They were both hurt and lonely.
She placed her hand on his chest and looked up at him, willing to accept however it had to be, as long as it could happen again. Just the once more.
She barely had a chance to hear his strained mutter before his lips were on hers.
Passion burst free at first chance. She wrapped her arms around his neck, wriggling closer for more heavenly contact. His arms tightened, lifting her clear off her feet, and she moaned. She never wanted this kiss to end. Always he made her feel so good, filling her with that incomparable bliss. Dangerously addictive and too good to deny. She rocked against him, using her body to blatantly offer him everything. Right here. Right now. She was beyond caring.
‘Bella, we can’t,’ he muttered.
‘We can,’ she pleaded. ‘Just quickly. So quick.’
He touched her, growling between his teeth as he felt her readiness. ‘Without protection?’
She bit back her own moan and vehemently shook her head. ‘You think I’d ever make the same mistake as my mother? Contraception is covered.’
He stared at her another second and then crushed her mouth with his. The kiss was nothing but raw frustration. But then he tore from her—lifting his head to look down at her, holding her in place so she couldn’t rub against him any more. She felt his tension morphing back to that impenetrable self-control. He had no intention of having his way with her here and now.
The disappointment was appallingly deep. Again.
‘I’ve missed you,’ he said.
She melted. His completely. But she made herself pull back and stand on her own two feet. ‘I’d better get back out there,’ she replied, determined to be as strong as he.
‘You’d better redo your lipstick first,’ he replied, flashing a wicked smile.
‘And you’d better remove it.’ She eyed his pristine white collar meaningfully. ‘Before you end up wearing more.’
His hands loosened from her waist and he stepped further into the beautiful powder room, allowing her space. ‘I’m sorry Salvatore Accardi is here tonight. He is too loud.’
Bella shrugged as she opened up her small evening purse and stepped forward to check her make-up in the gold-framed mirror. Her fingers shook.
‘Does he ever talk to you?’ Antonio watched her carefully restore the glossy sheen to her lips.
‘He only talks about me.’ She grimaced at her reflection. ‘He thinks all I want is money from him.’
‘And do you?’
She turned and sent him a sharp glance. ‘I’d rather starve.’
‘I saw him look at you. Then blank you,’ Antonio said.
Embarrassment burned through her again and she turned away, wishing Antonio couldn’t still see her face in the mirror. ‘The most cordial we’ve been in years.’
‘Don’t try to make light of it.’
‘He doesn’t hurt me.’
‘Don’t lie to me,’ he said softly. ‘Go ahead and give him a hard time. Just don’t make a mess.’
She added a last swipe of gloss. ‘I’m not here to give him a hard time. I want nothing to do with him. I don’t care what he thinks or says or does.’
Antonio was silent a moment. ‘I will make arrangements for tonight.’
She put her lipstick back in her small purse and then turned. ‘I will deal only with you and Matteo. No one else.’ But she would give him that.
‘Thank you.’ He cupped her face and gazed down at her for a long moment, as if reading her thoughts. But he resisted her silent request to kiss her again.
‘I must go now,’ he said apologetically and then swiftly left the room via another door.
Bella turned back to her reflection and tried to think calm thoughts to reduce the telltale colour in her cheeks. But flickers of excitement shot through her veins. She wanted him again. Couldn’t and wouldn’t say no to him or herself.
Maybe that made her his concubine. But she would take nothing else from him. Not a penny, a dress or a jewel, not a thing. And she was not his friend. Only his lover. And only for one more night.
THE HOURS THAT night stretched for ever. For the first time since she’d opened the club, she couldn’t wait to close it. As soon as she’d seen off the last of her employees, she stood in the doorway. It was still dark, but in another hour or so the sky would lighten and the sun rise. A black car slowly cruised down the street towards her. Unmarked but opulent, it pulled in just by the main door, parking illegally. The driver’s tinted window wound down a couple of inches. She’d expected Matteo, but it was Antonio.