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Chapter 78 As He'd

  • As he’d anticipated, Nathan and Miranda were waiting for him, sitting in the big room that housed generations of choices in furniture—antiques, Asian influences, modern comfort, exotic collector pieces. Somehow they all melded together into a fascinating blend of people’s pleasure.
His mother always sat in the armchair upholstered in scarlet silk brocade. He wished it wasn’t empty tonight. Nathan occupied the huge black leather armchair that accommodated the length and breadth of his formidable physique. Miranda, whom Jared had walked down the aisle to his brother because she had no known father or family, eyed him worriedly from the sofa she favoured.
Was Christabel bereft of any family, as Miranda had been before marrying Nathan? There was so much he still didn’t know. What of her life in Brazil, before she’d met and married Laurens Kruger?
“Christabel came back alone,” Miranda remarked questioningly. “She asked about Alicia then took her leave of us for the night. She looked as though she’d been crying, Jared.”
He winced at the grief he’d unwittingly caused her in cutting short the comfort of loving by demanding answers to his need. Still, better that he had a fuller picture of what had to be fought. He turned to Nathan who waited patiently to be informed, his sharp blue eyes trained on his youngest brother, aware of the complexities of the situation and what Jared wanted from it.
“There’s more,” Jared stated bluntly, and filled Nathan in on the latest developments, delivering a sharp summary as he paced around the room, too wrought up to sit down. “So how do you stand with this?” he finished, more belligerent in his demand than he meant to be.
“With you,” Nathan answered calmly, pushing up from the leather chair, his height and solidity automatically emanating authority as he moved to clasp Jared’s shoulder in a gesture of unison. “We’ll take whatever action is called for.”
Absolute support. Jared saw it in his eyes and felt his inner angst ease. They were one in this—all three brothers—as he had assumed they would be—their father’s sons—but his strong sense of family unity had been rattled by his mother’s apparent leaning towards the other side.
“What about Elizabeth?” Miranda asked anxiously, echoing Jared’s own concern.
Nathan swung to answer her, his face expressing no inner conflict whatsoever. “We protect our own,” he stated decisively. “That means Mum, too. If her judgment is…awry, what happiness do you think she’d find with him?”
Miranda shook her head. “It’s so hard to believe. Your mother is…”
“Lonely,” Nathan supplied. “Rafael Santiso heads and holds together a financial empire. It takes a certain type of character to achieve that.”
He turned back to Jared, an ironic gleam in his eyes as he added, “Whether she feels an echo of our father in him…or something else…who knows? There has been an empty place in her life for many years.”
For the first time an attraction made some sense to Jared…a man of unshakeable willpower, a man who challenged his mother…and he well understood empty places. He was grateful to Nathan for his perception. Human frailty he could accept.
“We tread carefully there, Jared,” his big brother asserted quietly but firmly. “Hold back any sense of humiliation if Mum has been deceived. We must leave her dignity intact. Did you make that clear to Tommy?”
“No. I was angry,” Jared had to confess. His eyes ironically acknowledged his own human frailty as he added, “I felt…betrayed.”
Nathan nodded his understanding. “You’ve been closest to her. In the end, she’ll put you first. I have no doubt about that. I’ll call Tommy and talk it over with him. Okay?”
Jared was reminded of all the times in his boyhood when Nathan had fixed things for his little brother. He smiled in wry appreciation. “I am grown up now.”
Nathan laughed, his eyes twinkling appreciation and acknowledgment of the fact. “Just saving you time, Jared.” He sobered and gestured to his wife. “Miranda’s right. Christabel had been crying on her way back from her walk with you…”
“I had to take care of business, but I would be obliged if you’ll talk to Tommy. And thanks, Nathan.” He reached up and clasped his brother’s shoulder, a lump of deep emotion welling into his throat. “You never have let me down and it’s good to know you’re still here for me.”
“We’re here for each other,” he answered gruffly. “Always.”
