A Debt Paid in Passion

By: Dani Collins

CHAPTER ONE

LOOK AT ME, Raoul Zesiger willed Sirena Abbott.

He had to lean back in his chair to see her past the three men between them. He should have been looking at the judge, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Sirena.

She sat very still, face forward, her profile somber. Her absurdly long gypsy lashes had stayed downswept as his lawyer had risen to speak. She didn’t even flick a glance in his direction when her own lawyer stood to plead that jail time was counterproductive, since she needed to work to pay back the stolen funds.

Raoul’s lawyers had warned him this wouldn’t result in incarceration, but Raoul had pressed hard for it. He would see this treacherously innocent-looking woman, with her mouth pouted in grave tension and her thick brunette locks pulled into a deceptively respectful knot, go to jail for betraying him. For stealing.

His stepfather had been a thief. He had never expected to be taken advantage of again, especially by his reliable PA, a woman he’d come to trust to be there, always. But she had dipped her fingers into his personal account.

Then she had tried to manipulate him into going easy by being easy.

He didn’t want the flash of memory to strike. His ears were waiting for the judge to state that this would progress to a sentence, but his body prickled with heat as he recalled the feel of those plump lips softening under his. Her breasts, a lush handful, had smelled of summer. Her nipples were sun-warmed berries against his tongue, succulent and sweet. The heart-shaped backside he’d watched too often as it retreated from his office had been both taut and smooth as he had lifted her skirt and peeled lace down. Thighs like powdered sugar, an enticing musky perfume between that pulled him to hard attention as he remembered how tight—almost virginal—she’d been. But so hot and welcoming.

Because she’d known her criminal act was about to come to light.

His gut clenched in a mixture of fury and unparalleled carnal hunger. For two years he’d managed to keep his desire contained, but now that he’d had her, all he could think about was having her again. He hated her for having such power over him. He could swear under oath that he’d never hurt a woman, but he wanted to crush Sirena Abbott. Eradicate her. Destroy her.

The clap of a gavel snapped him back to the courtroom. It was empty save for the five of them behind two tables, both facing the judge. His lawyer gave Raoul a resigned tilt of his head and Raoul realized with sick disgust that the decision had gone in Sirena’s favor.

At the other table, partly obscured by her lawyer, Sirena’s spine softened in relief. Her wide eyes lifted to the heavens, shining with gratitude. Her lawyer thanked the judge and set a hand under Sirena’s elbow to help her rise, leaning in to say something to her.

Raoul felt a clench of possessiveness as he watched the solicitous middle-aged lawyer hover over her. He told himself it was anger, nothing else. He loathed being a victim again. She shouldn’t get away with a repayment plan of six hundred pounds a month. That wasn’t reparation. That was a joke.

Why wouldn’t she look at him? It was the least she could do: look him in the eye and acknowledge they both knew she was getting away with a crime. But she murmured something to her lawyer and left the man packing his briefcase as she circled to the aisle. Her sexy curves were downplayed by her sleek jacket and pencil skirt, but she was still alluring as hell. Her step slowed as she came to the gate into the gallery.

Look at me, Raoul silently commanded again, holding his breath as she hesitated, sensing she was about to swing her gaze to his.

Her lips drained of color and her hand trembled as she reached out, trying to find the gate. She stared straight ahead, eyes blinking and blinking—

“She’s fainting!” He shoved past his two lawyers and toppled chairs to reach her even as her own lawyer turned and reacted. They caught her together.

Raoul hated the man anew for touching her as they both eased her to the floor. She was dead weight. He had to catch her head as it lolled. She hadn’t been this insubstantial the last time he’d held her. She hadn’t been fragile.

Raoul barked for first aid.

Someone appeared with oxygen in blessedly short time. He let himself be pushed back a half step, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the way Sirena’s cheeks had gone hollow, her skin gray. Everything in him, breath, blood, thought, ground to a halt as he waited for a new verdict: that she would be okay.

It was his father all over again. The lack of response, the wild panic rising in him as he fought against helplessness and brutal reality. Was she breathing? She couldn’t be dead. Open your eyes, Sirena.

