‘You intend to go down to the lobby, to face Rico Bavasso and his security, in my dressing gown? Because that is not a tactic I’d recommend you employ. It will end badly for you. Very badly indeed.’

‘I’ll take my chances,’ she said, her whole body taut and quivering, his robe trailing the ground.

‘That’s quite a risk you’re willing to take, then.’

‘And one I prefer.’

Her games were getting tiresome. What on earth did she possibly hope to gain from them? She had his interest already. Playing hard to get, or as if she were some offended innocent, was both pointless and aggravating. ‘Unfortunately it’s one I do not prefer,’ Cristiano said lazily. ‘The lift is locked, bella. You’re not going anywhere. Not until I say so.’

CHAPTER THREE

LAUREL WHIRLED AROUND, the breath leaving her lungs in one almighty whoosh. Cristiano lounged against the window, his hands in his pockets, looking for all the world as if he were out for a summer stroll. Not as if he’d just threatened her. Not as if he’d just intimated that she was as captive in this hotel suite as she would be in Rico Bavasso’s.

‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire, it seems,’ she managed, trying to keep her voice from shaking. Cristiano was not hiding the heat that simmered in his eyes, but she could hardly believe it. Ten years ago he’d batted her away like an annoying inconvenience. So now he wanted her, and she had no say in the matter?

‘Fire has much to recommend it.’

She stared at him, caught between confusion and outrage. Was he teasing her? She couldn’t believe that he wanted her badly enough now to keep her captive in his penthouse. She couldn’t believe he wanted her at all. He had his pick of the most beautiful and glamorous women in the world, and she was an inexperienced hick from nowhere, Illinois. What could he possibly see in her?

‘What do you want, Cristiano?’ she asked slowly, not entirely sure she wanted to hear the answer.

He lifted his chin, his silver-grey eyes blazing, but with ice. Cold and hot at the same time—but didn’t it feel like a burn, when you touched something icy and incredibly cold? That was how Cristiano felt to her. A cold blaze of danger.

‘It’s simple,’ he said. ‘I want you.’

He couldn’t put it more plainly than that, yet still she was sceptical. ‘Why me? You could have any woman you wanted.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Why should either of us pretend otherwise? You’re in the celebrity gossip magazines often enough.’

‘Why, bella, are you keeping tabs on me?’

‘It would be hard not to, considering how often you feature in the press—and please don’t call me bella.’

‘All right. Laurel.’ He spoke quietly, with a sincerity she hadn’t heard before, his tone of voice low and heartfelt, affecting her in a way that his barely leashed looks had not. That tone left her feeling unsteady. Uncertain. And, shamefully, wanting.

‘Well?’ she demanded unsteadily. ‘Why?’

‘Why do I want you?’

‘Yes.’ She could hardly believe they were having this conversation. Cristiano’s tone made it sound as if he were chatting about the weather.

‘Why not?’ Cristian answered with a shrug.

‘That’s it? “Why not”?’ She stared at him, trying to fathom what was going on behind that inscrutable face, the negligent shrug of his powerful shoulders. Was it simply that a woman was available, a woman who he obviously assumed made free with her body, so of whom he intended to take advantage? The thought made her feel physically sick.

‘You take issue with my response?’ he enquired.

‘Yes. You’re practically threatening me—’

‘There are no threats, Laurel.’ Cristiano’s voice cut across her, quick, lethal and very, very sure. ‘Nothing I have said or done is a threat. And nothing will be.’

She flung one arm towards the lift doors. ‘And the locked doors?’

‘The last thing you want is for anyone to have free access to my flat.’

‘Because of Bavasso?’

‘I believe you underestimate him. Admittedly, he is able to turn on the charm when he wishes, but he can be a vicious man.’

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