A Debt Paid in Passion
A beautiful thief…?
Raoul Zesiger has everything a man could want—including Sirena Abbott, the perfect PA who keeps his life in order. Or so it seems, until their professional relationship gives way to one hot, impassioned night…and then he has her arrested for embezzlement!
She may have escaped a prison sentence, but Sirena knows she’ll be shackled to Zesiger by more than just the past. With Raoul determined to recover the debt she owes him, Sirena is torn between guilt and an impossible attraction. But what will happen when Raoul uncovers the truth behind her theft?
"His mistresses spend more on an evening gown and he's trying to send me to prison for it!"
— Sirena, A Debt Paid In Passion
I had a firm vision for the opening of this book. The hero would hear that the heroine would not be prosecuted for embezzlement and he’d be furious—right up until she faints. Then he would learn she is pregnant and bam! Everything changes.
That’s pretty much all I had when I began writing it. By the time I turned it in, I had decided the theft was a misunderstanding, but my editor said, “What if she really stole the money?”
Hmm. This required a serious re-write but, Oh, the conflict and emotion! It became one of the hardest books I’ve written. Raoul is not only a deliciously angry hero thirsting for revenge, but one who needs to remain sexy as heck. Sirena is guilty, but she can’t be a pushover. These were hard balances to find, but it turned into a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews so I must have managed it.
A Debt Paid In Passion is not directly linked to Proof Of Their Sin, but Lauren and Paolo make a brief appearance. I imagine one day I’ll write the story of Sirena’s little sister, maybe even Raoul’s half-sister, but those are very distant goals.
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A Debt Paid in Passion
Look at me, Raoul Zesiger willed Sirena Abbott.
He had to lean back in his chair to see her past the three men between them. He should have been looking at the judge, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Sirena.
She sat very still, face forward, her profile somber. Her absurdly long gypsy lashes had stayed downswept as his lawyer had risen to speak. She didn’t even flick a glance his direction when her own lawyer stood to plead that jail time was counterproductive, since she needed to work to pay back the stolen funds.
Raoul’s lawyers had warned him this wouldn’t result in incarceration, but Raoul had pressed hard for it. He would see this treacherously innocent-looking woman, with her mouth pouted in grave tension and her thick brunette locks pulled into a deceptively respectful knot, go to jail for betraying him. For stealing.
His stepfather had been a thief. He had never expected to be taken advantage of again, especially by his reliable PA, a woman he’d come to trust to be there, always. But she had dipped her fingers into his personal account.
Then she had tried to manipulate him into going easy by being easy.
He didn’t want the flash of memory to strike. His ears were waiting for the judge to state that this would progress to a sentence, but his body prickled with heat as he recalled the feel of those plump lips softening under his. Her breasts, a lush handful, had smelled of summer. Her nipples were sun-warmed berries against his tongue, succulent and sweet. The heart-shaped backside he’d watched too often as it retreated from his office had been both taut and smooth as he had lifted her skirt and peeled lace down. Thighs like powdered sugar, an enticing musky perfume between that pulled him to hard attention as he remembered how tight—almost virginal—she’d been. But so hot and welcoming.
Because she’d known her criminal act was about to come to light.
His gut clenched in a mixture of fury and unparalleled carnal hunger. For two years he’d managed to keep his desire contained, but now that he’d had her, all he could think about was having her again. He hated her for having such power over him. He could swear under oath that he’d never hurt a woman, but he wanted to crush Sirena Abbott. Eradicate her. Destroy her.
The clap of a gavel snapped him back to the courtroom. It was empty save for the five of them behind two tables, both facing the judge. His lawyer gave Raoul a resigned tilt of his head and Raoul realized with sick disgust that the decision had gone in Sirena’s favor.
At the other table, partly obscured by her lawyer, Sirena’s spine softened in relief. Her wide eyes lifted to the heavens, shining with gratitude. Her lawyer thanked the judge and set a hand under Sirena’s elbow to help her rise, leaning in to say something to her.
