‘So,’ Cristiano asked after a moment, the restless ache of desire surging through him as her words sparked memories of deep kisses and golden skin, ‘what did it feel like to you?’

‘Like I said, there’s a bond.’ Laurel’s face was still red as she looked away. ‘No matter what—even if I never see you again after these two weeks, which is the most likely scenario—there will be a bond. You…you were my first.’

The simply spoken words pierced him with guilt. Her first, and so far her only lover. It was a responsibility he hadn’t wanted but, now he had it, and he wasn’t going simply to throw it away.

‘Then there’s no reason not to make the most of these two weeks,’ he said, and Laurel jerked around to face him, her mouth dropping open in shock.

‘What…?’

‘We gave each other a great deal of pleasure, Laurel. Surely you won’t try to deny that?’

She gulped. Audibly. ‘No, I can hardly deny that part of it.’

‘And you have so kindly assured me that there is no risk of an emotional attachment. The bond we have is physical, and it’s one we should both enjoy for as long as we can. Don’t you think?’

‘I…’ She licked her lips and Cristiano could not keep from groaning at the sight.

‘It seems you are doing your best to convince me,’ he said, and her gaze widened, pupils flaring.

‘I’m not trying to…’

‘You don’t need to try, bella.’ He slipped off the sofa and came to kneel before her. ‘It just is.’ He slid his hands along her legs, over her knees and across her thighs. Laurel shuddered in response. ‘This thing between us—it just is. Why should either of us fight it?’

She stared at him, her pupils dilated, her breathing ragged. ‘So two weeks of…of being together? That’s what you want?’ She breathed.

‘It’s very simple, isn’t it? We enjoy each other and we both walk away satisfied.’ He stroked her inner thighs lightly. ‘Very satisfied.’

She stared at him, transfixed, a rosy flush sweeping over her whole body. Cristiano slid his hands higher, splaying his palms across the tops of her thighs, keeping her in place. Laurel let out a breathy little sigh, the sound of acceptance. Of victory.

Cristiano leaned in. ‘We both want this, Laurel.’

Her eyes fluttered closed, her body trembling under his light touch. ‘I… I know.’

‘There’s nothing to fear or regret here,’ he added, compelled to reassure her even now. ‘Nothing but pleasure for both of us.’

She nodded, the movement jerky, and Cristiano closed the space between their mouths. The kiss was deep and endless, branding them both. His hands tightened on her thighs, and hers gripped his shoulders, both of them steadying and anchoring each other.

Eventually, breathless and wanting, Cristiano broke the kiss. ‘Yes?’ he demanded, his voice raw with need.

Laurel opened her eyes and gazed at him, her expression both dazed and resolute. ‘Yes,’ she whispered.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

LAUREL WOKE UP to dazzling sunlight and an empty bed. She stretched, muscles aching that had never ached before. Hours later and she still felt sated and boneless. One thing was inarguable—Cristiano was an attentive, thorough and excellent lover.

Not, of course, that she had any way to measure his performance besides her own breathless satisfaction. She rolled onto her side, tucking her knees up to her chest and fought the expected rush of guilt and doubt. She’d made a decision last night, a foolhardy and potentially dangerous decision. Cristiano Ferrero was way, way out of her league. She didn’t have any experience with dating, with men, with relationships.

But this wasn’t a relationship.

A timely reminder, and one she would have to give herself constantly over the forthcoming days. No matter what she’d assured Cristiano last night, it would be all too easy to fall in love with him, or at least believe that she had. Because she might have told Cristiano she didn’t want to fall in love with anyone, but that wasn’t strictly true. It was simply that she hadn’t yet found anyone to fall in love with. Anyone to take that almighty risk for—the risk of offering herself wholly with the possibility of being pushed away. People left. It was the one truth she’d learned over and over, yet she still kept hoping there was someone out there who wouldn’t. Someone who would think she was worth staying for. She believed it because she wanted to believe she was lovable.

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