Her eyes were stinging but she made no move to touch them. There was nothing she could do. The flat, uncompromising edge in his voice left her nowhere to go.
‘So what are you saying?’ she said stiffly.
‘I suppose I’m saying...is this enough for you?’
His jaw was locked tight, the skin stretched taut across his cheekbones, and she could hear him breathing.
No, it wasn’t.
She felt so much...wanted so much more.
She was on the verge of taking his hand and pressing it to her lips, telling him that she loved him. And she might have done it if he hadn’t just told her what had happened with Harriet. But she couldn’t unknow what she knew...couldn’t unsee the weariness in his eyes...and she couldn’t bring herself to tell him the truth.
Not if it might mean losing this...losing him...
That was a risk she couldn’t take.
She nodded slowly, her stomach lurching at the lie. ‘Yes, it is.’
His face relaxed a little and she leaned forward and kissed him softly. She felt his hand touch her cheek and he deepened the kiss, and then she was kissing him back and surrendering to the tide of hunger rising inside her, letting it sweep aside her pain and her love.
THE NEXT MORNING they woke late. After days of bright sunshine the weather had turned and it was raining again. Not the deluge of last week, but enough for them to retreat to the library after a long, leisurely breakfast.
Now they were sprawled against each other on the rug in front of the fire. Frankie’s head was in his lap, his hand was in her hair, and they were watching the flames as they curled sinuously over the logs.
Correction: Frankie was watching the flames.
He was watching her.
A couple of days ago at the party he’d thought she could never look any more beautiful, but he’d been wrong. Today, wearing jeans and some old jumper of his, with no make-up and her hair curling loosely over her shoulders, there was a kind of radiance about her that had nothing to do with the symmetry of her features or the luminous clarity of her skin.
It was about who she was as a person. And Frankie was a beautiful person.
His ribs tightened as he remembered the hours running up to the party.
To say that he’d been dreading it was an understatement. Being surrounded by his family was just so difficult, so painful. It stirred so many beautiful, precious memories, and it hurt to remember all that he had lost.
At three-line whip events—the ones he couldn’t legitimately avoid—he usually just watched from the sidelines and left as early as possible. But Frankie had drawn him in, made him a part of every conversation, so that instead of brooding on the past, thinking of what he’d lost, he had found himself talking—not expansively, maybe, but talking just the same—and it had been fun.
She had made it fun.
She was so full of energy and curiosity about life, about people. He loved that about her.
To an outsider, his family might appear insular and cliquey and a little bit clueless about how the rest of the world lived. And they all knew each other. It would be daunting for anyone to be parachuted into such an environment, and he knew how nervous she had been.
But not one person there would have guessed. She had talked to everyone, laughed at Arthur’s terrible jokes, and listened patiently while Davey explained the intricacies of his new biomass boiler.
She drew people out of themselves—and drew them together. Not in some stage-managed, artificial way, but naturally.
No wonder everyone had loved her.
And she had loved them.
His heart felt suddenly heavy inside his chest as he remembered the dazzle of happiness and excitement in her blue eyes. She had loved being a part of a family again, and he had loved being able to gift her that.