The Passionate Italian (PAPERBACK)
The Passionate Italian (PAPERBACK)
Passion wasn’t high on Rose’s agenda growing up in poverty: survival was, independence was, but not the crazy, elemental passion that she’d found with Giovanni Visconti. But, after a year together, the passion had twisted into jealousy and control and Rose had disappeared—seemingly unable to deal with her husband’s passionate nature.
But, two years later, Giovanni tracks Rose down. He’s discovered something that makes him realize that there was more to Rose’s departure than he’d first thought, and he’s determined to control his jealous passions in order to prove to his wife that she can trust him. But Rose is keeping secrets from him—secrets with the potential to destroy more than just their relationship...
- The Italian’s Perfect Lover
- Seduced by the Italian
- The Passionate Italian
- An Accidental Christmas
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What the hell was going on?
Rose stared at the email once more in disbelief.
It seemed her sleeping business partner had woken up and sold their company—hers, in all but name. But it was the last sentence that had her really worried.
He’d also sold her services for six months as part of the deal.
Stunned, she pushed the laptop away and stared, unseeing, at the waves breaking onto the beach to the rear of her cottage.
How could she have been so stupid? She should have paid her partner off by now but she’d thought having someone else’s name on the paperwork made her untraceable.
Ha! That was a joke.
She grabbed a wrap that lay over the back of her ancient couch and flung open the rickety French windows that led directly to the beach. Her wild, curly hair lifted and whirled in the fresh wind as she scrunched through heavy sand towards the shore. She scanned the horizon but failed to find the sense of peace the beautiful, white-flecked bay usually gave her.
Here in New Zealand, half a world away from her old life, she’d felt hidden, unfindable. But someone had just bought her company for much more than it was worth. This wasn’t business; this was personal.
She turned to look at the lone cottage, nestled in the native bush between cliff and sea that had been her world—her business and her home—for the past two years, but no more.
She would have to leave.
There could only be one person persistent enough and with enough reason to seek her out. There was only one person who wanted her enough.
Giovanni Visconti—her husband.
She closed her eyes and tried to block out the memories, concentrating on the sting of the sand as it hit her bare legs, on the clatter of the New Zealand flax, alive in the fresh northerly and on the damp of the fine mist that rose from the pounding waves.
A shiver coursed through her body that had nothing to do with the chill breeze and everything to do with her husband.
Giovanni. Just the feel of his name upon her lips recalled the heat of his mouth upon hers and memories she needed to forget.
She crouched down, head in hands, and tried to control the panic that threatened to overwhelm her.
There had been many reasons to leave him—his jealousy for one, her need for independence for another—but it had been neither of these things. Giovanni had never known the catalyst for her leaving. And, if she had her way, he never would. Her secret could destroy him. And she couldn’t do that to the man she loved.
She jumped up and looked at her watch. She didn’t have much time. She had to move on. She couldn’t risk seeing him because she didn’t know if she’d have the strength to leave him again.
She entered the rear of the cottage and scanned the room, mentally calculating what she’d need to take with her. Not much. She’d come with nothing. She could start again with nothing.
Computer of course; the few photos of her family that her mother had managed to retain; and—
Her eyes rested on the front door, just visible in the shadows on the far side of the open-plan cottage. It was open.
She froze. She’d left it closed. It was always closed. Her life was private. She always used the back door.
She held her breath, listening intently, but all she could hear and see were the flapping of papers pinned to her wall, pages turning on an open book on her table and the fine silk of the curtains curling and snapping back in the constant breeze. But still she felt a clammy chill crawl up her spine before settling at her neck.
Someone was here.
She turned to close the French windows, cursing under her breath as the old wooden doors, swollen with sea air, squeaked stiffly together before banging shut.
“Ah, my English Rose, still with the common touch.” His voice was ice-cold.
She closed her eyes as shock fired through every fiber, every nerve ending in her body. Even as her brain recoiled, knowing well all the arguments why they should be apart, her body responded at its own base, animal level, aroused by the proximity to her mate.
She spun around to face him, barely able to hold back the shudder of wanting.
“I’m surprised you remember.”
The flames of desire his presence sparked were doused by the chill of his tone. She needed to be in control as he so obviously was.
“What do you want?” Her voice sounded hoarse and breathless.
“I want what I paid for. Come closer, I wish to see you.”
She stayed where she was.
“It was you, wasn’t it? You bought out Guy.”
“If that is the name of your lover who has more interest in money than loyalty then that is correct.”
He walked slowly towards her.
She stepped back instinctively.
“He is not my lover.” She bit her lip, angry with herself for the explanation that sprung automatically to her lips. She’d thought the days when she needed to defend herself from his jealous accusations were long gone.
