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Leandro Demetrios, billionaire banker and the subject of a million hopeful female fantasies, dragged the 'A' list Hollywood actress through the doorway of his exclusive London townhouse and slammed the door shut on the rain and the bank of waiting photographers.
The woman was laughing, her eyes wide with feminine appreciation. 'Did you see their faces? You scared them half to death! I feel safer with you than I do with my bodyguards. And you have bigger muscles.' She slid her hand up his arm, her manicured fingernails lingering on the solid curve of his biceps. 'Why didn't we just use the back entrance?'
'Because I refuse to creep around my own house. And because you like to be seen.'
'Well, we've certainly been seen.' The fact evidently pleased her. 'You'll be all over the papers tomorrow for terrorising the paparazzi.'
Leandro frowned. 'I only read the financial pages.'
And that's the bit I don't read,' she sighed. 'The only thing I know about money is how to spend it. You, on the other hand, know how to make it by the bucketload, and that makes you my type of guy. Now, stop looking all moody and dangerous and smile! I'm only in town for twenty-four hours and we need to make the most of the time.' Her lashes lowered provocatively. 'So, Leandro Demetrios, my very own sexy Greek billionaire. Finally we're alone. What are we going to do with our evening?'
Leandro removed his jacket and threw it carelessly over the back of a chair. 'If that's a serious question, you can leave right now.' His remark drew a gurgle of delighted laughter from the woman clinging to his arm.
'No one else dares to speak to me the way you do. It's one of the things I love most about you. You're not starstruck and that's so refreshing for someone like me.' The tip of her tongue traced the curve of her glossy lips. 'If I told you I was going to kiss you goodnight and go back to my hotel, what would you do?'
'Dump you.' Leandro's bow-tie landed on top of the jacket. 'But we both know that isn't going to happen. You want what I want, so stop playing games and get up those stairs. My bedroom is on the first floor. Last door on the left.'
'So-o macho.' Laughing, she smouldered in his direction. 'According to a poll just last week, you're now officially the world's sexiest man.'
Bored by the conversation, Leandro's only response was to close his fingers around her tiny wrist and pull her towards the staircase.
She gave a gasp of shocked delight. 'You honestly don't care what anyone thinks about you, do you? Indifference is such a turn-on. And when it comes to indifference, you wrote the manual.' She walked with a slow, swaying motion that she'd perfected for the cameras. 'There's a special chemistry between us. I can feel it.'
'It's called lust,' Leandro drawled, and she shot him a challenging look.
'Haven't you ever had a serious relationship with a woman? I heard you were married for a short time.'
Leandro stilled. A very short time. 'These days I prefer variety.'
'Honey, I can give you variety.' She used the soft, smoky voice that earned her millions of dollars per movie. 'And I'm just dying to know whether everything they say about you is true. I know you're super-bright and that you drive your fancy cars way too fast, but what I want to know is just how much of a bad boy you really are when it comes to women.'
'As bad as they come,' Leandro said smoothly, his hand locked around her slender wrist as he led her up the stairs. 'Which makes this your lucky night.'
'Then lead on, handsome.' She kept pace with him, a smile on her full, glossy mouth. 'You have a lot of art on your walls. Great investment. Are they original? I hate anything fake.'
'Of course you do.' Leandro focused on her surgically enhanced breasts with wry amusement. At a rough estimate he guessed that ninety per cent of her was fake. The short time he'd spent with her had been enough to prove to him that she was so used to playing other people, she'd forgotten how to be herself.
And that was fine by him.
As far as he was concerned, the shallower the better. At least you knew what you were dealing with and you adjusted your expectations accordingly.
'Oh, my! Only you would have a picture of a naked woman at the head of your staircase.' Stopping dead, she gazed up at the huge canvas and wrinkled her nose with disapproval. 'Strange choice for a man who surrounds himself with beauty. Isn't she rather fat for your tastes?'
Leandro's gaze lingered on the celebrated Renaissance masterpiece that had only recently returned from being on loan to a major gallery. 'When she was alive, it was fashionable to be curvy.'
The girl stared blankly at the exquisite brush strokes. 'I guess they didn't know about low carbs.'
