“Come in then. We can go out on the patio to eat, and we can talk.”
She could have broken a stone on Piers’s face. Without a word, he turned and stalked away, disappearing into the house.
“Nice guy,” Kirk muttered.
Jewel sighed. “Come on in. I’ll get us something to eat.”
P iers stood in the living room, sipping his drink and staring broodingly to the terrace where Jewel sat entertaining her guest.
Just who was this Kirk to her? Was he the father of her child? Had he left her high and dry and now had a change of heart? For all he knew, the two of them could be taking him on the ride of his life.
His eyes narrowed when he saw Jewel smile and then laugh at something Kirk had said. Then they both stood and Kirk drew her into his arms, hugging her tightly.
Piers’s fingers curled into tight fists at his side. Then, before they returned inside, he walked away, determined not to give her the satisfaction of rising to her bait.
He was halfway across the room when he realized what he was doing. Running. That made him more furious than the thought of her making a fool of him. No woman was going to force him into retreat.
He turned to face them when the French doors opened. His gaze swept coldly over Kirk and then Jewel. She answered him with a frown, her eyes reproachful.
“Everything cleared up?” he asked mildly.
“Not really,” Kirk said in a tight voice. “I’ve offered my assistance to Jewel so that her only alternative isn’t marriage to you.”
“How kind, only it’s too late. She’s my wife.”
“Divorces are easy enough to get.”
“I suppose they are, providing I was willing. I’m not.”
“Stop it, both of you,” Jewel demanded. “Kirk, please. I appreciate your help more than you know, but Piers is right. It’s too late. We’re married, and I want to make the best of it.”
Kirk’s expression softened as he looked at Jewel. “If you need anything at all, get in touch with me. It might take me a few days to get to you, but I’ll be there, okay?”
Jewel smiled and hugged him tightly. “Thank you, Kirk. I appreciate everything you’ve done and for letting me stay in the apartment.”
So it was Kirk’s apartment and not Jewel’s. She obviously hadn’t been exaggerating when she said she had no money and no place to stay.
Guilt crowded into his mind again at the idea of her alone and in desperate need of help.
Kirk kissed her forehead and then pulled away. “If you’re sure there isn’t anything I can do, I’m going to head back to the airport and see if I can hop a flight today. If I’m lucky, I can be back on location in a day and a half.”
“I’m just sorry you made the trip for nothing. If I’d gotten your e-mail, I would have told you not to bother coming.”
Piers fought to maintain a neutral expression. Deleting the e-mail had backfired on him. If she was telling the truth.
She walked Kirk to the door, and they both disappeared outside. A few minutes later, Piers heard the car drive away and then Jewel came back inside, her expression stormy.
“What the hell was all that about?” she demanded.
He raised an eyebrow at the force of her anger. She was bristling from head to toe and her eyes shot ocean-colored daggers at him.
“Funny, I should be asking you that question.”
“What are you talking about? Kirk is a good friend of mine. The only friend I have. If you have a problem with that, you can take a hike.”
“So fiercely loyal,” he murmured. “I wonder, though, if that loyalty extends to me?”
“Cut the crap, Piers. If you want a fight, let’s fight, but I don’t have time for little psychological games.”
“Is that what we’re doing? Fighting? It’s a little soon for our first marital spat, wouldn’t you say?”
“Go to hell.”
With that, she turned and stomped up the stairs. A few seconds later, the door to her bedroom slammed with enough force to shake the house.
So she had a temper. He’d purposely baited her for no other reason than his anger over his apparent jealousy. The woman had him tied in knots, and he didn’t like that one little bit.
If this Kirk was so hot to trot to come to Jewel’s aid, where had he been when she really needed him? If he was the father of her child, had he deserted them both and was now only back because he had competition? Or was this an elaborate hoax for them both to con him out of a fortune? He must have played right into Jewel’s hands when he offered her a generous settlement if the child turned out not to be his and they divorced. It was probably her plan all along.
But then the entire scheme hinged on him granting her a divorce. He smiled coldly. He couldn’t wait to inform her that there would be no divorce.
