She gasped, shocked at his response. “But you do love her.”
He shrugged. “In a way, I guess,” he said, lifting his beer and taking a long swallow. “But I’ve never gotten over you.”
Dismayed by his declaration, she shook her head. “I thought you had fallen in love with Britney.”
“In a way,” he repeated, covering her hand with his. “But you know I’ve loved you forever, Bella.”
“But you broke up with me.”
He shrugged again. “I knew Britney could help me get ahead. But you and I had something special. There’s no reason we can’t continue.”
She blinked. “Not if you’re engaged, we can’t.”
“There’s no reason you and I can’t enjoy each other. After all, you and Michael are enjoying each other.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“If you and Michael can have an affair, why can’t you and I?”
“You are engaged,” she said.
“If you’re willing to give yourself to Michael, why wouldn’t you give yourself to me?” he asked, taking her hand and pressing his mouth against hers.
Bella jerked away, turning her face. She stood, barely holding back the desire to throw her wine in his face. “Again, because you’re engaged. Michael is not.”
“Bella, you’re Michael Medici’s mistress,” he said. “I can afford you now, too.”
“No,” she said, nauseated by Stephen’s proposal. “Never.” She turned around and walked right into Michael’s hard chest.
Michael looked at her and Stephen with a scathing glance. Bella opened her mouth to explain, but Michael turned toward Stephen.
“Leave her alone,” he said. “You left her behind. She is with me now. If I hear of you bothering her again, your current job could suddenly disappear.” He turned to Bella. “Let’s go,” he said and escorted her from the room to the front door. “How could you let him touch you?”
“I didn’t want to. He took me by surprise,” she said.
“You must have known he would be here,” Michael said, his jaw twitching.
“I didn’t,” she said. “It’s true that Stephen is friends with this couple, too, but I didn’t know if he would attend. I was sure his fiancée would be with him if he did.” She paused a half beat. “Besides, if I were intent on getting together with Stephen, why would I have invited you to come with me this afternoon?”
“Let’s go back to my house,” he said and waved for the valet. “I’ll take you.”
“But my car,” she began.
“I’ll send a driver for it,” he said.
With Stephen’s insulting remarks, the event had already been ruined for her, so she was all too happy to leave. The drive was silent, and Michael’s brooding disposition made the air in the car so thick she could hardly breathe.
As soon as they arrived at Michael’s house, he whisked her up to his bedroom. She hated for him to be upset, but she didn’t feel she deserved his wrath. “I realize it may have looked damaging, but you have to believe I didn’t invite his advance. You shouldn’t be angry at me.”
He took a deep breath, his nostrils flaring with emotion. “I’m not angry at you. I’m furious with Stephen. What the hell gave him the idea that he could treat you like that?”
She shook her head, but her stomach sank. “He seemed to have figured out that you and I have an arrangement. This is what I was afraid of, that people would find out that I could be bought.”
Michael sliced his hand through the air. “Under the right circumstances, everyone can be bought.”
His assessment only made her feel worse. “Actions can be bought, but emotions can’t.”
“You may have agreed to our affair to help your aunt, but things are different. Can you tell me that the only reason you’re with me is because of your aunt?”
The oxygen seemed to disappear from her lungs. “You know I can’t,” she whispered.
He pulled her against him. “Damn right you can’t,” he muttered and took her mouth. The passion between them exploded, burning boundaries, excuses and denial. Perhaps a part of her had sensed from the beginning that Michael would change her life. Perhaps the passion they’d shared in the beginning had been a clue and she’d run from it, run from him, because he was a hard, complicated man. How could she ever hope to win his heart? If he even possessed one.
With no holds barred, he stripped off her clothes and his and imprinted his body against hers. He made love to her from head to toe, bringing her to ecstasy again and again. It was as if he wanted to mark her as his woman.