Secret Baby, Convenient Wife KIM LAWRENCE Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR Dervla was the nurse who'd tended his wounds when he was injured.He was the sexy billionaire who'd seduced her. She refused to be his mistress, so Gianfranco made her his wife. . . . He had only one condition when they wed: no children. . . For a year they were blissfully happy, making lazy love in the mornings, hot passionate love by night. But Dervla was carrying a secret. She was expecting her husband's baby. . . . Welcome to the new collection of Harlequin Presents! Don’t miss contributions from favorite authors Michelle Reid, Kim Lawrence and Susan Napier, as well as the second part of Jane Porter’s THE DESERT KINGS series, Lucy Gordon’s passionate Italian, Chantelle Shaw’s Tuscan tycoon and Jennie Lucas’s sexy Spaniard! And look out for Trish Wylie’s brilliant debut Presents book, Her Bedroom Surrender! We’d love to hear what you think about Harlequin Presents. E-mail us at Presents@hmb.co.uk or join in the discussions at www.iheartpresents.com and www.sensationalromance.blogspot.com, where you’ll also find more information about books and authors! Harlequin Presents ITALIAN HUSBANDS They’re tall, dark…and ready to marry! If you love reading about our sensual Italian men, don’t delay, look out for the next story in this great miniseries! Kim Lawrence SECRET BABY, CONVENIENT WIFE ITALIAN HUSBANDS TORONTO • NEW YORK • LONDON AMSTERDAM • PARIS • SYDNEY • HAMBURG STOCKHOLM • ATHENS • TOKYO • MILAN • MADRID PRAGUE • WARSAW • BUDAPEST • AUCKLAND All about the author… Kim Lawrence Though lacking much authentic Welsh blood, KIM LAWRENCE—from English/Irish stock—was born and brought up in north Wales. She returned there when she married, and her sons were both born on Anglesey, an island off the coast. Though not isolated, Anglesey is a little off the beaten track, but lively Dublin, which Kim loves, is only a short ferry ride away. Today they live on the farm her husband was brought up on. Welsh is the first language of many people in this area and Kim’s husband and sons are all bilingual. She is having a lot of fun, not to mention a few headaches, trying to learn the language! With small children, she thought the unsocial hours of nursing weren’t too attractive, so, encouraged by a husband who thinks she can do anything she sets her mind to, Kim tried her hand at writing. Always a keen Harlequin reader, she felt it was natural for her to write a romance novel. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else. She is a keen gardener and cook, and enjoys running—often on the beach because, living on an island, the sea is never very far away. She is usually accompanied by her Jack Russell, Sprout—don’t ask, it’s a long story! CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN EPILOGUE CHAPTER ONE DERVLA’S skirt lifted in the updraft as the helicopter carrying their guests lifted off. Her husband—it had taken her three months before she could use the term even in the privacy of her own thoughts—laughed huskily, his dark eyes glinting with amusement as he watched her frenzied efforts to smooth the fabric back down modestly over her thighs. She gave him a half-hearted glare, avoiding prolonged exposure to those mocking eyes because mingled in with the amusement was a glint of insolent sexual challenge that made her hand shake slightly as she lifted it to smooth her tousled red hair into a semblance of order—never an easy objective to achieve where her wayward pre-Raphaelite curls were concerned. Gianfranco made no attempt to restore order to his own mussed dark hair, but he looked gorgeous anyway. With his glorious vibrant Mediterranean colouring, dark fallen-angel features and six-foot-five lean, muscle-packed frame, Gianfranco Bruni could not not look gorgeous if he tried! Gorgeous in a way that triggered a hot hormonal rush and made the muscles low in Dervla’s pelvis tighten when she looked at him; gorgeous in a way that never failed to make her throat tighten with emotion she had no trouble putting a name to—but she didn’t! While not mentioning love had not been included in their marriage vows, it might as well have been because Gianfranco had made his own feelings on the subject crystal-clear when he had proposed. He had proposed! Now how bizarre was that? Gianfranco arched a darkly delineated brow and looked down at her, one corner of his wide sensual mouth lifting in a teasing half-smile. ‘What does that enigmatic little smile mean, cara mia?’ Dervla shivered as he traced the curve of her mouth with the pad of one long brown finger and tilted her face up to his like a flower seeking sunlight. She turned her flushed cheek into the curve of his hand as she looked at him through her lashes, marvelling at the perfect symmetry of his slashing cheekbones, velvety dark eyes and sensually sculpted lips. ‘I just have to pinch myself sometimes. It all seems so surreal.’ His darkly delineated brows drew together above his aquiline nose. ‘And bruise such perfect flawless skin?’ he said, allowing his finger to drop, trailing sensuously down over the pale flesh of her neck until it came to rest in the pulse spot at the base of her throat. Dervla swallowed as the slumberous heat in his dark eyes made her wildly sensitive stomach flip and her heartbeat stumble and quicken. ‘I can’t think straight when you look at me like that and we still have a guest, Gianfranco,’ she protested, her heart skipping another beat as his wicked smile flashed, deepening the sexy creases around his bold dark eyes. ‘Carla?’ Frowning at the reminder, he dismissed his distant cousin with an eloquent shrug of one shoulder. ‘I don’t know why you invited her anyway. It was meant to be a weekend to catch up with Angelo and Kate.’ The gentle reproach made Dervla’s green eyes widen in incredulity. ‘Me invite her?’ Not only had Gianfranco issued the invitation to the gorgeous brunette, but he’d forgotten to even mention it to her! So when the older woman had appeared looking her usual immaculately groomed self with an amount of luggage that had seemed to Dervla more appropriate to a two-month luxury cruise than an informal weekend in the country, Dervla had had to think on her feet and pretend she knew all about it. And Gianfranco himself had not exactly helped the situation when, on heaving himself dripping from the pool, he had found the older woman watching him through her designer shades. His, ‘What are you doing here, Carla?’ had not exactly oozed warmth and welcome! Actually he’d said it in Italian, but Dervla’s command of the language had progressed to the point where she could even get the gist of fairly rapid conversations. She despaired of her accent, but Gianfranco had promised her it was extremely sexy. Dervla didn’t entirely believe him, but it was always flattering to be told you were sexy, especially by a man who was lusted after by every female under ninety that came in contact with him! ‘I know you two are friendly, but I would like my wife to myself sometimes.’ Friendly? Dervla felt a spasm of guilt. She ought to think of Gianfranco’s cousin as a friend; the other woman had gone out of her way to make Dervla feel at home when she had arrived. If it hadn’t been for Carla’s tactful suggestions she could have made a number of painful faux pas—actually she’d made them anyway, but that was because she didn’t always accept the older woman’s very good advice. It had been Carla who had supplied the identity of the gorgeous, nubile young woman who had plastered herself against Gianfranco as they did a circuit of the dance floor when everyone else she had asked changed the subject or pleaded ignorance. Carla had explained about the blonde’s on/off relationship with Gianfranco. It seemed that they picked up the threads of their relationship when it suited them both. ‘More of a habit than a relationship, really,’ she observed dismissively. Habits, Dervla thought, watching Gianfranco’s ex-girlfriend trail her scarlet fingertips down his lapel before drawing his face down to kiss his lips, were hard to break. Even if you wanted to, and she wasn’t sure in the early days Gianfranco did! Carla advised her not to bring up the subject. ‘You really mustn’t feel insecure about it, Dervla, because I’m sure he would never disrespect you by being unfaithful.’ Carla was the only one who didn’t clam up when she mentioned Sara, Gianfranco’s first wife and mother of his son. ‘He adored her,’ Carla confided when she walked into a room and saw Dervla staring at a framed portrait by a famous photographer of a newborn Alberto in the arms of his mother, who had the serene look of a glowing Madonna. Not exactly news, but it had made Dervla’s spirits sink like a lead weight anyway. If she considered anyone a friend here in Italy it really ought to be Carla. Yet somehow she never felt totally easy in the Italian woman’s sophisticated company. Maybe, she mused, it was because of the incident just after her move to Tuscany when she had still been feeling totally out of her depth and insecure. Understandable really—Dervla had been less philosophical about the mix-up at the time—that a person would assume that Carla was Gianfranco’s wife. The stylish Italian woman was the sort of person you expected to find married to an incredibly attractive Italian billionaire. But he chose me, she reminded herself, sticking out her chin in an attitude of defiance. ‘We should get back to the house. Carla’s on her own.’ She caught her lower lip between her teeth and grimaced. ‘I think we’ve neglected her a bit this weekend,’ she reflected guiltily. The moment Angelo and Kate had arrived the two men had exchanged their suits for jeans and tee shirts and headed out onto the hills on horseback while Angelo’s heavily pregnant wife had understandably been pretty much unable to talk about much else but pregnancy and birth. ‘Carla’s not really a woman who feels comfortable in the company of other women,’ Dervla mused, thinking how the other woman became more animated when a man walked into a room—which made her efforts to seek out Dervla all the more considerate. ‘And she definitely doesn’t like baby talk,’ she added, recalling the other woman’s glazed expression and yawns. Gianfranco threaded his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans and turned his squinting regard on the panoramic view of the valley, drawing her a little to one side as they joined the path through the trees that led back to the house. ‘But were you all right with it?’ His eyes swivelled towards her, the expression in the dark depths concealed from her by the sweep of his ebony lashes. ‘All the baby talk?’ Not fooled by his casual tone, Dervla knew exactly what Gianfranco was really wondering. Was being around the heavily pregnant and glowing Kate a painful reminder of her own infertility? Did it make her mourn for the child she could never carry for the man she loved? If she had been being strictly honest about the subject—which she never was, not even to herself—Dervla would have had to reply yes to his question. Or she would have, but, fingers crossed, things had changed. Excitement fizzed up inside her and she quickly lowered her lashes like a shield, because she knew he would see the hope she felt sure was shining in her eyes. And now wasn’t the right moment. When she did tell Gianfranco her news she didn’t want any interruptions and cousin Carla had an instinct for walking into a room at the wrong moment! ‘Of course.’ Catching her chin between his long fingers, Gianfranco tilted her face up to his. She shifted uncomfortably under his searching scrutiny, but did not drop her eyes. After a moment he nodded, presumably satisfied by what he had seen in her face. Dervla was amazed, but relieved—normally it was impossible to get even a half-truth past Gianfranco. ‘Poor Carla,’ she said as his hand fell away. ‘I don’t think she could get her head around the fact the staff had the weekend off and you and Angelo were cooking. I think she thought it was beneath you.’ Dervla might have once assumed the same herself when the only things she had known about the billionaire Gianfranco Bruni, socialite and hotshot ruthless financier, were the headlines containing his name she had read. It wasn’t that he wasn’t that man the financial pages referred to with respect, awe and in some circumstances fear, but he was more—much more. Gianfranco was a complex man, a man with many layers. A man it would take a lifetime to understand. A man who would drive you insane with frustration while you tried! ‘I have no interest in discussing Carla,’ her many-layered husband remarked, oozing male arrogance as he dismissed his cousin with a click of his long fingers and turned his attention to his wife. The raw smouldering heat in his sensuous regard sent her temperature up several degrees in the space of a single heartbeat. ‘And at this moment I would much prefer that you were beneath me,’ he remarked, sliding his big hands to her shoulders. Dervla, her wide eyes melded with his smouldering dark orbs, didn’t resist as he drew her towards him; molten heat pooled low in her belly and her knees gave way. ‘Carla…’ she faltered with one last attempt to cling to sanity and common sense. Gianfranco just smiled, all smug male confidence, and she might have been angry with him if she hadn’t been able to feel the tremors running through his body like a fever. She could forgive him for turning her into a mindless slave to desire because amazingly she did the same to him…red hair, freckles and all. The man had the oddest taste, but who was she to argue…? Still holding her eyes with his, Gianfranco slid his hand down, grazing the contours of one small, firm breast with his knuckles before encircling it with his fingers, letting the warmth fill his palm. There was no slow build-up; the desire that licked through like a white-hot flame was instantaneous. Dervla’s head fell back, her eyelids flickering downwards across her flushed cheeks as she inhaled deeply and then released the breath on a long, fractured sigh. As he watched her Gianfranco’s arm slid supportively to her waist as her knees sagged; he pressed his mouth to the smooth column of her throat. ‘Do you know how much I want you?’ Before she had any opportunity to respond to this harsh question—always supposing she had been capable of more than a whimper—he took her hand and pressed it palm down against his groin where his erection was painfully restrained by the denim. ‘This much.’ Dervla’s insides dissolved with primal desire, the liquid heat spreading until every hungry cell ached and throbbed with it, the pleasure bordering pain. Gianfranco felt her gasp and shudder and when she opened her eyes and looked at him her eyes looked dark and glazed, the green almost swallowed up by the dilated pupil. ‘Gianfranco, we shouldn’t…’ she whispered, while thinking, If we don’t I’ll die. I’ll shrivel up and expire of sheer frustration. Their warm breaths mingled as he tugged gently at her lower lip with his teeth. Skimming his tongue across the full, cushiony, soft, trembling, moist outline, he nuzzled his nose against hers. ‘We should,’ he contradicted thickly as he bent his head, fixing his warm mouth to hers. Her tongue slid sinuously against his and a ragged moan was dragged from deep in Gianfranco’s chest. ‘Do you know how good you feel?’ he asked, cupping the curve of her bottom with his hand and dragging her hard up against him. With his free hand he began to trace the soft contours of her face, his fingertips barely touching her skin. ‘I couldn’t go through a day without smelling your skin, seeing your face, touching you…’ She tilted her head back and looked directly into the mesmerising heat of his eyes. She wanted, actually she ached, to say I love you, but instead she blocked the forbidden words and whispered, ‘Show me how much you want me, Gianfranco.’ She saw the flame in his eyes and raised herself onto tiptoe, then slanted her mouth softly across his. As she began to pull away he released a low imprecation and, grabbing the back of her head, ground his mouth into hers. Kissing her as though he’d drain the life from her. Lips attached, they sank entwined to the mossy floor. A silence punctuated by soft gasps and hoarse gasps pulsed as the trees stood silent witness as they feverishly tore at each other’s clothes until they lay hot bare flesh to hot bare flesh. Gianfranco covered one hardened nipple with his mouth, causing her slender back to arch as deep darts of pleasure penetrated to the very core of her. He kissed his way down her belly as his fingers explored the soft curls at the apex of her legs before sliding deeper into her. Feeling as though she were drowning in erotic pleasure, Dervla slid her fingers across the sweat-slick golden contours of his hard, smooth shoulders. ‘Now, please!’ she begged. ‘Oh, my God, Gianfranco, why are you so damned good at this?’ she groaned as he responded willingly to her plea. ‘Look at me!’ he commanded thickly as he filled her, sinking deep into her heat. ‘I want to see your face.’ His own face was flushed, the skin drawn tight against the strong planes and hollows of his bone structure. Their eyes were sealed as tightly as their bodies as they moved together, both silent but for tortured breathing until a low, almost feral cry of pleasure was torn from Dervla’s lips as the first wave of release hit her. At almost the same moment she felt him pulse hotly inside her. Stretched out lazily on the mossy floor, Gianfranco watched, one hand beneath his head, as she began to dress. Arms twisted behind her back, balanced on one leg, Dervla struggled clumsily with the clasp on her bra. He responded to the wave of tenderness that hit him with his usual mantra of, It’s just lust, a purely sexual thing, and wondered as he rode out the wave how much shelf-life that particular rationalisation had? ‘You could help.’ ‘My expertise lies in removing undergarments. Besides, you really don’t need that thing, pretty though it is,’ he conceded. ‘I prefer you free and unfettered, especially under a silk blouse.’ ‘You mean I’m flat-chested,’ Dervla snapped, pretending outrage as she tore her blouse from his fingers. Actually marriage to Gianfranco had cured her of any insecurities she had about her body; he enjoyed it and had taught her to do the same. Gianfranco laughed. ‘Hardly that, cara! You fit in my hands just perfectly,’ he reminded her, extending one hand and flexing his fingers suggestively to demonstrate the fit. She turned her head quickly, but not before he had seen the hot fiery rush of colour to her cheeks. That she could blush now when he could still taste her on his lips, when he knew every inch of her body better than he knew his own, made him grin. ‘You’re blushing.’ Dervla tossed back her red hair and turned, fastening her shirt as it settled in wild rippling curls around her shoulders. ‘You just like to torment me,’ she charged reproachfully. His eyes slid to her smooth, high cleavage as he levered himself upright in one fluid motion. With one hand he smoothed back her hair from her face before planting a warm, lingering kiss on her parted lips. ‘It only seems fair, cara,’ he husked, ‘as you torment me.’ It was true, though the urgency of his desire had ebbed, it was never far away when he looked at her or even thought of her. He had never known anything like it. ‘What are you thinking?’ he asked, studying her face with the unnerving intensity that always made her feel he could see into her head and read her thoughts. Dervla shook her head. ‘I was just thinking…’ She watched through her lashes, her attention drifting as he fastened the belt across his slim hips and began to button his shirt across his flat, muscle-ridged belly. ‘It’s just all this—’ The expressive sweep of her slim arm took in the Tuscan landscape, of rolling hills dotted with olive groves and the sensitively and expensively restored palazzo, which, with the exception of a few years when Gianfranco’s father had lost it in a poker game, had been in his family since the fifteenth century. A year ago life had been much simpler. She had been a nurse, philosophical about the fact that there was no way she could afford to get on the property ladder in London. Now she was mistress of this vast estate and several other luxurious homes across Europe including a London Georgian town house complete with the obligatory underground pool and leisure complex, and wife of the powerful enigmatic man who earned the billions for their upkeep. ‘It’s so far away from my old life.’ There had been so many changes in the past year that sometimes when she caught sight of her reflection in a mirror Dervla hardly recognised the woman reflected there, and she wasn’t talking designer outfits! The changes went much deeper. But then she hadn’t actually had much choice but to adapt when she’d found herself plunged into a totally alien environment and dramatically out of her comfort zone. She’d had to develop a few new skills to cope. And she had. A year ago she would have laughed hysterically at the suggestion that she had the ability to get a children’s hospice—funded by the charitable trust funded by Gianfranco’s financial empire—from the drawing-board stage to bricks-and-mortar reality. Similarly she would have had a panic attack at the notion that she could attend and, even more scary, host glittering events where the guests could be as diverse as politicians, Hollywood royalty and the real thing—who ever knew there were so many princes in Europe? Maybe some of Gianfranco’s—not entirely realistic in her view—confidence in her ability to do whatever he threw at her had rubbed off, because she had done both. And become a stepmother. A small frown puckered the smooth skin of her brow as her thoughts turned to her stepson, whom she adored. That might have been the biggest challenge of all if Alberto had displayed even the remotest resentment of her, his new stepmother, or if Gianfranco had made it quite clear on the one occasion she had found herself in the middle of a father-son tussle that when it came to his son he made the decisions. She had forgotten what the minor disagreement had been about, but not his words when he had referred to the incident when they were in private. ‘There has been just Alberto and me for a long time now…what we have works.’ Dervla’s admiration was sincere. ‘I know you’re a great father. I was only—’ ‘I will not have you undermining my authority with my son, Dervla.’ ‘I wasn’t trying to—’ He brushed aside her protest with an impatient motion of his hand. ‘Children,’ he told her, apparently unaware of the insult he had offered her, ‘need continuity.’ ‘You mean children are permanent and wives are temporary.’ His irritation was written clear in his steely stare as he retorted coldly, ‘If you wish to put it that way.’ She hid her hurt behind aggression. ‘You put it that way.’ His careless shrug made her resentment spill over into an unwise—she knew it the moment it left her lips—reference to his dead first wife. ‘I don’t suppose you told Alberto’s mother it was not for ever when you proposed to her?’ His expression iced over, making him seem austere and distant. ‘My marriage to Sara is not relevant. I did not marry you to give Alberto a mother.’ ‘I sometimes wonder why you married me at all,’ she slung back childishly. The white-hot blaze in his eyes as he grabbed her by the shoulders and dragged her up against his long, lean body made her knees fold as he gave his driven response to her question. ‘I married you because you wouldn’t be my mistress, because I couldn’t think straight without you in my bed and because I will not share you with another man.’ No mention of love, but he kissed her and she told herself she didn’t care. About three seconds later she stopped thinking entirely. Dervla sighed. It was always that way the moment Gianfranco touched her: her principles and pride vaporised. Which was why she had ended up married to a man who never even pretended he loved her, though for one split second when he had proposed her mind had made that understandable assumption. ‘But you barely know me!’ she protested. ‘It takes time to fall in love, Gianfranco and—’ She stopped, the colour seeping from her face as the truth—as she saw it then—hit her. Time had not the first thing to do with falling in love. And for some people it actually didn’t take long at all…in her case it had taken about a second, and now it seemed that amazingly it had been the same for Gianfranco…? Only he had had the sense to recognise it. She lifted her dazed eyes to his lean, devastatingly handsome face and thought, I really do love you. A shuddering sigh left her parted lips; a smile of wondering joy spread across her face. Gianfranco, she saw, was smiling too, only his smile twisted his mobile lips into a cynical grimace and left his incredible eyes unusually cold. ‘I am not looking for love.’ Her face remained frozen in the smile, but the light had gone out of her eyes as he expanded on the theme. ‘If such a thing actually exists…?’ ‘You don’t think so, I take it.’ One dark brow moved in the direction of his hairline and he sketched a sardonic smile. ‘Outside fairy tales? Do you know how many marriages actually last more than a few years?’ ‘So how long do you propose our—our hypothetical marriage will last?’ ‘You cannot fix a specific time when there are so many unknown variables.’ God, and they say romance is dead! ‘So when you say for better or worse, what you actually mean is until the gloss wears off or something better comes along?’ ‘You think it’s somehow more courageous and noble to stay in a marriage because of a sense of obligation?’ Lip curled, he shook his head. ‘That’s not nobility. At best it’s habit, at worst it’s laziness and fear. I’m being a realist. You might prefer me to trot out the clichås about us being fated to be together through eternity?’ ‘People are. My parents had been married thirty-five years when they were killed.’ ‘An accident?’ ‘The coach they were travelling in went across the central reservation of the motorway and hit a lorry coming in the opposite direction. Ten people were killed, including my parents.’ ‘You were how old?’ ‘Eighteen, in my first year of nurse training.” ‘I am sorry, and I am glad your parents had a happy marriage, but I cannot see into the future. I have no idea what I will feel in five, ten years’ time, but I know what I feel now. ‘Now,’ he told her, in a voice that made every single nerve ending in her body sigh, ‘I want you.’ That had been a year ago and he still wanted her, and any future plans he spoke of included her. What are you going to do when he doesn’t and they don’t? Fear tightened and clenched inside her and with a small cry she turned and buried her head in Gianfranco’s chest. ‘I’m happy!’ she declared defiantly. Startled by her abrupt action, Gianfranco stared down for a moment at the top of her head before lifting a hand to stroke a fiery curl, stretching it and then letting it spring back softly into shape. ‘Happy?’ Dervla felt his hands on her shoulders and burrowed deeper into him, her eyes closed, feeling the solid warmth of his lean, hard male body seep into her as his arms folded across her ribcage. ‘Yes, I’m happy.’ Everyone had a different recipe for happiness, but she knew that hers had one vital ingredient: Gianfranco. So things might not be perfect, the alternative was no Gianfranco. It was an alternative she could not bring herself to contemplate; it was the reason she had said yes when he proposed. Gianfranco prised her face from his shirt. One big hand framed the side of her face, the other sliding into the lush silky curls on her nape to cradle her skull as he scanned her face. An image superimposed itself in his head of Dervla’s face when she had told him that she couldn’t marry him because she wasn’t able to have children. Dio mio, I’m about as sensitive as that stone, he thought, kicking a wedged rock free with the toe of his shoe. How, he asked himself, did you expect her to feel, when you have her spend the entire weekend with a heavily pregnant woman who babbles incessantly about babies? Of course she cared more than she pretended. Dervla had been up front about it from the beginning. He had not been so honest in his response. He had seen the gratitude shining in her eyes when he had promised her that her inability to conceive made no difference to him; she clearly hadn’t believed a word he said, but he hadn’t made any real push to dissuade her from her clear belief in his nobility. Contrary to what she thought, there was no sacrifice on his part; when she had told him of this tragedy in her life his reaction had been relief! Relief he would never now need to have that awkward conversation—the one where he would have to dredge up his past mistakes. ‘Happy? So that,’ he teased lightly as he blotted with his thumb the sparkling tear that was sliding down her cheek, ‘is a tear of joy?’ Dervla didn’t respond to his comment. Instead she tilted her head and asked, ‘Are you happy, Gianfranco?’ ‘What is happy?’ She saw the trace of irritation in his face at the question, and thought, If you were happy you wouldn’t need to ask. ‘I would be happier,’ he said, taking her hand, ‘if Carla decides to go home this evening.’ CHAPTER TWO GIANFRANCO’S wish was not granted. When they got back to the house Carla, wearing a swimsuit encrusted with sequins and quite obviously designed more for displaying her perfect body beside a pool than swimming in, asked Gianfranco if she could beg a seat in his helicopter the next morning. ‘I thought you had things to get back to.’ ‘No, I’m all yours,’ the older woman responded, apparently oblivious to the strong hint. ‘And the staff are back so you won’t need to vanish into the kitchen. You’re both so eccentric,’ she murmured, shaking her head before pleading with a pretty smile for Gianfranco to apply some sunscreen to her back. Dervla stiffened, her hands balling instinctively into fists as an image of Gianfranco’s hands on the other woman’s warm, smooth skin formed in her head. ‘I don’t think you’re in danger of burning, Carla. It’s six-thirty.’ With a quick smile at Carla, Dervla followed him indoors. ‘Will you not be so rude to Carla,’ she hissed. He arched a brow. ‘You wish me to put cream on other women? I think not. I saw your face. You’d have pushed her into the pool if I’d tried.’ He did not sound displeased by the discovery. The colour flew to Dervla’s cheeks. ‘No, I’d have pushed you into the pool, but this is Carla—she doesn’t mean anything by it.’ Be tolerant, Dervla, be tolerant. ‘She’s like that with all men.’ He gave a grimace of fastidious distaste. ‘You mean she comes on to all men.’ Dervla’s eyes flew wide. She pressed her hand to her stomach feeling suddenly nauseous. ‘She’s never…with you, has she?’ ‘A gentleman does not speak of such things.’ ‘So that leaves you free to spill the dirt.’ Gianfranco threw back his head and laughed. ‘She is really not my type, cara,’ he promised, lifting a hand to stroke her cheek. ‘And you need not worry about her feelings. She has the skin of a rhino. Short of showing her the door, we’re stuck with her until tomorrow. I suppose we’ll just have to grin and bear it.’ During dinner Gianfranco showed very little inclination to follow his own advice, so it was left to Dervla to supply the extra smiles. By the time the Italian woman was midway through a lengthy description of the famous people she had rubbed shoulders with at a recent celebrity auction Dervla’s facial muscles were aching from the marathon. ‘What charity was the auction for?’ she asked when Carla paused for breath. ‘For…?’ The older woman looked at her blankly for a moment. ‘The charity it was raising money for?’ ‘I really can’t recall.’ Dervla bit her lip, and didn’t dare look at Gianfranco, she knew he’d make her laugh. ‘Did I mention that I spoke to the prince? A charming man.’ Before Dervla had a chance to adopt an appropriate expression of polite enquiry Gianfranco cut in with a dry, ‘Yes, you did, Carla—several times.’ Dervla shot her husband a look of warning from beneath the sweep of her lashes and said brightly to fill the awkward silence, ‘Are you sure you won’t have some of this lemon tart, Carla?’ ‘No, no pudding, I’m watching my weight.’ The glance she slid the second slice on Dervla’s plate suggested that she thought Dervla ought to be doing the same. ‘But, you could lend me your husband, just for a few minutes. Boring financial stuff…’ She angled a look of enquiry at Gianfranco. ‘If it wouldn’t be too much of a bother…?’ There was a pause and for one awful moment Dervla thought Gianfranco was going to say yes, it would be too much of a bother, when he got to his feet, his attitude more polite resignation than eagerness. ‘If it’s urgent?’ ‘Well, you probably won’t think it is, but I have been worried.’ ‘Would you like to come to the study?’ His enquiring glance slid towards Dervla. ‘I’ll wait here.’ Carla smoothed her creaseless skirt down over her slim hips and patted Dervla’s hand. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t keep him a minute.’ The minute Carla had spoken of stretched into an hour while Dervla sat alone at the dinner table drinking coffee. When the maid came in she refused the offer of another pot and told the girl with a smile she could clear away. Another five minutes and she decided she might as well go to bed. As she passed the door of Gianfranco’s study she heard some very unfinancial-sounding laughter before she shouted her intention of retiring. ‘I’ll be up in a moment!’ Gianfranco called out. It turned out his grasp of time was just as sketchy as Carla’s. It was actually midnight when Gianfranco finally did join her in their bedroom. Hearing his footsteps in the corridor outside, Dervla leapt into bed, picking up a magazine from the table on her way. ‘What did she want?’ Conscious that this was one of those situations where it would be very easy to sound like a jealous wife, Dervla was careful that nothing in her manner suggested her interest in Gianfranco’s response to her question was anything but tepid. Actually she had spent the past hour pacing up and down, her eyes drawn continually to the hands on the clock. It wasn’t that she was jealous as such of Carla, and she was sure that Gianfranco did not think of the older woman in that way, but they had a history, a history she was excluded from, memories she did not share. Carla had been a close friend of Alberto’s mother, Sara. Had the conversation in the library turned to Sara? While every snippet of information she’d gleaned from Carla had only confirmed her suspicion that Sara had been the love of Gianfranco’s life, some hitherto unsuspected streak of masochism in her made Dervla hungry for the details even though she was tortured by every new proof of how special their love had been. Gianfranco gave a disgruntled snort. ‘Some stuff about shares, hardly urgent.’ The same could not be said of his desire to join his wife in their bed. The light from the bedside lamp picked out the gold in her burnished hair and made the nightgown she wore almost transparent. His body hardened as he looked at her; her slim, supple curves never failed to arouse him. ‘Finally,’ he said, walking towards the bed where she sat hugging her knees, ‘I have you all to myself.’ She tilted her head and reminded him, ‘This weekend was your idea.’ ‘It was a bad idea.’ Slipping the buttons on his shirt, he sat down beside her on the bed. He reached for the magazine in his way and Dervla, catching a glimpse of the cover, tried to snatch it away. ‘What are you reading that you don’t want me to see?’ ‘Nothing, nothing, let me have it, Gianfranco.’ The anxiety in her voice made him frown. He leaned back, the magazine in his hand, and turned it over. His teasing smile faded. It was a medical journal. Dervla sighed. ‘Oh, all right, I didn’t want to tell you this way, but the doctor suggested I read this article…’ ‘Article?’ He glanced down. The front cover announced the contents included the latest research on a new drug for breast cancer. It took his mind a microsecond to make the next sickening leap. He felt as if someone had just reached inside his chest and placed an icy hand around his heart. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, telling himself that his feelings were not important, this was about Dervla and he had to be strong and stay positive for her. Her eyes slid from his, her lashes brushing her smooth cheeks as she turned her head. ‘Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.’ He cupped her chin in his hand, drawing her face up to him as he moved closer to her on the bed. ‘You are a terrible liar.’ Please, God, let this not be happening. ‘Look, whatever it is we can face it together…It is never hopeless—they are coming up with new cures for…’ He stopped and took a deep breath. He had to stay positive for her sake. ‘Cancer is just a word.’ She gave a small cry of denial, her eyes widening in horrified comprehension. ‘No…no, it’s nothing like that. I promise you, Gianfranco, I’m not ill.’ ‘You’re not?’ When she shook her head positively he released a long sigh, his shoulders slumping as the most intense relief he had ever felt in his life washed over him. There was, he realised, a degree of truth in the old adage that said you didn’t know how much you cared for something until you were faced with the prospect of losing it—or her! ‘You’re sure?’ She caught hold of both his hands and, drawing herself up to her knees, rubbed her nose against his. ‘Totally.’ He jerked her hard towards him and kissed her fiercely on her soft, parted lips. ‘If you ever do that to me again,’ he promised when he finally released her, ‘I will throttle you.’ His eyes went to the slim pale length of her throat. Desire thickened his voice as he added, ‘Do you understand?’ Dervla sank back onto her heels, looking flushed and deliciously tousled but not unduly concerned by the growled threat, and nodded. ‘I understand.’ ‘So as we have established you are not dying on me—’ despite the flippancy in his voice he was forced to shove his hands in his pockets to hide the fact they were still shaking ‘—just what are you doing reading that?’ Dervla looked at him through her lashes, her green eyes sparkling with suppressed excitement. ‘You read it,’ she suggested, opening the magazine and stabbing the page with her finger before handing it to him. It didn’t take him long to skim the relevant article. When he’d finished he closed the magazine and put it on the bed. The article discussed the success rate of a brand-new fertility treatment that would, it suggested, offer hope to women who previously had none. ‘Well?’ she asked excitedly. ‘What do you think? They’re looking for suitable women for the next clinical trial. I know there’s no guarantee, but—’ He cut across her. ‘This is what you have worked yourself into such a state about?’ Shaking his head, he reached for her and she came willingly warm and soft into his arms. He held her close, his fingers meshed in her shiny, sweet-smelling hair, her head pressed to his heart as he reminded her, ‘I told you, Dervla, before we married that I don’t want children.’ ‘I know what you said and it was kind—’ ‘It was not kind; it was true.’ She pulled away and tilted her face up to his, her smooth brow furrowed and her expression shocked as she impatiently blotted a solitary tear from her cheek with the back of her hand. Far from swaying or softening his attitude, previously women’s tears had evoked irritation in Gianfranco, but Dervla had never used her tears as a weapon to manipulate him. She felt things more deeply than anyone he had ever met. Her emotions were incredibly close to the surface, her face as easy for him to read as a neon sign. But despite her almost unnerving transparency she did her crying in private. ‘You really don’t want children.’ She shook her head, a frown pulling her arched brows into a bemused straight line as she added as if speaking to herself, ‘No, that can’t be right. I’ve seen you with Alberto and with the other children. You’re great and—’ ‘A baby is a lot of work. Babies kill your social life, cara. Call me selfish—’ better get that in before she did ‘—but I don’t want to come home to a wife who is too exhausted to do more than crawl into bed.’ She looked at him as though he had grown a second head and it wasn’t a particularly attractive one. ‘You don’t mean that, Gianfranco.’ ‘It is not me who has changed my mind,’ he reminded her harshly. ‘It is you.’ ‘I thought that you’d be pleased that there was a chance,’ she choked in a voice thick with tears and disillusion. ‘Kate is giving Angelo a baby, I want to—’ ‘We are not Kate and Angelo. The cases are not similar.’ He watched the pinpricks of bright blood appear on the quivering curve of her lower lip as she released it to say in a voice wiped clean of all expression, ‘Do you think I don’t know that?’ ‘I already have a son.’ A son he would gladly have laid down his life to protect…just as his mother had. It was this knowledge that gave him the strength to withstand the appeal in her eyes. Of course he knew that nobody blamed him for Sara’s death and rationally he recognised it had not been his fault, but the fact remained that had he not been irresponsible enough to get her pregnant, had he not cajoled her into marriage with promises of a luxurious lifestyle and persuaded her against a termination, she would be alive today. Dervla’s full lower lip wobbled and there was a tremor in her voice as she said bleakly, ‘But we could have a baby together. I don’t have a son. I don’t have a baby. The doctor said there have been incredible advances in IVF over the last few years.’ ‘And you went to see a doctor behind my back…’ Gianfranco blocked his growing feelings of guilt with anger. ‘Don’t look at me like that, Gianfranco.’ ‘Like what?’ he asked her coldly. She slung him an exasperated look. ‘I think you’d have been happier if I’d just told you I was having an affair!’ she accused. Another man—that was funny…Her lips twitched and a burble of borderline hysteria escaped them, causing the fine lines of tension and anxiety around her mouth to briefly smooth out. Gianfranco watched her, his face like stone. Dervla being touched by another man did not make him feel like laughing or even smiling. It ignited a rage deep inside him. Dervla sighed and shook her head in a slow negative motion. She made a conscious effort to lower the escalating antagonism. ‘I wasn’t going behind your back—just wanted some facts before I discussed it with you. I didn’t see any reason to raise your hopes, and he said that—’ Gianfranco cut across her; he didn’t want to hear what any doctor had said. It had been a doctor who had told him that the diabetes that Sara had developed during pregnancy was no cause for concern. Gestational diabetes, he had explained, was common but rarely a problem after the birth. And like a fool he had believed him. Far from vanishing after the birth, Sara’s condition had progressed to full insulin-dependent diabetes requiring daily injections. And again he had been won over by the confident medical assertion that there was no reason that Sara could not live a full normal life. It had been three months later that he had buried Sara, who had died of an accidental overdose of insulin. ‘I thought our marriage was based on transparency?’ ‘No our marriage—’ She bit back, pushing herself off the bed…God, if she didn’t she’d have strangled him! ‘What about what I want, Gianfranco? What I need?’ Pushing her arms into a robe, she turned and threw him a look of challenge. ‘I thought I gave you what you want and need.’ ‘I want this baby.’ ‘There is no baby, Dervla.’ ‘There could be, there could be!’ she wailed, frustrated by his refusal to even consider what she was saying. ‘I know people who have been down the IVF route. It took over their lives, put a lot of strain on their relationship, not to mention the emotional and physical strain being pumped full of chemicals has on the woman.’ ‘Some people think it’s worth it…and if you never even try you’d always wonder.’ ‘That is not a route I wish ever to go down. Besides, from what you told me the chances of you getting pregnant would be remote.’ If it took brutal to get his point across, so be it. Dervla pressed her clenched fists tight against her stomach; she felt physically sick. ‘But there is a chance.’ She couldn’t believe that Gianfranco couldn’t see she had to take it. The icy hand inside her chest tightened as she watched him slowly shake his head. ‘There is no use begging, Dervla. I will not give you a baby.’ Anger flooded through her, releasing adrenaline into her bloodstream. Maybe it wasn’t a baby he didn’t want—it was her baby. ‘Then maybe I’ll find myself someone who will.’ If he had reacted angrily, if he had done almost anything but thrown back his head and laughed, she might have calmed down…but he did laugh. ‘You think I wouldn’t?’ He stopped laughing. Dervla shivered as their eyes connected. She had never seen his eyes look so cold. ‘I know you wouldn’t.’ Because if he caught a man within sniffing distance of her he would make sure they never sniffed again! Dervla’s eyes narrowed to icy green slits. ‘Is that a fact?’ she said in a conversational tone. ‘What do you know? Infallible Gianfranco Bruni turns out not to know everything after all.’ ‘What are you doing?’ he asked as she began to rush around the room erratically flinging open doors and drawers and flinging the contents she extracted into a bag. ‘I’m packing.’ His patrician features tight, he gave a contemptuous sneer. ‘You’re being ridiculous.’ She wouldn’t go. She went to the drawer and pulled out her passport. ‘No, I’m finally not being ridiculous. Marrying you, I must have been mad! You’re the most selfish man I have ever met,’ she choked. ‘I’ll take a car. I’ll leave it at the airport.’ CHAPTER THREE THERE had been no question of where Dervla would go. When she was in trouble it had been totally predictable where, or rather who, she would bolt to, sure of a welcome and equally sure her best friend Sue wouldn’t push her for explanations until she was ready. Her actions were actually so predictable that she couldn’t even pretend that Gianfranco’s silence was due to his inability to locate her. He would know her destination without cause to use the mental powers some people nervously suggested bordered on the paranormal. She couldn’t even picture him desperately searching for her. The only thing Gianfranco was desperately doing was ignoring the fact she existed, ignoring the fact he had a wife. She was considering his seeming indifference to her flight when the phone rang. For a moment Dervla froze and stared at it as if it were a striking snake. It would serve him right if she ignored it. Even before the thought was half formed she literally dived for it. Her hand shook as she lifted the receiver and raised it to her ear. ‘Hello.’ She was barely able to force the quivering word past the emotional occlusion in her aching throat. The pathetically eager smile on her face faded dramatically as the voice the other end assured her that they were not selling anything before launching into their slick sales pitch. Slender shoulders hunched, Dervla sank disconsolately onto Sue’s sagging sofa, ingrained good manners making it impossible for her to hang up. So she let the disembodied voice describe uninterrupted the superiority of the double-glazing they were selling and resisted the temptation to enquire bitterly if this marvellous system, which could apparently do anything, could make a man love you. Or, failing that, make a person fall out of love? Yeah, that would work and make them a lot of money; love really wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. ‘So our sales representatives are in your area next week. Would you like one to call?’ Dervla roused herself from her bitter reflections and said apologetically, ‘Sorry, I’m not the home owner. I’m just camping on the sofa because I walked out of my marriage.’ And my husband shows no sign of giving a damn. For all she knew he could be celebrating his freedom. Maybe not alone? The startled intake of breath on the other end almost made her smile as she put the receiver down. She glanced at the clock and could not believe it was still only three o’clock. Each agonising minute of the interminable day had felt like an hour. The wistful ache became a pain as she allowed thoughts of Gianfranco to invade her thoughts. You walked, she reminded herself. And he hadn’t followed. She’d never forgive him for that. What are you going to do, Dervla? she asked herself. Spend the rest of your life two feet from this phone just in case he decides to remember he has a wife? It was pretty clear that Gianfranco was getting on with his life, and wasn’t it about time she did the same thing? One thing was certain: if she wanted to retain a crumb of self-respect she couldn’t sit around in this pathetic needy way. She was going to have to start making plans for her future as a single woman. Fortunately she was well qualified so there would be no problem earning a living, even if that did mean some agency work initially. She picked up the TV control and, with about as much enthusiasm as she could muster for the prospect of picking up the threads of her old life, clicked on the TV. The face of a smartly dressed woman fronting the news channel filled the screen. She looked to Dervla like someone whose personal life was not a total messy disaster area, or maybe that wasn’t possible? Maybe personal lives were by definition messy? “On the first anniversary of the tragedy…” Dervla’s eyes widened as the serene newscaster was replaced by an image reminiscent of a war zone—total devastation filled the screen, torn metal, screaming sirens, then they cut to a dazed-looking man with blood on his face praising the emergency services. “A remembrance service is being held,” said the voice-over. Dervla’s expression went blank with shock. Gianfranco as a survivor had received an