She’d said way too much. Far more than she’d ever intended to reveal. Anything she said could and would be used against her, no doubt. She’d just given him ammunition, but she felt too weary and heartsick to care.
The doors opened and Laurel started to scramble to her feet, hampered by the long, narrow skirt of her gown. Cristiano reached a hand down to help her but Laurel jerked away.
‘I don’t need your help—’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he snapped, and helped her up. ‘I don’t think Bavasso will bother you, at any rate. If it’s any consolation, I think he received the message we wanted him to.’
‘It isn’t,’ Laurel tossed over her shoulder, and stalked into the penthouse.
* * *
Cristiano watched as Laurel kicked off her heels, her whole body trembling, and then started yanking the pins from her hair. It was what he’d wanted to do earlier, to dismantle the elaborate costume she was wearing, but now that she was the one doing it he felt annoyed somehow. There was no pleasing him when it came to this contrary woman, it seemed. And there was no pleasing her.
‘I don’t really understand what you’re so upset about,’ he said levelly as Laurel shook out her hair. She grabbed a tissue from the box and wiped at her lipstick, tears now drying on her face, leaving raccoon-like circles under her eyes.
‘Of course you don’t.’
‘This is what we agreed on. The most expedient way to get you out of the mess you got yourself into. I’m helping you, Laurel.’ And he wouldn’t think about what she’d said about Bavasso flirting with her, how she’d frozen. It made sense, yet Cristiano resisted trusting Laurel, even that far. Trusting anyone.
‘I know, I know.’ She scrubbed at her lips until they were raw looking. ‘You’re a prince.’
He couldn’t miss the sarcasm. As for the other things she’d said in the lift—about what they’d done last night meaning something to her—well, she’d been a virgin. Of course she was going to dress up what had been nothing more than a very pleasurable physical act. He’d been expecting it, but it didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
Sighing, Cristiano reached for his phone. ‘Why don’t you change, since you apparently find that haute couture gown so abhorrent? And shower, if you like. I’ll order us some food.’
She stared at him, a storm of emotion in her eyes, and then without a word she turned on her heel and stalked into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Women. Muttering a curse, Cristiano dialled for room service.
Twenty minutes later the food had arrived and Laurel emerged from her bedroom dressed in a pair of loose linen pants and a silky T-shirt, her damp hair curling in ringlets about her face and shoulders. Cristiano liked her better this way, not that he would say it out loud. The last thing he wanted to do was give Laurel any hope for what could be between them.
Laurel’s face was composed, nothing showing in her eyes. The emotional, distraught woman from before was replaced with someone who thankfully was calm and hopefully going to be sensible.
‘What would you like to eat?’
‘Anything is fine.’ Laurel sank onto the sofa, curling her bare feet under her as she gazed out at the night sky. Her expression was pensive, and she didn’t even look at Cristiano as he handed her a plate of food.
‘Thank you,’ she murmured.
‘You’re welcome.’ Cristiano sat opposite her. ‘What did your mother say to you down there, anyway?’
She turned to glance at him. Still nothing in her eyes, in her face. ‘She wanted to know what had happened to me.’
‘And what did you tell her?’
‘Not much.’ She leaned her head back against the sofa, looking so weary Cristiano had the impulse to comfort her. To reassure her—yet about what? ‘Your kiss told her all she needed to know.’ She spoke lifelessly, without any interest or spark.
‘And last night with Bavasso?’ He took a careful, even breath. ‘Was it really…was it how you said?’
Laurel shrugged. ‘Believe what you like.’
‘Last night you said it wasn’t what it looked like. Is that why?’ Her gaze slid away from his and Cristiano felt in his gut that there was more she wasn’t saying. Laurel wasn’t quite as innocent as she wanted him to think. ‘Tell me the truth, Laurel.’