Read an Excerpt
What on earth was she doing?
As the taxi pulled up in front of the Jet Centre at London City Airport, he paused, wallet in hand, and stared spellbound across the drop-off point.
Wow. She was gorgeous.
Even in the crazy fancy-dress outfit, her beauty shone out like a beacon. Her curvessoft, feminine curveswere in all the right places, and her face was alight with laughter, the skin pale and clear, her cheeks tinged pink by the long blond curls whipping round her face in the cutting wind. She looked bright and alive and impossibly lovely, and he felt something squeeze in his chest.
Something that had been dormant for a very long time.
As he watched she anchored the curls absently with one hand, the other gesturing expressively as she smiled and talked to the man she'd stopped at the entrance. She was obviously selling something. Goodness knows what, he couldn't read the piece of card she was brandishing from this distance, but the man laughed and raised a hand in refusal and backed away, entering the building with a chuckle.
Her smile fading, she turned to her companion, more sensibly dressed in jeans and a little jacket. Massimo flicked his eyes over her, but she didn't hold his attention. Not like the blonde, and he found his eyes drawn back to her against his will.
Dio, she was exquisite. By rights she should have looked an utter tramp but somehow, even in the tacky low-cut dress and a gaudy plastic tiara, she was, quite simply, riveting. There was something about her that transcended all of that, and he felt himself inexplicably drawn to her.
He paid the taxi driver, hoisted his flight bag over his shoulder and headed for the entrance. She was busy again, talking to another man, and as the doors opened he caught her eye and she flashed a hopeful smile at him.
He didn't have time to pause, whatever she was selling, he thought regretfully, but the smile hit him in the solar plexus, and he set his bag down on the floor by the desk once he was inside, momentarily winded.
'Morning, Mr Valtieri. Welcome back to the Jet Centre. The rest of your party have arrived.'
'Thank you.' He cleared his throat and glanced over his shoulder at the woman. 'Is that some kind of publicity stunt?'
The official gave a quiet, mildly exasperated sigh and smiled wryly.
'No, sir. I understand she's trying to get a flight to Italy.'
Massimo felt his right eyebrow hike. 'In a wedding dress?''
He gave a slight chuckle. 'Apparently so. Some competition to win a wedding.'
He felt a curious sense of disappointment. Not that it made the slightest bit of difference that she was getting married; she was nothing to him and never would be, but nevertheless
'We asked her to leave the building, but short of escorting her right back to the main road, there's little more we can do to get rid of her and she seems harmless enough. Our clients seem to be finding her quite entertaining, anyway.'
He could understand that. He was entertained himselfmesmerised, if he was honest. And intrigued
'Whereabouts in Italy?' he asked casually, although the tightness in his gut was far from casual.
'I think I heard her mention Sienabut, Mr Valtieri, you really don't want to get involved,' he warned, looking troubled. 'I think she's a little '
'Crazy?' he said drily, and the man's mouth twitched.
'Your word, sir, not mine.'
As they watched, the other man walked away and she gave her companion a wry little smile. She said something, shrugged her slender shoulders in that ridiculous meringue of a dress, then rubbed her arms briskly. She must be freezing! September was a strange month, and today there wasn't a trace of sunshine and a biting wind was whipping up the Thames estuary.
No! It was none of his business if she hadn't had the sense to dress for the weather, he told himself firmly, but then he saw another man approach the doors, saw the woman straighten her spine and go up to him, her face wreathed in smiles as she launched into a fresh charm offensive, and he felt his gut clench.
He knew the man slightly, more by reputation than anything else, and he was absolutely the last person this enchanting and slightly eccentric young woman needed to get involved with. And he would be flying to his private airfield, about an hour's drive from Siena. Close enough, if you were desperate.
He couldn't let it happen. He had more than enough on his conscience.
The doors parted with a hiss as he strode up to them, and he gave the other man a look he had no trouble reading. He told himin Italian, and succinctlyto back off, and Nico shrugged and took his advice, smiling regretfully at the woman before moving away from her, and Massimo gave him a curt nod and turned to the woman, meeting her eyes againvivid, startling blue eyes that didn't look at all happy with what he'd just done. There was no smile this time, just those eyes like blue ice chips skewering him as he stood there.
Stunning eyes, framed by long, dark lashes. Her mouth, even without the smile, was soft and full and kissable No! He sucked in a breath, and found himself drawing a delicate and haunting fragrance into his lungs.
