‘It isn’t possible for someone else to attend in my place,’ Luc imparted with audible tension. ‘I know that this is a case of extremely bad timing as far as we are concerned, but I have a duty and responsibility as Chairman to attend this conference. I’ll be home next week—’
‘Next week?’ Her horror escaped her this time in a shrill exclamation. She clamped a frantic hand to her parted lips, furious at her loss of control.
‘I would prefer to be spending time with you and the children. Please understand that sometimes I don’t have a choice,’ Luc breathed stiffly.
‘Oh, don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine, and I’m sure you’re really busy, so I won’t keep you. Have a nice time!’
She sank down on the nearest seat, feeling as if Luc had yanked the very ground from beneath her feet. Next week. All those days to be got through. There were twenty-four hours in every day, sixty minutes in every hour. What was the matter with her? She had managed without Luc for a long time. All right, so she hadn’t been happy, but she had stopped feeling dependent. It made her mad that the passage of barely two days could make such a difference.
* * *
* * *
Luc phoned at odd hours during the following week.
There were awkward silences. Then one or both of them would rush into speech, usually to say, or in his case ask, something about Venus and Mars. The phone was a business aid to Luc. He didn’t chat. He didn’t share the experiences of his day. And Star was too mortified to press him on the latter subject after her pretty much unforgivable crack about how bored she had once been when he mentioned anything relating to the Sarrazin bank.
A little over eighteen months ago she had thought she was so mature for her age too. Now she was looking back and wincing for her younger self, appreciating how much she had matured since becoming a mother. Before the twins’ birth she had been as self-absorbed as most teenagers. Luc’s workaholic schedule had just made her resent the Sarrazin bank and she hadn’t ever attempted to understand anything he tried to explain.
The day before Luc was due to return, Star took the twins into the woods for a walk and a picnic. It was a heavenly afternoon. Drowsing early summer heat seeped down through the tree canopy into the grassy glade where Star had spread a rug. With the twins dozing in their pram, Star was in a dreamy daze when she heard a slight sound and lifted her head. Her expressive eyes widened, her throat constricting.
Luc came to a halt several feet away. In an elegant cream suit that accentuated the stunning darkness of his hair and the vibrant gold of his skin, he looked drop-dead gorgeous. Her mouth ran dry and her heart leapt.
‘Luc…how on earth…? I mean…I wasn’t expecting you!’ Scrambling up, the folds of her many-shaded long green skirt fluttering round her slender frame, she surged off the rug in her bare feet, only to jerk to a sudden halt about eighteen inches from him as she recalled her original intent to greet his return with frozen cool.
‘No, don’t spoil that welcome!’ His amusement unconcealed as he recognised her dismay, Luc reached out and urged her the rest of the way to him.
A lean hand splaying to her slim hips, to pin her in place, he gazed down at her, lush lashes screening all but a dark glimmer of his eye. ‘I think you missed me—’
‘I was just so surprised to see you standing there. I got a fright!’ Star’s cheeks were red as fire.
‘With those eyes, you can’t lie…you really can’t lie to me, mon ange,’ Luc chided, his other hand curving to her chin to push up her face, his fingers slowly sliding into her hair. ‘And why should you lie?’
The touch of his hand on her sun-warmed skin sent a wave of undeniable awareness tremoring down her taut spinal cord. She fought the sensation with all her might, only to succumb to the sudden passionate force of Luc’s mouth possessing hers.
After a week of deprivation, he had the same effect on her as a flame on dynamite. Her whole body leapt in sensual shock. She closed her hands over his shoulders to keep herself upright as she leant into him, the heat and strength of his hard, muscular frame a powerful enticement. Wildly excited by the taste of him, she closed her arms around him, quivering as she registered his potent arousal.