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XAVIER dangled the skimpy pair of panties from an outstretched finger and raised a quizzical black brow at the pouting blonde.
"Aren't you forgetting something, cherie?' he murmured, in the outrageously sexy accent which sometimes caused people to ask whether he did radio voice-overs in his spare time. The answer, of course, was noXavier de Maistre did not need to dabble in the media to supplement his already vast income.
Only once had he exploited his sensually beautiful dark face and muscularly hard teenager, walking down the Champs Elysées. He had been paid a fortune to advertise an aftershave, but had astonished the world by turning down the many lucrative offers which had followed the campaign's massive success. Instead, he had taken the money and used it to found his property empire, which was now one of the biggest in the world.
The blonde parted her lips. "Don't you want to play that game any more?" she ques-tioned huskily.
Xavier's cool expression did not waver. Did she imagine that nothing had changed since their affair had ended last year, and that he would have stayed the same instead of moving on? That he was turned on by the fact that she had arrivedsupposedly for coffee and a "catch up'and then left the most intimate item of her underwear in an exquisite heap on the polished floor of his Parisian apartment?
His mouth curved in derision. Ex-lovers could be so boring. Could anything be less of a turn-on than the thought of having sex with a woman you had tired of?
Yet, when she had telephoned him yester-day, he had readily agreed to a meeting. A year had elapsed, and so he had assumed they'd be able to have the civiliseddrink she'd suggested. But from the moment he had seen herthe expression in her eyes and the oh-so-obvious way she had sat squirm-ing and drinking coffeehe had guessed what she wanted. He sighed. Some women just never let up
"I think we exhausted all the possibilities of that game a long time ago, don't you?" he replied evenly, his black eyes glinting. "Nice try, cheriebut maybe you should replay it with a man who can appreciate youas you should be appreciated."
But he stayed her with a slight shake of the head. "Didn't you say you had a plane to catch?"
Xavier could read the momentary indeci-sion which flitted across her lovely face. She was wondering whether he was really turning down the opportunity to have sex. But she was also an intelligent woman, and maybe she recognised that there was no point. That some things were best left unsaid, and at least that way you left with your dignity intact.
So she shrugged and took the panties from him, and began to wriggle them on under-neath her pure silk skirtand at that moment Xavier's resolve wavered and he almost changed his mind.
It would have been ridiculously easy. There was a bedroom located at the far end of the corridor, with a large bed with crisp Egyptian cotton sheets and views right down to the River Seine.
Xavier owned the entire building, and it housed the offices of his empirebut he maintained a luxury apartment in the pent-house, hence the bedroom. The excuse he used was that sometimes his business deals went on through the nighthe needed to have a place to sleep and he wasn't crazy about hotels.
It was well known in the city that he enter-tained his women there, and its presence only added to Xavier's legendary status as lover-extraordinaire. He was a man with a huge appetite for all the good things in lifeand he had worked hard to get to just this place.
He turned to look out of the window, where the vast stretch of the river glittered and glimmered in the afternoon light.
From here he could see the boats which glided through the sleek waters, filled with awestruck tourists as they overdosed on the beautiful monuments which lined the river. But Paris had that effect on people. It was a city that infused his blood, his heart and his soula place which engaged him more than any woman ever could. He frowned, realis-ing that he couldn't remember the last time he had made love.
So why turn down this opportunity? mocked a voice in his head.
Maybe because it was too easy. Xavier had never liked anything which came too easilyprobably because nothing ever had.
"I don't suppose I'm ever going to see you again, am I, Xavier?"
The blonde's voice broke into his thoughts and his black eyes narrowed as he slowly turned around, acknowledging that her par-ticular appeal had faded for ever and knowing that he shouldn't be surprised. It always happened. No matter how beautiful or accomplished his lovers, his appetite always grew jaded. Was it that once he had conquered them there seemed nothing left worth staying around for? A challenge, always a challengeand, once conquered, there was always another just waiting,
"Who knows, cherie?" he murmured, with a lazy shrug of his shoulders. "Sometimes I am lucky enough to travel to New York. Maybe we could have dinner next time I'm in town?"
They stared at one another, both knowing that this would be the last time they would meet. But what did she expect? She bit her lip. "Sure. You're a bastarddo you know that?" she said softly.
"Am I?" he queried. Then the phone began to ring and he turned his back on her to answer it.
He frowned as he listened to what his as-sistant was saying.
"I have someone down here who would like to see you, Xavier."
Without an appointment? Xavier stilled, for he had an instinctive distrust of being taken by surprise. And what the hell did Security think they were playing at?
"Not another damned journalist?" he snappedfor the building had been practi-cally under seige for a couple of weeks after France's biggest-selling weekly Bonjour! had published some snatched balcony photos. The pictures of Xavier sleepily but-toning up a pair of faded old jeans seemed to have found their way into the national con-sciousness, and women were downloading the images off the internet. Given the country's fierce privacy laws, the matter was currently in the hands of his lawyers.
"No, it's no one from the Press," said his assistant.
"Well, who is it, and what does he want?' he snapped.
"It's a she, and she won't say. She says she wants to speak to you personally."
"Oh, does she?" Xavier lowered his voice. "Do I know her?"
"She says not.' "I see." Just the fact that his assistant had not kicked the unexpected stranger out spoke volumes. Xavier only employed people whose instincts he trusted, and he was always prepared to listen to them.
His gaze flickered over to the blonde, who was still staring at him with a sulky expres-sion, and he wondered how the hell he was going to get rid of her. Maybe this unknown woman was a blessing in disguisepresent-ing him with a legitimate reason to seam-lessly extricate himself from this awkward situation.
"Tell her to wait,'he said smoothly. "I'll be down in a little while, when I have finished here." He put the phone down.
The blonde turned on him and nodded her head slowly. "You've got someone else. Of course you have. How stupid of me." She gave a hollow laugh. "Did I somehow imagine that you'd still be available a year later, maybe pining for me, and hoping we could pick up where we left off?"
A shadow passed over his dark face. "I never promised you anything, Nancy. I didn't realise that there was going to be some kind of problem."
"That's just the trouble," she said softly. "You create the problem because you're so damned good. Goodbye, Xavierand thanks for the memory.'And she walked out of the room with her head held high.
Xavier's eyes narrowed into ebony slivers as he heard the elevator whirring into action to take her downstairs. Had he acted dishon-ourably? No, he had notto have been dis-honourable he would have availed himself of He felt the ache of sexual frustration and knew that other men would think him a fool.
But Xavier was careful. He was fastidious in his choice of lovers, and he had only two rules when it came to making that choice: that they must be very beautiful and that there must be no deep emotional attachment or commitment. He made it clear very early on that he was neither interested in love nor marriage, for he had scant experience of the former and no wish to try the latterand woe betide the woman who attempted to change his mind.
Raking his hands back through his hair, he felt the welcome subsidence of desire. The memory of her would soon be forgotten. He would have his assistant bring him coffee and he would listen to what this unan-nounced woman wished to say to him.
And then he would go home and take a long, hot shower before going out for dinner. Xavier gave a brief, hard smile at his reflec-tion in the mirror.
Wasn't freedom the most delicious thing?