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His hands roved her bare body, melting her with the warm heat of his strong caress.
Bella Hudson bit her lip to hold back an embarrassing groan. Barely. She called upon all her training as a Hollywood actress to stay silent while Henri worked his magic on her oiled-up body.
Muscles melting, she buried her forehead deeper in the massage table's face cradle. The scent of aromatherapy candles soothed her nose while Christmas carols sung in French mixed with ocean sounds to caress her ears.
Pure bittersweet pleasure. Very bittersweet.
Sixty-two-year-old masseur, Henri, was likely to be the only man touching her for quite some time since her jerk of an actor boyfriend stomped her heart just last week. And wow, that thought sure kinked up her neck again, encroaching on her peaceful retreat.
She and her precious dog, Muffin, had escaped to France for some much-needed soul soothing at the seaside Garrison Grande Marseille. Garrison hotels always provided the best in pampering, peace and privacy.
And crossing the Atlantic guaranteed she wouldn't risk accidentally running into Ridley or, worse yet, Uncle David.
Men. They were all rats. Well, except for Henri, who was too old for her and married, but oh my, he worked wonders with heated river stones along her lower back.
"Henri, are you and your wife happy?" She stared through the face cradle at Henri's gym shoes as he swapped out the stones beside her treasured little Muffin, snoozing away in her pink doggie carrier.
"Oui, Mademoiselle Hudson. Monique and I are very 'appy. Four-tee years, three children and ten grandchildren later. My Monique is still beautiful."
He continued to laud his wife and family, his adoration so thick it threatened to smother her.
Or make her gag.
She'd really thought Ridley loved her, only to have him say he'd been too caught up in the romance of their starring roles in the movie about her grandparents' WWII romance. She'd really thought her parents loved each other, too.
Wrong. And wrong again.
Her mother had cheated. She'd slept with her own brother-in-law and now Bella's uncle David was actually her daddy David. Her two cousins were actually her half-siblings. Good God, her family was ripe to be featured on an episode of Jerry Springer.
Even river stones couldn't ease that ache.
A low-sounding beep echoed through the room. A series of clicks eched. Had the whale sounds traded up to dolphin calls?
Henri yanked the sheet up to her shoulders. "M'selle Hudson, quick, get up!"
"What?" she asked, not quite tracking yet.
Her eyes snapped open. She blinked to adjust in the dim light and found Henri blocking someone trying to push through the door.
Someone with a camera.
Crap. Crap. Totally tracking now, Bella bolted off the table and to the floor. Her feet tangled in the sheet and she pitched forward.
"Paparazzi. Run!" Henri barked as Bella struggled to regain her footing. "Run. M'sieur Garrison prides himself on protecting the privacy of his clients. He will fire me. Then my wife, she will keel me. She is crazy mean when she gets angry."
So much for Henri and Monique's happy marriage.
"Where the hell am I supposed to run to?" Bella spun away from the doorand the cameramaking sure to anchor the sheet over her backside. She dashed to Muffin's quilted pink carrier and grasped the handle.
She couldn't wedge past Henri and the photographer struggling to raise his camera over Henri's head.
"The screen," Henri gasped. "Move the screen. There's another door behind. I will hold off this piece of garbage, M'selle Bella."
Henri might have strong hands, but he appeared to be fighting a losing battle. It was only a matter of time before the paparazzi passed him.
Clutching the Egyptian cotton in one hand and the rhinestone-studded carrier in her other, Bella raced to the antique screen painted with Monet-style murals. Sure enough, she found a narrow exit decorated with a large red bow. She butt-bumped the bar, creaked the door open and peeked out.
She looked left and right down an empty corridor, less ornate than the rest of the hotel. Labeled office doors were bedecked with simple holiday wreaths. There might be some after-hours workers around, but running into them beat the hell out of sprinting through the wide-open, high-ceilinged lobby with crystal chandeliers spotlighting her mad dash toward the elevator.
"Okay, Muffin, cross your paws, 'cause here we go."
Her sweet little fur baby yawned.
Bella tucked into the dimly lit hall, empty but for ornately carved antiques. Her bare feet pounded along the thick Persian carpet on her way past a lush green tree, tiny lights winking encouragement. She paused at the first office.
She ran her hand along door after door on her way down. All locked. Double damn.
An echo sounded behind her. The sound of someone running. She glanced over her shoulder and
Click. Click. Click.
She recognized the sound of a camera in action too well. The short but bulky photographer had overpowered Henri.
Bella ran faster, Muffin's cloth cage bumping against her leg. She wasn't a novice in ditching the press. She'd been aware of the media attention on her family since she was born twenty-five years ago.
Gilded, framed photos of employees stared at her in a weird pseudo voyeurism. She rounded the corner and yes, yes, yes, found a mahogany door slightly ajar. No lights on. Likely empty. She would lock herself inside and call for help.
Panting, she raced the last few steps, slid through the part in the door.
And slammed into a hard male chest.
One without a camera slung over his shoulder, thank heaven, but still a warm-bodiedbig-bodiedman. She looked up into his cool gray eyes. She didn't need to check the formal photo by the door to confirm the identity of this dark haired, billionaire bachelor. At only thirty-four, he'd already been featured on plenty of "most eligible" lists. This expatriate bad boy had broken hearts from the Mediterranean to South Beach.
She'd fallen into the arms of hotel magnate Sam Garrison.
