By: Sara Curran-Ross
Copyright © 2011 Sara Curran-Ross
Published by: Hellfire Publishing, Inc at Smashwords
All rights reserved. No part of this document or the related files may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
Digital ISBN: 978-1-937179-91-5
Cover art by: Dara England
Edited by: Julanne Batterton
This book is work of fiction. Characters, names, places, incidents, and organizations are a product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously.
We hope you enjoy the first three chapter's of
Sabrina glanced out of the window, watching the moon cast a silvery shadow over the pretty French countryside. The black Mercedes glided over a hill and entered a picturesque pine forest. It opened out to reveal a beautiful French chateau illuminated by strategic lighting to highlight its majestic size and architecture in the darkness. Sabrina caught her breath. Chateau Valois appeared to have been stolen brick by brick from a fairy-tale. She couldn’t help feeling that it would have been more romantic to have arrived in front of such a grand building by carriage instead of a car.
Its tall, cream turrets were capped with smooth grey and strained to their fullest imposing height. They served to show that not only was the house a home but also an impenetrable fortress just like its owner. She’d expected something elaborate and elegant, after all her host was a wealthy businessman, but this was stunning and far outweighed her expectations.
The car travelled over a drawbridge lying over the moat surrounding the Chateau. It drove through an arch nestled between two towers, and Sabrina heard the car’s wheels softly crunch over the gravel of the inner courtyard opening out in front of them.
He was there striding out of the house as the car came to a halt. His tall intimidating frame sent a curious mixture of excitement and fear tingling along the length of her spine. It was a feeling that had seized her the first time she had met him and continued to intrigue her curiosity. He opened the door before the chauffeur alighted and offered his hand, giving her no choice but to accept his assistance. She felt his hand linger, smoothing the pad of his thumb over her knuckles. It was an intimate caress, one only made by a lover. Startled, Sabrina pulled her hand away embarrassed. She hardly knew the man and considered his gesture more than a little forward engendering her suspicion.
He gave her a hooded smile as though he had fully anticipated her reaction and remarked on the coldness of the weather, completely undeterred. Expressing his concern that she would be feeling the chill, his arm hung loosely around her waist, bringing a healthy flush to her cheeks as he guided her into the house.
The housekeeper was waiting for them. She gave Sabrina a cordial but guarded greeting, making her believe that the woman was unsure about her presence in the house. The very idea made Sabrina anxious. Housekeepers were the guardians of their employer’s privacy and secrets. It made Sabrina worry if she was in some sort of danger. But she dismissed it as a fanciful notion. The woman led them both up the snaking stone staircase blanketed by a luxurious red carpet to Sabrina’s room.
‘I put you in this room, Sabrina, because it has a good view of the grounds,’ her enigmatic host told her as they entered one of the guest rooms. ‘Do you like it?’ he asked moving away towards the white marble fireplace at the side.
He appeared eager for her approval, but it was hard to take in the splendour of her surroundings when Raoul Valoire was present. His very being dominated the pretty blue room, making it appear small and insignificant. Sabrina swept her eyes over the room making a conscious effort to survey it. The Antique French walnut four poster bed with dark blue curtains and bedding of white and blue silk caught her attention immediately. She quickly removed her gloves and smoothed her hand up one of the thin posts to the intricate gothic carving that decorated it. Sabrina glanced up at one of the four gargoyles on each edge of the wooden canopy, no doubt placed there to ward off evil spirits in the night, and smiled with pleasure. She was looking forward to spending the night in the bed.
‘Yes, of course I do. My life, my job is History. I eat, sleep and breathe it, and here I am surrounded by it. It’s as though I have physically stepped into the past. The room is beautiful,’ she gushed nervously.
Raoul was on his hunches stoking the fire to make it blaze higher. He stopped for a moment, and she was sure she could see his mouth curve into a knowing mocking smile. She prickled. Why did she get the unsettling feeling Raoul Valoire knew more about herself than she did and was enjoying it? The unexpected feeling bore strength and caused uneasiness in her mind. Just a week ago had marked seven years since she had woken up beaten in a London hospital minus her memory. She couldn’t even remember her real name. It made her more than suspicious and fearful when people appeared to know more about herself than she did. Inwardly she rebuked her thoughts.
You are just being paranoid. How could he possibly know anything about you? We both come from very different worlds. There is no way he could know . . . Stop it. He’s just one of those bloody men who knows, exactly how to charm a woman until she falls at his feet. That was quite obvious when we met at his cocktail party in London a week ago. He had all of the women flocking around him. Raoul can pick any woman he wants and with a click of his fingers they would be in his bed. Arrogant, pompous, womanising. . .
