“Yeah, but only because I let you. And it won’t happen again.”

He relaxed back in his seat and studied her, his eyes half closed. “Is that a challenge, cara mia?”

She shivered at the sensual promise in his voice then made an effort to pull herself together. “No, it’s not,” she said, “and will you stop calling me that?”

“Calling you what?” he asked. “Cara mia?”

“I’m not your cara, I’m not your anything. I’m here because you threatened me and that’s the only reason.”

“Really?” He got to his feet, moving to stand in front of her. Lia stood up as well, not wanting to be at a disadvantage. A wave of apprehension passed through her, but she stood her ground. She was determined she wasn’t going to be intimidated, but he was just so big, and she’d always been better at dealing with horses than she was humans. Maybe she should treat him like a stallion she was training. Stand up to him, show him who was boss…and if all else failed—castrate him.

“What are you thinking?”


“You were smiling.”

“Really?” Tilting her head back, she stared him in the face. He was watching her through those half-closed eyes, the brilliant green almost hidden behind a thick fringe of black lashes. She dropped her gaze and again wished she hadn’t—his shirt was open, showing the strong, tanned column of his throat and the dark shadow of his body hair. She remembered the feel of it under her fingers, silky and amazingly soft.

Luc smiled, a slight curl of those stunning lips, and all of a sudden, she had a flashback to the feel of them moving on hers, moving on her body. She stared at them for a long, long moment until he laughed softly, breaking the silence.


He reached out and stroked the ball of his thumb across her lower lip, and that simple touch caused the heat to coil low down in her body.

“Don’t kid yourself, cara,” he said. “You want me as much as I want you.”

His words started a fire in her belly. She opened her mouth to deny it, but she didn’t want to push him into trying to prove his point. The truth was, he might be a blackmailing bastard, but he was also the most gorgeous guy she had ever met, and for some reason he got to her like no other man ever had. So instead, she took a deep breath and sat down. The sooner they got this over with, whatever “this” was, the sooner she could go home and get on with her life.

“So tell me this plan of yours.”

“We’re going to get engaged.”

Lia’s mouth fell open. She managed to close it, but stared at him for long, long moments. Had he really said they were getting engaged? “Never going to happen.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I don’t expect to have to go through with the actual fuss of a wedding, though we could consider the consummation part.”

“No freaking way. I’d rather get engaged to your monster friend Harley.”

Luc laughed out loud at the comment. For a moment, he looked almost young and carefree, and Lia did her best to ignore the queer little twist in her gut.

“I doubt Harley would agree,” he said. “You’re not his type.”

Lia sighed. “I don’t want to get engaged to you.” She knew it was a pathetic reason, but it was the truth. Luc didn’t seem impressed, and she searched her brain for a better argument. “Okay,” she said eventually, “forget all that. But what can it possibly achieve?”


Lia was totally bewildered. “Yeah right, because the whole world gives a damn if we get engaged.”

“Do you ever read the gossip columns?”


“Well, you’ll just have to believe me that I can get us the publicity we need. People are interested in me, believe it or not. You may consider me unlikable, but many others find me fascinating.”

Lia could well believe it, but she ignored his teasing tone; she wasn’t ready to be teased by this man, however fascinating he might be. “I still don’t understand. So you get the publicity, we get our names in the papers, then what happens?”

“And then your father, wherever he is, sees it, or more likely hears about it and can’t resist coming out to…”—he paused as if thinking of a suitable word—“…congratulate you on your amazing catch.”

Lia snorted. “Commiserate more like. And I’m not convinced of that. He’s made a pretty good job of ignoring us for the past ten years. I doubt he even knows Mike exists.”

“I think he will. Harley says he doted on you.”

“Harley was wrong.”

“We’ll see. I’m hosting a party next Saturday night. It was organized a long time ago, but it will be an ideal place to announce our engagement.”

“I don’t like parties.”

“Well, pretend. We’ve already established that you’re a good actress. So act.”

Luc got up, crossed the room, and poured himself a drink. “Are you sure you don’t want one?” he said with a glass in midair.

She shook her head. Tonight she was staying firmly in control of all her faculties. “I would like a coffee, though.”

Luc put down his drink and headed for the kitchen, and Lia sighed with relief as the door shut behind him. He was so intense, but strangely enough, despite his blackmail threats, she felt safe with him. Well, maybe safe was not the right word, but she was sure he wouldn’t attack her or force himself on her.

She sat back and closed her eyes. His plan had no chance of working, so it was pointless to worry about her father turning up. Pete had suggested she take a holiday. When was the last time she’d had some time to herself? She couldn’t remember—she’d been constantly training since she was sixteen.

She looked around at her luxurious surroundings. If she had no choice but to stay here, why not make the best of it? Not that she would mention that to Luc—she had no intention of making things easy for him.

“I can’t go to your party,” she said as he handed her a steaming cup of coffee. She took a sip; it was delicious, strong, sweet, just the way she liked it. “I don’t even own a dress.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll get someone to take you shopping. Just make sure you have everything you need.”

“Who?” she asked suspiciously. “Who will you get to take me shopping? I’m not sure I want to be ‘taken’ anywhere.”

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