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SAM identified the person who had come to stand behind her chair long before his hands came to rest lightly on her shoulders. Her heart rate quickened a little before she forced herself to relax. As she turned her head her smile stayed in place. It wasn't easy, but Sam had reached the point where she felt pretty well qualified to give a master class in hiding her true feelings.
She firmly steered her thoughts from the selfpitying direction they were drifting. Reality check, Samantha Maguire—you weren't singled out for any particular cruelty from fate. Hearts get broken most days of the week!
So live with it, girl, she told herself sternly.
She was living; in fact she was living proof that there was life after a broken heart! Not that she was ever in danger of downplaying the disaster that was unrequited love—when the only person you had ever imagined spending the rest of your life with married someone else you didn't become indifferent overnight, or even after two years. But you did develop a protective shell; you had to.
There were days now when Sam could go an entire morning without thinking about Jonny Trelevan. Admittedly on those occasions she hadn't had a glass of champagne and he didn't have his hand on her shoulder!
Sam suspected that getting on with her life and not brooding on what might have been would probably have been easier if she could have erased him from her life, but that had never been a serious option. There were just too many connections. Not only were the Trelevan and Maguire families friends and neighbours in the small Cornish seaside town where she had been born and brought up, but Jonny's twin, Emma, wasone of her best friends. And now, after the christening that morning, they were both godparents to Emma's first daughter, Laurie.
"So this is where you've been hiding, Sam." Jonny bent down and his lips brushed gently against her cheek.
She was surprised by the unexpected gesture. Jonny wasn't normally a wildly tactile person—at least not with her—and, for a brief moment unable to shield her feelings, Sam dropped her chin and fixed her attention on the baby in her lap while she fought to regain her composure.
Her god–daughter looked back at her and gave a gummy smile. Sam felt a stab of wistful envy for the childlike innocence.
Why are you worrying? she asked herself as she grinned back at the baby and tweaked her button nose. 'Are you laughing at silly Aunty Sam…?" See—even a ten–month–old knows Jonny wouldn't notice if you stripped naked.
Or if he did it would only be to ask if she was warm enough! The bottom line was that to Jonny she was always going to be good old Sam—the slightly odd, skinny redhead from next door.
As she lifted her chin a moment later, her serene just–good–friends smile firmly pinned in place, Sam's unwary gaze connected head–on with the enigmatic hooded stare of Alessandro Di Livio, who was standing a little apart from a laughing group of guests on the other side of the room.
She stiffened, and her smile guttered. A little apart just about described the man who, in Sam's opinion, carried 'aloof' to the point of plain rudeness.
With some men she might have suspected that the entire dark, brooding man–of–mystery thing was cultivated for effect, just to make people notice him. But Alessandro Di Livio didn't need to make the effort.
He got noticed!
Of course he got noticed. He was tall, lean, and rampantly male, and if his body looked half as good without clothes as it did—Sam lost the thread momentarily as she thought about him naked. Face rosily tinged, she reined in her wayward imagination and concentrated on his face. Individually, his strong, dark features were memorable; collectively, they were nothing short of perfect.And that was before you even touched on the subject of the forcefield of raw sexuality that preceded him into any room!
Even from this distance the unnerving intensity of his stare had her stomach muscles behaving unpredictably. Without dropping her eyes she rested her chin on the top of the baby's silky head; his eyes really were the darkest she had ever seen—not dark warm, but dark hard. That man, she thought, repressing a shudder, wasn't chocolate. Not even the dark, bitter variety. He was cold, hard steel!
Despite the familiar wave of antipathy she always experienced when around the Italian financier, Sam forced her lips into a polite smile—while thinking, God, but there's just something about you that sets my teeth on edge.
Actually, not something, she admitted. Everything! From the way he walked into a room as if he owned it to the ability of his deep voice with its tactile quality and intriguing accent to make her skin prickle. Even the fact that his incredibly well–cut suit didn't have a crease in it got under her skin. She knew it was totally irrational, and it probably made her a freak, considering that just about every other female she had ever met drooled when his name was mentioned, but she found his brand of arrogance and raw, in–your–face sexuality a total turn–off.
When she had said as much to Emma, during Jonny and Kat's belated wedding party, her best friend, who had a pretty warped sense of humour, had grinned slyly and suggested innocently that maybe all this hostility was because Sam was secretly attracted to the Italian.
Well aware that if she showed how repugnant she found the joking suggestion Emma was going to take the she protests too much route, she had rolled her eyes and joked, 'Sure I am—I dream about him every night." Trying not to think about that one shameful occasion she had almost successfully blanked from her mind—the one when she had woken with her entire body bathed in sweat and her heart pumping so fast she'd felt as if she was choking.
