Passion and the Prince(10)

By: Penny Jordan

Olivia had never found that fame. Drugs and ultimately prostitution had dragged her into the gutter and from there to her death, and her journey there had been facilitated by a woman like the one standing in front of him now. A woman who bought beautiful young flesh for those with a taste for it, and who deceived those who possessed that beautiful young flesh with promises of fame and fortune.

He had trusted both Olivia herself and that woman, but they had both lied to him about their intentions. That knowledge had left a raw wound within him that his pride could not allow to heal. They’d given him their word, their promise, they’d taken his trust and destroyed it. He’d have to be a complete fool—a weak, easily manipulated fool—to trust another woman now. His cynicism burned inside him like vitriol.

‘Why do you do it?’ he asked grimly.

Lily could feel the icy-cold blast of his contempt like a burn against her skin. It made her want to shrink into herself in anguished pain. What had she ever done to warrant his harshness towards her? Nothing. And yet the knowledge that he felt contempt for her pierced her. What was it about him that made her own emotions react so deeply to him? As though somehow she was hypersensitive to him—as though some kind of magnetic link existed between them, enclosing her and making her acutely vulnerable to the force-field of his personality, no matter how hard she struggled to resist the effect he was having on her.

‘Why do I do what?’

‘Don’t pretend not to understand me. You know perfectly well what I mean—that seedy studio, the manner in which you approached my nephew.’

His words brought a guilty flush of colour to her skin, even though she had nothing to feel guilty about.

‘I’ve already told you I was simply doing someone else a favour.’

Far from placating him, her explanation served only to add to his biting contempt.

‘I can imagine the kind of favour you were attempting to do,’ he told her brutally, the fury inside him spilling over. ‘Tell me something,’ he demanded. ‘Does what you’re doing never worry you? Do you ever give any thought to the damage and destruction you and your kind cause?’

Lily’s heart had started to thump heavily and uncomfortably. She was beginning to feel panicked by his attack. He was advancing into private territory within her that was filled with thinly healed sores. It was incredibly ironic that he should make the assumptions about her that he had. Incredibly ironic and almost unbearable. Only her keenly honed instinct to protect herself stopped her from protesting and from justifying her involvement. Instead, as calmly as she could, she said unsteadily, ‘As I’ve already told you—not that I need to explain or excuse my actions to you—I was asked by my … by someone to take over a photographic shoot for a clothes catalogue. Nothing more than that.’

‘So what about the young man who was approached in a student bar and offered the opportunity of doing some modelling work in this shoot? Didn’t that worry you? Didn’t you question your … friend about why he had found a model in such a way? There are, after all, model agencies who I am sure have books filled with the names of young men who already know at least some of the pitfalls of the business in which they are involved.’

Lily could feel the sting of his words against her emotions, lacerating and flaying them as effectively as though he had laid a whip to her flesh. The only difference was that the wounds he was inflicting on her she could and must keep hidden from him. In the life she had so carefully created for herself there was no place for the girl she had once been and there never would be. She had cut herself off from her past to protect herself from her own ghosts. She would never look back at them.

Because she was still afraid of them?

Why was this happening to her? She had been so happy, so safe, had felt a real pride in herself and what she had achieved, and now because of one man—this man—who was determined to misjudge her, everything she had was in jeopardy. The desire to give in to her emotions had never been stronger, but Lily knew that she had to overcome that desire. Calmness, logic and knowing the truth must be her weapons in this fight, and she must wield them well if she was to protect herself.

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