Thinking fast, Christian hit a button, and the door closed. They were going down now. Bianca sank against the rear wall, and her eyes closed on the horror of what had just transpired. Short of changing her name and moving to yet another country, she couldn’t see a way out. No one at Christinos would believe she wasn’t a total bimbo.
“I apologize,” Christian said in a raspy voice. “That was my fault. I meant to take you to the floor where your magazine will be housed, but I automatically pushed the button to the main offices instead. Habit, I guess.”
Feeling like crying, she covered her face with both hands. “What do we do now? They have pictures of us kissing. They’ll never believe we aren’t having an affair.”
“Then we will not bother to deny it.”
She gaped at him in open confusion. Maybe he didn’t care about his reputation, but she cared a great deal about hers. For four years she had put up with whispers in the hallways, judgmental looks, and nasty sneers. She had hoped leaving London would give her a fresh start.
“Christinos is my priority,” Christian stated. “If the stockholders get too nervous, they could dump their stocks, and that would not be good for any of us. We could survive it, of course, given time. But I would rather avoid the complication.”
“What do you propose we do?” she asked, eager to hear a plan.
“We need to make our relationship a non-issue until I get things settled within the company.”
“How do we do that?”
“Simple,” Christian replied with a rueful smile. “We will admit tohavinga relationship and convince them that you were never with my father.”
She sighed. “How will lying to the media help Christinos? They’ll dig until they discover we aren’t a real couple.”
Christian’s eyes darkened. “It will not be a lie.”
“On the surface, you and I will be a couple in every way.” When she took a step away from him, shocked at the innuendo, he continued. “Only in public, of course. In private, we will keep things strictly business. Does that suit you?”
Bianca thought about it until she grew dizzy going in mental circles. No matter how she looked at his plan it seemed doomed to fail. Then what? If he fired her, she’d probably never find a decent job again. The ugly rumors were bound to follow her wherever she went. “I don’t like lying,” she said.
He shrugged his wide shoulders. “Sometimes it is a necessity in business.”
“This isn’t business. It’s my life.”
The elevator door slid open again, and she stiffened, preparing herself for a gang of photographers. The large open space they stepped into was empty, as were the row of offices on the opposite wall. A reception area with a counter and lower desk that reminded her of her workspace back in London waited in the center of the massive main room.
“I promise to make it worth your time and effort,” he said.
Taking offense, her cheeks infused with heat. “Are you saying you’ll pay me to pretend to be your girlfriend? I am not a prostitute.”
“Cara mia, why must you make things harder than they need be?” He threw his hands into the air in what appeared to be total frustration. “I am talking about the magazine.” He gestured to the space around her. “This is where I intend to have you work onLove Life. If it pleases you, I will agree to sign a contract giving you total creative control of the magazine.”
“Are you serious?Totalcreative control?”
Worry that she was dreaming had her pushing down the rising excitement beneath her breast. Heart pounding, she walked to the largest office and looked inside. The room was already furnished with a modern desk, office equipment, including a computer, and chairs for visitors. There had to be a catch, something Christian wasn’t telling her. No one handed over a great business opportunity without expecting something in return.
Christian went on. “If you sell it to the press that we’re in a deeply committed relationship and that you saw my father as a mentor, nothing more, then this entire floor will be yours. You can hire staff and do whatever you want with the magazine. I will give you a three-year contract. After that, if you don’t make it a huge success, you will be asked to leave. How does that sound? Fair?”
The deal was more than fair. She nodded, speechless for the first time since meeting the ruthless businessman. Her confidence slipped as she thought of the details, all the work it would take and the fact she would be the boss. Running the magazine with John had been easy because his name had been on the door. She hadn’t felt the burden of a million decisions resting on her shoulders, even though she had made those decisions most of the time.
She lifted her chin and vowed to make it work. Somehow she’d make the magazine a success and show Christian that she could be his equal... at least in business. “What do I have to do?” she asked with a forced smile.
The next hour went by in a blur for Bianca. As soon as she agreed to play hisfiancé, Christian had an employee take her to his penthouse. She barely got a look at his private dwelling before they ushered her into the guest room where five women waited with clothes, make-up, and accessories. Organized chaos ensued. They pushed her behind a screen for privacy, and one person handed her dresses to try on while another waited to take the unwanted items away. Professional attire, each piece of clothing probably cost more than she spent on rent in a year.
She chose a soft gray sleeveless number with a scooped neckline and knee-length skirt. After she was dressed, they pushed her into a waiting chair. A woman forced shoes onto her feet, and a tag-team did her face and hair with minutes to spare. She felt like Cinderella... if Cinderella were a rag doll being pulled, shoved, and yanked around by a multitude of hands.
Then it was over, and they were leading her to the elevator. Way too soon she found herself standing beside Christian in a banquet room on the second floor. She stared at the sea of reporters and froze. Too many to count, it was standing-room-only. Flashes of light threatened to blind her as they repeatedly took her picture.