‘She’s different from your usual blonde bombshells,’ Savakis remarked.
‘Oh?’ Cristiano’s voice was dangerously quiet. ‘How is that?’ He did not like Savakis looking at Laurel as if she was something one purchased in a shop. He didn’t, he realised, like Savakis thinking of Laurel as simply his mistress, here today, most likely gone tomorrow.
None of this made any sense.
‘She’s intelligent and articulate, for one,’ Savakis replied mildly. ‘She’s beautiful, but not in a showy, obvious, clearly fake way.’ He gave Cristiano an amused glance. ‘Not to disparage your previous mistresses, of course. But Miss Forrester certainly seems like a cut above. Perhaps you’ll hold onto her for a while.’
‘Perhaps I will.’
Savakis registered Cristiano’s even tone with a little amused smile. ‘And if you don’t… I’m sure there are plenty of men who would happily take your place.’ His considering gaze flicked back to Laurel; she was laughing, looking incandescent and so very happy. ‘Myself included.’
‘Don’t even think about it,’ Cristiano warned him in a low growl. His fists bunched at his sides. Savakis looked surprised, and then he smiled.
‘So she is different,’ he murmured, and moved away.
Cristiano forced himself to relax. What was going on here? This was not how he conducted relationships. Affairs. Arrangements. He didn’t care about the women he was with. He barely thought about them beyond what they could provide in bed.
Laurel was different. And, even more alarmingly, he was different with Laurel.
Since she’d stumbled into his penthouse just three days ago she’d shaken him up. Reached him in a way no one else had, and certainly not a woman he’d slept with. He didn’t understand it. Didn’t understand himself. And he hated not feeling as if he was in control—of the situation and of himself.
But one thing he knew more than any other was that he was not happy with her across the room, chatting and laughing, looking as if she was having the time of her life. Without him.
With each step cementing his purpose, Cristiano strode across the room to join Laurel.
‘Ah, Ferrero.’ Michel Durand, the doctor who had spirited Laurel away, gave Cristiano what seemed a too-knowing smile. ‘Where did you find such a charming and intelligent woman? She is far from your usual date.’
Did everyone have to keep mentioning the attributes, or lack thereof, of his usual paramours? Cristiano smiled tightly. ‘She found me, as it happens.’
Laurel blushed and Durand glanced between them both, intrigued. ‘Is that so? It sounds as if there’s a story there.’
‘There is,’ Cristiano agreed smoothly, inserting himself into the little circle and sliding his arm around Laurel’s waist. ‘But it is not one I am going to tell you.’
‘Ah.’ Durand looked again between them, his gaze sliding speculatively from Laurel to Cristiano and then back again. ‘Very intriguing. We have been having a most illuminating conversation about rehabilitative care.’
‘A very important topic, I am sure.’ And one he knew nothing about. After a tiny pause the conversation started up again, swirling around him. He could hardly contribute, save for the generous cheque he would write for the hospice—that was something he was good for, at any rate.
But after a few moments of battling his own petty irritation Cristiano started to listen. He listened to Laurel’s impassioned plea for dignity in end-of-life care, and was amazed—although he acknowledged there was no real reason to be so surprised—at how articulate she was. How determined and passionate. And he felt something stir inside him, something that had been long and purposefully dormant.
It was strange and unsettling, this awakening inside him, parts of his soul stirring to life, his atrophied heart stretching and seeking. It was strange and deeply alarming, because he didn’t want to start caring about Laurel. Yet since she’d catapulted back into his life he’d been battling against just that.
If he was smart, he would let her go. Tell her to have a nice life and send her back to Illinois. But Cristiano knew he couldn’t do that. First, because she might be pregnant, and second, because he didn’t want to.