‘Like I said, actions speak for themselves.’

‘They do, don’t they?’ Laurel risked a look back at him, noting the flinty eyes, the granite jaw. He was completely unmoved. ‘And yours do too. What made you so suspicious of people, Cristiano? Of women? Because you were suspicious of my mother from the moment you met her.’

‘Of course I was. My father picked her up in a cheap casino in Palm Beach. They married in four days. Who wouldn’t be suspicious?’

‘A whirlwind romance.’

He let out a huff of humourless laughter. ‘That’s one way of putting it.’

‘Still, it’s more than that,’ Laurel insisted. ‘You’re suspicious of everyone. Every woman, myself included. Why?’

He stared at her for a long moment. ‘Life experience.’

‘What life experience?’

She didn’t think he’d answer but then he shifted restlessly on the sofa and bit out, ‘After my mother died my father had several mistresses. They all took him for a ride. They were so patently false: the cloying way they spoke; pretending to be interested in me, a sulky ten-year-old.’ He shook his head, the movement terse, angry. ‘They were just out to get whatever they could—money, jewels, cars, clothes. They raked it in until my father realised they were using him and then he cut them off.’

‘So we both endured a parade of other people in our lives,’ Laurel said quietly. ‘It’s hard, but it doesn’t need to make you cynical.’

‘Cynical?’ Cristiano challenged. ‘Or smart? Before your mother my father married a woman. Jade. She was twenty-three, a bombshell. A bomb—and she detonated right in the middle of our lives. She took my father for nearly everything he had. He hadn’t bothered with a pre-nuptial agreement, because he was so sure it was love.’ Cristiano shook his head, his features twisting with the memory. ‘Fortunately a lot of his money was tied up in property and unreachable to her. But she left him as destitute as she possibly could, and ran off with her boyfriend, who had been in on the whole thing.’

‘I’m sorry,’ Laurel said quietly. She heard the hurt in his voice but knew he wouldn’t want her to try to comfort him. He’d hate the thought of her offering sympathy. Pity. Yet she understood him more than she ever had before. ‘That’s terrible,’ she continued. ‘But not everyone is like that.’

‘None of this matters,’ Cristiano dismissed. ‘It has nothing to do with us.

‘Us?’ Laurel forced herself to ask, meeting his gaze directly, even though the look in his eyes felt as if it could freeze the blood in her veins. ‘There is no “us”.’

‘There is if you’re carrying my child.’

‘Don’t talk about that as if it is a probability.’

‘It is a possibility.’

‘Barely, and in any case you said we’d cross that unfortunate bridge if we came to it.’

‘Very well,’ Cristiano said evenly. ‘Let’s talk about the next two weeks.’

Laurel resisted the urge to shudder at the prospect of more evenings like the one she’d just endured. ‘Are you going to drag me down to the casino again? Night after night?’

Cristiano’s mouth twisted. ‘You make it sound like a fate worse than death.’

‘No, but it’s not something I’m looking forward to in the slightest.’

Cristiano sat back, his gaze turning worryingly speculative. ‘No, I don’t think we’ll go down there again,’ he said slowly. ‘I don’t think Bavasso is a threat any more. He knows you’re mine.’

Laurel eyed him warily, hating how arrogant he sounded. How possessive. She really was just a thing to him. An object to be used. ‘What, then?’ she asked.

‘We’ll go to France.’

‘France?’ Laurel’s eyes widened almost comically. Cristiano sat back and smiled, glad to have surprised her. Because she’d surprised him too much already, with her anger and her hurt, and then her revelations about her childhood. Cristiano had told himself not to feel sorry for her, not to be moved by what was really a common-or-garden sob story, but he did. He pictured a very young Laurel hiding from one of her mother’s abusive boyfriends and felt a boiling anger surge through his veins. And that was a very inconvenient thing to feel.

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