“That’ll be all, Azi.” He dismissed her with a flip of his wrist.
The minute Azi left, Nia attacked him. “Massimo Andretti, we had an agreement. We aren’t supposed to—”
“And we won’t,” he said quietly, watching her eyes darken to a tempestuous brown, the amber specks flashing in the background like the remnants of a Fourth of July fireworks explosion. They were even sexier when she was mad.
“We agreed not to do... it.... until... for a week.”
“Have sex,” she whispered as if the walls had ears. “You promised we wouldn’t share a bed for a week.”
“Have sex, yes. Share a bed, no. You laid down the law, Nia. You said you wanted to know me better. Well, my little virgin, you will know me better. You will know me so well, you’ll be able to pick me out of a lineup blindfolded by simply running your hands along my naked body.”
A shock ran through Nia. The one place she couldn’t fight him was in the bedroom, and he knew it. He’d tricked her again.
Her arm came up.
Massimo caught her wrists, eased her backwards, and pinned her against the door with his body. “Don’t you ever raise your hands to me again,” he warned smoothly. “Or I will retaliate in the same way I did in the car. Only next time, it won’t stop with just a kiss. I’ll take you all the way for a slow, long, hard, and intensely enjoyable ride. Do you understand me, Nia Sylk?”
She continued to glare at him, fighting her way out of his grasp.
Massimo pressed his body deeper into hers, rotating his hips slightly, giving her the full brunt of his arousal. He felt her weaken. He relaxed his hold. At about five feet, six inches, the top of her head barely made it to his chest, yet she dared defy him. No other woman had ever challenged him this way. They were too afraid he would cut them loose. He didn’t know about breaking in horses, but Nia Sylk was one temerarious kitten he looked forward to taming.
“You will share my bed and lie between my silk sheets, Nia Sylk,” he whispered against her cheek. “Every night, until I claim what you offered. Next time you make a bargain, be specific in your negotiations. As a businessman, I had to learn the hard way to never assume anything. It could make a punda milia out of you. That’s ‘donkey’ in Swahili, in case you’re wondering.”
Massimo’s jaws clenched. If he’d know the cost of assuming, Maurice Spencer, the former executor of his father’s estate would not have had the opportunity to almost destroy Andretti Industries. His father had trusted Maurice and thought the company would be safe in his hands until Massimo reached the required age of thirty, but Luciano was obviously wrong again. In his attempt to control Massimo, the company he’d slaved at all his life had almost followed him into the grave.
Several years later, Massimo was still trying to clean up the mess Spencer had made. On that disturbing memory, Massimo extracted his body from Nia’s. “Follow me,” he said to her.
Still trembling—more from his touch than from anger, Nia followed him down the mirrored corridor. She need not fear his wrath, she realized with a despondent cry in her heart. He had other means of controlling her. Suddenly, tricking him out of his money didn’t seem like the best route to take anymore. She was seriously concerned about what the lasting effects her association with him would have on her heart.
“Massimo?” she asked as the corridor ended into a mostly white sitting room. “How do I know I can trust you not to break our agreement?”
He bypassed two flights of stairs and stopped at a glass-encased elevator. “You can trust me, Nia. I give you my word. We will not consummate our agreement for a week, unless you change your mind. A man’s word is his honor. I am a man of honor. You trust me, don’t you?”
As they entered the elevator, Nia’s mind skittered back to the day, six years ago, when he’d uttered the same words to a room full of factory workers. She’d snuck into the building against her father’s wishes and lurked in the back of the cafeteria behind the employees as Massimo promised that he would honor the contract his then recently-deceased father had made with hers.
Nia remembered thinking in her fluttering seventeen-year-old heart that he was the hottest guy she’d ever seen—even hotter than Ian Somerhalder—her idol up until the moment she saw Massimo Andretti. Like the first thing that pops into every infatuated teenage girl’s head, she’d fantasized about marrying the Italian hunk and having his babies one day.
Such foolish, childish dreams!
