Christian swept Bianca behind his back with one arm as if he needed to protect her. “What do you want?” he asked his mother.
Isobel shook her head. “You’re worse than your father. John was an idiot in business while you are brilliant, but you are both completely clueless when it comes to pretty girls with beguiling eyes. Can’t you see she’s only after the Sabatino name and the family fortune?”
Bianca stepped forward, ready to defend herself, but Christian put his arm out to hold her back.
“That is enough, Mother.”
The woman turned on Bianca. “Bravo, little girl. If I’d had any idea you were so clever, I wouldn’t have bothered fighting the Will. You just went straight to the source, thought you could marry into the wealth instead of inheriting it.”
“Mother,” he said in warning.
“Open your eyes, Christian! She is like all the rest. She would leave you in a heartbeat if she knew John gave her all his stock, a great deal of money,andthat dreadful magazine.”
Bianca felt the blood drain from her face and pool in her stomach. “What is she saying?”
“I am saying if you return the ring and walk out of my son’s life right now, I will tell the lawyers to drop the case. You can have half the stock, the money, and the magazine. All you have to do is walk away.”
The woman exited the room. She shut the door behind her with a resounding click that echoed like a gunshot bouncing off the walls only to return to Bianca’s ears. Christian didn’t move or say a word in his defense.
Bianca stood still, her limbs frozen in place at the ramifications of what she’d just learned. She spoke to him through numb lips that barely moved. “Did you know about your father’s Will when you used the magazine to manipulate me to move here with you?”
His silence was her answer.
“I can’t believe you did that,” Bianca said. “You used my love for the magazine to control me.” Tears flooded her eyes. “And you didn’t do it because you needed my help to save the company. You did it for yourself. You did it to keep me from getting my hands on your precious stock.”
Remorse filled his eyes.
He opened his mouth to speak.
Because she didn’t want to hear pretty lies and twisted half-truths, she cut him off. “That’s why you changed your mind about marriage.” She twisted her fingers. “I am such a fool. When Thomas did this to me, I was only seventeen. What’s my excuse this time? You are just like him, and you made a fool out of me.”
She circled the table, putting distance between them.
Christian flinched as if she’d slapped him.
She held a hand up to keep him from interrupting as she backed up to the door. “Don’t worry. You can keep your stupid stock and the money...andthe magazine. I don’t want anything from you. Just leave me alone.”
“No! You don’t get to try to charm your way out of this.” She swiped at her damp face with the back of her hand and sniffed, trying to regain control before anyone else saw her. “You hurt me worse than Thomas ever did. I am returning to London at once, and all I want is for you to leave me alone. I don’t ever want to see you again.”
As proof she meant every word, she slid the sapphire ring off her finger and tossed it onto the conference table.
Bianca’s parting words hung in the air long after she was gone, and Christian sat at the conference room table alone. Empty. His heart felt hollowed out now. Despite his vow to never fall in love again, Bianca had found a way through his defenses. But he’d lost her over one stupid mistake.
The door opened, and hope jump-started his heart. Thinking it was Bianca returning for the last word, he got ready to plead his case. His mother stepped forward instead, and his shoulders sagged.
“Go home, Mother, before I say something I can’t take back.”
“Someday you will find a woman worthy of you.”
He slammed a fist against the table, startling them both. “Bianca is more than worthy! She is out of my league, so far above us that we couldn’t reach her with a helicopter.”
“Then where is she?” Isobel gestured to the room, empty besides the two of them. “Did she take the inheritance and run?”
His jaw tightened. “No. She threw it back in my face along with the ring.”