* * *
Sam stared down into the panicked blue eyes of film star Isabella Hudson.
Where the hell were her clothes?
He was used to dealing with eccentric behavior from his star-studded guest list. But a woman running around in nothing more than a sheet? That was a first.
He kept his eyes firmly locked on her panicked face and mussed red hair while waiting for her to clue him in. No need to check out the luscious cleavage on display. He could feel every voluptuous curve of the near-naked beauty pressed enticingly against his chest.
"Media," she gasped, pressing her breasts more firmly against him. "Paparazzi!"
Damn. His libido took a backseat to business. God, he hated the press.
He prided himself on his hotel's privacy, an essential element in attracting high-profile clientele. A breach like this could cost him. Big time. Nothing was more important to him than his hotels.
Not even a potentially distracting pair of amazing breasts.
Where was the man she'd been trysting with? Must be a wimp if he'd left her to face the media on her own while clad in nothing more than a sheet, her body slicked up enticingly.
Was the guy married? Or a high-profile politician? His mind raced with possible publicity landmines. This temperamental actress could spell big trouble.
Sam gripped her by the shoulders, her silly, pink dog carrier thumping him in the knee. "Stay in my office. I'll take care of this."
"Thank you. But hurry, please." She backed into the office, her foot peeking out from beneath the sheet to show a gold toe ring. "He's right around the corner"
Footsteps pounded down the hall.
Sam had spent the past ten years of his life delivering on the promise of privacy and luxury at his branches of the family's exclusive Garrison Grande Resorts. Even a resort magnate had to roll up his sleeves and play bouncer on occasion.
Today, apparently, was one of those occasions.
He stepped back into the empty reception area leading to his office. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting to pounce.
Behind him, he could hear Bella scooping her dog out of the carrier and soothing the restless pet until the bell around the dog's neck quieted.
The footsteps grew louder. Closer.
He stuck an arm out and clotheslined the media hound. Sam lunged out just in time to press a Berluti loafer flat against the guy's chest as he tried to arch up. Bella's dog yipped from inside the office.
Applying more weight, he made sure the burly man became one with the floor. Yeah, he recognized this peon. The guy freelanced for a national gossip magazine.
Or rather he had worked. Because by morning, the guy would be fired.
The dog barked louder as if in agreement.
"Security will be escorting you out," Sam growled lowly. "You are no longer welcome here. Your magazine will no longer be given access to any press conferences held here if they keep you on staff."
A big-time loss to the magazine that would guarantee the guy's walking papers.
"I'm just doing my job," the photographer gasped.
"And I am doing mine." Sam pressed his foot down more forcefully.
The guy with the camera cowered. Yeah, he'd gotten the no-trespassing message loud and clear.
Sam eased pressure. "If you manage to land another job, perhaps you will remember to be more polite to my guests in the future."
The dog growled, launching through the door and into the hall.
Dog? More like a Hell, he didn't know what to call the bristly little beast that looked more like a slightly mangy steel wool pad of indeterminable breed.
"Muffin!" Bella squeaked, peeking out the door.
The photographer lurched, grappling for his camera.
Sam yanked the camera from the relentless guy's white-knuckled grip. Muffin leaped with surprising lift for a dog so small. The photographer started to arch upward again. Sam scowled. Muffin landed on the guy's face.
The photographer sagged.
Muffin growled with an underbite and a protruding lower tooth that gave the mutt something close to a Billy Idol snarl. Sam flipped the camera over and popped free the storage disk. He rubbed the tiny bit of plastic between his fingers, his brow furrowed. Then he smiled.
"Muffin," he looked down at the dog, "fetch."
He flicked the card full of six-figure photos to the ugliest little mutt he'd ever seen.
The pooch snapped the "treat" out of midair. Crunch. Crunch.
The photographer slumped back with a whimper.
Bella laughed from the doorway. Husky. Uninhibited.
Sam jerked to look over his shoulder at her.
She fisted the sheet tight between her breasts, flame-red hair tumbling down to her shoulders with a post-sex look that called to his libido. No question about it. The American starlet was drop-dead gorgeous. He'd noticed her before when their paths crossed at the occasional high powered party, but her up close appeal now packed an extra punch.
A security guard jogged down the hall, snapping the thread of awareness. "Do you need help, M'sieur Garrison?" Henri the masseur called.
Ah, she'd been getting a massage. He should have guessed, but something about this woman just screamed sex and he'd jumped to conclusions. Regardless, he needed to deal with the crisis at hand.
"Haul this piece of trash out of my hotel and make sure he's never allowed back in." He'd grown up experiencing firsthand what hell these sorts of muck-rakers brought to people's lives.
Sam watched the guard drag the dejected photographer into a stairwell, then turned his attention back to the sexy diva.
She knelt beside her dog, sheet cupping the sweet curves of her bottom. "Muffin, give it up." She pinched at the memory card clenched in the pup's snaggletoothed mouth. "I appreciate your help, sweetie pie, but I don't want you to choke."
Sam snapped his fingers.
The dog whipped her furry head around, spitting out the plastic card as she hastened to pay attention.
Bella's eyes went wide with surprise. She gathered up her pet, just managing to keep the white sheet from slithering to her feet.
Desire spiked through him, stronger this time, followed by something else. Determination.
Bella Hudson would not be sashaying out of his life anytime soon tonight.