Wife for a Day(2)

By: Kate Walker


‘Come back to bed,’ she murmured, her low voice pitched to entice.

An adamant shake of his gleaming dark auburn head was Ronan’s only response. His disturbingly shadowed gaze was fixed on the thick gold band that gleamed bright and new on her slender finger.

‘No?’

Incredulity sharpened her voice, giving a disbelieving lift to the single syllable. Was this the same man who had been so physically demanding, so insatiable throughout the night? The same Ronan as the one who had allowed her no rest until they were both limp with exhaustion, unable to move, even to breathe properly?

‘What is it, darling?’ Deliberately she lowered her voice to a husky whisper. ‘Have you gone off me already?’

That got a reaction, but not the one she had expected.

With a jerky movement, Ronan lifted his head so that his eyes once more met hers full on. Coolest sea-blue locked with the almost amber warmth of Lily’s perplexed gaze, and something deep in those eyes, some shadow darkening their limpid clearness, made her shiver in intuitive apprehension.

‘Gone off you?’ he echoed, his voice sounding as if it came from a throat that was painfully raw. ‘Never that!’

As if to emphasise the words, he accompanied them with a look so sensually appreciative, so blatantly carnal, that it was almost a physical caress in itself. But, just as Lily was about to relax back into the comfortable warmth of her sleepy sexuality, the realisation of a cold edge to that look, a glitter of something disturbing in his eyes was like the splash of icy water in her face, bringing all her defences to red alert before he even spoke again.

‘You turn me on just by existing, lady,’ he declared with disturbing harshness. ‘And you know it. I only have to look at you to want you so much that I feel I might die if I don’t have you. But that’s a penance I have to endure.’

‘Penance!’

That first tiny prickle of unease had now become a raging tide of discomfort. Every nerve stung with a tension that was like the pins and needles of blood returning to a numbed limb, but magnified a hundredfold.

‘I don’t understand!’

She couldn’t hide the tremor of her voice as she pushed herself upright in a panic, feeling far too vulnerable lying down.

‘Ronan? What is it?’

‘I want you, Lily,’ Ronan persisted, as if she hadn’t spoken. Each word was so cold, so clipped that Lily flinched away from them as if they were actually formed in ice as they fell on the sensitive skin of her exposed neck and shoulders. ‘But I’ll never have you again—ever. It was good while it lasted—perhaps the best—but now it’s over. I only waited until you were awake so that I could say goodbye.’

‘G-Goodbye!’

It couldn’t be true! She couldn’t have heard right. Either that or this was some appalling sick joke, one that she didn’t like at all. But she would never have believed that Ronan could be so hatefully cruel.

‘This isn’t funny, Ronan!’

‘Funny?’

His intonation said it all, Ronan knew. There was no need for further elucidation. But still he wanted to spell it out to her, setting out the details with a precise pedantry that made it plain his intent was to spare her nothing. He wanted her to know exactly what was happening, to understand what the experience of pain was truly like.

‘This is no joke, my darling. No joke at all. Believe me, I never felt further from laughter; I couldn’t be more serious. Our marriage, such as it was, is over—done with. I’m leaving today and I’m never coming back.’

He got to his feet, the easy, indolent movement somehow shocking when Lily contrasted it with the whirling frenzy inside her head.

‘I’ll let you decide when to serve the divorce papers.’

‘But…’

‘And now, if you’ll excuse me…’ The carefully formal politeness underlined the ruthless determination to give her no quarter at all. ‘I have a long drive ahead of me.’

As he strolled to the door Lily could only stare after him in stunned confusion. But even as her golden eyes were fixed on his retreating back her thoughts were turned inward, reviewing the events of the previous day—their wedding day—trying to see how the glorious happiness she had experienced then could have brought her to the emotional horror of this moment.

How was it possible that what had seemed like the realisation of her greatest dream could have changed so swiftly into the nightmare of knowing that that fulfilment now lay shattered at her feet?

How could she not have suspected anything? Surely there must have been some clue. Some moment when Ronan had let slip the careful mask of the happy bridegroom, the veneer of a man anticipating his marriage with the same sort of excitement and delight that had filled her own heart, and revealed his true feelings.