The Italian's Runaway Bride JACQUELINE BAIRD Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Gianfranco asked Kelly to marry him, after her holiday affair with him left her pregnant! But, once married, Gianfranco was often away on business, and his family made Kelly's life a misery.Then she heard that Gianfranco didn't want her at all - he just wanted their baby, Kelly had no choice but to run away.However, one thing was certain. Gianfranco would find her - but why? Because he wanted to reclaim his bride or his child? “You dare say that to me! You, who deprived our daughter of her father for three years.” His night-black eyes leaping with violence bored into hers as he continued. “Deprived me of my child.” He focused on her with a dark blistering anger that heightened the tension to breaking point. “I saw you today on the beach and I wanted to kill you. Three years of hell you put me through. I am going to make sure you suffer as I have,” he hissed with lethal intent. The fear and tension that had held her since the moment he had walked back into her life finally snapped and Kelly exploded. “Make me suffer! You did that from the day you married me. You never wanted me. All you ever wanted was my child….” JACQUELINE BAIRD began writing as a hobby when her family objected to the smell of her oil painting, and immediately became hooked on the romance genre. She loves traveling and worked her way around the world from Europe to the Americas and Australia, returning to marry her teenage sweetheart. She lives in Northumbria, UK, where she was born, and has two teenage sons. She enjoys playing badminton, and spends most weekends with husband Jim, sailing their Gp. 14 around Derwent Reservoir. The Italian’s Runaway Bride Jacqueline Baird Contents CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER ONE KELLY MCKENZIE, skimpily clad in cut-off denim shorts and shirt, lay flat on her back on the lawn that sloped softly to the edge of Lake Garda, and sighed her contentment. It was the end of August; the sun was shining and life was great. Rolling onto her stomach, she looked back at the house, a glorious old stone building set some fifty yards from the water’s edge. A terrace extended across the full width of the house, and at one end a cluster of cypress trees and shrubs cascaded over the stone balustrades. Shrubs that appeared to be moving, although there was not a breath of wind! How odd! Then she saw him. Her blue eyes narrowed warily. It was the figure of a man half-hidden by the bushes; one hand was on the balustrade and he was leaning over, trying to peer into a window. In his other hand was an iron bar. Kelly’s heart missed a beat. Suspicious didn’t cover it… He looked downright dangerous. Every muscle of her body filled with tension. She watched as he straightened up, his back to her. Dressed in a white vest and a pair of oil-stained khaki shorts, he looked thoroughly disreputable. He was tall—well over six feet—broad-shouldered with lean hips, and he had long legs that rippled with muscle and sinew as he moved. A man who was moving furtively towards the steps up to the terrace and the entrance to the rear windows of the house… Stay cool, girl, she told herself, you can handle this. Three months ago, when she’d bumped into an old school friend, Judy Bertoni, in Bournemouth, and Judy had offered her a job as a nanny to her son with the family in Italy for ten weeks, Kelly had leapt at the chance to spend a summer in the sun, before taking up her post as a research chemist with a government laboratory in Dorset in October. It had seemed a great idea at the time, but now, faced with what looked like a very sinister intruder, Kelly was not so sure… She was on her own. The family was in Rome, and Marta the housekeeper had taken the opportunity of her employer’s absence to go and visit friends, after having warned Kelly to lock up carefully as there had been a spate of burglaries in the area. Kelly fought down the panicked urge to leap up and run and sat silently watching the figure of the man move stealthily to the first step. The tyre iron in his hand said it all. He was obviously intent on breaking in. Well, there was nothing for it, Kelly told herself: desperate situations required desperate remedies, and she’d been a keen gymnast in her youth and the university Thai kick-boxing champion two years running. While the intruder’s attention was firmly fixed on the windows of the house she psyched herself into fighting mode. Slowly, silently she rose to her feet, adrenaline pumping through her veins. Then, with a blood-curdling yell, she spun through the air like a whirlwind, and in a few deft kicks the would-be burglar was flat on his back and she had the tyre iron in her hand and her foot on his throat. Gianfranco Maldini had spun around in surprise at the noise, then he’d had a fleeting image of silver-blonde hair and a very feminine form flying towards him, then all the air had left his lungs. He could not believe it… A chit of a girl had quite literally dumped him flat on his back. Never in all of his thirty-one years had a woman done that to him. About to move, he glanced up the long shapely length of her and stilled. His testosterone took over from common sense. Dio, but she was gorgeous. His dark eyes raked over her in a slow, intense scrutiny. From the top of her head, where silver-blonde hair had been scraped back into a pony-tail and tied with a ribbon, lingering on the perfect symmetry of her features, wild eyes, and a sultry mouth that was begging to be kissed, then lower, to where her high firm breasts pushed against the soft cotton shirt she had knotted under the luscious mounds. An expanse of smooth pale flesh revealed her tiny waist and the indentation of her navel, which the ridiculously ragged denim shorts could not hide, nor the long shapely legs. For the first time in years Gianfranco was struck dumb; he felt himself instantly harden and that had not happened in years either, he thought wryly. But she was stunningly beautiful, vibrant with life, and the image of her flying through the air with such verve and grace was the most spectacular thing he had seen in a long time. What she was doing at Carlo Bertoni’s he had no idea, but it might be a lot of fun to find out. He had not had a holiday in three years and uncomplicated fun had been sadly lacking in his life of late, he suddenly realised. A quick call to his office, and he could free up some time. New York could wait. Yes, he was going to pursue her, he decided with unconscious arrogance. He could do without her foot on his neck, but he was in no hurry to get up. The view was stunning. She was standing legs apart, one leg bent at the knee to keep her foot on his throat and the other beside his shoulder. Her shorts did not cover all they should and he made the intriguing discovery that she was a natural blonde and he had to smile as he wondered if she knew what she was exposing. Kelly lifted the tyre iron in her hand, finally getting a good look at the burglar. Thick black hair flopped over his broad forehead in soft curls and perfectly arched black eyebrows framed deep brown heavily lidded eyes. Only a slight crook in what once must have been a straight blade of a nose stopped him from being classically beautiful. But the whole added up to a ruggedly handsome man. A wickedly handsome man, she amended when his lips curved back over brilliant white teeth in a slow, sexy smile. Kelly almost groaned out loud. Why was it that the most gorgeous male she had seen in her life was a thief? Even at her mercy, he had an aura of supreme male confidence about him that was hard to ignore. But that did not make him any less a burglar, she told herself staunchly. More likely it meant he was highly successful at his chosen occupation. ‘Now, look here, buster, I know you came here to commit a burglary.’ ‘What?’ Gianfranco exclaimed. Being caught off-guard and thrown to the ground was humiliating enough, but to be accused of being a thief was a step too far for a man of his pride and arrogance. In that second he vowed he would make the little madam pay for the insult. ‘Don’t play the innocent with me—it won’t wash,’ Kelly blundered on determinedly. ‘But I am prepared to give you a chance. You didn’t actually get around to stealing anything, so I will let you go, if you promise not to come back.’ The man on the ground shook his head in amazement. If the girl really thought he was a criminal, she was hopelessly na?ve believing a genuine thief would just walk away. ‘Was that a no?’ Kelly demanded, seeing him shake his head. ‘Because the alternative is I am going to hit you over the head with this iron bar, and call the police.’ ‘No—yes,’ Gianfranco spluttered, his sense of humour totally deserting him as he noticed she was holding the damned tyre iron over her head. She was mad, and he had wasted too long lying on the ground admiring the view. One minute Kelly was congratulating herself on keeping her head and control of the man and situation, the next, with a speed that defied gravity, their positions were reversed. Her head hit the ground with a thump and for a second she saw stars, and when her vision cleared she was pinned to the ground. Her hands were held above her head in one massive male hand, and a great body was splayed half over her, one long muscular leg flung across her own slender limbs. ‘Get off me! You great brute!’ she yelled, and started to struggle, but to very little effect. He was much bigger and much stronger. He simply tightened his hold on her wrists and with his free hand he caught her chin, holding her head firm as he stared down at her with angry brown eyes. ‘Now, why would I do that?’ Gianfranco asked mockingly. ‘If I am the villain you imagine, do you really think I am going to let you go?’ Kelly wasn’t thinking, she was panicking, the iron bar she’d taken off him had vanished, and his chest felt like iron pressing down on hers. In a last desperate attempt to dislodge him she tried bringing her knee up against his thigh, and opened her mouth to scream. She almost succeeded, but a hard mouth crashed down on hers and choked off the scream in her throat. It was a kiss of sheer power, forcing her lips back against her teeth until she thought he would draw blood. If he’d wanted to frighten her he had succeeded, she thought numbly. Then subtly the kiss changed. His mouth gentled on hers, moving over and over against the lush fullness of her lips, and, to her shame, slowly she felt herself succumbing to the intense sensual pleasure his kiss aroused. Involuntarily her lips parted on a soft, needy sigh, and helplessly she accepted the probing invasion of his tongue. His hand dropped from her chin to curve around the fullness of her breast, and time stopped. Heat flared through every vein in her body. Seduced by the touch of his hand, the heat of his kiss, the musky male scent of him, she melted against him. It had never happened to her before, sexual excitement overwhelming her mind and body. When he finally broke the kiss and lifted his head she stared up at him in hazy puzzlement, wondering why he had stopped. His hand fell from her breast and he stared down at her with eyes black with anger. She felt the hard proof of his arousal against her belly, and suddenly she came to her senses. What was she inviting by her helpless surrender to his kiss? Gianfranco, with the part of his brain that still functioned, wondered what the hell he was doing, making love to a crazy English girl on the lawn of his friends’ house in the middle of the day. Even though another much more basic part of him had responded instantly to the feel of her curvaceous body softening against him, it angered him. He was not the sort of man who ever lost control. ‘Please let me go,’ Kelly pleaded. Somehow he had inserted one long leg between her own and the heat and weight of him was no longer exciting but sexually threatening. This was a total stranger and a thief she was dealing with, and maybe worse, judging from the state of his body. ‘Stop now,’ she cried, fighting to stay calm. ‘You know, you could go to prison for years for rape.’ ‘Santa Maria.’ Incredulous dark eyes stared down into the beautiful face of the woman beneath him. He had been accused of many things in his time, but a rapist certainly was not one of them. ‘Are you completely mad?’ he rasped scathingly. ‘No.’ The fact that his kiss had knocked her for a loop must have been an apparition, Kelly told herself. She knew what she had to do. He was angry and dangerous, she had to humour him until she got a chance to run. ‘Who the hell are you? And what are you doing here?’ Gianfranco demanded bluntly. Apart from driving him crazy, he thought wryly. He was very conscious of the soft subtle body…except it wasn’t soft, but stiff with tension. He looked into the bluest eyes he had ever seen in his life, and saw she really was frightened, but doing her best to hide it. She actually believed the rubbish she’d been spouting. ‘My name is Kelly McKenzie, and I am working here for the summer as a nanny to the owners’ child.’ If she could keep him talking, she had a better chance to escape. ‘No one heard me scream, so if you let me go now I promise I will not report you.’ ‘Basta. Enough.’ This farce had gone on long enough. Report him, indeed! Gianfranco saw her flinch, and determinedly forced himself to lower his tone. ‘Well, Kelly McKenzie, I am not going to hurt you; I have never forced a woman in my life and I am not going to start with you. Understand?’ She looked up into the dark attractive face, and wanted to believe him. ‘Now, I am going to let go of you and we are going to sit up and discuss this mistake like two rational human beings. Agreed?’ She nodded, every muscle in her body tensing in anticipation of escape. The next moment he let go of her wrists and sat up, but before she could even move he had placed a strong arm around her slender shoulders and hauled her hard against him. ‘Neither am I a burglar,’ he continued quietly. ‘So sit still and listen.’ She didn’t have much option, with his hands linked in front of her, trapping her in the cage of his arms. But, with the imminent danger of rape fading from her mind, Kelly began to recover some of her usual feisty temperament. ‘So you make a habit of wandering around other people’s gardens with an iron bar?’ She turned her head and arched one delicate eyebrow sardonically. Did the man take her for a complete idiot? she wondered. But to her surprise he started to chuckle, a deep, throaty sound that did uncomfortable things to her pulse rate again. ‘Ah, Kelly, now I understand. I know Carlo Bertoni. I borrowed the tyre iron from him to fix a wheel on the boat trailer, down at the marina. I came around today to return it.’ She had never mentioned her employer’s name and yet this man knew it, and she also knew Signor Bertoni kept a boat in the marina. Kelly almost groaned out loud. Such a simple explanation, but she had jumped to the worst possible scenario. Her own father had always used to tell her she had too much imagination for her own good. This time she had surpassed herself. The man spoke English but with an Italian accent. Obviously he must work at the harbour in Desenzano, and as he continued she felt the colour rise in her face. ‘The security gate was open so I called at the door, and when no one answered I walked around the back with the intention of leaving the iron on the terrace. I didn’t want to take it back with me, because I have another call to make further around the lake at Bardolino. That was until I saw this wild woman come flying at me like a circus tumbler and she immediately accused me of being a thief.’ ‘Oh, my God! I am sorry.’ Kelly swivelled around, raising very relieved sparkling blue eyes to his. ‘So you’re not a thief but a sailor, and you work at the port in town.’ Gianfranco’s lips quirked at the corners in the briefest of grins; he had never met a woman in his life before with the ability to jump to conclusions so readily. It crossed his mind to correct her but, looking down into her surprisingly guileless face, and lower to the soft thrust of her breasts, he remembered his earlier decision to have some fun. Plus, it still rankled she had floored him so easily. ‘Yes, I do sail, and I have been working on a boat all morning.’ He didn’t lie, but neither was he telling the truth. ‘I suppose this is the busiest time of year here on Lake Garda, what with all the tourists. Then, of course, there is the big race next week—the contestants come from all over the world, I understand.’ Her employer was going to sail in the twenty-four-hour race. ‘I suppose that is how you speak such good English.’ Kelly was babbling, she knew, but she was so relieved he wasn’t a criminal, just an ordinary person like herself. Now no longer afraid of him, she suddenly had a terrific urge to simply relax in the curve of his arm. ‘Maybe,’ he said with a smile, his dark brown eyes glittering as they met her trusting blue. ‘But allow me to introduce myself. Gianfranco…’ ‘How do you do, Signor Franco?’ Nerves and a racing pulse made her jerk out her hand, a tentative smile illuminating her lovely face. ‘May I call you Gian?’ ‘Gianni. I prefer Gianni.’ And, with her hand swallowed up in his, he dragged her to her feet. ‘So, Kelly, no more misunderstandings. Friends…as you English say, shake on it.’ Very formally they shook hands, but she could see the dancing lights in his deep brown eyes and she chuckled. Then she laughed out loud; the strength of his handclasp, the slight calluses she could feel against her soft palm, obviously from manual labour, convinced her he was telling the truth. ‘I can’t believe I thought you were a robber,’ she spluttered, and then the spluttering stopped as he drew her close into the long length of his body. ‘A kiss to seal our friendship.’ And his dark head swooped down, his mouth claiming hers in a long, tender kiss. When he finally eased her away from him she was trembling, bemused; her dazed blue eyes sought his, and as she watched his heavy-lidded eyes narrowed, masking his expression, and just for a second she wondered if she had accepted his explanation a little too easily. ‘I am afraid I have to leave in a minute, but, now we have established we are friends, will you have dinner with me tonight? Or will Signor Bertoni object?’ Gianfranco asked lightly, tucking her hand under his arm and leading her slowly around the side of the house. ‘I’d love to,’ Kelly accepted with alacrity. ‘I have the next week free, because Signor Bertoni and his wife and son Andrea have gone to visit his parents in Rome.’ Her tongue was running away with her, she knew, but with his fingers linked with hers, and her arm pressed against his side, a tingling sensation sizzled through her whole body; she felt as if she had been plugged into an electric socket. The sudden sensual shock to her system was something completely outside her experience. ‘How old are you?’ Gianfranco interrupted her rambling explanation, glancing down at the beautiful but nervous girl at his side with some amusement. He was far too astute not to recognise that her feverish response to his kiss had shocked her more than it had shocked him. Even so, he hadn’t felt such an instant powerful attraction to a woman in years. She obviously did not have vast experience of the male sex, and it would be his pleasure to expand her education. He slashed her a smile, and felt a brief twinge of guilt; she didn’t look much more than a teenager. ‘I’m twenty-one.’ Kelly beamed up at him. ‘Why, how old are you?’ ‘Thirty-one—probably too old for you.’ ‘Not at all,’ Kelly denied quickly. ‘Judy is twelve years younger than Signor Bertoni, and they are very happily married. In fact, she would do anything for him. That is why I am here on my own. Judy likes to impress her in-laws by looking after her son herself when she visits them.’ Kelly had no idea how much she was giving away by her announcement, but to the man at her side it was a warning. Kelly McKenzie was not the type for a brief fling. She clearly believed in marriage and happy-ever-after and he knew he was on dangerous ground. But, looking down at her animated features and her luscious body, Gianfranco squashed his doubts. He wanted her, and he was a man who always got what he wanted… Eight o’clock in the evening and Kelly’s first surprise was Gianni’s arrival on a large roaring motorbike. They dined on baked lake trout, sitting on the terrace of a small trattoria in a tiny village high up in the mountains. Far below them, the dark waters of Lake Garda shimmered in the moonlight, a perfect setting for a romantic meal. It was well after midnight when they took their leave and got back on the bike. Kelly wrapped her slender arms around him, clasping her hands together at his waist and clinging tightly to him as he expertly manoeuvred the motorbike along the winding road back to Desenzano. Handing Gianni back the crash helmet he had insisted she wear, Kelly was suddenly deflated that the evening was almost over. She looked up at the house and then back to Gianni. Should she ask him in? But it wasn’t her house, and she had only just met him. ‘Thank you for a lovely evening,’ she began formally, but Gianni solved her problem by placing the helmets on the seat of the bike and drawing her slowly into his arms. ‘The pleasure was all mine,’ he husked softly, ‘and, if you will permit me, I have a few days’ holiday and I would like to spend them showing you around the lake.’ ‘Yes, please,’ she agreed breathlessly, completely bemused by the slumbering sensuality in his dark eyes, and when he bent his head and kissed her her fate was sealed. He was everything she had ever wanted, dreamed of, she realised, and nothing else mattered in the world but to be in his arms, where she just knew she belonged. CHAPTER TWO THE next four days they spent touring on the motorbike to some of the lesser-known beauty spots. Places that only the locals knew, according to Gianni. Kelly was fascinated and thrilled in turn; they laughed and teased, and talked. She discovered he lived on the other side of Desenzano, with his mother; his father had been dead for some years. It made sense because Kelly knew that the other side of the marina was the old town, so obviously Gianni was a local, and it was quite usual for an Italian male to live at home until he married. Every day that passed her passion for Gianni grew, until finally she admitted to herself she was in love for the first time in her life. Kelly lay flat on her back on the blanket Gianni had provided for their picnic. It was a beautiful spot—a small grassy clearing on the edge of the lake. They’d had to ride the bike through the trees to find it. But Gianni had assured her they were not trespassing. Slipping off her shorts and shirt to reveal a tiny blue bikini, she’d run into the cool water of the lake with Gianni chasing her. She could still feel the imprint of his large nearly naked body against hers as he had wrapped two strong arms around her and his firm mouth had closed over hers to kiss her breathless. She turned her head slightly. Gianni was lying beside her, one arm outstretched and the other loosely curved around the top of her head. She watched the slow rise and fall of his mighty bronzed chest with helpless fascination. They had eaten lunch, fresh bread, a whole roast chicken, and fruit and cheese. Now he looked as if he was asleep and she could admire him to her heart’s content. Her eyes wandered with awe over his sinfully sexy body—tanned, with a smattering of soft black body hair over his chest arrowing down beneath the wicked black trunks that cupped his sex and not much more. She was beginning to regret not asking him into the house that very first night, because the next day Marta had returned and so now she couldn’t, and she ached for him with fervour she could barely control. Restlessly she sat up. Judy had called this morning—they were coming back the next day, Saturday, and her freedom to meet Gianni would be seriously curtailed. Helplessly her eyes strayed back to the man at her side and she frowned. ‘Why the frown?’ Gianni queried lazily, lifting heavy-lidded eyes to hers. She had thought he was asleep and, catching the dark gleam in his slumbrous eyes, she knew he had been aware of her watching him, and liked it. Her heart jumped, and her nipples tightened against the brief cotton covering in unwitting response. Drawing her knees up to her chin, and wrapping her arms around them, hiding as much of her body as she could, she fixed her eyes on the lake and said, ‘The family are coming back tomorrow.’ She had no real reason to be afraid their relationship would end simply because her brief holiday was ending. But she was… ‘This is the last day of my holiday, I suppose,’ she said with a brief attempt at a smile. ‘Then we must not waste it,’ Gianni drawled huskily, and, reaching up, he caught her shoulders and tumbled her round and down on top of him, his mouth finding hers with unerring accuracy. ‘Open your mouth,’ he husked against her lips, but he did not need to ask as she was more than willing. Gianni’s strong hands swept down the length of her slender body, shaping her waist and hips, her thighs, and trailed back up, one to settle on her buttocks, the other to inch up over her breast. His fingers slipped beneath her bikini top, his thumb grazing over one pert nipple, and she gasped into his mouth as her breast hardened at his touch. She felt his great body’s instant reaction, and instinctively she straddled him, wanting his masculine hardness at the most sensitive part of her. She squirmed on top of him, only two bits of cloth separating her from the possession she ached for. ‘Dio, I want you,’ Gianni rasped. ‘I have to have you.’ He swallowed a groan. She was all fire and light in his arms; the provocative sexiness of her incredible body moving against him made him dizzy with a raw, primitive desire he could barely control. It was years since he had made love to a girl out in the open, and he knew he should not do it now. He was a well-known man, the lake was full of boats, perhaps even paparazzi, which was the last thing he needed. He’d never realised until the last few days how difficult it was for lesser mortals to find somewhere to take a woman to bed. He should stop this now. But as he felt her breast swell into his hand, the soft, slightly tentative stroke of her tongue on his throat, he was lost. Gianni rolled her over onto her back and nudged her thighs apart to settle himself in the cradle of her hips, his hands seeking the halter-neck of her top. He wanted to feast on her beauty, to touch and taste every delectable inch of her. But first his mouth angled over her pouting lips in a kiss of wild, hungry passion. Then he heard it… Suddenly Kelly found herself staring up into the bright sun glinting down from a clear blue sky. Gianni had leapt up, a string of what had sounded very like curses escaping from his mouth in a low, furious undertone. She sat up. Gianni was striding to the edge of the trees, where a much older man stood with a shotgun over his arm. She couldn’t hear what was said, and in any case she was too embarrassed. She hadn’t heard the other man approach. Thank heaven Gianni had or the poor old fellow might have got the shock of his life. Horribly embarrassed by what had nearly happened, she jerked to her feet. Never mind what Gianni had said, she just knew they must be trespassing, and they had been caught. Panic-stricken, she began bundling everything together, visions of languishing in an Italian jail leaping into her mind. ‘I don’t believe it,’ Gianni muttered furiously under his breath, swinging around and striding back to pick up his shorts and shirt and pull them on. ‘We are trespassing, aren’t we?’ Kelly demanded, her face flushed, her hair disheveled. She had no notion of how wonderful she looked to Gianni as she struggled into her own shorts and top. A wry smile parted his firm mouth. He’d just been caught by the security guard he employed to keep an eye on the grounds and hunting lodge he owned. At least the man was doing his job properly, but it was no consolation to Gianni, who was aching in actual pain with frustration. Not for the first time in the last few days he wondered if the pretence was worth it. But he was so used to women throwing themselves at him because of his wealth and name that it made a refreshing chance to be treated like a regular guy. But if he had told Kelly who he was, and taken her to his house and his bed, he would not now be suffering the burning torment of frustration her delectable body had aroused in him. ‘Sorry, Kelly. But I will make it up to you tonight, I promise.’ His mind was made up: tonight he would tell her the truth. Bending down, he picked up the blanket and the food box in one hand and held the other one out to her. He glanced down at her silver head, her hand so trustingly in his, and he felt a bit of a bastard. She was a truly lovely girl, both inside and out. He knew she wanted him; she could not hide her reactions. Neither could he, he thought drily, willing his body to subside. But he was not into denial so it would have to be tonight, because tomorrow he was leaving. He had work commitments piling up around his ears, never mind the fact the Bertoni family were returning. Gianfranco was a sophisticated, experienced man of the world and Kelly, at twenty-one, was obviously no innocent. She was incredibly responsive and went wild in his arms, though sometimes she actually looked surprised at her own reactions. He knew without conceit that he could have had her the first day he’d met her. He stopped, puzzled for a moment at his own restraint. He was not a man who went in for one-night stands—he usually took a woman out three or four times before taking her to bed. He had to like the woman he was sleeping with, and he certainly liked Kelly. He was looking forward to a new affair as it had been three months since the end of his last relationship. Plus, he wanted to discover if she was as much a gymnast in bed as she was out of it! His sudden halt about a yard away from the motorbike caught Kelly by surprise and she kept moving. Her hand fell from his, and, turning, she grinned up at him. ‘Don’t look so worried.’ He was watching her as she spoke with an oddly speculative gleam in the dark eyes that met her own. ‘We weren’t arrested, and it could have been worse,’ she offered with a grin. ‘At least the chap didn’t shoot at us.’ Gianni’s lips quirked. He chuckled and then laughed out loud. ‘You are so good for me, Kelly. Come on…’ And, handing her a helmet, he added, ‘Mount up and let’s ride.’ ‘Now, that’s an offer few girls could refuse.’ She gave him a very sexy wink. ‘Get on the bike,’ Gianni ordered. ‘Before I change my mind,’ he teased her with a blatantly salacious grin, his dark eyes sweeping her slender form from the top of her head to her toes. She really was very lovely; she made him feel like a teenager again. She looked like one herself in cut-off denim shorts. It suddenly occurred to him that he’d never seen her wear anything but shorts or trousers. A necessity on a bike, but he could not help wondering what she would look like sleek and groomed in the kind of designer dress his usual girlfriends favoured. He found himself voicing his thoughts. ‘Tonight, wear a dress.’ ‘On a bike? You are joking?’ Kelly chuckled, swinging one shapely leg over the saddle. ‘No, no, I’m not.’ Straddling the bike, he glanced back over his shoulder. ‘Tonight we will ride in style. I’ll collect you at eight in a car.’ Kelly clasped her hands around his waist and hung on tight as he revved up the engine. Usually she wallowed in the warm protection of his huge body as they rode along the road, but not today. Instead her brain ran a hasty inventory of her wardrobe and she realised she had absolutely nothing to wear! When she heard the doorbell ring Kelly waved goodbye to a frowning Marta and dashed down the marble hall to the entrance door. She was praying Gianni would approve of the pale pink silk-lined chiffon dress that she had bought that afternoon from a sale rack in a very expensive boutique in the town. Gianni’s reaction was all she’d hoped for. His dark eyes widened and an arrested expression crossed his ruggedly attractive face. ‘You look absolutely stunning, Kelly.’ ‘I did as you said. I wore a dress,’ Kelly responded softly, her heart swelling with love and pride, her eyes drinking in the sight of him. A pale green shirt fitted perfectly across his broad shoulders, open at the neck to reveal the tanned column of his throat. Cream pleated cotton trousers skimmed his lean hips and long strong legs, and on his feet were brown hide loafers. She looked back up at his face and her breath caught in her throat. He was so handsome, and somehow different, older than the devil-may-care biker she had fallen in love with. Gianfranco was silent for a long moment, his dark eyes narrowing assessingly on her face and shapely body. The long silver-blonde hair was swept up on top of her head, revealing a diamond crucifix glinting at her throat. The jewels were genuine. The elegant pink dress and shoes were designer wear. He should know—he had bought enough clothes for females over the years. His dark brows drew together in a frown. Maybe she knew who he was. Who was fooling whom? he wondered wryly. Tonight she looked older than her twenty-one, a mature, sophisticated lady, and hey, if she liked to play games, all the better; she obviously knew the score. ‘Gianni.’ Kelly had an uneasy feeling that she had upset him somehow, and she wondered if everyone in love felt this roller-coaster ride between high and low. Her stomach did flip-flops and her pulse raced at the sight of him, but he only had to frown and she was worried sick. A relieved if slightly cynical smile parted his firm lips. ‘Kelly, cara.’ He drawled the endearment and, taking her arm, added, ‘Come on, let’s go eat.’ Encouraged by the endearment, and a minute later seated in the passenger seat of a big blue Volvo car, she asked as Gianni slid behind the driving wheel, ‘This is a nice car; is it yours?’ ‘My family’s.’ Bending over, Gianni pressed a swift, hard kiss on her mouth. ‘Don’t worry, I have not stolen it,’ he quipped. ‘I would not dream of thinking such a thing,’ Kelly said drolly. ‘Of course not.’ One dark brow arched sardonically in her direction and they both chuckled, remembering their first meeting. Kelly’s earlier fear was quickly dismissed, and half an hour later, when he took her hand as he helped her out of the car, she looked up with interest at the large grey stone house set in a small clearing surrounded by trees. ‘Where are we?’ Kelly queried. It did not look like a restaurant. A single window was lit, the light spilling out over a terrace, and there was not a soul in sight. ‘I did think of taking you to the most expensive restaurant in the area.’ Gianni turned her to face him, and added, ‘But I thought of something more private,’ he husked in a deeply sensual tone. The butterflies in Kelly’s stomach started a stampede, but she was where she wanted to be, with Gianni, and, lifting her head, she beamed up at him. ‘Admit it. You couldn’t afford it,’ she challenged him teasingly. ‘So you decided to break into a house in the woods.’ ‘Your imagination will get you into trouble one day, sweetheart,’ he drawled cynically, but the gleam of laughter in the dark eyes as they met hers belied his cynicism. ‘We don’t have to break in—I have a key. The house is owned by the company I work for, and I have permission to use it.’ ‘Oh, so it’s empty,’ she murmured weakly, and swallowed hard, knowing once she entered the house she was tacitly agreeing to furthering their intimate relationship. ‘I’m not going to lie to you, Kelly. I want you; you know that,’ he said softly. ‘But I promise I will not do anything you don’t want me to,’ Gianni assured her with a smile. ‘Now, come on, dinner is waiting. I was up here earlier and prepared it.’ ‘You can cook?’ she asked as he pushed open the door and with a hand at her back urged her forward into the house. ‘I can do anything,’ Gianni said arrogantly, and before she knew his intention he had spun her around into his arms and kissed her long and hard. When he finally lifted his head her eyes, wide and worshipping, clung to his. ‘We had better eat,’ he said roughly, ‘while we still can.’ Kelly knew exactly what he meant. Her hunger for him was growing by the second. She did not know this sensual, needy woman she had become with Gianni. But her mind was made up—she was going to take the chance and find out… They ate out on the terrace by candle-light. Gianni was a marvellous host, but Kelly had to laugh at the food. ‘You call that cooking?’ she jibed as she forked the last mouthful of potato salad into her mouth. He had served melon with Parma ham, followed by prawns with salad, then cold cuts of meat with more salad. ‘There was not a single dish that needed cooking, you fraud. I bet you simply bought the lot in the delicatessen in town.’ ‘Maybe so, but it worked—I needed to get you alone,’ he drawled with a lascivious grin, and filled her glass with white wine yet again. She lifted laughing blue eyes to his. ‘You are incorrigible.’ ‘I know.’ His brown eyes danced with devilment as they met hers, and for a moment the shared humour united them, but subtly the mood changed and their eyes meshed. ‘Kelly,’ Gianni murmured her name, ‘we don’t have much time left; your employer is back tomorrow and I have to go to Genoa; I will be away for a few days.’ Her heart sank. ‘You’re going away.’ Their holiday idyll was at an end, but it did not mean their relationship had to end, she told herself staunchly. ‘It will be at least a week before we can see each other again.’ He reached out to her, his hands palm up on the table. ‘Shall we go inside?’ Her heart lifted: he did intend seeing her again. She glanced up into his deep brown eyes, and what she saw there made her pulse race. She knew all evening had been leading to this moment. They had laughed and joked, but the underlining sexual tension had been growing stronger and stronger. She knew what he was offering, and she knew if she took his hands there would be no going back. She placed her glass on the table, and put her hands in his. Gianni lifted them both to his mouth, pressing a soft kiss to the centre of each palm before rising to his feet. Feeling Kelly tremble, Gianni pulled her up and into his arms. She was so soft, so warm, so his! he thought triumphantly as he claimed her lush, pouting lips with his own. ‘Gianni,’ she moaned his name, her slender body quivering with a need, a want she could not control. She looked up into his night-dark eyes and knew it was the same for him. ‘Yes, my sweet Kelly,’ he husked as he lifted her off her feet and carried her up the stairs to the bedroom, all the time pressing brief kisses to her lips, her cheek, her eyes, nuzzling the curve of her neck. ‘Dio! Kelly, you have no idea how much I ache for you,’ he groaned, lowering her down the long length of his body and holding her slightly away from him. ‘I don’t think I can wait any longer.’ He caught her shoulders and eased the straps of her dress down over her arms. His brilliant brown eyes holding hers, she felt the gentle stroke of his fingers on her bare flesh right through to her bones. ‘I want to see you naked.’ He slid the dress down her body to pool at her feet. Standing before him in tiny lacy briefs, Kelly shuddered as his hands slid back up her hips and shaped the indentation of her waist, and watched as his dark eyes dropped to savour the glory of her near-naked body. His hands tightened around her waist. The bones of his face were taut with passion and for the briefest second she was afraid. He sensed her fear, and loosened his hold. His hands skimmed over the silk slide of her skin to her breasts. ‘You are incredible, so responsive, so beautiful.’ Her skin was as pale as ivory, her body toned to perfection, with high full breasts tipped with delicate rosebuds. His body hardened to steel, and want raced through him like a tidal wave. ‘No woman has ever affected me the way you do, Kelly.’ He bent his head towards her, his breath brushing her lips. ‘But if you want me to stop, say so now,’ he murmured, and kissed her lightly. He did not trust himself to do more. Kelly swayed into him, her lips parting on a trembling sigh, her fingers reaching for his shirt buttons. ‘I don’t want you to stop,’ she whispered against his mouth. ‘Not ever.’ Their mouths met in a hungry, ravishing kiss that blanked every doubt from her mind—all she could think, feel and taste was Gianni. His head lifted and he eased her away from him. She followed his movements with longing in her brilliant sapphire eyes, and in seconds Gianni was naked. Fascination kept her still, her eyes roaming over his body in wonder. He was magnificent, like a sculptured god to her innocent gaze. She dragged a breath into her air-starved lungs and caught that musky fragrance of masculine arousal. She saw his sex surging from the curling black nest of his groin, and wild colour flooded over every inch of her skin. Gianni, reaching out for her, hesitated for a second and stepped back, his dark eyes narrowing. ‘You’re blushing as though you had never seen a naked man before.’ ‘The curse of the McKenzies, my father always said. He was ginger-haired and always blushed.’ She was babbling, she knew, but without Gianni’s touch to reassure her she suddenly felt exposed. ‘My mother suffered from the same affliction, and I take after both my parents.’ ‘Hush.’ Gianni silenced her ramblings by drawing her into his arms. ‘I like it,’ he said, and quite unexpectedly he felt rotten. Kelly knew next to nothing about him, not even his real name. He must tell her. ‘And I like you,’ Kelly murmured as he held her close to his naked body. She was drowning in a million sensations. She did not care that the light was still on; in fact, she knew the picture of him in all his nudity would live with her to her dying day. She stroked her slender hands up his spine, down over his buttocks. He felt like satin and steel, hot and hard, and she ached to know every inch of him. Gianni’s great body shuddered as her small hot hand slid like silk up his spine. He swung her up into his arms and carried her to the bed, dropped her down on it. Breathless, she smiled up at him, a slow, soft curve of her incredibly sexy mouth. Her sapphire-blue eyes, shining like stars, met his, and she reached two slender arms out to him. ‘My full…’ Name, he was going to say, but her lithe naked body spread on the bed was too much. ‘Dio, s?, Kelly,’ he said in a strangled voice. It could wait, but he couldn’t, and he joined her on the bed. Her heart racing, Kelly curved her hands around his shoulders, letting her fingers curl into the soft black hair at the nape of his neck, urging him down to her. ‘Yes,’ she breathed. A tremulous little gasp caught in her throat, and anticipation made her moan out loud as he covered her face with tiny kisses before finally claiming her mouth. She felt his kiss, the stroke of his hand down to cup the fullness of her breast in every cell in her body. Excitement surged through her, making her arch against him with a soft whimper of need. Her fingers dug into his skin as he lowered his head, trailing a fiery line of kisses down her throat to her breast, his mouth closing over one hard tip, suckling and tasting, until she cried out with pleasure. With a wantonness that amazed her, her body responded to his every touch. He was a magnificent male animal, power and virility in every line of his huge body. He nudged her legs apart with one of his own, and she gasped as his long fingers delved between her thighs, but her legs moved wider, welcoming the intimate caress. Her hands slipped down to clutch his hips, one small hand stroking across his thigh, revelling in the different textures of skin and soft curling body hair, and tentatively to the core of his manhood. Gianni instantly reared back. ‘Kelly,’ he grated, his massive chest heaving. He wanted to take it slowly. He wanted it to be good for her, the best ever. He did not ask himself why. ‘Don’t stop,’ Kelly begged, her blue eyes, dark with need, fixed on his hard face. ‘Please, please,’ she moaned. Gianni slid his hands beneath her hips and lifted her to him. His need for her sang in his blood, raced through his veins. There was a roaring in his ears and any notion of taking it slowly was obliterated. With one swift thrust he entered her, sheathing himself inside her. Kelly cried out as a fierce pain ripped through her. For a second Gianni froze, but before she could react to the pain with a low groan he surged into the hot, sleek centre of her again and again, and slowly the pain subsided. Euphoria took over as he drove her higher and higher to some destination she had only ever dreamed about. Afterwards Kelly wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging his great body, relishing his weight on her as the sounds of their frantic breathing became regulated. She could not find the words to describe how he made her feel. He had captured her heart and soul. ‘I love you,’ she sighed, and with a murmur of pleasure kissed his sweat-slicked shoulder, still wanting more. Gianni said something harsh and guttural in Italian and tore himself from her arms and leapt off the bed. ‘You were a virgin,’ he grated incredulously, his dark eyes narrowing down to where she lay naked on the bed. ‘Why the hell did you not tell me?’ he demanded with barely contained rage. He could not believe he had lost control so totally and maybe fallen for the oldest trick in the book… CHAPTER THREE ‘I NEVER thought,’ she murmured, her new-found euphoria dwindling at the repressed fury in his tone. Towering over her, the lover of a moment ago was gone, and in his place was a furious naked man; his hard eyes clashed with hers and the dark menace of his expression made her inwardly wince. Kelly did not understand what she had done wrong. Her mouth dried, and she dampened her top lip with her tongue, tearing her gaze away from the violence in his. ‘You never thought!’ snorted Gianni, shaking his dark head in disgust. Kelly had no defence. She could not help having been a virgin, and it had never entered her head to mention the fact. How na?ve could one get? she thought, feeling sick with a mixture of embarrassment and humiliation. ‘Obviously I made a mistake,’ she said in a flat little voice, forcing the words past trembling lips; suddenly she quite desperately wanted to cry. ‘I certainly did,’ he muttered between clenched teeth as he began to pull on his clothes. ‘A virgin.’ His black brows drew together in a frown as he surveyed her slender body spread-eagled on the bed where he had left her, the blush of passion tinting her pale skin. ‘Cover yourself, for God’s sake!’ The electric light that she had not objected to before now seemed to be fixed like a spotlight on her naked body. Jerking up into a sitting position, she grabbed the sheet and tugged it up under her chin. ‘I’m sorry.’ But she was not apologising to him, she was sorry for herself—his reaction had turned what she had thought was a wonderful experience into something shoddy and shameful. Kelly saw it all clearly now. Gianni had been looking for a holiday fling, and she, poor fool that she was, had thought it was love, the real thing… ‘Sorry. You’re sorry!’ Gianni snarled. ‘What about me? Is it too much to hope you are on the Pill, or can I expect a paternity suit in a few months’ time?’ As soon as the words left his mouth he knew he was being cruelly unfair. He should have used protection. But he had been so out of his head with wanting Kelly that for the first time in his life he had forgotten. He had lost control, and not only that, he thought, as his dark eyes, bright and hard as jet, raked over her huddled figure on the bed: he had taken her virginity and not even satisfied Kelly sexually, something else he never failed to do with his usual lady-friends. It was a massive blow to his ego. But then, he had known the moment he’d set eyes on her she would drive him crazy, and she had. He needed to think, and think hard, and he could not do it with Kelly sitting like a broken doll on the bed. ‘Sorry, Kelly—’ he reached out a hand to her ‘—I should not have said that.’ Whether she was a clever little fortune-hunter or not, she did not deserve his anger. Pregnant! Paternity! While she had thought love, he had been counting costs. All the colour drained from her skin, and cold beads of sweat broke out across her upper lip; she had the horrible conviction she had just made the biggest mistake of her life. How could she have been such a gullible, careless fool? Galvanised into action by his outstretched hand, Kelly knocked it away and shot out of the other side of the bed. Wrapping the sheet around her shivering body, she raised stormy eyes to his across the wide expanse of the bed, anger, hot and hard, coming to her rescue. ‘Oh, please, don’t apologise; you could not possibly be as sorry as I am.’ Ignoring him completely, she set about picking up her clothes. He caught up with her as she was heading for the door. ‘Wait.’ His hands grasped one of hers and spun her around to face him. ‘What for? A repeat performance—I don’t think so,’ she shot back, fighting down a reckless impulse to fling herself in his arms and cry her eyes out. She was angry and ashamed, and physically sore, and with her dream of love shattered. But Kelly was a quick learner. ‘No.’ His mouth compressed into a humourless smile. ‘I am not a complete monster, Kelly, though I guess at this minute you will have trouble believing that. Go ahead and get dressed, and then we will talk.’ And before she could stop him she was abruptly hauled hard against his lean body and he kissed her again. The moment his lips touched hers, the familiar longing swept like wildfire through her veins, but just before she capitulated to the wicked temptation of his mouth he pushed her lightly away. His hooded dark eyes were guarded as he looked down at her. ‘The bathroom is over there.’ He indicated the door with a pointed finger, and he had the gall to pretend to smile with a twist of his lips, but the humour never reached his eyes. Embarrassed yet again by her traitorous body’s response, she blushed scarlet and darted into the bathroom. Five minutes later, washed and dressed and standing before the vanity mirror, she raked her hands through the tangled mass of her hair, trying to restore it to some order. The pins she’d used had vanished in the bed. She bit her bottom lip to stop herself crying. What should have been the most perfect night of her life had turned into the worst. A rap on the door made her jump. ‘Kelly, are you OK?’ The caring note in his rich, deep voice was like rubbing salt in an open wound. Kelly took a deep breath and straightened her slender shoulders, a cynical little smile curving her bruised lips. ‘Just coming,’ she carolled. No way was she going to let him see how much he had hurt her. But it wasn’t easy. Walking into the bedroom, she was struck anew by the fierce sexual hunger she had felt from the first moment she had laid eyes on him. It wasn’t fair. She almost groaned. He was standing by the door, his dark eyes fixed broodingly on his own large hand curved around the handle. The terrible compulsion to stare was almost uncontrollable. His chiselled profile, with the endearing crook in the nose, the high cheekbones and the firm, sensuous mouth, all added up to one staggeringly handsome man. A man whose long, lithe body looked poised for flight. Her stomach clenched, her hunger for him undiminished even now, when he had made it blatantly obvious he no longer wanted her. Probably never had. Where is your pride, girl? Kelly asked herself, and, straightening her shoulders, her long lashes half-lowered over her too vulnerable eyes, she rubbed damp palms down her slender hips and walked towards him. ‘I’ll take you home,’ Gianni said in a level voice, not looking at her. They hadn’t been more than ten silent minutes in the car when the tension beating on Kelly’s nerves began to give her a terrible headache. She glanced sideways at Gianni through the long length of her lashes. His dark features were calmly composed, as though he hadn’t a care in the world. But then, he hadn’t, unless she was even more na?ve than she thought. She was pretty certain he had got some physical satisfaction from the evening. Even if she’d been inadequate in other ways. ‘You never answered my question.’ Gianni’s disembodied voice seemed to attack her from the darkness. She twisted her head around. ‘What question?’ ‘Are you on the Pill or is there a chance you might be pregnant?’ He slanted her a brief glance, one black brow arching enquiringly. ‘No, and highly unlikely,’ she said flatly, taking a deep, shaky breath and surreptitiously crossing her fingers. A large hand landed on her thigh, and she flinched. ‘I will take care of you, Kelly, if the need arises,’ he said. His tone implied that he would rather it didn’t. Furiously she knocked his hand off her leg, colour staining her cheeks, and she blessed the darkness. ‘There will be no need. I can take care of myself.’ ‘As you did tonight?’ Gianni grated harshly. ‘Just shut up and drive,’ Kelly snapped, not prepared to argue. The car swung alongside the kerb outside the iron gates; clearly choosing not to drive in, Gianni turned in his seat. He looked at her slender body curled into the corner of the passenger seat, as far away from him as she could get. With her face scrubbed free of make-up, and her silver hair hanging loose around her shoulders, she looked so young, and guilt hit him like a punch to the stomach. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you tonight.’ He had the totally alien desire to protect her. Tears ached at the backs of Kelly’s eyes. ‘You didn’t,’ she managed to say, and, fumbling with her seatbelt, she avoided his knowing gaze. ‘I did and I am sorry. But I was surprised. I thought…’ ‘You thought I was an easy lay—the English tourist; I know the reputation,’ she said scathingly, turning her back on him and trying to open the door. She had to get away before she broke down and bawled her eyes out. Her delicately arched brows drew together in fierce concentration. How the hell did the door open? And how the hell had she allowed herself to act so bloody dumb? ‘No, no, never that.’ Gianni reached out for her with a half-groan. ‘You don’t understand, Kelly. I was amazed you were innocent, and shock made me shout at you.’ He linked confident arms around her tense body and eased her around to face him. ‘But I don’t want us to end like this.’ He smoothed a few strands of pale hair from her creased brow. Held against his hard, lithe body, with his brilliant gaze riveted to hers, dimly she understood how a bird must feel, mesmerised by the predatory eyes of a great cat. ‘You don’t?’ she asked, hardly daring to hope. His brown eyes were gleaming with what actually looked like remorse. Her skin prickled with sudden heat, and Gianni’s hand dropped lower, to tangle in a whole handful of her silken hair and twist it around his fingers, his dark, compelling gaze never leaving hers. Her tongue snaked out to moisten her dry lips. ‘No.’ His eyes dropped to the lush fullness of her damp lips, and, bending his head, he gently brushed them with his. He touched her and she melted; it was that basic, Kelly realised with a low groan. Gianni lifted his head and stared down into her wary blue eyes; he knew he had put the suspicion there and hated himself for it. He lifted a finger and pressed it against the pulse that beat madly in her neck. ‘This chemistry between us is more than I believed possible between a man and woman. Tonight I was a fool. In the urgency of passion I took what should have been a special gift, like the thief you once called me. I was angrier with myself than you. But the next time I swear will be perfect.’ Kelly heard what he was saying and suddenly she understood. This wonderful, vulnerable man had been angry because he thought he had not pleased her. The love in her heart burst into flame all over again. ‘Oh, Gianni, any time I am with you is perfect,’ she said impulsively, and she felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from her shoulders. His cynical mind thought, Flattery, or fact? He didn’t know, but he was going to take the chance—though he would put off telling her who he was just yet. He smiled, a slow, sexy curve of his firm lips, half-humorous and half-cynical. She could no more hide her feelings than fly; her expressive eyes gave her away or she was a great actress, he thought just before he lowered his head to claim her mouth once more. ‘And this is Andrea, running after the stray cats at the Coliseum.’ Judy Bertoni, her employer, handed Kelly yet another photograph. They were sitting side by side on the sofa in the salon, sharing a bottle of white wine. Andrea was safely tucked up in bed, and Signor Bertoni was out at the sailing club. Kelly grinned at Judy. ‘You seem to have had a great time in Rome, and you managed to look after Andrea with no bother at all. I feel quite superfluous.’ ‘The in-laws were impressed, but your help was invaluable.’ Judy, a tall, elegant brunette, had been a model before she married, and was not the most hands-on mother in the world. ‘I wasn’t there,’ Kelly reminded her with a grin. ‘I know.’ Judy smiled a very self-satisfied smirk. ‘But Carlo realised the difference. The weeks we have been here with you to help, he has had a lot more…attention from me, shall we say?’ she declared archly. ‘In Rome I made sure he noticed the difference, with Andrea occupying most of my time and energy.’ She winked at Kelly. ‘The result being, when we return to England he is going to employ a full-time nanny. I can’t think why I didn’t think of doing it before.’ Kelly had to laugh. ‘I think your poor husband hasn’t got a chance.’ When it came to getting what she wanted Judy was a master of the art. Kelly knew for a fact she had pursued Carlo Bertoni quite deliberately, determined to marry him. Judy had confided as much. Carlo Bertoni was a wealthy man and ran the British branch of the family import and export buisness. He was also a rather old-fashioned, traditional Italian male. His mother had never employed a nanny to look after him and he saw no reason why his wife could not look after their child herself. ‘Anyway, enough about me,’ Judy said, and, refilling the two glasses of wine on the table in front of them, she lifted her glass to her lips and surveyed Kelly through slightly narrowed eyes. ‘Marta tells me you have succumbed to the Italian male’s charm and found yourself a boyfriend. Come on, spill the beans. Where did you meet? Who is he? What does he do?’ It was a new experience for Kelly, having another woman to talk to, and suddenly she found herself telling Judy all about Gianni. ‘I met him here last week. He is gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome, and he works at the harbour and lives in the old town.’ ‘Oh, no!’ Judy exclaimed. ‘You’ve fallen for one of the locals. For heaven’s sake, Kelly, you can do much better for yourself than some manual worker.’ Kelly stiffened at Judy’s derogatory comment. ‘You don’t understand; we are in love,’ she defended. For her it was true, and on Friday night when she had finally left Gianni she had been convinced he loved her too. He had arranged to telephone her on Monday and they were to meet next Friday at a small trattoria they had visited before. ‘Love!’ Judy laughed. ‘Take my advice, Kelly—if you must have a bit of rough, make sure you are protected.’ ‘Thanks very much,’ Kelly drawled sarcastically, her anger rising at Judy’s summary dismissal of Gianni. But in her position as employee she could not really argue with Judy. If Judy had a fault she was a bit of a snob. Biting her lip to stop herself saying something she might regret, Kelly lifted her glass and took a long swallow of wine. Judy had not even noticed the sarcasm in Kelly’s response. ‘My pleasure.’ She smiled briefly at Kelly, no longer interested, and, glancing at the slim gold Rolex on her wrist, she sighed, picked up the remote control and switched on the television. So what if Gianni did have calluses on his hands and worked hard for a living? Did that make him any less a man? No, Kelly thought, a dreamy, reminiscent smile curving her full lips, a vivid mental image of his big naked bronzed body filling her mind. She could barely wait until Friday; she missed him so much. ‘I wonder where Carlo has got to…he is very late.’ Judy’s voice impinged on her musings, and at that moment the door opened and in walked Carlo Bertoni. ‘Oh, my God! What’s happened?’ Judy leapt to her feet and dashed to her husband’s side. Kelly’s eyes widened like saucers at the picture her employer presented. One arm was in a sling, and a swath of bandages circled his head. His usually tanned face looked grey, and it was obvious he was in some pain. Within minutes the whole story was revealed. He had been hit by the boom of his yacht, fallen and broken his arm. He had been to the hospital, had an X-ray and five stitches in his head, and his arm put in plaster. He insisted his injuries were not half as bad as the fact he would now miss the big race next week. Then Judy reminded him it was the last night of the open-air opera in Verona tomorrow night and they had VIP seats. The next day Carlo Bertoni flatly refused to go to the opera. His head was aching and he insisted he would stay at home with Andrea, and Kelly should go in his place. Judy was not pleased but, as she would not miss it for the world because it was a big social occasion, she agreed. Which was why Kelly was dressed in the pink chiffon dress and, in her matching beaded cardigan, was happily following Judy into the ancient arena at nine that night. It was huge. Right in the centre of the floor in front of the orchestra pit, where the stage had been erected, was a square area roped off and filled with white chairs. Judy explained as they slid into their seats that these were the VIP seats. The grey chairs rising in row upon row beyond were numbered seats, and then the ancient stone slabs that rose in circle upon circle to the very top of the arena were the un-numbered seats. With the starlit blackness of the night sky for a roof, the atmosphere was electric as everyone waited for the opera to start. Kelly’s head swivelled around in awed wonder at her surroundings; there was hardly a seat left except for a few in front of them. ‘This is incredible.’ She turned to Judy but her companion was watching the last few people arrive. ‘Now that is what I call incredible.’ Judy shot her a sidelong glance. ‘Isn’t he the most devastatingly attractive man you have ever seen?’ Following the direction of her employer’s gaze, Kelly blinked and jerked upright in her seat. ‘Count Gianfranco Maldini, the most eligible bachelor in Europe, possibly the world. Will you look at him, Kelly? The man has it all. Style, breeding, handsome as the devil, and filthy rich. He is enough to make a happily married woman drool.’ Kelly was looking, but she could not believe her eyes. The man walking to the seats in front of them was the epitome of sartorial elegance. A perfectly tailored dark suit fitted his broad-shouldered long-bodied frame to perfection, the brilliant white shirt that accompanied it showing exactly the right amount of cuff and the glint of a gold cuff-link beneath the jacket sleeve. She blinked and blinked again. She shook her head. No, it couldn’t be… ‘Who did you say it was?’ She was totally confused. The man was the spitting image of Gianni, but with subtle differences. This man looked older; his features were the same, but the laughter that sparkled in Gianni’s eyes was not evident in this man’s cold, arrogant features. Judy shot her an excited glance. ‘Count Gianfranco Maldini. The family estate is in Lombardy, but he has vast holdings all over the place. Carlo knows him and he is hoping to do a deal importing the wine from the Bardolino vineyard the Count owns into England.’ Kelly squeezed her eyes shut, willing the image of the man to go away. She opened her eyes again, and a dreadful fear made the blood drain from her face. The stunningly handsome man not five feet away from her even had the same crook in his nose as her Gianni, but it could not be… ‘What did you say his first name was?’ Kelly asked, still not prepared to believe it. ‘Gianfranco.’ ‘But isn’t that two names?’ She was still denying the truth before her very eyes. ‘No. Think about it. The pope is called Gianpaulo; Giancarlo, Gianluca—they are all quite popular names. Especially in the kind of aristocratic family Gianfranco Maldini belongs to,’ Judy whispered to her in an aside, and then, to Kelly’s horror, Judy rose and called something in Italian to the man. Nausea rose up Kelly’s throat like bile. She could not deny the evidence of her own eyes any longer. It was Gianni, her Gianni, but not as she had ever seen him. Tall and sophisticated, and with his unruly curls slicked back from his broad brow, he looked superb. Strikingly handsome, every inch the sophisticated aristocrat his title proved him to be. The taste of bitter humiliation in her mouth, Kelly tried to huddle down in her seat, her heart squeezing in anguish. He had lied to her, made a complete fool of her, and with each second that passed she died a little more inside. ‘And this is Kelly McKenzie, my nanny. Kelly.’ Judy’s voice rose, and Kelly had no choice but to get to her feet and be introduced to Count Maldini. ‘Ah, Kelly.’ His dark eyes smiled down at her, and she just knew he was going to say he had met her already. Pride alone made her jump in and stick out her hand. ‘A pleasure to meet you, Count Maldini.’ It was bad enough she had made a fool of herself over this man, but no way did she want her stupidity revealed to Judy Bertoni, or anyone else. Her hand was swallowed up in his and he gave her a quizzical look, before lifting her hand and pressing it to his mouth. She felt the electric sensation right down to her toes, and he knew, the devil, and his black eyes were laughing down at her in secret mirth at her charade. ‘How do you like our country?’ he asked politely. She wrenched her hand from his. ‘The country is nice.’ She did not know how she got the words out. She was in shock, but her ordeal was not over, as with impeccable manners he introduced the two women who accompanied him. His mother, a silver-haired lady who had to be over sixty but looked much younger, gave Kelly one brief glance down her elegant nose and murmured the appropriate response. The other woman was thirty-ish, beautiful and superbly dressed. She had one hand resting on the count’s sleeve, and the other she held out to Kelly. Apparently, she was his sister-in-law, Olivia Maldini. ‘This must be a great treat for a nanny,’ Olivia added to her conventional greeting, her cold dark eyes skimming over Kelly and a patronising smile curving her rather thin lips. ‘You could say that,’ Kelly snapped back, suddenly seeing red and a few other colours beside. The shock that had kept her frozen for so long was evaporating and in its place was a towering rage. ‘I am not really a nanny. I finished university in June and I am just filling in for the summer before I begin my career as a research chemist for the government in October.’ Blue eyes flashing angrily, she glanced back up at Gianni—no, not Gianni, she reminded herself, but Count Gianfranco Maldini. The arrogance, the conniving, lying cheek of the man was unbelievable. ‘I think it is so important to be truthful about such things straight away, to avoid any misconceptions later. Don’t you agree, Count Maldini?’ Kelly drawled his name as she asked the question in a voice laced with bitter sarcasm. She was not having these tinpot aristocrats patronising her. His tanned face flushed dark with embarrassment, or was it rage? For a second she thought she had gone too far. His brown eyes narrowed on her face, hard as jet, but when he spoke he was all suave charm. ‘Yes, of course, Kelly, you are right.’ Out of the corner of her eye she saw Judy flash her an angry look before saying something to Olivia in Italian. Probably apologising for her nanny’s bad manners, Kelly thought as rage bubbled inside her. ‘But in some situations there is no time for the truth to be heard.’ Gianfranco’s mouth twisted in a wry self-mocking smile at her obvious anger. What had he expected? He had been so surprised to see Kelly that he had gone along with her obvious wish to pretend she did not know him. A horrendous mistake; he should have admitted straight away he knew her. Hell! Who was he kidding? He should have told her from the outset who he really was, certainly before he had taken her to bed… It was hardly surprising she was furious. But now was not the time or the place to try and explain. ‘Excuse us, we have to take our seats now, but perhaps later…’ Gianfranco addressed his words to Judy Bertoni ‘…you and Kelly would like to join us for a late meal?’ Kelly stiffened and, freed from the tension of his dark gaze, she shivered at the thought of spending one more moment in his company. She saw Judy open her mouth and accept, and her worst fear was realised. There was no way Kelly could eat and drink with this man. The more she looked at him, the more she realised the depths of his deception. The aura of dynamic power and status was glaringly evident. This man was a stranger to her… She recalled the first day, when he had introduced himself as Gianfranco and she had called him Signor Franco. A laugh and a simple explanation and the last week would never have happened. Kelly took a deep breath, reminding herself wryly that she was an adult woman and not a stupid teenager any more. The signs had been there for her to see; the fact that love had blinded her was really her own fault. She lifted her head and discovered to her amazement that rescue had come from the most unexpected source. ‘Olivia is right.’ Judy was talking to Count Maldini. ‘Much as we would have enjoyed joining your party later, I must refuse. My husband is still in great pain. But as he insisted I did not miss the gala tonight, the least I can do is get back to his side as quickly as possible.’ ‘But of course,’ Count Maldini agreed. ‘Another time, perhaps.’ Suddenly everyone was making for his or her seat, and Kelly sank back down in her own as the orchestra began to tune up. ‘Bitch,’ Judy whispered in an aside to Kelly. ‘What?’ Kelly asked. ‘What did I…?’ ‘No, not you, silly! Olivia Maldini. I told her about Carlo’s accident and she immediately implied I should be at home looking after him—her way of making sure I refused the invitation to join their party. Ever since her husband died three years ago…’ Judy flashed Kelly an old-fashioned glance ‘…it has been rumoured she would not be averse to marrying his younger brother. She obviously saw you and me as competition. Mind you, I don’t think she will succeed. Gianfranco dates some of…a lot of,’ she amended with a knowing grin, ‘the most beautiful women in the world. I can’t see him settling for one alone, and, though his sister-in-law is OK, she is nothing special.’ With a kind of sick fascination Kelly watched as Gianfranco’s party took their seats in the front row. She was numb; she hardly dared breathe because she knew the pain was waiting for her… Afterwards Kelly did not remember a single scene from the opera Don Giovanni. She heard Judy’s voice as if from a distance. ‘Hurry, Kelly. We might catch the count on the way out. I want to invite him to dinner. It might help Carlo clinch his business deal with the man.’ Judy leapt to her feet. Kelly had no desire ever to speak to the count again, and in a desperate attempt to delay she deliberately dropped her purse on the floor. Ducking down, she scraped around on the floor, pretending she had lost something, and when she finally straightened up the Maldini party had left and Judy was spitting nails. Kelly thought her ordeal was over, but no such luck. By the time they got back to the villa Judy had got over her bad temper, and, after discovering her husband was already in bed and asleep, insisted Kelly share a nightcap with her. She proceeded to regale Kelly with every last bit of information she knew about the count. Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39919522&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.