Memory shimmered in the air between them, memory of her nightmare and also how he had comforted her. Laurel looked away, hating herself for being so affected by him. ‘Of course I remember everything, Cristiano. It was only a couple of hours ago. But surely it’s my decision, not yours, about whether I risk Rico Bavasso’s fury?’ She hadn’t meant to make it a question.

‘As I have said before, it is not. Not when you have no idea what you’re asking.’

‘Stop treating me like a child,’ Laurel snapped, and Cristiano’s eyes flashed like a glint of light on metal.

‘I am not treating you like a child,’ he said in a low, lethal voice that slid inside her like a cold blade. ‘I am treating you as someone who is out of her depth and experience, which you cannot deny. I don’t know how or why you got involved with someone like Bavasso, Laurel, but trust me, you are in over your head.’

More than he knew. She was in over her head not just with Rico Bavasso but with the man in front of her. Cristiano Ferrero felt far more dangerous to her now than the sleek silver fox staying several floors below. She could hardly say that now, however.

‘So what are you suggesting? That you keep me captive in your penthouse until Bavasso moves on?’

‘That would hardly accomplish our purpose.’

‘Which is?’

‘To show Bavasso that you are mine.’ Cristiano spoke coolly but heat flared in his eyes, turning them nearly to gold. His. She’d been his only hours ago, marked for ever by every touch of his hand, every brush of his lips. Laurel fought not to blush.

‘And how are you going to show that?’

‘By appearing with you tonight, as I mentioned before. Perhaps you have forgotten?’

Last night was a blur of panic and disbelief. She recalled him saying something along those lines, but she hadn’t taken him seriously. Had she? Now she did. Now, judging by the feeling of icy dread seeping into her stomach, she took him very seriously indeed.

‘Tonight? That’s it?’

‘We’ll see how it unfolds.’

‘So tomorrow I could go home?’ she pressed, eager for a deadline. A finish line.

‘Not quite.’ He paused, his mouth compressing, his silvery gaze flicking over her in cool assessment. ‘I believe your stay here will be for two weeks, perhaps a little longer. That should be sufficient.’

‘Two weeks?’ Laurel goggled at him. ‘But you said Bavasso would be satisfied in a day or two.’

‘It’s not Bavasso I’m thinking of.’ Cristiano dismissed the man who had loomed like such a threat with the snap of his fingers. ‘After our appearance tonight, he will no longer be welcome in any of my establishments. I do not harbour criminals.’

Laurel gulped. ‘Okay. Then why two weeks?’ She’d only taken a week off work. Laurel swallowed. ‘I can’t hang around here for two weeks. I have work…’

‘I’m sure they’ll understand.’

‘They’re depending on me.’

‘Even so.’ Cristiano’s tone and expression were both implacable. Laurel knew nothing she said would have any effect at all. He was utterly immoveable, untouchable, yet mere hours ago she’d been writhing underneath him, arms and legs wrapped around him, as close to him as she’d been to anyone, ever. She had to stop thinking about that.

‘I still don’t understand why you want me to stay here for so long.’ For his own pleasure? The possibility brought a swift intake of breath, a stupid rush of pleasure, a flash of alarm. Surely not…?

‘Don’t you?’

‘Stop playing games, Cristiano.’ Laurel started to get annoyed. ‘You can’t keep me a prisoner for your own—your own pleasure.’

‘That’s not why I want you here.’

Ouch. Laurel willed herself not to flush with the humiliation of that flatly spoken assurance. ‘You still haven’t told me why.’

‘I want you here because in approximately fourteen days I’ll know whether or not you are carrying my child.’

* * *

Cristiano watched with dispassion as shock drained the colour from Laurel’s face, turning her eyes into huge, aquamarine pools. Innocent as she was—or rather, had been—she hadn’t thought about birth control.

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