Yet as he’d stalked her towards the bedroom, a predator intent on his more than willing prey, she knew he did.

He’d caught her up as she crossed the threshold, her breath coming out in a whoosh as their bodies made exquisite contact, hard against soft. Cristiano had made short work of her bra and pants, and then neatly hooked his leg behind her knees, so she’d had no choice but to fall onto the bed with a tremulous laugh.

He’d fallen with her, his body covering hers, so hot and hard and muscular. Legs, lips, hands, hips—all tangling, pressing, invading, consuming.

Just the memory of it all made Laurel’s whole body tingle. If she’d known how fantastic sex could be, she’d have had it a whole lot sooner. Except, of course, she’d never met anyone she’d been remotely interested in taking that step with. She’d never met anyone like Cristiano.

A light knock sounded on the door. ‘Ready, bella?’ Cristiano called and Laurel turned to inspect her reflection in the mirror one last time.

She wore a royal-blue evening gown with off-the-shoulder straps and a diamanté belt encircling her waist, the gauzy material falling in a perfect column before pooling about her feet. A stylist had done her hair in an artful up-do, with a few curls resting provocatively on her shoulders, and another assistant had done her make-up, making her eyes look smoky, her lashes endless. She looked elegant but also sexy, and not, she hoped, like nothing more than Cristiano’s latest. Tonight she did not want to be dismissed as the eye candy on Cristiano’s arm. And she didn’t want him to treat her that way, either.

Yet…she couldn’t quite banish the memory of the rest of the afternoon—the way Cristiano had quickly rolled off the bed, pulling on his trousers and shirt while Laurel had lain there, dazed and naked, the last of her climax still thrumming through her.

‘Where are you going?’ she’d asked sleepily.

‘I told you, I have a meeting.’ Cristiano had reached for his neck tie without looking at her. ‘You can relax here. Feel free to order anything you want from room service.’ He’d shot her a glinting smile. ‘Too bad I’m not on the menu.’

And then he’d gone, the door clicking shut behind him, leaving Laurel alone for the rest of the afternoon. There was no reason to feel lonely, she’d told herself as she’d strolled through the sumptuous suite and then indulged in a long, lovely bubble bath. No reason to feel as if Cristiano was fobbing her off, putting her in her place. This was what she’d signed up for, what she’d agreed to. She was his mistress. This was what mistresses did.

But for a little while, sitting in the suite alone, picking at the sandwich she’d ordered from room service, she’d longed to go back to Illinois—to her grandfather’s house, to her job, to a life that made sense and made her feel useful and important—admittedly, in a small way, instead of lounging about like some useless ornament, waiting on Cristiano’s pleasure.

‘Bella.’ Cristiano’s voice was lazy with a hint of laughter as he rapped on the door again, startling Laurel out of her reflections. ‘At this rate we’re going to miss dinner.’

Laurel took a deep breath and banished those memories. Two weeks. Two weeks and then she would go back to that life, small and important as it was. She just needed to enjoy what she had and not ask for more. Not expect it to be different. ‘I’m coming.’

Laurel opened the door, a purely feminine pride stealing through her at the look of blatant heat in Cristiano’s eyes. It still amazed her that she affected him this way, just as he affected her. As always, he looked devastating in a tuxedo, the perfect foil to his ink-black hair and olive complexion.

‘You look wonderful,’ he said, the thrum of sincerity audible in his voice, then he took her hand and led her to the lifts.

The charity gala was being held in the hotel’s opulent ballroom, a room with frescoed walls and giant crystal chandeliers, now filled with a crowd of the most elegant people Laurel had ever seen. For a second she hung back, overawed by it all, but Cristiano tugged on her fingers and brought her into the room.

‘Remember,’ he murmured. ‘You’re with me.’

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