She began removing her gloves, loosening the buttons on her coat, trying to think of more derogatory words to call him when she suddenly felt him close behind. Sabrina stopped and turned to look up at him nervously having a crazy thought that he might have heard her thoughts. Raoul’s tall figure dwarfed her small curved form, and she found herself straightening her back to rise to her full petite height.
‘You haven’t taken your coat off yet,’ he said with a frown. ‘Is there something wrong? Are you cold, Sabrina?’
It was the way he said her name, the way it rolled off his tongue with that sexy melodic French lilt, like an intimate caress that made her soften.
‘No, thank you. I’m fine. I was just about to.’
But he was there before she could raise her hands to begin the task, slowly slipping the cashmere coat from her shoulders and depositing it on the bed behind her.
Why stop there? Cold? How could I be? Every time you are near me, I feel myself burning like a furnace. Ever since we met I have felt this, and you know it. You think you have got me just where you want me, and I don’t like it. It’s not like me to be so stupid with a man or to have some silly girl crush. Yet, here I am allowing you to exert your power and reel me in like a dumb fish. Damn it, Sabrina. Get some control.
The man was a virtual stranger. She knew nothing about Raoul Valoire, but her body spoke to her in fleeting images of them in past encounters entwined together in unbridled passion. It was crazy. They were so vivid they felt like memories.
Could they be? Maybe we did meet in the past, and I just can’t remember? Perhaps, I am one of your old conquests? A one night stand or something? Maybe you heard about my memory loss and thought it would be fun to play with me? Stop it Sabrina. You have to start trusting people. It’s just paranoia and your wild imagination kicking off. Calm down.
She looked up at him wondering if somehow he’d seen it too.
Raoul’s eyes were dark and fathomless. They were dangerous eyes, the type that swallowed a woman whole and didn’t allow her up for air. She heard herself give a small inward gasp as those mysterious black-as-the-night pools drew her in and held her prisoner.
Unnerved by the curious effect he was having upon her and feeling a sudden chill, Sabrina pulled away to admire the roaring fire, rubbing her arms.
‘Are you feeling all right, Sabrina? Is there anything I can get you?’ he asked.
She turned around. There it was again, that knowing smile, as if he knew exactly what she was feeling, and it amused him. She studied his face looking for some clue as to the game he was playing, but he was giving nothing away.
Sabrina watched him smile innocently, clearly aware of the purpose of her scrutiny. Every time she looked at him, he took her breath away. That was what made him so deadly, she decided. He possessed the type of looks that would seduce a woman from a mile away. An English mother and French father provided a light Latin warmth to his skin and an aristocratic smoothness to his face. His smooth mid-length hair was an enticing mixture of dark brown flecked intermittently with a lighter version of the colour. Sabrina felt a sudden urge to run her fingers through its rich texture and gave a small jump when a clear picture of her doing just that, vividly entered her mind. It was something she had done before, she could almost swear to it.
Sabrina began stepping backwards both alarmed by her thoughts and on seeing Raoul stride towards her, but there was no safe retreat. Her back was nearly hitting the fireplace, and the heat of the fire was about to scorch and melt the leather of her boots if she got any closer.
Her blue eyes searched his face, looking for some explanation when his eyes narrowed at her. More than a little nervous, she made an attempt to move away to the side. But she found her chin being lifted, and her head tilted sideways. Sabrina took a breath unexpectedly delighted at his gentle hold.
Raoul trailed the warm tips of his fingers along her neck, gently probing the aching stiffness that tormented her so often because she was unable to fully relax. It was a problem that never relented in plaguing her. Surprised, she found herself allowing him to turn her around to face the fire so he could better massage her painfully stiff neck. Pleasure forced her eyes to close as she felt her body obediently soften and melt against his masterful touch.
‘You are always tensing, Sabrina. When will you ever learn to relax?’
It wasn’t even his words that shocked her, it was the gentle familiarity with which he spoke them. Her mind was screaming caution, but her body had a will of its own, paralysing any movement she made to escape. He knew exactly where to touch, to soothe and to deepen the massage to ease her pain. She would swear to it.
What is happening? More to the point, why am I allowing him to touch me like that?
‘Dinner will be ready in half an hour,’ the housekeeper stopped her speech abruptly, her eyes resting anxiously on her employer. They hadn’t even heard her knock.
Raoul lowered his hands. Sabrina moved away from him quickly, feeling grateful that she had been rescued from making a fool of herself. Raoul had been so close in conquering her resistance.
If the housekeeper hadn’t come in . . . Who knows what it would have led to?
But try as she might she couldn’t deny the irritation she felt at the loss of his wonderful caress of her neck. With as much dignity as she could muster and ignoring the warm flush to her cheeks, Sabrina thanked the woman and informed her that she would be downstairs as soon as possible. It was the cue for both of them to leave. The housekeeper took it at once, but Raoul lingered.
