He breathed deep, suppressing a lifetime's hatred.
This woman was everything he despised. Shallow, conniving, spoiled. She'd grown up with every advantage money could buy yet she'd squandered her opportunities, turning instead to drugs, drink and wild parties. Till even her grandfather would have nothing to do with her.
Dario should feel nothing but contempt for her. And yet...
Her pale, pure skin, her wide-open cornflower eyes, her plump bow of a mouth, the voluptuous curves on that tiny figure...even her air of barely-suppressed energy, comprised a feminine package that was far too alluring.
It infuriated him. It was not-supposed-to-happen. And things which were not-supposed-to-happen had a way of disappearing silently out of his life: bought off, frightened off or simply banished by his superior power and strength of will. Dario had worked hard for what he had. He had no patience with things or people, or feelings, that did not comply with his plans.
'What I have to say isn't for public consumption.'
He punched down irritation at her contrary attitude in refusing to accompany him. What had he expected? Her previous actions, having her lawyer reject his more than generous offers out of hand, illustrated her selfish obstinacy.
He drew a breath through his nose, trying to block the rich scent of lilies and damp woman that played havoc with his concentration.
'Come. Let us find a better place for this conversation.' He'd be damned if he discussed matters of such importance in an echoing public foyer. She might have few scruples but he had more respect for himself than that.
He stalked across the vestibule and found an empty office. He held the door and waited for her to precede him.
His gaze strayed down over her compact, curvaceous figure as she entered, the sway of her pert bottom in the tight skirt. Even in a rain-stained suit, with saturated hair, her complexion milky with shock, she drew his unwilling gaze.
Despite those top class legs, reason dictated she wasn't his type. Pocket Venus red-heads with attitude and tarnished reputations weren't his style. Give him a brunette with a Madonna smile and a docile nature any day.
Unfortunately the voice of reason stayed silent on this occasion.
'What is this place?' She stared at the desk before them. 'Are we allowed in here?'
He shrugged and closed the door. 'We are here. And we have privacy. That's all that matters.'
Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth as if to argue then clearly thought better of it.
Good. Things would proceed more easily when she learned to accede to his wishes. A shaft of pleasurable anticipation warmed his belly at the thought.
'Your bridegroom -'
'What happened to Jason? Have you seen him?' No mistaking the concern in her voice. He catalogued the fact for later consideration. Perhaps after all, their wedding hadn't been purely a convenient arrangement. Perhaps lust as well as greed had been a factor in her marriage plans.
He remembered Jason Donnelly's weak, handsome face - good looks but no substance. Was he the sort of man that attracted her? The idea was strangely disquieting. He had no interest in this woman's weaknesses, except insofar as he could exploit them to his advantage.
'I saw him this afternoon.'
'Is he all right? What happened?'
Dario felt a stirring of pleasure, remembering the ease with which this afternoon's interview had followed the map he'd laid out for it.
'Nothing happened. Your Mr Donnelly is perfectly well, though he is no longer your Mr Donnelly.'
Her brow puckered in a frown and Dario wondered if he'd let his satisfaction show. What did it matter if he had? There was nothing she could do about it. He held all the cards. No matter how much she protested, she'd find the only way forward was his way. After all the trouble she'd caused the knowledge pleased him.
'I don't understand.'
'He has decided he no longer wishes to marry you.'
'But why? And why not tell me himself? Why send a stranger?'
'He didn't send me. I chose to come.'
Her eyes widened as she met his gaze. Then she sagged back against the desk, shaking her head.
'Look, can't you just tell me? What's going on?'
'Mr Donnelly had a better offer. An offer he found it impossible to refuse. As a result he changed his mind about marriage.' Dario had made absolutely sure of that.
'An offer of what? Not marriage!'
Dario paced further into the room to stand before her, his feet planted wide, his hands finding his pockets as he enjoyed this moment of triumphant satisfaction.
'An offer of money, of course. That's the language the two of you understand best.' He watched her pupils dilate, darkening her eyes. Her jaw sagged to reveal even white teeth and a glimpse of moist pink tongue.
Dario frowned. It was impossible that any woman should look sexy while gawping in disbelief, but somehow Alissa Mangano...no, Alissa Scott, managed it. That mouth was ripe, luscious, inviting. He felt a tingle of awareness, a tightening of his muscles as his gaze zeroed in on the dainty curl of her tongue circling her lips.
He set his jaw. Lust for this woman was not on his agenda. His standards were higher than that.
'Money to do what?' She stood straight now, her momentary weakness sloughed. She stuck her hands on her hips, a picture of demanding femininity. Her neat chin jutted belligerently. 'And who made him this offer?'
Dario permitted himself a small, satisfied smile. 'I did. I offered him enough cash to ensure he gave up all thoughts of marrying you.'
It had been ludicrously easy. If Donnelly and this woman were lovers, there was no loyalty between them. Donnelly had jumped at the chance of cash in hand with no thought for the woman he'd jilt. It had been Dario who suggested he leave a message at the registry office.
Colour flagged her cheeks and her eyes sparked, giving her a vibrancy that had been missing before. A vibrancy that only enhanced her looks.
'Why would you do that?' She took a step closer as if to get a better look at him, staring straight into his eyes. Despite himself, Dario was impressed that she wasn't daunted as so many people were in his presence.
But then she didn't yet know who he was.
He shrugged and spread his hands. 'Because he was in the way.' And Dario had no patience for obstacles in his path. 'Because you will be marrying me instead.'Reviews Behind the Book Return