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“I’m not getting in the boat.”

The Frenchman laughed. “Of course you are.”

“No.” Emma didn’t move. “You have to accept it. Cesare is always brutally honest, even when it causes pain. Her death was a tragic accident. He’s never gotten over it. Cesare is a good man. Honorable to his core.”

Bouchard took a step closer to her on the moonlit shore.

“If you really believe that,” he said, “what are you doing out here?”

Cesare strained to hear, not daring to breathe. He saw Emma tilt up her head.

“I love him. That’s why I couldn’t marry him.”

Cesare stifled a gasp. She loved him?

Bouchard stared at her, then shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense, chérie.”

She gave a low laugh. “It actually does.” She wiped her eyes. “He’ll never love anyone but Angélique. Heaven help me, I might have married him anyway, except...except I saw his face in the chapel,” she whispered. “And I couldn’t do it.”

Cesare took a deep breath and stepped out of the thicket of trees. Both figures looked back at him, startled.

“What did you see?” he asked quietly.

“Falconeri!” Bouchard stepped between them. “You might have fooled Emma, with her innocent heart. But we both know my sister’s death was no accident.”


“So you admit it!”

“It’s time you knew the truth,” Cesare said in a low voice. “I’ve kept it from you for too long.”

“To hide your guilty conscience—”

“To protect you.”

Bouchard snorted derisively. “Protect me.”

“When she married me, she didn’t want a partner. She wanted a lapdog.” Cesare set his jaw. “When I threw myself into work, trying to be worthy of her, she hated the loss of attention. She hated it even more when I started to succeed. Once I no longer spent my days at her feet, worshipping her every moment, Angélique was restless. She cheated on me. Not just once, but many times. And I put up with it.”

“What?” Emma gasped.

Bouchard shook his head with a snarl. “I don’t believe you!”

“Her last lover was an Argentinean man she met while visiting Paris, who frequently traveled to New York on business. She decided Menendez was the answer to the emptiness in her heart.”

Bouchard started. “Menendez? Raoul Menendez?”

“You know him?”

“I met him once, as he was having a late dinner in a hotel in Paris with my sister,” he said uneasily. “She swore they were just old friends.”

Cesare’s lips curved. “Their affair lasted a year.”

He frowned. “That’s why she wanted a divorce?” For the first time, he sounded uncertain. “Not because you cheated on her?”

“I never could have done that,” he said wearily. “I thought marriage meant forever. I thought we were in love.” He turned to Emma and whispered, “Back then, I didn’t know the difference between lust and love.”

Emma caught her breath, her eyes luminous in the moonlight.

Bouchard stood between them, his thin face drawn. “She called me, the night before she died—sobbing that her only love had betrayed her, abandoning her like trash, that he’d been sleeping with someone else all the while. I thought she meant you. I never thought...”

Cesare shook his head. “She wore me down over that year, demanding a divorce so she could marry Menendez. She hated me, accusing me of being her jailor—of wanting our marriage to last longer just so I’d get more of her fortune. Do you know what it’s like? To live with someone who despises you, who blames you for destroying her only happiness?”

“Yes,” Emma whispered, and he remembered her stepmother. His heart twisted at the pain in her beautiful face. He wanted to take her in his arms and tell her she’d never feel that kind of grief again. Trembling, he took a step toward her.

“So you let her go,” Bouchard said.

“I finally set her free so she could marry him,” Cesare said. “She ran off to Argentina, only to discover Menendez already had a wife there. She came back to New York broken. I’m still not sure if she was trying to kill herself—or if she was just trying to make herself go to sleep to forget the heartbreak....”

Bouchard paced, then stopped, clawing back his hair. He looked at Cesare. “If this is true, why did you never tell me? Why did you let me go on believing you were at fault—that you were to blame?”

“Because you loved your sister,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want you to know the truth. That kind of blind love and faith is too rare in this world.”

“I insulted you, practically accused you of...” He stopped. “How could you not have thrown the truth in my face?”

Cesare shook his head. “I thought I loved her once. And I had my faults, too. Perhaps if I hadn’t worked so much...”

“Are you kidding?” Emma demanded incredulously, juggling their baby against the hip of her wedding gown. He smiled.

“I’m telling you now because you both deserve to know the truth.” He looked at Emma. “I didn’t want anyone to know my weakness, or the real reason I never wanted to marry again. I thought love was just delusion, that led to pain.” He paused. “Until I fell in love with you...”

Emma’s lips parted in a soft gasp.

The Frenchman tilted his head, looking thoughtfully between them. “I think it’s time for me to go.” Stepping forward, he held out his hand. “Merci, Cesare. I have changed my mind about you. You are—not so bad. You must not be, for a woman like Emma to love you.” Turning back, he kissed her softly on the cheek and gave her one final look. “Adieu, ma chérie. Be happy.”

Climbing into his small boat, Alain Bouchard turned on the engine and drove back across the lake.

Cesare turned to face Emma. As he looked down at her beautiful stricken face, so haunted and young beneath the long white veil as she held his child, her eyes were green and shadowed as the forest around them. His heart was pounding.

“You left me at the altar,” he said.

She swallowed. “Yes. I guess I did.”

“You said you saw something in my face that drove you away,” he said in a low voice. “What did you see?”

Moonlight caressed her beautiful face. She took a deep breath.

“Dread,” she whispered. “I saw dread.” Her voice caught. “I couldn’t marry a man with a face like that. No matter how much I was in love with you. I couldn’t trap you into a loveless marriage for the rest of your life. And pretend not to notice as you—cheated on me, again and again.”

“Cheated on you?” he demanded.

The baby started to whimper. Comforting him, she nodded miserably. “I assumed—”

“No.” Going to her, he grabbed her shoulders and looked down at her. “Now you know the story, you have to know I would never betray you.”

“I thought you still loved your wife,” she whispered. “That I had no chance of holding your heart—”

“I was too proud to tell you the truth. I never wanted to appear vulnerable, or feel weak like that ever again. I did love her. I loved my parents, too. And all I learned was that when you love anyone—they leave.”

“Oh, Cesare.” Her eyes glimmered in the moonlight as she shook her head. “I’m so sorry...”

“I swore I’d never let anyone that close to me again.” His lips lifted at the edges as he looked down at her. “Then I met you. And it was like coming home.”

“You never said...”

“I told myself you meant nothing to me. That I’d only brought you from the hotel to be my housekeeper. But I think it was for you that I bought that house. Even then, some part of me wanted to settle down with you. With you, I lowered my guard as I never did with anyone else. And when I found you crying that night in the kitchen, it broke through me,” he said hoarsely. “When I finally took you in my arms, I took everything I’d ever wanted and more....” He looked at Sam, then back at her fiercely. “Do you think it was an accident that I took such a risk? I’ve long since realized that my body and my heart must have known what my brain spent years trying to deny.”

“What?” she whispered.

He looked down at her. “That you are for me. My true love. My only love.”

She was crying openly now. “I never stopped loving you—”

He stopped her with a finger to her lips.

“I nearly died when I saw you leave with him,” he said in a low voice. “It was like all my worst fears coming true.”

“I’m sorry,” she choked out. “When he broke into our wedding, I thought it was a sign, the only way to save us both from a life of misery—”

“Won’t you shut up, even for a minute?” Since his finger wasn’t working, he lowered his head and covered her mouth with his own. He felt her intake of breath, felt her surprise. He kissed her in the moonlight, embracing her with deep tenderness and adoration. Her lips were sweet and soft like heaven. When he finally pulled away, his voice was hoarse.

Tags: Jennie Lucas Billionaire Romance