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'Sam, sorry to bother you, but there's a call for you on line one
someone with a very deep voice and a sexy foreign accent.'
Sam went very still. Deep voice sexy foreign accent. The words sent a shiver of foreboding down her spine and a lick of something much hotter through her pelvis. She told herself she was being ridiculous and looked up from the results she'd been reading to see the secretary of the research department at the London university.
Kind eyes twinkled mischievously in a matronly face. 'Did you get up to something at the weekend? Or should I say someone?'
Again that shiver went down Sam's spine, but she just smiled at Gertie. 'Chance would be a fine thing. I spent all weekend working on Milo's playschool nature project with him.'
The secretary smiled and said indulgently, 'You know I live in hope, Sam. You and Milo need a gorgeous man to come and take care of you.'
Sam gritted her teeth and kept smiling, restraining herself from pointing out how well she and Milo were doing without a man. Now she couldn't wait to take the call. 'Did you say line one?'
Gertie winked and disappeared, and Sam took a deep breath before picking up the phone and pressing the flashing button. 'Dr Samantha Rourke here.'
There was silence for a few seconds, and then came the voice. Low, deep, sexy-and infinitely memorable. 'Ciao, Samantha, it's Rafaele '
The prickle of foreboding became a slap in the face. He was the only one apart from her father who had ever called her Samantha-unless it had been Sam in the throes of passion. All the blood in her body seemed to drain south, to the floor. Anger, guilt, emotional pain, lust and an awful treacherous tenderness flooded her in a confusing tumult.
She only realised she hadn't responded when the voice came again, cooler. 'Rafaele Falcone perhaps you don't remember?'
As if that was humanly possible!
Her hand gripped the phone and she managed to get out, 'No I mean, yes. I remember.'
Sam wanted to laugh hysterically. How could she forget the man when she looked into a miniature replica of his face and green eyes every day?
'Bene,' came the smooth answer. 'How are you, Sam? You're a doctor now?'
'Yes ' Sam's heart was doing funny things, beating so hard she felt breathless. 'I got my doctorate after ' She faltered and the words reverberated in her head unspoken. After you came into my life and blew it to smithereens. She fought valiantly for control and said in a stronger voice, 'I got my doctorate since I saw you last. How can I help you?'
Again a bubble of hysteria rose up in her: how about helping him by telling him he has a son?
'I am here in London because we've set up a UK base for Falcone Motors.'
'That's.nice,' Sam said, a little redundantly.
The magnitude of who she was talking to seemed to hit her all of a sudden and she went icy all over. Rafaele Falcone. Here in London. He'd tracked her down. Why? Milo. Her son, her world. His son.
Sam's first irrational thought was that he must know, and then she forced herself to calm down. No way would Rafaele Falcone be calling her up sounding so blasé if he knew. She needed to get rid of him, though-fast. And then think.
'Look it's nice to hear from you, but I'm quite busy at the moment '
Rafaele's voice took on a cool edge again. 'You're not curious as to why I've contacted you?'
That sliver of fear snaked down Sam's spine again as an image of her adorable dark-haired son came into her mind's eye.
'I well I guess I am.' She couldn't have sounded less enthusiastic.
Rafaele's voice was almost arctic now. 'I was going to offer you a position with Falcone Motors. The research you're currently conducting is exactly in the area we want to develop.'
Sheer blind panic gripped Sam's innards at his words. She'd worked for this man once before and nothing had been the same since. Her tone frigid, she said, 'I'm afraid that's impossible. I'm committed to working on behalf of the university.'
Silence for a few taut seconds and then Rafaele responded with a terse, 'I see.'
Sam could tell that Rafaele had expected her to drop at his feet in a swoon of gratitude, even just at the offer of a job, if nothing more personal. It was the effect he had on most women. He hadn't changed. In spite of what had happened between them.
The words he'd left lingering in the air when he'd walked away from her resonated as if it had happened yesterday: 'It's for the best, cara. After all, it wasn't as if this was ever anything serious, was it?'
He'd so obviously wanted her to agree with him that Sam had done so, in a flat and emotionless voice. Her body had seemed drained of all feeling. Relief had been a tangible force around him. It was something that she hadn't forgotten and which had helped her to believe she'd made the right decision to take full responsibility for Milo on her own. Even so, her conscience pricked her now: you should have told him.