Raoul felt a clench of possessiveness as he watched the solicitous middle-aged lawyer hover over her. He told himself it was anger, nothing else. He loathed being a victim again. She shouldn’t get away with a repayment plan of six hundred pounds a month. That wasn’t reparation. That was a joke.
Why wouldn’t she look at him? It was the least she could do: look him in the eye and acknowledge they both knew she was getting away with a crime. But she murmured something to her lawyer and left the man packing his briefcase as she circled to the aisle. Her sexy curves were downplayed by her sleek jacket and pencil skirt, but she was still alluring as hell. Her step slowed as she came to the gate into the gallery.
Look at me, Raoul silently commanded again, holding his breath as she hesitated, sensing she was about to swing her gaze to his.
Her lips drained of color and her hand trembled as she reached out, trying to find the gate. She stared straight ahead, eyes blinking and blinking—
“She’s fainting!” He shoved past his two lawyers and toppled chairs to reach her even as her own lawyer turned and reacted. They caught her together.
Raoul hated the man anew for touching her as they both eased her to the floor. She was dead weight. He had to catch her head as it lolled. She hadn’t been this insubstantial the last time he’d held her. She hadn’t been fragile.
Raoul barked for first aid.
Someone appeared with oxygen in blessedly short time. He let himself be pushed back a half step, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the way Sirena’s cheeks had gone hollow, her skin gray. Everything in him, breath, blood, thought, ground to a halt as he waited for a new verdict: that she would be okay.
It was his father all over again. The lack of response, the wild panic rising in him as he fought against helplessness and brutal reality. Was she breathing? She couldn’t be dead. Open your eyes, Sirena.
Distantly he heard the attendant asking after preexisting conditions and Raoul racked his brain. She wasn’t diabetic, had never taken medication that he’d seen. He reached for the phone he’d turned off while court was in session, intent on accessing her personnel file, when he heard her lawyer answer in a low murmur.
The words burst like shattered glass in his ears.
Sirena became aware of something pressed to her face. Clammy sweat coated her skin and a swirl of her ever-present nausea turned mercilessly inside her.
She lifted a heavy hand to dislodge whatever was smothering her and a voice said, “You fainted, Sirena. Take it easy for a minute.”
Opening her eyes, she saw John, the highly recommended lawyer who’d been perfunctory until she’d almost vomited in his wastebasket. She’d told him the father’s identity was irrelevant, but Raoul was glaring from beyond John’s shoulder with all the relevance of an unforgiving sun on a lost soul in the desert—and he appeared about as sympathetic.
She had tried hard not to look at Raoul, former boss, brief lover, unsuspecting father. He was too…everything. Tall, dark, unabashedly urbane and sophisticated. Severe. Judgmental.
But of their own accord, her hungry eyes took in his appearance—her first opportunity to do so in weeks. She cataloged his razor-sharp charcoal suit, the solid black tie. His jaw was freshly shaved for his morning appointment, his dark hair recently cut into the sternly simple style of a successful businessman.
And there were his eyes, the gray irises stormy and full of condemnation as they snared hers in an unbreakable stare.
John asked, “Is there any pain? We’ve called an ambulance.”
Sirena flashed a terrified glance back at Raoul. It was a mistake. She realized immediately that he’d read it for what it was: an admission of guilt. A betrayal of truth.
Clenching her perfidious eyes closed, she willed him not to pick up on what had been revealed, but he was the most acutely intelligent person she’d ever met. He missed nothing.
If he knew she was carrying his baby, there’d be another fight. Considering what this current contest had taken out of her, she wasn’t ready for another. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, let him think he had a right to custody of her child.
“Sirena,” Raoul said in that dark chocolate voice of his.
Her skin rippled in a pleasurable shiver of recognition. Two years of hearing every intonation in that voice left her with the knowledge that her name on his lips right now was an implacable warning.
“Look at me,” he commanded.
