The Forbidden Touch of Sanguardo(4)

By: Julia James


Not for her, in her own clothes, plunging necklines or thigh-skimming hemlines. Even on the beach she preferred a one-piece.

Now, as she swished along the runway, she felt the tension that had assailed her as she’d stood at the top of the stairs evaporate. Years of experience as a model made this kind of tightly choreographed display second nature to her, and she walked with assurance and poise until, at the foot of the runway, she paused to reverse her direction.

And froze.

Dark, long-lashed eyes, focussed on her. A shadowed face with lean cheeks, incised features. A mouth with deep lines around it. A sculpted jawline. Night-dark hair.

For a timeless moment the impression carved itself into her vision. Then, with a jolt, she knew she must start walking again. Jerkily, she paced back up to the head of the runway and was swept offstage into the melee of the changing area, to emerge minutes later in a vivid scarlet evening gown. All the way down the runway she was conscious of the man sitting at the far end. Wondering whether he’d be watching her.

Hectically, her thoughts tumbled inside her head. She’d been eyed up often enough in her time as a model—and even though she didn’t like it she never let it affect her.

So why had this man’s regard so affected her? Why had it impacted on her in the few seconds she’d had to register it? What was so different about it? About him...?

As she neared the end of the runway she steeled herself for that dark, penetrating gaze—which didn’t come. As she glanced briefly in his direction she saw that his attention was on his mobile phone. He was tapping in a text, long legs extended, completely ignoring her.

Immediately she felt her tension drop. She turned, skilfully manoeuvring her skirts, and plunged back up the runway. So much for that! she thought, with a wry dart of self-mockery.

Had she turned her head again, however, she might have felt differently.

Rafael’s eyes had lifted from his phone and were settled, instead, on her retreating form. They went on watching until she disappeared. Then, and only then, did he resume his tapping.

He found, however, that his mind was not on his emails.

* * *

The show was over, the applause was dying away and guests were heading off for the buffet supper awaiting them in the dining room across the entrance hall.

Rafael got to his feet. There was a sense of purpose about him. The models would be mingling with the guests again and he wanted to find her—stake his claim before anyone else could be as drawn to her pale, haunting beauty as he was.

But as his eyes searched the crowded dining room it came to him that she simply was not there. The other models were—but not the one he wanted to see. He frowned. So where was she? He crossed the hallway back into the salon, where the runway was being dismantled by workmen. Still no sign of her.

He saw that a glass door to the side was open, and slipped through on impulse. He found himself out on a terrace and walked down it to the end. Turning the corner, he saw gardens stretching out before him. Steps swept down to the level of the lawns.

A figure had paused at the edge. A female figure, her evening gown pale in the dim light, craning her neck upwards. But she wasn’t looking back at the mansion. She was looking up at the night sky.

Rafael’s dark eyes glinted in the starlight and he started to walk down the steps towards her.

* * *

Celeste was gazing upwards, rapt. It was a glorious starry night! In London stars were, at best, dim and hazy. But here in the countryside they were bright and vivid, the mighty sweep of the Milky Way clear in the heavens. So unimaginably distant...

Once she had wanted only to be taken up amongst them, leaving the earth far, far behind...

‘The ancient Chinese believed that the Milky Way was the source of the Yellow River.’

The voice came from behind her.

Celeste swirled round. There was little light, but she did not need light to tell her who this was. It was the man who had been looking at her as she’d walked along the runway. The man who had made her aware of him as no man ever had...

He was heading towards her. She could not see his features, only his height, his strolling elegance as he came to stand beside her. She heard the deep, accented timbre of his voice as he spoke again. Felt her nerve-endings start to send messages to her she did not want to feel!

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