The Billionaire's Unwanted Virgin(9)

By: Doris O Connor

"Leave it, Brian. You may go now. I'll call when we're ready for dessert. Tell cook thank you for an excellent meal so far."

Brian smiled at Alice and made a hasty retreat. The long room seemed to shrink all of a sudden, as though all the air had been sucked out of it. This was ridiculous. She was marrying the man studying her from under hooded lids, just as soon as it could be arranged. She really had to stop hyperventilating every time he focused on her.

"Is there something wrong with the veal or the wine, little Alice?" He got up as he spoke, picked up the water carafe as he went, and filled an empty glass for her.

"Thank you, and there's nothing wrong. I'm just not hungry, I guess." She avoided his gaze and picked up the glass. His close proximity made her so nervous her hand shook, and the water sloshed over the sides. He sighed and took the glass off her. A jolt of static tingled up her arm at the contact of his calloused fingers, and she held her breath when he leaned down and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. His fingers lingered on the rapidly beating pulse for a few heart-stopping minutes before he straightened and sat down in the chair next to her.

"What happened to the young woman I left in the courtyard all ready to tear me down a strip, Alice? Does the thought of being married to me scare you that much?"

She shook her head.

"It's not that. I … I'm just worried about my mum, I guess. She's not in the best of health, and I don't know how to tell her about … this."

"I see. Where does she think you are right now?"

"Oh she knows I'm here. I had to tell her." She shot him a quick glance, and she could tell she'd surprised him. His eyes narrowed, and he sat back in his chair, interlinking his fingers and propping one of his long muscular legs over his knee. The fabric of his jeans grew taut against his legs, and Alice forced herself to look away from temptation.

"So, what is the problem? Surely from her point of view the fact that her daughter is marrying has got to be better than just throwing her virtue away on what would effectively have been a one night stand? "

The inflection he put on virtue made it sound as though it was an insult, and she flinched. His short laugh in response to her reaction had her stiffen her spine.

"This is not funny." She glared at him.

"I'm not saying it is. I just fail to see the problem here. I am told I'm quite the catch." He winked at her again, and all the fight went out of her. He looked like a little boy up to mischief when he did that, his harsh features softening, and Alice found herself wishing that he would do it more often. It made him seem human, not this overpowering presence that held her and little Beth's future in his large hands.

"My, you think a lot of yourself. I'm surprised you fit through the door with an ego the size of yours."

This time his smile in response didn't reach his eyes, and Alice suppressed a shiver of unease.

"Not particularly, but I make no excuses for who I am or where I came from. Unlike some people I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My mother, may she rest in peace, worked her fingers to the bone to keep my brother and me fed and clothed. When she died I swore to myself that I would get the people responsible, and nothing and no one is going to stop me. I'm good at what I do. It bought all this, and still, it's not enough for them."

The barely hidden pain and silent fury behind those words came through loud and clear, and without thinking, Alice leaned forward and put a hand on his forearm. The muscles tensed under her tentative touch, but he didn't pull away. Instead he covered her hand with his and squeezed.

"I didn't mean any disrespect to you or your heritage, Lakota." A muscle ticked in his tightly clenched jaw. He released her hand and stood up so abruptly that she blinked in surprise.

He poured himself a glass of Merlot and took a long swallow. Alice followed the movement of his Adam's apple as he swallowed, and she bit her lip. This was crazy. Everything about him turned her on. She should be furious. He was forcing her to marry him, to stay with him. She was not allowed to leave the house, and Percy was in the process of producing contracts and a prenuptial agreement a mile long, effectively tying her to this man in a way no marriage vow alone ever could.