‘So you have nothing to say for yourself,’ Luc drawled.
‘I’m still in shock,’ she mumbled truthfully.
Shock. Her shock was nothing to his, Luc decided with sudden ferocity. To find her living like this in abject poverty, candles lighting a room Gothic in its lack of modern conveniences or comfort. She was dressed like a gipsy and thin as a rail. Bereft of the support of Sarrazin money for just eighteen months, she’d clearly sunk without trace. Just as he had expected; just as he had forecast. He studied her bare feet, recalled that she had almost run across the rough gravel, and the most extraordinary ache stirred inside him. Frustrated fury leapt up to engulf and crush it out. Not enough sense to come in out of the rain, Emilie had once said of Star.
Emilie…Luc’s quick intellect zoomed in on that timely reminder at supersonic speed, but his hooded gaze was nonetheless still engaged on roaming up over Star’s veiling skirt with its silky fringe. Memory unerringly supplied a vision of the slender, shapely perfection of her legs. He tensed almost imperceptibly, his appraisal rising higher, finding no escape in the pouting thrust of her small braless breasts beneath her velvet wrap top.
As she flung her head back, his lean, powerful body hardened in urgent all-male response. Her hair glowed in the dimness, bright as beaten copper in sunlight, dancing round her triangular face. Her pallor highlighted exotic eyes, alive with awakening sensuality, and a wide, soft, voluptuously pink mouth.
And this was the woman he had spent over a hundred thousand pounds trying to trace over the past eighteen months? Tiny, skinny, irredeemably different from the rest of her sex. There was nothing conventional in her mercurial changes of expression, her fluid restive movements, her jangling bracelets, her outrageous earrings shaped like cats or her ridiculous clothing. She wasn’t beautiful either. There was nothing there that he admired or looked for in a woman—nothing but the drugging, earthy sexuality that was as much a part of her as her dusty bare feet, Luc told himself with driven determination.
Star had the soul and spirit of a small wild animal, always ready to fight for survival and use whatever she had to get what she wanted. Or trade? Why else was she surveying him with that melodramatically charged look of undeniable hunger? No, there was no doubt in Luc’s mind that Star knew exactly what he was here about. To look so ashamed and desperate, she had to have been involved up to her throat in persuading his father’s elderly cousin to part with her money!
‘How could you have done such a thing to Emilie?’ Luc demanded icily.
A frown line indented Star’s smooth brow. Colliding with his glittering dark gaze, she froze as if an icy hand had touched her heart. Perspiration beaded her short upper lip. Gooseflesh sprang up on her exposed skin. The chill he emanated was that powerful.
‘Emilie…?’ Star’s frown line deepened.
‘The loan, Star.’
‘What loan…what are you talking about?’
‘Si tu continues…’ Luc swore so softly that the tiny hairs at the nape of Star’s neck rose.
It was a threat. If she kept it up, he would get angry. But, Emilie and what loan?
‘I honestly don’t know what—’
Luc slowly spread the long brown fingers of one expressive hand. The atmosphere was so charged she could almost feel it hiss warningly in her pounding eardrums. ‘So that’s the way you’re trying to play it,’ he spelt out, framing each laden word with terrifying emphasis. ‘You’re acting all ashamed because of the two little bastards you’ve managed to spawn while you were still married to me?’
The offensive words struck Star in the face like a blow. She fell back in physical retreat. ‘Bastards?’ she whispered tremulously.
‘Illegitimacy seems to run very much in your family genes, doesn’t it?’ Luc pointed out lethally. ‘Your children…you…your mother—not one of you born with anything so conventional as a church blessing.’
Registering in disbelief that Luc believed that their twin babies had been fathered by some other man, Star gazed back at him with haunted eyes of bewildered pain. ‘No…no, Luc…I—’