But no confession was forthcoming. Instead she gave a tentative smile. ‘Well, I’ve been amazed by how persistent they are, if that’s what you’re saying. That newspaper you’re holding—’ she glanced at it warily ‘—is there another story today? I don’t know how you stand it. Do you eventually just get used to it?’
Her friendliness was as unexpected as it was inappropriate, and Casper wondered what on earth she thought she was doing. Did she really think she could act the way she had and still enjoy civilised conversation?
The newspaper still in his hand, he strolled to the window of the flat and looked down into the street. How long did they have? By rights the press should already have found them. ‘I’ve had people looking for you.’
‘Really?’ Her face brightened slightly, as if he’d just delivered good news. ‘I sort of assumed—Well, I thought you’d forgotten about me.’
‘It would be hard to forget about you,’ he bit out, ‘Given that your name has been in the press every day for the past fortnight.’
‘Oh.’ There was a faint colour in her cheeks, and disappointment flickered in her eyes, as if she’d been hoping for a different reason. ‘The publicity is awful, isn’t it? That’s why I’m not at my flat. I didn’t want them to find me.’
‘Of course you didn’t. That would have ruined everything, wouldn’t it?’ He waited for her to crumble and confess, but instead she looked confused.
‘You sound really angry. I don’t really blame you, although to be honest I thought you’d be used to all the attention by now. D-do you want to sit down or something, sir?’ Stammering nervously, she swept the sleeping bag from the sofa, along with a jumper, an empty box of tissues and a pair of sheer black stockings that could have come straight from the pages of an erotic magazine. Bending over revealed another few inches of her impossibly long legs, and Casper’s body heated to a level entirely inconsistent with a cold February day in London.
‘I don’t want to sit down,’ he said thickly, appalled to discover that despite her sins all he really wanted to do was spread her flat and re-enact their last encounter.
Her gaze clashed with his and everything she was holding tumbled onto the floor. ‘C—can I get you a drink? Coffee? It’s just instant—nothing fancy—’ Her voice was husky and laced with overtones that suggested coffee was the last thing on her mind. Colour darkened her cheeks and she dragged her gaze from his, clearly attempting to deny the chemistry that had shifted the temperature of the room from Siberian to scorching.
‘No. I don’t suppose there’s much here that would interest you.’ She tugged at the tee-shirt again. ‘Sorry—this whole situation is a bit surreal. To be honest, I can’t believe you’re here. I mean, you’re a prince and I’m—’
‘It is weird,’ she confided nervously. ‘And a bit awkward, I suppose.’
‘Awkward?’ Shocked out of his contemplation of her mouth by her inappropriate choice of adjective, Casper turned on her. ‘We’ve gone way beyond awkward.’ His tone was savage, and he saw her take several steps backwards. ‘What were you thinking? What was going on in that manipulative female brain of yours? Was it all about making a quick profit? Or did you have an even more ambitious objective?’
The sudden loss of colour from her face made the delicate freckles on her nose seem more pronounced. ‘Sorry?’
Casper slammed the newspaper front-page up onto the coffee table. ‘I hope you don’t live to regret what you’ve done.’
He watched as she scanned the headline, her soft, pink lips moving silently as she read: Prince’s Baby Bliss. Then her eyes flew to his in startled horror. ‘Oh, no.’
‘Is it true?’ The expression on her face killed any hope that the press had been fabricating the story to increase their circulation figures. ‘You’re pregnant?’
‘Oh my God—how can they have found out? How can they possibly know?’
‘Is it true?’ His thunderous demand made her flinch.
‘Yes, it’s true!’ Covering her face with her hands, she plopped onto the sofa. ‘But this isn’t how—I mean, I haven’t even got my head round it myself.’ Her hands dropped. ‘How did they find out?’
‘They rely on greedy people willing to sell sleaze.’ The bite in his tone seemed to penetrate her shock, and she wrapped her arms around her waist in a gesture of self-protection.
