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CHAPTER TEN

THE restaurant was an old converted terrace house, charmingly furnished with antiques, its floorboards slightly uneven, but to Laras relief it was warm, courtesy of a combustion stove in the crowded front room. A jazz quartet occupied one corner, and while her ear responded to a sultry rendition of The Man I Love her mouth watered at the tantalising aromas issuing from the kitchen.

Her pleasure in those old dining experiences with Alessandro came rushing back. How hed adored restaurants, and shed plunged into his enthusiasm with him. Food was of the most immediate importance, hed once sternly told her, shocked by her cavalier attitude to what she ate. Shed felt so sophisticated, dining with a connoisseur of fine food and wine. She remembered how easy and casual hed always been then, how generous to staff.

The waiter led them through several packed rooms to a table in a smaller room beyond, where Alessandro had to duck his head to avoid the lintel. Two other tables in the room were unoccupied. After a second Lara realised there were no place settings on those other tables.

She glanced quickly at Alessandro, looking so darkly handsome and assured in his elegant suit. Her knees had only just started to recover from the sight of him strolling towards her at the Seasons. Would the Marquis of the Isles have arranged for them to have this private little dining room all to themselves?

She slipped off her coat and handed it to the waiter. She could feel Alessandros gaze and turned to see him assessing her in her black dress. The wolfish hunger in his eyes thrilled through her with a delicious awareness of her femininity. Shed almost forgotten the sensation of being desired by a gorgeous man, of feeling beautiful and sexy and fascinating.

Oh, Lord. How had she survived for so long without it? Without him?

His dinner setting had been placed adjacent to hers, and as he took his chair she absorbed the graceful old-fashioned furnishings, long lace-edged linen cloths, tall windows draped in long swathes of blue satin. A chaise longue set against one wall extended a silent, though potent, invitation.

This is very intimate, she said with a smiling lift of her brows once the waiter had delivered their menus and departed. Perfect for a serious discussion, isnt it?

His eyes gleamed, then flickered down to where her bodice dipped to the valley between her breasts. And we have a lot to talk about, dont we, tesoro? He flashed her a devils smile, then opened the wine list and started to study it.

Something to start? A cocktail, perhaps? She nodded and satisfaction settled in the chiselled lines of his sexy mouth. Good. Something to warm you up. Lets see nowyou like strawberrya Strawberry Kiss? His brows edged together as he perused the list. No, too icy. We can do better than that. How about a Between the Sheets? Or perhaps a French 69? A little gin, some champagne

I think Id prefer mine straight, thank you. Just straight old-fashioned champagne.

His sensuous lips gave a very faint twitch. Straight up it will be. Though wed better be careful, he murmured, returning to the list. I dont want to get you drunk. Not now youre a mother.

She smiled and raised her brows, pleasantly stimulated by the delicious little bout of sexual innuendo. Cant mothers enjoy themselves?

Ive been led to believe that mothers can be very puritanical.

That isnt always the case. I think it might depend on who the mothers are with.

Ah. He flicked her a smiling glance. After a moment his eyes veiled and he said, How is-what did you call her? Vivi?

Her heart skipped up a gear but she smiled and she gave a wary nod. Thats right. Short for Vivienne. Shes-fine. She should be in bed round about now. Grandma will be reading her a story.

She has another grandmother, you know, he said absently, scrutinising his menu. Im guessing youll order the pumpkin soup. Yes?

Her heart made an alarmed lurch, and it wasnt inspired by his amazing recall of her passion for pumpkin soup.

Does she? The words sounded as if theyd been through a strainer, courtesy of a sudden blockage in her larynx. It was probably caused by her daunting vision of an elegant Italian woman swanning across the marble floors of a palazzo with frescoed walls. The dowager Marchesa of the Venetian Isles, matriarch of a rich and powerful family. A family with a strong sense of commitment to possessing what was theirs.

Dont look so alarmed, carissa. His eyes glinted. Im not a clairvoyant, just a guy with a very good memory.

She collected herself, and managed a smile. Im immensely flattered.

The waiter came back to assure Alessandro that the fish had been swimming in the sea no longer than two hours prior to this moment. The young man whisked away with their orders, then bustled back with champagne and tall flutes, removed the cork from the bottle and poured them each a glass.