Sirena reached blindly for John’s hand, clenching her icy fingers on his warm, dry ones. Beneath the oxygen mask, her voice was hollow and whisper thin.
“Tell him to leave me alone or I’ll take out a restraining order.”
The first volley of the second war was waiting when she got home from the hospital. More tests had been scheduled, but for the moment her doctor was putting her faint down to stress and low blood sugar resulting from her unrelenting nausea.
Sirena thought nothing could be more stressful than facing prison while dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, but Raoul knew no bounds when it came to psychological torture. She read the email John had forwarded:
My client has every reason to believe your client carries his baby. He insists on full involvement in the care through pregnancy and will take sole custody at birth.
Her blood congealed, even though this was no surprise. Raoul was possessive. She’d learned that. This reaction was fully expected, but having anyone try to take this baby from her was unthinkable.
Blinking the sting of desperation from her eyes, she typed, It’s not his, saying aloud, “And tell him to go to hell.”
She didn’t let herself dwell on the fact that Raoul wanted his baby. It would make her weaken toward a man she needed to believe was a monster—even though she’d spent two years falling into deep infatuation with not just a dynamic tycoon, but a man who was a caring son and protective older stepbrother. In some ways he was her mirror image, she’d often thought fancifully. They’d both lost a parent and both wanted the best for their younger siblings. She had come to believe him to be an admirable person with a dry wit and standards that put her learned habits of perfectionism to shame.
No, she reminded herself as she prepared a slice of toast she would force herself to eat. He was a cruel, angry, small person who felt nothing. For her, at least. He’d proven it when he’d made passionate love to her one day, then had her arrested the next.
A black hole of despair threatened to open beneath her feet, but she was safe now. That part was over. She’d made a horrible mistake and the judge had accepted her remorse, even if Raoul hadn’t. She had no idea how she would come up with six hundred pounds a month, but that was a minor worry against convincing Raoul the baby wasn’t his.
There was no way she could live with having another loved one wrenched from her life. The fear of her baby growing up without its mother, the way she had, had given her the strength to fight tooth and nail against Raoul’s determination to put her in jail. Somehow she would rally the strength to oust him from her life for good.
Which left her feeling incredibly bereft, but she ignored it.
Taking tea, toast and a tablet for nausea to the sofa, she scanned her laptop to see if any transcription jobs had come in. The legal bills were appalling and being fired three months ago had decimated her very modest savings.
If only she could take back that one awful moment when she had thought, Raoul will understand. She rubbed her brow where it crinkled in lament. Borrowing from him had seemed the most simple and obvious thing to do when her sister had been in tears, saying, I guess I’m not meant to be a teacher. Their father was expecting payment from a big customer any day. Ali had struggled so hard to get her marks up and be accepted into the specialized program. The tuition was due, but the cash was not in hand.
I can cover it, Sirena had assured her, confident the balance would move out and come back into Raoul’s account on the same statement. He probably wouldn’t even notice, let alone care. He paid her to worry about little details like that.
Then her father’s customer had gone insolvent.
Not overnight, of course. It started with a delay of a few more days. A week. Sirena had begun chasing it herself, right up to the monthly cutoff date, not wanting to mention her self-approved loan to her boss until she had the funds to repay it.
The money hadn’t appeared and the opportunity to explain hadn’t arisen, not before other events.
And since she didn’t want to involve her father when his livelihood was nose-diving, she had shouldered the fallout herself, keeping her motives from Raoul and not revealing to her family what she’d done or that she was facing jail time for it.
This had been the most crushingly lonely and frightening time of her life.
A muted beep announced an incoming email. From Raoul. Her heart leaped in misplaced anticipation. It was one word.
He wasn’t buying that the baby wasn’t his.
Gritting her teeth against an ache that crushed her chest, she added Raoul to her email block list and sent a missive to John.
Tell him that contacting me directly is out of line. If the baby was his, I would sue for support. I would have asked for leniency when he was trying to put me in jail. This baby is not his and he must LEAVE ME ALONE.
