“I appreciate your understanding, Commander. I’m eager to be back in Rome to assemble my team and put the new mission into action. I’ll be there as soon as my obligation here is over.” He paused to listen to the warrior on the other end, then exhaled a heavy sigh. “No, I haven’t made Seraphina aware of my decision. To be honest with you, sir, my mind is made up where she’s concerned. I don’t intend to give her any room to disagree.”
He chuckled as if he and his comrade had just shared a joke. Meanwhile, Sera felt as though she’d been punched in the gut.
He was going back to Rome. Eager to get back to his team there.
As for her, he’d just disregarded her as if she didn’t matter to him at all.
Sickness roiled in her stomach, in her heart. She shivered, suddenly self-conscious of her nudity in the center of the romantic villa. Silently, she retreated back to the kitchen and dropped the half-eaten peach in the trash.
What a fool she’d been to let herself think this was anything more than a joke to him. It had been from the start. An obligation he felt compelled to fulfill.
One he just admitted to his commander that he would walk away from as soon as it ended.
Thank God she hadn’t let herself look even more idiotic by confessing her feelings for him.
Now she had several more nights of torture to look forward to, knowing that Jehan couldn’t wait to be finished with the handfast and leave her behind.
Complaints of a headache had driven Seraphina outside to the sunshine for most of the afternoon. Jehan had tried to persuade her that another vigorous round of orgasms might make her feel better instead, but his attempt at humor—and seduction—had failed miserably.
If he wasn’t mistaken, her escape to the daylight on the patio seemed no less deliberate now than it had that first full day they’d spent together at the villa. When she’d gone there in an effort to avoid his company.
Had he done something wrong?
Or had she realized how close he’d been to burying his fangs in her carotid the last time they’d made love and was now determined to steer clear of him?
Whatever it was, it bothered him that she didn’t seem interested in talking to him about it.
Roaming around the villa alone while she avoided him outside was maddening. He missed her, and she had only been away from him for a couple of hours.
How empty would his life feel if she was gone from it for good?
That was the question that had ridden him most of the past twelve hours—ever since their escape from the danger at the camp. Now that he’d had Seraphina in his life, in his arms, how would he ever be able to return to his existence without her?
He thought he’d known the answer, but maybe he was mistaken.
As twilight fell outside and she still didn’t come inside to face him, Jehan decided he had to know. If she didn’t feel the way he did, then he was ready to call off the rest of the handfast and try to save some shred of his sanity, if not his dignity.
He was stalking toward the patio doors when a knock sounded on the villa’s front entrance.
Diverted from his mission, Jehan swung around and went over to see who it was.
Marcel stood there in the moonlight, grinning like an idiot.
And beside him—clinging to his arm with an equally besotted smile on her face—was Leila.
“You didn’t return my call, brother.”
Jehan raked a hand through his mussed hair and blew out an impatient curse. “Yeah. I, ah, was just about to do that.”
“Bullshit.” Marcel gestured to the Range Rover. “What the hell happened to the Rover? It looks like you drove it through a sand dune.”
“Long story,” Jehan said. “Suffice it to say things have been somewhat...interesting around here.”
“Things have been a bit interesting with me too. With us.” Marcel glanced at Leila, and she bit her lower lip as if to stifle the giggle that burst out of her anyway.
Jehan glanced at both of them. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Leila tried to peer around him, into the villa. “Where’s Seraphina?”
“She’s out on the patio, getting some air. Why are the two of you grinning like you’ve lost your damn minds?”
“We’re in love!” Leila exclaimed.
“And we’re blood-bonded,” Marcel added.
“What?” Before Jehan could choke out his astonished response, Seraphina did it first. She stood behind him now in a long skirt and curve-hugging tank, a look of utter shock on her face. She crossed her arms. “What do you mean you’re in love? How did that happen? And blood-bonded so soon? For God’s sake, you only just met each other.”
Jehan glanced at her, tempted to point out that they’d only just met too and he was already ruined for anyone else. But her pained expression kept him silent.
Marcel and Leila’s excitement left no time for him to reply either. The pair stepped inside, practically vibrating with their news.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time together the past several days,” Leila gushed.
Marcel wagged his brows at her. “And a couple of nights.”
“Marcel!” She rolled her eyes, but her cheeks were flooded with bright color. “At first, we thought we only had the handfast in common. We both wanted it to be a success, of course. And honestly, we thought the two of you would make an adorable couple.”
Jehan noted a cooler shift in Seraphina’s posture as her sister mentioned the handfast. “How can you be sure you’re not making a terrible mistake, Leila? You don’t know anything about him. No offense, Marcel. You do seem like a good, decent male.”
Unlike his brother? Jehan wondered.
Leila stared up at Marcel, warmth beaming from her eyes. “He makes me feel alive, Sera. He makes me laugh. He makes me feel special and beautiful, like I’m the only woman he sees.”
Marcel cupped her face in a tender caress. “Because you are.”
They kissed, leaving Jehan in awkward silence next to Seraphina. He glanced at her, but she stared rigidly ahead, refusing to meet his gaze.
“Congratulations,” she murmured as the jubilant couple finally stopped devouring each other’s faces. “I’m happy for you both. I’m sure our families will be happy to hear this news too.”
“That’s why we’re here,” Marcel said. “The handfast—”
Leila nodded. “Now that Marcel and I are blood-bonded, there’s no need to continue with the handfast. It’s over as of right now.”
Marcel must have read Jehan’s grim expression. He cleared his throat. “That is, unless you want to continue...?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Seraphina replied quickly. “Neither one of us wants that. We’re both very eager to be done with this obligation and get back to our real lives. Isn’t that right, Jehan?”
He scowled, uncertain how to answer. It seemed obvious that continuing the handfast with him wasn’t what she wanted. He was impatient to get on with his life outside the villa too, but only if she would be part of it.
She stared at him as he struggled with the urge to tell her how he felt and risk her rejection in front of both their oblivious, elated siblings.
“Sera,” he murmured.