The Executive's Vengeful Seduction(8) by Maxine Sullivan

“I can’t take responsibility for the whole damn world,” she choked. If this was what it was like at the top, then they could have it.

His dark brows jerked together. “Don’t swear, Gabrielle.”

Her eyes widened. “How can you take this so calmly? This is our lives you’re talking about ruining.”

His face closed up more than usual. “I don’t think marriage between us will ruin our lives. We may even enjoy it.”

She gave a strangled laugh. “It may not ruin yours, but it will definitely ruin mine. I don’t know what you’ve got planned for the rest of your life, but being married to you isn’t on my list.”

His green eyes darkened to near black as a hardness rippled through him like a chain reaction. His mouth opened. He went to speak.

And his cell phone rang.

He held her gaze a moment more, watching her. Then he took the phone out of his pocket and answered it. She was just beginning to take a breath when she noticed his gaze shoot to her. She tensed immediately, sensing it must be the hospital.

“We’ll be there soon,” he said into the phone, then hung up and returned it to his pocket.

“It’s my father, isn’t it?” she whispered, expecting a blow.

“He’s fine. But they’ve finished some tests and now he’s awake. Your mother said it’s a good time to come visit for a couple of minutes.”

Intense relief washed over her. “We’d better hurry, then,” she said, wishing she’d thought to give her cell phone number to her mother so that she’d always be available if anything happened. Not that she wanted to think about the worst happening, she decided, spinning on her heels to go back through the patio doors, glad to put an end to this discussion with Damien.

“We’ll finish this later,” he warned.

She had to stand her ground with him. “There’s nothing to discuss.”

Their eyes met and shock ran through her. There was a firm look on his face that said he wasn’t giving up. The thought tore at her insides and made her heart plummet to the depths of her soul. Damien always got what he wanted. It was just a pity he wanted a marriage of convenience with her. Dear God, the last thing she wanted was to be a convenience to this man.

That thought kept her resolute on the way to the hospital. She had to make sure she kept up her guard against Damien. Always, just when she thought she could hold her own with him, he’d change tack and sweep the rug out from under her. He was a ruthless businessman.

A ruthless man.

Just like her father, she reminded herself.

Of course, her father didn’t look too ruthless when she stood beside his hospital bed, his hand engulfing hers and a tear slipping down his cheek. Her eyes misted over and she leaned forward to kiss him, but ended up burying her face against his neck, careful not to cause him pain. For a split second all her hurt melted like candle wax. This was her father. And she was his little girl again.

“Gabrielle,” his shaky voice rumbled in her ears, and she swallowed hard. It had been so long since she’d heard him say her name so lovingly. Too long.

“Oh, Russell, our baby girl’s all grown-up now,” Gabrielle heard her mother say. It startled her to hear her parents actually talking civilly to each other for a change.

“Yes,” he said gruffly, and squeezed her hand again as if he never wanted to let her go.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and straightened, blinking back tears. Then her gaze fell on Damien and all at once her heart flipped over at the touch of tenderness in the back of those green eyes.

For her.

But Damien tender? Common sense told her that if he did feel any softening toward her, it was because he wanted something from her. She flinched inwardly. Oh, he wanted something all right.

Marriage.

“Sorry,” her father mumbled, pulling her thoughts away from her problems with Damien.

“Dad, shh. We’ll talk when you’re better.” Though what she’d say to him, she wasn’t sure. Deep down there was still hurt and anger over all that had happened. She couldn’t dismiss those feelings easily.

“Sleepy,” her father murmured, shutting his eyes.

She kissed his cheek. “Go to sleep then, Dad. I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said softly, sure he was asleep before she’d even finished speaking.

Her mother’s eyes filled with gratitude. “He’ll recover well just knowing you’re here.”

“I’m glad,” Gabrielle said, unable to prevent herself from still sounding wooden, then felt guilty for the tiny wince her mother tried to hide.

“Then we’ll see you tomorrow,” Caroline said, forcing a friendly tone. “The doctors don’t want him over-doing things.”

“Of course.”

After that they said their goodbyes but once in the car, Damien turned toward her, his eyes piercing. “Your father’s still got a long way to go.”

Gabrielle grimaced. “You don’t have to remind me.”

“Yes, I do. You seem to think if you ignore everything, then it will just sort itself out.”

“Maybe it will,” she said coolly.

“And maybe it won’t,” he snapped. “When your father struggles through all this to get better and finally comes home to find out his company has been decimated, will you tell him why there’s nothing left? Or will you be back in Sydney and won’t give a damn?”

She drew herself up straighter in the passenger seat. “Have you finished?”

“No I bloody well haven’t.”

She sucked in a sharp breath. “God, you’re so like my father it isn’t funny. The two of you could be twins.”

A pulse began to beat in his cheekbone. “What are you talking about?”

Her heart squeezed tight. “You like things your own way, Damien. I won’t marry you. I would end up a doormat who occasionally got taken out on special occasions. Just like my mother.”

“No,” he growled.

“You desire me, but once you get bored with me you’ll move on to some other woman, and a marriage license won’t stop you.” She lifted her head high. “I want something better for myself than what my mother had with my father, and if I can’t have a warm, loving marriage, then I don’t want a poor imitation of one.”

He went very still. “You don’t know what I feel for you,” he rasped.

“Exactly.” She’d always known when he wanted her, but that hadn’t been about his feelings. He’d kept his real feelings from showing.

“We’ll talk later.” He turned away and started the engine. “Let’s get something to eat. It’s way past lunch-time,” he said, confirming what she’d just said about ignoring any feelings. “Then I need to go to my office for an hour or two.”

She hadn’t eaten a thing all day and she wasn’t sure she could. Her appetite seemed to have disappeared. “I’d prefer to go talk to Keiran again.”

His mouth tightened. “Best leave Keiran to think over things for the rest of the day. Otherwise we’re going to antagonize him more, and right now that’s probably not a good thing. I’ll give James a call after we eat. He can keep an eye on things until tomorrow.”

“Fine.” She knew what he said made sense. But tomorrow, whether Keiran liked it or not…whether Damien liked it or not…she was going to take charge and damn the consequences.

Back at the apartment, while she made ham sandwiches for a late lunch, Damien got on the phone and arranged for a rental car for her use. Then they sat on the balcony and ate lunch.

“By the way,” Damien said after a few minutes silence. “I have a dinner to attend tonight. I want you to come with me.”

She placed her half-eaten sandwich back on her plate, a little hurt by his insensitivity. “Thanks but I’ll pass. I don’t feel like seeing people when my father’s sick in hospital.”

“It’ll do you good to get out.”

Her lips twisted in a grimace. “The last thing I feel like doing is attending some business dinner with a bunch of strangers.”

“This isn’t a business dinner. It’s with friends.”

She gave a choked laugh. “I didn’t know you had any friends. Except women friends, of course.”

He arched a brow. “You sound jealous.”

“Only of their ability to put up with your delightful company,” she said sweetly, ignoring the fact that he looked so handsome sitting there with the sun’s shadow on his lean face.

He tilted his dark head, a slight smile on his lips. “Our marriage is going to be very interesting.”

She stabbed him with a glare. “I am not marrying you, Damien.”

The smile left his mouth. His gaze became shuttered. “Tonight’s a good time to introduce you to them.”

She felt as if she was going round and round in circles. “Damien, I—”

“Be ready by seven,” he said, pushing his chair back and getting to his feet.

She looked up at him, suddenly tired of fighting him, knowing he wasn’t about to give up. He’d probably even try to dress her himself if she wasn’t ready. “Okay, fine. I’ll go. But they’re all probably a bunch of boring suits, anyway.”

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