Why should he care about her romantic history now? He knew she was attracted to him. She couldn’t fake the sensual response she gave him in bed. She was his for now, for as long as he wanted her. That was the bargain.

Suddenly, the way he’d persuaded her to accept her attraction to him made him feel vaguely dissatisfied. Given the choice, she would have denied herself and him. From the beginning, though, he’d known they should be together until the passion between them became less intense, until it burned away.

He watched her cover a yawn. “Ready to go?”

She gave a wry smile. “I guess the day is catching up with me. Maybe you should go see the man who greeted us. He’s going to be disappointed if he doesn’t get a chance to talk with you further tonight.”

“He’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.”

“But you came for business purposes. Don’t you want to talk with him?”

“Not tonight. I’ll page the chauffeur to pick us up. It won’t take but a moment.” He ushered her toward the front door and they collected her wrap.

The limo appeared just as they walked down the front steps. Once inside, she leaned her head against the back of the seat, closed her eyes and sighed. He pulled an ice-cold bottle of water from the ice bucket, lifted her hand and wrapped her fingers around the bottle.

She opened her eyes and blinked, then smiled. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. You want to tell me about you and Stephen now?” he asked. “You turned as white as a sheet when he showed up.”

“I could remind you that you wouldn’t tell me what was bothering you that night you were sitting in the dark by the fire,” she said.

“You could, but it wouldn’t be wise,” he said.

“So, you’re allowed to have your touchy subject, but I’m not allowed to have mine?” she countered. “You don’t have to discuss yours. I don’t have to discuss mine.”

Frustration stabbed at him. He wasn’t accustomed to being pushed back with such nonchalance. “You could have fainted. I should have had a heads-up so I could take care of you.”

“We have an arrangement, remember? You don’t need to take care of me. You can’t do anything about this anyway. No one can.”

The despondence on her face ripped at him. “How do you know I can’t do anything about it?”


Her eyes turned shiny with unshed tears. “Stephen and I were going to be married. He fell in love with someone else and now he’s going to marry her.” Her voice broke. “See? What could anyone do about that.”

Michael stared at her, feeling a sick, sinking sensation in his gut. His reaction surprised him. “You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?”

She closed her eyes and he watched as one telltale tear traveled down her cheek.

It shouldn’t bother him. Their relationship was primarily physical. He avoided emotional scenes like the plague. The fact, however, that the woman who’d shared his bed for the last few weeks was in love with another man bothered the hell out of him.

He lifted his hand to her face and rubbed his finger over her wet cheek. He looked into her sad eyes. “He chose unwisely. Britney will drive him up a tree with that shrill voice of hers.”

Her lips twitched with a flash of humor then she closed her eyes again releasing another tear. Filled with a crazy combination of emotions, he pulled her into his arms. “If he gave you up, then he’s not worthy of you.”

She took a shaky breath as if she were trying to compose herself. “Easy to say. My heart says something different.”

“What does your heart say?”

She lifted her gaze to his. “He was the one.”

He felt as if she’d stabbed him in the gut. His pride quickly rose in defense. “If he was the one, if you were in love with him, why did you agree to an affair with me?”

She looked away. “I’d already messed up my chance for my future, and I’d let down my aunt by not being here when she was so ill. If I agreed to your bargain, I could at least make things right for Charlotte.”

“And desire had nothing to do with it,” he said in disbelief. “You hated every minute you spent in my bed.”

She bit her lip. “I didn’t say that.” She lifted her gaze reluctantly. “I can’t deny there’s a strong passion between you and me, but I knew it wasn’t love.”

He’d gotten exactly what he’d wanted. Her passion with no emotional complications. Why was it suddenly not enough?

Michael didn’t sleep with her that night or the next. Bella wondered if he’d changed his mind about her. About them. If he didn’t want her anymore. She felt a strange combination of relief and emptiness at his absence.His passion had been so consuming she found it hard to breathe, let alone think. Without him, she was left with her own thoughts and feelings. Her own loss.

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