'Curves were a sign of wealth,' Leandro murmured. 'It meant you had enough to eat.'
Throwing him a look of blank incomprehension, the actress stepped closer to the painting and Leandro's fingers tightened like a vice around her wrist.
'Touch it and we'll have half the Metropolitan police force keeping us company tonight.'
'It's that valuable?' Her knowing gaze turned to his and she licked her lips. 'You are one rich, powerful guy. Now, why is that such a turn-on, I wonder? It isn't as if I care about your money.'
'Of course you don't,' Leandro said, his tone dry because he knew full well that her lovers were expected to pay handsomely for the privilege of escorting her. 'We both know you're interested in me because I'm kind to old ladies and animals.'
'You like animals?'
Looking down into those famous blue eyes, Leandro's own eyes gleamed. 'I've always had a soft spot for dumb creatures.'
'That's so attractive. I love a tough man with a gentle side.' She slid her arms round his neck like bindweed around a plant. 'Do you realise we've had dinner three times and you haven't told me a single thing about yourself?'
'Do you realise that we've had dinner three times and you haven't eaten a single thing?' Skilfully steering the conversation away from the personal, Leandro smoothly released the zip on her dress and she sucked in a breath.
'You don't mess around, do you?'
'Let's just say I've had enough of verbal foreplay,' Leandro purred, sliding the dress over her shoulders in a practised movement. He frowned slightly as his fingers brushed hard bones rather than soft flesh.
'People pay good money to see this body of mine up on the screen.' She scraped her nails gently down his arm. 'And you, Leandro Demetrios, are getting it for free.'
Hardly, he thought, looking at the earrings she was wearing. Earrings he'd given her at the beginning of the evening. 'Shame you're not sold by the kilogram,' he said idly, 'because then you wouldn't cost me anything.'
'Thank you.'Assuming his remark was a compliment, she smiled. 'You, on the other hand, would cost a woman a fortune because muscle is heavier than fat and you have to be the most impressively built man I've ever met. And you're so damned confident. Is that because you're Greek?'
'No. It's because I'm me. I take what I want.' He took her chin in his fingers, his eyes steely. 'And when I've finished with it, I drop it.'
She shuddered deliciously. 'With no apology to anyone. Cold, ruthless, single-minded…'
'Are we talking about me or you?' Leandro removed the diamond clip securing her hair. 'I'm confused.'
'I'm willing to bet you've never been confused about a single thing in your life, you wicked boy.' Smiling, she dragged her finger over his lower lip. 'Tell me something personal about yourself. Just one thing. This latest story about you being the father of that baby—is it true? The papers are full of it.'
Not by the flicker of an eyelid did Leandro reveal his sudden tension. 'Are those the same papers that accused you of being a lesbian?'
'The difference is that my people issued a stern denial— you've said nothing.'
'I've never felt the need to explain my life to anyone.'
'So does that mean it isn't your child?' She lowered her lashes. 'Or are you such a stud you don't even know? You're not giving anything away, are you? Tell me something about you.'
'You want to know something about me?' Leandro eased her dress down her painfully thin body and lowered his mouth to the base of her throat. 'If you give me your heart, I'll break it. Remember that, agape mou. And I won't do it gently.' The warmth of his tongue brought a soft gasp to her lips and she tipped her head back with a shiver.
'If you're trying to scare me, you're not succeeding.' Her eyes were dark with arousal. 'I love a man who knows how to be a man. Especially when that man has a sensitive side.'
'I don't have a sensitive side.' Leandro's voice was hard as he lowered his forehead to hers. For a moment he stared into her wild, excited eyes, his breath mingling with hers. 'I don't care about anyone or anything. Lie down in my bed and I'll guarantee you fantastic sex, but nothing else. So if you're looking for happy ever after, you've taken a wrong turning.'
'Happy ever after is for movies. It's my day job. At night, I prefer to live for the moment.' Squirming against him, she lifted her hand and stroked his rough jaw. 'I should make you shave before you touch me, but I like the way it makes you look. You are so damn handsome, Leandro, it shouldn't be allowed,' she breathed, lifting her mouth to his. 'My last leading man needed satellite navigation to find his way round a woman's body. I have a feeling you won't suffer from the same problem.'