Dinner was quiet and strained. Jewel was still furious over the way Piers had acted toward Kirk, and Piers’s face was cast in stone. He ate as though nothing had occurred between them at all, and that made her even angrier. How were they supposed to have an argument when he didn’t cooperate?
Dessert was served, and as much as she wanted to enjoy the decadent chocolate tart, it tasted like sawdust.
“I’ve been thinking,” Piers said. He spoke coldly, with no warmth or inflection in his voice.
She didn’t answer and continued to concentrate on dissecting her dessert.
“I no longer feel that divorce is an option.”
Shocked, she dropped her fork, and winced at the loud clatter. “What? You believe that the baby is yours now? Before we get the results?”
He raised an eyebrow in a manner meant to make her feel inferior and at a disadvantage. It was mocking, almost as if he were laughing at her.
“I’m not a fool, Jewel. You’d do well to remember that.”
“Then why this nonsense about a divorce? The child is yours, but you’ve never been inclined to believe that. Why on earth would you suggest there be no divorce until you’re sure?”
“Maybe I’m just letting you know that your plan won’t work. I won’t grant a divorce, regardless of whether the child is mine.”
He seemed to be studying her, waiting for a reaction. What kind of reaction? What was he thinking now?
And then it hit her like a ton of bricks. Her mouth fell open in disgust.
“You think this is a scheme to extort money from you. You think that Kirk is the father, and that I’m some whore sleeping with both of you.”
She hadn’t imagined that anyone had the power to hurt her anymore. Long ago, she’d developed impenetrable armor against the kind of pain other humans inflicted. Despite it all, hurt overwhelmed her. She felt betrayed even though she never imagined she had his loyalty.
With shaking legs, she clumsily got out of her chair, shoving it backward with more force than was necessary. She was determined not to break down in front of him. Before she escaped the room, she turned one last time to him.
“Who did this to you, Piers? Who made you into a bastard who won’t trust anyone, and how long will it take you to figure out that I’m not her?”
She hurried away, no longer able to stand his brooding gaze.
Instead of retreating upstairs, she let herself out the French doors and ventured into the gardens. A chill chased away the flush of anger, and she gathered her arms close to her as she walked down a spiraling pathway deeper into the heart of the greenery.
Old-fashioned street lamps lit most of the paths. Finally she found a round, stone table with a circular bench. It was the perfect place to sit and enjoy the night air.
What had she done? She rubbed her stomach absently, thinking about her daughter and the future. A future that didn’t seem quite as bright as it had before. Piers was being vengeful over a perceived wrong she hadn’t dealt him, and so he’d decided, as if she had no choice or say in the matter, that there wouldn’t be a divorce.
Oh, she knew according to his stipulations that there would never be a divorce because she knew the child was his. Only he seemed convinced otherwise.
What kind of life had she consigned herself and her child to? Would Piers’s attitude soften toward their daughter when he learned the truth? And what about Jewel? Would she forever be relegated to just being the woman who gave birth to his daughter or would he soften toward her as well?
“You shouldn’t be out here alone.”
She whirled around, her anger surging back when she saw Piers standing there, hands shoved insolently into his pockets.
“I’m hardly alone, am I? No doubt there are countless security men surrounding me.”
He nodded as he walked closer. “Yes, but you shouldn’t take such a risk just because I have a security detail.”
“Tell me, Piers, will your security detail protect me from you?” she asked mockingly.
“Interesting choice of words. I feel as though I’m the one in need of protecting.”
She turned away, her shoulders shaking. “I want out, Piers. Immediately.”
She heard his swift intake of breath and his hiss of anger.
“I’ve just told you I won’t grant you a divorce.”
“At this point, I couldn’t care less. It isn’t as if I ever intend to marry again. I just want to be away from you. Keep your damn settlement. I don’t want anything from you. Just my freedom. I’ll leave immediately.”
She lurched forward, taking the spiraling pathway that would lead her back to the house, but Piers was beside her in an instant, his hand tight around her arm.
“You can’t go anywhere at this hour, Jewel. Be sensible.”