Sabrina felt afraid and for a moment considered making some excuse to leave the Chateau. But her common sense made light of the situation. She was imagining it. He obviously liked her, and she was complimented.
Is it so bad that he likes you? Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking that you’ve known him before. Maybe for once in my life I should take a chance on a man and not view him as the enemy. After all, Raoul is very attractive to say the least. I should be flattered he is even taking an interest in me, when he can have his pick of women. He’s kind, considerate, even if he is a little bit of a control freak. Married life with Raoul . . . Now there is a thought. I bet he’s great in bed and there would be no more money worries for sure . . . Then there is the Chateau . . . Bloody hell, Sabrina. Stop thinking like a school girl. I don’t need a man in my life. End of story. Raoul Valoire has got you thinking like a mad woman. Maybe I should leave. None of this feels right or safe. No, I came here to do a job and I am not leaving until it’s done. I will conduct myself professionally from now on and make sure he keeps his distance.
Yet, the strangeness of the whole occurrence kept intruding on her thoughts, and try as she might she could not put it aside. There was something about this house and the people who inhabited its walls, a familiarity she couldn’t quite explain. It was just like déjà vu.
Raoul interrupted her ruminations. His hands were firmly in his trouser pockets as if to keep them from further mischief, his speech formal and remote once more.
‘I will see you later. Please call myself or my staff if you require anything.’
Smiling, he headed for the door and took his leave. Sabrina was left wondering what other excitement the evening would bring and what part Raoul would play in it.
Sabrina changed into a short plain black dress with spaghetti straps. It was the only dress she possessed. She preferred trousers. They never let her down. They hid the petite legs she always unjustifiably condemned herself for owning, but defined her small waist to perfection along with the feminine curve of her hips. She looked at herself in the full length mirror and groaned, trying to pull the dress down a little further to her knees.
Her attention turned to her breasts and produced another groan. They were generous and voluptuously round. She had no wish to over amplify their size, but the dress wasn’t giving her a choice. Not really one for wearing dresses, Sabrina had thought she better make the effort to look her best. It wasn’t every day that she got to dine and stay with the glitterati in their mansions. The dress had been bought at considerable expense, putting a heavy strain on her meagre budget, and now she felt self-conscious wearing it. It made her feel exposed, as if all her secrets were on show.
Just what I need. More fodder for Raoul to tease me with.
About to decide to rebel and pull on her jeans and a sweater, she became distracted by a new torment. Her hair. Half an hour later she finally gave up the ghost on trying to soften and straighten her defiant bob of black curls. A quick glance at her watch had her cursing her lateness and heading for the door.
Her host was about to knock on her door when she left, making her think he’d been prowling around outside waiting for her to come out all of that time. But he had changed. He was in a black suit and casual white designer shirt open at the neck. Those dark eyes scanned her dress and came to rest on her breasts. An approving smile twitched across Raoul’s lips. Triumph that he found her attractive in the dress warred with her indignation at his intimate assessment.
‘You look beautiful Sabrina, but you should have worn something warmer. The Chateau is full of draughts,’ he teased.
‘I will be fine, Monsieur Valoire,’ she insisted, irritation audible in her tone. She edged away to maintain some distance between them. But his hand rested firmly against the smooth satin skin of her bare arm when her distracted mind tried to lead her in the wrong direction and brought her back to heel.
They walked through a string of rooms until they finally reached the dining room. It was decorated in a deep earthy gothic red, garnished with Flemish tapestries and portraits of the Chateau’s previous ancestral owners. The long oak table which sat twelve people was dressed with elaborate candelabra dripping lightly with molten wax. The flames of the candles flickered shadows around the room as they entered. It was just the way she liked to have dinner, romantic by candlelight, and in this Chateau, it was a dream come true. How did this man know all of her secrets?
Maybe he’d had her followed, checked out. She wouldn’t put it past a rich man like Raoul.
But why would he do such a thing? Maybe he really is interested in me. It’s flattering but . . . Tough, this lady is not for turning, Buster.
He pulled out a high back chair covered in Spanish leather for her to sit next to him at the head of the table.
‘Monsieur Valoire, when can I expect to view the historic documentation you possess on your ancestor Christophe Valoire so I can begin my research?’ she asked as they were served a light started of goats’ cheese and salad dressed in aromatic oil.
He caught her eyes as the butler poured claret into the crystal glasses.
‘You are a work alcoholic, Dr Michaels. I thought you could take a few days to relax and enjoy your stay. I thought you might allow me to show you around the Loire Valley. He was looking at her so intently she felt her eyes lower and her cheeks flush in response.
‘I would have liked that very much, but I have to give a lecture in Paris in a couple of days, and I need to prepare.’
