A Question of Pride(10)

By: Michelle Reid

Clea quivered on an inward sob. He sounded so gentle, and infinitely caring, and she so wanted to throw her arms around him, lose herself in the warm strength of him—take the comfort she knew he was offering her ... She so wanted him to love her!

Tears stung at her eyes, and she was glad of the long fall of her hair that hid her face from his probing gaze. It was dark in the small hallway; only the spill of light from her bedroom lit their two grim forms.

'Is it me?' he asked huskily. 'Have I done or said something to upset you? Clea—what is it?' Impatience tinged his voice. He hadn't attempted to touch her. He just stood there—two feet away from her, with those sharp eyes of his pinned on her downturned face, waiting for some explanation for her odd behaviour.

She was trembling inside; in a moment, she would be trembling on the outside, too. His coming here at this time of night and without her expecting him to, had not given her time to gather herself, but she did so now, heaving in a deep breath and lifting her face to show him a reassuring expression.

'I'm just very tired, Max,' she told him quietly. 'You've done nothing—nothing at all.' Her voice sounded strange to her own ears: dead—was she dead? No, she was hurting too much inside to be dead. Life didn't give one such easy ways out.

Max looked grave, his stance full of tension. He was puzzled by her behaviour and feeling vaguely uncomfortable. Max didn't like to feel uncomfortable, he liked everything in his life to run on well oiled wheels.

'W-we females get like this sometimes, you know,' she offered wryly, her smile deliberately self-mocking. 'It's all in the hormones.'

'Ah!' He liked that. It was something he could understand. It removed the puzzlement—the discomfort.

Bitterly, she watched the tension leave him; his expression became easy, relaxing again into its usual lazy arrogance. When he reached out to draw her to him, Clea went willingly. She needed this. He might be offering her comfort for the wrong reasons, but she was feeling weak enough to accept whatever crumbs he wanted to throw her way. She loved him, and she was having his baby, and she was frightened of what the future held for her—a future without Max, without the small amount of affection he deigned to give her.

'I'm an insensitive cad!' He rebuked himself with enough humour in his tone to make her laugh which, she guessed, was what he intended her to do. His cheek came down to rub gently against hers. He smelled of Dior —that delicious elusive Max smell she associated only with him, because it was the only form of male cologne he ever used. Her arms crept around his lean waist, slender fingers stroking the heated skin beneath his silk shirt. 'I call you up and place you in the damnedest position—then drive around here in a rage, thinking I'm the wounded party because you send me off with a flea in my ear. I don't know how you put up with me.'

Because I love you, she said silently. Because I want so desperately for you to love me, too!

She moved to bury her face in his warm throat, drowning on a wave of desperate emotion. Her lips grazed his skin, eyes closing so she could absorb the pleasure in being close to him. Max trembled, and his arms tightened around her, his lips moved urgently to seek out hers, and they kissed—a long, clinging kiss, that spoke of desperation on both sides.

They were both a little breathless when they broke apart. Max looked down at her pale face, and spent a long time searching the unhappiness in her lavender-blue eyes. Sometimes—sometimes he could show such beautiful passion that she could almost convince herself that he cared for her more than he liked to admit.

It was this thought that made her reach up to place another gentle kiss on his mouth, and her smile came quite naturally as she combed the fingertips of one hand through his silky hair. Something strange passed over his expression. He caught the trailing hand and pressed a warm kiss to her palm, then their eyes locked in silent but obscure communication. Then he was turning her within his arm and leading her back to her bedroom, while Clea leaned weakly against him—self-pityingly, almost.

He sat her down on the bed and came down on his haunches, his ministrations indulgent as he helped her off with her robe and slipped her into bed, pulling the covers over her.

'Poor Clea,' he murmured, a hand stroking the side of her face. 'I don't remember these—women's problems —ever affecting you like this before.'

Her expression turned wary, instant defence stiffening her body. 'Damned hormones!' she mocked, smiling up at him as he leaned over her.

'Mmm.' His eyes twinkled their appreciation of her tease. 'Damned hormones.' He was squatting by her bed, one long, slender hand lost in her hair, the other covering both of hers. 'Shall we give tomorrow night a miss—hmm?' he suggested gently.

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