that we would somehow work it all work out. But you were already gone. I couldn’t believe it.”

“When did you know you loved me?”

“Probably that first night in the apartment. I found myself wishing you were someone else, someone who had nothing to do with Jimmy Brent. I realized I would give up all chance of revenge for a normal relationship with you. It’s not something I’d ever wanted before.”

“Me neither. Luc, can you really forget what my father did to you?”

He considered her question. Then shook his head. “No. But it doesn’t really matter anymore. You’re not your father, thank God.”

“And Mike. Can you accept Mike? He’s an important part of my life.”

“If you can accept my mother after what she did, I can accept anyone.”

“Your mother hates me,” she said.

He reached out a hand and smoothed back a stray curl. “My mother doesn’t know you,” he said gently. “When she does, she’ll love you as much as I do.”

“And if she doesn’t, if she can’t get over who I am?”

Luc’s smile faded, and she caught a glimpse of the ruthless man who had been willing to blackmail her to get what he wanted. “She’ll have to,” he said, “if she wants to spend time with her grandchildren.”

“Grandchildren?” Happiness bubbled up inside her at the thought of Luc’s babies. “I like that idea.”

“Good, because I want plenty, but not just yet. For now, I want you to myself.” He reached into his pants pocket. “I’ve been carrying this around since you left the island, hoping I would get this chance.” Taking her hand in his, he stroked his thumb over her palm and then slid the sapphire ring onto her finger. “Lia Brent, will you marry me?”

She closed her fist around the ring, holding it tight.

“I will.”

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