‘A day or two at most. Bavasso will have moved on by then, no doubt.’ He let his gaze linger. ‘As for clothes… I’m not at all sure they’ll be necessary.’ She gasped and he laughed. ‘Relax, bella. I’m only joking.’ Sort of. ‘I’ll arrange for some clothes to be brought up to you.’
‘Thank you,’ she said stiffly and looked away. Cristiano propped one shoulder against the floor-to-ceiling window, taking the time to study her. The puppyish roundness of her teenage years had melted away, leaving behind a lithe yet curvaceous body. She was slender, verging on petite, yet her legs seemed endless and golden, her hair a cascade of colours, from chestnut brown to tawny orange to pure gold. She must pay her hairdresser a fortune.
‘So where is home, out of interest?’ he asked. ‘Since it’s obviously not Rome.’
She darted him a quick, suspicious glance before answering, ‘Illinois.’
‘Illinois?’ That surprised him, although he knew she and her mother were American. His father had picked up Elizabeth Forrester in a third-rate casino in Miami and had married her just four days later. ‘Chicago?’ He would have expected Los Angeles or New York, somewhere where she could be seen and admired—and where she could find a sugar daddy.
‘No, a small town you’ve never heard of.’ Her tone was repressive. ‘Are you going to order those clothes?’
‘You’re being quite demanding, for a woman who has nothing to offer… Unless you do have something to offer?’ He intentionally let a note of innuendo into his voice and saw how her pupils flared in response. This was so easy.
‘My gratitude,’ Laurel bit out. She turned her head away, refusing to look at him.
‘Ah, well, the question remains, how is one’s gratitude expressed?’ He enjoyed toying with her, enjoyed the way her breasts rose and fell with every agitated breath. A rosy blush swept across her collarbone. She had the most delectable skin, all golden cream and roses. He couldn’t wait to touch it. Taste it.
‘I would hope a simple thank you would do.’ In one abrupt movement she rose from the sofa, pulling the huge robe more tightly around her slender frame. ‘I don’t understand you, Cristiano. An hour ago I was attacked. Why are you toying with me like this? Do you enjoy being cruel?’
Annoyance sparked. ‘You call this cruel?’ He took a step closer to her, noting the gold sparks in her eyes, as well as the ones firing between them. ‘How, bella, am I toying with you?’
‘You know.’ She kept her face averted, her breath coming in quick, ragged bursts. She didn’t want to say it. Admit it. And Cristiano realised he very much wanted her to.
‘I don’t know, actually. I need you to enlighten me.’
She drew a tortured breath, looking anywhere but at him. ‘Fine. You’re almost sounding as if…as if you expect me to…something to happen between us.’
‘Something is already happening between us, bella,’ Cristiano answered softly. ‘Can’t you feel it?’ He certainly could. He felt it in the tautening of the air, the heightened awareness he had of her: of every draw and tear of her breathing; the pearly sheen of her skin; the way his loins tightened when she touched her lips with her tongue.
‘I just want to go home,’ she said, her voice low. ‘This isn’t my world. I don’t belong here.’
‘You were certainly acting as if you belonged here earlier in the evening.’
Finally she looked at him, horrified realisation and hurt flashing in her aquamarine eyes. ‘You saw…?’
‘I saw everything. You on the casino floor with Rico Bavasso—practically sitting in his lap, laughing at his jokes, letting him paw you while your mother watched. She taught you well, I suppose.’
She shook her head, curls bouncing. ‘It wasn’t like that…’
‘It was exactly like that and you know it,’ he answered, a hint of steel entering his voice. ‘Now what I’m wondering is, why are you acting like an outraged virgin now?’
She let out a cry and whirled away, stalking towards the lift doors. Cristiano watched her, darkly amused, as she pushed the button.