Hitting send was like poking herself in the throat. She drew a pained breath, fighting the sense of loss. But life hit you with sudden changes and you had to roll with them. She had learned that when her mother had died, and again when her stepmother had whisked her father and half sister to Australia with brutal speed as soon as Sirena graduated and enrolled in business school.
People left, was what she’d learned. They disappeared from your life whether you wanted them to or not. Sometimes they even fired you and tried to lock you away in prison so they’d never have to see you again.
Making a disgusted noise at herself for indulging in what amounted to emotional self-harm, she turned her thoughts to the little being who wouldn’t leave her. With a gentle hand on her unsettled abdomen, she focused on the one person she’d do everything in her power to keep in her life forever. She didn’t intend to smother the poor thing, just be his or her mother. She couldn’t countenance anyone taking that role from her. And Raoul would try. He was that angry and ruthless.
She shivered as she recalled seeing that side of him for the first time, after making bail. The only thing that had gotten her through the humiliating process of being arrested, fingerprinted and charged was the certainty that Raoul didn’t know what was happening to her. Some accountant had done this. A bank official. They didn’t understand that Raoul might be gruff on the outside, but she was his best PA ever. His right hand. They’d become intimate. He would be furious that she was being treated this way.
She had believed with all her heart that as soon as she told him what had happened, he’d make it right.
He hadn’t. He’d made her wait in the rain at the gate of his mansion outside London, eventually striding out with hard-hearted purpose, his severe expression chilly with distaste as he surveyed her.
“I’ve been trying to reach you,” Sirena had said through the rungs of the security gate, frightened by how unreachable he seemed. “I was arrested today.”
“I know,” Raoul replied without a shred of concern. “I filed the complaint.”
Her shock and stunned anguish must have been obvious, but his mouth had barely twitched in reaction. Cruel dislike had been the only emotion in his scathing expression. Sirena’s stepmother had been small and critical, but she hadn’t outright hated Sirena. In that second, she realized Raoul reviled her, and that was more painful than anything.
Guilt and remorse had made her want to shrivel up and die, but she couldn’t—wouldn’t—believe she’d ruined her career and her budding relationship with the man of her dreams over one tiny misstep.
“But…” Everything she wanted to say backed up in her throat. They’d developed friendship, reliance and respect over two years of working together and just yesterday they’d taken that relationship to a new level. He’d been tender and teasing and…
God, she had believed he’d been loving.
“But what?” he challenged. “You thought sleeping with me would make a difference to how I’d react when I found out you had stolen from me? I was bored. You were there. That’s all yesterday was. You ought to know better than to think it would make me go easy on someone who was cheating me. Get a lawyer. You need one.”
Swallowing the rock that her crust of toast had become, Sirena pushed the betrayal firmly away. Raoul was in her past and somehow she had to make a future for herself and her baby. She turned her attention to putting out more feelers for work.
But over the next several weeks, the attacks from Raoul kept coming. Settlement offers that increased in size. Demands for paternity tests. Time limits.
Pacing John’s office, she bit back a rebuke at him for revealing her pregnancy that day in the courtroom. She hadn’t admitted to anyone that Raoul was the father and she was determined she never would.
“Here’s what I would like to know, John. How am I supposed to pay more legal bills I can’t afford when it’s not even my wish to be talking to you about this?”
“Your wish may be coming true, Sirena. He’s stated clearly that this is his final offer and you’re to accept it by Monday or forever go empty-handed.”
She stopped and stilled. Loss again. Like watching the final sands drifting through the neck of an hourglass, unable to stop them. Pain in her lip made her aware she was biting it to keep from crying out in protest. Rubbing her brow with a shaking hand, Sirena told herself it was what she wanted: Raoul gone from her life.
“Look, Sirena, I’ve told you several times this isn’t my area of expertise. So far that hasn’t mattered because you’ve refused to admit the baby is his—”
“It’s not,” she interjected, keeping her back to him. She wasn’t a great liar and didn’t like doing it, but she justified it because this baby was hers. Full stop.
