‘Cristiano…’

‘I said, don’t talk.’ He trailed his hands along her rib cage and then anchored her hips against him. Laurel couldn’t keep a moan from escaping her as he pushed against her, and a blaze of pleasure pulsed between her thighs. She threw out a hand towards the hall table to brace herself and Cristiano laughed softly.

‘You’re not going to fall. Trust me, bella.’

She heard the sound of him unzipping his trousers and then taking a condom from his pocket and, with a strength she hadn’t expected, she wrenched away, stumbling over her dress before she righted herself. Her breath came in ragged pants as she turned to look at him.

Colour slashed his sharp cheekbones and his eyes glittered with silvery, metallic intent.

‘I may be your mistress,’ Laurel gasped out, ‘but I am not your whore.’ And then, not trusting herself to say anything more, she stalked towards the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

A shudder went through her and Laurel forced herself to blink back tears. What a way to ruin what had been a happy evening. What a way to make her feel excruciatingly cheap. Laurel searched for comfort clothes, but she didn’t have any. Sexy nightgowns, provocative lingerie, coordinated outfits, evening gowns. Not a T-shirt or pair of comfy yoga pants to be found.

With a sudden cry she tipped a drawer out and let the silky garments spill onto the floor. For good measure she kicked them, lobbing them into the corner of the room. She hated everything about her situation here, and even herself, for responding to Cristiano even when he treated her like the trollop he seemed to think she still was.

With another cry she yanked the evening gowns off their padded hangers and threw them in the corner with the rest of the slinky clothes and lingerie.

They might have cost a fortune, but she didn’t want them. Didn’t want any of it. Ten more days, she told herself. Ten more days and then she never had to see Cristiano again.

Damn it, why did that thought hurt?

A knock sounded on the door. ‘Go away,’ Laurel called raggedly, the words ripped from her. ‘Go away, Cristiano.’

She reached for the terrycloth dressing gown hanging on the bathroom door and shrugged into it. Then she pulled the pins from her hair, flinging them on to the dressing table. She’d really been looking forward to tonight. Excited to talk about something that mattered, to feel like more than a mistress. But Cristiano seemed determined to remind her of her lowly status.

Why?

‘Laurel,’ Cristiano called, his voice low. ‘I’m sorry.’

She stilled at the words, which sounded surprisingly heartfelt. She didn’t open the door, though.

‘Laurel? Did you hear me?’

‘Yes. I’m not sure I care, though.’ Which was a lie.

‘Please open the door.’

‘Why? So you can finish what you started? I’m not interested, Cristiano, and, no matter what our arrangement, I’m not available on demand.’ She choked out the words, hating herself. Hating everything.

‘I’m not… I just want to talk. Please.’

Laurel hesitated, then, because she was so angry and she wanted someone to yell at, never mind what Cristiano wanted to say, she stalked to the door and threw it open. ‘Fine.’

He turned and walked into the living area and, after a few seconds where she struggled to control her temper and regain her composure, she followed him.

Cristiano stood with his back to her, having shed his tuxedo jacket and bow tie. Laurel tightened the sash on her dressing gown and stiffened her shoulders. ‘Well? What did you want to say to me?’

‘I am sorry.’

‘You said that already.’ She was in no mood to be soft and understanding. ‘Although I actually question what you’re even sorry for. You have the uncanny ability to make me feel cheap without even trying.’

‘Actually,’ Cristiano said as he turned around, ‘I was trying.’

‘Oh.’ Laurel blinked, absorbing that awful statement. ‘Is that somehow supposed to make me feel better?’

‘No.’ Cristiano rubbed his jaw. He looked haggard suddenly, the stubble glinting on his jaw, his eyes shadowed. Haggard and yet still so impossibly sexy, with a few studs on his tuxedo shirt undone, revealing the lean column of his throat, the bronzed perfection of his chest. But she couldn’t think about that now. ‘I was just stating a fact,’ he said.

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