Bianca’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me? Since when do you tell me who’s on the cover ofmymagazine?”
He winked at Shari. “I own it.” He repeated the sentence to Bianca. “I own it, and I want her on the cover. Make it happen.”
Shari wore a smug smile as she linked arms with Christian.
Hurt, Bianca didn’t know which was worse, that the man she’d made love with yesterday was already trying to replace her or the fact he was interfering with the magazine. “You can’t do this. You promised me creative control.”
“And you have it.” He shrugged his broad shoulders. “But I need a favor.”
Bianca allowed her disapproving gaze to settle on the woman’s painted face. “What if I put her on the cover and nobody buys that issue? You could blame me foryourblunder.”
“How can I be sure? You gave me three years to make the magazine an ultra-success. If I don’t, you’ll dump it.”
Christian tugged his arm away from Shari and left her standing there alone as he steered Bianca to the other side of the room. “Let me sweeten the pot.” He smiled at her, and she nearly melted despite the pain in her heart. “Put Shari here on the cover and I will tear up the three-year contract. I’ll sign one that gives you full control over the magazine indefinitely. I won’t dump it even if subscriptions fall through the floor.”
Why was the woman so important to him? Bianca’s gaze traveled down Shari from head to feet, taking in her expensive clothing and jewels. Had Christian bought them for her before sealing the deal? Or were they already sleeping together?
Bianca knew she only had herself to blame. John had warned her that his son changed his women more often than his socks. At least she was getting something more out of the deal than the women he dumped usually received: the magazine. Her dream.
Her lips compressed into a tight line. “I’ll agree if you never ask me to put another one of your conquests on the cover again.”
He nodded. “Agreed.”
The fact he didn’t correct her assumption about the woman was a dagger to her heart. Questions lined up on her lips. Was the woman like Ava, someone he had already slept with and was cutting loose? Maybe the magazine cover was her parting gift. Or was Shari the next woman on his list, the next one he wanted to sleep with?
Bianca couldn’t believe she’d been so wrong about him. She had fallen for his charming smile and persuasive nature just like every other dumb woman before her. After her farce of a marriage to Thomas, she’d thought she could resist womanizers. She’d believed she was immune. Now she knew the truth. Arrogant rich men were her kryptonite.
“I already have my next cover set, but I can put her on a later issue.”
He agreed with a slight nod.
She pasted on a smile and returned to her own floor as fast as she could, chin held high. She passed by the reception area. A couple of her new employees asked questions that barely registered. She gave them automatic answers and went into her private office before anyone else could flag her down. After closing the door, she burst into tears.
She didn’t notice Sullivan sitting at her desk until it was too late. His expression transformed from pure shock to concern in a nano-second. It wouldn’t have surprised her if he gave her the I-told-you-so speech, but he simply rose to his feet and opened his arms to her. That made the tears flow faster. She entered the comforting embrace, sobbing uncontrollably.
“You tried to warn me. How stupid am I? I thought he had real feelings for me.”
Sullivan patted her on the back. “You aren’t stupid. You’re a sweet girl who sees the best in people. That is nothing to be ashamed of, I assure you.”
“Why do I feel like my world is ending?” A laugh mixed with half a hiccup burst past her lips. “It’s not like he promised me anything, and it’s not like we were in a relationship. I let down my guard just for one night. That’s all it took for him to infiltrate my heart and make me... love him? Do I love him, Sully? Am I in love with someone incapable of loving me back?”
“I am sorry for the grief he’s caused you, Ms. Dawson.”
She cringed. “We talked about this. Call me Bianca.”
“Bianca, I would love to deny it, but I have known Mr. Sabatino for many, many years. He has built a formidable wall around his heart that no one can penetrate.”
She sniffed. “Well, I feel sorry for him. Refusing to let anyone get close enough to love you is not any sort of life.”
“Forgive me for saying so, but isn’t that what you’ve been doing?”
“No.” She stepped away from Sullivan and gave his accusation some thought. “Maybe I’ve been cautious since my huge mistake of a marriage. You go through a nasty divorce and see how you feel about jumping back into the dating pool.”
“How long ago was this divorce?”
“Five years, give or take a few months.”