‘I enjoyed your performance tonight.’ Antonio grimly acknowledged the two men who’d almost caught him in a clinch with Bella.
He’d been a breath from kissing her. And if he had, he wouldn’t have been stopping any time soon. Because she’d wanted it too. They’d have ignited the attraction sizzling between them and neither could have stopped until it had been fully assuaged.
He never should have followed her to the stage. But his curiosity—and desire—had been too strong. She fascinated him and he’d felt compelled to apologise and explain himself at least in part to her. Something he never did in a personal situation, because there were no personal situations. Until now.
But now he stood face to face with the ‘blocker’ who’d warned Jean Luc off Bella. This Sebastian slimeball was her old company’s artistic director? That title meant power—over a ballerina in the company. Presumably he could offer promotion, or he could pass her over and give a prized part to another, more willing woman. Yet Bella hadn’t given him what he’d wanted. And she stood straight, head held high, bracing herself in defiance in front of them all.
Antonio had known she had strength. Now he knew she had integrity too.
‘Thank you.’ Erik half bowed. ‘I miss Bella though. I don’t dance anywhere near as well with anyone else.’
He’d been Bella’s ballet partner? Antonio watched as Erik slung his arm along her shoulders. Bella smiled at Erik but the look in her eyes wasn’t the same as when she looked at Antonio. There was no desire, no anger, no passion. There was only a sorrow-tinged amusement. She didn’t want the same thing from Erik as she wanted from him.
Even so, Antonio’s stomach tightened. The jealousy was ridiculous. He was no better than any of the other predators in suits, sniffing around her.
‘I must return to the other guests,’ he clipped, his jaw aching. ‘Excuse me.’
‘Of course,’ Bella murmured.
‘We have to stay at this thing for at least twenty minutes, right? Then we’re hitting your club.’ Erik’s voice carried as Antonio strode away. ‘I hear it’s full of beautiful young things.’
‘Absolutely. Wait ’til you see my star barman.’ Bella’s laughter bubbled as she went back to her performance.
During the reception in the backstage lounge Antonio watched her execute those choreographed moves in real life again. But his bitterness receded when he saw that blankness in her eyes. It told him everything. This was an astute businesswoman doing what she deemed necessary to make her work a success. Beneath that determination, she had needs and desires that weren’t being met.
So, thanks to her, did he.
An affair was impossible. But he wanted just one taste of the forbidden.
No one could know. And for that to happen, it could only happen the once.
Clandestine. Discreet. Finite.
There’d be no power games, threats or sleazy rewards. They would just be two people working out an intense attraction on their own terms and in private.
Five minutes later he watched her leave with her entourage of dancers. She was deliberately breaking royal protocol and leaving the reception before he, the Crown Prince, did. Showing him she didn’t give a damn.
Which might be true.
But she still wanted him.
BELLA RECOGNISED THE man immediately. Prince Antonio’s aide might be immaculately and discreetly attired, but he still didn’t fit in. His expression was as austere as his employer’s and he clearly wasn’t at her club to dance.
She wasn’t dancing either. She was playing the ‘exclusive VIP room’ card, trying to let Erik distract her, but not even his endless talk could keep her thoughts from one tall, dark and handsome prince for long. And now here was Antonio’s errand boy at almost three in the morning looking as if he was on a mission. Her pulse sprinted, swiftly overtaking the fast-thudding beat of the club anthem blaring from the state-of-the-art speakers.
From her seat on the mezzanine floor she saw him identify her bar manager. She immediately rose, discreetly radioing for that manager to escort the aide to the small private office at the back of the bar. She went down via the curling steps in the main dance space, taking her time to smile with some of her guests so no one could suspect how on edge she’d suddenly become. There were too many people and every single one of them had a smart phone with a camera app.