After theyd clinked glasses and tasted the effervescent nectar, Alessandro said, I have spoken to my lawyers today. As soon as you provide your banking details funds will be deposited into your account.

She flushed, frowning. Oh, do we have to talk about money? I never intendedThis is not about that.

Whether you like it or not, it has to be about that, Lara. His eyes were all at once cool and steady, like a man who would brook no opposition.

But- It was painful, but she had to say it. Surely you will want to see the DNA evidence before you take any steps. Ive looked it up on the Internet. There are plenty of local labs who will do it for us without you having to be-personally involved with-with Vivi. They send you a kit.

Alessandro watched her slim hands clench and unclench. She was afraid, that much was clear. Afraid of his involvement with her child. Hoping he would disappear from the scene.

He said quietly, Do you think I wont believe your word?

Lara stared down into her glass, then looked up. I think its best if we-do everything by the book. In years to come when youre settled down with your next wife and-other children in Venice, London, New York or wherever, I would not like you to have any doubts.

He gazed silently at her, his dark eyes unreadable, then said softly, And where will you be then, tesoro? In those years to come?

She smiled and said brightly, Oh, here of course. With my gorgeous girl.

What? No husband? You wont be looking for one?

She heard his subtle mockery and maintained the smile even though she could feel heat rise through her neck and her cheeks. What was he doing? Torturing her with the forbidden subject? The truth was, that nerve hed touched was so rarely acknowledged it was quite excruciatingly tender. But shed die before shed admit it to anyone, least of all him.

Who knows? She gave her shoulders an airy lift, and lifted her glass to her lips. I might still find one.

He lounged back in his chair and stretched out his long legs, a sensual smile lurking in his dark eyes. Yeah. There was that guy who liked you. What was his name? Bill?

Bill who? She frowned queryingly.

Bill. Your MD.

Oh, Bill. In spite of her discomfort she broke into a laugh, thinking of poor Bill, with his wife of twenty years and brood of unruly children. Yes, yes, hes a definite possibility. She frowned and tilted her head in mock consideration. All right, Sandro, youve talked me into it. Ill marry Bill. Get him on the phone. Ask him if he likes kids.

His thick black brows twitched. If you take my advice you wont jump into anything. I did that once and it was a shocking mistake. He reached out and took one of her hands. But Im glad to have this chance to be with you before you settle down with some guy, tesoro.

She smiled, though it cost her an effort. The backs of her eyes were dangerously close to pricking and her poor stupid heart was being squeezed in a vice. She said a little hoarsely, And I must say Im glad to have caught you between marriages.

He leaned over and kissed her lips. Just a gentle little sexy kiss, but it was enough to reignite last nights wildfire, and send her blood coursing to her breasts.

It was only a gentle taunt, but so confusing. Why couldnt he be serious? Whatever happened to the Italian belief that marriage was an imperative for women with children?

Their first courses arrived. Her soup was rich and fragrant, delicately spiced with nutmeg, perhaps a trace of ginger, with tiny green flecks of spinach floating in it.

In between mouthfuls she did her best to steer the conversation into useful channels. His work kept him in London for the moment, he told her, though hed spent time in Zurich, Stockholm and Brussels, and had lived in New York for a couple of years. Not a good lifestyle for a parent. Or a husband, come to that.

Do you enjoy this work for the company? Never settling in one place?

He shrugged, and heaped some of his abalone salad onto his fork. Its the work Ive chosen.

And is that? She probably wouldnt have asked if she hadnt finished her champagne and been halfway through the Margaret River blanc. But beneath her flirty surface, questions were boiling up in her, things she had to know, even if they cut her to ribbons.

She raised her eyes to his. Is that why your marriage didnt work? All the travelling you do?

He was still a second, his face impassive. Then he said coolly, It didnt continue because of a lack of passion.

Oh. She flushed. Then why-? She stopped herself in time. For heavens sake, did she want him to think she cared? In fact, she didnt want to know anything about how theyd been together. It was ages ago now, anyway, ancient history. Still, she couldnt prevent herself from reaching one step further, even though she realised she was advancing into dangerous territory. His razor sharp brain could pick up any veiled intention, however carefully she concealed it.

