A Night of No Return(2)

By: Sarah Morgan

‘Celebrating my birthday.’ Clearly less than delighted with his chilly response, she produced her trademark pout. ‘You refused to come to my party so I decided to bring the party to you. Your housekeeper let us in. Why haven’t you ever invited me here before? I love this place. It’s like a film set.’

Lucas lifted his gaze. He saw now that the grand hall with its magnificent paintings and tapestries had been decorated with streamers and balloons. Gaudily wrapped presents were stacked next to a large iced birthday cake. Open bottles of champagne stood on an antique table, mocking his black mood.

Never in his life had he felt less like celebrating.

His first thought was that he was going to fire his housekeeper, but then he remembered just how persuasive Tara could be when she wanted something. She was a master at manipulating emotions and he knew it frustrated her that she’d never succeeded in manipulating his.

‘Tonight is not a good night for me. I told you that.’ His voice sounded robotic but Tara simply shrugged dismissively.

‘Well, whatever it is that is making you so moody, you need to snap out of it, Lucas. You’ll forget about it once you’ve had a drink. We’ll dance for a bit and then go upstairs and—’

‘Get out.’ His thickened command was greeted with appalled silence. Her friends—people he didn’t know and had no desire to know—murmured their shock.

The only person who seemed unaffected by his response was Tara herself whose ego was the least fragile thing about her. ‘Don’t be ridiculous, Lucas. You don’t mean that. It’s a surprise party.’

But the surprise, apparently, was his. Only Tara could hold a surprise party for her own birthday. ‘Get out and take your friends with you.’

Her eyes hardened. ‘We all came by coach and it isn’t coming back until one o’clock.’

‘When did you last look outside? Nothing is going to be moving on these roads by one o’clock. That coach had better be here in the next ten minutes or you’ll be snowed in. And trust me, you do not want that.’ Perhaps it was his tone, perhaps it was the fact that he looked dangerous—and he knew that he must look dangerous because he felt dangerous—but his words finally sank home.

Tara’s beautiful face, that same face that had graced so many magazine covers, turned scarlet with humiliation and anger. Those cat-like eyes flashed into his, but what she saw there must have scared her because the colour fled from her cheeks and left her flawless skin as pale as the winter snow blanketing the ground outside.

‘Fine.’ Her lips barely moved. ‘We’ll take our party elsewhere and leave you alone with your horrid temper for company. Now I know why your relationships don’t last. Money, brains and skill in bed can’t make up for the fact that you don’t have a heart, Lucas Jackson.’

He could have told her the truth. He could have told her that his heart, once intact and fully functioning, had been damaged beyond repair. He could have told her that the phrase ‘time heals’ was false and that he was living proof that damage could be permanent. He could have described the relief that came from knowing he might never be healed because a heart already damaged could never be damaged again.

There was something beating in his chest, that was true, but it did nothing more than pump blood around his body, enabling him to get out of bed in the morning and go to work every day.

He could have told Tara all of that but she would have gained as little satisfaction in the listening as he would in the telling, so he simply strode past her towards the famous oak staircase that rose majestically from the centre of the hall.

Tonight the proportions and design gave him no satisfaction. The staircase was merely a means to escape from the people who had invaded his sanctuary.

Without waiting for them to leave, he took the stairs two at a time and strode towards his bedroom in the tower that overlooked the moat.

He didn’t care that he’d shocked them.

He didn’t care that he’d ended yet another relationship.

All he cared about was getting through this one night.

He was a cold-hearted, driven workaholic.

Her normal patience nowhere to be found, Emma struggled to keep the car on the road. It was Friday night and she should have been at home relaxing with Jamie. Instead, she was chasing her boss round the English countryside. After the week she’d had it was the last thing she needed. She had a life, for goodness’ sake. Or rather, she would have liked to have a life. Unfortunately for her, she worked for a man for whom the concept of a life outside work didn’t exist.

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