More Than a Convenient Marriage?(9)

By: Dani Collins

  “Really?” Adara rotated to Gideon like a flower to the sun, buoyed by what Nico’s interest and invitation represented. He wanted to see her.

  A thought occurred, making her clench her hand on the railing. Gideon was a very private person who kept himself removed from all but the most formal of social contact. He wouldn’t want to stay in a stranger’s house full of unfamiliar staff.

  An excruciating pang of loss ambushed her. She would have to continue her journey alone, her request for independence and divorce granted even as her husband’s desire for reconciliation hung in the air. As cavalier as she wanted to be about leaving him, it wasn’t painless or easy. Her heart started to shrivel as she looked to the emptiness that was her future.

  “I told him I would leave it up to you to decide,” Gideon continued. “But that I expected we’d move over there tomorrow because you’re eager to renew ties.” He took another healthy draw from his wine.

  Adara blinked, shocked that Gideon would make such a concession. It made everything he said about salvaging their marriage earnest and powerful.

  “You said that?” She reached out instinctively, setting her free hand on his sleeve so he would look at her, then feeling awkward when he only stared at her narrow hand on his tense forearm. She pulled her hand away. “I didn’t expect you to understand.”

  “I’m not an idiot. I’ve got the message that there’s more going on than you’ve let me see.” Now his gaze came up and his dark-chocolate irises were intensely black in the fading light. “I want you to quit keeping so much to yourself, Adara.”

  Longing speared into her, but so did fear. The words I can’t lodged in her throat. She never shared, never asked for help. She didn’t know how.

  A knock at the door heralded room service. Gideon moved to let the server in and stood back as the meals were set out. Gideon’s knowledge of her tastes and his desire to please were well at the forefront. He’d ordered prawn soup, fried calamari, and baked fish fillets on rice with eggplant. Delicious scents of scorched ouzo and tangy mint made her mouth water. Their climb to the beach, coupled with the time change, had her stomach trying to eat itself. Much as she knew it would be better not to encourage either of them that their marriage had a chance, she couldn’t help sinking into the chair he held.

  Winking lights bobbed on the water, live music drifted from the restaurant below and the warm evening air stroked her skin with a sensual breeze. The server closed the door on his way out and the big bed stood with inviting significance just inside the room.

  And then there was the man, still barefoot, still with his shirt hanging open off his shoulders, the pattern of hair across his chest and abdomen accentuating his firm pecs and six-pack stomach. How he managed casual elegance with such a disreputable outfit, she didn’t know, but the woman in her not only responded, but melted into a puddle of sexual craving.

  She was in very real danger of being seduced by nothing more than his presence.

  Frightened of herself, she stole a furtive glance into his face and found him watching her closely, not smug, but his gaze was sharp with awareness that she was reacting to him. Her cheeks heated with embarrassment at not being able to help this interminable attraction to him.

  Gideon couldn’t remember ever being so tuned to a woman, not out of bed anyway, and even at that he and Adara had fallen into certain patterns. Now that he was beginning to see how much she disguised behind a placid expression or level tone, he was determined to pick up every cue. The fact he’d just caught her lusting after him in her reserved way pleased him intensely, but her reluctance to let nature take its course confused him.

  “I’ve been faithful to you, Adara. I hope you believe that.”

  She stopped chewing for a thoughtful moment. Her brows came together in a frown he couldn’t interpret. Worry? Misery? Defeat?

  “I do,” she finally said, but her tone seemed to qualify the statement.

  “But?” he prompted.

  “It doesn’t change the fact that one of the major reasons we married...” Her brows pulled again and this time it was pure pain, like something deeply embedded was being wrenched out of her.

  He tensed, knowing what was coming and not liking the way it penetrated his walls either.

  “Obviously I’m not able to give you children,” she said with strained composure. “I won’t even try. Not anymore.”

  The bitter acceptance he read beneath her mask of self-possession, her trounced distress, was so tangible, he reached across to cover her shaking hand where she gripped her knife. Her knuckles felt sharp as barnacles where they poked against his palm.

  He would give anything to spare her this anguish.

  “Having children was a condition that came from your side of the table. It’s not a deal-breaker for me,” he reassured her.

  If anything, she grew more distraught. “You never wanted children?”

  Tread lightly, he cautioned himself, touching a thoughtful tongue to his bottom lip. “It’s not that I never wanted them. If that were true, I’d be a real monster for putting you through all you’ve suffered in trying to have one. I’m very—” Disappointed wasn’t a strong enough word.

  “I’m sad,” he admitted, drawing his hand back as he took the uncharacteristic step of admitting to feelings. He’d been powerless at sea in a storm once and hadn’t felt as helpless and vulnerable as he had each time she’d miscarried. This one he’d learned about today was the worst yet, filling him with visions of coming upon her dead. It was too horrifying a thing to happen to a person even once in a lifetime and he’d been through it twice already. He couldn’t stomach thinking of finding her lifeless and white.

  Then there was the bereft sense of loss that he’d known nothing about the baby before it was gone. He hated having no control over the situation, hated being unable to give her something she wanted that seemed as if it should be so simple. He hated how the whole thing stirred up old grief. He ought to be over forming deep attachments. He’d certainly fought against developing any. But he wished he’d known those babies and felt cheated that he hadn’t been given the chance.

  He swiped his clammy palm down his thigh.

  “I’m sad, too,” she whispered thickly, gaze fixed on her sweating glass of ice water. “I wanted a family. A real one, not a broken one like I had.”

  “So, it wasn’t just pressure from your father to give him the heir your brothers weren’t providing?”

  She made a motion of negation, mouth pouted into sorrow.

  Damn, he swore silently, thinking his version of her as merely ticking children off the list with everything else would have been so much easier to navigate.

  “I thought you were like my father, not really wanting a family, but determined to have an heir. A boy.” Of course, her tiny shrug added silently.

  He could see wary shadows in her eyes as she confessed what had been in her mind. She wasn’t any more comfortable with being honest than he was. He sure as hell didn’t enjoy hearing her unflattering assessment of his attitude toward progeny.

  “I wasn’t taking it that lightly,” he said, voice so tight she tensed. “But I didn’t know how much it meant to you.”

  Any other time in his life he would have swiftly put an end to such a deeply personal conversation, but right now, unpleasant as it was, he had to allow Adara to see she wasn’t the only one hurt by this. She wasn’t the only one with misconceptions.

  “I never knew my father, so that gave me certain reservations about what kind of parent I’d make. You’re not anything like my mother, which is a very good thing in most ways, but she did have a strong maternal instinct. I never saw you take an interest in other people’s children. Your family isn’t the warmest. Frankly, I expected you to schedule a C-section, hire a nanny and mark that task ‘done.’”

  He’d seen this look on Adara’s face before, after a particularly offside, cutting remark from her father. Her lashes swept down, her brow tensed and her nostrils pinched ever so slightly with a slow, indrawn breath. He’d always assumed she was gathering her patience, but today he saw it differently. She was absorbing a blow.

  One that he had delivered. His heart clutched in his chest. Don’t put me in the same category as that man.

  “I’m just telling you how it looked, Adara.” His voice was gruff enough to make her flinch.

  “Like you’re some kind of open book, letting me see your thoughts and feelings?” She pushed her plate away with hands that trembled. “I’ve told you more about myself today than I’ve ever shared with anyone and all I’ve heard back is that you’re sad I miscarried. Well, I should damn well hope so! They were your babies too.”

  She rose and tried to escape, but he was faster, his haste sending his chair tumbling with a clatter, his hands too rough on her when he pulled her to stand in front of him, but her challenge made him slip the leash on his control.

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