Authors: Chantelle Shaw
was such a damning word and, ironically, it contained more emotion than Constantin had ever revealed during the one year of their marriage they had spent together.
Who was she kidding? When she pictured his hard, sculpted features it was impossible to believe he had a vulnerable side. Constantin did not
emotions. It was far more likely that the reason he had given for seeking a divorce had been coldly calculated.
take all the blame for the failure of their marriage, Isobel thought fiercely. Constantin needed to realise that she was not a push-over, as she had been when he had married her, and he
have things all his way. Once she had been overawed by him. But she was determined to end their marriage as his equal.
lives on the Kent coast and thinks up her stories while walking on the beach. She has been married for over thirty years and has six children. Her love affair with reading and writing Mills & Boon
began as a teenager, and her first book was published in 2006. She likes strong-willed, slightly unusual characters. Chantelle also loves gardening, walking, and wine!
To Wear His Ring Again
address you asked for. Grosvenor Square W1.' The taxi driver glanced over his shoulder at his passenger, who was still sitting on the back seat, puzzled that she hadn't climbed out of the car. âIs this where you want to go, love? Or do you want me to take you somewhere else?'
Butterflies danced in Isobel's stomach as she stared out of the black cab, and for a moment she was tempted to ask the cabbie to drive on. The Georgian town house looked exactly the same as she remembered; the four storeys of mullioned windows gleamed in the spring sunshine, reflecting the trees in the park opposite. She had loved the house when she had lived there with Constantin, but now its elegant grandeur seemed to mock her.
She was surprised by how emotional she felt to return, two years after she had walked out of the front door for the last time and turned her back on her marriage. Perhaps she should just sign the divorce petition burning a hole in her handbag and post it back to Constantin's lawyer. What was the point in seeing him again after all this time and dredging up the past?
The truth was that she had never really known her husband. When they had met three years ago, she had been dazzled by his charm and seduced by his smouldering sexuality. At first, their relationship had been a roller coaster of sizzling passion, but after their wedding Constantin had changed into a remote stranger. With hindsight, she realised that she had never truly understood the enigmatic Italian who went by the exotic title of Marchese Constantin De Severino.
She visualised the legal document in her handbag with the heading in stark black typeface:
Affidavit in support of divorceâdesertion
, and felt a rush of anger at the reason Constantin had given for seeking a divorce. It was true that she had been the one to leave the marriage, and so technically she supposed she
deserted him. But he had given her no option but to leave him. He had driven her away with his coldness and his uncompromising attitude towards her career.
was such a damning word and, ironically, it contained more emotion than Constantin had ever revealed during the one year of the marriage that they had spent together.
Who was she kidding? When she pictured his hard, sculpted features it was impossible to believe he had a vulnerable side. Constantin did not
emotions. It was far more likely that the reason he had given for seeking a divorce had been coldly calculated. But she
take all the blame for the failure of their marriage, Isobel thought fiercely. Constantin needed to realise that she was not a pushover as she had been when he had married her, and he
have things all his way. Once, she had been overawed by him. But she was determined to end their marriage as his equal.
âThis is fine, thanks,' she told the taxi driver as she stepped onto the pavement and leaned down to the cab window to pay the fare. The breeze lifted her honey-blonde hair from her shoulders.
Recognition dawned on the cabbie's face. âI know who you are! You're that singer Izzy Blake from the Stone Ladies. My daughter is a big fan.' He thrust a notepad into Isobel's hand. âCan I be cheeky and ask for your autograph for my Lily?'
She took the pen he handed her and signed her name. Being recognised by the public was something Isobel doubted she would ever be entirely comfortable with, but she never forgot that the band owed their success to their many thousands of fans worldwide.
âAre you in London to give a concert?' the cabbie asked her.
âNo, we finished our European tour in Berlin last week, but I think we're due to play in London in the autumn.' She had given up trying to remember the exact details of the band's hectic schedule. For the past two years, her life had been a blur of airport lounges and hotel lobbies in whichever town, state, continent where the band was performing. She tore a page out of the cabbie's notebook. âGive me your email address and I'll make sure you're sent a couple of tickets so you can take your daughter to the Stone Ladies' next concert.'
