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Dervla's skirt lifted in the updraft as the helicopter carrying their guests lifted off. Her husbandit had taken her three months before she could use the term even in the privacy of her own thoughtslaughed huskily, his dark eyes glinting with amusement as he watched her frenzied efforts to smooth the fabric back down modestly over her thighs.
She gave him a half-hearted glare, avoiding prolonged exposure to those mocking eyes because mingled in with the amusement was a glint of insolent sexual challenge that made her hand shake slightly as she lifted it to smooth her tousled red hair into a semblance of ordernever an easy objective to achieve where her wayward pre-Raphaelite curls were concerned.
Gianfranco made no attempt to restore order to his own mussed dark hair, but he looked gorgeous anyway.
With his glorious vibrant Mediterranean colouring, dark fallen-angel features and six-foot-five lean, muscle-packed frame, Gianfranco Bruni could not not look gorgeous if he tried!
Gorgeous in a way that triggered a hot hormonal rush and made the muscles low in Dervla's pelvis tighten when she looked at him; gorgeous in a way that never failed to make her throat tighten with emotion she had no trouble putting a name tobut she didn't!
While not mentioning love had not been included in their marriage vows, it might as well have been because Gianfranco had made his own feelings on the subject crystal-clear when he had proposed.
He had proposed!
Now how bizarre was that?
Gianfranco arched a darkly delineated brow and looked down at her, one corner of his wide sensual mouth lifting in a teasing half-smile. 'What does that enigmatic little smile mean, caramia?'
Dervla shivered as he traced the curve of her mouth with the pad of one long brown finger and tilted her face up to his like a flower seeking sunlight. She turned her flushed cheek into the curve of his hand as she looked at him through her lashes, marvelling at the perfect symmetry of his slashing cheekbones, velvety dark eyes and sensually sculpted lips.
'I just have to pinch myself sometimes. It all seems so surreal.'
His darkly delineated brows drew together above his aquiline nose. 'And bruise such perfect flawless skin?' he said, allowing his finger to drop, trailing sensuously down over the pale flesh of her neck until it came to rest in the pulse spot at the base of her throat.
Dervla swallowed as the slumberous heat in his dark eyes made her wildly sensitive stomach flip and her heartbeat stumble and quicken.
'I can't think straight when you look at me like that and we still have a guest, Gianfranco,'she protested, her heart skipping another beat as his wicked smile flashed, deepening the sexy creases around his bold dark eyes.
'Carla?' Frowning at the reminder, he dismissed his distant cousin with an eloquent shrug of one shoulder. 'I don't know why you invited her anyway. It was meant to be a weekend to catch up with Angelo and Kate.'
The gentle reproach made Dervla's green eyes widen in incredulity. 'Me invite her?' Not only had Gianfranco issued the invitation to the gorgeous brunette, but he'd forgotten to even mention it to her!
So when the older woman had appeared looking her usual immaculately groomed self with an amount of luggage that had seemed to Dervla more appropriate to a two-month luxury cruise than an informal weekend in the country, Dervla had had to think on her feet and pretend she knew all about it.
And Gianfranco himself had not exactly helped the situation when, on heaving himself dripping from the pool, he had found the older woman watching him through her designer shades.
His, 'What are you doing here, Carla?'had not exactly oozed warmth and welcome!
Actually he'd said it in Italian, but Dervla's command of the language had progressed to the point where she could even get the gist of fairly rapid conversations. She despaired of her accent, but Gianfranco had promised her it was extremely sexy.
Dervla didn't entirely believe him, but it was always flattering to be told you were sexy, especially by a man who was lusted after by every female under ninety that came in contact with him!
'I know you two are friendly, but I would like my wife to myself sometimes.'
Dervla felt a spasm of guilt. She ought to think of Gianfranco's cousin as a friend; the other woman had gone out of her way to make Dervla feel at home when she had arrived.
If it hadn't been for Carla's tactful suggestions she could have made a number of painful faux pasactually she'd made them anyway, but that was because she didn't always accept the older woman's very good advice.
It had been Carla who had supplied the identity of the gorgeous, nubile young woman who had plastered herself against Gianfranco as they did a circuit of the dance floor when everyone else she had asked changed the subject or pleaded ignorance.
