Ava’s voice dropped to a husky, coaxing tone. “How can you replace me with such an unsophisticated mouse? Is this your way of getting that heir your family so desperately wants? I know I refused to do it, but to marry a little nobody...”
Bianca’s heart dropped to her stomach, and she remembered what Sullivan had told her. Christian’s family was pressuring him to marry and give them an heir. Sullivan had made it sound like Christian wouldn’t marry for any reason. Bianca suspected he was wrong in that regard. Christian would marry a woman who only wanted his money and his name. He would make it a business arrangement.
The very idea made Bianca sick to her stomach. She decided to ask Linc Foster to pick out the clothes for her while she went up to the penthouse to rest. The long hours spent assembling her staff and fixing the office space had totally drained her. Maybe she was getting a cold. She hadn’t felt like herself lately, and a cold was definitely better than wanting someone she couldn’t have.
Christian’s jaw tightened. Hearing Ava insult Bianca in such a cutting, demeaning way bothered him more than he would willingly admit to another living person. He especially didn’t want Bianca to know the effect she’d already had on him. In general, he wanted to protect her from vicious nags like Ava without her knowing about it. Now, gazing at the woman he’d been dating, he couldn’t remember what had drawn him to her in the first place. Everything about her was fake from her acrylic fingernails to her snobbish accent. Correction. The fur and diamonds were real; he had bought them for her.
He pulled out his wallet. “Our arrangement has reached an end. I apologize for the short notice, but I am sure you will find solace in my final gift to you.”
“You publicly humiliated me. A bracelet isn’t going to do it.”
“What about this?” He lifted one of his credit cards between two fingers. “Go on a shopping spree. Clothes. Jewelry. Whatever makes you happy.”
Greed glittered in her eyes, sparkling brighter than the diamonds around her neck. She snatched the card from his hand. Her collagen-injected lips continued to pout. “I am still the laughing stock of this silly little town.”
His eyebrow went up at the ridiculous description of New York City. “Are you angling for a move to another city? Charge it to the card. Just go.”
“A prolonged trip to Paris might make me feel somewhat better.” She lifted her chin in haughty fashion and tried her best to snub him. “Perhaps I will find a man in Paris, a better one than I am leaving behind.”
She stormed to the door, flung it open, and delivered a last line as if she were an actress wrapping up a Broadway show, exit left. “Have fun with your little mouse. Don’t come crawling back to me when you get bored.”
Then she was gone, door slamming behind her.
Christian settled back in his chair and exhaled the breath he’d been holding. He hadn’t thought Ava would go so easily. She was the vindictive type, the kind of woman who got even with anyone she believed had wronged her. At least he’d been able to spare Bianca the brunt of her wrath. He had a feeling his pretend fiancé didn’t have much experience in dealing with women like Ava.
He made a quick call on the credit card, suspecting Ava might think he was stupid enough to give her a no-limit spending spree. He put a time limit on it. She could use it for six hours. Then it would become useless. She could do a lot of damage in that amount of time, but he wasn’t worried. He had enough money to make a thousand angry ex-girlfriends happy. If only it was that easy to bring a smile to Bianca’s face.
A couple of hours after overhearing Ava’s vicious remarks Bianca stretched across the couch in the front room wearing her most comfortable pajamas, the ones with plaid bottoms and a soft aquamarine top. She’d borrowed a book from Christian’s extensive library. Oprah recommended, it was one she had planned to read for over a year. Now was her chance. A good story might get her mind off Christian, the magazine, and Ava’s insults.
She read the second paragraph three times, but nothing registered. Ava’s cutting remarks kept replaying in her mind. Where did that woman get off calling her names when she didn’t even know her? She sighed before reading the paragraph for the fourth time. The elevator door slid open, and a strange man caught her in her pajamas.
Flustered, she jumped off the couch and grabbed a pillow to use as a shield even though the pajamas were modest by anyone’s standards. She didn’t like the idea of a stranger seeing her in them. “W-who are you? What are you doing here?”
Weren’t they supposed to stop visitors before they got into Christian’s private elevator?
“Sorry,” the stranger said. “I’m a friend... of Christian. They always send me right up.”
Like Christian, the man was impeccably dressed with dark hair, but that was where the similarities ended. He had a round, boyish face and unremarkable brown eyes. His smile didn’t hold half the charm that Christian’s did—or half the danger.
“My apologies,” he said. Then he did a car-model impersonation, showing her off to an invisible crowd. “I had to see the woman that finally caught the biggest fish in the city. Hell, in the country. Never thought I’d see the day Christian Sabatino decided to take a wife. How did you do it? How did you manage to snare the most die-hard bachelor that ever came down the pike? Witchcraft? Deal with the devil? You can tell me.”
She blushed. Her first inclination was to be honest and tell the man he had it all wrong. She wasn’t engaged to his best friend. But Christian had made it clear they had to pretend until the bitter end. Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself the penthouse was supposed to be her home. She had to play hostess to make the charade believable.
She motioned to the couch. “Have a seat, uh...”
The invitation drifted off to allow him time to offer his name. His smile widened, and he presented his hand. “Zach, and it is a pleasure to meet you, Bianca. May I call you Bianca? I have a feeling we are going to be great friends.”
“You know my name?”
Had Christian spoken to his buddy about her?
And if so, how much did the guy know?