P for predator, P for passionate, P for prey!
These words came to mind when Bella thought of Rico da Silva. The international financier was definitely a predator-hadn’t he pounced when her defenses were down? Passionate? Their lovemaking had certainly been that-when Bella was inadvertently caught up in Rico’s kidnapping. And now she was Rico’s prey; he was determined to seduce her once more. Bella might have been forcibly imprisoned with Rico before, but she was a free woman now-free to meet Rico on her own terms!
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HEADS turned when Bella walked down the street. Her rippling mane of Titian curls, her incredibly long legs and her outrageous hotchpotch of colourful clothes caught the eye. But it was her prowling, graceful stride and the light of vibrant energy in her face which made the attention linger.
Bella always looked as if she knew exactly where she was going.
She lifted the public phone off the hook and punched in the number. ‘Griff?’
‘Bella, I’m so sorry… something’s come up,’ he groaned. ‘I have to go back into the office.’
‘But—’ Her clear eyes froze as she heard a woman giggling somewhere in the background. Griff went on talking, although there was a similar catch of amusement in his voice. Apologising, he assured her that he would be in touch.
Five minutes later Bella was back in the wine bar with her friends.
‘Where have you been?’ Liz hissed, under cover of the animated conversation.
‘You mean he’s not on his way yet?’
Bella gave a careless shrug.
‘He’s let you down, hasn’t he?’ her friend said bluntly.
Bella didn’t trust herself to speak. And the very last thing she needed right now was a lecture on the subject of Griff Atherton, who was everything Gramps had ever told her to look out for in a man but who was inexplicably as unreliable as they came, in spite of his good education, steady job and stable family background.
‘You really know how to pick them,’ Liz lamented. ‘Why do you always latch on to the creeps?’
‘He’s not a creep.’
‘It’s your birthday. Where is he?’
Bella shed her battered cerise suede fringed jacket and crossed her legs below the feathered hem of her minuscule new chiffon skirt, covertly attempting to stretch it to a more reasonable length. Liz had bought the skirt for her birthday. It was far too short but she had to be seen to wear it at least this once.
‘So what was Griff the Glib’s excuse this time?’
‘Wow, look at those wheels!’ Bella exclaimed hurriedly, keen for a change of subject. She craned her neck to gaze out at the gleaming silver sports car drawing up outside the five-star hotel on the other side of the street. ‘That’s a Bugatti Supersport.’
‘A what?’ Obediently distracted, Liz peered without a lot of interest and then gasped. ‘Look who’s getting out of it! Now that is what I call—’
‘Fabulous engineering.’ Bella was eyeing the sleek lines of the powerful car, not the driver with his smouldering, dark good looks. Bella preferred blonds.
‘I haven’t heard Rico da Silva described in quite those terms before.’
‘If you ever put your nose inside a serious newspaper, you’d recognise him too. He’s absolutely gorgeous, isn’t he?’ Liz looked rapt. ‘He’s also single and loaded!’
‘He has a beautiful set of wheels. Is he into motors?’
‘He’s an international financier. The local paper did a profile on him,’ Liz told her. ‘He owns a fabulous country estate just outside town. He spent millions renovating it.’
Bella grimaced. Finance…money…banks. She never went into a bank if she could help it, didn’t even own a cheque book. People who wheeled and dealed in money and profit made her skin crawl. A faceless smoothie from a bank had pushed Gramps’ business to the wall and put him into a premature grave.
‘That’s his current lady,’ Liz murmured as a beautiful blonde woman swathed in fur emerged from the hotel.
Tall, dark and handsome with the little woman. Bella wasn’t in the mood to be generous. They looked like some impossibly perfect couple from a glossy magazine. His and hers matching glamour. They had that aura of untouchability which only the seriously rich exuded. It was there like a glass wall between them and the rest of the human race. A clump of pedestrians stopped to let them pass in a direct path to the Bugatti. They took it as their due.
‘How the other half lives,’ Liz sighed with unhidden envy.
‘Time we got this party off the ground!’ Bella stood up, spread a brilliantly bright smile round her assembled friends, and switched into extrovert mode.
Dammit, where was the turn-off? Bella called herself a fool for not staying the night with Liz as she had originally planned, but Liz had been in the mood to preach and Bella hadn’t been in the mood to listen. Now it was three in the morning. The roads were deserted. And somehow she had got lost. There it was! Jumping on the brakes, Bella swung into a frantic last-minute turn. As she made it a gigantic yawn engulfed her taut facial muscles. As she emerged from it, rubbing at her sleepy eyes, another car appeared directly in the path of her headlights.
With a shriek of horror Bella barely had time to brace herself before impact. The jolt of the crash shuddered through her entire body, the sickening noise of buckling metal almost deafening her. Then there was a terrible silence. Fast to react, Bella’s first thought was for the other driver. Her windscreen was smashed. She couldn’t see a thing. She lurched out of the Skoda on legs that felt like jellied eels.
A hand clamped round her slim shoulder. ‘Are you hurt? Have you passengers?’
‘No!’ Taken aback by someone with even faster reactions than her own, Bella hovered in the biting wind tunnelling down the street as the powerful head and shoulders ducked into the cluttered interior of her car, which more closely resembled a travelling dustbin than a vehicle. Her teeth chattered with shock, her aghast attention logged onto the truly appalling amount of damage done to her car. The whole bonnet was wrecked.
‘You madman!’ she burst out helplessly. ‘What were you doing on the wrong side of the road?’
The large presence straightened. Bella was not small and she was wearing very high heels, but the male beside her still towered above her. In the streetlight his hard, dark features were as unyielding as hewn granite.
‘What was I doing?’ he repeated in a raw tone of disbelief, and this time she caught the foreign inflexion, the thickness of an accent that was certainly not British.
‘Did you forget we drive on the left here?’ Bella asked furiously.
‘You stupid bitch… you’re on a one-way street!’ With that he strode back to his own car.
A one-way street? About to open her mouth and loudly disclaim that ridiculous assertion at the same time as she asked him who the hell he thought he was calling a stupid bitch, Bella looked back to the corner and saw the sign. A one-way street. She had turned right into a one-way street and not unnaturally had had a head-on collision. Devastated by the realisation that the accident was entirely her fault, Bella leant against the wing of the Skoda because her knees were threatening to give way.
The other driver was lifting something out of his car. Oh, dear God, what had she hit? For the first time she looked at the other vehicle. It had a hideous déjà vu familiarity, only it had looked considerably more pristine earlier. A Bugatti. She had wrecked a Bugatti Supersport which retailed at somewhere around a quarter of a million pounds. She wanted to throw herself down on the road and scream like a banshee in torment. Her insurance premium would rocket into outer space after this… correction; she’d be lucky to get insurance. This wasn’t her first accident, although it was certainly by far the worst. Dammit, what was the guy’s name? Why, oh, why had she let her temper rip and called him a madman?
‘What are you doing?’ she demanded in a weak voice, moving forward.
He was lounging against his status-symbol car, which was not quite the status symbol it had been. And he had a mobile phone in his hand. Just her luck—a guy with a phone in his car!