The Vengeful Husband(8)

By: Lynne Graham

And these days Darcy dressed like a scarecrow and made little effort to socialise. Slowly and surely she was turning into a recluse, although the hours she slaved over that wretched house meant that she didn't know what free time was, Karen conceded grimly. Anyone else confronted with such an immense and thankless challenge would've given up and at least sold the furniture by now, but not Darcy. Darcy would starve sooner than see any more of the Folly's treasures go to auction.

'I get really annoyed with you when you talk like that,' Karen said truthfully. 'If you would only buy some decent clothes and take a little more interest in—'
'Why bother when I'm quite happy as I am?' Visibly agitated by the turn the conversation had taken, Darcy glanced hurriedly at her watch and added with a relief couldn't hide, 'It's time I picked up Zia from the play¬group.'

As Darcy left the gate lodge, however, that final dialogue travelled with her. Demeaning memories had been roused to fill her thoughts and unsettle her stomach. All over again she saw her one-time fiance, Richard, gawping at her chief bridesmaid like a moonsick calf and finally admitting at the eleventh hour that he couldn't go through with the wedding because he had fallen in love with Maxie. And the ultimate insult had to be that her former friend, Maxie, who was so beautiful she could stop traffic, hadn't even wanted Richard!

That devastatingly public rejection had been followed by the Venetian episode, Darcy recalled wretchedly. That, too, had ended in severe humiliation. She had got to play Cinderella for a night.

And then she had got to stand on the Ponte della Guerra and be stood up like a dumb teen¬ager the following day. She had waited for ages too, and had hit complete rock-bottom when she finally appreciated that Prince Charming was not going to turn up.
Of course another woman, a more experienced and less credulous woman, would have known that that so casually voiced yet so romantic suggestion had been the equivalent of a guy saying he would phone you when he hadn't the slightest intention of doing so, only she hadn't recognised the reality. No, Darcy reflected with a stark shudder of re¬membrance, she had been much happier since she had given up on all that ghastly embarrassing and confusing man-woman stuff.

And if Luca, whoever he was, decided to go ahead and accept her proposition, she would soon be able to tune him and his macho motorbike leathers out entirely...

Perspiration beading her brow, Darcy wielded the heavy power-saw with the driven energy of necessity. The ancient kitchen range had an insatiable appetite for wood. Breathing heavily, she stopped to take a break. Even after

switching off the saw, her ears still rang with the shattering roar of the petrol-driven motor. With a weary sigh, she bent and began laboriously stacking the logs into the waiting wheelbarrow.

At the sound of that purring, accented drawl, Darcy al¬most leapt out of her skin, and she jerked round with a muttered exclamation.

Luca stood several feet away. Her startled green eyes clung to his tall, outrageously masculine physique. Wide shoulders, sleek hips, long, long legs. And he had shaved.

One look at the to-die-for features now revealed in all their glory struck Darcy dumb. She wasn't even capable of controlling that reaction. In full daylight, he was so stag¬geringly handsome. High, chiselled cheekbones, sharp as blades, were dissected by an arrogant but classic nose and embellished by a wide, perfect mouth. Even his skin had that wonderful golden glowing vibrancy of warmer climes...

'Is there something wrong?' An equally shapely ebony brow had now quirked enquiringly.

'You startled me..." Heated colour drenching her skin as she realised that she had been staring, Darcy dragged her attention from him with considerable difficulty. As her dazed eyes dropped down, she blinked in disbelief at the sight of her cocker spaniels seated silently at his feet like the well trained dogs they unfortunately weren't. Strangers usually provoked Humpf and Bert into a positive frenzy of uncontrolled barking. Instead, her lovable but noisy animals were welded to the spot and throwing Luca upward plead¬ing doggy glances as if he had cast some weird sort of hypnotic spell over them.

'I wasn't expecting you,' Darcy said abruptly.

'I did try the front entrance first...' His deep-pitched sexy drawl petered out as he studied the sizeable stack of wood. 'Surely you haven't cut all that on your own?'

Threading an even more self-conscious hand through the damp and wildly curling tendrils of hair clinging to her forehead, she nodded, aware of the incredulity in those piercing dark eyes.

'Are there no men around here?'

'No, I'm the next best thing...but then that's nothing new,' Darcy muttered half under her breath, writhing at her own undeniable awkwardness around men and hating him for surprising her when she wasn't psyched up to deal with him.

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