“Sensible?” She laughed. “Now you tell me to be sensible. I should have been sensible the moment you walked back into my life and took it over.”
“Stay until morning. You won’t have to concern yourself with me asserting my husbandly rights.”
“And you’ll let me go?” she asked incredulously.
“If you still want to, then yes.”
She studied him in the dark, and shook her head at the emotionless set to his face. Did he feel anything ever? Did he have a soul or had he given it away long ago?
“All right then. I’ll leave first thing in the morning. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go to bed.”
Piers watched her go, his chest tight with something that felt remarkably like panic. Of all the reactions he might have expected, this wasn’t one of them. When confronted with her deception, he’d expected tears, recriminations, even pleas to help her anyway. He hadn’t expected her to tell him to go to hell and leave. Where was the profit in that?
Now he was stuck with thinking of a way to persuade her to stay. Until he figured out this puzzle, he needed her where he could find her at all times. For the first time, a surge of excitement tingled his nape. Could it be that she was really pregnant with his child? That this time, he had rights where the child was concerned?
If so, there was no way he would let Jewel walk out of his life.
U nable to sleep, Jewel spent her time packing her clothing. She hadn’t even unpacked everything yet, so the task didn’t take her long. The rest of her time was spent sitting on the bed, her hands braced on the mattress as she silently stewed.
Why had she married Piers? It was a stupid decision, and yes, she’d been desperate, but not so desperate that she had called Kirk. No, she’d called Piers and then allowed him to take over and demand she marry him.
Face it. You’re a hopeless dreamer.
All of the things she supposedly no longer believed in had guided her every step for the last five months. Was it any wonder she’d royally screwed up?
At two in the morning, she was lying in bed, in the dark, staring toward the window at the full moon spilling through the panes. She’d just closed her eyes and considered that she might finally fall asleep when sharp pain lanced through her side, stealing her breath with its intensity.
She drew her knees up in automatic defense, and another tearing pain ripped through her abdomen. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t even process what she needed to do.
When the agony let up, she rolled toward the edge of the bed. Fear was as strong as the pain now. Fear for her child. Was she losing her baby?
Tears blurred her vision as she groped for a handhold. Her feet dangled above the floor when pain assaulted her again. She fell the rest of the way, landing with a thump on her side. She lay there, gasping for air, tears rolling down her cheeks as wave upon wave of pain shredded her insides.
Piers, she had to get to Piers.
She pushed her palm down on the surface of the floor, trying to lever herself up. The pain was unrelenting now. Nausea rolled through her stomach, swelling in her throat until she gagged.
She clamped her mouth shut and took deep breaths through her nose.
It sounded weak, and her door was closed.
“Piers!” she said louder, and collapsed again when pain slashed through her side again.
Oh God, he wasn’t coming. He probably couldn’t hear her, and she couldn’t get up.
Tears slipped faster down her cheeks, and she moaned helplessly as the tearing sensation overwhelmed her.
Then she heard the door fly open. The light flipped on, and footsteps thumped across the floor.
“Jewel! What’s wrong? Is it the baby?”
Piers knelt beside her, his hands flying across her body and her stomach. He started to turn her, and she cried out in pain.
“Tell me what’s wrong, yineka mou. Tell me how to help you,” he said desperately.
“Hurt,” she gasped out. “I hurt so much.”
“My side, my stomach. Low—around my pelvis. God, I don’t know. It hurts everywhere.”
“Shhh, I’ll take care of you,” he said soothingly. “It’ll be all right. I promise.”
He gathered her in his arms and lifted her up.
“Will you be all right if I lay you on the bed for a moment? I need to get dressed, and then I’ll drive you to the hospital.”
She nodded against his chest, unable to form even a simple word.
He strode into his bedroom and settled her on the same bed they’d made love in the night before. His scent surrounded her, and oddly, offered her comfort.
It seemed to take him forever to dress, but finally he was back, pulling her to him. He hurried down the stairs and outside into the chilly night.
“I’m going to put you in the backseat so you can lie down,” he murmured. “I’ll have you at the hospital quickly. Try to hold on, yineka mou.”