‘I take it from that remark that you think I told them. And I can see this looks bad, but—’ She broke off, her voice hoarse. ‘It wasn’t me. Honestly. I haven’t spoken to the press. Not once.’
‘Then how do you explain the fact that the story is plastered over the front pages of every European newspaper? The palace press-office was inundated with calls yesterday from journalists wanting a comment on the happy news that I am at last to be a father.’ He frowned slightly, disconcerted by her extreme pallor. ‘You’re very pale.’
‘And that’s surprising? Have you read that thing?’ Her voice rose. ‘It’s all right for you. You’re used to this. Your face is always on the front of newspapers, but this is all new to me, and I hate it! My life doesn’t feel like my own any more. Everyone is talking about me.’
‘That’s the usual consequence of selling your story to a national newspaper.’
But she didn’t appear to have heard him. Her eyes were fixed on the newspaper as though he’d introduced a deadly snake into her flat.
‘It must have been Eddie,’ she whispered, her lips barely moving. ‘He knew about the baby. He’s the only one who could have done this.’
‘You disgust me.’ Casper didn’t bother softening his tone, and shock flared in her green eyes.
‘I disgust you?’ She couldn’t have looked more devastated if he’d told her that a much-loved pet had died. ‘But you—I mean, we—’
‘We had sex.’ Casper delivered the words with icy cool, devoid of sympathy as yet another layer of colour fled from her cheeks. ‘And you used that to your advantage.’
‘Wait a minute—just slow down. How can any of this be to my advantage?’ Gingerly she reached for the newspaper and scanned the story. Then she dropped it as though she’d been burned. ‘This is awful. They know everything. Really private stuff, like my dad leaving home when I was seven and the fact I was taken into care, stuff I don’t talk about.’ Her voice broke. ‘My whole life is laid out on the front page for everyone to read. And it’s just horrible.’ Her distress appeared to be genuine and Casper felt a flicker of exasperation.
‘What exactly did you think would happen? That they’d only print nice stories about you? Nice stories don’t sell newspapers.’
‘I didn’t tell them!’ She rose to her feet, her tousled hair spilling over her shoulders. ‘It must have been Eddie.’
‘And what was his excuse? He didn’t feel ready for father-hood? Was he only too eager to shift the responsibility onto some other guy?’
Puzzled, she stared at him for a moment, and then her mouth fell open. ‘This isn’t Eddie’s baby, if that’s what you’re implying!’
‘Really?’ Casper raised an eyebrow in sardonic appraisal. ‘Then you have been busy. Exactly how many men were you sleeping with a few weeks ago? Or can’t you remember?’
Hot colour poured into her cheeks, but this time it was anger, not embarrassment. ‘You!’ Her voice shook with emotion and her eyes were fierce. ‘You’re the only man I was sleeping with. The only man I’ve ever slept with. And you know it.’
Casper remembered that shockingly intense and intimate moment when he’d been sure she was a virgin. Then he reviewed the facts. ‘At the time I really fell for that one. But virgins don’t have hot, frantic sex with a guy within moments of meeting him, tesoro. Apart from that major miscalculation on your part, you were pretty convincing.’
She lifted her hands to her burning face. ‘That was the first time I’d ever—’
‘Fleeced a billionaire prince?’ Helpfully, Casper finished her sentence, and her eyes widened.
‘You think I set some sort of trap for you? You think I faked being a virgin? For heaven’s sake—what sort of women do you mix with?’
Not wanting to dwell on that subject, Casper watched her with cool disdain. ‘I know this isn’t my baby,’ he said flatly. ‘It isn’t possible.’
‘You mean because it was just the once.’ She sank back onto the sofa, stumbling over the words. ‘I know it’s unlikely, but that’s what’s happened. And you might be a prince, but that doesn’t give you the right to speak to me as though I’m—’ Unsure of herself, her eyes slid to the door, as if she were worried the security guards might arrest her for treason.