Jared found himself too choked up to speak. He lifted his hand in a salute to Miranda, spun on his heel and walked out of the room, carrying with him a multitude of feelings that made life all the more precious to him, feelings he wanted Christabel to experience when she joined her life to his.
When, he thought fiercely. Not if.
He strode down the hall to the bedroom wing where she and Alicia had adjoining rooms. He’d done all he could to cover contingencies. His brothers were on-side. King’s Eden was King’s Eden. Tomorrow would come, but first there was this night to get through and Christabel needed to be loved.
More than that.
He needed her to believe in his love.
And that took action, not words. Tomorrow he would show her how deep and enduring his love was, but tonight was for feeling it.
He knocked softly on her door, hoping Alicia was asleep in the next room and Christabel was not sitting with her. He waited for several long seconds. When there was no response, he knocked again.
Again no sound of movement. Was she cuddling her daughter for comfort, deliberately ignoring any intrusion on her privacy? He couldn’t imagine she was asleep herself, though it was possible. He glanced at his watch. It was over an hour since she’d left him.
Then the door opened a crack. “Who is it?” came the husky whisper.
  • “Jared.”
He heard the shaky expulsion of a long breath. “There’s no more to say tonight,” she said listlessly, the weary dullness of her voice transmitting the sense of everything being over, and her acceptance of it.
“I just want to be with you, Christabel,” he softly pressed.
The door was held at a mere crack. Jared sensed the conflict tearing at her—to open up or close—and pushed to end it.
The door swung open. No resistance. No welcome, either. She wasn’t immediately visible. A lamp on the bedside table was switched on, spreading a soft glow of light around the room. The bed was mussed, the pillow dented, evidence that she had been lying down.
He found her sagged against the wall behind the door, as though she no longer cared about anything, letting him do what he willed because it really made no difference. Her head was lowered in a beaten expression, her cheeks streaked with tears, her long hair in a tangle of disarray. She wore the white nightgown Miranda had supplied, a sexy satin slip, but there was no sexual awareness in the slump of her shoulders, and her eyes were closed, shutting him out.
He closed the door and gathered her into his arms. She seemed too drained to fight anything any more, letting him draw her body to his, dropping her head limply on his shoulder. He held her, gently stroking her hair, rubbing her back, hoping he was imparting warmth and comfort, trying to wrap her in a blanket of love that would soothe her inner anguish.
Eventually her arms slid around his waist and her body heaved in a long, ragged sigh. “I’m sorry it is…how it is,” she said tiredly. “I never meant to drag you…or your family…into this.”
“I know,” Jared murmured. “I’m sorry you’ve had to bear so much alone.”
“I have Alicia,” she answered, resigned to the curse of the inheritance—the price of having the daughter she loved.
“Was there no other family of your own to help?” he gently probed.
She raised her head, looking at him with sad, washed-out eyes. “They did help…when I went back to Rio.”
She broke out of his embrace, shrugging off his solace as she turned away and walked towards the bed, her hands waving futile little gestures as she explained further.
“Through family contacts I managed to sell some of my jewellery to get untraceable money, passports in a different name. But I knew they couldn’t shelter me for long. My family was known. I had to leave them.” She paused, half-turned, aiming a direct look at him. “Just as you must know… I have to leave you.”
He shook his head. “Not for my sake, Christabel. And not because I might endanger your life or Alicia’s, because I won’t do that.” He strolled towards her, holding her gaze with purposeful conviction. “Only if you want to, and I don’t believe you do.”
He saw the flash of naked yearning in her eyes before she veiled it with her long lashes. Even as she jerked her head forward in a negative protest, he reached her and swung her around to face him, to hold her more firmly.
“No. No more talking. Say you must leave me tomorrow night if you decide that’s how it has to be, but love me now, Christabel, as I love you.”
He kissed her and her anguish turned into a passion that matched his. No persuasion was needed. The loving was too intense not to be believed by either of them, and for Jared, that was enough to carry them through whatever had to be done to assure them of a future together.
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