“He obviously thinks it’s possible. You and he must have been involved.”
“Involvement comes in different levels, doesn’t it?” she snapped, then closed her mouth, fearful she was saying too much.
“So you’re punishing him for bringing less to the relationship than you did?”
“His mistresses spend more on an evening gown and he tried to send me to prison for it!” she swung around to blurt. “What kind of relationship is that?”
“You’re punishing him for his legal action, then? Or not buying you a dress?”
“I’m not punishing him,” Sirena muttered, turning back to the window overlooking a wet day in Hyde Park.
“No, you’re punishing your child by keeping its father out of the picture—whether that father is Raoul Zesiger or some other nameless man you’ve failed to bring forward. I’m a father, so even though I don’t practice family law, I know the best interests of the child are not served by denying a parent access just because you’re angry with him. Do you have reason to believe he’d be an unfit parent?”
Completely the opposite, she silently admitted as a tendril of longing curled around her heart. She had seen how Raoul’s stepsister adored him and how he indulged the young woman with doting affection while setting firm boundaries. Raoul would be a supportive, protective, exceptional father.
Her brows flinched and her throat tightened. She was angry with him. And secretly terrified that her child would ultimately pick its father over its mother, but that didn’t justify keeping the baby from knowing both its parents.
“Have you thought about your child’s future?” John prodded. “There are certain entitlements, like a good education, inheritances…”
She had to get this baby delivered first. That’s where her focus had really been these last several weeks.
Sirena’s fists tightened under her elbows as she hunched herself into a comfortless hug. Her mother had died trying to give birth to the baby who would have been Sirena’s little brother. Sirena’s blood pressure was under constant monitoring. Between that and the lawyer meetings, she was barely working, barely making the bills. The stress was making the test results all the more concerning.
She tried not to think of all the bad things that could happen, but for the first time she let herself consider what her child would need if she couldn’t provide it. Her father and sister were all the way in Australia. It would be days before they could get here—if her stepmother let either of them come at all. Right now Faye was taking the high ground, sniffing with disapproval over Sirena’s unplanned, unwed pregnancy. No one would be as emotionally invested as the baby’s father…
“Sirena, I’m not trying to—”
“Be my conscience?” she interjected. He was still acting as one. “I have a specialist appointment on Monday. I don’t know how long it will take. Tell him I will give his offer my full attention after that and will be in touch by the end of next week.”
John’s demeanor shifted. “So he is the father.”
“That will be determined by the paternity test once the baby is born, won’t it?” Sirena retorted, scrambling to hold onto as many cards as she could because she was running out of them, fast.
Raoul’s mind had been going around in circles for weeks, driving him mad. If Sirena was pregnant with his child, she would have used that to keep him from trying to incarcerate her. Since she hadn’t, it must not be his. But she could have used her condition for leniency during the proceedings and hadn’t. Which meant she wanted to keep the pregnancy from him. Which led him to believe the baby was his.
Most troubling, if he wasn’t the father, who was?
Raoul sent baleful glances around his various offices as he traveled his circuit of major cities, aware there were a plethora of men in his numerous office towers with whom Sirena, with her voluptuous body and warm smile, could easily have hooked up.
The thought grated with deep repugnance. He’d never heard the merest whisper of promiscuity about his PA, but she’d obviously led a secretive life. It wasn’t as if she’d been a virgin when he’d made love to her.
She’d been the next thing to it, though, with her shy hesitancy that had turned to startled pleasure.
Biting back a groan, he tried not to think of that afternoon in a house he’d toured as a potential real estate investment. Every day he fought the recollection of their passionate encounter and every night she revisited him, her silky hair whispering against his skin, her soft giggle of self-consciousness turning to a gasp of awe as she stroked him. The hum of surrender in her throat as he found the center of her pleasure nearly had him losing it in his sleep.