She took a casual sip of her wine, met his sharp gaze, then quickly glanced away. Soyou and Giulia didnt consider having children?

The thick black brows made a twitch, then he lowered his lashes, shaking his head at some private irony. Never.

Was that because you-you didnt want children, or Giulia didnt?

He gave an amused shrug, but his eyes were glinting in that alert way that warned her to take care. Does any man want children, tesoro? Men want women, and they move heaven and earth to win the ones they desire. Children are the inevitable baggage that goes along with them. Most men accept the price if the prize is worth it. He smiled, and it crept into his eyes and made tiny little charm lines fan out from the corners. So Im told.

She returned the smile, but her insides plunged into a seething chaos.

So hed put up with children if he wanted the mother enough, would he? For the sake of passion with the object of his desire, that woman hed move heaven and earth for.

She wasnt the jealous type, but those words throbbed like a stab-wound. She was afraid of the outcome if he should want Vivi, but she realised all at once she couldnt bear him to not want her. Obviously she didnt want him to take her baby away, but what if Vivi needed him some time?

And she was bound to. Call it the wine, or the music, but now he was here in the flesh, the gorgeous, irresistible flesh, the truth was shouting at her from every angle. Greta was absolutely right. Vivi needed her father.

Maybe she shouldnt have let him off the marriage hook so easily. Did he seriously think she should look for some other man? Some imposter?

If he was basing his advice on his own experience, then she didnt think much of it. Certainly, he might have gone to extraordinary lengths to win Giulia. But if hed wanted the beautiful socialite so much, how could he then have dallied in Sydney, making love to her?

It made her wonder, though. Why hadnt their passion lasted? Had they burned themselves out? Had he been so hot for Giulia, hotter than hed been for her? How was that even possible?

She was torturing herself with the images just as the waiter glided in bearing their next courses.

When theyd been served she watched Alessandro speak to the young man with the charming civility that always made people twist themselves inside out to fulfil his lightest whim. The boy floated away, a glow in his eyes, ready to juggle plates on his head if it would make the Italian mans dining experience the richer.

Six years ago, shed been one of those people. Perhaps that had been her downfall. Shed been so unsophisticated, shed had no skill in subterfuge, no way of concealing how overwhelmed she was. How deeply shed fallen.

And she could see that Giulia was the sort of woman men would regard as a prize. She had that lush Mediterranean beauty, she was glam and glitzy and socially connected. From what Lara had gleaned, she was the sort to be found in the thick of the celeb crowd, the Milano fashion week, ski-ing at San Moritz. Perhaps she was one of those flirty signorinas who laughed a lot in a vivacious, sexy way and played an elusive game that drove natural-born hunters like Alessandro mad with lust.

Whatever the reason for the marriages failure, one depressing truth lingered on, in Laras mind at least.

She stared down at her chargrilled baby snapper, balancing on its elegant little plinth of asparagus. Even when shed been fresh and unspoilt at twenty-one, good in a bikini, with the bloom of youth in her cheek-at her peak, some might have said-shed still been no match for the prize that glittered from Italy.

Salad?

She looked up and met Alessandros faint, questioning smile.

Please. She allowed him to help her to some pretty coloured leaves masquerading as lettuce. She said in a casual, conversational tone, I saw some pictures of your wedding in a magazine once while I was waiting in a doctors surgery. Giulia is a very beautiful woman.

The salad servers halted infinitesimally on their way back to the bowl. Alessandros black lashes momentarily screened his eyes, then flicked up to reveal a gaze darker and more fathomless than the most inaccessible chasm in the Bindinong Range.

He took time, as if choosing his words very carefully. I didnt marry her for the usual reasons. It was not something I planned. She gave him time to expand on his answer, gazing expectantly at him, and he said at last, a faint exasperation in his voice, It was a marriage of convenience. Almost at once it became very inconvenient. It was annulled even before all the wedding gifts had been opened.

Annulled! Her eyes widened.

Alert to the minefield he was traversing, Alessandro watched her process the implications, concealing his surge of sardonic amusement. Did it make his marriage less of a crime if thered been no sex? He made a small grimace. If a woman rejected a man, for whatever reasons, why should she resent his finding solace elsewhere?

