“That’s not your decision to make.”

“Okay. I don’t suppose you want to tell me about the call,” she ventured.

“You supposed correctly.”

“But I can tell you’ve got something on your mind. Something is bothering you,” she said.

He set his glass on the table beside him and pulled her mouth to his. “Give me something else to think about.”

His mouth devoured hers while his hands slid over her, immediately making her hot. She sensed a dark desperation beneath the surface, but she wasn’t sure what it was. He distracted her from dwelling on it with the speed and intensity of his lovemaking. Before she knew it, her clothes had been discarded and so had his.

On the floor in front of the fireplace, he took her entire body with his hands and his mouth. His gaze holding hers with the firelight dancing over his skin, he thrust inside her.

Bella gasped at the feeling of possession. With each stroke, she felt utterly and completely consumed, falling under some kind of spell he cast over her. It couldn’t be love, she told herself. Love was gentle and sweet and this was nothing like that. This was compelling and powerful, but complicated. And temporary.

Temporary, she repeated to herself like a mantra. Temporary. But it was hard to convince herself of that when she’d never had a man make love to her with such power as Michael. Their arrangement had been about sex, but something else was happening between them.

The next morning, Bella awakened in Michael’s bed. As usual, he was gone. Exercising, she guessed and crept out of bed. She pulled on a robe from his closet and walked down the hallway to his small, well-equipped gym. The door was open and she spotted him on the elliptical, moving at a fast pace, his arms gleaming with perspiration. His gaze fixed forward, he looked as if he were racing against the devil. It occurred to her for all Michael’s ability to make ruthless business decisions and his tendency to avoid emotional interaction, he had his demons. The strangest, craziest desire to rid him of those demons sprang inside her.Insane, she thought. As if she had the power to help him. As if he would even want her help.

Bella didn’t have time to dwell on her conflicted feelings for Michael. Her aunt’s spa opened, and she and her aunt were busy accommodating the surge of customers.“You have to hire more people,” Bella said to Charlotte after the first week. “It’s part of your agreement with Michael.”


“I know, I know,” Charlotte said as she sank into a chair. “I just didn’t dream we’d get this kind of response. Michael was right about creating miniservices that give people a taste of luxury without spending too much.”

“And we’ve sold several discount packages for pedicures and massages,” Bella added, and gave Charlotte a glass of iced green tea. “So, when are you going to hire new staff?”

“I’ll talk to Michael to confirm. I don’t want to mess up this time,” she said. “I don’t want to overhire either.”

“But you also don’t want to overtire,” Bella said.

“Hear, hear,” a male voice said from the doorway. Fred, a man in his fifties who worked at the computer store down the street, popped in daily for a visit.

Charlotte perked up. “I thought the sign on the door said closed,” she teased.

“Not for your best customer,” Fred said with a twinkle in his eye.

“Customer,” Charlotte said. “You haven’t spent a dime on any services here. You just show up after work and drink my coffee and waste my time.”

Bella smiled at the dynamics between them. Charlotte might not admit it, but she clearly enjoyed Fred’s attention.

“Then how about if I change that?” he asked. “Can I take an overworked owner manager to dinner tonight in Buckhead?”

Charlotte blinked, clearly speechless. “Uh, well.” She cleared her throat. “That’s very nice of you, but I still have a lot of work to do. Go over the day’s bookkeeping and supplies.”

“I can do that,” Bella offered.

Charlotte glared at her. “Don’t you have plans with Michael?”

“No. He’s actually out of town,” she said. Michael had been out of town most of the week. She’d spent her nights feeling alternately full of relief and missing him. The latter had surprised her. After all, wasn’t their relationship just supposed to be physical?

“Well, I don’t know,” Charlotte said, still reluctant.

“I did have a question about a couple of the products we’re using. They’re in the supply closet,” Bella said then glanced at Fred. “Could you excuse us for a moment? We’ll be right back.”

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