He was undeterred.
‘Well, we will just have to see what we can achieve in the time we have together.’
Sabrina managed a nervous smile. It was no secret that he wanted her. The conversation continued, his deep velvety tone playing havoc with her every attempt not to melt and fall at his feet like some love struck teenager.
You know damn well what kind of effect you are having on me and like an idiot I am falling for it. He is making fun of me. I can see it dancing in his bloody eyes. Bastard. I don’t like being manipulated.
‘I have read your book and recent articles, Sabrina. I am especially interested in your research concerning gender issues in popular culture in Europe in the Eighteenth century. You are a hopeless feminist, aren’t you?’
It was her turn to smile.
‘Does that threaten you, Monsieur Valoire?’
‘Please call me Raoul. Why would I feel threatened? I admire it. Well, to a certain extent,’ he grinned. ‘As long as it suits me. I just wonder whether or not you have considered how a man would have felt about the way he was forced to live in the Eighteenth century in France?’
‘I can assure you Monsieur…Raoul that I make adequate recompense to the issues of masculinity, that is why I intend to write a biography of your famous ancestor…’ she told him firmly, feeling her temper rise at his questioning of her professional work ethic as a Gender Historian.
But when she heard him laugh and realised with embarrassment that he was merely teasing, she halted her passionate speech and bent to eat her food feeling foolish. An awkward silence ensued, and Sabrina began to feel more uncomfortable. Ribbons of light from the candles danced across Raoul’s handsome face giving him a dark and mysterious air when he finally broke the oppressive silence.
‘I’m sorry, Sabrina. I was only playing with you,’ he smiled warmly. ‘I enjoyed reading your academic work. It raises some interesting questions.’
She nodded, accepting the apology but felt reluctant engaging in any further conversation, suddenly feeling very tired and on edge. The more she looked around the room, the more convinced she was that she had been in it before. She couldn’t explain it. Maybe she’d visited the place as a child when its previous owner allowed the public to visit. But the explanation didn’t seem adequate. Even the tapestries and the scenes they depicted were more than familiar.
‘Are you ill, Sabrina? You look a little pale,’ he asked.
‘No, no I’m fine. I just have this weird déjà vu feeling that I’ve been here before. It’s silly really,’ she joked. She raised her eyes to the ceiling and shook her head. ‘Maybe in my last lifetime,’ she smiled, amused at her thoughts.
He said nothing, taking another sip of wine. For a moment his eyes avoided her. She found it odd that he would not make some remark or even a joke.
‘I look forward to reading your work on my rogue ancestor, but for now I want to hear all about you,’ he insisted, putting down his glass, quickly changing the subject.
Raoul’s eyes never left her face as she took a hurried sip of her own wine.
‘There isn’t much to tell I’m afraid,’ she said nervously.
Sabrina didn’t really talk about her memory loss to anyone. Only a couple of close friends knew about it. It wasn’t something she was very comfortable talking about. There was always a worry that the wrong person would find out and somehow use it against her. It was an odd fear to have, but it was there. She always wondered if it was a way to hide from the man who beat her and put her in the hospital.
‘Maybe we should talk about something more interesting.’
She smiled sweetly, expertly covering the pain that slashed at her insides with a knife. But he was to remain annoyingly inquisitive.
‘No. I’m intrigued. Tell me about yourself.’
She didn’t miss the command in his tone. There was no escape. Raoul Valoire was the first man she’d come across who didn’t take no for an answer. Many people had sensed she was secretive. They had tried to find out about her past, but she had eventually been able to suppress their curiosity and change the subject. Raoul was clearly different. He was not about to let her gracefully bow out of the conversation.
There was nothing to tell. Nothing she could remember beyond seven years ago when she’d woken up in the hospital badly beaten, raped and without her memory. She didn’t want to talk about it. Sometimes when people continued to press for her life story and family details she would make up stories. They were better termed fantasies. She didn’t want to do that tonight. Besides, she had a feeling Raoul would see straight through them. Sabrina’s voice stalled in her throat and another awkward silence fell upon the dining room. She looked away, desperately searching her mind for a way of excusing her behaviour.
‘Well, I don’t see you wearing a wedding ring, so I take it that you aren’t married?’ he quizzed. His voice was soft but Sabrina could hear some malice lingering in his tone.
What is your problem? I’ve had enough of your games. Maybe I really should leave.
She jumped when he suddenly picked up her hand that rested on the table and began to gently examine her fingers. He stroked each one sensually, circling the pad of his thumb in the middle of her palm. His touch was tender, gentle and warm, her hand so small and slender against his large one. The action made her feel safe, soothed. It felt curiously natural for him to caress her this way as if he had done many times before. Her mind seemed reluctant to even question it. She watched entranced as he continued his rhythmic stroking of her hand, wondering why Raoul appeared to have so much power over her self-control.
