Passion and the Prince(3)

By: Penny Jordan

Lily stared at him in disbelief. Revulsion filled her at the accusation he had made, accompanied by shock that he should have made it. The thought crossed her mind that he might be some kind of deranged madman—only to be squashed by the message from her senses that this was a man who was perfectly sane.

She pushed her hand into her hair a habitual gesture of insecurity and told him shakily, ‘I don’t know what all this is about, but I think you must have made a mistake.’

‘You’re a photographer who seeks out vulnerable young idiots with the promise of a glamorous modelling career that you know is all too likely to destroy them.’

‘That’s not true,’ Lily defended herself, but her voice wobbled slightly as she made the denial. After all, wasn’t what he was saying really very much in line with the way she herself felt about the modelling industry?

She took a deep breath, intending to tell him that, but before she could do so he continued grimly. ‘Have you no sense of shame? No compunction or guilt about what you do?’

Guilt. Ah, that was the word above all others that could trigger off an avalanche of dark memories inside her—a word like a poisoned dart aimed at her unprotected emotions. She had to get away from him, but she couldn’t. She was trapped here with him on the tiny landing. In her mind’s eye she saw the panic he was causing in her manifesting itself into a wild flight to escape from him, a desire to curl herself up into a ball of flesh so small that it could not be seen—or touched. But that was just in her imagination. The reality was that she could not escape.

‘This world into which you are attempting to drag Pietro—my nephew—is one of cruelty and corruption in which young flesh is used and abused by those who crave its beauty for their own debauched purposes.’

His nephew? Lily’s heart was thumping wildly. Every word he said carved a fresh wound into her own emotions, lacerating the too thin layer of fragility that was all she had to protect them.

‘I have no idea how many young people have fallen victim to your promises of fame and fortune, but I can tell you this. My nephew will not be one of them. Thank goodness he had the good sense to tell his family how he had been approached with promises of modelling work and money.’

Lily’s mouth had gone dry. She had always particularly disliked this aspect of her father’s work, knowing what painful fires of experience young models could be drawn into by the unscrupulous. To be accused as she was being accused now was such a shock that it robbed her of the ability to defend herself.

‘Here’s your money back.’ The man was slamming down a wad of euros. ‘Blood money—flesh money …

How many of the vilest sort of predators were you planning to introduce him to at this party you invited him to attend with you after the shoot? Don’t bother to answer. Let me guess. As many of them as you could. Because that is what this business is about, isn’t it?’

Rick had invited the young man to accompany him to a party? Lily’s heart sank even further. Rick was a sociable guy. It was normal for him to go out after shoots and have a drink. Besides, it was fashion week, and Milan was full of important people from the top of the fashion tree. It was also full of those at the bottom of that world, though. The kind who …

She could feel a shudder of revulsion gripping her as her skin turned clammy with remembered fear and her heart pounded. She wanted to breathe fresh air. She wanted to escape from the past this man and their surroundings had brought back to her.

‘People like you disgust me. Outwardly you may possess the kind of beauty that stops men in the street, but all that beauty does is cloak your inner corruption.’

She had to get some fresh air. If she didn’t she was going to pass out. Think of something else, Lily told herself. Think of the present, not the past. Focus on something else.

The effort of trying to refocus her thoughts caused her to sway slightly on her feet. Immediately he came towards her, taking hold of her to steady her. Her brain knew the truth, but her body was reacting to a very different message that had her demanding with fierce anguish, ‘Don’t touch me.’ Her reaction to being imprisoned was instinctive and immediate, ripped from deep within her as she panicked and used her free hand to try and prise his fingers away from her wrist. But all he did was drag her further into his imprisoning hold.