Never Underestimate a Caffarelli(10)

By: Melanie Milburne


Raoul couldn’t help wondering what she looked like underneath those dreadful clothes. He was used to women who shamelessly flaunted their bodies in front of him, wearing the minimum of clothes and the maximum of cosmetics to draw his attention. But Miss Lily Archer, with her dowdy outfits, scrubbed clean face and dark blue secretive eyes intrigued him in a way no woman had ever done before. She held herself in a tightly contained way, as if she was frightened of drawing unnecessary attention to herself.

Maybe you shouldn’t have been so hasty to send her packing.

Raoul quickly nudged the thought aside. ‘I try not to judge on appearances alone, but it’s all part of the package, isn’t it? How people present themselves—their body language, how they act, how they speak. As humans we have evolved to decode hundreds of those subtle signs in order to work out whether to trust someone or not.’

She began to chew at her lower lip with her small white teeth. It struck Raoul how incredibly young it made her look. It was hard to gauge her age but he assumed she was in her mid-twenties, although right now she looked about sixteen.

Dominique came in with their entrées at that point. ‘Can I pour you some wine, Miss Archer?’ she asked, glancing at Lily’s empty glass.

‘Miss Archer is a teetotaller,’ Raoul said. ‘I haven’t been able to tempt her so far.’

Dominique’s black button eyes gave a little twinkle as she placed the soup in front of him. ‘Perhaps Mademoiselle Archer is immune to temptation, Monsieur Raoul.’

He moved his lips in a semblance of a smile. ‘We’ll see.’

The housekeeper left the room and Raoul studied Lily’s almost fierce expression. A frown was pulling at her smooth forehead and her mouth was set in a tight line, as if she was trying to stop herself from saying something she might later regret. Her slim shoulders were tense and her right hand was gripping her water glass so firmly he could see the bulge of each of her knuckles straining against her pale skin.

‘Relax, Miss Archer. I’m not about to debauch you with liquor and licentiousness. I couldn’t do so even if I wanted to, in my present condition.’

She raised her gaze to his, her cheeks still bright with colour. ‘Do you usually drink so much?’

He felt the back of his neck prickle with defensiveness. ‘I enjoy wine with my meals. I do not consider myself a drunk.’

‘Alcohol numbs the senses and affects coordination and judgement.’ She sounded like she was reading from a drug-and-alcohol education pamphlet. ‘You’d be best to avoid it, or at least limit it, while you’re recuperating.’

Raoul put his glass down with a little thwack. ‘I’m not “recuperating”, Miss Archer. This is what I’m left with because some brainless idiot driving a jet ski didn’t watch where he was going.’

‘Have you spoken to someone about how you feel about the accident?’

His defensiveness turned into outright nastiness. ‘I don’t need to lie down on some outrageously expensive psychologist’s sofa and tell them what I feel about being mowed down like a ninepin. I feel royally pissed off, or has that somehow escaped your attention?’

Her slim throat moved up and down in a tight little swallow but her eyes remained steady on his. ‘It’s understandable that you’re angry, but you’d be better off channelling that anger into trying to regain your mobility.’

Raoul saw red. It was like a mist in front of his eyes. He felt his rage pounding in his ears like thunder. What had the last few weeks been about other than trying to regain his mobility? What right did she have to suggest he was somehow blocking his recovery by holding on to his anger at being struck down the way he had been? Letting go of his anger wasn’t suddenly going to springboard him out of this chair and back into his previous life.

The life he’d had before was over.

Finished.

Kaput.

‘Do you have any idea of what it’s like to be totally dependent on other people?’ he asked.

‘Of course I do. I work with disabled people all the time.’

He slammed his fist on the table so hard the glasses almost toppled over. ‘Do not call me disabled.’

She flinched and paled. ‘I—I’m sorry...’

Raoul felt like the biggest jerk in the world but he wasn’t ready to admit it or to apologise for it. He was furious with Rafe for putting him in this invidious position. She was clearly only doing it for the money. It was ludicrous to think she would succeed where others had failed. She was a fraud, a charlatan who exploited the vulnerable and desperate, and he couldn’t wait to expose her for what she was.