He continued to advance towards her, but this time she didn’t move. There was nowhere to go.
He was as stunning as ever: a killer mix of elegance, sensuality and intensity. Elegance in his Italian style: from the finely-cut clothes that flattered his tall, rangy frame to his dark hair, sharply cut, but long enough to graze his collar.
And his mouth: beautifully shaped, the lips were pressed firm as if for control. But she knew the magic they could perform.
Then she forced herself to meet his gaze: intense and unnerving. The white New Zealand light drained his eyes of their warmth, robbing them of color, leaving nothing but the darkening grey of the sky reflected back at her. Framed by the dark shadows of sleeplessness and straight, black brows, there was no sign of his restless intelligence now—only cold anger. She’d never seen him so remote, so unfeeling. Not to her anyway.
He crossed his arms and casually leaned against the wall, away from her, coolly observing her reactions but displaying none of his own. She was thankful for the slight increase in distance between them.
“I have no interest in your lovers. I have simply come to claim what’s mine.”
Rose jumped on his arrogant words like a lifeline, thankful for the rising anger that gave her a sense of control over the emotions that stormed within.
“You think just because we are married that you own me?”
A smile flickered across his face, quirking his lips briefly, but providing no relief to the cold certainty of his eyes.
“Your medieval notions of marriage are interesting, but not relevant. It is your business that I want and now own.”
“Well, you can’t have it.”
“Too late. I own it.”
“Not without my approval you don’t.” She was bluffing but it was worth a shot.
He shifted off the wall and walked around her to the desk, picking up a bunch of untidy receipts and invoices before dropping them back onto the pile.
“You were never good with paperwork were you, cara?”
With his back to her, she couldn’t see his expression but from his voice—softer now, more casual—she knew he was at his most dangerous.
“What the hell do you mean?”
“You have nothing. It belongs to me now.”
He thumbed through some of her papers.
“Leave them alone—that’s private stuff.” Rose snatched a contract from his hands. He turned slowly to her.
“No. It’s mine now. You seem a little slow to understand. It all belongs to me now: the company, your papers. Mine.”
“No. You’re lying. It can’t do. It’s mine. I started up this company, I developed it and arranged for the finance—”
“And that was your big mistake.”
And she knew it.
He plucked the paper out of her hand. She had no choice but to let him.
She rubbed her forehead with her fist in an effort to stop the pounding, to erase the events of the last ten minutes, to get her life back to where it had been. She took a deep breath but Giovanni dominated the very air that she breathed—expensive aftershave mixed with something distinctly male, uniquely him. He’d used to laugh at the way she’d snuggle into him, smelling his neck and his chest, his stomach…
She jerked her head up to face him. She couldn’t weaken now.
“Why Giovanni? Why hunt me down and ruin me? What did I do to you that was so terrible?”
“You left me.” His voice was low and without expression. “No-one leaves me.”
She wanted to reach out to heal the hurt she detected in his lifeless tone. But there was too much that had happened since she’d been able to do that. Besides, perhaps she was wrong. Perhaps there was no hurt, only anger that she’d slipped out of his control.
“Is that it? You lost one of your possessions?”
She searched his face for a denial but found none. She saw only the changes in the features she’d once known so well. His hair was now peppered with grey. Hard lines bracketed his mouth and radiated out from his eyes. He wasn’t the same man she’d once known. Strange, she thought absently, how dear and how beloved he was to her still, and yet he was also a stranger to her now: just as she’d intended him to be.
He stepped closer until they stood only an arm’s length apart. It was too close. Her breathing faltered as he lifted his hand and held her chin between his fingers.
“You’ve changed. I hadn’t imagined that.”
He frowned briefly. So briefly that Rose thought she must have imagined the accompanying flicker of sadness in his eyes.
But his touch quenched any curiosity she had as to his thoughts. It was like the soft slide of a match setting in train flames of both destruction and renewal. She felt alive for the first time since she’d left him: alive, vulnerable and raw. Pain, as strong as desire, racked her body.
She pulled his hand away from her face.
“Of course. I’m older. People age.”
He held her gaze. Here, in the softer light, she could see the subtleties of his eyes—their nutmeg brown now dominated by the flecks of copper and black that darkened and cooled the heat that she’d once known within them. They had always been expressive. But now? They were more guarded and much, much colder.
“Aging is nothing. It’s the fire that is no longer there.”
Hurt stabbed deep within. It was true. If he’d turned cold, she’d become numb, not able or willing to feel anything.
She half-stumbled towards the window, tugging them open before he could see the hurt that both his touch and his words were causing. She needed air.
“Perhaps it’s been extinguished. Anyway, I don’t need fire.”
