The show must go on.
But not tonight.
Not for her.
‘Since you don’t wish to be reached by your very tenacious mother, nor your husband, who will undoubtedly be plotting how to dump this on Laura Farrell and make himself out to be the innocent victim of a woman deranged with jealousy …’ He paused a moment watching for her reaction to that scenario.
Chloe was rattled by it.
‘Which, I assure you, would be a lie,’ he went on sardonically. ‘I observed them in very intimate conversation together just prior to her assault on you. She was furious with him. The connection between them was not fantasy.’
‘The baby would prove it anyway,’ she muttered bitterly.
‘Not if Laura is persuaded to have an abortion.’
Chloe looked at him in horror.
He shook his head. ‘Not by me.’
Tony. And her mother. She knew without him telling her they would both see that as a way out of an unsavoury scandal, a way of smoothing everything over so she would keep going as they directed. Her head started to throb at the thought of all the arguments they would subject her to.
‘I’ve got to get away from them. Got to …’ She was barely aware of saying the words out loud. Her mind was desperately seeking some way of escape, but everything she had was tied up with Tony and her mother … her money, her home, her whole life.
‘I can protect you, Chloe.’
Startled by a claim she had not been expecting, she stared at him in anguished confusion. The look of arrogant confidence on his face reminded her of how powerful he was. The dark eyes bored into hers with a relentless strength that set all her nerves twittering. Of course, Maximilian Hart could protect her if he wanted to. But what would that mean?
‘You need to move to a safe refuge where the security is so tight no-one can reach you unless you want them to,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘It’s no problem to me to arrange that.’
A peaceful haven, sheer heaven, she thought, though practical issues instantly raised difficulties. ‘I’d have to go home to get my clothes.’
‘No. Professional movers can pack and deliver them to you.’
‘I don’t even have my credit card with me.’
‘I’ll put a lawyer to work sorting out your financial situation. In the meantime I’ll set up a bank account for you that will cover your needs until you’re in charge of your own money.’
She winced. ‘My mother will fight to keep control.’
‘I doubt she has more weapons than I have,’ he drawled, ruthless intent gleaming in the brilliant dark eyes.
He was right.
Her mother was no match for him.
Freedom shimmered in front of her.
‘Trust me, Chloe. There is nothing I can’t do to set you on an independent path. If that is what you want.’
Seductive words, pulling her his way. Yes teetered on the tip of her tongue. Only the sudden sharp sense that she’d be walking out of one form of possession straight into another held it back.
‘Why would you do this for me?’ The words tumbled out on a wave of fear—fear that he meant to mould her into what he wanted, and the promise of independence was the lure to trap her into something worse than she had known.
‘I don’t want any disruption to the delivery of this show, which has been—and is—a project I’ve planned for a very long time. You’re the key player in it, Chloe. I need you functioning as only you can. If that means freeing you of every distressing influence, ensuring you won’t be got at by people who’ll cause you grief, I’ll do it. Throw a blanket of security around you that no-one can break without your permission. All I ask in return is that you keep working on the show for as long as your contract runs.’
Protecting his investment.
It made sense.
Maximilian Hart was always linked to success, never failure.
This wasn’t a personal thing to him. It was business. He simply didn’t want her private life adversely affecting what he had put in place.
Her fears suddenly seemed ludicrous. Strangely enough, she felt a surge of confidence that she could do as he asked—keep playing her part in the show—if she didn’t have to deal with her mother or Tony or Laura while she did it.
‘I’ll make them go away,’ he said softly, somehow tapping straight into her thoughts. ‘Just say the word, Chloe.’
Her battered mind started swimming with a vision of a white knight fighting all her dragons instead of a dangerous Svengali of a man planning to use her for some devious purpose of his own. It was more than seductive. It propelled her into accepting his offer without any further fretting over it.
‘It is what I want,’ spilled from her lips.
‘Yes,’ he said as though he’d known it all along and had only been waiting for her to confirm it. He rose from his chair with the air of a man relishing the sniff of battle. ‘You’ll be absolutely safe waiting for me here. You probably need to eat something. Order whatever you like from room service. Make yourself comfortable and relax, knowing you don’t have to face harassment from any source tonight.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘Back to the Starlight Room.’ He smiled a smile of intense private satisfaction. ‘By the time I’ve finished there, I doubt anyone will have the desire to harass you about your decision.’
An independent decision.
She felt weirdly awed by it as she watched the man who’d made it so easily possible walk away to begin putting it into effect. Maximilian Hart. Who had the power to do whatever he set out to do. And he was about to use his power to free her from the life she’d wanted to escape from for as long as she could remember.
‘WHAT’S going on, Max?’
The question was shot at him the moment he re-entered the Starlight Room—it was Lisa Cox, the editor for the entertainment section in one of the major newspapers, sniffing a story that might have more sensational value than a report on a launch party and waiting to pounce on the major source for it. She was a sharp-faced woman with big curly hair, inquisitive eyes and a dangerous tongue.
‘You whip out of here with Chloe, who looked like death,’ she swiftly put in. ‘You come back alone …’
‘Chloe is resting,’ he blandly stated.
‘What’s wrong with her?’
‘The energy drain of the party, continually responding to people without pausing to eat or drink. I think she needed a fast sugar-hit,’ he said with a frown of concern.
‘Does she have diabetes?’
‘I’m about to speak to her mother about Chloe’s condition, if you’ll excuse me.’
He stepped aside, his gaze already scanning the crowd for a carrot-red head.
‘Is this going to be a problem for the show?’ Lisa threw at him.
He returned a freezing-off smile. ‘No. Someone