His mind drifted back to the press conference. Kissing Bianca, even in front of witnesses, had been excessively hot. She looked so sweet and demure on the outside, but passion raged beneath her flawless ivory skin. Her soft, pink lips parted so willingly beneath his. He’d almost forgotten reporters were watching.
The girl was an innocent. He’d bet his last dime on that fact. Christian was not the type of man to take advantage. He made a mental note to avoid being alone with her in the future. Bianca Dawson was more dangerous than free-climbing a steep, rocky cliff. She was the type who would want marriage, babies, and endless professions of love, the kind of love he didn’t believe existed, the selfless kind that lasted forever.
At the moment, Bianca was six floors beneath him taking measurements and ordering furniture for her new offices. It gave him comfort to know her mind was on her beloved magazine and not on trapping him. Any other woman would be picking out china patterns and plotting the easiest way to force him to go through with the marriage. The fear in her eyes at the press conference mirrored the feeling inside his soul. She didn’t want to go through with it any more than he did. He thanked his lucky stars for that.
Sullivan entered the office after a brief, perfunctory knock, and Christian leaned back in his chair as he waited for his assistant to tell him why he was there instead of downstairs with Bianca.
Sullivan cleared his throat. “Sir, it’s not that I mind being lent out like a common maid, but what exactly do you expect me to do for the young lady?”
“Help her.” Christian shrugged, not understanding the confusion. “She needs to move the magazine from the London offices as quickly as possible so the next issue will go out on time. Help her do that.”
“Do you want me to move the staff here? Hire new people? I need instructions.”
“What is wrong with you?” Christian asked with a shake of his head. “You are behaving like a nervous bridesmaid. This isn’t your first day on the job. Stop treating it as such.”
“But, sir, you have never lent me out before. Why now? Why to this young woman?” Sullivan began to pace with his hands clasped behind his back. “Are you hoping to catch her in a lie? Sabotage her? Is that what you want me to do?”
“Sabotage?” Christian chuckled. “What are you talking about? Why would you think I’d want to sabotage Bianca?”
“Yesterday morning you wanted to fire her for being your father’s mistress.”
“She wasn’t his mistress,” Christian snapped.
Sullivan’s eyes widened slightly. “Very well, sir. I am sure you are correct.”
“I am.” Christian growled deep in his throat, tired of defending the woman. Or perhaps he was just frustrated because he had to do it so often. Steering his assistant back to the real conversation at hand, he said, “I want you to give her the same respect and loyalty you’ve given me all these years. Anticipate her needs like you do mine. Understood?”
“Is there anything else?”
“I suppose not.” Sullivan cleared his throat, a nervous tick. “If I may be bold for a moment, I saw the photograph of you kissing Ms. Dawson, and I read the story. I know for a fact you only met the woman yesterday. The engagement isn’t real, but someone in Ms. Dawson’s situation could misread your intentions.”
Christian had to admit the thought had crossed his mind more than once. However, he was certain she was the all-or-nothing type and wouldn’t be interested in a casual affair. That washisthing. In his wildest dreams, he couldn’t see himself entering into or sustaining a permanent relationship of any kind, not even with someone as lovely as Bianca.
Sullivan cleared his throat. “Would you like me to set her on the right path? Tell her you are not the marrying type?”
Christian hesitated in answering the question. He abandoned his desk for the striking view of the bustling city below. He watched the cars and people—they looked like colorful dots from so high up—while wondering if their lives were as complicated as his. He had only known Bianca for a couple of days, but she was already an integral part of his life. When he thought about moving her into her own apartment with her working the same long hours that he did, passing her in the lobby on rare occasions with no other contact, his life seemed emptier than usual. But what other choice did he have? Sullivan was right. He had no intention of marrying anyone, not ever.
On the other hand, if Sullivan warned her off, she might decide to disappear from his life that much faster. A large rock settled in his stomach, and he decided to skip lunch rather than risk feeling sick for the rest of the day. “Do it,” he said before giving himself the chance to change his mind. His gut twisted into a painful knot. “Say whatever you need to get the point across. I don’t want her getting the wrong idea.”
He squared his shoulders and tightened his jaw as he made the tough decision. Bianca needed to move into her own apartment, and he needed his life back. After dismissing Sullivan, he made a quick call to the head of maintenance who assured him they’d have the apartment ready for her within the week.
Now, with Sullivan taking care of Bianca’s needs at the magazine and others getting her new apartment ready, he could return to his uncomplicated life. Once again work could become his top priority. Of course, they would have to put in a few public appearances to appease the curious masses, just a few social events. Then they could stage their break-up.
In his rush to convince the general public the engagement was real, he’d forgotten to warn his family it was not. His mother called a few hours later. When his secretary announced Isobel Sabatino was on line two, he realized his mistake. Both sides of the family, Christos and Sabatino, had been pressuring him to take a wife and produce an heir since he’d turned twenty-five. He deduced his mother had probably already popped the cork on the champagne. The last thing he expected was for her to start yelling in his ear the second he got on the phone.
“Have you lost your mind?” She shouted the question.
He winced. “Pardon?”
Her voice lowered a fraction. “Is it true? Are you planning to wed your father’smistress?”
Christian rolled his eyes in weary anticipation of the upcoming argument. The urge to defend the girl was impossible to resist. He didn’t question it, not like he should. After all, he hated injustice of any kind. He took a deep breath and stated a crucial fact for his mother. “Bianca was never John’s mistress.”
Isobel snapped, “Do you have proof of that?”