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Tempted by Trouble
By Michelle Smart, Keyren Gerlach
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Michelle Smart
All rights reserved.
Pippa Rowantree sat in the back of the chauffeured Bentley with her hands clasped in her lap, fingers gingerly interlaced as she watched rolling hills and green fields sweep by.
Her father, whose head was buried in a broadsheet, had not spoken a solitary word to her.
An old longing to reach out and touch him swelled within her. She closed her eyes, clamping down on a need that had not been satisfied in eighteen years. Tactility in the gentrified Rowantree household was frowned upon. Her father had made it clear he was only traveling with her to assure himself that she caught her plane.
Her stomach churned and she forced her eyes back open, fixing them beyond her window. Now was not the time to be maudlin.
Up in the sky she could see airplanes circling as they waited to land. Bile rose in her throat. Soon she would be on one of them, flying to Grand Cayman, flying to Marco ...
The driver pulled into the airport drop-off point. While he got out and walked around to open her door, she waited in vain for her father to lift his head out of his paper, to at least acknowledge she was leaving the country.
"I'll see you in a fortnight, then," she said, swinging her stiff legs out of the car.
He didn't look at her, kept his head buried in his broadsheet. "Try and keep out of trouble."
A sudden hot sting of tears burned the back of her eyes. She pinched the bridge of her nose and blinked furiously lest they decided to make an appearance.
She did not cry. Not ever. As she had learned as a young child, tears accomplished precisely nothing.
But she was so tired, and tiredness always made her emotional. Would the past ever set her free?
She got out of the car without saying good-bye. What was the point? Her father didn't care. He'd washed his hands of her years earlier. When she had left home at twenty, his only response had been a muted, "Good." Why should this time be any different?
The only bright cloud she could discern was the notable lack of paparazzi. She had been bracing herself to be greeted at the airport by two dozen flashing bulbs. The morning's tabloids had been full of her latest disgrace.
The ice-blond socialite, minor royalty no less, was a tabloidfavorite, the rebellious "It" girl and leading style icon of her generation. Her life had been like bad car-crash TV played out to a tutting but secretly enthralled public.
But those days were well behind her.
Or at least they had been. In the space of twenty-four hours, she had been assaulted by her boss, arrested, bailed out, evicted from her flat, and sacked from her job. No one believed in her innocence.
Jail loomed in the periphery of her mind, something she couldn't face even thinking about. Not yet. The hardest thing to bear by far, though, was the loss of her piano. Without a home, she had nowhere to take it. She'd had no choice but to call the shop from which she rented it and tell them to collect it.
It might have been a cheap, tinny piece of crap, but walking away from her piano had felt akin to losing a limb.
And now, to top it all off, she was being thrown into exile, sent to stay with her stepmother's nephew, away from everything that was familiar.
Over the past few years, she'd hardly given Marco Capello a second thought. His decampment across the Atlantic and her estrangement from her family meant their paths no longer crossed.
Now, as she was to be his guest for the next fortnight, she could not help but recall the last time she had seen him. God, please let him have forgotten, she prayed, her face flushing at the humiliating memory.
If she had to stay with anyone, Marco would be bottom of the list. However, unless she wanted to spend her recovery from the assault in a cardboard box, she had no choice in the matter. She would let her body heal and then pick her life back up, just as she always did.
* * *
Knocked out with painkillers, Pippa slept for most of the flight. When the plane began to circle for its descent, she caught a glimpse of the azure water surrounding her and slumped into her seat, her heart starting to palpitate. As if her life couldn't get any worse, she was now going to be trapped in a ring of water.
Moisture broke out on her skin as she realized how close they were flying toward the deep blue water. In the blink of an eye, the runway came into view, merging with the Caribbean Sea. Stomach churning, she squeezed her eyes shut and gripped the armrests, trying desperately to block the images of her drowning mother.
Breathe, she instructed herself. Just breathe. She stayed locked that way until the plane safely landed. She only opened one fearful eye when the kindly woman sitting next to her gently tapped her hand.
It took an age for her to collect her luggage and make her way through customs. By the time she exited the arrivals gate, rucksack on her back and suitcase in hand, her body felt stiff enough to seize up.
The first thing that struck her was the depth of the Caribbean heat. It was early summer in England, but the mellow heat there was nothing like here on Grand Cayman. This was a different world. Here, the early evening humidity clung to her skin, drenching her in perspiration, and left her cursing that she was fool enough to be wearing a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved cashmere top.
Blinking the sun out of her eyes, she scanned the row of waiting taxi drivers holding up name boards. She had been assured someone would be there to meet her.
