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It was probably the sexiest car Kate had ever seen. Black and sleek and gleaming, it positively screamed testosterone! And it looked all wrong on the forecourt of such an imposing mansion.
Kate smiled. In her experience, only dull little men drove around in cars like thatas if compensating for their own inadequacies with an excess of horsepower!
She squinted at it curiously. Lady St John, her client, was a very wealthy woman, yesbut in a restrained rather than an over-the-top way. Since when had she taken to entertaining people who owned such outrageously powerful cars?
Unless she had taken to driving one herself, thought Kate, her mouth quirking in amusement. It wouldn't surprise her.
She studied the car again. Maybe not. Lady St John had an abundance of energybut you would need to be pretty agile to gain access to that long, low and mean machine!
She took one last glance in the driving mirror before she presented herself and looped back a stray strand of fiery hair. Considering that she had been up since six that morning she didn't look too bad! And appearances, as she knew, were everything. Particularly in her business.
Kate Connors; interior designer to the rich andsometimesfamous. And, as jobs went, it was Well, as she often reminded herself, it was pretty cool. It paid well, it had variety, and what was moreit enabled her to meet all kinds of interesting people.
Like Lady St Johnan intrepid aristocrat who had travelled to all corners of the globe and then produced exciting if somewhat under-readbooks all about her journeys.
The St John house was as rugged as the magnificent sweep of coastline which lay to the front of it, and as Kate jangled the old-fashioned doorbell, she could hear the thunder of the sea as it crashed and foamed against the craggy grey rocks.
Such an elemental place, she thought, wishing that her job was not almost at an end, as the door was opened by the housekeeper.
'Hello, Mrs Herley,' smiled Kate. 'Lady St John is expecting me, I believe?'
The woman gave a brief smile as she pulled the door open to usher Kate inside. 'I think that your appointment may have slipped her mind,' she confided. 'Lady St John is a little er distracted today.'
Kate knew better than to ask why. It hadn't taken her long in the job to discover that domestic employees never gave away information about their employerand particularly not one as naturally autocratic as the rather formidable Elisabeth St John, who was nearly eighty, and yet Kate had never met a woman of such advanced years who could exude such beauty and such grace. Who could still wear clothes with the style of the fashion model she had once briefly been. If Ilook like that at her age, she had thought at their very first meeting, then I would be a very happy bunny indeed!
Mrs Herley shut the door again. 'If you would like to wait in the Blue Drawing Room, Miss Connors, then I will tell Lady St John that you are here.'
'Thanks,' murmured Kate rather wryly.
Her early appeal to Mrs Herley that she 'call me Kate' had fallen on polite but deaf earsand she had remained Miss Connors ever since! Some people's worlds were built on different structures from her own. But such formality suited this beautiful old house, she decided dreamily, making her way to the enormous room which she was almost through with decorating.
Kate let out a sigh as she looked around. She would be sad to let it gobut then, that happened with nearly all her jobs. They were her babies, in a way, and the final parting always proved more of a wrench than she expected, even after nearly nine years in the business.
The floor-to-ceiling windows were filled with the image of sea and skya breathtaking view and one with which the room had needed to compete so that it didn't fade into complete insignificance.
Kate had chosen the colours carefully, and now the walls were bright with an unusual shade of blue. A deep and stunning and startling blue, and one which made the most of the Gothic mouldings which adorned the cornices.
And if she said so herselfit did look pretty good!
She turned around to find Lady St John walking into the room, in a cashmere cardigan and matching ankle-skimming skirt.
'Hello, Lady St John! Almost my last visit to you, sadly! And I.I.' Kate's words faltered and then died completely, stuck in her throat like an insult one had thought better of saying.
For Lady St John was not alone, and insult was the very last word you would associate with the man who had quietly entered the room behind her. For who could possibly criticise pure perfection on two such long, muscular legs? This must be the owner of the car, she realised, and her heart began to race. Had she thought that only dull little men drove cars like that? Because she had been totally and foolishly wrong.
Lady St John performed a seamless introduction, waving her hand in the direction of the man who stood like a dark, silent statue behind her. 'Katethis is my godson.'
'Your godson?'echoed Kate, in breathless bemusement.