She would so love to tell this forked-tongue jerk just what he could do with his honor, but instead she smiled easily at him. “Yes, I trust you, Massimo.”
Massimo opened a door on the third floor and stood back for Nia to precede him into the room. Adrenaline coursed through his veins as Jabari leaped off the floor and charged toward them.
Nia screamed and jumped back against his chest.
He hastily pulled her behind him, grabbed a canister from a table near the door and raised it as he shouted to the animal. Jabari stopped his charge halfway across the room, dropped to the floor, and eyed Massimo through bright amber eyes.
Without turning his back on Jabari, Massimo motioned Nia back into the hallway. “Stay here and don’t move a muscle.” He closed the door with his heel.
He walked toward the animal, canister in one hand, ready to spray. He gestured toward a large cage with the other. He let out his breath when Jabari rose and walked into the cage that shut automatically behind him. “Sit, Jabari.”
Jabari dropped to the floor, his front legs extended and his head upright.
Knowing the animal posed no further threat to Nia, Massimo dropped the canister and rushed across the room, half expecting her to be gone. He opened the door and sighed in relief when he found her standing right where he’d left her, perhaps too frightened to move.
He pulled her inside and wrapped his arms about her. Her heart was racing a mile a minute. He pressed her face against his chest and ran his hands down her arms and back with sure steady strokes.
He had been so caught up with Nia’s proposal, then preoccupied with the information he’d received in the hotel lobby that he’d completely forgotten about Jabari. Damn it. Azi had been trying to remind him that Jabari was here when he dismissed her so impatiently? His ego could have caused Nia harm. “I’m sorry he scared you,” he whispered.
“What is it?” She curled her trembling body further into his, and tightened her arms about his waist.
Massimo’s heart rocked against his chest. “A leopard. My pet leopard.” He loved the way she leaned fully into his strength. She smelled lovely, like sun and snow and strawberries dipped in smooth chocolate whip. He wanted to lick her all over then gulp her down with a glass of champagne.
“Does he usually come after your women like that?”
Massimo placed his hand under her chin, lifting her face to his. Fear spiked in her earthy eyes. “Jabari has never met any of my... women.”
“So why’d you bring me to him? So he could scare me into submission?”
“Oh no, pussycat. I would never deliberately put you into harm’s way. I totally forgot about Jabari.” He chuckled, but then his heart stumbled on a beat as he experienced that strange familiarity about her again. He’d seen her in his dreams, many times before, but she claimed they’d never met. He shook off the eeriness. “My head has been spinning ever since I met you.” Literally.
“Most men who want a big animal as a best friend get a German shepherd or a Doberman. You got a leopard.”
“I love pussy...cats.”
She rolled her eyes and eased out of his embrace. “Wild exotic ones, obviously.” She gestured to several pictures of big cats in a variety of vast landscapes on a wall.
You are wild and exotic, he thought, watching the play of emotions on her face as her eyes settled on a pair of leopards captured in the act of mating. He smiled when she swallowed and turned quickly away. The thought that she was probably burning up inside amused him. “Jabari isn’t wild,” he said. “I’ve raised him from a cub. He was a present from my nono, my grandfather.”
She rolled her eyes at that too. Pretty eccentric, he agreed.
He remembered feeling lost and hopeless when the family had traveled to Kenya to scatter his mother’s ashes. It was then that Nono had brought him the cute little orphan cub. Nono had told him he hoped they brought each other comfort. Massimo hadn’t known it then, but years later when he’d returned to Kenya to scatter his father’s ashes in the jungle, Jabari had turned out to be the most valuable gift he’d ever received.
Massimo pressed his palm against the right side of his torso. Even through his ski clothes and flannel shirt, he could feel the raised rounded scar of his wound from where the rhino’s horn had gouged him. It had stopped aching over the years, and had simply become a numb reminder of the precariousness of life. If it weren’t for Jabari’s exceptional strength and ingenuity, he would have perished in that Kenyan jungle. Man and cat had bonded on a superior level that near fatal day.