The taxi driver thanked her, and when he drove away Isobel unconsciously clenched her fingers around the strap of her bag as she climbed the front steps of the house and rang the doorbell. Despite her determination to remain cool and calm, she could feel her heart thudding painfully hard beneath her ribs. She was not
at the prospect of seeing Constantin again, she assured herself. She thought of the divorce petition he had sent her, and the accusatory, condemning word
had the same effect on her temper as a red rag to a bull.
âDamn you, Constantin,' she muttered beneath her breath, just before the door was opened by a familiar figure.
âMadam,' Constantin's butler greeted her gravely, his measured tone and imperturbable features revealing no hint of surprise at her sudden reappearance after two years.
âHello, Whittaker. Is my...husband...at home?' She was annoyed by the huskiness in her voice as she stumbled over the word husband. He wouldn't be for much longer and she would be free to move on with her life.
She had read in a newspaper that Constantin was in London to attend the opening of a new De Severino Eccellenza storeâmore commonly known by the company's logo DSEâin Oxford Street, and she had planned her visit for Sunday morning because, even though he was a workaholic, it was unlikely that Constantin would have gone to the office on a Sunday.
âThe Marquis is downstairs in the gymnasium.' The butler stepped back to allow her to enter the house. âI will inform him on the internal phone that you are here.'
Isobel stopped him. She wanted to retain the element of surprise. As Whittaker's brow pleated in a faint frown she added quickly, âHe...he's expecting me.' It was the truth of sorts, she assured herself. No doubt Constantin was waiting for her to meekly sign the divorce petition, but he probably did not expect her to deliver the document in person. She hurried along the hall towards the stairs that led down to the basement.
Constantin had had the gym installed soon after their marriage so that he could work out at home rather than stop off at his private health club after he'd spent all day at the office. Descending the stairs, Isobel could hear a rhythmic pounding noise. The door to the gym was open, and she had a clear view of him slamming his fists into a punchbag. He was totally focused on what he was doing and did not notice her.
Her mouth ran dry as she stood in the corridor and studied him. She had forgotten how
he was! He owed his six-feet-plus height to his American mother, whoâon one of the rare occasions when he had spoken about his familyâConstantin had told Isobel had been a successful model before she had married his father.
She guessed his slashing cheekbones and classically sculpted features were also a result of his mother's genes, but in every other way he was pure Italian male, with exotic olive skin and dark, almost black, glossy hair that grew in luxuriant waves and refused to be completely tamed by the barber's scissors. His shorts and gym vest revealed his powerful thigh and shoulder muscles, and the curling black hairs on his chest were damp with sweat as he powered his fists into the punchbag.
He would need to take a shower after his punishing workout, Isobel mused. An unbidden memory slid into her mind of the early days of their marriage when she had often come down to the gym to watch Constantin work out, and afterwards they had shared a shower. The two years that they had been apart melted away as she remembered running her hands over his naked, muscular thighs and stretching her fingers around his powerful erection while he smoothed a bar of soap over her breasts and continued down her quivering, shivering body until she begged him to end the torment and take her hard and fast, leaning against the wall of the shower cubicle.
Scalding heat swept through her veins, and she could not repress a choked sound in her throat that immediately alerted Constantin to her presence. His head shot round, and for perhaps thirty seconds Isobel saw a stunned expression on his face before his chiselled features hardened and became unreadable. He pulled off his boxing gloves and strolled towards her.
His deep voice was as sensuous as bittersweet chocolate, and his use of the Italian version of her name evoked a flood of molten desire in the pit of Isobel's stomach. How could he have such a devastating effect on her after all this time? Working in the music industry, she was often in the company of good-looking men, but she'd never felt a spark of desire for anyone she'd met. She had put her lack of interest down to the fact that she was still legally marriedâfor although she and Constantin had parted on bad terms she believed in fidelity within marriage. But with a flash of near despair she realised that no other man excited her as her husband did. For the past two years her sexual desires had lain dormant, but one look at Constantin was all it had taken to arouse her body to a fever pitch of lustful longing.
Utterly thrown by her reaction to him, she felt an urge to turn and flee back up the stairs. But it was too late; he halted in front of her, standing unnervingly close so that she inhaled the sensual musk of his maleness.
