“Now, now,” he said. “You’ll be busy helping her at the spa. Your nights belong to me.”

Three days later, Michael was working late as usual when his cell phone rang. Bella, he saw from the caller ID and picked up. “This is a surprise.”“I got off a little early. I’ve worked the last few nights.” She hesitated a half beat. “I gave my notice.”

“Where are you?” he asked.

“In the parking lot of your office,” she said breathlessly.

Michael felt an immediate surge of arousal. During every spare minute he’d thought about Bella, her body, her response, the sound of her voice, her violet eyes filled with passion. “I’ll be down in a couple minutes,” he said.

Wrapping up his work and turning off his laptop, he strode downstairs, a sense of eagerness running through him like white lightning. He didn’t know why this woman affected him so much, but he’d decided not to question it and enjoy her. Every inch of her.

He walked outside and saw the lights from her Volkswagen flicker, guiding him to her vehicle. He opened the door and allowed himself the luxury of looking at her from head to toe. After all, for the next year, she was his.

Still dressed in her white shirt and black skirt from work, she gazed at him with trepidation, her white teeth biting the side of her upper lip. Her hands clasped the steering wheel in a white-knuckle grip.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” she said and seemed to hold her breath. “I wasn’t sure when I was supposed to start.”

He couldn’t quite swallow a chuckle at her tension. She glanced at him in consternation.

“Why don’t we just start with dinner at my place?” he asked.


He nodded. “What do you want?”

She blinked and paused a long moment. “A hot fudge sundae and sparkling wine.”

“That can be arranged,” he said. “Would you like to ride in my car or follow—”

“Follow,” she said, her grip tightening on the steering wheel. “I’ll follow you.”

On the way home, he called his housekeeper and ordered filet mignon for two, baked potatoes, a hot fudge sundae and a bottle of Cristal champagne. Driving through the guarded entrance to his subdivision, he glanced at his rearview mirror to make sure Bella made it through.

He pulled his Viper into his garage, got out and motioned for her to pull into the space on the other side of his SUV.

He watched her step out of her Volkswagen. Despite the wariness on her face, he remembered how she’d felt in his arms that night. She was a lot more trouble than any of his other lovers had been, but she was worth it. He took her arm and guided her up the stairs into the house.

She glanced around as if she were taking in every detail. Michael was usually so intent on a project or task that he barely noticed his surroundings.

“It’s beautiful. Sophisticated, but comfortable,” she said as they approached the large den with a cathedral ceiling and gas fireplace already lit. She glanced at him. “Do you have it on a timer?”

He shook his head. “My housekeeper took care of it. You act as if you’ve never seen my house before.”

She bit her lip and gave a half smile. “I guess I was a little distracted the last time I was here.”

Her grudging confession sent a sharp twist of challenge through him. She had been honey in his hands and he would seduce her to the same softness again. But she was still tense, so he would need to take it slow. “You mentioned something about a hot fudge sundae. Would you like a steak first?”

Her eyes widened and she sniffed the air. “I thought I smelled something cooking. How did you manage that so quickly?”

He shrugged. “Just like I said: A simple call to my housekeeper. Would you like to dine by the fire?”

“That would be lovely,” she said.

He nodded. “Let me take your coat.”

She met his gaze and slowly removed her coat, her eyes full of reservation over the loss of even one article of clothing. She glanced away and brushed her hands together as she moved toward the fire.

“I’ll change clothes and be back down in a minute. Make yourself comfortable.”

Two glasses of champagne, filet and baked potato later, Bella felt herself loosen up slightly. She was still tense, still wondered how their arrangement was going to work.

“So, tell me your life story,” he said with a slight upturn of his mouth that was incredibly seductive.

“You know my aunt’s situation,” she said, taking a sip of water.

“What about your parents?”

“Never knew my father, although I’m told he and my mother were briefly married after a Vegas wedding,” she said. “My mother left me with Aunt Charlotte when I was two.” Rationally, she knew she was lucky she’d been given to Charlotte. Deep inside though, every once in a while, she wondered why she hadn’t been enough for her mother to want to keep her and for her father to at least want to know her.

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