Carla had explained about the blonde's on/off relationship with Gianfranco. It seemed that they picked up the threads of their relationship when it suited them both.
'More of a habit than a relationship, really,' she observed dismissively.
Habits, Dervla thought, watching Gianfranco's ex-girlfriend trail her scarlet fingertips down his lapel before drawing his face down to kiss his lips, were hard to break.
Even if you wanted to, and she wasn't sure in the early days Gianfranco did!
Carla advised her not to bring up the subject.
'You really mustn't feel insecure about it, Dervla, because I'm sure he would never disrespect you by being unfaithful.'
Carla was the only one who didn't clam up when she mentioned Sara, Gianfranco's first wife and mother of his son.
'He adored her,' Carla confided when she walked into a room and saw Dervla staring at a framed portrait by a famous photographer of a newborn Alberto in the arms of his mother, who had the serene look of a glowing Madonna.
Not exactly news, but it had made Dervla's spirits sink like a lead weight anyway.
If she considered anyone a friend here in Italy it really ought to be Carla. Yet somehow she never felt totally easy in the Italian woman's sophisticated company.
Maybe, she mused, it was because of the incident just after her move to Tuscany when she had still been feeling totally out of her depth and insecure.
Understandable reallyDervla had been less philosophical about the mix-up at the timethat a person would assume that Carla was Gianfranco's wife. The stylish Italian woman was the sort of person you expected to find married to an incredibly attractive Italian billionaire.
But he chose me, she reminded herself, sticking out her chin in an attitude of defiance.
'We should get back to the house. Carla's on her own.' She caught her lower lip between her teeth and grimaced. 'I think we've neglected her a bit this weekend,' she reflected guiltily.
The moment Angelo and Kate had arrived the two men had exchanged their suits for jeans and tee shirts and headed out onto the hills on horseback while Angelo's heavily pregnant wife had understandably been pretty much unable to talk about much else but pregnancy and birth.
'Carla's not really a woman who feels comfortable in the company of other women,'Dervla mused, thinking how the other woman became more animated when a man walked into a roomwhich made her efforts to seek out Dervla all the more considerate. 'And she definitely doesn't like baby talk,'she added, recalling the other woman's glazed expression and yawns.
Gianfranco threaded his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans and turned his squinting regard on the panoramic view of the valley, drawing her a little to one side as they joined the path through the trees that led back to the house.
'But were you all right with it?' His eyes swivelled towards her, the expression in the dark depths concealed from her by the sweep of his ebony lashes. 'All the baby talk?'
Not fooled by his casual tone, Dervla knew exactly what Gianfranco was really wondering.
Was being around the heavily pregnant and glowing Kate a painful reminder of her own infertility? Did it make her mourn for the child she could never carry for the man she loved?
If she had been being strictly honest about the subjectwhich she never was, not even to herselfDervla would have had to reply yes to his question. Or she would have, but, fingers crossed, things had changed. Excitement fizzed up inside her and she quickly lowered her lashes like a shield, because she knew he would see the hope she felt sure was shining in her eyes.
And now wasn't the right moment.
When she did tell Gianfranco her news she didn't want any interruptions and cousin Carla had an instinct for walking into a room at the wrong moment!
Catching her chin between his long fingers, Gianfranco tilted her face up to his.
She shifted uncomfortably under his searching scrutiny, but did not drop her eyes. After a moment he nodded, presumably satisfied by what he had seen in her face.
Dervla was amazed, but relievednormally it was impossible to get even a half-truth past Gianfranco.
'Poor Carla,' she said as his hand fell away. 'I don't think she could get her head around the fact the staff had the weekend off and you and Angelo were cooking. I think she thought it was beneath you.'
Dervla might have once assumed the same herself when the only things she had known about the billionaire Gianfranco Bruni, socialite and hotshot ruthless financier, were the headlines containing his name she had read. It wasn't that he wasn't that man the financial pages referred to with respect, awe and in some circumstances fear, but he was moremuch more.
Gianfranco was a complex man, a man with many layers. A man it would take a lifetime to understand. A man who would drive you insane with frustration while you tried!