He came behind her and she could feel the heat of his body close to hers, so close they were almost touching. She could feel his breath against her hair, inhaling her. She could smell his aftershave, subtle and expensive. She closed her eyes as her senses responded to everything but his touch. And it was for that, that her body yearned.
And then she felt his fingers drag a curl down her back, testing its strength before releasing it. She held her breath, trying to control the trembling of her body, as she felt his fingers hesitate before continuing to trail down her spine. Too soon he pulled his hand away.
“Life without fire is cold, dolce mia.”
He turned her around and slipped his hands up over her shoulders. He pulled her to him, his breath as hot as the Favonio wind upon her cheek, destroying the last shreds of her willpower. His eyes darkened with desire, but also narrowed with a control she didn’t recognize.
“Life without passion is death,” he continued, dipping his head to hers and brushing his lips against hers. Like the stimulation of silk against a skin starved of sensation, it felt erotic, enticing and thrilling.
He hesitated briefly and she could feel him inhale into her hair once more before he pulled back, his eyes searching hers for some kind of answer. A look of satisfaction spread into his eyes.
“You want me still.”
She could hear the huskiness of passion in his voice: the roughness stirring her own desire even further, even as she desperately sought to control it.
“You’re wrong. I don’t want you.”
“Then why is your body straining to mine? Why are your breasts tight with need? And why are your lips,” he rubbed his thumb against them, “moist and apart, inviting me to enter them?”
He pulled her hips to his and she closed her eyes as she felt herself surrender to the madness that coursed through her body, dulling her mind with all its fears and confusion.
Then he kissed her. Not like before but with a claiming, a branding that was all about ownership. This was crazy. But it was all that she’d ever wanted. She gave in to his passion and encircled his body with her arms, drawing him closer to her. His hands caressed her back in a feverish dream of touching—an exploration of a blind man desperate to recreate a long-forgotten vision.
She could feel his readiness for her and she wanted him to make her whole again, for her to be as one with him. Just the thought of him inside her set the muscles deep within into a shuddering spasm that emerged in a soft gasp from her mouth.
But then he pulled away. His eyes followed his fingers as they moved around her lips, under her cheekbones and up into her hair. It was the expression in his eyes as they followed the course of his fingers—an almost shocked intensity—that burned away the veil of desire.
He caught her gaze and she saw his expression harden once more. It wasn’t like him. There was a control there she’d never seen before. God knows he’d needed it in the past but now he was a stranger to her.
She pulled his hand away.
“No, Giovanni. We must stop this. I need you to let me go. I have my life here and that is all I want.”
“And who ever got what they wanted in life?” She felt his sadness despite his bitter tone.
“I won’t give up trying. I won’t give up.”
He smiled a smile totally devoid of humor. “Too late. It’s gone. Your future is with me now.”
She shook her head. “No way Giovanni. I left you and I won’t be coming back. There is no future for us.”
Rose watched Giovanni’s jaw tighten and grind in response.
“Haven’t I made myself plain? You have no choice.” The words were still smooth, but Rose could hear the steely undercurrent.
“Everyone has a choice. I made mine two years ago.”
“You will come with me.”
“Have I hurt your male pride Giovanni? Perhaps you should go before I destroy it altogether.”
His lips hardened in a parody of a smile. “I doubt even you could do that, cara. Come, pack your bags and we will go.”
“Stop it, just stop it, for one minute.”
“You have sixty seconds.”
She sat down on the couch, defeated by the physicality of his presence and the dominance of his spirit. There was no way she could fight him. He sat down opposite her, one arm settled along the top of the couch, comfortable in his ownership.
“How did you find me?”
“It was easy. It did not take long.”
“You don’t consider two years to be long?”
“I was not interested in finding you for a while. Why would I be? You had an affair and disappeared.”
She shook her head. She knew that he’d believed that she’d had an affair. She also knew that it would do neither of them any good for her to deny it. She didn’t want him to know the truth and he would never have believed her anyway.
“Besides, I had other matters, other women to occupy me. But things have changed for me and I decided to seek you out again.”
The barbs about the women hit home but she ignored their pain.
“It doesn’t concern you.”
“You’ve bought my company, ruined me, demanded I return with you and say that it doesn’t concern me. I think it does.”
“No more questions. Suffice to say that your work will be helpful to me.”
“So this is purely professional.”
“As professional as doing business with one’s wife can be. Anyway, your work is complementary to mine. It should be. After all, I gave you your first project, did I not?”
“And I gave you the business edge you needed. It was a fair exchange.”
“And will be now.”
“Not now. I can’t work with anyone now.”
