Bianca talked to her cat in a soothing voice, telling the furry beast to relax. Christian had a feeling the cat’s owner was talking to herself. The more Christian got to know her, the more intrigued he became. The woman was a conflicting mixture of innocence and femme fatale, sweetness and steel, naivety and manipulation. If she was playing a game with him, trying to seduce him in order to becomehismistress, she was the best con-artist he had ever met.
“Have you been to New York?” he asked, lifting his lids a fraction.
She jumped as if startled, and Baby leaped off her lap. “I’ve only been to Greece.”
“What about Monte Carlo? My father must have taken you with him at least once.”
Bianca launched to her feet as if she thought height would give her the advantage. She scooped up her cat. Her hand absently stroked its fur while she spoke to Christian in a firm voice. “I already told you I was not having an affair with your father. We were friends, and we worked together. End of story.”
“But you loved him,” he reminded her. “That’s what you claimed earlier.”
“Yes.” She dropped back into her seat with a weary sigh. “He was like a father to me, the only father I’ve ever known.”
“That’s right. Your father died before you were born.”
Her eyes widened, and he realized his mistake. Exhaustion was beginning to take its toll on his mental state. It wasn’t like him to make such an obvious error. She demanded, “How do you know that?”
“I read your file, and Sullivan picked up a few tidbits from coworkers.”
“What did they say? What exactly do you know about me?”
“Relax. It was simple facts that anyone with a basic knowledge of computers could find. I only know small details like your parents are both dead, and you don’t have any siblings.”
Sitting in the middle of the long beige seat opposite him, she looked extremely vulnerable. Her hand continued to stroke the cat’s back, and she stared at a point over Christian’s shoulder. A strange sensation coursed through his body. Unfamiliar territory, it took him a moment to realize he wanted to protect her from the world. That worried him. He wasn’t the sentimental type and never would be, preferring to use logic instead of emotion.
“My father died before I was born,” she said with a nod. Still, her eyes stared at something beyond the aircraft, something only she could see. Perhaps she was gazing into the past. “My mother told me stories, so I feel like I actually did know him. He was warm and funny, and she said they knew they were in love within ten minutes of meeting.”
Christian scoffed. “I think your mother was romanticizing things for you. When someone dies, people tend to forget they had flaws and only concentrate on the good.”
Her hand stopped in mid-stroke halfway down the cat’s back. “Are you saying my mother lied to me?” Sensing the shift in her owner’s demeanor, the cat abandoned her lap for a second time. “I would give anything to know my father, to be able to spend time with him. I realize you don’t understand that. Your father was alive... up until two days ago, and you didn’t even want to speak to him on the phone.”
“Before you crown the man a saint there are a few things you should know.”
“Such as?” she asked, arms crossed.
Christian didn’t believe in whining about his past to strangers. For that matter, he didn’t believe in sharing personal stuff with friends either. Should he tell her he wouldn’t have been born if it was up to his father? John Sabatino hadn’t wanted children. The only reason Christian was alive was that his grandfathers insisted on an heir when they arranged for John and Isobel to marry.
“My parents had a marriage of convenience,” he admitted.
Bianca gasped. “I had no idea. John didn’t talk about his wife. It was obvious they were having issues, but I didn’t want to pry.”
Christian cursed beneath his breath. “Issues? He wasn’t faithful to her for more than a few hours at a time. That’s the man you idolized. The day they got married she caught him with one of the bridesmaids. Grandfather Christos would have killed him on the spot, but my father reminded him the marriage was only a business deal. My mother requested two things of him before they exchanged vows. First, that he would give her a child. Second, that he would be discreet in his affairs. She didn’t want her family name dragged through the mud and didn’t want to look like a fool for staying with him. He agreed to both conditions but only managed to keep the one.”
Christian seethed with rage whenever he thought about their cold, loveless union. As far as he knew, the only time they’d been intimate was to consummate the marriage and conceive him. The two had appeared happy in public, trying to put on the facade of a perfect couple, but there were affairs on both sides. At least his mother hid hers.
“I’m sorry,” Bianca said. “That must have been a horrible household to grow up in. I can’t imagine seeing my father cheat on my mother. Did they fight a lot?”
She nibbled on her delicate lower lip for a second, and Christian found himself wanting to follow suit. He wanted a taste, just a taste. Of course, deep down he knew he couldn’t give in to that impulse. Bianca wasn’t like anyone he’d ever known. She wasn’t the type of woman who would willingly warm his bed for a night... or two. She was the kind that wanted forever, and he couldn’t give that to her.
His thoughts surprised him as did the realization that he believed them. Somehow he knew this woman would not,could notsleep with a married man. She wasn’t the mistress type. Her obvious innocence waved like a banner flag over her head, and he wondered why it had taken him so long to see it.
“I don’t want to discuss my childhood with you,” he said with blunt force.
“I’m sorry. It’s just, your father was adamant he wanted a relationship and you didn’t. He was very convincing.”
“Well-rehearsed liars usually are.”
“When you didn’t return his calls, he always looked so hurt. I’m sure he loved you. He wasn’t lying about wanting a relationship with you. I’m certain of it.”