His hands went to her upper arms of their own volition. He reassured himself that he was only touching her because he needed to capture her full attention. Deep down, he realized he couldn’t be close to her without some form of physical contact. That meant big trouble for him. The woman already dominated his thoughts. In a short time, she had become an important part of his life, and it didn’t matter he rarely saw her at home. Knowing she was there in his penthouse every night was enough to drive away the new sense of loneliness that had built up in his heart.
If he was smart, he’d send her back to London.
He grazed her cheek with his knuckles while entertaining the forbidden. She was unlike any woman he’d ever met, and that was the best reason to run in the other direction. Bianca would not settle for a single night in his bed. If he gave in to his desire, thinking he could satiate it and break the power she had over him by indulging in a one-night stand, it would blow up in his face by daybreak. He’d bet his last dime on that.
Still, he desperately wanted to taste her again.
He lowered his head.
In a breathless voice, she said, “We promised not to do this.”
“Your cat isn’t here to stop us.”
Their lips touched, briefly, and a loud, shrill voice split the air. “I didn’t believe it, but it’s true! I go off to model in Madrid for two weeks and you’re cheating on me?”
The woman’s shrill voice pierced Bianca’s head and her heart. She jumped away from Christian, feeling guilty even though she hadn’t known he was involved. He certainly hadn’t said anything about another woman when he proposed they fake an engagement. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and prayed he wasn’t secretly married.
“Ava,” he said in a dry tone. “What are you doing here?”
Bianca visually took in everything about the woman and wasn’t surprised by what she saw. Of course, this was Christian’s ideal mate, an icy blonde dripping in diamonds and dead animals. As if reading Bianca’s mind, the woman removed her mink coat and dragged it behind her across the floor as if she were so wealthy she didn’t care if it got dirty. Anyone would guess the woman was a professional model by her walk alone, one leg crossing in front of the other to get her hips to move a certain way. Sexy but obvious. Her skimpy dress barely covered her upper thighs and threatened to ride up far enough to expose her femininity.
“As if you don’t know,” Ava said. Her perfectly shaped pink lips pouted, and her dark lashes dropped over icy blue eyes in fake coyness. “I had to hear the news from a reporter. He called me during my shoot in Madrid, throwing the whole thing off balance, and he asked if I had any comment on my unfaithful boyfriend. Do you have any idea how humiliating it is to get a call like that?” She scoffed. “Of course you don’t. The irresistible Christian Sabatino doesn’t get dumped.”
In a flat voice he said, “Stop acting like the jilted wife. We both got what we wanted out of our short-term arrangement.”
Ava tossed her fur onto a nearby chair meant for visiting colleagues and summoned employees. “I knew this thing between us wouldn’t last. You were clear about that from the start. But I did expect some warning and the same sort of generous gifts your other women enjoyed. When my friends called me about your latest conquest, I told them it was a publicity stunt. I expected to find you working, not canoodling in your office with the help. Really, Christian, I thought you had higher standards.”
He sighed. “First of all, I did not cheat on you. We have not, nor have we ever been exclusive. You’re a beautiful woman. I am sure you didn’t lack for male companionship in Madrid.”
Uncomfortable with the conversation, Bianca melted into the background. Hearing Christian call the woman beautiful bothered her more than she cared to admit. The tension in the room intensified with each passing second, and Bianca wanted to be anywhere but there. Still, she felt she could learn a lot by watching the two interact. If she allowed herself to get involved with him, would she be in Ava’s place someday? Would she find out she’d been replaced by reading a tabloid or by receiving a call from a nosy reporter?
Ava’s icy eyes narrowed. “The papers say you have been engaged to this child for four years. We both know that isn’t possible. I would have known if you were seeing somebody on the side.”
“Secondly, I don’t owe you anything,” he said, continuing with his point as if she hadn’t spoken. “You and I have only been keeping company for a few months, and you are not as perceptive as you think you are, darling, when it comes to noticing anything beyond your own image.”
“So he was cheating on you then,” the woman said to Bianca. “Doesn’t that bother you?” Then she threw back her perfectly coiffed head and laughed in a gleeful way that sounded sincere to Bianca as if the woman had just heard a good joke. “But of course,” Ava said. “A Sabatino is a great catch, and you failed to ensnare the father. Why not go after the son?”
“Enough,” Christian said.
“No,” Ava said. “It is not nearly enough. You have made a fool of me, and you will not get away with it.”
Christian rubbed the point between his eyebrows where his nose met his forehead. “Must you be dramatic about everything?”
“What about our plans?” Ava asked. “We have tickets for that play next week.” She named a show quickly rising in popularity. “And we’re supposed to have dinner afterward with the producer and the star.”
Christian went to his desk and pulled tickets from the middle drawer. He held them out to her. “Here. Take them.”
Ava paled. “Are you suggesting I go alone?”
“Heaven forbid.” Christian rolled his eyes. “I am sure you can find a suitable escort by then.”
“Put the tickets away. If I go with someone else, tongues will wag, and I think people are laughing at me enough.” She sneered in Bianca’s direction. “Do you think you can make him happy, little mouse?”
He crossed the room to stand between them as if he thought the snooty supermodel would risk her manicured nails in a physical fight. His hands went to Bianca’s shoulders, and he steered her to the door. “You don’t have to listen to this. I will smooth things over with Ava. Return to your office and finish your business for the day. Foster is waiting.”
Bianca allowed him to push her out the door, but she remained in the hallway long after it closed.