“You should have thought of that before you welcomed this man’s, Guy’s, capital into your business.”
She leapt up. “I had no money; I left without a cent. I needed that money to start up again.”
He shrugged. “That was your choice.”
She gritted her teeth. “I had no choice.”
“Yes, of course. Living with me must have been impossible. But, strange, you did not seem to object too strenuously when I showered you with presents, when I gave you everything you could want in your professional life and when, at night, I explored your body to ensure you received maximum satisfaction. Yes, there was obviously no contest. You had to get away.”
“Giovanni. I can’t explain. It’s too hard.”
“You could have tried, Rose.”
His quiet tones cut through her more effectively than any anger.
She jumped up and indicated the front door that still lay open.
“I can’t take any more of this. Giovanni. I didn’t invite you here. I don’t want you here.”
He didn’t move.
“But I am here. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“No. It’s not an explanation I’m here for. Your feeble explanations, your excuses, are of no interest to me any more. What I want is your services for which I’ve paid. And I intend to receive them—in full.”
“You may have bought my company but you haven’t bought me.”
He withdrew a slim sheath of papers from his pocket and dropped them on the coffee table between them.
“Check the small print. Your business partner has signed away your rights. If you don’t work for me for at least six months then you will be in breach of contract. Your company will be dissolved into nothing and you will be bankrupt.”
She closed her eyes briefly. She knew it but still couldn’t face it. “I don’t believe you.”
“See for yourself.”
She didn’t need to. She knew how ruthless her business partner could be. He’d obviously sold her down the river. And, equally, she knew how single-minded Giovanni could be when he wanted something.
“Your company doesn’t need my security system. It could develop its own.”
“Not like yours. You’ve created the best. And I’m only interested in the best.”
“What do I have to do?
“I have a plane ready to take us to Milan. You will work for me there.”
“I can’t do it.”
“Whatever you require will be made available to you.”
“But what about Alberto?”
“What about Alberto?”
She could hear the chill descend into his voice.
“I can’t work with your family around, and your brother in particular.”
“I think you are lying, cara mia. I think you want to see my little brother. However, unfortunately he is otherwise engaged at the moment.”
Rose exhaled a ragged sigh of relief. A vision of what life could be like flashed into her mind. With Alberto gone, anything was possible—until his return of course. One look at Giovanni and she could see that he’d taken her silence as confirmation that she had been hoping to see Alberto. Let him believe what he liked.
“OK. I will come with you Giovanni.”
“I never doubted it.”
“Not just because of the blackmail. Sure, I have commitments that I need to meet, but I’d meet them somehow.”
“Your scholarships. Very noble, Rose. If you spent more time looking after the details of your own affairs instead of concerning yourself with girls’ education, you might have succeeded in retaining your anonymity.”
“The scholarships were important to me. But bankruptcy doesn’t worry me. I would make money somehow and I would pay back whatever I owed. I don’t need much to survive.”
“So it would seem.” He looked around the room with disdain. “Your eclectic mix of styles is born of necessity I have no doubt. So if it is not money, if it is not Alberto, what is it that makes you agree? Not that you have any other choice.”
Rose could sense unease in his voice.
“Because for the first time in two years, I’m finally free of the fear that you’ll find me. You’re here now and I don’t have to face that fear every minute of every day. I don’t have to hide any more.”
“You really hate me so much.” His words were more of a statement than a question.
She wanted to scream at him that she loved him. She wanted to hold him and heal the hurt she could feel beneath the chill veneer. But how could she tell him she loved him, when she could never live with him again? She couldn’t tell him the secret that could see him follow in his father’s footsteps. It could ruin his life.
“I really hated what you and your family did to me.”
“And what was that? Make you into a wealthy woman?” He paused briefly. “But, you are correct. You can hide from me no longer because I will make sure we will be together, just as your body desires. You have me now. And it is me that you want whether you know it or not.”
“You are wrong Giovanni. I need no man. And as soon as those six months are up I’ll return here, to my home, to New Zealand. Free, both of my fears and of you.”
He stepped close enough so that she heard his words only as a whisper. “You will not last one week before you are begging me to be in your bed.”
“Your arrogance does credit to your race. But, rest assured, I won’t be repeating my mistake of following my instincts as I did two years ago: an impressionable girl, swept away by you and anxious to please her new family. I was born with nothing and I was never allowed to forget it. By your own admission I have changed. I won’t be used again.”
“Whatever passed between you and my family is history and has nothing to do with me. I simply want your business skills. If, as I imagine, you can’t keep out of my bed, well, you are my wife and I will take pleasure in giving you what you desire. But, for now, I want you out of here within the hour. My plane will leave this afternoon for Italy and you will be on it.”