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IN A few short days, the world had changed, Alessandro marvelled to himself as he hustled Lara the few tree-lined blocks past Circular Quay and into George Street. Soon he would meet his daughter, his own flesh and blood.

He contemplated that shining truth, his heart filled to bursting with the miracle of it. Why had he ever found it so threatening?

He cringed to think of his behaviour to Lara that first night. That whole first day.

He grilled her with questions about the hardships shed faced as a single parent, possessed of a burning need to make up for it all and show her what was in his heart. Unfortunately, the English language, excellent as it was, lacked the versatility of Italian when it came to expressing such powerful emotions, and a man could hardly sing in a Sydney street. There was only one true way he could be sure of.

Fortunately, the short walk to the Seasons was peppered with shadowy nooks and crannies. Perfect for a man eager to demonstrate his gratitude and affection to a woman without causing her public embarrassment.

Once or twice, laughing, he swept her into the shadows, dragged her into his arms and kissed her until her sweet, shuddering breath mingled with his, and she trembled and panted for more. Once he kissed her so ruthlessly, so thoroughly, none of the secret, thrilling places of her supple body escaped his bold, marauding hands.

By the time he inserted the room key into the lock, he was hard, and he could sense her desire as tangibly as his own. Her eyes were the dark, smoky blue that turned his blood into molten lava.

Inside the softly lit room, her initial reticence the previous evening, with her shy request to dim the lights, flooded back to him, poignant with a meaning that twisted his heart. But his instincts for what was right asserted themselves. There would be no more secrets between them. No forbidden areas.

He took her in his arms, and she linked hers around his neck in captivating compliance while he backed her towards the bed with a kiss.

Now, he said, gently removing her pashmina.

On the edge of a heavenly suspense, Lara surrendered to the electric pleasure of his touch as he stroked her hair back from her forehead, and traced the line of her cheekbones with his finger.

You are just as I remember you that very first time. Desire darkened his eyes, his voice. Still so beautiful.

Not quite, Im afraid. She made a wry little grimace.

His dark eyes filled with ardent tenderness. More so, tesoro, he said fiercely, his voice thickening. Even more.

He drew her to the bed, and she sat beside him while he yanked off his shoes and socks. Then he reached under her hair for the zip on her dress and drew it down. She felt cool air on her bare back, and felt his supple fingers trace the ridge of her spine all the way to her nape, then pause to linger at one point, before reversing to trace the scar where it slewed across her shoulder.

She tensed and would have jerked away, but he murmured, No, dont flinch.

She sat very still, forcing herself not to react. Not to shy away from his sure touch, although her insides were clenched in a knot.

The scar was smooth after all this time, but it had a different smoothness from the surrounding skin, almost a slippery, satin feel. Trembling, she felt his fingers trace the shape of it, all the way up her nape and into her hair. He pushed the hair aside.

He must have been able to see the puckered skin quite clearly, yet he didnt shudder away, or show disgust. She sat bolt upright, her breath coming in tiny shallow gasps as she stared at the carpet and tried to dissociate. A tremor rocked her when, to her absolute shock, she felt him bend and press his lips to the damaged tissue. He continued, kissing the entire length of the scar, up into her hair and back again. After the first paralysed moments, she closed her eyes, willing herself not to shudder and flinch, and gradually allowed the knot inside her to dissolve.

She could sense no diminishment in his desire, rather it felt like the reverse. The simmering heat emanating from him escalated as his lips traversed her shoulder. Then with passionate hunger he turned her to him and kissed her throat, and her face.

The dress slipped off her shoulders, and he bent his lips to her breasts and unfastened her bra.

After that, there was no place for anxiety. There were only Alessandros hands and lips, the rough skin of his jaw and cheek on her smooth, naked breasts, the passion storming her veins.

He undressed her with hot, urgent hands, then stripped off his own clothes, pushing her before him onto the bed with a deep, possessive kiss.

She lay beside him, thrilling while he explored her nude body with his tongue and clever fingers, passion smouldering in his dark eyes.

He lit trails of fire in her skin, softly tickled the sensitive petals beneath the blonde triangle he found so beautiful, first with his fingers, then his tongue, fanning the flames of her desire until she moaned and panted in a wanton frenzy of restless need.

He moved over her, positioning himself between her thighs. He gazed down at her, his eyes serious and intense. His voice was as dark as if it came from the depths of him. Do you know how I felt when you werent there? I had-nowhere in the world I wanted to be. I felt-such a terrible emptiness. It was like they say. Your heart breaks.

There was a hoarseness in his voice that moved her to the core of her being. His dark eyes were sincere, his lean, strong face working with emotion.

Remorse and love swelled in her heart. She put her arms around him and held him close to her, his heart beating against hers.

She kissed him, and his response was so fierce, so passionate, the pure clear flame of lust rose in her. She arched under him, opening her legs and inviting him in for the slow, sensual ride to rapture. She rocked him in her arms while he thrust his hard shaft into her moist sheath, stroking her inside walls until the pleasure roared to a giddy pinnacle and spasmed in waves of ecstasy.

Later on, she rode him, relishing the sexy slide of his velvet hardness inside her slick channel, enjoying the ripple of muscle under his bronzed skin, loving the contrast of her smooth softness with his lean angularity. She thrilled when he flipped her over onto her back, and with athletic thoroughness, brought her to another fantastic climax.

Towards dawn, sated, supple and replete, Alessandro gathered her into the curve of his body, her firm, warm buttocks pressed deliciously against his groin, and fell deeply asleep. His dreams were a heavenly bliss of languorous blue eyes, enticing him to love. Shapely limbs and silken skin, sliding against his. Smooth, pale breasts with nipples taut enough to make his tongue water, their peach-hued areola a miracle of delicate beauty.

Something roused him from his dream state. He opened his eyes. Feeling a coldness, he dragged himself up on his elbow. The pale light of dawn was streaming through the windows. He blinked. Why werent the drapes drawn? After a second his eyes focused on Lara, fully dressed, tiptoeing to the door.

Per carit`a, he growled. What now? Where are you going?

She arrested in her tracks and turned with a rueful grin. Im sorry, darling, I have to go. I really have to. Vivi will be awake any minute now. I have to be there. This is how it is when youre a parent. Sorry.

She blew him a kiss.

The door clicked shut, and she was gone.