The Mistress That Tamed De Santis(9)

By: Natalie Anderson

He glanced up and her words died in her throat. It finally dawned on her why he refused to leave.

‘You don’t want them to see you here,’ she said. ‘With me.’

He didn’t answer. Didn’t need to. She could see it all over his icy expression.

He was loath to be seen anywhere near her. Why? Did he think she could taint him in some way?

That hurt where she was most vulnerable. No one—not her old dance company, not her ex-boyfriend, not even her own father—wanted to claim a personal connection to her. Only those wanting instant Internet fame wanted to be caught near her. And as if that were what he wanted. Like her, Crown Prince Antonio De Santis had been born famous, but he was legitimately so—whereas she?

He steadily held her gaze. That unnerving reserve made her too aware of him, but she refused to let him silence her with little more than a stare. Not now or ever.

‘You think it would damage your reputation to be seen exiting my club at this hour of the morning?’ Her voice shook and she drew in a sharp breath. ‘Maybe it would enhance it.’

He still didn’t answer but his demeanour changed. He might be wearing worn workout gear, but now he looked every inch the powerful ‘Head of State’. Clothes made no difference. Nothing could pierce that princely aura. Bella’s anger flared. He was so protected, whereas she?

‘No one would believe anything “untoward” of you. But me?’ She laughed bitterly. ‘I’m the vixen, right? But surely not even wicked little Bella Sanchez could trap Prince Antonio with her wiles...’

It was what he’d accused her of attempting only moments before. And he was right, it was laughable. Scathing, she stepped closer; her words tumbled unchecked, unthinking.

‘I don’t know why you’re so worried,’ she snarled. ‘You’re untemptable, right? You’re the frigid Prince.’ She took no notice of his sudden frown or the muscle jerking in his jaw; his wordless judgment had unleashed the banked-up bitterness of so many betrayals. ‘Your absolute rejection of any physical intimacy is cowardly.’

Just as hiding here for hours would be cowardly.

And dangerous for her.

‘In what way?’ he asked icily, his words sharply enunciated. ‘Doesn’t it denote self-control?’

Something burned in his eyes now, but she was too hurt to take heed and too hurt to stop herself lashing out. ‘Maybe you’re afraid that once you start, you won’t be able to stop.’

He said nothing. He didn’t need to. His rigidity screamed irritation and arrogance.

‘Everyone loses control some time,’ she taunted. She’d seen it every night since she’d opened the club. People got carried away. Just as she was now. But she didn’t care.

‘Not me,’ he finally countered.

‘Because you’re a robot?’ she scoffed. ‘You’re just a prince—that doesn’t give you super powers.’

Silence strained for two beats before he broke it with a soft-spoken, hard-hitting whisper. ‘You want me to prove it?’

He didn’t move a muscle, but somehow he made the room smaller. The subtlest change in his tone, the darkening in his eyes put her senses on alert. He’d gone from angered, to something else altogether. Something more dangerous.

Goosebumps rose on her skin, but deep down satisfaction flickered. ‘You don’t have to prove anything to me.’

‘Don’t I? When you’ve taken it upon yourself to judge me so completely?’

‘You’d judged me before you even crossed my threshold,’ she pointed out with relish. ‘And you collude with other people’s judgments when you react with concern about being seen in my company.’

‘You’re mistaken in many ways.’ He frowned. ‘I’m not a robot. And no, I don’t have super powers. But I don’t lose control, Bella.’

He walked closer, until he loomed in front of her. She held her ground and watched. Dared.

‘I can start,’ he promised with wintry imperiousness. ‘And then stop.’

‘Start what?’ she taunted again.

‘You’re Bella Sanchez,’ he murmured. ‘You live for kisses and adoration.’

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