Then excusing himself on the grounds of celebration fatigue, he made a show of retiring for the night, returned to the executive floor, checked that the second suite he’d acquired was empty, then continued on to the one where he’d left Chloe. Only a little over an hour had passed since she’d made her decision. If she’d developed cold feet about it, he’d have to convince her there was no going back. Actions had already been taken.
She belonged with him now.
The thought jolted him, carrying with it as it did an immense satisfaction. It was too strong, smacking of a possessiveness that was alien to him where women were concerned. In maintaining his own freedom he’d always respected their freedom to make their own choices, as well. But he did own Chloe Rollins in a professional sense, for the duration of her contract with him, and she was now free in a personal sense, giving him the opportunity to pursue his interest in her. That was what was giving him this extra buzz of excitement.
She was the most fascinating woman he’d ever met and she was no longer tied to her husband. He could take her, keep her with him, explore the woman she was inside and out, for as long as he wanted to.
Chloe had not moved from the armchair where Max had left her. A review of her life had been churning through her mind—the whole horrible hollowness of being more important to her mother as an image on a television screen than a person with real needs that were ignored or dismissed.
She’d fallen in love with Tony because he’d seemed to focus entirely on her, the woman, making her feel truly loved, caring about what she wanted. All pretence. No sooner were they married than he’d started allying himself with her mother, adding to the pressure to maintain the image on the screen, sugar-coating it by telling her how special she was.
She’d fallen out of love with him very quickly, disillusioned by how he manipulated their life together to his liking, not hers, but he’d been easier to live with than her mother so she’d done whatever he’d required of her to make the relationship harmonious enough, even to this last deal with Maximilian Hart—Tony angling to be part of the script-writing team, arguing that he could share the show with her, be on hand to look after her interests, ensure she had everything she wanted.
He’d spent more time with Laura than with her, bedding Laura, getting Laura pregnant, while still pretending to be a loving husband. Not that she’d believed it anymore. He loved her career, the contacts, the celebrity whirl. She was the vehicle for the life he wanted, the life her mother wanted.
The marriage had felt empty long before this. Which was why she’d wanted a baby. A baby’s love would have been real and she would have loved it so much. So very much. A child of her own to do everything right for.
Chloe had kept sipping the brandy, liking the fire in her belly. It made her feel alive, made her feel more determined to take charge of her life once this contract with Maximilian Hart had been fulfilled. It felt good to have him on her side, knowing he would help her get through this huge change in her life. It made perfect sense that he didn’t want her so encumbered by problems that she couldn’t shine in his show. She understood that a man like him would want this project to fulfil the potential he’d envisaged. While it was true she was a key player in making that happen, Maximilian Hart was the master player, orchestrating whatever was needed to achieve the desired success.
A man like him …
The phrase had slid through her mind. She tried to analyse what it meant and all she could come up with was a sense of absolute control of himself and everything he did. Maximilian Hart exuded power. Was that what gave him the sexual magnetism that invariably rattled her? It probably rattled every woman who was subjected to his presence.
Chloe was totally unaware of time passing. Hearing the door to the suite being opened jolted her into leaping out of the armchair and turning to face the man who’d done whatever he’d done to ensure she was free of harassment. That was much easier to accept when he was not here. The moment Maximilian Hart came into view, her heart started skittering with nervous apprehension.
‘It’s all right,’ he instantly assured her. ‘You won’t have to see any of them again unless you wish to.’ His gaze dropped to the empty balloon glass she was still nursing in her hands, then quickly swung around the tables in the room. ‘You haven’t eaten?’
‘No. I …’ She flushed, remembering his instructions to order something from room service. ‘I just didn’t think of it.’
He smiled reassuringly. ‘You don’t have to if you don’t want to, Chloe. I’m feeling somewhat peckish myself, so I’m going to order us club sandwiches, which you can eat or not as you please.’
She watched him move to the writing desk, pick up the telephone, speak to room service. He added French fries to the order, then asked her, ‘Tea, coffee or hot chocolate?’
‘Hot chocolate. And tomato sauce.’
He raised a quizzical eyebrow.
‘I like tomato sauce with French fries,’ she explained, not caring if it sounded childish. She suddenly felt peckish, too, and wanted to enjoy the food he’d ordered.
His smile was one of satisfaction this time. Chloe wished his smiles would make him less daunting but they didn’t. They gave her the sense he was one move ahead of her and they were designed to make her feel better about falling in with him. He was probably ten moves ahead of her. She needed to get her wits together and find out what he’d done on her behalf.
Having completed the room service order, he wrote something on the notepad beside the telephone. ‘I’ve booked another suite for myself and stopped all calls to this one so you’re assured of an uninterrupted night. When you’re ready for breakfast tomorrow morning, call me on this number—’ he tapped the notepad ‘—and I’ll join you to plot out the next steps that have to be taken. Okay?’
She nodded, relieved to know he wasn’t thinking of spending the night with her. Not that she had worried about that in any sexual sense. It was a well-known fact he was currently connected to the model Shannah Lian, a gorgeous redhead who oozed class. While Shannah had not attended the party with him tonight, probably because of some other commitment, Chloe didn’t connect the model’s absence to any interest Maximilian Hart might have in herself.
This was business for him. However, he might have thought she shouldn’t be left alone, and the simple truth was she couldn’t relax in his presence. Her gaze drifted to the bed. It would be good to climb into it, knowing she was alone. A shudder of revulsion ran through her at the thought of Tony having sex with her after he’d been with Laura. Never again!
‘Tony will not be connected to the show anymore, Chloe. I’ve fired him from the script-writing team. Laura Farrell will be gone, as well. They’re both out of your professional life.’
Clearing the set for the show to go on, Chloe thought, but their banishment did give her a vengeful satisfaction. ‘Good!’ she said, swinging her gaze back to the man who’d used his power to free her from them in the workplace. ‘Thank you.’
He strolled towards her, gesturing towards the armchair she had vacated. ‘Room service will take a while and we need to talk about your mother.’
She sat down, seething with rebellion against anything her mother might have suggested to him, ready to fight any continuance of the control that had blighted her life. He took his time, settling in his armchair, the dark eyes observing her edginess, making her feel even more tense.
‘Do you want to keep her as your agent?’ he asked.
‘No.’ The word exploded from a mountain of resentments. A rush of doubts followed it. She had no idea of the legalities of the