The Vengeful Husband(6)

By: Lynne Graham

But Darcy tensed and took an instantaneous step back, her retreat only halted by the armchair she had vacated. Yet the tiny twisting sensation of sudden excitement she had experienced still curled up deep in the pit of her taut stom¬ach, and then pierced her like a knife with sudden shame. Her colour heightening, Darcy plotted her path out of the way of the armchair behind her, controlled solely by a need to put as much distance as possible between them.

Throughout that unchoreographed backing away process of hers, she was tracked by narrowed unflinchingly steady dark eyes.
'Signorina Fielding—'

'Look, you had no right to check me out...' Darcy folded her arms in a defensive movement. 'I guaranteed your pri¬vacy. Couldn't you have respected mine?'

'Not without some idea of what I might be getting into. It's standard business practice to make enquiries in advance of an interview.'

Darcy tore her frustrated gaze from his. Antipathy darted through her in a blinding wave. With difficulty, she held onto her ready temper. Possibly the reminder had been a timely one. It was, after all, a business proposition she in¬tended to make. And this Luca might think he was clever, but she already knew he had to be as thick as two short planks, didn't she? Only a complete idiot would turn up for an interview with a woman unshaven and dressed like a Hell's Angel. A financial advisor? In his dreams! Conservative apparel went with such employment.

Bolstered by the belief that he could be no Einstein, and rebuking herself for having been intimidated by something as superficial and unimportant as his physical appearance, Darcy sat down again and linked her small hands tightly together on her lap. 'Right, let's get down to business, then...'

The waiting silence lay thick and heavy like a blanket. Settling back into the sofa in a relaxed sprawl of long, seemingly endless limbs, Luca surveyed her with unutter¬able tranquillity.

Her teeth gritted. Wondering just how long that laid-back attitude would last, Darcy lifted her chin to a challenging angle. "There was a good reason behind the offbeat ad I placed. But before I explain what that reason is, I should mention certain facts in advance. Should you agree to take the position on offer, you would be well paid even though there is no work involved—'

‘No work involved?'

Darcy was soothed at receiving the exact response she had anticipated in that interruption. 'No work whatsoever,' she confirmed. 'While you were living in my home, your time would be your own, and at the end of your employ¬ment—assuming that you fulfil the terms to my satisfac¬tion—I would also give you a generous bonus.'

'So what's the catch?' Luca prompted very softly. 'In return you ask me to do something illegal?'

A mortified flush stained Darcy's perfect skin. 'Of course not,' she rebutted tautly. 'The "catch", if you choose to call it that, is that you would have to agree to marry me for six months!'

'To...marry you?' Luca stressed the word with a frown of wondering incredulity as he sat forward on the sofa. "The employment you offer is...marriage?'

'Yes. It's really quite simple. I need a man to go through a wedding ceremony with me and behave like a husband for a minimum of six months,' Darcy extended, with the frozen aspect of a woman forcing herself to refer to an indecent act. 'Why?'
'Why? That's my business. I don't think you require that information to make a decision,' Darcy responded uncom¬fortably.

Lush black lashes semi-screened his dark eyes. 'I don't understand... Could you explain it again, signorina,' he urged, in a rather dazed undertone.

You certainly couldn't call him mentally agile, Darcy thought ruefully. Having got over the worst, however, she felt stronger, and all embarrassment had left her. He was still sitting there, and why shouldn't he be? If he was as single as he had said he was, he stood to earn a great deal for doing nothing. She repeated what she had already said and, convinced that the financial aspect would be the greatest persuader of all, she mentioned the monthly salary she was prepared to offer and then the sizeable bonus she would advance in return for his continuing discretion about their arrangement after they had parted.

He nodded, and then nodded again more slowly, still focusing with a slight frown on the worn carpet at his feet. Maybe the light was annoying his eyes, Darcy decided, struggling to hold onto her irritation at his torpid reactions. Maybe he was just gobsmacked by the concept of being paid to be bone idle. Or maybe he was so shattered by what she had suggested that he hadn't yet worked out how to respond.

'I would, of course, require references,' Darcy continued.

'I could not supply references as a husband...'

Darcy drew in a deep breath of restraint. 'I'm referring to character references,' she said drily.

'If you wanted a husband, why didn't you place an ad in the personal column?'

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