Just the memory made flustered confusion sweep through her and quickly she turned away, afraid that Cristiano would see her uncertainty. He’d seen too much already, starting with this skimpy dress.

‘Thank you,’ she mumbled again and then, not wanting to prolong her agony, she hurried down the hall.

* * *

Cristiano watched Laurel scurry down the hall like a frightened rabbit. A sexy frightened rabbit, wearing far too little clothing for his comfort, and only one shoe. He turned away, his jaw tightening, the flare of sexual attraction arrowing through him annoying him further. He hadn’t expected to feel it quite so strongly, especially now that he knew what she was like.

When he’d seen Laurel Forrester swan into La Sirena this evening, dressed like a hooker and on the arm of a man who made his skin crawl, he’d felt shock slice through him. It was ten years since he’d last seen her; she looked a whole lot more grown up now, yet he’d recognised her. Instantly.

That second of stunned amazement had morphed into a deep, sick disappointment that settled in his gut, a leaden weight that was absurd, because if he’d had to think about it for a second he’d have known Laurel would be just like her mother—a craven, amoral gold-digger playing for her best chance. She’d shown her true colours at just fourteen years old, after all, and heaven knew the apple didn’t usually fall far from the tree.

Which was why he had been so determined to cut off all his ties with his own father. The last thing he wanted to do was make the mistakes Lorenzo Ferrero had, chasing after some ridiculous and ever-elusive happily-ever-after and becoming increasingly more desperate to find it. Letting himself be used, hurt and humiliated, and for what? An amorphous emotion that didn’t really exist, or at least shouldn’t. Love.

Cristiano strolled towards the window, shoving his hands deep into his trouser pockets as he mused on what lay in store for Laurel…and for him. He’d watched her on the casino floor, draped on Bavasso’s arm, her attempts at flirting cringingly over the top and obvious. She might be many things but what she definitely wasn’t was a good actress.

Bavasso, of course, had lapped it up and demanded more. A lot more, apparently, because after Cristiano had left the floor he’d stayed by the bank of security cameras in his flat, watching her, waiting—but for what? He was acting obsessed, which was stupid, but he hadn’t been able to keep himself from doing it.

He’d told himself it was because of their past—because he knew her mother was a thief and he had no intention of letting her fleece any of his customers, even one as unpleasant as Rico Bavasso. He’d told himself that, but he didn’t completely buy it.

Then everything in him had frozen and clenched hard when he’d seen her leave the casino floor, Bavasso holding her hand, practically dragging her towards the lifts. But she’d gone. She’d been smiling. For some reason that smile had reached a vulnerable place he hated the thought of even possessing.

Cristiano didn’t know what had happened upstairs in the hotel suite but he could guess all too easily. Still he’d stayed by the cameras, which was why he’d seen her running for the lifts, as if the hounds of hell were chasing her—or just one lascivious one. Whatever game she was playing, she’d decided not to see it to the finish. And, while Cristiano certainly believed in a woman’s right to say no whenever she chose to, it didn’t change his opinion of Laurel Forrester one iota.

On the cameras he’d watched her hit all the buttons, including the one for the penthouse. The lift doors to the penthouse were always locked, but with one flip of a switch Cristiano had sent Laurel straight up to him.

And now here she was.

The only question that remained was, what was he going to do with her?

He narrowed his gaze as he looked out of the window, the Colosseum lit up at night, a beacon to the city. He’d brought Laurel up here because she’d needed rescuing and he was a man of honour.

But honour only extended so far. And now, with the lift doors locked again, the only person Laurel needed rescuing from was him.

CHAPTER TWO

LAUREL PEEKED INTO the first room on the left, a sumptuous bedroom with an en suite bathroom, and then she tiptoed over thick, white pile carpet, past a huge king-sized bed on its own dais with a rumpled black satin duvet. This was where Cristiano slept, and she sensed him in every sleek and powerful line of the room. She smelled him too—that spicy aftershave and something else, something infinitely more male that wound through her senses and ignited fireworks in her belly. Fireworks she was going to do her best to ignore.


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