Lady St John smiled. 'Mmm! I met his mother on my youthful travels to Europe and she became one of my closest friends. I'd like you to meet Giovanni Calverri.' She turned to the man at her side. 'Giovanni, this is Kate Connors, who has just been turning her rather spectacular talents to this room.'
As he glanced around the room, Kate couldn't take her eyes off him. His name implied Latin blood, as did the jet-dark hair, though the eyes wererather disconcertinglya bright, dazzling blue. But the term Latin implied warmth and passion, and wasn't there something awfully cold and aloof about this tall, striking man who was eyeing her with a face that was closed and shuttered?
She matched his look with one of her own. Men in suits that looked as if they had only just left the designer's showroom the previous day were simply not her type.
'Hello,' she said coolly.
Giovanni froze. He had never seen a woman quite so tall or so slim, nor with hair of such a bright, beaten fireand her very unexpectedness beat a deep, inevitable path into his consciousness. He felt the muscles of his thighs clench, as if his body was instinctively telling him that he wanted to. wanted to His mouth hardened as he acknowledged the rampant flurry of his thoughts.
He forced himself to make his introduction as bland as possible, although the moist gleam of her mouth filled him with an overwhelming urge to crush its soft pinkness beneath his.
'Giovanni?' prompted his godmother, looking at the forbidding set of his shoulders in mild perplexity.
He pulled himself together. 'I am delighted to meet you,' he said, in the most beautiful accent Kate had ever heardrich and dark and overlaid with the slightest and sexiest transatlantic drawl.
Say that again like you meant it, thought Kate indignantly. But she didn't stop staring, because, even though he was not
her type, he was still remarkable, and men who looked like this one were few and far between. Even in the rarefied circles in which she mixed.
Olive skin, an aquiline nose and a hard, sensual mouth. Combine those attributes with a body which was tall and lithe and didn't possess even the tiniest bit of excess flesh, and you had a man who was most women's fantasy come true in living, breathing form.
'Delighted to meet you, too,' she murmured, tempted to echo his own lack of enthusiasm, but good manners brought her up short and she gave him a polite smile. 'You're Italian, are you?'
'Italian?' His mouth twisted with a derision which made it look very sexy indeed, and Kate felt her heart race again. What on earth had she said to make him glare at her so?
'Diu Mio!' he uttered softly, a warning glitter lighting up the depths of his blue eyes, as if she had inflicted some silent blow on him. 'I am a Sicilian, not an Italian!'
He made the claim as if he owned the world itself! 'You mean there's a difference?' she questioned lightly and batted her eyelashes playfully at him.
'Oh, dear,' murmured Lady St John.
Giovanni felt his muscles tense once more as he met the flirtatious challenge which had suddenly made her eyes look very green indeed. Eyes which were almost on a level with his own. It was a new and unsettling sensation not to be looking down on a womanfrom a purely physical point of view. Disturbingly, he found himself wondering how their bodies would feel if they were touching head to toe, horizontal. Naked.He swallowed the thought down and sublimated his desire, preferring instead to dwell on her ignorance.
'You mean you don't know the difference between Sicily and Italy?' he demanded.
'I wouldn't have to ask if I knew,would I?' she returned, though his rudeness was doing nothing to dampen down the heat in her blood.
Giovanni bit back his irritation, for why should this pale and unknown Englishwoman know anything about the deep, secret place which was his home? The place in love with its own silence, which shaped the impenetrable character of all Sicilians.
'The difference is almost incalculable,' he told her coldly. 'And would take far more time to explain than I have at my disposal.'
'I see,' said Kate faintly, thinking how well he spoke Englishwhilst at the same time acknowledging that she could not ever remember anyone being quite so rude to her!
'Giovanni!' said Lady St John, with a mild air of reproval. 'Much more of that severity and you'll have Kate leaving!'
He turned then, and a sudden brief flash of warmth transformed the chilly face as he looked down at his godmother. 'Forgive me,' he murmured, 'but it has been a very long week. You must make allowances for me if I am not up to giving a history of Sicily this close to lunch!'
Kate was furious. Was he going out of his way to make her feel as though she was something he had found squashed beneath the sole of his delicious, handmade shoe?
