Wife By Force

By: Caro LaFever


“Or perhaps I should say commandments.”

“I do not follow—”

“God forbid if one of them fell in love with a simple teacher.” The harshness of her accusation cut through the soft night air. “With no aristocratic heritage of a thousand years.”

“As you did?” His tone iced with sudden derision.

“It wasn’t your business then, and it isn’t now.” The old familiar rage filled her; still she managed to push away the memory of his scathing words before she reached up and hit him. The message he’d left for her to find when she got back from her honeymoon had never been forgotten, and it still made her blood roar. She’d been so close to admitting her mistake, but that one message had changed her mind. “We aren’t talking about my decisions, though. We’re talking about your sisters.”

His hands fisted in his pockets. “My duty is to make sure my sisters are well taken care of. It is important they marry men of honor and integrity who can provide for them.”

“Honor and integrity only reside in men with money?” she scoffed.

“That is not what—”

“Your sisters aren’t capable of providing for themselves?”

“They will be busy with the children.” He looked at her as if he were talking to an imbecile.

The sudden ache in her heart at the word children competed with the fury his words caused her. She’d yearned for years, knowing there was no hope for children. She clamped down on the old pain and instead focused on the clear condescension in his voice. No one, certainly not this man, would ever again be allowed to talk to her like she was stupid. Her emotions spilled over into her mouth and she lost control of her tongue completely. “In your world everyone is placed in the box you’ve created for them and you expect them to do as you say.”

He stilled. “You appear to have made many conclusions about me. In such a short time, and especially since, as you say, we no longer know each other.”

“Conclusions are easy. When they stare you right in the face.”

“And your conclusion about me…is?”

“You’ve turned into an arrogant ass.”

The cool air seemed to heat between them. She felt him, felt his coolness turn to fire. The words had spat from her before she could stop them. A nearly uncontrollable compulsion ran through her to take a stick and poke him until he turned into a human. Into the boy she remembered. Which was crazy. That boy had been a figment of her imagination. She could poke for a lifetime and find only ice.

“A fascinating conclusion.” His voice held no emotion, only a dry edge. “How quickly you have sized me up.”

She was stupid to bait this man. If she kept going at him, it might appear she still cared. Better to offer another olive branch and make a wise retreat before she let any more of her inner turmoil spill out for his inspection. “That was uncalled for.”

“Yet it is good to know where I stand.”

A grim silence settled between them.

She made a move to rise, to escape, but he had moved too close. For some reason, she couldn’t take the chance of actually touching him. Not even a whisper of a touch.

She wiggled back onto the hard stone.

The silence continued. The man made no attempt to cut into it with light chatter or pleasant commentary.

In desperation, she struggled to find a neutral subject. “I can’t believe all five of your sisters are married, or almost. It seems like only a few years ago we were just kids.”

“You married too.” His voice matched his body language. Cool and composed. “Even after my advice against it.”

“Was that advice?” Every thought of keeping things neutral fled. “I took it as a threat.”

“Either way, you ignored it.”

His reaction astounded her. Although he was putting on a good front, his words were filled with fury. His tone was crisp, yet she heard it, the burn beneath the words. All these years and he was still angry she hadn’t immediately fallen in line with his instructions. He had the gall to be mad after a decade of silence between them because she hadn’t run home to Italy when he demanded it. “Unlike the rest of your world, I don’t have to follow your commands.”

“You’ve developed a sharp tongue.”

“Which isn’t to your liking, is it?”

“Sarcasm. Delightful.”

His rejoinder ripped at the last remnant of her determination to stay distant. “Clearly, we don’t like each other.”

“Another conclusion. You make them so quickly, I am impressed.”

“You do sarcasm well yourself,” she countered.

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