It was a normal thing to ask, to see if there was any competition. He wasn’t hiding his interest. But there was a curious firmness in his tone that appeared to challenge her answer, dared her to say no.
‘No, I’m not married,’ she told him truthfully.
She felt herself begin to tremble when his eyes stared directly into her own. To her amazement they were full of hurt. Her heart began to thud at an alarming rate when his eyes slowly began to narrow with dark primitive anger.
‘I think you are lying,’ the words were spoken coldly, a streak of menace lining every one. ‘Where is your wedding ring, Sabrina?’
Confused and terrified, Sabrina attempted to pull her hand away. Raoul’s response was to hold it tighter, making her cry out with the strength of his grip. Once more he demanded angrily, ‘Where is your wedding ring? Did you throw it away? Why did you forget? Answer me, Sabrina or so help me. . .’
Almost as if on eerie cue, the wind that had been building outside swirled around the Chateau with a deathly cry from an open window, extinguishing the burning flames of the candles. The lamps at intervals on the walls also went out as if a fuse had been blown. Sabrina felt suffocated as the wall of darkness imprisoned her sight and pressed down upon her. She was terrified of the dark and had never known the reason. The last seven years had been spent living in the dark not knowing what had happened. It was all too much to bear. She struggled violently in Raoul’s hold.
‘Hush, Sabrina. I know you have been frightened of the dark since you were a child. It will only last for a few moments. The lights are always going out. It happens in old buildings,’ he told her gently, lowering his voice to a smooth velvet tone to calm her fear.
She heard him stand and felt him pull her struggling form into his arms. His fingers stroked soothingly through her hair, but she was not to be placated.
‘What is going on? You’ve been acting strange with me since I arrived. Why are you asking me about a wedding ring? Let me go. I want to go home,’ Sabrina insisted.
‘You’re not going anywhere, Sabrina,’ he told her firmly transferring his hold to her wrists in an effort to stop her moving. ‘You belong here. This is your home, and I am never letting you leave again.’
‘What are you saying? Who are you? How do you know so much about me?’ she stopped struggling, more from shock than anything else.
‘You really don’t remember do you?’ he sounded disbelieving, dismayed, barely able to contain his frustrated anger. ‘You are my wife.’
Sabrina instantly halted her struggle to escape Raoul’s hold, shocked to her core by his words.
‘Sabrina, it’s true. I’ve played this charade far enough.’ There was an impatient brewing storm in his tone. ‘I know the doctors told me to be careful with you, but you are my wife. I have been without you for too long.’
The butler brought in a lit candelabrum, momentarily ceasing their conversation. He sat it on the middle of the table without speaking and quickly left. Raoul’s face came back into view. It was filled with love. Sabrina began to struggle again, desperate to free herself from his grasp.
‘What the hell are you talking about? Let go of me. I’ve never been married. You heard about my lost memory didn’t you? Maybe you thought it would be fun to make me think I was your wife. Perhaps you can replace those memories I lost with ones of your own for your own amusement,’ she shouted. ‘Maybe someone bet you to do it for a laugh?’
There was a shake to her voice she fought hard to control.
You sound crazy. Why would he even bother to do that? What the hell is happening here?
She felt exposed, vulnerable. She’d lost seven years of her life, lost her family, lost her identity. When she’d woken up in that hospital in London, nobody knew who she was. No one came to claim her. She had to make up a new name for herself and find the will to carry on. Afraid and alone, she managed to set up a new life for herself, going to University to study history, afterwards a PhD. Then she became a lecturer and wrote a book, gaining a reputation in the academic field. She’d given up trying to find her family. They didn’t appear to want to know her.
‘Sabrina, don’t say those things. I love you, you are my wife,’ Raoul insisted holding her in a tight grip against him.
‘You’re lying. My family have made no effort to find me. Why would my husband want to claim me as his own now, after all these years? He would be remarried by now . . . This is a cruel, sick joke . . .’
Sabrina’s eyes filled with angry tears.
‘Enough. I won’t listen to this. I will prove it to you,’ Raoul snapped, reaching down to scoop the candelabrum off the table.
He tightened his hold on her wrist with a grip that would have been better suited to a vice, making her squeal. He led her out of the room. Sabrina made every effort to drag her heels, pulling at his hand to force him to let go. Raoul only tightened his hold further and dragged her along.
Sabrina’s eyes could see nothing but what the candles allowed her to see. They travelled through the dark rooms, the wooden floors creaking and groaning with centuries of use under their feet, highly audible in the ghostly silence that settled on the house. Finally, they reached a room that she presumed was Raoul’s study by the elaborate desk and leather chair he dragged her behind. He came to a stop in front of a large framed canvas and raised the candelabrum, directing her to look at it.