invitation to that service, but, a firm believer in living in the present and looking to the future not the past—a slightly ironic attitude for someone who had never recovered from the death of his first wife—he had politely turned it down. I forgot…How, she wondered, loosing a small incredulous laugh, was that possible? How could she forget the day that changed so many lives? And not just those of the victims. There was a ripple effect with such tragedies, though in her own case the ripple that had caught her up and carried her as far as Italy had been more of a tidal wave! It had officially been her day off, but once the hospital she had worked at had been put on red alert following the detonation of a bomb in a crowded street she, like other essential off-duty staff, had been called in. By the time she had arrived the staff on duty in the unit had already freed up as many beds as they could, transferring those fit enough to general wards to make way for the casualties. Young Alberto Bruni had been one of those casualties and Dervla had been designated his nurse. Glancing at the clock just as the swing doors were pushed open to admit the trolley bearing the youngster from Theatre, she had been shocked to realise that she had already been on duty eight hours straight. ‘Dervla, when did you last take a break?’ Dervla turned to smile at the concerned face of the charge nurse, John Stewart. The bags beneath his blue eyes had doubled their capacity since yesterday. Dervla wondered if she looked as tired as he did. ‘My patient is just arriving from Theatre, John. I’ll wait until he’s settled.’ She glanced down at the name on the notes that had just arrived. ‘Bruni,’ she read out loud. ‘Another tourist, do you think?’ ‘Maybe. It sounds Italian.’ Dervla’s brow puckered as she nibbled thoughtfully on her full lower lip. ‘I wonder if he speaks English?’ she said aloud, trying to anticipate any problems, not even suspecting that six feet five inches of major life-changing problem was at that moment walking into the room. ‘Well, if he doesn’t,’ the charge nurse said, lowering his voice as he inclined his head towards the open door, ‘he does. The father, do you suppose…? Now that is a turn-up for the books,’ he observed, not looking thrilled with the development. ‘Who…?’ Dervla turned and stopped, her eyes widening as she saw the cause of the tired charge nurse’s comments. The cause was actually pretty hard to miss—definitely not the fade-into-a-crowd type! Several inches over six feet, the man who walked beside the trolley moved with a riveting fluid grace Dervla normally associated with athletes or dancers. The dust and dirt coating his face and hair proclaimed him to be one of the walking wounded and though his clothing was filthy and bloodstained he wore it with such assurance that you only noticed this after you had noticed the man who wore it. For a moment she stared, jaw ajar, and she wasn’t the only person present to forget her clinical objectivity! He was quite simply the most utterly incredible-looking man Dervla had ever seen. She had only ever read about men who looked like him—in actual fact she had read about this man, because her young patient turned out to be the son of none other than Gianfranco Bruni. And pretty much everyone in the Western world had read about him! Standing a few feet away, it wasn’t hard to see why he fascinated the media. There were probably any number of Italian aristocrats who could trace their lineage back for centuries, but very few had built a financial empire out of virtually nothing. Even fewer would have matched up to the average person’s image of what such a man should look like. Gianfranco Bruni did. He had the hauteur, the flashing eyes, chiselled photogenic cheekbones and sensual sexy mouth. He had the stunning body, muscular, tall and broad-shouldered. Then he had the less definable qualities, namely raw, undiluted sex appeal. Unwilling to admit even to herself that it was this latter quality that had caused her brain to momentarily stall, Dervla put down to exhaustion the light-headed sensation she experienced as she looked at him. ‘Is that really Gianfranco Bruni?’ For once the media hadn’t exaggerated when they had extolled his looks. The man beside her laughed. ‘Well, if he isn’t he’s his twin brother. Be sure you take care with phone enquiries, Dervla. Once the press get onto this they’ll be all over us like a damned rash. And if he gives you any problems refer him to me.’ ‘Don’t worry, John, I can handle him.’ Laughably she actually believed it at the time! But she wasn’t the first to make that fatal error, though she would have preferred to lose her shirt to him than her heart. ‘Just do your job, Dervla, and leave the politics to the men in suits. Talking of which…I’ll go and deal with those two,’ he said, nodding unenthusiastically in the direction of the two high-ranking hospital administrators who were shadowing the Italian. ‘They’re probably trying to hit him for a donation to the kidney unit.’ Dervla was only half joking. ‘Not while I’m in charge, they’re not.’ He stopped as the nurse who had escorted the boy approached, and demanded irritably, ‘Why didn’t you get the father to wait outside?’ ‘I did,’ she protested, looking flustered. ‘Well, I tried,’ she corrected. ‘But he, well…’ she glanced towards the tall Italian and shrugged, rolling her eyes ‘…what was I meant to do when he ignored me? Sit on him?’ Dervla’s eyes followed the direction of the theatre nurse’s gaze. She could imagine there were any number of females who lacked her professional objectivity who would jump at the chance to sit on him! Her patient’s father was standing motionless beside the stationary trolley, surveying the room. You definitely got the sense that his present inactivity was not the norm for him. The high-powered financier had presumably not got his billions by being someone who did relaxed or passive on a regular basis. Dervla flashed the other girl a look of sympathy. ‘She’s got a point, John.’ This was clearly not a man who responded to requests unless he wanted to. You could tell just by looking at him that he was one of those individuals hard-wired to take control. The message couldn’t have been clearer had he walked in with ‘dominant male’ stamped on his broad, intelligent, bloodstained forehead. Not that a forehead could be termed intelligent as such. But eyes were another matter. And the diamond-hard eyes through which the Italian had surveyed the room as he paused there in the entrance made a cut-throat razor look dull-edged. Pretty astounding, considering he had been through an experience that would have had most people lying sedated in a hospital bed! As she stared curiously his sweeping scrutiny reached her. Dervla’s body and mind reacted to the brush of those dark eyes set in the perfect symmetry of his chiselled golden skinned face in a similar way it might to a jolt of neat electricity. A wave of scalding heat washed over her fair skin, then receded leaving her feeling shivery as she reacted helplessly to the predatory sexual magnetism this incredible-looking man exuded. Was it her imagination or had his glance lingered longer than required…? But then a split second could seem longer when you were holding your breath, and she had been! Once his glance moved on Dervla’s brain started functioning again and she was able to put her mortifying reaction in perspective. Obviously it had had more to do with fatigue than anything hormonal. He wasn’t even the type of man she found attractive. She never had gone for arrogance or the whole smouldering Latin thing. If it had been otherwise she might have been more concerned about the little aftershocks she experienced as she approached him—shocks presented in the form of pulse racing and uncomfortable shivery sensations. As she reached his side she realised that the theatre nurse hadn’t been the only person he’d ignored in the hospital, because she couldn’t believe nobody had suggested—pretty forcibly—that he have the gaping wound on his forehead sutured. And goodness only knew what lay concealed, besides golden tautly muscled skin, beneath his torn and bloodstained clothes. Give that shirt a tug and she’d find out, Dervla thought, registering the one button stopping the garment being open to the waist. As it was it really left very little to the imagination! If a person had been asked to judge from his body alone what the Italian billionaire did for a living she suspected a lot would have plumped for professional athlete. He had the natural grace and the sleek muscle definition that few beyond those whose livelihood depended on it ever achieved. A man who spent his life making money might be expected to carry a bit of excess weight around the middle. Staring at his she could see that it was washboard-flat. Dragging her eyes upwards, her cheeks gently tinged with colour, she felt her tension level rise as her eyes connected with eyes that were startlingly dark, heavily fringed by a screen of jet lashes and hard as diamonds. She wondered guiltily if he’d seen her ogling—not an ideal first impression. ‘Hello, I’m Dervla Smith.’ She flashed her practised soothing smile and had no response. ‘I’ll be the nurse looking after Alberto. Second cubicle,’ she said, nodding to the waiting porter. ‘If you’d like to wait outside someone will come and get you when Alberto is settled.’ ‘No.’ Dervla blinked. ‘Pardon…?’ ‘Are you hard of hearing?’ he wondered sardonically. Her smile wobbled as she reminded herself that people reacted to shock and trauma in many ways. Some became aggressive, some became obnoxious—occasionally you came across one who combined the two. Then again maybe this was standard billionaire behaviour…? Not that it made any difference to the way she’d treat him. As far as she was concerned he was her patient’s father. His bank balance was no more relevant than the preposterous length of his eyelashes—and actually far less distracting. ‘I said no, I would not like to wait outside.’ Leaving her standing there, he began to follow the porters. Mouth twisted into a rueful grimace, she watched his broad back retreat. Well, you really established your authority there, Dervla. He definitely knows who is boss. John, having ejected the men in suits, walked by and raised an enquiring brow. ‘All right, Dervla?’ ‘Absolutely.’ Her annoyance with the Italian drained away as she approached the bed and saw his expression in profile as he looked down at the unconscious figure of his child. She had seen gut-wrenching fear before and watched people struggle to contain it. A wave of empathy washed over her—Gianfranco Bruni was living his nightmare. CHAPTER FOUR THE dark eyes swivelled briefly in Dervla’s direction as she un-tangled an IV line before Gianfranco’s attention returned to the boy in the bed. ‘I understand it will be some time before he regains consciousness…?’ His low, slightly accented voice had a tactile quality that sent an illicit shiver along Dervla’s susceptible nerve endings. She was accustomed to dealing with tearful, distraught relatives, but this man did not fit neatly into that category—or, she suspected, any other! Superficially at least he appeared utterly composed. She might have called him cold if she hadn’t been given that brief glimpse behind the mask of clinical composure. She couldn’t see his face as he leant forward and brushed a strand of dark hair from his son’s waxy brow, but she could see the tell-tale tremor in his long tapering brown fingers. ‘These things are hard to predict.’ ‘Try,’ he recommended tersely. ‘And please take that expression off your face,’ he said without actually looking at her. Dervla started guiltily and wondered if eyes in the back of his head were the secret to his success? ‘I do not need sympathy. I need answers.’ His clinical detachment slipped another notch as he added angrily, ‘Neither do I need you to dumb down for my benefit. I may not have a medical degree but I am not an imbecile!’ Dervla was not offended by his manner. She had dealt with anxious parents before, though admittedly not one who looked like a fallen angel. She was pretty sure that if she had met him outside the precincts of the hospital in a non-professional capacity—a pretty unlikely scenario as they inhabited different worlds—she might have found Gianfranco Bruni overwhelming. But that was not the case now. And even if it had been she could hide any inappropriate feelings behind her professional mask, because here it didn’t matter how much money he had or how many politicians or film stars he classed as close personal friends. Here and now he was a father worried out of his skull about his son and it was her job to make sure the son got well and the father stopped worrying. Dervla was good at her job. ‘I’m sure the doctors have already explained the situation.’ Her soothing tone that calmed so many patients had no visible effect on this man. He silenced her with an imperious movement of his head. ‘The doctors talk and say nothing!’ He sounded disgusted. ‘And you thought I’d be easier to bully. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.’ He raised an astonished ebony brow and muttered something under his breath in Italian. Dervla struggled to maintain her serene smile as that heavy-lidded gaze moved across her face as though he was seeing her for the first time. She got the distinct impression he wasn’t overly impressed by what he saw. ‘You think I’m a bully?’ It was pretty obvious that he didn’t actually give a damn what she thought of him. She was starting to doubt he cared what anyone thought about him. But he did sound genuinely curious. ‘I wouldn’t know about that, but I do know that you’re a worried father.’ Her eyes softened as they swept across the face of the unconscious youngster. ‘He really is in the right place, you know.’ She turned her head in time to see emotion flicker in the back of those spectacular obsidian eyes, but a moment later as they fixed on her there was no residual softness reflected in the dark surface. ‘Pity, Nurse, he were not in the right place at two this afternoon.’ He inhaled, turned his head and passed a hand across his eyes as though to banish nightmare images that were playing in his head. ‘Look, is there anyone I can contact for you?’ In her opinion this was not a time when anyone should be alone. ‘I am more than capable of making a phone call should I need to.’ It was clear he was also capable of being even more abrasively rude if he felt she had trespassed on personal territory. ‘Fine.’ She accepted the latest snub with a smile but risked another by adding, ‘Alberto’s mother or…?’ The hand dropped and he looked at her coldly, condensing what must have been a heartbreaking event in his life into a short factual sentence. ‘Alberto’s mother is dead.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘And to save you the bother, it’s not a juicy titbit that the papers will shell out for. Old news, I’m afraid. The media have already done the story to death.’ It took a few seconds for the implication to sink in. When it did the angry colour flew to her cheeks. With a forced smile she levelled her glittering gaze on his face. ‘I can assure you, Mr Bruni, that like myself all the hospital staff here take patient confidentiality very seriously.’ ‘I made you angry.’ He sounded surprised…Good God, how did the wretched man expect her to feel? He’d just virtually said she’d sell her soul if the price was right! She compressed her generous lips into a tight smile. ‘I’m not angry,’ she lied. Her denial appeared to amuse him, if the cynical curve of his sensual mouth could be termed a smile. ‘The voice was good but the eyes need some work…they are very expressive.’ His glance lingered briefly on her wide emerald-green eyes. ‘No insult was intended, Nurse…’ his heavy lidded eyes swerved to the name badge on her heaving bosom before he inserted ‘…Smith.’ His cynical drawl got so far under Dervla’s skin that she really struggled to remember that he was a man in an emotionally vulnerable position in need of sensitive handling. ‘It’s nothing personal,’ he added. ‘Everyone has their price.’ ‘If I believed that, I’d be too depressed to get up in the morning, Mr Bruni. There’s a coffee machine in the relatives’ sitting room,’ she added, hoping that coffee was an impersonal enough subject to suit this cynical man with the obvious allergy to sympathy. ‘If you’d like to go there while I make Alberto comfortable…?’ ‘I would have thought that making my son comfortable with half a dozen tubes sticking out of him is well nigh impossible.’ Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925402&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.