Out of the corner of her eye she spotted a tall figure standing by the entrance of the parking lot. She squinted, and as she did so, the figure lifted a hand in the air and gave a slow wave.
Her stomach clenched. He might be too distant to see clearly, but her body knew.
As her eyes adjusted, the figure, who was now heading in her direction in a casual stroll, came into clearer focus.
Feeling weirdly lightheaded, she forced her legs to walk toward him. The nearer she got, the tighter her body began to feel, her insides contracting into a heavy weight, the loud thumping of her heart threatening to burst through her ribs. Her hands went clammy and she momentarily lost her grip on the suitcase.
It was only when they were mere feet away from each other that she realized he wasn't in the slightest bit as relaxed as his stride had projected. He stopped and folded his arms tightly across his broad chest. His face was as hard and inanimate as granite as he captured her in a black, sardonic glare.
White light flickered behind her retinas and for one horrendous moment she feared her knees would buckle. Marco was every bit as devastatingly gorgeous as she remembered.
How could she have forgotten how virile he was, the savage magnetism that oozed from his every pore? How could she have forgotten the effect he had on her stomach, like milk being thrown around in a churn?
She blinked to stop herself from staring, from drinking in his angular features, the wide sensuous mouth currently tightened in dislike, the broken nose, the deep gold-black almond-shaped eyes, all framed by thick close-cropped hair so dark it was almost black.
He looked different. He'd worn his curly hair longer before. The new short cut highlighted the angles of his features: the sharp cheekbones, the square jaw. He had always been in excellent shape, but now his tall frame was broader, harder somehow. His white t-shirt clung to his chest and tapered down to snake hips clothed in faded blue jeans, accentuating the darkness of his olive skin and the darkness in his eyes. She had never considered his height and frame to be anything other than a part of him. Now she found it intimidating.
The man standing in front of her was a cold, contemptuous stranger, nothing at all like the man she had once fooled herself into believing to be The One: her Soul Mate.
But that had been a long time ago. Seven years, to be exact. She was no longer the screwed-up teenager who had mistaken adolescent hormones for pure all-encompassing love. She had grown up and come to see that love was nothing but a fallacy.
"Hello, Marco. It's been a long time," she said quietly.
He continued to scrutinize her as he opened his mouth and drawled, "Not nearly long enough."
As a greeting, a punch in the face would have been more welcome.
His lips tightened and he breathed in deeply from his nose.
"That was uncalled for. I apologize," he said tautly, reaching down to take the suitcase from her hand. His fingers brushed hers, a slight motion that sent sensation racing through her hand and dancing up her arm. She dropped her hold on the case.
"Give me the rucksack and let's get to the car," he muttered. "You've made me late enough as it is."
"My luggage was the last onto the carousel," she explained wearily, too tired to give more than a weak protest at his implied rebuke.
His features tightened. "I have a video conference in an hour ..."
His cellphone vibrated before he could finish speaking. Immediately, he pulled it out of his back pocket and turned away from her.
With only his cold shoulder to look at, Pippa carefully placed the rucksack on the ground, fresh perspiration breaking out from the effort.
Jeeze, this was worse than she could ever have anticipated.
When he finished checking his messages, or whatever he'd been doing, he stuffed the BlackBerry back in his pocket, turned round and without once looking at her, slung the rucksack over his shoulder. Then he grabbed the handle of the suitcase and headed off.
By the time she caught up with him, he'd already wedged the suitcase in the boot of his open-top silver sports car and opened the passenger door.
"The rucksack's going to have to go up front with you," he said.
"Fine." She affected nonchalance as she sidled past him but almost lost it when she sucked in a breath and her senses became engulfed in the exotic, spicy scent she had always adored. In all her twenty-five years, she had never met anyone who smelled as good as Marco. It was more than a little disconcerting to discover she still responded to it in the same Pavlovian manner.
Breathing through her mouth, she climbed in. As soon as she was seated, he thrust the rucksack onto her lap.
She winced as it banged the bruise on her thigh.
Did he really not care about her injuries? Or did he not know?
Had her father been so keen to get her off the British Isles that he had neglected to mention them? His attitude shouldn't surprise her. Or hurt her heart.
Either way, Marco's attitude had taken her completely off-guard. His hostility was tangible enough to touch.
She hadn't expected things to be easy for them — after what had happened at her eighteenth birthday party, there was bound to be an uncomfortable atmosphere, at least initially — but she hadn't been expecting this level of antagonism. It had been seven years, for cripes sakes.
