‘Too bad.’

‘Damn it, Laurel,’ he snapped, his temper starting to fray. ‘I deserve to know.’

‘Why? Just because you slept with me?’ She lifted her chin, eyes flashing. ‘I doubt you demand such rights of the legion of women you’ve slept with.’

‘You don’t know anything about me.’

‘And you don’t know anything about me,’ she answered, rising from the bed. She tugged the T-shirt down in a useless attempt to cover her bottom. ‘So we’re even. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like you to go.’

‘I do mind.’ He settled against the bed, arms folded. He still didn’t know exactly what he wanted from this situation, but it definitely wasn’t to be kicked to the kerb. He was the one who decided when things ended. If they ended.

Laurel stared him down, her lower lip pushed out, her eyes narrowed. ‘What do you want from me?’ she demanded in a low voice.

Hell if he knew. ‘Why are you a virgin?’

‘Why?’ She stared at him incredulously. ‘Why do you care?’

‘Humour me.’

She shook her head slowly. ‘There’s no pleasing you, is there? You branded me a whore and, now you know I’m a virgin, you so obviously aren’t happy with that either.’

He didn’t need his unreasonableness pointed out to him. ‘Why?’ he gritted.

‘Why not? Is there a law that says twenty-four-year-olds can’t be virgins?’

‘Practically. Most women…’

‘I am not most women.’

She was an utter enigma, and he didn’t like that. He needed things to be straightforward. Women to be what they seemed. He needed Laurel to be what she’d seemed, what he’d assumed, because the alternative made his stomach cramp with acidic regret for the way he’d behaved. The things he’d said—and done.

She drew herself up, all haughty dignity, and then ruined the effect by tugging again on her T-shirt. Her legs looked endless and golden, and he couldn’t keep from remembering how silky her skin had felt.

‘So you’re just going to stay here?’ she asked in a chilly voice. ‘In my bed?’

‘My bed, actually.’

She pressed her lips together, looking suddenly far more vulnerable than proud, and Cristiano wished he hadn’t tried to score such a petty point. He was above such tactics, surely? And yet… Laurel had unsettled him so much. He felt completely wrong-footed. Wrong everything.

He glanced out at the sky, now the palest of blues. It was a little past seven in the morning after the longest night of his life. ‘Perhaps you should get some more sleep,’ he said, rising from the bed in one fluid movement, then reaching for his drawstring bottoms. ‘We can talk later.’

Laurel folded her arms, a movement meant to make her look strong, but she looked as if she was holding herself together. Literally. ‘About what?’

‘Everything,’ Cristiano said, then he strode from the room.

CHAPTER SEVEN

LAUREL LISTENED TO the door slam shut behind Cristiano and let out a weary breath. That had been exhausting. Her body was still tingling with the memory of his touch, her heart thudding from the sharp words they’d just exchanged. She’d acted far more assured and confident than she really felt. The truth was she felt like a quivering bowlful of jelly inside.

She’d known sex with Cristiano would rock her world. Burn her up. And here she was, feeling utterly singed.

With a shudder, Laurel sat on the bed, drawing her knees up to her chest. The last she’d wanted after her first experience of sex was an interrogation about what she’d been doing with Bavasso and why she’d been a virgin.

Cristiano had almost seemed angry, and so unmoved by what they’d just done. Yet how could that surprise her? The legion of women he’d had…his face in the mirror. No, the only surprise was how stupid she was. Again. And yet even now she couldn’t regret it.

The feel of his hands on her…his body inside her… Laurel shuddered again, this time with longing. She’d never felt anything so intimate or intense or…incredible before. It felt far more important than she’d expected. Of course, it wasn’t important to Cristiano. It definitely didn’t mean anything. She knew that, yet…she couldn’t keep from feeling changed, as if something inside her had shifted for ever. She would have a tie to Cristiano now, no matter what happened in the future. An unbreakable tie, at least for her, even if he forgot her name in a few weeks.

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