Fortunately a girl couldn't be held accountable for what her subconscious got up to.
"I think we'll make a lovely couple," she'd added. Disregarding the irony heavily lacing this prognosis, Emma grinned. 'So, you think you're the woman to get our famously commitment–phobic Italian stud to the altar?You do realise that the only time his name has ever been linked with marriage was with that woman…the lawyer…messy divorce, husband a junior minister or something."Her smooth brow furrowed as she failed to retrieve the name. 'What was her name…?"
"Marisa Sinclair." When the ring everyone had expected to see appear on her finger hadn't materialised Marisa Sinclair had responded to prying questions by saying that Alessandro was and always would be one of the most important people in her life.
"That's the one. Stunning–looking—half–Scottish, half–Italian, and super smart. But she didn't get her man in the end. You fancy taking a shot, Sam…?" 'You don't think I'm his type?"
Emma ran a mock critical eye over her friend. 'You scrub up pretty well when you make the effort, Sam, but…"
Sam held up a hand. 'I'm no Marisa Sinclair. All right, stop right there, while I still have some selfesteem left," she pleaded.
"Don't fret, Sam. You're too deep for him. I think he goes for superficial and obvious. You want to know what my theory is about our enigmatic Italian?" Taking Sam's silence as assent—wrongly, as it happened—she went on to explain. 'When they were handing out the pheremones he got a treble dose. Have you seen the way women act when he walks into a room? Honest to God, an expert in body language would have a field–day!"
Thinking about the uncomfortable all over tingle she had personal experience of, Sam nodded.
"All that and money too." Emma sighed. 'They do say that the palazzo on his Tuscan estate is out of this world—though I don't see how anyone knows, because nobody ever gets to go there except a few really close friends."
"I'm surprised he has any."
From Emma's amused expression Sam could tell that there were more comments about hostility masking attraction heading her way, so she added quickly. 'Well, maybe now you're related you'll get to see it in person."
"I hope so. I could do with a couple of weeks in Tuscany this summer. However, if my brother's connections don't get me an invite, I'll just have to rely on my best friend to remember when she lands her dream man."
Nightmare man, Sam thought, maintaining a longsuffering, smiling silence as her friend dissolved into fits of helpless laughter once more.
Sam sighed and pushed aside the recollections as across the room the man who had been the subject of that long–ago conversation carried on staring, with that same unnerving intensity.
Damn the man, she fumed. He has no manners at all!
It was childish, she knew, and maybe the challenge she thought she read in his eyes was all in her imagination, but Sam was determined that she wasn't going to be the one to look away first. Consciously allowing her own smile to fade, because making an effort to be polite was clearly wasted on him, she picked up her glass of orange juice and raised it to him in a mocking salute.
The defiant gesture fell rather flat when he didn't respond. His enigmatic dark eyes, with their heavy fringe of curling lashes, just continued to drill into her from across the room.
Sam's resolve was wilting fast, but she was saved a humiliating climb–down when an attractive blonde sidled up to him…sidled so close that her breasts were almost touching his chest.Actually, they were touching.
Sam recognised the blonde, who had come with one of Emma's cousins. The girl had been stalking Alessandro with single–minded determination all day. Sam saw her catch hold of his sleeve and thought viciously, Serve you right! It wasn't until he turned his head away that she realised she had been literally holding her breath.
Gasping a little, to draw air into her oxygendeprived lungs, she put her glass down on a table. What a conceited bore the man is, she thought, her lips thinning contemptuously.
A conceited bore with the ability to make your hands shake just by looking at you.
The warm fingers on her shoulder tightened and Sam's eyes widened. It was kind of shocking to realise that, far from struggling to keep a lid on her feelings for Jonny, she had forgotten he was there! And it was utterly irrational—considering he was not only another woman's husband, but oblivious to the fact she adored him—that Sam felt a pang of guilt.
As if I've been unfaithful! Now, how crazy is that? 'And how are you, my gorgeous one?"
Sam relaxed a little and felt wistful. Jonny's voice was exactly like him. Warm, solid, uncomplicated and reliable. Everything, in fact, that the Italian was not, she thought, unable to repress a tiny shudder as an image of those dark, lean, impossibly symmetrical features formed in her head.
Feeling irritated with herself for allowing Alessandro Di Livio to intrude once more into her thoughts, she angled a warm smile at Jonny. And of course she hadn't for a second made the mistake of thinking that his crooning question had been addressed to her.
She'd known it never would be.