Panic galvanised Sam, so that Rafaele Falcone's offer of a job barely impinged on her consciousness. 'Look, I really am quite busy. If you don't mind ?'
'You're not even interested in discussing this?'
Sam recalled the bile that had risen within her when Rafaele had made his uninterest in her all too clear and bit out curtly, 'No, I'm not interested. Goodbye, Signor Falcone.'
Goodbye, Signor Falcone, and this from a woman he knew intimately.
Rafaele looked at the phone in his hand for a long moment. Not comprehending the fact that she had just hung up on him. Women did not hang up on him.
Rafaele put the phone down and his mouth firmed. But Samantha Rourke had never been like other women. She'd been different from the start. He felt restless and got up from his seat to pace over to the huge window that overlooked operations at his new UK base on the outskirts of London. But for once his attention wasn't on operations.
She'd come to his factory in Italy as an intern after completing her Masters in Mechanical Automotive Engineering. The youngest and only woman in a group of men. Scarily bright and intelligent. He would have had no compunction hiring her on the spot and paying her whatever she asked just to keep her working for him but he'd become distracted.
Distracted by her sexily studious air and her tall, slim body. Distracted by the mannish clothes she'd insisted on wearing which had made him want to peel them off to see the curves hinted at but hidden underneath. Distracted by her flawless pale Celtic skin and those huge almond-shaped eyes set in delicate features. Grey eyes like a stormy sea.
Distracted by the way she would look at him and blush when he caught her eye, the way she would catch her lower lip between small white teeth. Distracted by that fall of inky black hair which she'd kept tucking behind her ear. And, as time had worn on, distracted by the slow-burning licking flames of desire that had grown hotter and stronger every time he saw her.
Rafaele had fought it. He hadn't liked it-and especially not in the workplace. There were plenty of females working in his factory and yet none of them had ever turned his head. His life was run on strict lines and he'd always kept his personal life well away from his work. But she had been so far removed from the kind of woman he normally went for: polished, sophisticated. Worldly wise. Women who were sexy and knew it and knew what to do with it. Cynical, like him.
Sam had been none of those things. Except sexy. And he'd known she didn't know that. She'd seemed to have absolutely no awareness of the fact that men's gazes lingered on her as she passed by. It had enraged Rafaele. The hot spurt of possessiveness had been an alien concept to him. Before they'd even kissed!
In the end sexual frustration had been such a tight ball of need inside him that one day he'd called her to his office and, without being able to say a word, had taken her face in his hands and kissed her, drowning in an intoxicating sweetness he'd never tasted before.
Even now that memory alone had an effect on Rafaele's libido and body. He cursed. He'd thought of her months ago, at his mother's funeral. He thought of her more often than he liked to admit. Sam was the one who had taken him too close to the edge. They had shared more than just a brief sexual history. They had almost shared a child.
Even now a shiver of fear snaked down Rafaele's spine. How close he'd come to dealing with something he never wanted to deal with. That was what he needed to remember.
He swung around and stared blankly into his huge office. Clearly she wanted nothing to do with him, and he should want to have nothing to do with her.
He should not have given in to the compulsion to track her down. He should steer well clear of Samantha Rourke and put her out of his mind. For good.
Samantha woke up on Saturday morning when a small warm body burrowed into the bed beside her. She smiled sleepily and wrapped her arms around her sturdy son, breathing in his sweet scent.
'Morning, Mummy, I love you.'
Sam's heart clenched so hard for a second that she caught her breath. She kissed the top of his head. 'I love you too, sweetheart.'
Milo pulled his head back and Sam cracked open an eye and grimaced at the morning light.
He giggled. 'You're funny.'
Sam started to tickle Milo and he screeched with glee. Soon they were both wide awake and he was scrambling back out of the bed to clatter down the stairs.
She shouted after him. 'Don't turn on the TV yet!'
She heard him stop and could imagine his thwarted expression, and then he called back, 'Okay. I'll look at my book.'
Sam's heart clenched again. He would too. She knew when she went downstairs he'd be looking at his book studiously, even though he couldn't really read yet. He was such a good boy. Such a bright boy. Sometimes it scared her, how intelligent he was, because she felt as if she didn't have the means to handle it.
