The Silk Romance by Helena Fairfax
Jean-Luc smiled. “I tell you what,” he said, his head tilted to one side as he eyed her pleasantly. “You answer one more question of mine, and then I’ll answer any questions of yours you want. No holds barred.”
Maybe if Sophie hadn’t drunk the wine, she wouldn’t have been so relaxed. Maybe her wits would have been sharper. As it was, her answer came totally unguarded.
“Okay, I agree.” She sank back into her chair, brows lifted. “What’s your question?”
Jean-Luc leaned forward slowly, the smile gone from his face. With a shock, Sophie saw all trace of amiability leave him. His eyes were hard as sapphires.
“I’ve asked you this question once,” he said, the words travelling low and swift over the table between them. “And you didn’t answer. Four years ago you left me alone in a hotel room. Why?”
Sophie gasped. “That’s not a fair question.”
The vehemence in her voice caused the waiter to jump and the coffee cups to rattle in his hands. He cast a quick, startled glance in Sophie’s direction before pushing the coffee hurriedly into place. Sophie sat up straight in her chair.
“And, actually, I prefer not to talk about the past,” she said. The tone of her voice held a glacial iciness. Her brother Jack would have known straight away it was pointless continuing the conversation. Jean-Luc, as she was fast coming to realise, was not so easy to manipulate.
“I think my question is perfectly fair.” He spoke mildly, but there was no escaping the steel in his voice. “And more than that, I think you owe me an explanation.”
“I don’t owe you anything.” Sophie picked up her cognac and took a gulp that left her spluttering. Her undignified choking failed to move him. He waited until she had finished and then continued implacably, his eyes never wavering from hers.
“I don’t agree. That night you seduced me. You pretended to be experienced, a groupie even, and all the time you were a virgin.”
“Keep your voice down,” Sophie hissed, looking round anxiously at the nearby diners. Her face flamed scarlet, the bright blush a dead giveaway. “And anyway, I did not seduce you.”
“I’m right, aren’t I? You were a virgin.” His eyes narrowed to dazzling slits. “Do you think it’s a nice feeling, to be made use of?”
“I wasn’t making use of you,” Sophie protested.
And then it finally hit her. With a shock of belated realisation, she finally understood how Jean-Luc must have construed the events of that night. She stared horror-struck into his piercing gaze. Then her cheeks began a slow burn of mortification. He must have thought she’d had a one night stand to lose her virginity with a celebrity. When she remembered that she’d told him afterwards she was engaged, too, she hung her head. What must he have thought of her?
“That’s not how it was,” she whispered. She twisted her napkin in her lap. She hadn’t thought he would find their night together important. His previous girlfriends were so glamorous, she thought she’d be one on the list, soon to be forgotten.
She lifted her eyes to his. “It wasn’t how it seemed. I didn’t think…”
The coldness in his expression brought her to a halt.
“You didn’t think,” he echoed, with an icy quiet. “You didn’t think that I might actually have a heart. That I might care.”
Sophie looked down at the creased napkin, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was nothing she could say. It was true. She hadn’t thought he’d care. In fact, she’d assumed him incapable of feeling. She’d thought he was as heartless as the hangers-on who surrounded him. When she dared to raise her eyes again, she found Jean-Luc hadn’t moved an inch. His eyes had never left her, their hardness unyielding.
She pushed her untouched coffee away.
“I’d like to go home now,” she said quietly. Her request sounded childish, even to her own ears, but she could no longer endure his justified anger. He continued to look at her for several long seconds. Then he shrugged.
“Very well. I will call for my car. But understand this: I’m not asking you for an apology. I’m asking you for an explanation. And you still haven’t answered my question—so we will continue this discussion on the way home.”
“Oh no, I…” Sophie half rose out of her seat, but her protest came too late. Jean-Luc had pushed back his chair and was already striding to the lobby, mobile phone in hand, to make his call. The waiters hurried to the table and began silently clearing away. Sophie looked so miserable that, for once, they forgot all attempts at discretion and were staring at her with open sympathy. Her bent head was still fixed on the napkin in her lap. How to tell Jean-Luc that she had run away because otherwise she would have felt bound to him, caught up in his iron will with no chance of escape? She had made a sacred promise to her mother to look after her father and brother. She had to leave him; there was no other choice. There was no way she could ever combine her world with his. The looks the waiters threw her were full of compassion, but it was no use. Sophie had guessed how it would be if she came to Lyon to work for him. For the first couple of weeks he had left her alone, lulled her into a false sense of security with his distance. But now he had removed the mask of indifferent charm to reveal the iron purpose she should have known all along lay underneath. This time there would be no getting away. Sophie put her head in her hands and wished the ground would open wide.