The Vengeful Husband(7)

By: Lynne Graham

'I would have received replies from men interested in a genuine and lasting marriage.' Darcy sighed. 'It was wiser just to advertise my requirements as a form of employ¬ment—'

'Quiet... domesticated... well-behaved.' 'I don't want someone who's going to get under my feet or expect me to wait on him hand and foot. Would you say you were self-sufficient?' 'Si...'

'Well, then, what do you think?' Darcy demanded im¬pulsively.

'I don't yet know what I think. I wasn't expecting this kind of proposal,' he returned gently. 'No woman has ever asked me to marry her before.'

'I'm not talking about a proper marriage. Obviously we'd separate after the six months was up and get a divorce. By the way, you would also have to sign a pre-nuptial con¬tract,' Darcy added, because she needed to safeguard the estate from any claim an estranged husband might legiti¬mately attempt to make. 'That isn't negotiable.'

Luca rose gracefully upright. 'I believe I would need a greater cash inducement to give up my freedom—'

'That's not a problem,' Darcy broke in, her tone one of eager reassurance on that point. If he was prepared to con¬sider her proposition, she was keen to accommodate him. 'I'm prepared to negotiate. If you agree, I'll double the original bonus I offered.'

Disconcertingly, he didn't react to that impulsive offer. Darcy flushed then, feeling more than a little foolish.

Veiled dark eyes surveyed her. 'I'll think it over. I'll be in touch.'
'The references?'

'I will present them if I decide to accept the...the posi¬tion.' As Luca framed the last two words a flash of shim¬mering gold illuminated his dark eyes. Amusement at the sheer desperation she had revealed in her desire to reach agreement with him? Darcy squirmed at the suspicion.

'I need an answer very soon. I have no time to waste.'

'I'll give you an answer tomorrow...' He strode to the door and then he hesitated, throwing her a questioning look over one broad masculine shoulder. 'It surprises me that you could not persuade a friend to agree to so temporary an arrangement.'

Darcy stiffened and coloured. 'In these particular circum¬stances, I prefer a stranger.'

'A stranger...I can understand that,' Luca completed in a honey-soft and smooth drawl.

'So WHAT sort of impression did Lucas make on you?' Karen demanded, minutes later.                                             _

'It's not Lucas, it's Luca... My impression?' Darcy stud¬ied her friend with a frowning air of abstraction. "That's the odd thing. I didn't really get a proper impression—at least not one I could hang onto for longer than five sec¬onds,' she found herself admitting in belated recognition of the fact. 'One minute I thought he was all brawn and no brain, and then the next he would come out with something razor-sharp. And towards the end he was as informative as a brick wall.'

'He didn't accuse you of dragging him down here on false pretences? He didn't laugh like a drain? Or even ask if you were pulling his leg?' It was Karen's turn to look confused.

Darcy shook her head reflectively. 'He was very low-key in his reactions, businesslike in spite of the way he was dressed. That made it easier for me. I didn't get half as embarrassed as I thought I would.'

'Only you could conduct such a weird and loaded inter¬view with a male that gorgeous and not respond on any more personal a level.'
'That kind of man leaves me cold.' But Darcy's cheeks warmed as she recalled that humiliating moment when she had reacted all too personally to the sheer male magnetism of those dark good looks.
Karen's keen gaze gleamed. 'He didn't leave you stone-cold... did he?'

Cursing her betrayingly fair skin, Darcy strove to con¬tinue meeting her friend's eyes levelly. 'Karen—'

'Forget it... I can tell a mile off when you're about to lie through your teeth!'

Darcy winced. 'OK...I noticed that Luca was reasonably fanciable—'

'Reasonably fanciable ?' her friend carolled with extrav¬agant incredulity.

'All right.' Darcy sighed in rueful surrender. 'He was spectacular ...are you satisfied now?'

'Yes. Your indifference to men seriously worries me. Now at least I know that you're still in the land of the living.'

Darcy pulled a wry face. 'With my level of looks and appeal, indifference is by far the safest bet, believe me.'

Karen compressed her lips and thought with real loathing of all the people responsible for ensuring Darcy had such a low opinion of her own attractions. Her cold and critical father, her vain and sarcastic stepmother, not to mention the rejections her unlucky friend had suffered from the op¬posite sex during her awkward and vulnerable teen years. Being jilted at the altar and left to raise her child alone had completed the damage.

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