‘Why not?’ Cristiano challenged, his voice turning soft, seductive. ‘You are very beautiful. I am merely stating fact.’ His gaze lingered, caressing her, making her respond. She felt heat unfurl in her belly and pool between her thighs, a treacherous and most inconvenient heat she was doing her best to deny.

‘Why is it difficult?’ she persisted, trying to pretend he wasn’t affecting her. That a blush wasn’t sweeping in a scorching tidal wave over her entire body.

‘Because Bavasso is an unpleasant man and he is likely to make things difficult for anyone who helps someone who thwarted him. I have no doubt he will have his security detail waiting at your hotel. If someone shows up asking for your room key, they’ll know.’

‘But couldn’t you…couldn’t someone be discreet?’

Cristiano’s eyes narrowed. ‘You might feel entirely at ease with putting an innocent person in such a situation, but I am not.’

Laurel swayed as she was hit afresh by what an awful mess she’d managed to get herself into. Feeling as if her legs might give way beneath her, she walked to the sofa across from Cristiano and sank onto it. ‘What am I going to do?’ she whispered, more to herself than to Cristiano. She dropped her head into her hands and closed her eyes. ‘What am I going to do?’

* * *

Cristiano suppressed the pang of sympathy he felt for Laurel. The sight of her sitting there with her head in her hands, her hair falling in a golden-brown waterfall around her face, her robe gaping open to reveal slender, golden thighs… What man wouldn’t be affected? Not just by sympathy, but by desire. He suppressed that too. It was inconvenient at the moment, although he’d noted Laurel’s obvious response to him with interest. He’d also noted her attempt to cover it. For whatever reason, she didn’t want him knowing how he affected her, and she hadn’t made any attempt to ask to stay, so what game was she playing?

‘The answer seems fairly obvious,’ he remarked as he strolled to the window and gazed out at the view of Rome’s skyline by night. ‘You stay here.’

He glanced back at Laurel; she raised her head, her aquamarine eyes wide with shock, the exact colour of the sunlit Aegean Sea. Her hair hung in damp ringlets around her heart-shaped face and her robe—his robe, actually—had slid off one shoulder, revealing its perfect curve.

‘Stay here?’ She frowned, her expression of confusion almost comical and definitely suspect. She was putting it on quite thickly for his benefit, and why? This was surely what she’d wanted. What she’d been hoping for. He was a far better bet than Bavasso. So did she think her reluctance would somehow earn her brownie points or, heaven help him, trust?

He trusted no one, especially not a woman like Laurel Forrester.

‘Yes,’ Cristiano answered, his voice clipped, touched with impatience. ‘Stay here.’

‘For how long?’

‘As long as is necessary.’ He paused, letting his gaze sweep over her once more. The robe gaped at her chest and he could see the shadowy vee between her breasts, almost glimpse their sweet, apple-like curves. ‘As long as I want you to stay.’ She drew in a quick, sharp breath, colour flooding her face. She almost looked outraged. ‘You don’t need to look quite so bewildered,’ Cristiano drawled.

‘Why shouldn’t I be bewildered?’ Laurel demanded. ‘It almost sounded as if…’

‘As if what?’ Cristiano prompted silkily. She bit her lip and looked away.

‘Nothing.’

Cristiano almost laughed at that. She didn’t want to overplay her hand. She was so obvious, it amused him. Almost. The trouble was, he hated game playing. All his liaisons had been conducted with discretion and honesty, from their businesslike beginning to the expected end of the transaction. This would be no different, but he’d humour her for a little while…just to see where she’d go with this. What exactly she was trying to get? How much?

‘So how long would that be?’ Laurel asked, straightening as she drew the robe closed at her throat, every inch the outraged virgin. ‘Because I don’t even have any clothes.’


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