But back here in the UK, his young, sweetly besotted future bride had been avidly following his every move as it was recorded in the New York gossip columns via the internet. The sneaky little witch had told nobody. His mouth gave a grim, uncontrolled twitch. She'd come to him down the aisle of the church dressed like an angel in frothy silk tulle and gossamer lace. She'd smiled at him, let him take her cool little hand, let him place his ring on her slender white finger, let him vow to love, honour and protect. She'd even allowed him that one traditional kiss as they became man and wife. She'd smiled for their wedding photographs, smiled throughout the long wedding breakfast that followed and even smiled when he'd taken her in his arms for their traditional bridal dance. If there had ever been a man more ready to be a willing slave to his lovely young bride then, by the time they reached the hotel suite where they were to spend their wedding night, he, Alexander Pascalis, was it.
She'd waited until then to turn on him like a viper. A cold, glassy-eyed English version of a viper, who'd spat words at him like ice picks that awoke this handsome prince up from his arrogant dream-world instead of the prince awakening his sleeping beauty with the kind of loving that should have made her his slave for life.
And sleeping beauty she was then-too innocent to be real. That same innocence had been her only saviour on their miserable wedding night. Still was, did she but know it.
Because his marriage might have turned into a disaster even before he'd got around to consummating it but his desire to possess the beautiful Helen had remained a strong, nagging entity amongst the rubble of the rest.
'I suppose you know why she dismissed Vance?' he queried now, dragging his mind back to the present crisis.
There was a tense shift beside him. Xander turned his dark head again and a warning tingle shot across the back of his neck when he saw the new guarded expression on his employee’s face. Luke was wary-very wary. There was even a hint of red beginning to stain his pale English cheeks.
'Spit it out,' he raked at him.
Luke Morrell tugged in a breath. 'Hugo tried to stop her,' he claimed defensively, 'but Nell took offence-'
'Tried to stop her from doing what?'
Luke lifted up a hand in a helpless gesture. 'Listen, Xander,' he said in an advisory voice that sounded too damn soothing for Xander's liking, 'it was nothing serious enough to need to involve you but Hugo was concerned that it might...get out of hand, so he...advised Nell against it and she-'
'Advised her against doing what?' Xander sliced right through all of Luke's uncharacteristic babbling, and by now every bone in his body was tensing up as his instincts shot on full alert. He was not going to like this. He was so damn certain of it that his clenched teeth began to sing.
'A man,' Luke admitted reluctantly. 'A-a friend Nell's been seeing recently...'
Nell felt as if she were floating. It was a really strange feeling, all fluffy and soft yet scary at the same time. And she couldn't open her eyes. She had tried a couple of times but her eyelids felt as if they'd been glued down. Her throat hurt when she swallowed and her mouth was so dry the swallowing action was impossible anyway. She knew where she was. Had a vague recollection of the car accident and being rushed by ambulance to hospital, but that pretty much was the sum total of her recollection. The last clear thing she remembered was gunning the engine of her little open-top sports car and driving at a pace down the long driveway at Rosemere towards the giant iron gates. She could remember the wild sense of elation she'd felt when the gates had swung open with precision timing to let her shoot right through them without her having to drop her speed. And she could still feel the same sense of bitter triumph with which she'd mocked the gates' efficiency as she'd driven past them. Didn't the stupid gates know they'd just let the trapped bird escape?
Escape. Nell frowned, puzzled as to why the word had jumped into her head. Then she was suddenly groaning when the frown caused a pain to shoot right across the front of her head.
Someone moved not far away. 'Nell...?' a deep, darkly rasping voice said.
Managing to open her eyes the small crack that was all they would allow her, she peered out at the shadowy outline of a man's big, lean, dark-suited bulk standing stiffly at the end of her bed. Xander, she recognised. Bitterness welled as her heart gave a tight, very painful pinch. What was he doing here? Had corporate earth stopped turning or something? Nothing less would give him the time to visit her sickbed.
Go away, she wanted to say but did not have enough energy, so she closed the slits in her eyes and blocked him out that way instead.
'Nell, can you hear me?'
He sounded unusually gruff. Maybe he had a bad cold or a sore throat or something, she thought hazily. How would she know? She'd barely set eyes on him for months-not since he'd turned up like a bad penny on her birthday and dragged her out to have dinner with him. The candlelit-table-for-two kind of dinner with good wine and the requisite bottle of champagne standing at the ready on ice. Her fuzzy head threw up a picture of his handsome dark image, the way the candlelight had played with his ebony hair and the golden sheen of his skin as he'd sat there across the table from her with his slumberous dark eyes fixed on her face. Sartorial elegance had oozed from every sleek skin pore. The smooth self-confidence, the indolent grace with which he'd occupied his seat that belied his height and lean muscle power. The lazy indifference with which he'd dismissed the kind of breathless looks he received from every other woman in the room because he was special and he knew he was special, and there was not a person in that restaurant that didn't recognise it. Including Nell, though she was the only one there that refused to let it show.