'H-how long have you been standing out there?' she asked, horrified that he might have heard or-worse-seen what had been going on in here through the little window in the door! 'Since you arrived in this hospital,' Jake Mather replied. Nell stared at the door closing behind Jake Mather's bulky frame. She'd been under guard without even knowing it. She was in prison. She had been completely surrounded and isolated from the outside world. A shiver shot through her. It was like being back at Rosemere only worse.
Mr Pascalis gave his permission... She turned her head to look at what Xander had kindly given his permission to. It was a neat stack of papers and magazines. Reaching out to pick the top one of the stack, she let it unfold so she could see the front page in all its damning glory. 'Greek tycoon's wife tries to kill herself after he flaunts his mistress.'
No wonder he saw no threat in a scandal-it was already here!
She plucked up another paper and another, swapped them for the magazines. Scandal galore was splashed across the pages. There were even photographs of her wrecked car! She turned the page on those pictures quickly as nausea swam up inside. But there was no mention of Marcel anywhere, which told her exactly what Xander was doing. Her imprisonment here had nothing to do with contracts or primitive demonstrations of ownership-but with damage control, pure and simple damage control!
He didn't want it reported that his wife had been leaving him for another man when she crashed her car! He would rather they report that she was attempting to kill herself. What did that say about the size of his ego? Kill herself? Where had they dragged up that big lie from? Had Xander himself put it out there?
She hated him. Oh, God, she hated him. No wonder she was being so thoroughly isolated. He didn't want her retaliating with the truth! Leaving him for another man... Oh, how she wished she'd managed to go through with it. She would have written her own headline. 'Wife of philandering Greek tycoon leaves him for Frenchman!'
STANDING unnoticed in the doorway, Xander watched Nell's trembling fingers grapple with the intricacies of fastening the tiny pearl buttons on the silky white blouse he'd had delivered to her along with a blue linen suit that did amazing things for her slender shape.
Someone had fixed her hair for her and it lay in a thick, shining, sandstorm braid to halfway down her back. She looked very pale, though the bruising on her face had almost disappeared. But it was clear to him that even the simplest of tasks still came as an effort. She was not recovered, though the doctors had assured him that she was fit to travel and for now that was all he cared about; getting her away from here and to a place void of tabloid gossip-and the temptation to contact her lover the first opportunity she was handed.
His blood began to boil when he thought about the elusive Marcel Dubois. The Frenchman had disappeared into the ether like the scarlet pimpernel, and maybe showed some sense in doing so-sense being something he had not shown when he'd decided to make his play for the wife of Alexander Pascalis.
Wife... He could almost laugh at the title but laughing was not what was lurking inside him. His hooded eyes took on a murderous glitter as he watched Nell struggle with those tiny pearl buttons. Had his wife in name only lain with her Frenchman and allowed him to touch what Xander had not touched? Had Dubois seen power in her soft, willing body and those little confidences a woman like the love-vulnerable Nell would reveal to a lover about the emptiness of her marriage?
She turned then and noticed him standing there. His libido instantly kicked in to join the murderous feelings as her eyes began to make their rise up from his shoes to the casual black brushed-cotton chinos covering his legs and the plain white T-shirt moulding his chest. No other woman had ever looked at him the way Nell looked at him, with a slow, verdant absorption that drenched him in hellishly erotic self-awareness. She could not help herself, he knew that, which made the idea of her giving those looks to another man all the more potent. When she reached his shoulders, covered by the casual black linen jacket he was wearing, he could not halt the small recognising shift of muscle that sent a shower of pleasurable static rushing through his blood.
One day soon he was going to give this awareness true substance, he promised. He was going to wipe out all memory of her other man and introduce her to his power with all its naked, hot passion.
He was no neanderthal; he did not need a woman to be a virgin to enjoy her. But this one, this beautiful freak of modern living with her innocence steeped in womanly desire for him that she still did not have the tools to hide whatever the Frenchman had taught her, was going to open up like a chrysalis under his guidance and fly with him into ecstasy. She owed him that much.
