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The Purchased Wife(7)

By´╝ÜMichelle Reid

'Where's my father?' she cut across him anxiously. 'Why haven't I heard from him?'

'But you did.' Xander straightened up, flicking the covers over her in an act she read as contempt. 'He's stuck in Sydney. Did you not receive his flowers and note?'

The only flowers she'd received were the...

Turning her head, Nell looked at the vase of budding red roses and suddenly wished she were dead. 'I thought they were from you,' she whispered unsteadily.

He looked so thoroughly disconcerted by the idea that he would send her flowers that being dead no longer seemed bad enough. Curling away from him as much as she dared without hurting herself, Nell clutched her fingers round the covers and tugged them up to her pale cheek.

'You thought they were from me.' He had to repeat it, she thought as she cringed beneath the sheet. 'And because you thought the flowers were from me you did not even bother to read the note that came with them.'

Striding round the bed, he plucked a tiny card from the middle of the roses then came back to the bed. 'Shame on you, Nell.' The card dropped against the pillow by her face. It was still sealed inside its envelope.

And shame on you too, she thought as she picked it up and broke the seal. Even a man that cannot stand the sight of his wife sends her flowers when she's sick. Her father's message-brief and to the point as always with him-read: 'Sorry to hear about your accident. Couldn't get back to see you. Take care of yourself. Get well soon. Love Pops.'

Saying not a word, she slid the little card back into its envelope then pushed it beneath her pillow, but telling tears were welling in her eyes.

'He wanted to come back,' Xander dropped into the ensuing thick silence. 'But he is locked in some important negotiations with the Australian government and I...assured him that you would understand if he remained where he was.'

So he'd stayed. That was her father. Loving in many ways but single-minded in most. Money was what really mattered, the great, grinding juggernaut of corporate business. It was no wonder her mother had left him to go back to her native Canada. When she was little, Nell had used to wonder if he even noticed that she'd gone. She was a teenager before she'd found out that her mother had begun an affair with a childhood sweetheart and had returned to Canada to be with him.

Like mother like daughter, she mused hollowly. They had a penchant for picking out the wrong men. The duration of her mother's affair had been shorter than her marriage had been, which said so much about leaving her five-year-old daughter behind for what was supposed to have been the real love of her life.

'You've washed your hair...'

'I want a telephone,' she demanded.

'And the bruises on your face are beginning to fade...' He spoke right over her as if she hadn't spoken at all. 'You look much better, Nell.'

What did he care? 'I want a telephone,' she repeated. 'And you left me with no money. I can't find my purse or my clothes or my mobile telephone.'

'You don't need them while you're lying there.'

She turned her head to flash him a bitter look. He was standing by the bed, big and lean, taking up more space than he deserved. All six feet two inches of him honed to perfection like a piece of art. His suit was grey today, she noticed. A smooth-as-silk gunmetal grey that did not dare to show a single crease, like his white shirt and his silk-black hair and his-

'They won't let me have a newspaper or a magazine.' She cut that line of thinking off before it went any further. 'I have no TV and no telephone.' She gave a full list of her grievances. 'If it isn't my father, then what is it that you are trying to hide from me, Xander’ she demanded, knowing now that her isolation had to be down to him. Xander was the only person with enough weight to throw about. In fact she was amazed that it hadn't occurred to her to blame him before now.

He made no answer, just stood there looking down at her through unfathomable dark eyes set in his hard, handsome face-then he turned and strode out of the room without even saying goodbye!

Nell stared after him with her eyes shot through with pained dismay. Had their disastrous marriage come down to the point where he couldn't even be bothered to apply those strictly polite manners he usually used to such devastating effect? It hurt-which was stupid, but it did and in places that had nothing whatsoever to do with her injuries. Five days without so much as a word from him then he strode in there looking every inch the handsome, dynamic power force he was, looked at her as if he couldn't stand the sight of her then walked out again.

She wouldn't cry, she told the sting at the backs of her eyes. Too fed up and too weak to do more than bite hard on her bottom lip to stop it from quivering, she stared at the roses sent by that other man in her life who strode in and out of it at his own arrogant behest.

She hated Alexander Pascalis. He'd broken her heart and she should have left him when she'd had the chance, driven off into the sunset without stopping to look back and think about what she was leaving behind, then she would not be lying here feeling so bruised and broken-and that was on the inside! If he'd cared anything for her at all he should not have married her. He should have stuck to his-