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.He held her to him, not with love but with the steely force of prison bars.To pit her strength against his was pointless.He could have lifted her clean off the floor without effort.Could have snapped her neck with one hand.And at that moment, he looked capable of both.Uttering a pitiful squeak of protest, she said, “Let me go!”“Not,” he said grimly, manacling her wrists in his long, strong fingers, “until I’m done with you.And that, my very dear Stephanie, will not be any time soon.”She tried to pry herself free, a move which achieved precisely nothing but a tightening of his punishing hold.“Do not make me hurt you, Stephanie,” he warned, with soft and deadly menace.“You already are,” she retorted.“Your mother would be appalled if she knew you were here, terrorizing me like this.Your grandmother would be ashamed.As for what your son would think, if he could see you manhandling me…!”She’d grabbed the accusations out of thin air, a last-ditch attempt to protect herself that carried with it very little hope of success.Amazingly, though, they stopped him as forcefully as if he’d been hit with a sledgehammer.He released her so suddenly, she almost collapsed at his feet.Turned his head away, as if he couldn’t face her.Inhaled long, unsteady, hissing breaths which left his shirt front trembling.“Is this what I’ve allowed you to reduce me to?” he muttered.“A mindless thug who turns to brute violence to resolve his troubles?”“I’m very sorry, Matteo,” she whispered.“I know how much I’ve hurt you.”At that, he turned his gaze on her again, and she flinched at the emptiness she saw in his eyes.“Do you?”“Yes,” she said.“Because I’m hurting, too.You can’t begin to know the terrible pain I’ve endured in keeping such a secret from you.”His lashes swept down in slow disbelief.“You have one hell of a nerve, trying to solicit my sympathy for your pain, when you’ve singlehandedly rendered me incapable of rational thought or judgment.”She flung out her hands in mute appeal.“If it means anything at all, I’ve wished so many times that I’d done things differently.That I’d had the courage to tell you I was pregnant.”“Why didn’t you?” he inquired cuttingly.“And don’t bother making excuses about my having left your country.If you’d really wanted to contact me, all you ever had to do was ask your grandparents where I could be reached.”She met his glance head-on.“If I had done that, would you have believed you were my baby’s father? It’s not as if we hadn’t taken precautions.You were very confident that I was well protected from the risk of pregnancy.”“As confident as you were that I wasn’t proper father material for a Leyland?”“That thought never entered my head!”“Of course it did, Stephanie!” he scoffed.“That’s why you didn’t bother to give me the benefit of the doubt.Instead, you ran off and found yourself a man better suited to the role, and married him so fast that you hardly had time to learn his name before you took it as your own, and passed off my child as his.”“I had to!” she cried.“But not for the reason you think.If my father had known my baby was illegitimate, he’d never have accepted him.I lied, but never because I was ashamed of you, Matteo.It was only ever to protect Simon.”“You lied because you’re a coward.Because you wanted an easy way out,” he said flatly.“What a joke, to think I was ever taken in by your wide-eyed innocence, your guileless protestations about the sanctity of family!”Feeling she had nothing left to lose, she told him the rest.“I am even worse than you think.Although I intended to tell you about Simon before I left Italy, I wouldn’t have done it yet if Corinna hadn’t forced my hand.”“Corinna knows about this, too?” he flared.“Dio, is there no end to your betrayal, that you could parade such news before everyone but me?”“She guessed the truth for herself.But it was always my dream that Simon would eventually know you’re his father, Matteo.”“Your dream, perhaps.But you did nothing to make it a reality until Corinna left you no choice, and for that I must thank her.It is because of her, not you, that I’m now in a position to exercise my rights as a father.”The accusation fell from those same lips that had kissed her with love, with tenderness, with passion.But there was nothing of those in his tone, or his look, or his manner now.He was angry and cold; bent on vengeance and punishment.And she was afraid of him.She sank onto the dressing table bench and twisted her fingers in her lap, beside herself with anguish.“How do I convince you how much I regret the lies I’ve told?”His laugh scraped over her, harsh and unamused.“Don’t ask me! You’ve lied so often in the last few weeks that I’m not sure you understand the meaning of truth.You can’t open your mouth without perverting the facts.”“That’s unfair, Matteo! Apart from not telling you about Simon, I’ve never lied to you.”“Really? Aren’t you the one who told me, just yesterday, that this weekend was to be about just you and me?”“Yes.And I meant every word!”“But it’s never been about just you and me, Stephanie.There’s always been a third party known only to you, yet one about whom I had every right to be made aware.You don’t call that wilful misrepresentation?”How could she deny it? “When you put it that way, yes.But I’m not the only one at fault.You deceived me, too, letting me think you were someone different from what you really are.”“And you think that equals the score? That it makes what you’ve done less despicable?”She couldn’t look at him.She knew there was no comparison, that her sin was greater by far.She’d been wrong from the outset not to tell him about Simon.The only right thing she’d ever done where Matteo was concerned, was listen to her heart.It had never once let her down.“Not by a long shot,” she said.“But one thing I will swear to, on my son’s life, is that I love you.I have always loved you [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]