Sabrina gasped out loud. There was no mistaking her own image. She was seated in a chair in a black velvet ball gown cut away seductively across the breast. Raoul stood tall, proud and possessive at the side of the chair. Her hair was longer, and her eyes twinkled with a happiness. Sabrina couldn’t remember looking that happy or even feeling that way in the last seven years. It was breath-taking and a shock to the system. She tried to take a step back and found herself half falling to the floor, half fainting with shock. Raoul caught her waist skilfully and pulled her up close to him. It was then that the lights came back on.
‘Now do you believe me, Sabrina?’ Raoul demanded, a note of triumph and vindication in his voice.
She glanced around the room. The place was littered with photographs of herself and Raoul very much in love. The room began to spin with a carousel of broken memories, a hundred swirling images that were there in a second and gone in a heartbeat. She didn’t know what to believe anymore. Her body began to sway alarmingly as she looked up at the canvas again. Raoul slipped his arm under her legs and swept her up into his arms to deposit her onto a chair. He quickly moved away and poured her a glass of cognac from the drinks cabinet.
‘I know you don’t like cognac, Sabrina, but you will drink it. You need it for the shock you have just experienced. Now drink.’
He was right. She didn’t like it. She wasn’t keen on alcohol apart from wine. Sabrina obediently took the glass, too dazed and confused to pass comment on his correct knowledge. But her trembling hands made her clumsy, and he took control holding the glass to her lips, instructing her to sip slowly. She coughed as the fiery liquid hit the back of her throat and tried to push the glass away, but he was firm, giving her no choice but to continue drinking. He watched her anxiously when frustrated tears gathered in her eyes once more.
‘You have been using your middle name, Sabrina. Your first name is Melissa,’ he gave a small laugh. ‘You hate it, so you use Sabrina. Michaels is your maiden name. You’ve been using them without even knowing.’
He knelt at her feet, gently cupping her face with his hands.
‘There is no Christophe Valoire is there?’ she asked, already knowing the answer.
Raoul shook his head and smiled.
‘No there isn’t. It was just a ruse to get you here. You disappeared from the Chateau on the night of a ball I held for your birthday party, seven years ago. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get you to believe me until I brought you home. I saw the way you looked at the Chateau. You remembered it. I knew you would. You love this place.’ He smiled at her again. There was relief in his eyes. ‘This is going to be difficult for you, Sabrina. I am a stranger to you at the moment, but in time I hope I can help you remember our life together.’
‘I don’t know what’s happening. I just want to leave,’ she heard herself say before she could even think. ‘I’m confused. I can’t trust all of this . . . I . . .’
‘You’re afraid. I understand that. It’s a lot to take in, but I can’t let you leave. You are my wife, you belong here, and I am never going to part with you again, whatever the outcome.’
His thumb caressed the light satin of her cheek as if to soften the impact of his revelation. She rubbed her eyes.
‘Am I a prisoner here?’
Did he intend to hold her here against her will?
‘I would hardly call you a prisoner, in your own home, Sabrina,’ he told her with affront. But there was something in his tone that made her believe that if she pushed him with her threats to leave, he would keep her a prisoner.
‘What happens if I leave?’ she challenged.
‘You won’t. You have too many reasons to stay.’
Sabrina’s heart began to pound. He wasn’t giving her a solid answer.
‘How far will you go to stop me leaving?’ she asked nervously, seeing no point in hiding her blatant concern any longer.
Raoul’s seductive black eyes narrowed a fraction, as a frown burrowed in his forehead. Sabrina found herself holding her breath as he captured her face in his hands once more. There was no mistaking his resolve or his authority when he spoke in a low soft velvet voice.
‘You have amnesia, Sabrina. That makes you unwell. A doctor might say that you were unable to make decisions for yourself, and I as your husband should make them for you. A court of law would most likely see it the same way. . .’
‘You wouldn’t dare . . .’ she was outraged.
She watched him study her trembling lips with longing, then look up at her with dark possessive eyes. She heard herself take a quick breath overpowered by their intensity. There was no doubt in her mind that he would never let her leave. Somewhere deep inside a treacherous part of her loved him for it.
‘I will go as far as I have to. You are my wife. It’s time I reminded you of your wedding vows.’
Sabrina glared at Raoul and moved to stand up from her chair in a temper. She pushed her way past him, ignoring his demand for her to remain seated in case she fell to the floor again. She shook her head and looked up at the painting.
‘I don’t believe this . . . it’s unreal. I don’t remember getting married. I don’t remember anything about our life together,’ she told him angrily.
