He’d never felt as content as he had in that moment. Only he’d been too dumb to recognise why that was. And it wasn’t about knowing he’d disarmed Accardi at the ball that had made him smile.
It was all about Bella—about making her happy.
This wasn’t anger he was feeling now. It was hurt. He was hurt that she hadn’t stayed, that she hadn’t wanted him to help her. And it was fear, that maybe she’d hadn’t really wanted him at all.
Yeah, he was terrified, because he was helplessly, utterly in love with her and he had no idea how to handle it. How could he get her to believe in him? She trusted no one. Now least of all him. And he didn’t blame her. He was such an arrogant, ignorant idiot, who’d been so wrapped up in his own self-sacrificing, he’d not realised that he was sacrificing Bella’s happiness too.
He picked up a phone and sent a message to his aide to cancel all his appointments for the day.
Because finally he’d figured out that his most important job of all was to love her.
NEEDLESS TO SAY the club was more popular than ever. Bella was reduced to barricading herself in her upstairs office. The number of people watching, wanting to get close to her, was terrifying. She was effectively a prisoner but she refused to call on Antonio to help her deal with them. He’d not made contact since she’d left the ball two days ago. It was over.
She’d employed extra security staff at short notice, enforced a strict entry policy and she’d hidden out at the top of the old fire station.
Coming to San Felipe had been a massive mistake. The paradise principality, all beauty and history, with its hint of pirate and sniff of Mediterranean magic, was supposed to have been the scene for her fresh start, but she hadn’t even managed a couple of months before monumentally stuffing up by falling in love with the most impossible of men.
It wasn’t because he was the Prince of the nation, but because he was so principled. He put duty before himself, put the needs of others before his own, and protected others regardless of the price to his own freedom, needs and desires.
She refused to let him do that for her. He didn’t love her.
She also refused to give in to her weakest urge and run away. She couldn’t. She was locked into the lease. She wasn’t going to let the club’s backer down. No quitting, no matter what. In a few weeks all the interest in her personal life would die down. The world would think they’d had a fling and that it was now over. Antonio had shaken free of her. And really, that was the truth.
She just had to grit her teeth and put up with the extra intrusion during that time.
But it wasn’t that intense public interest that she wanted to run from. It was the heartbreak. She’d truly, totally, fallen for him but while she’d been the object of his lust, the only other emotion she inspired in him was pity. She had his courtesy, his misguided sense of responsibility. And that was almost worse than anything.
Energy—frustration, anger, futility—surged within her. She kicked the leg of her desk. But heat coursed through her rather than pain—he’d pushed her onto that wide expanse of wood and teased her to her first orgasm.
She didn’t want to have it in her office any more. She might have to stay in his city for a couple of years but she didn’t need this reminder of his sensual power over her in her home. She’d move the desk out this second. No matter that it was almost midnight and her club was full of patrons. She’d push the wretched thing out onto the landing and get the bar staff to take it away in the morning.
She shoved the paperwork to the floor behind her. Then she tried to shove the thing towards the door. It was so heavy, it took ten minutes to move it even two inches and even then it scraped a deep scratch in the wooden floor and she was furious enough to scream.
‘Need some help?’
She jerked upright. Antonio was leaning in the now open doorway, watching with a soft smile curving the edge of his usually firm mouth. He was in jeans and tee, with stubble on his jaw, and his usually impeccable hair looked as if he’d been ruffling it with both hands for two hours. He had dark rings under his eyes as if he’d not slept in days and his pale eyes just burned right through to her vulnerable soul.