“Wait.” She held up a hand and he paused. “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. It was fun while it lasted but now it—whatever it was—is over, and we will never speak of it again. How did I do?”
“I will require you to sign a nondisclosure agreement,” he said stiffly, and the words stole the breath right out of her. She felt so outraged, insulted, and—shockingly—hurt.
“And what if I don’t sign it?” she asked through stiff lips. “I mean, aren’t you supposed to sign those things before we do the stuff we’re not supposed to disclose?”
“Usually, yes, but we were in bed together before I had a chance to consider the possibility that something sexual might happen between us. We don’t suit. You’re not my usual . . .” His voice petered off as he grasped that his next words would be in bad taste. Still, he might not have said them, but they hovered between them like an offensive odor.
“I’m not your usual type,” she finished for him. “And because of that, you never thought we’d wind up screwing each other’s brains out. So you didn’t protect yourself the way you normally would have.
“Do you make all of your lovers sign nondisclosure agreements before you sleep with them?” she asked combatively, and his jaw clenched.
“Usually.” The tight one-word answer surprised her.
“You do? All of them?”
He seemed to have no shortage of female companions, and the thought of him going through this same distasteful scene with all of them was a little revolting.
“I don’t trust many people,” he admitted, and his broad shoulders shifted uncomfortably.
“That’s not a very romantic way to start a relationship,” she noted absently, still a bit taken aback by his admission.
“The women I usually associate with understand the need for privacy. Nobody wants their private lives smeared all over the papers for the titillation of the masses.”
“And you think that’s something I would do?” she asked, stung.
“I don’t know you, Miss Knight. I don’t want to know you. We enjoyed each other and that’s the end of it. What you are or aren’t capable of doesn’t interest me. I want you to sign the agreement so that I no longer have to consider the possibility that you may one day decide to do a cheeky little sexposé on your ‘tryst with Dante Damaso.’” Tryst was such an un-Dante-like word for him to use that for a moment she could only gape at him before his words sank in properly.
“How do I know that you won’t be the one to brag to your mates about screwing your secretary?”
“First of all, you’re not my secretary, and secondly, this agreement would protect you from such an eventuality. It works both ways.”
“So what happens if I don’t sign your agreement?” she asked again, trying very hard to disguise the tremble in her voice. “Do I lose my job?”
“Your job has never been, and will never be, at stake because of our personal association,” he said, the answer coming so quickly that she didn’t doubt its veracity. “But this gesture would go a long way toward convincing me of your integrity.”
“And yet it does nothing for yours.” She could see that he didn’t like the idea of his integrity being called into question. He tugged at his cuffs and straightened his already immaculate tie before launching another volley at her.
“You sign it and you have the comfort of knowing that none of this ever gets out. That your brother and friends never discover how very quickly you fell into bed with me.” He played dirty, and for a second she almost fell for his bluff.
“Why would you tell anybody about this when you just admitted that you don’t want it to come out?” she asked skeptically. “Also I’m a consenting adult, and you’re not my first sexual partner. I’m pretty sure my brother and friends don’t have any misconceptions about me.”
“But they don’t think you’re an easy little slut either, do they?”
She could feel the blood draining from her face at the question. She struggled to breathe as the emotional impact of that sucker punch nearly caused her to double over in shock and pain. Why did this hurt? It shouldn’t hurt. He meant nothing to her. He didn’t have the power to hurt her. And yet . . . there was pain. An awful lot of pain.
“You think I’m a slut?” For a fleeting instant, she saw an expression almost like regret flash across his face.
“I could make it look like you are.” He didn’t answer her question, not really, but the failure to give her a yes or no was more of an indictment than an actual reply. “I could make you look like a scheming, manipulative, money-grubbing little tramp, while I come out smelling like a rose. But if you sign this agreement, you’d be protected from that. We could both go back to our lives none the worse for wear. Failure to sign would force me to play dirty. To go on the offensive, and neither of us wants that.”
She hated him so much in that instant that she was shaking with it. He had to know how she felt, had to see it in her eyes, but he didn’t even flinch, merely held the document out with a steady hand until she took it from him. Cleo tried to read it, but her eyes were blurred with tears she hadn’t even known were there. She took the pen from him and signed in the allotted space beside his sprawling signature.
She handed both pen and paper back to him with violently shaking hands, wanting nothing more than to get out of his presence and take another shower.