Raoul frowned and straightened from his kneeling position, making Sabrina feel small and defenceless against his tall height. Afraid of what he might do, she took two steps back, but Raoul headed for the top drawer of his desk. Sabrina glanced back at the door wondering whether she should make a sudden break for freedom. She needed space, time to think. Her mind made up, she straightened and headed for the door deciding to leave and collect her thoughts. There was nothing he could do to keep her here. A doctor couldn’t just write her off as insane and have her committed. There were laws. She needed to think, to escape. Her whole world felt as though it was a whirl.
Nothing appeared safe or trustworthy. Leaving would give her some control back until she could decide what to do. Surely, Raoul would understand that. Frantically, she headed for the door and reached out for the handle with a shaking hand when she stopped dead, hearing the cracking whip of Raoul’s reprimand across the air.
‘Sabrina. Where are you going?’
Sabrina turned sharply, tilting her chin defiantly at him.
‘You can’t stop me leaving,’ she threatened. ‘I will call the police.’
He gave a laugh and began walking towards her with determination.
‘It will do you no good,’ he told her softly. ‘They know that you are home and that your memory loss may have made you unstable. They are more than likely to advise hospital care if I can’t keep you under control, than help you leave.’
‘I knew you would be like this so I dug our wedding certificate out of my pile of personal papers last night.’ He unfolded the piece of paper he held in his hand and offered it to her. ‘Your signature will prove that this is not some elaborate hoax. You belong to me, Sabrina, and I am not letting you walk out of that door again.’
She glanced at the certificate and the signature that he pointed to.
It is definitely my writing. Blind panic filled her mind. She didn’t know what to do. What if Raoul is the man who beat me so badly I lost my memory? What if he really is the man who put me in the hospital seven years ago? Maybe I had tried to leave him, and he’d become violent. Too many questions. I need to get out.
‘Do what the hell you want, but I am still leaving, and there is nothing you can do,’ she shouted, wasting no more time in turning the door handle.
But to her dismay she was not to get very far. Raoul leaned over and raised his hand above her head, slamming the door shut hard. Sabrina gave a yelp of fear and turned around to face him, finding her back pressed against the door with no means of escape. Raoul’s dark eyes looked down at her threateningly. He closed the distance between them, sweeping his arm around her waist when she made a gesture to duck out from under the cage of his arm. He pushed her back against the door once more and restrained her there.
‘I am going to keep you here even if I have to tie you down. I want to know why you walked out on my life. We were in love. I have spent years wondering what happened. I never once thought you were dead. Did you leave me for another man? Your absence has tormented me. One moment we were happy and the next you were gone from my life. I didn’t know what to think. At first I thought you had left me. Then when I saw there had been a struggle in your study, I was terrified.’ Raoul’s tone grew more intense with anger, leaving Sabrina trembling.
‘The police believed you were murdered, and I was their main suspect. I was an obvious target after someone told them that they had heard us arguing that night. The police even dragged the lake on the grounds looking for your body. How the hell do you think that made me feel? Even our own friends began to suspect me, and the English press went out to get me. I spent two nights in a jail cell while the police questioned me. I thought I was going to lose my mind. The only thing that stopped them from charging me with your murder was the lack of a body and help from my old school friend in the police, who believed in my innocence. I lost friends. I nearly lost my business, but worst of all I had lost you. I hid myself away in this Chateau like some kind of recluse. Here I could be close to you. I wasn’t sure I was going to pull through, and I spent some dark nights alone wondering whether or not I should carry on life without you.’
Sabrina’s eyes filled with unexpected tears as she listened to Raoul’s impassioned speech as he recounted his pain at her disappearance. Their appearance only seemed to fuel his anger even more.
‘I want answers, Sabrina, and after everything you have put me through these last seven years, you are going to give them to me, darling wife. So yes you will stay, and yes I will make you a prisoner if I have to.’
Sabrina would have retorted, but both fear and confusion about her disappearance from the Chateau caused a flurry of broken images to twist inside her mind. She could see herself standing talking to someone. Music played in the background, and there were people dancing in Venetian masks. It looked as though she was attending a Masked Ball. She was unhappy with someone and kept saying, ‘I know what you are doing, and I won’t let you get away with it. You won’t stop me.’ Her emotions at the time were fearful, but she was determined. The image played over and over in her mind.
‘Sabrina,’ Raoul sternly called her name, but his voice sounded vague, distant, beyond the memory taking prominence in her mind. ‘Sabrina,’ Raoul’s voice was more gentle this time, but it was the touch of his fingers on her cheek that roused her and brought her attention back into focus.
‘Sabrina, what is wrong? You seemed to disappear. You were vacant for a moment, I . . .’
‘I remembered something . . . I think I did anyway,’ her voice sounded drowsy with disbelief and confusion.
