'Is there a point to you telling me this?' She would not feel sorry for that small, anxious boy, she wouldn't.
'Ne. ' He slipped into Greek, which didn't happen often. Xander was a man of many languages. Greek and Italian both being natural to him, the rest because he was good at them, and in the cut-throat, high-risk world he moved in it paid to know what the people around you were saying and to be able to communicate that fact.
'You think that you are the only one to have lived a strange, dysfunctional, sheltered life but you are not,' he stated coolly. 'I have lived it too so I can recognise the person you are inside because I am familiar with that person.'
Nell clutched her book in tight fingers and tried hard not to ask the question he was prompting her to ask, but it came out anyway. 'And what kind of person is that?'
'One who hides her true self within a series of carefully constructed shells as a form of self-defence against the hurts, the fears, the rejections life has dealt her from being small and vulnerable-like myself.'
Well, he certainly knows how to top up my feelings of rejection! Nell thought angrily. 'What rubbish,' she snapped out loud. 'And spare me more of this psycho-babble, Xander. I have no idea where you're going with it and I don't want to know.'
'Towards a deeper understanding of each other?' he suggested.
'For what purpose? So you can eventually get around to bedding me before you fly off to pastures new-or old,' she tagged on with bite. 'In case you didn't notice, I was easy prey out there in the water.' God, it stung to have to admit that. 'That means you don't need to achieve a greater understanding of me to get what you want.'
'You have always been easy prey, cara,' he hit back. 'The point at issue here is that I have always managed to avoid taking what has always been there to take.'
Nell pulled to a simmering stop. The hat and the sunglasses hid her expression from him but there were other ways to transmit body language.
'I think you're into humiliation.'
'No,' he denied that. 'I was trying to...'
She walked on again, faster, her breath singing tensely from between her clenched teeth as she pumped her legs up the final stretch of the hill.
'Will you listen to me?' He arrived at her side again.
'Listen to you spelling it out for me that you married me because you saw your perfect soul mate? One you can pick up and drop at will and she won't complain because she's used to rejection, and all of this rotten isolation you prefer to surround her with?'
'I married you,' he gritted, 'because it was either that or take you to bed without the damned ring!'
Her huff of scorn echoed high in the trees above them. 'I was a business deal!' She turned on him furiously, brought her foot down on a sharp piece of gravel and let out a painful, 'Ouch!'
'What have you done?' he rasped.
'Nothing.' She rubbed at the base of her foot with a hand. 'And we've never shared a bed!' she flashed at him furiously. 'We've never even shared a bedroom!'
'Well, that's about to change,' he drawled.
I'm not listening to any more, Nell decided and dropped her foot to the ground to turn and start walking again, her legs and her body trembling with fury and goodness knew what else while her eyes still saw a tall, dark, arrogant man with tousled wet hair and a sexy damp shirt, dangling his shoes from his long brown fingers.
Topping the peak of the hill, she started down the other side of it. Below through the trees she could see the red-tiled roof of the house and the helicopter standing in its allotted spot by a glinting blue swimming pool.
All looked idyllic, a perfect haven of peace-sanctuary. Sanctuary to hell! she thought. Her sanctuary had been in the isolation, not the place itself. Now Xander was back and the comfortable new world she'd created here was shattered. She hated him so much it was no wonder her blood was fizzing like crazy as it coursed through her veins.
He did it again and took her by surprise, hands snaking around her waist to spin her round to face him. The shoes had landed with a clunk somewhere, her book went the same way. Next thing her hat came off, followed by her sunglasses, and were tossed aside. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a lean, dark, handsome face wearing the grim intent of what was to come, her breath caught on a gasp then that hard, hot mouth was claiming hers again and she was being kissed breathless while his hands roamed at will. Her thighs, her hips, the smooth, rounded curve of her naked bottom beneath the covering sarong. He staked his claim without conscience, her slender back, her flat stomach, the still thrusting, pouting shape of her nipple-tight breasts. She was dizzy, narcotic, clinging to him, fingers clawing inside the shirt to bury into the tightly curling matt of hair on his chest. It had all erupted without a warning gap now, as if one erotic encounter led straight into the next. He drew back from the kiss, face hardened by a burning desire that was no longer held in check.
'You want that we do it right here and now, Nell-up against the nearest tree maybe?' he gritted down at her. 'Or shall we go back to the ocean and complete what we started there? Or would you have preferred it if we had done it two weeks ago in the bed down there where you lay injured and weak? Or we could have whiled away the hours doing it on the flight over here. Or let us take this back to our wedding night, when you were so shattered only a monster would have tried. No,' he ground out. 'You will not turn away from me.'
His hands snaked her closer, cupping her behind to lift her into even closer contact. 'Do you understand now what I am trying to say to you? Look at us, cara,' he insisted. 'We are not what you would call passive about this. You hide your true self. I hide my true self. But here they are out in the open, two people with more passion for each other than they can safely deal with.'
'Only when you have the time to feel like it.'
'Well, I feel like it now!' he rasped. 'And if you refuse to listen to reason then maybe I will take you up against a tree, with your knees trapped beneath my arms and your heels digging into my back!'
Such a lurid, vivid picture made her push back from him, all big, shocked green eyes. 'You've done it before like that!'
Xander laughed-thickly, so thoroughly disconcerted by the attack that he discovered he had no defence. The whooshing sound of a helicopter's rotor blades suddenly sounded overhead, saving him from having to defend himself. They both looked up then Xander uttered a thick curse.
'We have a visitor,' he muttered.
'Who?' Nell shot out as they watched the helicopter swoop down the side of the hill then come to a hovering stop beside the other one.
There was a moment of nothing, a moment of hovering stillness in Xander that brought her eyes back to his face. He didn't look happy. He even sent her a grimace.
'My mother,' he said.
Nell's heart sank to the soles of her bare feet. The beautiful, gorgeous, always exquisitely turned out Gabriela Pascalis was paying them a visit and Nell looked like this-wet, bedraggled, and more than half-ravished.
Her voice developed a shake. 'Did you know she was coming here?' .
There was a sighed-out, 'No,' before he changed it to a heavy, 'Yes... She said she was coming. I told her not to bother. I knew she would ignore me-all right?'
Nell flashed him a killing look. 'You didn't think to warn me about that?'
'We were busy talking about other things-I forgot.'
'And I suppose I was hoping she would listen to me for once...'
Nell didn't even grace that with the spitting answer sitting on her tongue. Turning, she began striding down the hillside, leaving Xander cursing colourfully as he gathered up their scattered things.
She knew that mother and son did not enjoy a warm relationship, in fact the best she could describe it as was cool. They met, they embraced, they threw veiled but heavily barbed comments at each other; they embraced then parted again until the next time. It was like standing in the middle of a minefield when they were together. One step out of line and Nell had a feeling that they would both ignite and explode all over her, so she'd tended to keep very quiet and still in their company.
Not that it happened often. It wasn't as if with a relationship like that mother and son lived in each other's pockets. Xander had his life and Gabriela had hers-par for the course with Xander's relationships, she tagged on acidly. The very few times that Nell had come into contact with both of them together was usually at one of those formal functions Xander would drag her to occasionally-to keep up appearances while Vanessa hovered around somewhere in the murky background, awaiting her lover's return.
Her skin turned cold as she thought that.
A shriek of delight suddenly filled the hillside, dragging her attention down the hill towards the house. She saw that the helicopter had settled next to the other one and Gabriela was now standing by the pool with her arms thrown wide open while Thea Sophia hurried towards her clapping her hands with delight.