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The Purchased Wife(5)

By´╝ÜMichelle Reid

He was there in a second, sitting down on the bed and sliding an arm beneath her shoulders to lift her enough to place the glass to her lips. She felt his warmth and his strength as she sipped the water, both alien sensations when she hadn't been held even this close to him since the day of their marriage.

'Thank you,' she breathed as the glass was withdrawn again. He controlled her gentle slide back onto the pillows then sat back a little but didn't move away. Something was flickering in his dark eyes that she couldn't decipher-but then he was not the kind of man who wanted other people to read his thoughts-too precious, too-

'Your car was a write-off,' he remarked unexpectedly.

Her slender shoulders tensed in sudden wariness. 'W-was it?'

He nodded. His firmly held mouth gave a tense little twitch. 'You had to have been driving very fast to impale it so thoroughly on that tree.'

Nell lowered her eyes on a wince. 'I don't remember.'

'Nothing?' he questioned.

'Only driving through the gates at Rosemere then turning into the lane. After that-nothing,' she lied huskily.

He was silent for a few seconds and she could feel him studying her. Her cheeks began to heat. Lying had never been her forte. But what the devil did not know could not hurt him, she thought with a stab at dry sarcasm that was supposed to make her feel brave but didn't.

'W-what time is it?' She changed the subject.

Xander sprang back to his feet before glancing at the gold watch circling his wrist. 'Two-thirty in the morning.'

Nell lifted her eyes to watch the prowling grace of his long body as he took up his position by the window again. 'I thought you were in New York.'

'I came back-obviously.'

With or without Vanessa? she wondered. 'Well, don't feel like you have to hang around here for my benefit,' she said tightly.

He didn't usually hang around. He strode in and out of her life like a visiting patron, asked all the right polite questions about what she'd been doing since he'd seen her last and sometimes even lingered long enough to drag her out with him to some formal function-just to keep up appearances. He occupied the suite adjoining her bedroom suite but had never slept in it. Appearances, it seemed, only went as far as delivering her to her bedroom door before he turned and strode out of the house again.

'It is expected.'

And that's telling me, Nell thought with another wince. 'Well, I hereby relieve you of your duty,' she threw back, moved restlessly, which hurt, so she made herself go still again. And her eyelids were growing too heavy to hold up any longer. 'Go away, Xander.' Even her voice was beginning to sound slurry. 'You make me nervous, hanging around like this...'

Not so you would notice, Xander thought darkly as he watched the little liar drop into a deep sleep almost before her dismissal of him was complete. The night-light above her bed was highlighting her sickly pallor along with the swollen cuts and bruises that distorted her beautiful face. She would be shocked if she knew what she looked like.

Hell, the miserable state of her wounded body shocked him. And her hair was a mess, lying in lank, long copper tangles across the pillow. Oddly, he liked it better when it was left to do its own thing like this. The first time he'd seen her she'd been stepping into her father's house, having just arrived back from taking the dogs for a walk. It had been windy and cold outside and her face was shining, her incredible waist-length hair wild and rippling with life. Green eyes circled by a fascinating ring of turquoise had been alight with laughter because the smallest of the dogs, a golden Labrador puppy determined to get into the house first, had bounded past her, only to land on its rear and start to slither right across the slippery polished floor to come to a halt at his feet.

She'd noticed him then, lifting her eyes up from his black leather shoes on one of those slow, curious journeys he'd learned to recognise as a habit she had that set his libido on heat. By the time she'd reached his face her laughter had died to sweet, blushing shyness. What a look, he mocked now, recalling what happened to him every time she'd blushed like that for him-or even just looked at him.

Xander looked away and went back to his grim contemplation of the unremarkable view of the darkness outside the window, not wanting to remember what came after the blushing look. He should have backed off while he still had a chance then right off. If he had done they would not be in the mess they were now in. It was not his thing to mix business with pleasure, and the kind of business he'd had going with Julian Garrett had needed a cool, clear head.

Sexual desire was neither cool nor clear-headed. It liked to catch you out when you were not paying attention. He'd had a mistress, a beautiful, warm and passionately sensual woman who knew what he liked and did not expect too much back, so what did he need with a wild-haired, beautiful-eyed ingénue with a freakish kind of innocence written into her blushing face?