Raoul’s mouth lifted into a cautious smile as he studied her closely.
‘That’s good. It’s a start. You look pale. You were out of it. Now you must see how I can’t allow you to leave. It is unsafe for you to be alone,’ he whispered, continuing his light caress of her cheek.
‘I just want to be alone so I can think. I know you are upset and angry, but this is very frightening for me. I woke up beaten in a hospital and . . .’ she paused feeling the tears gather in her eyes.
‘And raped,’ Raoul slowly finished for her. The pain in his eyes tightened. ‘I know about your injuries, Sabrina.’
Sabrina turned away angrily rubbing at the tears suddenly running down her face. She didn’t like showing weakness to anyone.
‘You must be afraid to trust anyone, especially me,’ Raoul continued gently. ‘But I have to make you. You need help, and I want you back. I will do whatever it takes to make you remember. I want to know who did this to you, and I want them to pay,’ he was restraining the angry frustration in his voice, but Sabrina couldn’t help pity the man when he found him.
‘Please you have to let me go. I want to think about this. . . How do I know you weren’t involved?’ she blurted out afraid that she might actually be imprisoned with her real attacker. ‘How do I know it wasn’t you?’ She felt the remorse the moment she spoke the words.
Raoul’s eyes fired with angry disappointment. Hurt was visibly strong on his features. A sense of betrayal and disloyalty strangled Sabrina’s insides with guilt. Raoul caught her chin and lifted it up towards himself, forcing her gaze to painful attention with the strain of his hold.
‘Make no mistake,’ he told her darkly. ‘I did not beat or rape you. I did not try to murder you either. I would never hurt you. I love you, and I want you back. If you remembered me, you would never think that I was capable of such violence. Don’t ever doubt or question me on this again. I won’t tolerate it. Do you understand, Sabrina?’
‘You just expect me to trust you? I know nothing about . . .’
‘Yes, I do,’ he interrupted with impatience. ‘You have no choice. I am not giving you one.’
He slowly lowered her chin and moved away. He picked up the wedding certificate he had dropped onto a side table and took it back to the drawer.
He gestured towards all of the photographs littering the room.
‘Did I look like I wanted to murder you? Can’t you see how happy we were?’ he sounded frustrated, almost despairing.
‘I’m sorry, but I can’t remember. If there was any way I could, I would,’ Sabrina heard herself shout.
Raoul leaned back against his desk with folded arms, watching her intently.
‘We will find a way,’ he said calmly. There was no room for defeat in his tone. ‘I have a doctor who specialises in treating amnesia coming to the Chateau tomorrow to examine you.’
‘What? You can’t just take over my life. I have my own doctor . . .’
‘I am your husband, and I have every right to interfere in your life and take over when you are in ill health. Besides, I only deal with the best in the medical profession.’
Sabrina lost her temper.
‘You are infuriating. I am leaving in the morning. I am going to my room.’
Sabrina opened the door. Raoul had done nothing to stop her leaving the room, remaining in his relaxed position, leaning against his desk.
‘Sabrina, if you leave this house tomorrow, I will find you and have you committed to a hospital until your memory returns,’ he informed her casually. She turned quickly ready to launch a full on verbal attack, but he held up his hand to silence her protest and carried on. ‘And believe me, it will be useless to fight me on this. I have enough power and influence with the police and the medical profession in Paris to make it happen so fast, it will make your head spin. Don’t force me to act. I really don’t want you confined in a private psychiatric hospital. I want you here at home with me. I want us to be together again. But if confining you in a hospital is the only way to keep you in my life until you remember, I will not hesitate.’
Sabrina gave a small growl of contempt.
‘I won’t let you get away with this. I don’t lie down and play dead easily.’
‘I know. That’s why I am coming down hard on you. You have been warned,’ he said quietly, narrowing his dark eyes, leaving her in no doubt he had every intention of carrying out his threat if she pushed him to it. He was that afraid of losing her again. A secret part of her loved him for his passion and desire to breach boundaries to keep her with him, but the stronger more sensible, sane part of her detested him for it. He would not win this war. When she remembered, if she could remember, it would be on her terms and in her way, not his.
Sabrina turned to walk out of the door frustrated and angry that he had suddenly taken control of her life. This wasn’t how she’d fantasised about meeting her long lost loved ones. She hadn’t anticipated it being so adversarial. In her fantasy, regaining her memory would be gradual, not a forced, impatient process or one where she was made to feel mentally unstable and a prisoner. Control of how she would regain her memory would be in her hands alone not anybody else’s.
‘Oh and one more thing,’ he said standing to his full height to walk towards her. ‘You will be sleeping in our room with me tonight. I want my wife back in my bed.’