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‘So you keep saying. You ask about children—there are cousins. My wife had three brothers.’

‘So...’ she began eagerly.

‘I have little contact.’

He responded to her wide-eyed look of enquiry with an impatient explanation. ‘My wife’s parents, both members of two of the prominent families on the island who run the show, or would like to, are divorced. That happened fifteen years ago now and the families are still at one another’s throats. There is only one person they hate more than each other.’

‘They don’t like you!’ she exclaimed and then blushed under his ironic stare. ‘Obviously I don’t need to know why...’

‘You have no idea how relieved that makes me feel,’ he drawled with a sarcastic smile.

Kate’s lips clamped tight. He really was the most arrogant son of a...king and queen.And your boss to boot, supplied the cautionary voice in her head.

‘So you knew your wife—?’

‘Before she was my wife. Yes, for many years she was my best friend.’

The information was delivered in a matter-of-fact manner that somehow made the statement all the more heartbreaking.

As he watched Kate’s jewel bright eyes fill, he wondered just how someone who empathised to this extent survived in the real world.

‘Perhaps we could make this aboutFreya?’

Kate’s chin lifted; she was insane to feel sorry for this man. She should save her sympathy for the woman he did eventually marry because he was obviously still in love with his dead wife.

‘Fine, let’s do that. So perhaps you could put your feelings to one side and approach your in-laws, this being about Freya and not your feelings.’

His nostrils flared as the insult hit home. ‘It is always about Freya,’ he ground out. ‘Protecting her is always my priority.’

‘Good,’ she said with a display of brisk false bravado as she brought her lashes down in an ineffective shield against the silver glitter of outrage in his eyes. When angry he was really daunting. ‘What ages are the cousins...their names...?’

‘I have not the faintest idea.’ Her face presumably reflected her shocked horror, as a sighing sound of exasperation escaped his lips. ‘I will discover this information, but after B... Freya’s mother died, her grandfather blamed Freya. He willnotrepeat those words. I have made that clear to him.’ The emphasis in his bleak eyes made her shiver.

‘I’m sure he doesn’t think that way now. No one could. People say things in grief that they don’t mean.’

‘You excuse him...?’

‘No, of course not, I...’ She bit her lip, aware she had blundered into territory where she didn’t have a clue what was going on.

‘Not black and white...not binary.’Her brother’s voice was so loud in her head it sounded as though he were standing behind her.

‘I’m sorry...’

‘So you keep saying.’

‘I tend to say things without...’

‘Yes, this I have noticed. You have strong opinions. I will listen to what you have to say about Freya’s welfare, but only if your comments are professional and evidence-based.’

And then he was gone. His reaction was more than she could have hoped for, given the absolute mess she had just made of that.Professional.He was right. A professional distance was something she never normally struggled with and yet with this father and daughter her objectivity had vanished.

Her emotions all over the place, she followed him back into the nursery in time to see him press a kiss to his daughter’s head.

‘Sorry I have to go...’ Marco suddenly felt so weary it didn’t really matter what excuse he gave. The endless list of duties meant nothing to his daughter, who could not filter out the bull... He could feel the amber gaze upon him and kissed Freya again.

Damn the woman, even if her only sin was to point out the obvious. The obvious that no one else had ever had the guts to voice: that he was a poor, pathetic excuse for a father, just as he’d been a poor excuse for a husband.

Maybe it was Kate’s courage that had pushed him to say the things he had, share the things he had. It was as good a reason as any other to explain what had made him tell her private details he had never revealed to anyone.

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