'I have no interest in discussing Carla,' her many-layered husband remarked, oozing male arrogance as he dismissed his cousin with a click of his long fingers and turned his attention to his wife.
The raw smouldering heat in his sensuous regard sent her temperature up several degrees in the space of a single heartbeat.
'And at this moment I would much prefer that you were beneath me,'he remarked, sliding his big hands to her shoulders.
Dervla, her wide eyes melded with his smouldering dark orbs, didn't resist as he drew her towards him; molten heat pooled low in her belly and her knees gave way.
'Carla 'she faltered with one last attempt to cling to sanity and common sense.
Gianfranco just smiled, all smug male confidence, and she might have been angry with him if she hadn't been able to feel the tremors running through his body like a fever. She could forgive him for turning her into a mindless slave to desire because amazingly she did the same to him red hair, freckles and all. The man had the oddest taste, but who was she to argue ?
Still holding her eyes with his, Gianfranco slid his hand down, grazing the contours of one small, firm breast with his knuckles before encircling it with his fingers, letting the warmth fill his palm.
There was no slow build-up; the desire that licked through like a white-hot flame was instantaneous. Dervla's head fell back, her eyelids flickering downwards across her flushed cheeks as she inhaled deeply and then released the breath on a long, fractured sigh.
As he watched her Gianfranco's arm slid supportively to her waist as her knees sagged; he pressed his mouth to the smooth column of her throat.
'Do you know how much I want you?'
Before she had any opportunity to respond to this harsh questionalways supposing she had been capable of more than a whimperhe took her hand and pressed it palm down against his groin where his erection was painfully restrained by the denim.
Dervla's insides dissolved with primal desire, the liquid heat spreading until every hungry cell ached and throbbed with it, the pleasure bordering pain.
Gianfranco felt her gasp and shudder and when she opened her eyes and looked at him her eyes looked dark and glazed, the green almost swallowed up by the dilated pupil.
'Gianfranco, we shouldn't 'she whispered, while thinking, If we don't I'll die. I'll shrivel up and expire of sheer frustration.
Their warm breaths mingled as he tugged gently at her lower lip with his teeth. Skimming his tongue across the full, cushiony, soft, trembling, moist outline, he nuzzled his nose against hers.
'We should,' he contradicted thickly as he bent his head, fixing his warm mouth to hers. Her tongue slid sinuously against his and a ragged moan was dragged from deep in Gianfranco's chest.
'Do you know how good you feel?' he asked, cupping the curve of her bottom with his hand and dragging her hard up against him. With his free hand he began to trace the soft contours of her face, his fingertips barely touching her skin. 'I couldn't go through a day without smelling your skin, seeing your face, touching you '
She tilted her head back and looked directly into the mesmerising heat of his eyes. She wanted, actually she ached, to say I love you, but instead she blocked the forbidden words and whispered, 'Show me how much you want me, Gianfranco.'
She saw the flame in his eyes and raised herself onto tiptoe, then slanted her mouth softly across his. As she began to pull away he released a low imprecation and, grabbing the back of her head, ground his mouth into hers. Kissing her as though he'd drain the life from her.
Lips attached, they sank entwined to the mossy floor.
A silence punctuated by soft gasps and hoarse gasps pulsed as the trees stood silent witness as they feverishly tore at each other's clothes until they lay hot bare flesh to hot bare flesh.
Gianfranco covered one hardened nipple with his mouth, causing her slender back to arch as deep darts of pleasure penetrated to the very core of her. He kissed his way down her belly as his fingers explored the soft curls at the apex of her legs before sliding deeper into her.
Feeling as though she were drowning in erotic pleasure, Dervla slid her fingers across the sweat-slick golden contours of his hard, smooth shoulders. 'Now, please!' she begged. 'Oh, my God, Gianfranco, why are you so damned good at this?'she groaned as he responded willingly to her plea.
'Look at me!'he commanded thickly as he filled her, sinking deep into her heat. 'I want to see your face.' His own face was flushed, the skin drawn tight against the strong planes and hollows of his bone structure.
Their eyes were sealed as tightly as their bodies as they moved together, both silent but for tortured breathing until a low, almost feral cry of pleasure was torn from Dervla's lips as the first wave of release hit her.
At almost the same moment she felt him pulse hotly inside her.