The Forbidden Touch of Sanguardo(5)

By: Julia James


‘They have a legend,’ he went on, ‘that says two lovers were cruelly parted by their parents and placed on either side of the Milky Way—the galactic river. We see them as stars, forever gazing at each other.’

He was looking at her as he spoke. Taking in her frozen stance, the sudden tension in her face. She looked, he thought, as if she was going to bolt—a reaction he found unusual in a woman. Long experience had taught him that women welcomed his attentions.

Madeline certainly had.

But she is not Madeline.

And that was what he wanted, he reminded himself. For her to be utterly different. So it was good that she was reacting as she was, wasn’t it? But whatever the reason for her radiating wariness on all frequencies he wanted to dispel it.

‘It’s incredible, isn’t it?’ he said, keeping his tone conversational. ‘To think of the vast distances of the heavens. Our galaxy is just one of billions, each with billions of stars.’ He frowned slightly. ‘Some of the stars we think of as stars are galaxies themselves. Andromeda is our closest, and it is...’ He searched the sky with his eyes.

‘It’s there,’ Celeste heard herself saying. ‘In the Andromeda constellation, between Pegasus and Cassiopeia. The galaxy is M31—Messier body thirty-one—but it’s not actually the closest galaxy to us, only to the Milky Way overall. It’s going to merge with the Milky Way eventually, and form a giant elliptical galaxy in a few billion years.’

She pointed jerkily upwards, mentally castigating herself for gabbling about galaxies and constellations, but other than marching away it had seemed the safest thing to do.

Though ‘safe’ was the very last thing she felt...

Her nerve-endings were firing in a way that she had never before experienced.

Rafael followed her gaze, then glanced across at her. Wanting to look at her. Wanting her to look at him. Wanting her to speak again.

He smiled appreciatively. ‘You’re very knowledgeable,’ he remarked.

‘I like stars,’ she answered, in the same abrupt, jerky manner. ‘They’re very far away.’

Even as she spoke she started. Why did I say that? Why am I standing here talking to him—letting him talk to me?

And why was the deep, accented timbre of his voice reaching into her? Disturbing her...firing all her nerves at high pitch...

‘Is that a commendation?’ he asked dryly.

‘Yes,’ she answered.

As if she’d realised it was a strange thing to say, he saw her give a tiny shake of her head. As she did so, he saw her change. She dipped her head, tightened her grip on her skirts. Getting a grip, belatedly, on the situation. A situation she was going to terminate right now. Because she did not let situations like this arise.

But there’s never been a situation like this...no man has ever made me react like this!

Which made it all the more imperative that she get away from him—right now! Stop this before it started.

‘Excuse me,’ she said. ‘I must go back inside.’

Her voice had changed, too. It was clipped now, and quite impersonal.

Distant.

‘Permit me to escort you.’ Rafael’s voice was smooth.

She did not hesitate. ‘Thank you—no.’

Her tone was decisive, and before his eyes she turned and walked back up the steps. He looked after her.

From chatting about stars to cutting him dead—all in under a minute.

No, nothing like Madeline at all...

* * *

Celeste gained the salon and walked rapidly across it. Her heart-rate was up, and it was not because of her rapid ascent of the exterior steps. What on earth had she just gone and done? Standing there with that man, talking about astronomy! She’d gone out to the gardens for two reasons—to take advantage of the clear night sky and to delay having to mix socially. Because over supper she would inevitably see that man again.

The man who had come in search of her.

Because of course that was what he’d been doing! She wasn’t an idiot—no one struck up a conversation about galaxies with a lone female if they weren’t trying to chat her up! Then, to make her heart-rate race even more, a mortifying thought struck her. Had he thought she was standing out there stargazing in order to deliberately invite him to talk to her?

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