"Get out!" With all the force of his pent-up pain and rage, Duke Lavery hurled a large rock at a rat that had been creeping toward his meager provisions. The stone met its mark and the rodent scurried away, squeaking madly.
"Ugh," quavered a quiet voice from the mouth of the passageway. "Horrible little creatures. Would you like me to shoot it?"
"Anna…." Duke turned and could scarcely believe his eyes. He thought he must be dreaming. And then he was afraid. "Has something gone wrong with the plan?"
"No. Nothing's wrong. Everything's fine." Anna Devane's voice was desolate with the lie. Everything was wrong. Nothing was fine. The plan had been that she and Duke would get married and live happily ever after, along with Robin. That could never happen now, and her daughter's heart and her own were broken.
"Well, why are you here, then?" Duke was relieved but confused. "I thought Robert forbade you to come back here?"
"And you thought I'm in the habit of obeying Robert?"
"No. Not really. I hoped not."
"I was still worried about you, down here, all alone. I wish I weren't. It would be easier, you know, if I could hate you. I wish I did."
"Please don't say that."
"But it's true. Maybe hating you would hurt less. It certainly couldn't make me feel any worse."
"I never wanted to hurt you. You have to believe me."
"Why? After all the lies you've told me?"
"I'm not lying about this. I love you. That was never a lie. I love you. I wanted to marry you." He took a step toward her, wanting to hold her, to comfort her.
"Stop." She shook her head, tears springing to her eyes, and took a step back.
He followed. "I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you."
"I wanted to be a family with you and Robin."
"Shhh." He had her cornered against the cave wall now. She could've pushed past him, if she'd tried-could've forced her way out and escaped. But she couldn't find the will. His body loomed over hers, heat coming off him in the chill damp of the cave, and the shadows only intensified the anguish on his beautiful, angular face. He was saying all the things she wanted to hear-all the things she wanted to have. She laid her forearm against his chest and pushed half-heartedly. His heart beat hard and fast beneath her hand.
Duke wrapped his fingers around her narrow wrist. She did not pull away. "Maybe have other children, of our own, Anna."
"Shut up," she hissed desperately, and she tilted her face up to his and kissed him to make him stop. She couldn't bear to hear any more; neither did she think she could bear to go on without him and that life they both wanted.
Anna hurt so badly, and losing herself in Duke's kiss made the pain stop. He felt so good. He was all she wanted.
Her kiss took Duke by surprise. He knew that because he loved her, he should pull away-he should let her go and not allow himself to do anything else Anna might come to regret. But he could not do it. He wanted her as much as he loved her. Against his better judgment, knowing she might tear herself away as she had before-taking with her what little was left of his bruised and battered heart-he reached out and grabbed her. He curled his fists around her upper arms, pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her, folding her into a close embrace. He sank one hand up into her lovely soft hair and cradled her head, holding her to him, his other arm winched tightly across her back.
I should leave, Anna told herself, even as she melted against Duke and wrapped her arms 'round his neck. She knew she should, but she didn't want to. She wanted to be with him just one more time. The last time they'd made love, she hadn't known it was to be the final time. She should have realized; his ardent desperation should've been all the clue she'd needed. She remembered how he'd kissed her mid-sentence, passionately, as she'd just done to silence him. He'd pressed her down into the pillows and been inside her before she'd even had time to formulate a thought. And then she hadn't been able to think; she'd only been able to feel-to feel all the wonderful, overpowering emotions and sensations that Duke Lavery aroused in her.
While she'd known only that something was wrong, Duke had known-had planned and expected-that night to be their last together, Anna realized now in the catacombs, in his arms. That knowledge finally convinced her that he was telling the truth: He'd planned to confess; he'd wanted to do the right thing. He'd meant to end things with her….
It wasn't fair. He'd gotten a last time with the understanding that that's what it was. She wanted one, too.
Anna unclasped her arms from around Duke's neck.
He broke his mouth from hers, panicked, thinking she was pulling away from him to leave him once more-once and for all. He clutched her tighter. "No! Don't. Please."
"Shhh." She hushed him again, sliding her hands down his chest. "You asked for a goodbye kiss, before. I want a proper goodbye."