‘I often eat here in the evening. It’s quicker than ordering food in,’ Leandro responded. ‘You look beautiful, querida.’

Stiff as an iron bar trying to bend, Molly rearranged the salt and pepper and shook her head in immediate disagreement. ‘No, I don’t. I assumed you’d want to eat somewhere quieter, the sort of place we could talk.’

Talk? Leandro did not like the ominous sound of that word. His needs and wishes were the height of masculine simplicity: he wanted to feast his eyes on her and take her home with him at the end of the meal. Her cloaked appraisal, however, set his even white teeth on edge and made him commence their meal with a leading question. ‘Isn’t it time you told me about Jez?’

Alerted by the tough edge to his tone, Molly lifted her head from the menu she was studying. ‘Why do you think that?’

His dark eyes were hard as granite. ‘You’re obviously on very familiar terms with him. How does he fit into your life?’

‘He’s my best friend,’ Molly confided. ‘He owns the house so he’s also my landlord.’

Leandro had never had much faith in platonic male and female friendships and his conviction that Jez had a more personal interest in Molly was not dispelled by that explanation. ‘He behaved more like a man guarding his turf and warning off the competition-like a boyfriend.’

Uneasy colour warmed her cheeks. It bothered her that Leandro had only had to meet Jez once to immediately question the calibre of their friendship. Was that a tribute to Leandro’s shrewd grasp of human nature? Or a sign that he was the jealous type? ‘Jez is very fond of me,’ she said defensively, ‘but there’s never been anything else between us. We’ve known each other since we were in foster care together as kids.’

‘I thought you were adopted,’ Leandro countered.

‘Not for very long. I was older-there weren’t many takers. An older couple who already had a son took me because they wanted a daughter. My adoptive father died of a heart attack six months after I moved in,’ Molly explained ruefully. ‘My adoptive mother got very depressed and decided she had enough to handle without taking on an extra child. I was back in foster care by the end of the year.’

Leandro could only think of his own privileged childhood. He had been encouraged to believe that, as heir to a massive estate and centuries of proud heritage, he was the most important little person in the household. Long, lonely stretches at boarding school had contrasted with an excess of luxury and attention during the holidays.

‘That must have been hard on you,’ he remarked.

Molly lifted and dropped a thin shoulder. ‘I survived. I’m quite a strong character, Leandro. I don’t think you see that in me.’

Leandro measured the resolute angle of her pointed chin and the light of challenge in her clear gaze and vented a sardonic laugh of disagreement. He wondered how he had contrived to stumble on one of the very few young women in Europe who wouldn’t snatch at the opportunity to have a billionaire make all her material dreams come true. ‘Don’t I?’ he traded drily. ‘I find you very argumentative.’

At that inopportune moment the waiter appeared to pour the wine. Annoyed by Leandro’s censure, Molly put a hand over her glass and requested a soda and lime instead. When they were alone again, she snapped, ‘I am not argumentative!’

‘I don’t stage rows in public places,’ Leandro delivered with contemptuous cool. ‘Raise your voice again and I walk out of here.’

‘I really could throw something at you at this moment,’ Molly confided in a shaken undertone; she was taken aback by the sizzling strength of her annoyance.

‘Don’t try that either,’ Leandro warned her with a freezing glance that chilled her fury with the efficiency of a bucket of ice.

‘In my experience, most men walk the other way when things get difficult,’ Molly rejoined with a scornful shift of her dark head.

‘I’m incredibly tough.’ His strong jaw line hardened while his brilliant dark golden eyes lit on her like burning flames. ‘Your problem is that you want me but you can’t handle it, gatita.’

‘That is absolutely not true!’ Molly protested, staring back at him in as frozen a manner as she could contrive while desperate to get the dialogue back on track.

‘The truth can hurt,’ Leandro drawled smooth as silk, thick black lashes low over his acute gaze.

Molly shifted like a butterfly stabbed by a display pin. ‘Haven’t you already guessed why I contacted you?’ she pressed, the tip of her tongue stealing out to moisten her plump lower lip.

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