A Hint of Scandal(9)

By: Tara Pammi

Shifting back, he stared at her, unwilling to touch her even to pull her up.

She sat up and pushed her hair out of her face, her movements jumpy, her willowy body trembling. His gaze fell to the impressions on her wrists. He sank back to his knees with a silent thud, feeling an invisible punch to his gut. Dear God, he had done that to her. Even in the silver light of the moon there was no mistaking the light red marks on her wrists.

Whatever she had done, however much she had provoked him, there was no excuse. Everything he hated within himself, everything he kept tightly bound, had snapped free in a matter of seconds. Shame spiraled through him, cooling his desire, drenching him in a cold sweat—a familiar sick feeling that greeted him like an old friend.

To use brute strength to control...it was the lowest he could sink to.

He pulled her hands into his and cursed when she pulled back like a frightened cat. “We should run some cold water on your wrists.”

She stood up, dusting away the sand from her body, her gaze pointedly looking away from him. “I’ve had worse. This is nothing.”

He hated the clawing need to explain that he wasn’t that man. But he wouldn’t be able to look at himself if he didn’t. “You probably don’t expect better from the men in your life.” He ignored her gasp. “I expect better of myself.” He tilted his head, seeking again the proof of his boorish behavior. “I apologize, Olivia. Nothing justifies my behavior.”

Her gaze studied him, disbelief pouring out of her stiff shoulders. “I provoked you. I—”

He shook his head. “That’s the pathetic excuse of a weak man.”

She opened her mouth to argue but he cut her off.

Stepping back from her, he fisted his hands by his side. “Get dressed. I’ll see you inside.” His words were clipped, his anger at himself coating his throat. “And don’t even think of leaving.”


IF ALEXANDER HAD assumed that he would be less distracted with her dressed, he was wrong. Just as he stepped into the huge open-plan kitchen Olivia entered through the high archway, covered in his white robe, the one Kim had borrowed from him two days ago, her honey-gold hair gleaming wet, her skin glowing pink.

He pulled his gaze away from the vee of the robe and poured himself a drink from the bar. The sounds of her puttering around the kitchen beat a tattoo in his head. His patience running dangerously thin, he guzzled down his scotch. The erotic reminder of how it had tasted on her was forever imprinted on his mouth.

“I’m waiting, Olivia.”

She slammed the door on the state-of-art steel refrigerator and leaned against it. “Is there any chance of finding food in this godforsaken mansion? Or do you expect me to die of hunger?”

He pushed a chair back and sat down, stretched his legs. A slow ache was beginning to build behind his left eye. “Where’s Kim?”

She glared at him and started digging around in the numerous cabinets. “I don’t know.”

“Don’t play games with me.” He raked a hand through his hair. This morning his life had been mapped out perfectly. He’d been about to marry a woman who was sensible, undemanding—someone who aroused nothing in him except affection and respect, someone who would stand by his side as he gave his sister the life she deserved. Instead, he had slipped the diamond ring on the finger of her antithesis.

“I tend to rebel when threatened—if you don’t already know.” She poked her head out of the drawer she had been searching and ran a hand through her hair. “Add the fact that my stomach is eating itself, I’m very dangerous right now.”

He crossed to her in a minute and cornered her, more annoyed by her presence than Kim’s absence. An irrational reaction if ever he’d had one. “Don’t mistake my patience to be a failing, Olivia.” When she tried to turn away, he shifted his body to block her. The scent of her skin surrounded him, assaulting him with images of her in the shower. “Kim was fine this morning. Until you showed up. It’s obvious that she’s somewhere cleaning up your mess again.”

Her mouth opened in protest. She swallowed. The column of her neck drew his gaze. Her hands swept over her stomach. She was nervous and distressed. Finally he was going to get some answers.

“I’m truly hungry, Alexander,” she said, her mouth a beguiling pout. “I missed lunch and then ate hardly a morsel at the reception. Can’t you order your famous French chef to whip up something? Preferably something substantial.”

He fisted his hands, digging deep inside himself for the last scrap of patience. The nerves in his temple stretched taut, as if they would snap at any minute. He pointed her toward the phone on the wall.

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