Bridie, her father's housekeeper, who had stayed on after he'd died two years previously, would often look at her with those far too shrewd Irish eyes and say, 'Well, where do you think he got it from? His grandfather was a professor of physics and you had your head in books from the age of two.'
Then she would sniff in that way she had and say, 'Now, obviously, as I don't know anything about his father, I can't speculate on that side of things ' which was Sam's cue to give her a baleful look and change the subject.
If it hadn't been for Bridie O'Sullivan, though, Sam reminded herself as she got out of bed, she would never have been able to get the PhD which had got her onto the lucrative research programme at the university, and which now helped pay for food, clothes and Bridie's wonderful care for Milo five days a week.
Bridie lived in the granny flat that had been built onto the side of the house some years before.
As Sam tied the belt on her robe, and prepared to go downstairs to get breakfast ready for herself and Milo, she tried to suppress the resurgence of guilt. The guilt that had been eating at her insides all week since she'd had that phone call. The guilt that had been a constant presence for four years, if she was completely honest with herself.
It unsettled her so much that she slept badly every night, tortured with memories while awake and by dreams while asleep, full of lurid images. Hot images. She woke tangled in the sheets, her skin damp with sweat, her heart racing, her head aching.
Rafaele Falcone. The man who had shown her just how colourless her world had been before demonstrating how easily he could deposit her back into perpetual greyness. As if she'd had no right to experience such a lavish, sensual dream.
Even now she wondered what on earth it had been about her that had caught his eye. But whatever it had been, to her everlasting shame, she would never forgive herself for believing that it had been more. For falling for him like some lovestruck teenager.
She reassured herself for the umpteenth time that week that he didn't deserve to know about Milo because he'd never wanted him in the first place. She would never forget how his face had leached of all colour when she'd told him she was pregnant.
Sam sagged back onto the side of the bed, the onslaught of memories coming too thick and fast to escape. He'd been away on a trip for three weeks and during that time Sam had found out she was pregnant. He'd asked to see her as soon as he'd returned, and after three weeks of no contact Sam hadn't been able to stop her heart from pumping with anticipation. Maybe he hadn't meant what he'd said before he'd gone on the trip.
'It might be no harm, cara, for us to spend some time apart. My work is beginning to suffer you're far too distracting '
But when she'd walked into his office he'd looked stern. Serious. Before she could lose her nerve Sam had blurted out, 'I have to tell you something.'
He'd looked at her warily. 'Go on, then.'
Sam had blushed and nervously twisted her hands, suddenly wondering if she was completely crazy to have a feeling of optimism that he might welcome her news. They'd only spent a month together. One heady, glorious month. Four weeks. Was that really enough time-?
She'd looked at him, taken a deep breath and dived in. 'Rafaele I'm pregnant.'
The words had hung ominously between them and a thick silence had grown. Rafaele's face had leached of all colour and Sam had known in that instant with cold clarity that she'd been a complete fool. About everything.
He'd literally gone white, his eyes standing out starkly green against the pallor. She'd thought he might faint and had moved towards him, but he'd put out a hand and asked hoarsely, 'How?'
She'd stopped in her tracks, but hadn't been able to halt the spread of ice in her veins. 'I think when we were careless.'
An understatement for the amount of times they had been careless in the shower, in the living room of Rafaele's palazzo when they'd been too impatient to make it to the bedroom, in the kitchen of her flat one evening, when he'd pushed her up against the counter and pulled down her trousers.
Sam had felt hot and mortified all at once. It felt so. lurid now. So desperate. It had been sex, not romance. Had she ever really known him? The vulnerability she'd felt in that moment was a searing everlasting memory.
He'd looked at her accusingly. 'You said you were on the pill.'
Sam got defensive. 'I was-I am. But I told you it was a low-dosage pill not specifically for contraception. And I had that twenty-four-hour bug a few weeks ago.'
Rafaele had sat down heavily into his chair. He looked as if he'd aged ten years in ten seconds. 'This can't be happening,' he'd muttered, as if Sam weren't even there.
She had tried to control her emotions, stop them from overwhelming her. 'It's as much of a shock to me as it obviously is to you.'
He'd looked up at her then and his face had tightened. 'Are you sure it's a shock? How do I know this wasn't planned in some attempt to trap me?'
Sam had almost staggered backwards, her mouth open, but nothing had come out. Eventually she'd managed, 'You think.you truly think I did this on purpose?'