She’d been looking forward to having a life, to finally engaging in all the things girls her age had been enjoying since they were teenagers—things she’d had to set aside while she was raising her little brother. She had a lot of catching up to do with partying with her girlfriends, with dating, with falling in love and losing her virginity to the man of her choice. She’d been looking forward to learning, growing, and discovering herself—who she really was.
Instead, here she was, playing a dangerous game with a scoundrel who could hurt her, destroy her innocence before she had time to embrace it. But if she didn’t play along with Massimo, Aaron could die in front of her. So for that reason, with her heart beating wildly in her chest, Nia asked as casually as possible, “Well, are you going to take me up on my offer, Mr. Andretti?”
“What do you want in return for your... virginity?” He flipped his wrist indifferently.
Nia shrugged. “I’m not harboring any silly romantic notions, nor am I expecting any type of commitment, if that’s what you think. I just want to fulfill a fantasy.” That much was true. She’d been fantasizing about Massimo ever since she’d seen him, six years ago.
“You traveled all the way from Brooklyn to offer me your virginity with no ulterior motives. And when I’ve had my fill, you’ll go back to Brooklyn with no hard feelings.”
“Well, that and four million dollars.”
A soft long whistle flowed through his pursed lips. “Is that what a virginity costs these days?”
“Since I haven’t sold one before, I wouldn’t know,” she stated haughtily. She knew four million dollars meant nothing to him. He spent double that on some of his mistresses. He’d bought many of them villas to encourage them to go their ways quietly. It was the MO of Andretti men. They thought anything and anyone could be bought and discarded at will, and that they could change their minds on a deal without any explanation and without any regard to how it affected other people. Their callous behavior had cost her father his life. “Anyway, I’d like the money in cash, if you don’t mind,” Nia added with a dignified jut of her chin.
“Sure. Keep it clean and simple. No paper trails.”
Under his withering gaze, Nia felt like a costly piece of marble being assessed for his private gallery. Perhaps this wasn’t such a very good idea, she thought as the silence grew and thickened. The unreadable, changing expressions in his eyes worried her. What if he was contemplating turning her in for solicitation? The cards were stacked against her. She was a desperate schoolteacher drowning in debt. No one would believe her if she tried to deny the accusations.
On the other hand, Massimo was one of the wealthiest, most handsome, eligible bachelors on the planet. He didn’t have to pay for sex. Everybody would believe his version of the…
Nia shook her head and blinked. Did he just say…
“Andiamo.” He waved his hand in the air as if he’d just signed a contract on the purchase of a new car and continued on his way to the door.
“Wait!” Panic edged Nia’s voice.
He stopped midstride and turned, his head tipped to one side. “Changing your mind, Miss Sylk? You’re not quite ready to become a woman?”
“There are conditions to my proposal.”
“Now you tell me. Well, let’s hear them.”
Nia’s fist tightened around the cold metal of her purse strap. “I get half the money now and the other half after the— um—” She cleared her throat. “The deed is completed.”
“Fair. Anything else?”
“I need time to get to know you better before I— before you— before we— consummate the agreement.”
“Ahh!” He slapped his palm against his forehead in a clearly mocking manner. “You doubt my performance. Well, I assure you, Miss Sylk, no woman has ever left my bed unsatisfied. I can get my hands on some references if you’d like. I’m certain many of my former lovers would be happy to share their experiences with you. I’ve heard some of them even compare notes—positions, duration, locale. The kinds of things women brag about when they try to outperform each other. Perhaps one day you’ll feel obliged to contribute to the blogs.”
Nia gasped. If she didn’t know it before, she knew now that she was making a pact with the most dangerous man on earth. Yes, they were just words, but they nevertheless sent heat rippling through her at the thought of rubbing skin and swapping bodily fluids with Massimo Andretti, and then blabbing about it. But that’s not the reason she’d come looking for him.
“Well, I’m certain you’re a master at the art of lovemaking, Mr. Andretti. It’s one of the reasons I chose you. But all the same, I just can’t jump into bed with you. A woman’s first time should be special. She should feel comfortable and safe with her partner. I mean, we aren’t even on a first name basis, yet.”
“How much time, Nia?”
“One month.” That should give her enough time to settle her debt with Eddie, make arrangements for a new life with Aaron somewhere out of the country, and escape from Granite Falls with her virginity still intact and two million of Massimo’s dollars in tow—enough to make a decent life for her and Aaron. It wouldn’t make up for five years of suffering, but it would bring her comfort to know she’d outwitted the notorious Massimo Andretti.
“One week,” he said, pulling his mittens from his pockets and slipping them on.
“Three weeks,” Nia countered.
“One. You’ll have two million dollars on Friday. I’ll have you next Tuesday, after which you’ll receive the other two million. Fair?”
“That’s my final offer.”
“Good day, Miss Sylk.” He reached the door in two swift strides.
“Okay! I accept.”
Massimo turned his head and stared blankly at her, obviously waiting for her to make the next move. Nia pulled a folded piece of paper from her purse and walked over to him. “Here’s my contact information. Perhaps we can discuss the details of our arrangement over dinner tonight?”
“You come with me now, Nia, or the deal is off.” His eyes flashed imperiously and his tight lips indicated that the opportunities to negotiate were over.
Nia knew that if he walked out that door without her, she would never have this chance again. “Okay.”
“Okay.” He walked to a corner, dropped his weight down on a bench, and pulled a pair of humongous snow boots from under it.
While he changed out of his ski boots, Nia swallowing her defeat, and walked back to the table, picked up her parka, and pulled it on. She glanced over at the woman who’d abandoned her knitting needles and was now peering at her over the rim of her glasses. Nia wondered just how many women Massimo had picked up in this cabin. The woman would probably tell her if she had the guts to go over and ask. Thank goodness there were no other spectators around. Her father must be turning in his grave. His sweet little angel girl had turned into a…
Nia shut her mind against the nauseating term.
Feeling as if she’d just sold her soul to the devil, she followed Massimo out the door and into the cold March air. Tiny flurries landed on her face, immediately melting as they made contact with her flushed skin. She zippered her parka and arranged the hood over her head as Massimo draped his laced-together ski boots across his shoulders.
“Where are we going?” she asked as he retrieved his skis and poles from a hook on the side of the building and tucked them securely under one arm.
“Home.” He started down the mountain toward the parking lot, leaving deep, giant footprints in the powdery snow.
Was home his villa on Crystal Lake, or was it the sprawling Andretti Estate on Mount Reservoir? Whichever, it was not a good idea to be cooped up behind four walls with Massimo. She hadn’t planned on leaving with him today. She’d planned on returning to her hotel room to either gloat or groan—depending on whether or not he’d bitten her bait. Well, he’d bitten, and now she had to think of a way to slow down the process of her seduction which, judging from his long strides, he was in quite a hurry to begin.
“I can’t go home with you, Massimo,” Nia said, trying hard to keep the panic from her voice.
“Why?” The snow crunched under the weight of his boots.
“Well, it wouldn’t look good for us to be living together.”
The cold wind picked up his laugh and the pine trees echoed it around the mountain range. “You just offered to sell me your virginity for four million dollars and you’re worried about what people will say if you move into my house?”