Beads of sweat glistened on his skin. Isobel found herself wanting to run her fingers through the lock of sable hair that had fallen forwards onto his brow and trace the close-trimmed black stubble that shaded his jaw and upper lip. Every muscle in her body tautened defensively as she fought the effect he had on her. She was unaware that she reminded Constantin of a nervous colt who might bolt at any second.
âDon't hide in the shadows,
,' he drawled. âI don't know why you're here, but I assume you have a very good reason to let yourself into the house, two years after you ran away.'
His cynical tone hurtled Isobel back in time to the dying days of their marriage when they had been at constant loggerheads.
âI didn't run away,' she snapped.
His heavy black brows rose, but it was his eyes that held her spellbound. The first time Isobel had met himâwhen she had been a temporary secretary sent by the agency to work for the CEO at the London office of the exclusive jewellery and luxury goods company, De Severino Eccellenzaâshe had been mesmerised by Constantin's brilliant blue eyes that were such an unexpected contrast to his swarthy, Latin looks.
He shrugged. âAll right, you didn't run. You
out while I was on a business trip. I came home to find your note informing me that you had gone on tour with the band and wouldn't be coming back.'
Isobel gritted her teeth. âYou knew I was going to go with the Stone Ladiesâwe had discussed it. I left because, if I hadn't, we would have destroyed each other. Don't you remember the row we had the morning before you went to France, or the argument we'd had the day before, or the day before that? I couldn't take it any more.' Her voice shook. âWe couldn't even be together in the same room without tension flaring. It was time to end our train wreck of a marriage.'
A throb of pain shot across her brow, causing her to draw a sharp breath and reminding her of the tension headaches she'd suffered during her marriage. She and Constantin were arguing already, mere moments after meeting each other again.
âBesides, I didn't let myself into the house,' she said in a carefully controlled voice. âI left my door key with my wedding ring on your desk two years ago.' The symbolic gesture of pulling her gold wedding band from her finger had dealt the final devastating blow to her heart, Isobel remembered painfully. âWhittaker let me in.' She opened her handbag and pulled out the divorce petition. âI came to return this.'
Constantin flicked his eyes to the document. âYou must be in a desperate hurry to officially end our marriage, if you couldn't wait until tomorrow to put the paperwork in the post.'
Riled by his mocking tone, she opened her mouth to agree that she was impatient to sever the final links between them. She was wearing four-inch heels but Constantin towered over her and she had to tilt her head to meet his cobalt-blue gaze. It was an unwise move, she realised as her eyes dropped to his sensual, full-lipped mouth and her pulse quickened. Her tongue darted out to moisten her suddenly dry lips, and she glimpsed a dangerous glitter in his eyes as he followed the betraying gesture before he roamed his gaze over her in a leisurely inspection that made Isobel's skin tingle.
âYou're looking good,
,' he drawled.
Her stupid heart performed a somersault, but she managed to respond coolly, âThank you.' The old Isobel had struggled to accept compliments graciously, but maturity had given her the self-assurance to be able to look in a mirror and acknowledge that she was attractive.
That did not mean she hadn't spent ages debating what to wear for her meeting with Constantin. Her aim had been to look sophisticated yet give the impression that she hadn't tried too hard and she had eventually settled on dark blue jeans from her favourite designer, teamed with a plain white tee shirt andâfor a confidence boosterâa pillar-box-red jacket. She had left her long, layered hair loose, and wore minimum make-upâjust mascara to emphasise her hazel eyes, and a slick of rose-coloured gloss on her lips.
She saw Constantin glance at her handbag. âFrom the new De Severino Eccellenza collection,' he noted. âRather ironic, seeing that you always made a fuss when I gave you DSE items while we were together. When you bought your bag I hope you explained that you are my wife, and asked for a discount.'
âOf course I didn't,' Isobel said stiffly. âI can afford to pay the full price.'
There seemed no point trying to explain that when they had been together she had felt guilty when Constantin had given her DSE jewellery and accessories because everything in the collection was incredibly expensive, and she hadn't wanted to seem like a gold-digger who had married him for his money.