Distantly he heard the attendant asking after preexisting conditions and Raoul racked his brain. She wasn’t diabetic, had never taken medication that he’d seen. He reached for the phone he’d turned off while court was in session, intent on accessing her personnel file, when he heard her lawyer answer in a low murmur.

“She’s pregnant.”

The words burst like shattered glass in his ears.

* * *

Sirena became aware of something pressed to her face. Clammy sweat coated her skin and a swirl of her ever-present nausea turned mercilessly inside her.

She lifted a heavy hand to dislodge whatever was smothering her and a voice said, “You fainted, Sirena. Take it easy for a minute.”

Opening her eyes, she saw John, the highly recommended lawyer who’d been perfunctory until she’d almost vomited in his wastebasket. She’d told him the father’s identity was irrelevant, but Raoul was glaring from beyond John’s shoulder with all the relevance of an unforgiving sun on a lost soul in the desert—and he appeared about as sympathetic.

She had tried hard not to look at Raoul, former boss, brief lover, unsuspecting father. He was too...everything. Tall, dark, unabashedly urbane and sophisticated. Severe. Judgmental.

But of their own accord, her hungry eyes took in his appearance—her first opportunity to do so in weeks. She cataloged his razor-sharp charcoal suit, the solid black tie. His jaw was freshly shaved for his morning appointment, his dark hair recently cut into the sternly simple style of a successful businessman.

And there were his eyes, the gray irises stormy and full of condemnation as they snared hers in an unbreakable stare.

John asked, “Is there any pain? We’ve called an ambulance.”

Sirena flashed a terrified glance back at Raoul. It was a mistake. She realized immediately that he’d read it for what it was: an admission of guilt. A betrayal of truth.

Clenching her perfidious eyes closed, she willed him not to pick up on what had been revealed, but he was the most acutely intelligent person she’d ever met. He missed nothing.

If he knew she was carrying his baby, there’d be another fight. Considering what this current contest had taken out of her, she wasn’t ready for another. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, let him think he had a right to custody of her child.

“Sirena,” Raoul said in that dark chocolate voice of his.

Her skin rippled in a pleasurable shiver of recognition. Two years of hearing every intonation in that voice left her with the knowledge that her name on his lips right now was an implacable warning.

“Look at me,” he commanded.

Sirena reached blindly for John’s hand, clenching her icy fingers on his warm, dry ones. Beneath the oxygen mask, her voice was hollow and whisper thin.

“Tell him to leave me alone or I’ll take out a restraining order.”





CHAPTER TWO

THE FIRST VOLLEY of the second war was waiting when she got home from the hospital. More tests had been scheduled, but for the moment her doctor was putting her faint down to stress and low blood sugar resulting from her unrelenting nausea.

Sirena thought nothing could be more stressful than facing prison while dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, but Raoul knew no bounds when it came to psychological torture. She read the email John had forwarded:





My client has every reason to believe your client carries his baby. He insists on full involvement in the care through pregnancy and will take sole custody at birth.





Her blood congealed, even though this was no surprise. Raoul was possessive. She’d learned that. This reaction was fully expected, but having anyone try to take this baby from her was unthinkable.

Blinking the sting of desperation from her eyes, she typed, It’s not his, saying aloud, “And tell him to go to hell.”

She didn’t let herself dwell on the fact that Raoul wanted his baby. It would make her weaken toward a man she needed to believe was a monster—even though she’d spent two years falling into deep infatuation with not just a dynamic tycoon, but a man who was a caring son and protective older stepbrother. In some ways he was her mirror image, she’d often thought fancifully. They’d both lost a parent and both wanted the best for their younger siblings. She had come to believe him to be an admirable person with a dry wit and standards that put her learned habits of perfectionism to shame.

No, she reminded herself as she prepared a slice of toast she would force herself to eat. He was a cruel, angry, small person who felt nothing. For her, at least. He’d proven it when he’d made passionate love to her one day, then had her arrested the next.

A black hole of despair threatened to open beneath her feet, but she was safe now. That part was over. She’d made a horrible mistake and the judge had accepted her remorse, even if Raoul hadn’t. She had no idea how she would come up with six hundred pounds a month, but that was a minor worry against convincing Raoul the baby wasn’t his.

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