It rocked him for a second, took away his senses, and when they came back they all came back, slamming into him with the force of an express train and leaving him wanting in a way he hadn't wanted for years. Maybe ever
'What did you say to him?' Lydia asked furiously, hardly able to believe the way he'd dismissed that man with a few choice wordsnot that she'd understood one of them, of course, but there was more to language than vocabulary and he'd been pretty explicit, she was sure. But she'd been so close to success and she was really, really cross and frustrated now. 'He'd just offered me a seat in his plane!'
'Believe me, you don't want to go on his plane.'
'Believe me, I do!' she retorted, but he shook his head.
'No. I'm sorry, I can't let you do it, it just isn't safe,' he said, a little crisply, and she dropped her head back and gave a sharp sigh.
Damn. He must be airport security, and a higher authority than the nice young man who'd shifted them outside. She sensed there'd be no arguing with him. There was a quiet implacability about him that reminded her of her father, and she knew when she was beaten. She met his eyes again, and tried not to notice that they were the colour of dark, bitter chocolate, warm and rich and really rather gorgeous.
She gave up.
'I would have been perfectly safe, I've got a minder and I'm no threat to anyone and nobody's complained, as far as I know, but you can call the dogs off, I'm going.'
To her surprise he smiled, those amazing eyes softening and turning her bones to mush.
'Relax, I'm nothing to do with Security, I just have a social conscience. I believe you need to go to Siena?'
Siena? Nobody, she'd discovered, was flying to Siena but it seemed, incredibly, that he might be, or else why would he be asking? She stifled the little flicker of hope. 'I thought you said it wasn't safe?'
'It wasn't safe with Nico'
'And it's safe with you?'
'Safer. My pilot won't have been drinking, and I' He broke off, and watched her eyes widen as her mind filled in the blanks.
'And you?' she prompted a little warily, when he left it hanging there.
He sighed sharply and raked a hand through his hair, rumpling the dark strands threaded with silver at the temples. He seemed impatient, as if he was helping her against his better judgement.
'He has areputation,' he said finally.
She dragged her eyes off his hair. It had flopped forwards, and her fingers itched to smooth it back, to feel the texture
'And you don't?'
'Let's just say that I respect women.' His mouth flickered in a wry smile. 'If you want a reference, my lawyer and doctor brothers would probably vouch for me, as would my three sistersfailing that, you could phone Carlotta. She's worked for the family for hundreds of years, and she delivered me and looks after my children.'
He had children? She glanced down and clocked the wedding ring on his finger, and with a sigh of relief, she thrust a laminated sheet at him and dug out her smile again. This time, it was far easier, and she felt a flicker of excitement burst into life.
'It's a competition to win a wedding at a hotel near Siena. There are two of us in the final leg, and I have to get to the hotel first to win the prize. This is Claire, she's from the radio station doing the publicity.'
Massimo gave Claire a cursory smile. He wasn't in the least interested in Claire. She was obviously the minder, and pretty enough, but this woman with the crazy outfit and sassy mouth.
He scanned the sheet, scanned it again, shook his head in disbelief and handed it back, frankly appalled. 'You must be mad. You have only a hundred pounds, a wedding dress and a passport, and you have to race to Siena to win this wedding? What on earth is your fiance thinking of to let you do it?'
'Not my fiance. I don't have a fiance, and if I did, I wouldn't need his permission,' she said crisply, those eyes turning to ice again. 'It's for my sister. She had an accident, and they'd planned Oh, it doesn't matter. Either you can help me or you can't, and if you can't, the clock's ticking and I really have to get on.'
She didn't have a fiance? 'I can help you,' he said before he could let himself think about it, and he thrust out his hand. 'Massimo Valtieri. If you're ready to go, I can give you a lift to Siena now.'
He pronounced it Mah-see-mo, long and slow and drawn out, his Italian accent coming over loud and clear as he said his name, and she felt a shiver of something primeval down her spine. Or maybe it was just the cold. She smiled at her self-appointed knight in shining armour and held out her hand.
'I'm Lydia Fletcherand if you can get us there before the others, I'll love you forever.'
His warm, strong and surprisingly slightly calloused fingers closed firmly round hers, and she felt the world shift a little under her feet. And not just hers, apparently. She saw the shockwave hit his eyes, felt the recognition of something momentous passing between them, and in that crazy and insane instant she wondered if anything would ever be the same again.