‘I know. You were stripped down to the most basic version of yourself. The real you. I like that version much better, by the way.’
‘Well, I don’t,’ Taylor snapped. ‘I’ve left that version behind.’
‘You might want to look in the maze. I’m sure I had my hands on that version yesterday.’
And that version of her wanted to grab him and haul his mouth back against hers. That version wanted to rip at his clothes and explore those parts of his body she hadn’t already explored. That version was burning up with sexual awareness and a need so strong it took her breath away.
That version was driving her mad and had to be buried.
Just to be sure she couldn’t be tempted to follow her instincts, she kept her hands locked behind her back. ‘This is a joke to you, isn’t it?’
‘Surprisingly enough, no. There is nothing amusing about marriage or anything that goes with it.’ The phone on his desk rang and then immediately stopped as his PA intercepted it from her office. ‘That is about the seventieth call I’ve had from journalists on my private line since you so kindly announced our engagement a few hours ago. It’s not working out for me. It’s time we broke it off.’
‘No!’ Anger turned to desperation. Trying to ignore the chemistry, Taylor lifted her fingers to her temple and forced herself to breathe. ‘Please. You have no idea how badly I want this job.’
His gaze was cool and unsympathetic. ‘Buy cheaper shoes or, better still, wear one of the thousands of pairs you already own.’
She lowered her hand slowly. ‘You think this is about shoes? About money?’
‘What is it about then?’
It was about acting, but it didn’t occur to anyone that she loved her job. They thought it was all about the publicity and that was her mother’s fault. She’d made a name for herself as the pushiest parent in Hollywood and Taylor’s reputation had suffered as a result.
Not just her reputation.
Her decision making.
‘I want to be taken seriously as an actress, that’s all you need to know.’ She’d learned the hard way to guard the private side of her life and she did it with the tenacity of a warrior. ‘I need this job to go well.’
‘And for that I’m expected to marry you?’
‘No, not marry me. But I thought maybe we could keep the whole engagement pretence up, just until filming is finished.’
‘You thought wrong. So far we’ve been engaged for about ten minutes and that’s ten minutes too long as far as I’m concerned.’
The thought of having to walk out there and admit that she’d fabricated the engagement pushed her close to the edge of panic. ‘You travel a lot,’ she said desperately, ‘we wouldn’t need to see each other much. Just the odd photograph of us looking happy together would do it.’
‘It wouldn’t do it for me. I have no desire to tie myself to one woman, fictitious or not. It would cramp my style.’ He glanced at the expensive watch on his wrist. ‘I’m late to a board meeting. When I come out of that meeting I’ll be behaving like a single guy so unless you want the next headlines to say I’m cheating on you, I suggest you break the news to them fast.’
‘I just told them we were engaged.’
‘Your problem, not mine. Tell them you came to my office and found me with another woman. Tell them anything you like—unlike you I have no problem having the real me presented to the world. But by the time I come out of my meeting I want calls asking me for a comment on how I feel about being dumped and if that doesn’t happen then I’ll be making a statement about dumping you. Your choice, dolcezza.’
With that he strode out of the room and left her standing there.
Unsettled by the depth of the chemistry and even more upset by overexposure to the word engaged, Luca strode towards the boardroom like a man trying to escape the hangman’s noose.
He genuinely couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to get married. The thought of committing to one woman for the rest of his life made him break out in a rash. Where was the pleasure in tying yourself to one woman? He could cope with female insecurity for the duration of a photo shoot, or even a single night of passion—providing it wasn’t the whole night—but the thought of a lifetime of ego stroking made him contemplate entering a monastery. Or maybe not a monastery, he mused as he was momentarily distracted by the chairman’s pretty executive assistant, but certainly a place where marriage was banned.
She blushed prettily. ‘The board is waiting for you, Luca.’
Boring old fossils, Luca thought, suppressing a yawn. They needed blasting into the twenty-first century and he was perfectly happy to be the one to do it if only they’d let him but there was no chance of that.