‘You want to swim with them?’ He was smiling at her, looking the most carefree and vital it made her heart flip in her chest.

‘Can we?’

‘Sing to them,’ he said, handing her a dive mask he’d stowed in his vest. ‘They’ll come check you out.’

‘Sing?’

‘Anything.’ He chuckled at her look.

But she slipped into the water and tried what he suggested. To her amazement three of the curious creatures swiftly circled around and around her. She floated face-down, eyeing the beautiful animals until she had to lift her head and gasp for breath. Antonio surfaced next to her, smiling triumphantly.

‘Antonio.’ She breathed hard. ‘They’re amazing.’

‘I know.’ He hauled himself back onto the jet ski and leaned down to give her a hand. ‘You know they’re one of the few creatures to mate just for the fun of it?’ He chuckled. ‘They feed and play and make love all day. Not such a bad life, is it?’

‘Not bad at all.’

She watched as he looked out over the beautiful waters again and that carefree expression slowly faded from his eyes. He glanced at her ruefully. ‘We’d better get back to the boat. Breakfast will be waiting.’

Their time was almost up.

Back on board, she showered, disappointed when he didn’t join her in there. In the bedroom the clothes she’d arrived in were somehow cleaned and pressed and waiting for her. She blushed at the thought of those nameless, invisible servants knowing she was here and no doubt knowing why. She dressed then went to the lounge. Antonio sat at the laden table, already showered and dressed and waiting for her.

‘I’ll never forget that, thank you so much.’ She smiled across at him.

He had been so kind to her, she’d never forget any of it.

For a split second he looked as happy as she felt, but then that reserve smoothed his features and that was when she couldn’t hold back any more. She didn’t want to see the vibrant man of the night return to that frozen state now they were about to leave.

‘You shouldn’t be alone,’ she said softly.

Antonio carefully put his tumbler of juice back down on the table. ‘Pardon?’

‘I said, you shouldn’t be alone. You should laugh more often. You deserve more happiness in your life.’

His blood iced.

‘Do you feel sorry for me?’ he asked quietly, but he was so close to the edge of anger.

Last night hadn’t lasted long enough. While she’d slept, he’d watched, like some sick stalker. But he’d been unable to rest any more, too conscious of time ticking. And now?

It wasn’t a clock but a bomb ticking. He did not want her to go there with him. He didn’t want to hear that lie the world believed. Not from her lips. He didn’t want her to believe that damn pious story. He was unworthy of her empathy and her generosity. He was unworthy of her.

‘Of course I do,’ she replied simply. ‘I’m very sorry you lost her.’

Alessia.

His gut clenched.

‘Is that why you’re here now, because you pity me?’ He stood up from the table and walked away so he couldn’t see her face. ‘You’ve been willing to let me do whatever I want with you because you want to make me feel better?’

He heard her small gasp of shock.

‘Why are you so angry?’ She stood too, following him to the centre of the room, standing defiantly straight and in his face as always. ‘I understand you don’t want to be hurt again—’

‘You understand nothing.’ It wasn’t about him getting hurt. ‘It isn’t about me. It isn’t fair to ask anyone to share the kind of life I lead.’

‘That’s just an excuse.’ She actually rolled her eyes at him. ‘Your kind of life can be managed. Media can be managed.’

‘Like how that worked out for you and your mother?’

She flinched but the cut didn’t stop her. ‘Look, I know I’m not the right woman for you, but she’s out there. You’re just too afraid to find her.’

Hearing her say that infuriated him. Did she really think she was somehow not worthy of him? She had no idea who the worthy one in this room was. It sure as hell wasn’t him.


Tags: Natalie Anderson Billionaire Romance
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