She'd reached his face at last and Xander lost the murderous look to give her the benefit of a slow, easy smile, which she dealt with by flicking her eyes away. Nell was no fool. The last time he was here he had thrown down the sexual gauntlet and the smile was to remind her of it.
'Ready to come with me?' he enquired with the kind of soft challenge that had her breath feathering a quiver across the thrust of her breasts.
'I have no make-up,' she complained. 'You forgot to send it.'
'You don't need make-up. Your beautiful skin does not need it.'
'That's a matter of opinion.' Her chin lifted, eyes pinning him with an arctic green look. 'I've seen the waiting Press out there,' she said with a flick of a hand towards the window.
'Witnessing me leaving here looking black and blue won't help your cause, Xander.'
'And what cause is that?' The sexy smile was beginning to fade, Nell noticed.
'Damage control,' she replied. 'I presumed you would want me to look utterly love-blind and radiant for the cameras.'
'Your tongue is developing an aspish tone that does not suit it,' he drawled, moving further into the room with his graceful stride. 'Can you manage that last button on your blouse or do you need assistance?'
'I can manage.' Her chin dipped, her fingers moving to quickly close the button. 'The fact that I'm unhinged and suicidal does not make me totally useless.'
Xander hooked up her jacket from where it lay on the bed.
'You must admit, Nell, it made hilarious reading.'
'You think it's a big joke?'
'You clearly don't.'
Neither did he by the look on his grim face. The jacket arrived around her slender shoulders, held out absolutely perfectly for her to slide her arms into the sleeves without needing to strain herself.
'They presented me as a spiritless fool.'
'And me as the ruthless womaniser.'
'Better that than a man that cannot keep his wife happy, hmm?'
Nell turned to face him with that aspish challenge, but it was the first time she'd actually stood in front of him in goodness knew how long and it came as a shock to be reminded of his overpowering six feet two inches of pure masculinity compared to her own five feet five inches' more diminutive build.
Black eyes glinted narrowly down at her. 'Are you deliberately goading me into proving you wrong?'
Remembering the kiss of a few days ago, she felt her stomach muscles give a hectic quiver. 'No,' she denied and lowered her eyes in an attempt to block him out as his long fingers smoothed the jacket fabric into place.
'Then take my advice and hold back on the barbs until we can achieve guaranteed privacy.'
As if on cue, the door swung open and the doctor who'd been overseeing her recovery strode into the room. He and Xander shook hands like old friends then proceeded to discuss her as if she wasn't standing right beside them.
So what was new there? Nell asked herself as she stood with her eyes lowered and said not a word. From the moment he'd stepped into it, Xander had been arranging her life for her as if she wasn't a part of it. Their very odd courtship, the contract he had discussed with her father but not with her that she didn't bother to read. The marriage that had taken place in her local church but was put together by his efficient team with very little input from her. So why bother to make a fuss that he was discussing her health with the doctor he'd probably hand-picked to go with the private hospital he'd moved her to without her approval?
The only time he'd ever really listened to her was on their wedding night, when she'd refused to make their marriage real. She might have been upset, angry-hysterical enough to be a turn-off for any man, but she also knew that when he agreed to leave her alone, the final decision had been his. He could have changed her mind. He could have seduced her into weakening to him.
But no, what Xander had done was walk away-easily. Nell cringed inside as she thought it. He'd gone back to his life as if she was not in it, other than for those few token visits aimed to keep up appearances.
As the discussion about her needs went on around her Nell began to feel just a little light-headed because she'd been standing up for longer than she'd done since the accident. Her legs felt shaky and the solid prospect of the nearby chair was almost too tempting to resist. But if she showed signs of weakness now they might decide to keep her here and the risk of being incarcerated for another single hour was enough to keep her stubbornly on her feet. By the time the doctor turned to say his farewell to her, her