LAUREL SHIFTED WHERE she stood, trying to ease the ache in her feet. Stilettos were not for the faint of heart, and she’d worn them five days running. For the last week she and Cristiano had been touring his hotels across Europe—first Paris, then London, Milan and now Barcelona. He’d been checking on his managers, doing business, and she’d been enjoying seeing places in Europe she’d never thought she’d have the opportunity to see.
Ever since their surprisingly honest conversation after the charity gala, things had shifted between them. They weren’t in love, and Laurel knew better than to start painting rainbows in the sky or building fairy-tale castles. She didn’t even want to, because she knew dreaming of a happy ending with Cristiano was foolish to the extreme. But she’d started to relax and enjoy their time together, and he had as well.
They’d chatted, laughed, teased and talked. And made love. Sex was no longer a transaction, but a sharing, an expression…but of what? That was a question Laurel didn’t let herself ask, much less answer.
They might have made some much-needed strides in their love affair, but Cristiano was still a man who guarded his back and his heart. Trust didn’t come easily, and love didn’t come at all. But at least Laurel was going in with her eyes wide open; she had no intention of falling in love with Cristiano Ferrero. The trouble was, he was starting to make that rather difficult.
‘Just another few minutes,’ he murmured as he came to her side at the cocktail party they were attending—yet another social occasion that doubled as networking for Cristiano. ‘You look like your feet are killing you.’
‘They are,’ Laurel admitted. ‘I’m not used to wearing high heels this much. For work, it’s usually sensible lace-ups.’
‘I’ll give you a foot-rub later,’ Cristiano promised, and her stomach swirled with pleasure and pure, simple happiness. Yes, Cristiano was giving her far too many reasons to fall in love with him.
They made their farewells a few minutes later and stepped outside into a balmy Spanish night, the scent of orange blossom on the evening air.
A limo was waiting for them, as it always was, and Laurel slid into the sumptuous leather interior with a contented sigh. A week of this and she’d become accustomed to luxury.
Cristiano settled in next to her and reached for her leg, lifting her foot onto his lap. He slipped off her stiletto with a wince.
‘You could kill someone with one of these things.’
Laurel leaned her head back against the seat, revelling in the feel of his powerful thumbs rotating circles on the balls of her feet. ‘I practically did. I embedded one in Rico Bavasso’s palm.’
‘Did you?’ Cristiano let out an admiring laugh. ‘Served him right. No wonder he was rather put out, though.’
‘Do you think he’s really got the message?’ Laurel asked, even though the last thing she wanted to talk about was Rico Bavasso.
‘Undoubtedly. He’s attached himself to a French singer—some wannabe pop star.’
‘He has? That was quick.’ She frowned. ‘Although I don’t particularly like the thought of him inflicting himself on some other woman. Do you think…is he really dangerous?’
‘He attacked you, didn’t he?’ Cristiano’s thumbs paused on the balls of her feet. ‘But I might have exaggerated his need for revenge.’
She nearly jerked her foot out of his grasp. ‘What?’
‘I had some real concern, but…’ Cristiano’s smile was unrepentant. ‘I wanted to keep you to myself for a little longer, and Bavasso provided a convenient excuse.’
She laughed, relaxing against the seat. A few days ago she would have been outraged by his confession. Now, in the security of their relationship—and, yes, she used that word with care—she only felt amused. ‘I’m glad to know that now.’ Cristiano continued his massage and Laurel let out a groan of pleasure.
‘I will never wear heels like these again, ever.’
‘What about the event in Madrid tomorrow?’
‘There’s another event?’ She couldn’t keep the disappointment out of her voice. The last week had been a lovely whirlwind, but she was tired.