EDUARDO WAS TEASING the tiger. He shouldn’t. He was too close to losing control. But he couldn’t resist.
He wasn’t going to like what she’d come to say. He could read it in her diamond-bright eyes and firm-held mouth. On the plus side, he relished the fact that his nudity had shot her concentration. That made them even.
He didn’t want to fight. He was mentally worn out from the day’s revelations and resulting requirements, and he absolutely shouldn’t have kissed her before because it was all he could think about now.
He’d spent hours organising every damn detail and all he wanted now was for the next few to pass quickly so he could complete his plan. Then he could have her—how he wanted, where he wanted. All would work out. It had to.
‘You really are the most arrogant pri—’ she growled in a low, rusty voice.
‘Arrogant prince—yes.’ He readily admitted it. ‘We’re born that way.’ He reached past her for a towel, letting his hand brush her denim-clad thigh. ‘Now, tell me the problem—cold feet?’
‘I’m not marrying you tomorrow.’
He wrapped the towel round his waist and then just looked at her.
She stared back, obviously waiting for a reply, but he’d learned a few tricks from his ice-cold brother. When the silence grew too much for her to bear—as he had known it would—she started talking.
‘It’s a bad idea. You know it’s not necessary.’
He remained unmoved.
‘I can go away and take care of the baby. We don’t need to do this.’
She was so wrong.
‘You don’t need me?’ Anger clouded his vision. ‘What can you give this child alone?’ he asked, determined to remain calm. ‘You would travel to some distant place, put the child in daycare for all hours while you work to feed and shelter it?’
‘How is that worse than an army of nannies and a distant father the child will see for five minutes a day if it’s lucky?’
‘Why assume I’ll be a distant father?’
Her eyes flashed with disbelief.
His anger roiled at her rejection. Why did she judge him so harshly? She had no reason to, and yet she hadn’t given him a chance. Not once. Right from the beginning she’d kept the most important things from him. She hadn’t told him her name, hadn’t told him she was a virgin. She’d used him, then left him hanging. And then she hadn’t even told him she was expecting. Instead she’d tried to flee. Did she think that little of him?
‘You would deny your child’s birthright?’
‘You would ensure he or she missed out on nothing.’ Anger flushed her cheeks.
‘So...’ He nodded bitterly. ‘You only want cash from me.’
‘This isn’t about me or what I want.’ She glared at him.
‘The hell it isn’t.’ It damn well was about her. And him. And this insane pull they shared. She didn’t like it. Well, nor did he. But they were both going to have to get over it. This time he was getting it right.
‘This is about what’s best for our baby. Think about it.’ She switched to a calm tone that made him suspicious. ‘Together we can arrange for this child to have a quiet, happy life out of the spotlight. He or she wouldn’t suffer the burden of royal expectation or protocol. No duty to fulfil. No desire to be denied.’
Oh, she was smart—picking up on the smallest hint of discomfort within him and using it to bolster her argument. The fact that she was so astute invigorated him. But that she could so easily dismiss the idea that he might have anything more than money to offer burned.
‘But it could never be kept secret. Would you be happy to play the role of unmarried mother?’ he growled back, his temper slipping his hold because her words had struck hard. ‘Of fallen woman?’
‘This is the twenty-first century—children are born out of wedlock all the time. Kids grow up in sole-parent households all over the world—’
‘Not in the De Santis family,’ he interrupted harshly. ‘Honour above all else.’ He captured her hand in a hard grip and pulled her closer. He clamped his other arm around her. It felt damn good to touch her—even if she was spitting fire.
‘Honour?’ she snarled. ‘You call this sham wedding honourable? It is deceit.’
‘There is no deceit,’ he argued hotly. ‘We will be married for real. What is it that you want from me?’ he exploded, pushing her away from him so he could think. ‘I am doing what’s right. I am being reasonable. You want me to tie you up in chains and drag you to the altar? Would that make you feel better in some warped way? You want me to play lord and master?’