Her smooth brow had indented and her almond-shaped eyes were bright with bewilderment. ‘What on earth are you trying to say?’

‘That I would be prepared to buy you somewhere suitable to live and money need no longer be a source of concern for you,’ Leandro spelt out softly. ‘No more waitressing-I would cover all your expenses. It would be my pleasure to do so.’

Molly studied him fixedly, her heartbeat thumping so fast and loud that it felt as if it were trapped in her tight throat. ‘Why would you offer to buy me somewhere to live? Why would you want to pay my bills? Exactly what kind of a relationship are you offering me?’

‘I want you to be my mistress and stay in my life, querida. In the background of my life rather than the forefront of it, it is true,’ Leandro conceded, belatedly wondering whether she was capable of being discreet. ‘But you would still be important to me.’

As he quantified his objective, Molly had turned pale and then suddenly colour ran up like a banner beneath her creamy skin and burnished it to hot pink. Anger strongly laced with outrage left her light-headed and threatened to erupt from her like a volcano. Her jewelled eyes fiery with disbelief, she rammed her hands down flat on the table top and pushed herself upright. ‘You arrogant, condescending rat!’ she launched at him furiously. ‘Your mistress? What was last night supposed to be? A trial run for the position? You have no business even suggesting such a thing to me!’

‘You don’t need to use abuse to make your point,’ Leandro censured with freezing cool. ‘In my world such arrangements between men and women are common and accepted.’

‘Not in mine!’ Molly gasped, stricken by the awareness that if he had just asked to see her again she would have snatched at the opportunity. Instead he had put an offensive commercial price on any future relationship and made it very clear that she wasn’t good enough to occupy any more equal or public role in his life. That clear fact hurt like a knife twisting inside her, echoing as it did the painful rejections she had had to deal with throughout her life. Not good enough. Sometimes it seemed to Molly that she was never good enough for anything she really wanted.

Leandro, his lean, strong face impassive, continued to study her with a detachment that chilled Molly to the marrow. ‘You can’t be that naive.’

Leandro had never been with a woman who didn’t want to profit from being with him in some way. Even as a teenager he had been the target of elaborate female stratagems designed to attract his interest and entrap him. Fabulous wealth was a very powerful draw. He had learned young that sex was invariably offered in the expectation that the act of sharing his bed would be rewarded with frequent bouts of financial generosity. And then there were the women who didn’t primarily want his money, but who had their social ambitions squarely set on marrying him and using his ancient name and aristocratic lineage to gain an entry to the most exclusive and privileged stratum of Spanish society.

‘Listen to me-I don’t need anyone but myself to make my dreams come true,’ Molly told him half an octave higher. ‘I certainly don’t need any man to keep me and I never will! I manage fine on my own-’

‘You’re capable of being more than a waitress,’ Leandro contended grimly.

‘And a great deal more than being your mistress too!’ Molly launched back at him in heated challenge. ‘However low I may sink in life, you can be sure that I’ll never be desperate enough to surrender my self-respect and sell myself to you for sex!’

‘Shorn of melodrama, was that a no?’ Leandro surveyed her with level dark as midnight eyes, his lean, powerful face tight with reserve and cool. Displeasure radiated from him like a force field but his self-control, unlike hers, was absolute.

‘Yes, that was a no, and now I think it’s time I cleared off and went home.’ Her voice sounded choky and tears were stinging the backs of her eyes. ‘How could you belittle me with a sleazy offer like that? I’m not interested in being some dirty little secret in your life!’

‘It wouldn’t be like that between us. I only want to keep you close-’

‘But only in the most demeaning way!’ Molly cut in with biting scorn. ‘Not as an equal. You wear your belief in your superiority like a medal, don’t you? But I’m not some little toy you can buy to entertain yourself in your free time and where do you get off suggesting that I am?’

Affronted by her sustained verbal attack, Leandro unfolded from his seat to his full imposing height and viewed her with sardonic eyes. ‘You were happy enough to be with me last night. Did I treat you like a toy?’

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