The reason for it disappeared. He sank his fork into the tender flesh of his blue-eyed cod with bland unconcern. There was no point. So we put an end to it.

After a second he flicked her a glance and noticed a very faint wrinkling of her brow as she weighed up the possibilities of him, Alessandro Vincenti, contracting a marriage and not engaging in sex. Hed have laughed himself if that raw nerve hadnt recently been exposed to the elements. Whod have believed that the events of six years drinking in her exquisitenesspast could still destabilise a mans serenity?

Alessandro She extended a hand to touch his. I know men never want to admit this, but-did Giulia-hurt you?

Disconcertingly, he saw something like compassion in her blue gaze.

He managed not to choke and stared at her in outraged incredulity. It took all of his control not to grab her and shake her. Was it possible she was thinking? What, that his virility was in question?

He made a curt gesture with his fork. There was no hurt involved. It was a mutual arrangement, without emotion of any sort.

Oh, right. She nodded, but it was clear she understood nothing. Per carit`a. Did she seriously believe he was the sort of man who could love a woman, then five minutes later fall in love with another?

He exhaled a long breath. This was going to be harder than hed ever imagined possible. He lounged negligently back in his chair and stretched out his long legs, his long tanned fingers curled loosely around the stem of his glass. Youre frowning, tesoro. Youre not worrying about Vivi?

Not at all. Shes with my mother. I know shes in safe hands.

Ah, yes. She seemed like a very safe mother. Will she be worried about you now, that is the question.

Lara smiled. He didnt know the half of it. Why would she be?

Well, mothers want their daughters to stay on the straight and narrow, I find. If she suspected her daughter of being in the hands of a big bad wolf who was planning to eat her up

Her sexual receptors swung to attention, and a pang of the old excitement zinged through her. Aha. This was a game she could enjoy.

She gave him a cool glance across the rim of her glass and fluttered her lashes. My mother knows I can keep big bad wolves at bay.

Are you sure you want to?

The sensual golden shimmer in his hot dark eyes kindled something deep in her womb and ignited her nipples with a warm, restless yearning inside her lacy black bra.

Temptation caught her in its velvet claws. Shed resolved not to succumb again, but was that strictly necessary? Trouble was, last night was still so fresh in her senses. Surely, for old times sake, big girls could separate sex from love?

She said softly, Ill have to think.

She gave him a long look from beneath her lashes, then turned her attention to her fish, taking her time to relish the tender flesh and piquant sauce. The challenge pulsed between them, stirring a yearning in her veins and an anticipatory tingle in her erotic regions.

Her lips closed over a succulent morsel on her fork. Feeling his hot gaze, she cast him a soft glance, her eyes just meeting his smiling, sensual look without quite lingering.

Eventually her fishs delicate little spine was laid bare, and for a tiny instant she allowed her eyes to collide fully with his dark, shimmering gaze. At once she was flooded with the vision of how it had felt locked in his embrace, heart to thundering heart, and a wave of longing trapped the breath in her throat.

So? His voice was as dark and smoky as Satans.

Hers was so husky it seemed to come from deep in her diaphragm. I know what would be the wise course.

The strong lean hands wielding knife and fork arrested, and a flame blazed momentarily in his eyes dark depths, startling her with the wild notion that there was more than mere desire smouldering in him, but something as fierce as molten lava.

Havent you learned yet, Larissa? He spoke so forcefully the ghost of old Venice whispered through the polished patina of his perfect English. In some matters theres of no use to be wise. He pounded the table with his fist, making the silver jump. There are moments in your life that you need to seize with both your hands.

She stared at him in shock, her heart thudding at some veiled comprehension she couldnt quite read. Was he talking about six years ago?

Wellwell, how do I know this is one of them?

He touched his linen napkin to his lips, then threw it down and sprang to his feet. Before she even had time to react he seized her and dragged her up out of her chair, thundering, This is how.

He pulled her into his arms and brought his stern, chiselled mouth down on hers with such fierce hunger that after the first stunned instant her lips ignited with a fiery demand of their own. She responded to the fabulous pressure, thrilled by the feel of his lean solidity, hard against her breasts and thighs. As his marauding tongue tantalised the silken walls of her mouth, the flavours of raspberry vinaigrette, wine, and big, sexy man rose in her senses and intoxicated her entire being.

