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Emily stared at him, her temper going from sizzling to spitting hot. He stood right in front of her, with the height of a basketball star, and shoulders the breadth of a rugby prop. A man mountain, a mighty example of the male in physical prime. Totally obscuring her view. Totally commanding attention. Typical.
Worse than that, he had one of those fancy phone gadgets that did everythingnot merely phone calls, but music, web connection, camerathe works. And every time he pushed the buttons they beeped. Loudly. The overture was about to begin, and Emily found the rapid succession of beeps incredibly annoying.
Pointedly, she cleared her throat.
She had not spent the last year working crazy hours, scrimping and saving every last cent to get her sister and herself all the way to Italy and to this fabulous opera only for the moment to be ruined by some selfish jerk who thought his social life was more important than the live performance about to unfold. More important than showing some respect to the other people there who wanted to appreciate the evening.
She cleared her throat again.
Fractionally he turned, threw a quick glance her way, but the beeping didn't stop. Rather it was the cacophony of trills and fragments of well-known phrases that ceased as under the direction of the lead violinist the orchestra stilled. Then came the lone note from the oboe to which the other instruments would tune. But did that stop him? No. The purity of the sound was shattered by the relentless beeping.
Any minute now the conductor would walk out and applause would greet him. Beeps didn't constitute applause. Beeps were annoying. And she couldn't see through him.
She glared at his back now as well as clearing her throat once more. A tailored jacket hung from those doorframe-wide shoulders, one hand on his hip pulling the jacket back, emphasising the narrowing of his torso to a slim waist and hips. She knew there were serious muscles under the white shirt and dark trousers. She'd watched as he'd walked up from the super-expensive seats. He was hard not to notice, taller than almost all the people there. From the front she'd seen the way his shirt neatly tucked into his trousers with not an ounce of anything unnecessarylike fatrippling the smooth, straight stretch of white cotton. Well dressed, good-looking, so sophisticated and cool in this hot and crowded space. She figured he'd come up so as not to disturb those in his own elite stratano, he'd conduct his business and bother the plebs up in the cheap seats.
One of the waiters came past, singing his way through the crowd for one final time before he'd quieten for the spectacle, tormenting her with his cry.
'Bebite! Acqua! Cola! Vino bianca! Vino rosso! Bebite '
She'd go for all those drinks right now. She was hot. She was thirsty. She was irritated.
This time she coughed.
Where on earth was Kate? What was taking her so long? Only her little sister could need the bathroom right as the opera was about to start. And as far as Emily could tell, the toilets in the ancient arena were few and far between and had queues centuries long. Meanwhile her mouth was dry and she wanted the six-foot-plus pillar blocking her view of centre stage to move. And then he did, turning right round as he held the gadget up in front of him. The flash of his grin was more blinding than the sudden flash of bright light.
'What' she asked tartly 'you're taking photos now?'
'Si.' He nodded, smiling like the Cheshire cat. 'I need a new wallpaper photo for my phone. And this is such a spectacular view, don't you think?'
'I think the "view" is behind you. You know, the stage, the set, the orchestra.'
'Oh, no, you're wrong. The beauty of the night is right in front of me.' As he put the phone thing in his pocket he held her gaze with a long, lazy, unmistakably challenging stare that she felt from the top of her head to her fingertips and all the way to her toes. And in all the secret spaces in between she burned. Spitting hot became unbearableshe was melting, literally melting at his feet. And stupidly she wished she were wearing something a little more glam than her cheap cotton skirt and tee combo. Why couldn't she have a gorgeous black gown, some serious bling and ice-queen sophistication to set it off?
She choked for real thenhalf giggling, half spluttering on a speck of something in her throat.
Eyes watering, she heard his call to the passing waiter. He spoke rapidly in Italian. She didn't catch a word of it. Only glimpsed the smile pass between the two men and then the money. He took the step separating where he stood and she sat, and handed her the bottle of water he'd just bought.
'For your throat.' Dry amusement was all obvious and all aggravating. 'Please.' He held the bottle a little closer, right in her face, and she knew he wasn't going to remove it.
What could she do? Act the totally irritated diva? She couldn't, not when the opera hadn't actually started, and he'd put the phone away and was suddenly smiling. It was some smile.
'Thank you,' she said, mentally blaming the breathiness of her reply on the awkward angle of her neck as she craned it right back to look at him.
He sat in the gap next to her. 'You're looking forward to the opera?'
'Yes.' Where was Kate? Where was the conductor? But time was playing tricks and the tiniest of moments became eons.
He nodded. 'It is a good one. They perform it every year here.'
'I know.' She'd read it in the tourist books she'd devoured from the library. Right now her eyes were devouring something else. Up close he wasn't just good-looking, he was incredible-looking. While his physical presence had been noticeable from a distance, nearer it was his expression that arrested her attention.
