To her surprise, he reached in, drew his coat together so that not an inch of her flesh was displayed and then he simply plucked her out of the seat.

“Theron, I can walk,” she protested.

“Silence,” he ordered as he strode in the doors, ignoring the curious stares of passersby.

She frowned but settled wearily against his chest. He got into the elevator and stabbed at the button for her floor. Okay, she got that he was mad. Furious even. But he seemed to be taking it personally. Why wasn’t he off somewhere with his new fiancée?

A fresh stab of pain soared through, taking her breath with it. She closed her eyes against the single truth that prevented her from having the man she loved. He belonged to someone else.

“Bella?”

His voice had changed, softened, and it reflected uncertainty. She pried open her eyes to see him regarding her with concern.

“Are you all right? Did something happen?” he demanded. “Did someone hurt you or threaten you?”

She shook her head, unable to speak past the lump in her throat. For a moment she could immerse herself in the fantasy that she did belong to him, that he cared about her in a deeper capacity than as a guardian, someone tasked to see to her welfare.

But it was a lie. It was all a lie.

“Then why?” he muttered.

The elevator opened, and with a shake of his head, he strode off and down to her room. Neither of them had a key, but then he didn’t waste time trying to find one. He simply kicked loudly, instead of putting her down to knock. But who would open it? No one was there.

To her eternal surprise, and there had been many tonight, the door opened and a man who had security detail written all over him opened the door to admit Theron.

The surprises didn’t end there. As soon as Theron walked in, a cry sounded from across the room.

“Bella! Are you all right?”

Isabella yanked her head left to see Sadie running across the room. Finally Theron let her down, and Sadie threw her arms around her.

“What are you doing here?” Isabella whispered. “Your party, Sadie. You weren’t supposed to miss your party.”

Sadie flushed guiltily. “The party doesn’t matter. I should have never let you do this for me, Bella.”

“In this we agree,” Theron said stiffly. “It was irresponsible and dangerous. It’s not a place that either of you should ever go into.”

“But you missed your chance,” Isabella said softly, ignoring Theron’s outburst.

Sadie smiled sadly. “There’ll be others. Besides, it wasn’t worth the risk you took. I’m sorry.”

“What happened?” Isabella asked in confusion. “Why are you still here and,” she said, turning to face Theron, “how did he know where to find me?”

“Your security detail phoned me, as they should have,” Theron said darkly.

Isabella turned back to Sadie. “How did they know?”

Sadie looked down and sighed. “When I left your room for the party, one of your guys immediately stopped me. They’d obviously seen you, posing as me, leave earlier and as we planned, never assumed it was you. However, they knew the real me hadn’t entered your room, so they were suspicious. I had to tell them everything,” she said uncomfortably. “They made me remain here while they went to get you.” She glanced angrily at the man who was still standing by the door. “I had to endure a lecture from him the entire time you were gone.”

“It’s good that someone tried to talk sense into you,” Theron bit out. He nodded toward the security man. “See that she gets home safely, and remain on watch to see that she doesn’t go back to that club.”

“But I work there!” Sadie exclaimed.

“Not any longer,” Theron said with a growl. “I won’t have Bella traipsing through some strip club because her friend works there.”

“But—” Sadie sputtered even as she was escorted away by the security detail.

When the door closed behind them, Theron turned to glare at Isabella. He stepped forward, and she stepped back uneasily. His scowl became more ferocious as he reached to detain her.

“Now, Bella, I’ll deal with you,” he said in a soft, dangerous voice.

Theron’s hands curled around her shoulders as he yanked Isabella to him. The coat she’d held so tightly around her fell to the floor, and her breasts thrust obscenely into his chest.

She couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze. If she did, he’d know. He’d imm

ediately see everything she now wanted to hide. Things he hadn’t been able to see before.

“Go get cleaned up,” he said in a gruff voice. “I’ll wait for you here.”

Only too grateful to flee, she turned and headed for the bathroom. She grimaced when she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Tawdry was a word that came to mind. Garish.

Sad.

She washed the heavy makeup from her face and tore the wig from her head. Then she unpinned her own hair and ran her fingers through it to tame it. A long, hot bath was extremely tempting, but not when Theron waited outside, likely growing more impatient by the moment.

She stripped out of the boots and clothes, tossing them aside. Then she realized she hadn’t brought in something to change into. With a shrug, she made a grab for the bathrobe hanging on the back of the door and wrapped it securely around her.

Then she padded back out to the sitting room in bare feet, hands thrust into the pockets of the robe. Theron waited, standing by the window that overlooked the avenue below.

When he heard her, he turned, his eyes still flashing with unsettled intensity.

“Why are you here, Theron?” she asked, finally regaining her composure.

He closed the distance between them, once again curling his fingers over her shoulders. “You dare to ask that as if I have no right? As if you didn’t just do something incredibly stupid? Do you have any idea what I thought when I heard where you’d gone? The fear I felt? Or the shock upon seeing you on that stage, half naked for all those men to leer at? Tell me, Bella, what would you have done if someone other than me had rushed that stage? What if he had put his hands on you? Forced you to go with him?”

She blinked at his ferocity and the absolute anger tightening his features. Any number of explanations circled her frazzled mind, but she didn’t think he’d be interested in any of them. So she kept quiet.

Theron ran a hand through his hair in a gesture of frustration before locking gazes with her once more.

“Did Marcus know you were doing this?”

Isabella bobbed her head backward in surprise. “Marcus? Why would he need to know anything I was doing?”

“I would hope he was more protective of what was his—or what he had staked claim on anyway,” Theron growled.

She blinked in confusion. “You’re not making any sense. Marcus has nothing to do with anything. He’s a friend. I don’t feel the need to apprise him of my comings and goings.”

Theron snorted. “A friend? Is that what they’re calling them these days?” he asked, throwing her mocking words about kissing back at her.

“What are you insinuating, Theron?” she asked as she folded her arms over her chest.

“I was here, Bella. Last night. I came up…to see about you,” he added uncomfortably.

“So?”

“And Marcus answered your door in only a bathrobe,” he snapped.

Isabella’s mouth fell open. “And from this, you assume I’m sleeping with him?”

“Are you saying you did not?” Theron challenged.

“I’m saying it’s none of your damn business,” she huffed.

A long silence fell between them as they stared at one another. Oh, she would have loved to have told him yes, that she’d slept with Marcus, but really, what was the point? He was engaged to Alannis, and she had no desire to make herself look promiscuous. He did still have control over her inheritance until she married someone else.

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