'I've always had a very good sense of direction.' Leandro backed her against the door and the actress gasped her approval.
'Oh, yes…' Panting, she wrenched at his shirt, sending buttons flying. With a low moan of desire she pushed the shirt off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. 'Your body is incredible. I'm definitely going to get you a part in my next movie. I want you now.'
Having reached the part of the evening that interested him, Leandro scooped her up, strode purposefully towards the bed and then froze because his bed was already occupied.
The woman sat glaring at him, her eyes a fierce blue in a face as pale as his dress shirt. She'd obviously been caught in the rain because her thin cardigan clung to her body and her long hair curled damply past her shoulders like tongues of red fire.
Given the state she was in, she should have looked pathetic, but she didn't. She looked angry—the blaze of her eyes and the angle of her chin warning him that this wasn't going to be a gentle reunion.
It was as if a small, unexploded firework had landed in his bedroom and Leandro felt a dart of surprise because he'd never seen her angry before—hadn't known she was capable of anger.
He'd been on the receiving end of her injured dignity, her silent reproach and her agonised pain. He'd witnessed her disappointment and contempt. But a good healthy dose of old-fashioned anger had been missing from their relationship.
She hadn't thought that what they had was worth fighting for.
His own anger bubbled up from nowhere, threatening his usual control, and the emotion caught him by surprise because he'd thought he had himself well in hand.
Unfinished business, he thought grimly, and was about to speak when the actress gave a shocked squeak and tightened her grip on his neck.
'Who's she? You bastard! When you said you were going to hurt me, I didn't expect it to be that quick,' she snarled. 'How dare you see someone else while you're with me? I expect my relationships to be exclusive.'
Surprised to realise that he'd forgotten he had the actress in his arms, Leandro lowered her unceremoniously to the floor. 'I don't do relationships.' Not any more.
'What about her?' Balancing on her vertiginous heels, the actress shot him a poisonous look. 'Does she know that?'
'Oh, yes.' Leandro was watching the girl on the bed and his humourless smile was entirely at his own expense. 'She wouldn't trust me as far as she could throw me, isn't that right, Millie?'
Her eyes were two hot pools of blame and he ground his teeth. Fight me, he urged silently. If that's really what you think of me, stand up and scratch my eyes out. Don't just sit there. And don't walk out like you did the first time.
But she didn't move. She sat in frozen silence, her eyes telling him that nothing had changed.
The actress made an outraged noise. 'So you do know her! Surprising. She doesn't look your type,' she said spitefully. 'She needs to fire her stylist. That natural look is so yesterday. This season is all about grooming.' She snatched her dress from the floor and held it against her. 'How did she get in here, anyway? Your security is really tight. I suppose no one noticed her.'
Nothing killed sexual arousal faster than female bitchiness, Leandro thought idly, regretting the impulse that had driven him to invite the actress home. The woman's tongue was as sharp as the bones poking out through her almost transparent flesh.
'Well? Are you going to throw her out?' The actress's voice turned from sultry to shrill and Leandro studied the girl sitting on his bed, noting the flush on her cheeks and the accusation in her eyes.
He met that gaze full on, with accusation of his own.
Silent communication raged between them and the atmosphere was so thick with tension that both of them forgot about the third person in the room until she stamped her foot.
'No,' he said harshly. 'I'm not going to throw her out.' The timing wasn't what he would have chosen but now she was here, he had no intention of letting her go. Not until they'd had the conversation she'd walked away from a year earlier.
The actress gave a gasp of disbelief. 'You're choosing that plain, bedraggled, badly dressed nobody over me?'
Leandro sent his date a cold, assessing glance that would have triggered shivers of trepidation through any one of the people who worked for him or knew him well. 'Yes. At least that way I'm guaranteed a soft landing when we tumble onto that mattress. No bones. No claws.'
The actress gasped. 'I won't be treated like this!' Delivering a performance worthy of an Oscar, she wriggled back into her dress and tossed her head in anger. 'You told me you weren't involved with anyone and I believed you! I'm obviously more of a fool than I look.'