He was tall, he was dark, he was handsome. So far, so cliché. Like almost every man she'd seen in this city he was immaculately groomed. But there was so much more. There was the strong, angled jaw and the faint shadow of stubble. And in the heart of that was his mouthwide and fullcontrasting with the steep planes of his cheekbones. That mouth raised questions that Emily wanted to answerwas it as smooth as it looked? Warm or cool? It was certainly infinitely touchable. Utterly inviting.
Vying for first place with his lips were his eyes. Deep chocolate-brown, they were set off by the requisite thick, long lashes. But the chocolate didn't have the dull, matte quality of a solid block. It was warm and glossy and liquid, the dark varietythere was no diluting milky sweetness. And at the very centre there was a hardnessa 'don't go there' dangerous quality that totally aroused the curiosity of Pandora in Emily. It was like the bitterness at the bottom of a strong coffee or the darkest of dark chocolate that her taste buds both desired and recoiled from.
'Aren't you going to have your drink?' He didn't seem fazed by her scrutiny, instead seemed quite content to sit and study her right back. Closely.
She remembered the bottle and marvelled that steam wasn't rising from it. Surely the water should be boiling from the red-hot elements that were her hands?
'I think you should,' he spoke easily. 'You seem thirsty.'
That smile had broken the arrogant set to his features once more. A wide, sensual slash, his lips were surprisingly soft-looking, and framed white, straight, strong teeth. Oh, he had it all, didn't he? The height and body of a champion athlete, and the full features of a sensuous lover.
He glanced at the cheap cloth bag beside her, so obviously empty. 'You have no picnic? No lover to share the music and the magic of the night with you?' He gestured around them where many in the audience were snacking on treats stored in small baskets. Most were paired off, couples sitting close, the scent of romance heavy in the atmosphere.
'I'm here with my sister. She's just gone to get something.' Emily's defence mounted.
'Ah, your sister.' He nodded, tone cryptic.
For want of something, anything to stop her staring at him, she flipped the lid on the water bottle.
'Where are you from?'
It was obvious to him that she was foreign. He'd spoken in English to her from the off. She figured it was the travel garb, the ancient clothes that had left that budget chain store many seasons ago and hadn't ever seen an iron. She was no fabulous Italian fashionista.
'New Zealand.' She tossed her head, scraping for some pride.
A hint of surprise lifted his expression. 'You've come a long way. No wonder you're looking forward to the music.'
'Yes. I've wanted to come here for years.' It had been her fantasy escape. Now she wanted to know if Italy was as warm and flavoursome a country as she'd always imagined. The opera had been the way to convince Kate to stop here en route to London.
If Emily had both the choice and the money, she'd travel on to Venice, Florence, Rome everywhere. Countless times she'd watched every Italian movie they had at the DVD store where she'd worked. She even had a few phrases to try out on friendly looking faces. She looked down at the stage, where the lights were gleaming and the orchestra was now waiting quietly. It was the realisation of a dream.
Her irritation melted away and she drank from the water bottlea long, deep swig that ended with an unstoppable sigh of satisfaction.
Light, cool, strong fingers took her chin, and he turned her face back towards his. Stunned, she let him, silently absorbing the intensity of his expression, feeling it draw her even closer to him. And then it was only his index finger touching her, carefully sliding with gentle but firm pressure along her lower lip, rubbing the droplets of water into her dry lips.
"Very thirsty,' he said softly.
As his fingers caressed sensations surged within herthe sparks of bliss in her nerve endings, the devilish desire to flick out her tongue and taste him.
The audience of thousands was silent with expectation but it was nothing compared to the anticipation enthralling her. She didn't want him to break the delightful contact. Rather the wish for more rocketed. This was crazy. She couldn't want a complete stranger to kiss her, could she? To touch his lips to the spot where his finger now stroked?
But yes. Emily, who had never been one for flings, let alone one-night stands, was almost overcome by the urge to lie back and let him do as he pleasedright here, right now, in an amphitheatre filled to capacity. The water bottle slid from her weak grasp to the stone seat beside her as she mumbled, 'You realise it's about to start?'
His gaze lowered, lids almost closing right over his eyes, hiding the sharpening gleam in the even darker chocolate. 'What makes you think it hasn't started already?'
Oh, my. His fingers left her mouth but brushed her thigh as he picked up the small candle that she'd completely forgotten. Instinctively every deep internal muscle within her tensed, wanted to squirm. The onward rush of sensation was heady and new and delightful. His eyes flipped back to hers, and she knew he was aware of the waves that were crashing over her, drowning her in unaccustomed, unexpected desire.
'Let's light this, sz?' He pulled a lighter from his pocket. There was a metallic click and the flicker sent a warm glow into his face. She couldn't look awayshe was fascinated by the tension in his jaw, the firm curve of his mouth, the brilliance in his dark eyes. Inside and out, she adored his searing attention.