Her bones dissolved.

Oh, God. Ravished in a public restaurant.

Lucky he was holding her. Lucky? His every touch resonated through her like the deep vibrant chords of a double bass.

And as if he too were trapped by the electric connection, like a ravenous wolfhound he dragged her even closer to him, his big lean frame in arousing friction with her curves. She thrilled to the feel of him, sliding her hands under his jacket to explore the powerful muscled body radiating heat through his shirt.

He deepened the kiss and her hot, feverish blood rushed to inflame her nipples. With a moan she raised her arms to link around his neck, caressing his nape and clutching at his thick black hair.

Please, please, yearned her breasts, and other erotic places. In total oblivion of the surroundings, her wanton flesh tingled to his caressing hands on her arms, ribs and hips, every skin cell silently longing, begging for those delicious hands to move into more dynamic territory.

To urge him on she writhed a little against his muscled frame, and was rewarded to feel a hard convincing prod against her abdomen, at the same time as his hand slid to her breast and closed around it in a thrilling hold.

me. Ersir. Excuse me, sir, madam. If you wouldnt

An irritating, wispy little buzz-fly in her ear solidified itself in her consciousness as a human voice, and she wrenched herself from the escalating delights and sprang guiltily from Alessandros grasp.

Trembly with arousal, she took a much-needed drag of air, and made some hurried adjustments to her dress.

The waiter, his boyish shiny face tinged with pink, stood with his gaze fixed on the wall, menus clutched to his chest. Through a hot flustered haze she saw beyond him to the neighbouring table, where two couples were now being seated, casting sly smirking looks their way.

She risked a glance at Alessandro, and wished she hadnt. He was devouring her with his eyes, looking as famished as a wild beast, and she felt her flush deepen.

SirWould-would s-sir and madam care for a dessert?

She noted Alessandro snap from his contemplation of her and turn away, glancing thoughtfully around at the architecture while running a nonchalant hand through his hair. He responded to the lad with almost his usual poise, though his deep voice had developed a flattering hoarseness.

Give us ten, twenty minutes to think about it. He exchanged a narrow, man-of-the-world glance with the boy and the lad responded to it with a knowing nod. Then, as coolly as if nothing unusual had happened, Alessandro held her chair for her, before resuming his own place.

The boy presented them with their menus and departed at high speed.

Still embarrassed, and hyper-conscious of their neighbours, especially the women, who could hardly keep their eyes off Alessandro, though now he was angled away from them they couldnt catch more than an occasional stunning profile, Lara leaned over and whispered, I think we should go now.

Ah, he said silkily, his eyes lighting, but where? Where should we go, tesoro?

Wellhome, I suppose.

Your place?

God, no. She felt his hand come to rest on her knee under the table, and her heart rocked into a dance number. I mean, that is

Under stress, her brain cells were capable of some pretty rapid calculation. Her place was out of the question. But, though time was running out, she was having such a good time, all stirred up like a flesh-and-blood woman for the first time in years. Home would have been such a tame end to things.

Alessandro began an absent-minded, gentle stroking motion along her leg. It might have been comforting, if it hadnt been so arousing. She struggled with herself to pull away, but her limbs were still heavy with the intoxication of the kiss.

Perhaps, she said, panting a little, hardly daring to meet his eyes for fear of alerting him to what his supple fingers were absent-mindedly doing, and breaking the fabulous connection, perhaps we could have-dessert at your hotel.

He didnt smile, exactly, but satisfaction settled into the lines of his sensuous, chiselled mouth.

She was so grateful for long linen tablecloths. More places should have them, she thought. Especially when, to her absolute shameless pleasure, his fingers slipped under her dress and to the inside of her leg, and traversed her silky stocking all the way to the top.

Although, he said, holding his menu in his other hand to peruse, it says here that they have wild strawberries with dark drizzling chocolate. Couldnt we enjoy drizzling our wild strawberries with chocolate?