Every morning he reminded himself he’d used a condom.
One that had been in his wallet so long he couldn’t remember when or for whom he’d placed it there. He’d only been grateful to find it when a downpour had turned Sirena from the open front door into his arms. A stumbling bump of her pivoting into him, a gentlemanly attempt to keep her on her feet, a collision of soft curves against a body already charged with sexual hunger.
When she’d looked up at him with wonder as her abdomen took the impression of his erection, when she’d parted her lips and looked at his mouth as though she’d been waiting her whole life to feel it cover her own…
Swearing, Raoul rose to pace his Paris office. It was as far as he was willing to get from London after trying to settle with Sirena once and for all. The remembered vision of her passion-glazed eyes became overlaid with a more recent one: when her lawyer had mentioned her pregnancy and she had shot that petrified look at Raoul.
The baby was his. He knew it in his gut and if he’d been ruthless with her for stealing money, she had no idea the lengths he’d go for his child.
Doubt niggled, though. If the baby was his, and she was the type to embezzle then try to sleep her way out of it, why wasn’t she trying to squeeze a settlement out of him?
None of it added up and he was losing his mind trying to make sense of it. If she’d only talk to him. They used to communicate with incredible fluidity, finishing each other’s sentences, filling in gaps with a look…
Lies, he reminded himself. All an act to trick him into trusting her, and it had worked. That’s what grated so badly. He’d failed to see that she was unreliable, despite his history with shameless charlatans.
And how the hell had he turned into his father? Was it genetic that he should wind up sexually infatuated with his secretary? He’d successfully ignored such attractions for years. His father had killed himself over an interoffice affair, so he’d made it a personal rule to avoid such things at all costs. It was a matter of basic survival.
His surge of interest in Sirena had been intense right from the beginning, though. He’d hired her in spite of it, partly because he’d been sure he was a stronger man than his father. Maybe he’d even been trying to prove it.
It galled him that he’d fallen into a tryst despite his better intentions. But he might have come to terms with that failing if she hadn’t betrayed him. Suddenly he’d been not just his father, but his mother, naively watching the bank account drain while being fed sweet, reassuring words to excuse it.
I was going to pay it back before you found out.
He tried to close out the echo of Sirena’s clear voice, claiming exactly what any dupe would expect to hear once she realized her caught hands were covered in red. That he’d seen her as steadfast until that moment left him questioning his own judgment, which was a huge kick to his confidence. People relied on him all over the world. His weakness for her made him feel as though he was misrepresenting himself, and more than anything he hated being let down. It galled him. Mere repayment wasn’t good enough to compensate for that. People like her needed to be taught a lesson.
Staring at his desktop full of work, he cursed the concentration he’d lost because of all this, the time wasted on legal meetings that could have been spent on work.
And the worst loss of production was because he was trying to replace the best PA he’d ever had!
Seemingly the best. His only comfort was that he hadn’t given her the executive title he’d been considering. The damage she could have done in a position like that was beyond thinking. She was doing enough harm to his bottom line no longer employed by him at all.
It couldn’t go on. He’d finally, reluctantly, sent her a strongly worded ultimatum and his palms were sweating that she would reject this one, too. She knew him well enough to believe that when he said final, he meant final, but he’d never had anything so valuable as his flesh and blood on the table. If she refused again…
She wouldn’t. Sirena Abbott was more avaricious than he’d given her credit for, but she was innately practical. She would recognize he’d hit his limit and would cash in.
As if to prove it, his email blipped with a message from his lawyer.
Sirena Abbott had an appointment on Monday and wanted the rest of the week to think things through.
Raoul leaned on hands that curled into tight fists. His inner being swelled with triumph. Silly woman. When he said Monday, he meant Monday.
As Sirena entered the alcove that housed the front of her building, she was still preoccupied by the lecture from the obstetrician about taking time to relax. She needed to read up on side effects of the medication he’d prescribed, too.