'Oh, don't worry about me, Lady St John,' she declared airily. 'It would take a lot more than that to make me cut and run!'
Giovanni observed the fire which was spitting from eyes as perfectly shaped as bay leaves. For a brief moment he wondered what it would be like to see those same eyes sleepy and satiated in the aftermath of passion, and then hardened his heart against their emerald appeal, astonished to find his body stubbornly attempting to disobey his will.
And yet he had had a lifetime's practice of seeing beautiful, intelligent women looking at him with open invitation in their eyes. It happened with such monotonous regularity that he was nothing more than bored by it. Usually.
He told himself that she was a predatorthat she must put out for every man she wanted, in just this wayand thankfully the fire began to leave his loins.
Confused, Kate turned away from that beautiful, condemning face and tried to pretend that he wasn't there. 'I have the curtains in the van, Lady St John,' she said, gleaming a small smile of pleasure at her client. 'And I'd like to begin hanging them, if I may.'
'I can't wait to see them!' enthused Lady St John. 'Shall we ask Giovanni to help you carry them in? They must be very heavy indeed.'
Ask for help from the cold-faced man who had been so rude to her? Like hell! Kate shook her head, and the red hair shimmered like a windblown wheat-field all the way down her back. 'That won't be necessary!' She gave him a defiant smile. 'I'm used to managing on my own!'
'How admirably independent!' His blue eyes mocked her as did the smile which hovered around his lips. 'But I am afraid that consideration for the weaker sex is inborn in all Sicilian men. I insist on helping you.'
Had he deliberately said that just to inflame her? The weaker sex indeed! And how could he insist against her wishes? Kate opened her mouth to snap back some suitable retort, until she realised that it wouldn't make very good business sense to be rude to her client's godson. Even if he did need a few lessons in manners! And the curtains really were very heavy.
'How terriblysweet of you,' she emphasised deliberately.
Giovanni silently registered the affront, with another stab of heat to his belly. Sweet was not a description which most red-blooded men strove for. Was she hoping to goad him into some kind of reaction, perhaps? His smile grew even colder. Women were notoriously predictable and he was in grave danger of giving her back just the response she wanted. 'Why, you are much too kind!' he murmured back.
Kate felt more than a little out of her depth as she led the way out of the house towards her van. Not a feeling she was used toand certainly not one with which she was comfortable.
She was sunny and enthusiasticqualities which were normally contagious. When you worked closely alongside people in their own homes, you had to get along with them. And normally she didn't have a problem getting along with anyone.
So what was the problem here? Or was Giovanni the problem?
It's not his home, she reminded herself as she pointed to her van. It belongs to his godmother. He's obviously just into all that macho stuffmaybe he thinks it turns women on. Well, she should let him know loud and clear that it didn't! 'All the stuff's in there!' she said, pointing rather frustratedly at the van.
'Yes,' he said, narrowing his eyes to look at her as she unlocked the back of a van only a little more flamboyant than she was, and began to climb inside.
She wore a pair of slim-fitting trousers in a soft green as vibrant as the newest buds of springstretched closely over a bottom which was high and taut. She half turned, and Giovanni swallowed as his eyes flickered over a tangerine Lycra T-shirt which clung to the lush swell of her breasts.
Most redheads would never have worn a shirt that orange, he decided. But, then, hair that thick and bright was rare indeed. It hung almost to her waist, clipped back from her pale, freckled face with two clips of glittering pink plastic which matched the bangles that jangled around her narrow wrists.
Giovanni had been brought up to believe that a woman should only ever wear gold. Or diamonds. That their bodies should only ever be clothed in silk or cashmere, or the lightest of cottons. Pure, natural fabrics to enhance feminine beauty not these clinging, man-made clothes. He wondered if her underwear was just as garish and his mouth hardened. What in Diu's name had made him think of something like that?
'Here we are!' said Kate breathlessly, hauling out a huge, plastic-sheathed package from the depths of the van. And then she looked up to find those cold blue eyes studying her with an intensity which was almost.almost. Her own eyes narrowed in response as she realised that the overriding expression on his face was one of censure!
What made this arrogant stranger think he had the right to look down on her?