Pippa rested her head back and stared up at the darkening sky, fighting against the heaviness of her eyelids.
Once he was seated next to her, he put on his Ray-Bans and locked his seatbelt. "Are you strapped in?"
With a screech of tires, he reversed out of the parking bay and roared out of the lot.
They drove in the clinging humidity in stony cold silence, Marco maneuvering the car through the streets of George Town.
They left the pristine roads lined with white gleaming houses and headed into a more rural setting. No matter where they drove, though, she could smell the Caribbean Sea, a reminder of how close it was. Her stomach tightened. She could only hope his home was inland.
They turned a tight corner and the rucksack knocked against her bruises. Through clenched teeth she asked, "How long will it take to get to your home?" "Another ten minutes," he answered grudgingly, clamping his lips back together.
Soon they came off the main road and accelerated through dense foliage down a narrow back road. Marco, despite his assured, confident handling, was now driving fast enough to give her the willies.
They came to a crossroads. He waited too long to brake, the motion causing Pippa to jolt forward into her locked seatbelt, which dug into her bruised ribs and shoulder.
"Are you deliberately trying to kill us or are you just showing off?" she snapped, breathing deeply to mask the pain.
He shot her a loaded look. "Believe me, you are the last woman I would ever consider killing myself over." Putting his foot back on the accelerator, he sped them over the crossroad and onto the much narrower track opposite.
"If you're not trying to kill us, will you please slow down? You're scaring me."
Without a word he acquiesced and changed to a lower gear, but the tension emanating from his pores showed no sign of abating.
She glanced at him, noting the stark whiteness of his knuckles. His grip on the steering wheel was so tight she wouldn't have been surprised if he left dents in it.
"Out of curiosity, why did you invite me here when it's blindingly obvious you don't want to be within a hundred miles of me?" It certainly wasn't out of anything as simple as common concern, that was for sure.
He hit the brakes and brought the car to a screeching halt, jolting her forward again. He turned the ignition off and faced her, removing his sunglasses to reveal eyes so cold she shivered.
"I did not invite you. You are here because my mother begged me," he said. "Do you remember my mother? Your step-aunt? The woman who treated you as if you were a blood-niece? The woman you have snubbed for the past seven years?"
"I have not snubbed her ..."
"Did you know she wanted you to stay with her?" he continued, speaking over her. "But my father put his foot down. She was always trying to reach out to you, but she was never good enough for you, was she?"
"That's a ridiculous accusation," she contested, a spark of temper flaring within the fog that was her head. How dare he try to turn her into a snob?
As a child, Pippa had secretly loved the few trips they had made to Rome and the sense of belonging she felt there, a sense of belonging that had vanished from her natural home at Rowantree Manor when her father married Amelia.
The Capello household had been full to bursting with the love and affection missing in her own home.
How desperately she had wanted to be a part of it and how badly she had wanted to return the affection shown to her by Marco's mother. But something had held her back, an unwillingness to believe the affection was genuine. Anna Capello looked too much like her sister for Pippa to ever be able to trust her. And Pippa had hated her stepmother.
To learn that, seven years after she had last seen her, Anna was still looking out for her ...
"While everyone else wanted to let you rot, she was there, fighting for you." He raised his eyes to the heavens and muttered an oath.
"I had no idea," she confessed, feeling slightly dazed.
A pulse throbbed in his clenched jaw. "Of course you didn't know," he said, his eyes blazing. "The only person you have ever cared about is yourself."
The blood drained from her face and settled into a heavy pool in her stomach, but she would not quail under his burning glare. No matter how ill she felt, her pride was alive and kicking. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing how much his words wounded her.
"You didn't have to take me in," she said, trying to keep her voice calm. "You could have said no."
"This is the first time my mother has ever asked anything of me. How could I refuse?" He threw his hands in the air and shook his head, clamping his mouth into a tight white line.
She refused to shrivel under the weight of his anger. Even so, it took everything she had to muster up the icy composure she had always used as a mask. Years of practice had perfected it. "I'm sorry you've been put in this position — believe me, I wouldn't have come if I'd known you'd been coerced into taking me in. But surely you can see how unfair it is for you to compare me to the girl I was seven years ago?"
"A leopard cannot change its spots."
"I am not a leopard. I am a human being with the capacity to mature and grow, just as you have been able to do ..."
He slammed his fist on the steering wheel. "Do not compare yourself to me. We have nothing in common. Nothing."
The muscles in his arms were bulging, the veins running through them visible.
Excerpted from Tempted by Trouble by Michelle Smart, Keyren Gerlach. Copyright © 2013 Michelle Smart. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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