Never Underestimate a Caffarelli(8)

By: Melanie Milburne

RAOUL HAD PLANNED on eating alone in his room or not eating at all, but the thought of spending an hour or two with Lily Archer proved to be the greater temptation. He told himself it was because he wanted to keep an eye on her. Who knew what she might be up to when his back was turned? She might be pilfering the silver or stashing away some of his priceless objects while no one was looking—or, even worse, she might be an undercover journalist planted inside the château to get the prize shot of him.

He was still furiously angry with his brother for bringing her here. He’d planned to spend some time out of the public eye, working on his recovery as best he could. What could she offer that hadn’t already been offered by his specialists and doctors? He wanted to be alone to get his head around the possibility that he might never fully recover. He didn’t want people fussing around him. He needed time to process what had happened and how he was going to move forward.

Her understated beauty didn’t fool him for a moment. That was probably all part of her artifice—to trick people into trusting her. Her nondescript clothing had hung off her slim figure as if she was trying to disguise it, and her brown hair had been tied back severely from her make-up-free face.

It was her eyes that had intrigued him, however. They were the most startling shade of blue, dark like slate, and veiled, as if she were hiding something. Eyes were supposed to be the windows to the soul, but he had a feeling Miss Lily Archer’s soul was not for public display.

He heaved himself into his electronic chair even though it annoyed the hell out of him to have to use it. It made him feel even more disabled, hearing that whirring sound as he drove it. He couldn’t wait to get this wretched plaster cast off his right arm. At least then he’d be able to keep his upper body in shape by wheeling himself around in the manual chair.

He caught a glimpse of himself in one of the large mirrors as he drove down the corridor towards the lift. It was like looking at someone else. It looked like someone had hijacked him and put him in someone else’s body.

A dagger-like pain seized him in the chest. What if this was the best he would ever be? He couldn’t bear the thought of spending the rest of his life stuck in this chair, having people look down at him—or, even worse, flicking their gaze away as if the sight of his broken body repulsed them.

He wasn’t going to give in to this.

He would get well.

He would move heaven and earth to get back on his feet and he would do it like he did everything else: on his own.

Raoul was on his second glass of wine when Lily Archer came in. She was dressed in a long-sleeved beige dress that was a size too big and did nothing to flatter her colouring. Her face was free of make-up, although she had put on a bit of lip gloss, and perhaps a bit of mascara as her dark lashes seemed more noticeable than they had earlier in the darker lighting of the library. Her hair was tied back, but in the brighter light from the chandelier overhead he could see it was healthy and shiny with natural-looking highlights in between the ash-brown strands.

‘Would you like a drink?’ He held up the bottle of wine he was steadily working his way through.

She inhaled a sharp little breath and shook her head. ‘I don’t drink alcohol. I’ll just have water... Thank you.’

‘A teetotaller?’ Raoul knew he sounded mocking but he was beyond caring.

She pressed her rather generous lips together as she took her seat to the left of his. Even the way she flicked her napkin across her lap communicated her irritation with him. Why hadn’t he noticed how lush her mouth was before? Was the lighting that bad in the library? Nor had he noticed how regally high her cheekbones were or the way her neck was swan-like and her pretty little nose up-tilted. She had prominent brows and deep-set eyes that gave her a mysterious, untouchable air. Her skin was clear and unlined with no hint of tan, as if she spent most of her time indoors, out of the sun.

She gave him a school-marmish look. ‘I don’t need alcohol to have a good time.’

‘So, how do you have a good time, Miss Archer?’

‘I read. I go to movies. I spend time with my friends.’

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’

Her face flinched. She covered it quickly, however, adopting a composed façade that would have fooled most people—but then, he liked to think he was not most people. ‘No.’ Her one-word answer was definitive, like a punctuation mark. Book closed. End of subject.

Raoul picked up his wine glass and took a sip, holding it in his mouth for a moment before he swallowed. ‘What’s wrong with the men of England that a young woman like you is left on the shelf?’