She faltered, blinking in surprise. He knew about her job at the magazine? That wasn’t something she’d shared with anyone in Spain, and didn’t really want anyone to know about due to the article she was working on.
So how had he discovered it?
Chloe swallowed hard and then finally admitted, “I’m a part-time columnist.”
“You were going to exploit me?” He stroked his thumb down her jawline. It was a light caress, but hardly tender. If anything, there was a tinge of fear in her when he approached the pulse in her neck.
“No,” she whispered, with a short jerk of her head in denial. “Of course not.”
Andrés arched a brow. “You had no intention of writing about me whatsoever?”
Dammit. Her cheeks flooded with heat. How did he know this? Yes. She’d considered adding her romance with him in the article to put a spin on things. Had even taken notes if she’d decided to do it. But she would’ve been discreet with no last names or identifying factors about him.
“You knew who I was all along, didn’t you, Chloe?”
Apparently not. The heaviness in her stomach grew. Rose upward until it filled her throat with tightness. Oh, God. She was missing something. Something big. Just who was Andrés that he’d get so upset about her writing about him?
She shook her head faster. “No. I promise you—”
“I’m usually quite careful,” he continued softly. “Having the women in my bed thoroughly researched ahead of time.”
The women in his bed. And she’d just become one of them.
“A confidentiality contract signed,” he continued. “But you slipped under the radar. And that was your plan all along, wasn’t it, cariño? With that innocent act?”
She blanched, struggling to catch her breath. “No.”
“I’ll bet it was all staged. Bumping into me that night.”
“No.” She jerked away from his grasp, putting distance between them. Each accusation he made stabbed into her like toxic darts.
His eyes glittered with disgust. “And the American attacking you on the beach. Was that arranged as well, cariño? A friend of yours, perhaps? Is that why I’ve been unable to locate him?”
She was going to be sick. The loathing on his face made everything inside her crumple with pain, made it almost impossible to breathe. What kind of woman did he think she was?
Chloe wrapped her arms around her stomach and choked out, “You think I planned that?”
“And why wouldn’t you? Gaining my trust by playing the damsel in distress—giving me access to your body,” he rasped and then gave a slow, cold smile. “In fact, I doubt this is your first time. Do you make it a practice to seduce men to get a story?”
Fury overrode the pain, and she lashed her hand across his face with a tortured cry.
Andrés grabbed her by the wrist and hauled her back against him. “Never make the mistake of hitting me,” he said, his tone turning glacial. “Even if the truth isn’t always pleasant to hear. Were you really so naïve to think you would get away with it?”
Her mouth opened and it was on the tip of her tongue to scream the truth. That she had no idea who the hell he was. That she’d never slept with a man for a story and that he was only the second man she’d ever slept with, period.
But why bother? Why defend herself to a man who was obviously nothing like she’d thought? He’d been an illusion. The passionate, considerate person she’d begun to fall for had just tainted himself with hideous words and accusations. He wasn’t gentle or loving but instead an assuming, ruthless bastard.
Researching the women he sleeps with. She wanted to get sick. Wanted to purge her ridiculous notions of who she’d thought Andrés was.
The only thing he’d gotten right about her was that she was naïve. Her heart clenched and she blinked back tears. God, she was a fool.
The blood raged in Andrés veins, but he held his anger in check.
Chloe’s cheeks filled with color and that sensual mouth that continued to tempt him began to quiver. She seemed about to say something, to explain—as if there could be an explanation—and then her mouth closed with obvious resolution.
Andrés wanted nothing more than to claim that mouth in a kiss, even now with how furious he was at her deception. Her soft curves pressed against him and his groin stirred, pressing into the softness of her belly. Still holding her with one arm, he lifted her chin so he could search her face
For a moment he could’ve sworn he saw pain in her eyes, but then she squeezed them closed. Something inside his own chest tightened and he drew in a slow breath.
“It is much too late for regrets, cariño,” he said, surprised to find his tone gentling.
Her lashes fluttered back up and there was such intense anger in her gaze, he knew he must’ve imagined the previous emotion.
“The only thing I regret is ever letting you touch me.”
Andrés allowed the foreign feeling of disappointment to flow through him. The laugh he finally gave was derisive. “You touched me as well. Quite skillfully, might I add. But then it was all in a day’s work. No?”
She was a good actress. Quite good, really. The way she feigned shock and the flicker of hurt in her eyes. But he didn’t believe they were valid emotions for one moment. He was done playing the fool. He was done letting his desire for her control his mind.
“There will be no article about me, Chloe,” he warned in a hard tone.
She gave a bitter laugh and shook her head. “Trust me, the article my editor approved would be a far cry from the one I’d be tempted to write about you at this point, Andrés.”
So she admitted it. Made no attempts to even deny she’d been seeking to use him in a story. His jaw hardened and any potential for sympathy faded. He released her, forcing himself to ignore the tightening of his chest and step back.
“I’ll leave now.” She turned, her body stiff as she strode toward the door.
Everything primal within him protested her leaving, and he cursed himself for the unwanted reaction. She hadn’t been real. Chloe had been nothing but a carefully created fantasy to manipulate her way into his life. Control his emotions. All for the credit of an article in some trashy American magazine.
But she was a fool. Andrés Montero would never make the mistake of opening up and giving anyone ammunition for a story about himself. And even more so, he would never let them into his heart.
So very numb, Chloe moved toward the door to the penthouse, surprised how easily he let her leave. But then, why should she be surprised? Not after every vile, horrific allegation he’d slapped her with. Her throat tightened with tears she refused to let free.
She snuck one last glance back at Andrés’s face and flinched. His gaze was hard, with his handsome face twisted into an expression of disdain now.
Turning, she continued toward the door to the penthouse. Waiting for the sound of footsteps. Waiting for him to stop her. But again, the only thing that was proved was her naiveté.
It was in the elevator, riding down to the ground floor, that she lost the ability to hold back her tears. She scrubbed them from her cheeks, letting herself admit her complete lapse in judgment with Andrés.
How could she have been so absolutely stupid? Jumping into bed with a man she barely knew. It was that old diary and the article she was writing. Somewhere deep down, she must’ve harbored the silliest fantasy that she’d find something similar to the love described between its weathered pages.
Chloe swallowed hard and bit her cheek to stop the tears from falling. Jeez. What a class-act fool she was. Not only had she given her body to a man she shouldn’t have, but she’d come dangerously close to falling for him too. She’d been vulnerable, she told herself, arriving in Spain while still grieving.
She’d let herself succumb to a gentleness and protectiveness in Andrés that obviously had never existed; had been as much of an illusion as he believed her to be.
The elevator stopped, and Chloe rushed blindly out, making her way to the employee restroom. Seeing that she was already late, she would just take a few minutes to clean herself up.
Staring in the mirror, she shook her head and sucked in a ragged breath. At least she still had her job, she reminded herself. She’d get through this. She would. Andrés was a guest—albeit apparently an important one—who would no doubt be gone in a few days, and then hopefully he’d fade from her heart just as quickly.
Her chest tightened at the thought and she knew she was being unrealistically optimistic. She left the bathroom and headed down the hallway, telling herself to look at it like a brief vacation fling. It wasn’t as if there were any lasting percussions. Except the scars on your heart, the astringent voice inside her piped up.
When she entered the employee lounge, she heard her name called. Turning, she saw Estella Martinez striding toward her.