That bare skin at the top of her stockings was even silkier than the stocking, and Alessandros fingers seemed to know that and adapt accordingly. Absent or not, his very fingertips acquired a magic touch that roused her skin cells to heights of delight, inside her thigh, nearly all the way up to the elastic edge of her pants.

Inside the flimsy fabric, skin cells yearned in burning anticipation for their turn at the magic fingers. How high would those clever, artful fingers go?

She noticed a slight beading of sweat appear on Alessandros upper lip.

Oh, oh, perhaps She managed to sit perfectly still, though she parted her thighs a little further to give greater access and her breathing started to come in short quick gasps. With her breasts rising and falling like an abducted maidens in a sheikh film, her voice had a husky, breathless quality, brought about by trembling, pleasurable suspense. Perhaps strawberries in sauce can be a little messy. With-the strawberries being so-so juicy, and all

Oh, no, carissima, he said in his most velvet voice, gazing at her with grave assurance. I am sure nothing-well, hardly anything-could be tastier. Whats a little juice?

Hypnotised, she felt his soft fingers trail across the fabric of her pants, every subtle stroke delivering shock waves of delicious, tingling pleasure to the yearning delta beneath.

Sorry, what was that you said? He was teasing her, wicked laughter in his eyes, knowing her difficulty in speaking while swooning with the forbidden ecstasy.

Oh, she gasped, I mean, yes, yes, Alessandro, Alessandro

The waiter hovered into view, to her intense regret, and Alessandro swiftly removed his sinful hand, leaving her in a severely aroused and unresolved state while attempting to appear like a model citizen, and not to pant.

The boy stood by their table once more, and Alessandro smiled charmingly at him and said, You know, I dont think well stay for dessert after all.

Outside in the small foyer as she buttoned up her coat, Alessandro said, The taxi shouldnt be long.

Cant we just walk? I dont want to stay here another second.

Oh. He looked rueful. And I thought you were enjoying yourself. She glowered at him, and he added, I dont want you to get cold. I was shocked by how thin that dress is. I could feel everything through it, every curve, every little hill and valley.

She said repressively, I need to be cold.

He laughed, and she pushed open the street door and threw him a stern glance.

Are you coming?

Outside, her face registered the blessed chill, but despite her brisk tone there was a bubbly exhilaration in her blood that had an insulating effect against the night air. It had been so long since shed been seduced by a gorgeously sexy man with smiling eyes and no morals. Still, did that mean she should allow herself to plunge enthusiastically back into being his wanton plaything?

A shameless part of her was almost inclined to think it did. Having gone so farwith nothing resolved

For Gods sake, though, even if he didnt, she had principles, and responsibilities, and loyalties that came first. And then there was the time element. It was well after nine, and she needed to be home early enough for her mother to make her hospital shift.

Despite the chill night there were people strolling around the streets, gangs of tourists taking snaps of each other, spilling from the crowded caf'es. Didnt Sydney people ever stay at home?

She shouldnt, she knew, lose sight of the fact that shed aged. Twenty-one was a million years from twenty-seven, in terms of smoothness, slenderness and muscle tone. Certainly she was still slim, but it was a different sort of slim at twenty-seven. It was the slimness achieved from washing, cleaning, ironing, bending to pick up toys, staying constantly alert to the whereabouts of a small dynamo, and running, running, running.

Would he notice the difference?

She walked quickly, his long stride keeping easy pace with hers. Their words hung in the air in little drifts of vapour. She made an earnest attempt to chat about neutral, non-inflammatory things-the unusually hard winter, the boutiques and lighted shop windows they passed, occasional alluring little laneways and their fascinating old houses. She even seized one promising moment when they passed a childrens bookshop for some deep probing into his attitudes about early childhood education, but instead of looking at the books, his dark sensual gaze remained on her.

In fact, it would be true to say that every conversational gambit she tried evoked an amused glance from Alessandro, while inside she was a turbulent sea of indecision.

With every second that passed she could sense the deepening vibration of sexual inevitability. Every shimmering glance from his dark eyes reflected the fever she felt churning through her own veins. That kiss and its sexy little aftermath had started a fire that could turn into a forest blaze at any tick of the clock. And if her recent compliance was anything to go by, she was unlikely to have much power of resistance.

