Never Underestimate a Caffarelli(9)

By: Melanie Milburne

She lowered her gaze and started fiddling with the stem of her empty wine glass. ‘I’m not interested in a relationship just now.’

‘Yes, well, I’m with you on that.’ He lifted his glass to his mouth and emptied it.

She brought her gaze back to his. Her expression had lost some of its reserve and was now sympathetic. It struck him as being genuine; although he could have been mistaken, given he’d drunk almost half a bottle of wine. ‘I’m sorry about your engagement,’ she said. ‘It must have been devastating to have it ended like that when you were feeling at your most vulnerable.’

Raoul wondered what online blog or forum she’d been lurking on, or whether Rafe or Dominique had told her the details of his failed relationship with Clarissa. He would be lying to say he wasn’t upset at having been dumped. He had always been the one to begin and end his relationships. He liked to be the one in control of his life because—like his brothers—having control was an essential part of being a Caffarelli. You didn’t let others rule or lord it over you. You took charge and you kept in charge.

No matter who or what stood in your way.

He picked up the wine bottle and recklessly refilled his glass. ‘I wasn’t in love with her.’

Her pale, smooth brow crinkled in a frown. ‘Then why on earth did you ask her to marry you?’

He put down the bottle and looked at her shocked expression. Was she a romantic at heart behind that prim, nun-like façade? He gave a shrug and picked up his glass again. ‘I wanted to settle down. I thought it was time.’

She looked at him as if he was speaking gibberish. ‘But marriage is meant to be for life. You’re meant to love the person and want to be with them to the exclusion of all others.’

Raoul gave another careless shrug. ‘In the circles I move in, it’s more important to marry the person who will best fit into your lifestyle.’

‘So love doesn’t come into it?’

‘If you’re lucky—like my brother Rafe, for instance. But it’s not mandatory.’

‘That’s preposterous!’ She sat back in her chair with an exhalation of disgust. ‘How could you possibly think of marrying someone you didn’t love?’

He met her gaze with his. ‘How many people do you know who have married whilst madly in love and yet went on to divorce in bitter hatred a few years later? The way I see it, love doesn’t always last. It’s better to choose someone you have something in common with. Clarissa was beautiful to look at, she came from a similar background, she was relatively easy company to be in and she was good in bed. What more could I have wanted?’

She rolled her eyes and reached for her water glass. ‘I can see now why she ended your engagement. Your attitude is appalling. Love is the only reason anyone should get married. If you love someone you will do anything to support them—to be with them through thick and thin. No woman—or man, for that matter—should marry for anything less.’

‘So you’re a romantic at heart, Miss Archer.’ He twirled the contents of his wine glass. ‘You’d get on well with my brother’s new fiancée, Poppy.’

‘She sounds like a lovely person.’

‘She is. Rafe’s very lucky to have found her.’

The look she gave him was pointed. ‘But from what you said just a moment ago you don’t think their love will last.’

‘I said love doesn’t always last. I think in their case it will. For one thing, his wealth means nothing to her. She loves him for who he is, not for what he has. She is indeed a rare find. But, apart from her, I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t have dollar signs in her eyes.’

She visibly bristled. ‘Not all women are gold diggers.’

Raoul nailed her with his gaze. ‘Why did you ask for your payment up-front with a no-refund clause?’

She looked momentarily discomfited. ‘I—I had an urgent financial matter to see to.’

‘Are you a big spender, Miss Archer?’ He gave her outfit a cursory glance. ‘You don’t appear to be, on current appearances.’

Her mouth tightened a fraction and her creamy cheeks developed two spreading circles of colour. ‘I’m sorry if my lowly apparel offends your sensibilities, but I’m not a slave to fashion. I have other far more important priorities.’

‘I thought all women liked to make the most of their assets.’

She gave him an icy look. ‘Are you really so shallow that you judge a woman on what she is wearing rather than who she is on the inside?’