But his attention was still on her body. ‘What will you be like? Will you close your eyes or will you let me see you raw in your ecstasy?’
‘You’re wondering what kind of performance you’ll get?’ Her frustration moved to anger.
His eyes lifted, trapping hers, and it was all serious intensity. ‘I’m not interested in performance. I’m not interested in the princess thing or anything of the trappings. I’m interested in what’s underneath.’
She knew he didn’t mean her clothes. ‘What if there’s nothing?’
That stopped him. Their eyes met—stripped of desire, forced to reveal painful honesty.
He spoke, the words ground out slowly as he frowned. ‘I don’t want to believe that.’ He reached his hand across the seats and spread his fingers slightly to the left of her breastbone. The palm of his hand pressed against her heart. His hand was big and strong and she knew he could hold her heart in that one hand alone.
The thought was scary.
He pushed, fingers digging a little into her breast as he emphasised his words. ‘I’d like to think there might be things in there that you don’t let anyone see.’
‘Why, James.’ She laughed, wanting to push him back, not wanting him to feel how much faster her heart beat when he touched her, when he pried too close. ‘You’re a romantic.’
The momentary openness in his gaze was shuttered. His hand withdrew. ‘I’m not, princess. I’ve already told you the way I play it. So don’t delude yourself about me. You do enough of that in other areas of your life already.’
It was OK for him to challenge her, but not for her to question him? All she wanted was the same as what he wanted from her—to find out what was underneath. Yes, he was charming and witty and urbane, but not very far under the surface was this layer of steel that hid a depth to his personality. She wanted to understand why he kept it so reserved. But he wasn’t going to let her. So why should she grant him things that he wasn’t about to give her?
She knew he wanted her. But she also knew he didn’t want to. And while she knew the reasons why an affair with him was a bad idea for her, she didn’t know his reasons. Couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to want her so badly. She didn’t quite know how to respond to that.
All the heat faded and she truly did feel cold.
He draped his blanket on top of hers, giving her the extra layer. ‘You should get some rest. You’ve got a big night ahead of you tomorrow.’
She felt the finality of his words and got the message. The fooling around was finished. Light, naughty talk was all it was—he might have said he wanted to see what was beneath her surface, but it was just words.
He certainly didn’t see her real self, not right now—and she’d never be able to show him. Not when she knew he wasn’t interested in anything more than burning out the flame.
But she still wanted him. And if she was going to have him, then she would make sure he was a slave to it as much as she was.
When they finally arrived on Aristo it was early on the morning of the party. James headed straight into meetings with the contractors and Liss buzzed straight to the ballroom to make sure all the plans were in place. The catering company had use of the kitchen and she was pleased to see all the food had arrived and was being prepared with the finishing touches she’d requested.
With a satisfied air she watched for a while as the army of florists worked. The building itself was spectacular. She’d just added some exquisite details. There was no way it wouldn’t be a success.
In the late afternoon she dressed with care but with speed, hyped on adrenalin. Underneath she bubbled with the kind of excitement that came only from anticipation of what delights the evening might bring. The evening when James would be wearing a tux and, fingers crossed, be totally wowed by all her efforts.
Surely, once the party was done, she deserved a little reward? Technically her work for him would be done, so she could kind of argue that he was no longer her boss. And no one else from the Sydney office was here. No one would know…
She paused in the doorway, the earliest she’d ever arrived at a ball, but as she was effectively the hostess she had to be here to greet her guests. She ran her hands over her hips—smoothing the sensuous fabric with satisfaction. She’d gone with black—classic, elegant. A one-off designer number—sexy and sophisticated, and she’d been saving it for just such an occasion.
James saw her immediately; for a moment they looked each other over and the electric attraction pulsed between them. The flash of heat was so intense she wanted to bail out on the ball and have him in her room right then. Nobody, but nobody wore a tux the way James Black did.