Shed resolved not to go to his room, and where was she headed at this very moment, if not the suite at the Seasons? Perhaps, if he didnt touch her, shed cool down and summon up the resistance to catch the train home.

After a few minutes he said, Slow down a little, carissa. Enjoy the crisp night.

She shrugged and slowed her steps. Smiling, he held out his hand to her and what was she to do? It would have taken a stronger woman than her to resist the invitation in those dark eyes. She allowed him to clasp her hand in his strong grasp. She might have been weak, but it felt so pleasant, that electric connection with his warm, hard palm, as if she were all at once tuned into the cosmos after being buried for an eternity in some black hole in outer space.

Still, she needed to make some attempt at reason before she let herself be consumed by the whirlpool.

She cast him a reproving glance. You know, you behaved shockingly in that restaurant.

I know. He looked contrite. Youre right. I was a disgrace. I should apologise to the restaurant.

Unconvinced by his humility, she said sternly, It was such a risk. I can hardly believe it happened. She shook her head in despair. Youve done some reckless things, Sandro, but thats the most wicked I ever remember you being.

His edged his brows pensively together, then he met her gaze, a gleam in his dark eyes. No, tesoro. No, I would say that I can be more wicked than that.

She gasped, scandalised. In a restaurant?

He shrugged. Anywhere, truthfully. A restaurant, a church. If I have Lara Meadows beside me, there are no limits to the wickedness I can be inspired to.

Oh, you. She gave his arm a punch, and after a moment of walking in a silence that clamoured with Alessandros unspoken laughter she bit her lip and tried again. You know, I did say this wouldnt be a date. Even to her own ears her protest sounded feeble.

He smiled. You did, I know.

So-so why did you-you know, kiss me like that? And then there was last nightThat was just an outrage. If the P &C committee ever found out what Id done in that schoolyard

Whats the P &C Committee?

Parents and interested Citizens. If they had any idea She shuddered, picturing the public outcry.

He slowed to a halt under a street lamp, and took her other hand as well. You know why I do these things. I am a man. What else am I to do? Youre so beautiful, your lips are so luscious His voice thickened. And you belong to me

Oh. Oh, well She was stirred to her bone marrow, and her voice went all wobbly and husky. You know what Holly Golightly said. People cant belong to people. And its-no excuse. You cant just kiss everyone you like the look of. I told you this would be a meeting.

A lovers meeting. His warm, sure grip firmed on her hands and she felt pleasure flow in her veins like wine. Were lovers, arent we?

Were. We were lovers.

We will always be lovers, Larissa. He said it with such seriousness, she had to believe he meant it. He took her shoulders. And I dont want to kiss everyone I like the look of. Whether it was the effect of the wine, or the after-effects of the restaurant, his voice deepened with a sincerity she couldnt deny, and his eyes glowed with an ardent light. Only you. Always, always, I want to kiss you.

Her heart seized, then lurched into a rapid, bumpy rhythm.

She gripped his arms. Oh, Alessandro, she said, breathless and trembling with emotion, I wish-I wish I could believe that.

Believe it, he said firmly, pulling her close and kissing her with a conviction that set her veins ablaze and made her erotic regions tingle with longing.

Hurry, he said, desire in his eyes, urgency in his voice. Lets walk fast.

The last remaining blocks were like a dream of life the way it could have been, floating along the pavements of old Sydney, hand in hand with her lover, reckless and wild, hunger in her veins.

He ushered her through the Seasons entrance and across the lobby. At the lifts, she flashed him a smile and murmured, D'ej`a-vu.

The ride up to the thirtieth floor was silent, the air drumming with desire, her thudding heartbeat, and magic visions of the past. She might have been racked with desire, but odd thoughts still crept up on her as he stood beside her in the pulsing silence. One of them being if shed known this was going to happen, shed have put in some serious work at a gym.

And another one. What about when he saw her scar? How would he react? And then there were the traces left by her pregnancy and a year of breastfeeding. Her nipples werent exactly the same sweet pink raspberries hed adored.

For Gods sake, would she remember what to do?

Alessandro unlocked his door and stood aside for her. At once the rooms atmosphere rushed to meet her.

Ah. The suite.


CHAPTER NINE | At The Boss`s Beck And Call | CHAPTER ELEVEN