He paced ahead of his aides, desperate to burn the energy building up inside, glancing at some of the other women present. They were as beautifully attired, but he felt nothing. It wasn’t clothes, jewels, hair or make-up attracting him. It was that indefinable, unique essence. Lust. He grimaced. Why couldn’t he just shake it off?
A throng waited for him to receive them during the interval. He listened and asked a few courteous questions. He’d got through five guests when Bella walked in alone. A murmur rippled across the room as people reacted. The crowd parted, giving her a halo effect as she moved into the middle of it. She didn’t look to where he stood at the farthest end, but he was certain she knew exactly where he was. Her ‘not looking’ was too deliberate.
Now the crowd’s attention was divided—half watched him, half watched her. The flamboyant Spanish entrepreneur who’d financed her club scurried over to speak with her. But it was the wolfish man trying to manoeuvre his way towards Bella who snagged Antonio’s full attention—and animosity. Jean Luc Giraud was a predator out to amass as much money, and seduce as many women, as possible. But the man barely got five paces before his path was stopped by another, equally predatory-looking male.
Antonio stilled and watched closely. The ability to communicate was vital to his work and long ago he’d learned to lip-read. It was a useful skill, never more so than now.
‘Don’t even bother.’ The taller man blocked Jean Luc’s path.
Antonio couldn’t see Jean Luc’s response, but the blocker was facing him, and every word was clearly drawled with arrogant laziness as he answered.
‘She won’t give you what you want.’
Antonio’s gut clenched. He waited while Jean Luc responded. The blocker shook his head in mock pity.
‘Go ahead and try. She’ll flirt, but won’t follow through.’
Jean Luc turned, enabling Antonio to see the last of his response.
‘Exactly. Looks hot, but is colder than an icicle. When you get her alone she drops the act and refuses. She’s a fake. Like her injury was fake. She couldn’t handle the demands of the company. The second she got hurt she was out of there so she could become the club queen.’
Red mist momentarily fogged Antonio’s vision, blinding him to whatever the asshole said next. That this fool had been lucky to kiss Bella and made such a muff of it that she’d shut down? That he’d not treated her how she ought to have been?
Once more he remembered her look of surprise when that passion exploded between them. How often had she not got the pleasure she should have?
Compassion burned at the injustice. Just because he didn’t indulge didn’t mean he thought others shouldn’t, but it should always be good. Wasn’t that the point? And if it wasn’t any good, then of course she was going to say no. And the jerk here should just—
He turned to the man beside him, forcing on a polite smile. ‘Forgive me, I was thinking of something else.’ He drew in a breath when he realised who had stepped up to speak with him. ‘Salvatore.’ He inclined his head, making a conscious effort to unclench his fists.
‘You’re enjoying the show?’ Salvatore Accardi asked with an obsequious bow.
‘It is nice to see families out enjoying themselves together celebrating the island.’ Antonio faintly underlined the word families. ‘I enjoy San Felipe’s festival season very much.’
‘As do I.’ Salvatore smiled. ‘I’m sure you remember my daughter Francesca.’
His other daughter. The legitimate one who was a few months older than Bella.
Antonio turned slightly. Francesca Accardi was taller than Bella, her hair a glossy brunette, her slim figure beautifully dressed. ‘Of course.’
‘It is an honour to be here tonight, Your Highness.’ She smiled brightly. ‘The performances have been amazing and I’m sure the rest of the concert will be as incredible.’
‘I’m glad you are enjoying it.’ Antonio bowed, about to step away.
But Francesca suddenly spoke again. ‘My father’s new boat came into the marina after the unveiling of the new plans this morning.’