Distracted, she didn’t notice anyone until a lean, masculine body stepped out of the shadows. Her pulse leaped in excited recognition even as she jerked in alarm.
Her keys dropped with a clatter. Pressing herself into the glass door, she pulled her collar tighter to her throat. His familiar scent overwhelmed her, spicy and masculine beneath a layer of rain. The late-afternoon gloom threw forbidding shadows into the angles of his features and turned his short, spiky lashes into sharp blades above turbulent eyes. He was compelling as ever and she was as susceptible as always.
“What are you doing here?” Her knuckles dug into her neck where her pulse raced with dangerous speed. She was supposed to be avoiding this sort of elevation of her heart rate, but Raoul had always done this to her. Thank God she’d spent two years perfecting how to hide her girlish flushes of awareness and awestruck admiration. With a tilt of her chin she conveyed that he didn’t intimidate her—even though she was in danger of cracking the glass at her back, she was pressed so hard against it.
“You didn’t really think I’d wait until Friday,” he said, uncompromising and flinty.
“I didn’t think you’d be waiting at my door,” she protested, adding with admirable civility, “I’ll review the documents tomorrow, I promise.”
Raoul shook his head in condescension. “Today, Sirena.”
“It’s been a long day, Raoul. Don’t make it longer.” Her voice was weighted with more tiredness than she meant to reveal.
His eyes narrowed. “What sort of appointment did you have? Doctor?”
A little shiver of premonition went through her. Something told her not to let him see how unsettling the news had been, but the reality of all those tests and personal history forms had taken a toll. If she had thought she could avoid signing a shared custody agreement with Raoul, today she’d learned it was imperative she do so.
“Is the baby all right?” Raoul demanded gruffly. The edgy concern in his tone affected her, making her soften and stiffen at the same time.
“The baby is fine,” she said firmly. If the mother could keep herself healthy enough to deliver—and ensure there was at least one parent left to rear it—the baby was in a great position for a long and happy life.
“You?” he questioned with sharp acuity. Damned man never missed a thing.
“I’m tired,” she prevaricated. “And I have to use the loo. It’s only five o’clock. That gives me seven hours. Come back at eleven fifty-nine.”
Raoul’s jaw hardened. “No.” Leaning down, brushing entirely too close to her legs, he picked up her keys and straightened. “No more games, no more lawyers. You and I are hammering this out. Now.”
Sirena tried to take her keys, but Raoul only closed his hand over them, leaving her fingers brushing the hard strength of his knuckles.
The contact sent an electric zing through her nervous system, leaving her entire body quivering over what was a ridiculously innocuous touch.
She’d been too stressed and nauseous to have sexual feelings these last months, but suddenly every vessel in her body came alive to the presence of this man, the avenging god who had never had any genuine respect for her in the first place.
Tamping down on the rush of hurt and disappointment that welled in her chest, Sirena found her spine, standing up to him as well as a woman in flats could to a man who was head and shoulders taller than she was.
“Let’s get something clear,” she said, voice trembling a bit. She hoped he put it down to anger, not weak, stupid longing for something that had never existed. “Whatever agreement we come to is contingent on paternity tests proving you’re the father.”
Raoul rocked back on his heels. His negotiation face slid into place over his shock. In the shadowed alcove, Sirena wasn’t sure if his pupils really contracted to pinpoints, but she felt his gaze like a lance that held her in place. It made her nervous, but she was proud of herself for taking him aback. She couldn’t afford to be a pushover.
“Who else is in the running?” he gritted out.
“I have a life beyond your exalted presence.” The lies went up like umbrellas, but she had so few advantages.
He stood unflinching and austere, but there was something in his bearing that made her heart pang. She knew he was the father, but by keeping him guessing she was performing a type of torture on him, keeping him in a state of anxious inability to act. It was cruel and made her feel ashamed.
Don’t be a wimp, Sirena. He could take care of himself. The only thing she needed to worry about was her baby.
“Let’s get this done,” she said.