Beauty in the Billionaire's Bed - Page 49

But what did she really know about his life...his past?

She hesitated, and then she took his hand and held it, feeling his tension against her thumb. ‘How old were you when she died?’

He didn’t reply, and for a moment she thought he wasn’t going to, but then he said stiffly, ‘Thirteen. I’d just started my first term at Eton. I didn’t go back. I couldn’t. Lucien was in such a state and Johnny was only two years old.’

Which was why Arlo hadn’t ever been a prefect, she thought, her heart contracting.

‘Didn’t anyone help?’ she asked.

‘Lots of people tried. Family, friends... And the staff were all fantastic.’ He sounded tired. Almost as if he was back in that huge, grief-filled house. ‘But my father didn’t want help. He wanted her. And when he realised he could never have her back he stopped crying and started raging against the world.’

Frankie shivered. He spoke as he wrote, each word chosen with a measured precision that only added pathos to his story.

‘What did he do?’

Arlo’s expression was bleak. ‘He drank a lot. Smashed up his studio. Burned his paintings. Not all of them. Constance rescued some. Then he just gave up. He stayed in his pyjamas...he barely ate.’

‘But who looked after you and Johnny?’ Her voice sounded brittle—accusatory, even—but she didn’t care. All she could think about was Arlo, all alone in the Hall with a tiny brother and a raging, unhappy man.

‘Nannies on and off, at the beginning. They loved Johnny, but my father terrified them, so they never stayed long. Constance helped a lot. Mostly Johnny wanted me, and in the end we just muddled through.’

Her heart felt too big for her chest. Johnny had told her that Arlo had raised him, but she hadn’t really believed him. ‘What about you?’ she whispered.

He shrugged. ‘I didn’t need looking after.’ His beautiful, misshapen mouth twisted. ‘And I wasn’t easy to look after. Not like Johnny.’

Frankie nodded. She could all too easily imagine the awkward, brooding teenage Arlo, silent and trapped in his grief. Of course any nanny would prefer a beautiful, uncomplicated child like Johnny. She gritted her teeth, pushing back against the pressing weight of misery rising in her throat. Why did the world have to be so cruel? So unfair?

‘I’m sorry,’ she said quietly. ‘I’m so sorry there was no one there for you.’

His face tensed. ‘No, that’s not how it was, Frankie. My uncles and aunts were fantastic. They sorted out all the financial stuff and the running of the Hall. But I wouldn’t let them help with Lucien or Johnny.’

He looked up at her, his mouth twisting into a smile that made her hand tighten around his.

‘As you know, I can be pretty stubborn when I want to be.’

‘Why wouldn’t you let them help?’ she whispered.

For a moment he seemed lost in thought, and then his smile twisted tighter. ‘I suppose I was trying to make amends.’

His voice was flat, dull, as if all the emotion had been ironed out of it.

She stared at him numbly. ‘I don’t understand...’ Why would he need to make amends?

His eyes found hers, hearing the question even though she hadn’t asked it.

‘I knew she was ill. We all did. But my parents lived in this fantasy world of love and beauty and art. They ignored anything that was too “real”. And I didn’t want to face the truth on my own, so I let myself be persuaded to do nothing as well.’

The emptiness in his voice made the afternoon feel suddenly cool.

‘I wanted to believe that their love could conquer everything, even though I knew unquestionably that it couldn’t—that it was just a beautiful story.’ He glanced over to where The Aeolus swayed against the tide. ‘I made a choice, and it was the wrong one. I let my feelings override the facts. After the funeral, I made a promise never to do that again.’

And he had kept his promise.

‘So that’s why you became a scientist. And why you don’t believe in love.’

For some reason it hurt, saying those words out loud. Hurt more than it should. Almost more than knowing he’d been so lost and alone.

His eyes found hers, the clear sunlight touching the grey with silver. ‘I didn’t for a long time. But I do now.’

Tags: Louise Fuller Billionaire Romance
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