He tapped a pen against his desk’s black surface. “Isn’t my word good enough for you, Mother?”
“Men are easily swayed by a pretty face. I have no reason to think you are any different, even if you are my son. You also have your father’s blood coursing through your veins, and God knows he was a sucker for a beautiful woman.” She paused for a moment before adding, “Besides, I had a private investigator follow them.”
“Those pictures could easily be misconstrued and you know it. The detective didn’t find any real evidence they were sleeping together.”
“What about his Will? He lefteverythingto her.”
“I moved her to another country. You have plenty of time to contest the Will without interference. If the lawyers want to get in touch with her, they will have to find her first.”
Isobel sighed loudly in his ear. “But still, to marry the girl. Why? Are you doing it so that the inheritance will be half yours?”
“The engagement isn’t real. Does that put your mind at ease, Mother?” He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Bianca and I have a mutually beneficial business arrangement. We had no other choice. Everyone was focusing on the rumors rather than on Christinos and its future.”
“And what exactly did you promise this woman in return?”
“Just the magazine she and John worked on together. If you can’t turn over the Will, she’ll get the magazine anyway.”
“And you believe that will be enough for her? What if she uses this opportunity to infiltrate the family? Seriously, what woman could resist the Christos-Sabatino fortune? She won’t have to worry about the Will if you marry her and just hand it over.”
Hearing his mother bash Bianca’s character set his teeth on edge. Who was she to judge? She hadn’t even met Bianca in person. He knew for a fact that Bianca had a generous and compassionate heart. “She is not a gold-digger.”
Isobel scoffed. “You see? She has already gotten under your skin.”
“You know me better than that, Mother. My skin is too tough to penetrate.”
“I thought I knew you.” She turned coaxing, using the tone she had so often used while he was living under her roof when she wanted something. “Darling, what happened to that dear sweet woman you were dating last month?”
Sweet? Ava? Those two words did not go together.
Christian groaned. He’d forgotten about Ava in his haste to appease the press and save the company. If he didn’t contact her and explain the situation, she would go to the press herself with a conflicting story. She could fabricate something that put the company in further jeopardy. Like all his relationships, it was mutually beneficial. She was just another in a long line of social butterflies who wanted to leave their temporary relationship better off than when they came into it.
When he didn’t answer, his mother asked, “If you truly need a temporary engagement, why didn’t you invite that other woman to play?”
He scoffed. “Perhaps you misunderstood the wordtemporary, Mother. If I put a ring on Ava’s finger, she’ll sue me when I refuse to marry her. Besides, it had to be Bianca. She was the one they all thought was John’s mistress, thanks in part to you and your intrepid detective, I might add.”
He reassured his mother twice more before disconnecting the call that the engagement was pretense and Bianca would not be joining the family. Once he’d returned the receiver to the cradle he hesitated to pick it up again. He needed to speak with Ava, but he already had a headache from dealing with his mother. Ava would probably do whatever she could to make the situation worse. He had a feeling he was going to pay dearly for his charade.
Later that week things were going full-speed for Bianca. Moving the magazine from the London offices to New York was not an easy feat, not even with the help of Christian Sabatino’s army. Bianca had been on her feet all day without a single break. She didn’t have time to stop for lunch, but she did manage to eat a granola bar while overseeing the arrival of crucial office equipment. Everyone seemed to need her for something. At one point she was sure there were more than seventy people in the outer office. Christian had hired a small group of decorators, several movers, and he’d invited part of her London team to join them as she interviewed a multitude of local people for the other jobs.
On top of that, he had sent Sullivan to help. They’d been working together day after day, and she suspected Christian’s assistant was keeping him in the loop, reporting to him every evening. She and Christian had been avoiding each other since that first morning under the same roof when they almost kissed. No use in tempting fate.
“Trying to catch your breath?” Sullivan asked from the doorway.
Bianca forced a smile, feeling like an impostor pretending to be the boss. She’d promised herselfandChristian she would get the next issue ofLove Lifeout on time. They both felt it was imperative that they not leave a gap between issues. Now, looking at everything that still needed to be done, it seemed an impossible task.
Bianca moved her trembling hands to her lap behind the new desk. Looking past Sullivan, she could see a guy perched on a ladder, attaching giant letters to the beige wall, letters that would eventually spell out the magazine’s name.Love Life.Two people held the ladder steady and handed him whatever he needed. A few feet from them, two men removed the blue tape on the intersecting wall where the paint had finally dried. The fumes were giving Bianca a headache. Six others carried furniture to wherever the decorator pointed. There were too many people around, and she desperately needed a moment to collect her thoughts.
“You have eight more interviews,” Sullivan said.
“Eight?” Bianca gaped at the young man in the expensive suit.
It had been nice of Christian to loan her his trusted assistant, but even with Sullivan’s help she felt like she was on the verge of drowning. If she were being honest, she’d admit most of her energy that day stemmed from the fact she didn’t want to think about Christian’s mouth, especially not Christian’s mouth on hers. Every time she stopped working her mind returned to the moment he’d kissed her in a roomful of strangers. The proposal had been fake; the kiss had been real. Her lips still felt different, awakened somehow. She’d been kissed before, of course, but never like that.
Sullivan offered, “I can take the interviews myself if you want.”
Bianca sighed. “I’ll do it. Just give me a few minutes.”