At the Count's Bidding (Harlequin Presents Series #3315)

At the Count's Bidding (Harlequin Presents Series #3315)

by Caitlin Crews

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"It's the surrender. It's all about the surrender." 

Paige Fielding has waited ten years for Giancarlo Alessi to walk back into her life. But the man she was once forced to betray isn't interested in asking questions, or hearing apologies… 

Shocked to discover Paige working as his mother's PA, Giancarlo sees his thirst for vengeance reignite. So he lures her to Tuscany, where she will bow to his every pleasurable command. 

But the lines between payback and passion quickly blur. And when Giancarlo discovers Paige is pregnant he must ask himself: Is it really revenge he so desperately craves—or her?

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460378311
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 03/01/2015
Series: Harlequin Presents Series , #3315
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 234,420
File size: 400 KB

About the Author

Caitlin Crews discovered her first romance novel at the age of twelve and has since began her life-long love affair with romance novels, many of which she insists on keeping near her at all times. She currently lives in California, with her animator/comic book artist husband and their menagerie of ridiculous animals.

Read an Excerpt

"I must be hallucinating. And may God have mercy on you if I am not."

Paige Fielding hadn't heard that voice in ten years. It wrapped around her even as it sliced through her, making the breezy Southern California afternoon fade away. Making the email she'd been writing disappear from her mind in full. Making her forget what year it was, what day it was. Rocketing her right back into the murky, painful past.

That voice. His voice.

Uncompromisingly male. As imperious as it was incredulous. The faint hint of sex and Italy in his voice even with all that temper besides, and it rolled over Paige like a flattening heat. It pressed into her from behind, making her want to squirm in her seat. Or simply melt where she sat. Or come apart—easily and instantly—the way she always had at the sound of it.

She swiveled around in her chair in instant, unconscious obedience, knowing exactly who she'd see in the archway that led into the sprawling Bel Air mansion high in the Hollywood Hills called La Bellissima in honor of its famous owner, the screen legend Violet Sutherlin. She knew who it was, and still, something like a premonition washed over her and made her skin prickle in the scant seconds before her gaze found him there in the arched, open door, scowling at her with what looked like a healthy mix of contempt and pure, electric hatred.

Giancarlo Alessi. The only man she'd ever loved with every inch of her doomed and naive heart, however little good that had done either one of them. The only man who'd made her scream and sob and beg for more, until she was hoarse and mute with longing. The only man who still haunted her, and who she suspected always would, despite everything.

Because he was also the only man she'd ever betrayed. Thoroughly. Indisputably. Her stomach twisted hard, reminding her of what she'd done with a sick lurch. As if she'd forgotten. As if she ever could.

She hadn't thought she'd had a choice. But she doubted he'd appreciate that any more now than he had then.

"I can explain," she said. Too quickly, too nervously. She didn't remember pushing back from the table where she'd been sitting, doing her work out in the pretty sunshine as was her custom during the lazy afternoons, but she was standing then, somehow, feeling as unsteady on her own legs as she had in the chair. As lost in his dark, furious gaze as she'd been ten years ago.

"You can explain to security," he grated at her, each word a crisp slap. She felt red and obvious. Marked. As if he could see straight through her to that squalid past of hers that had ruined them both. "I don't care what you're doing here, Nicola. I want you gone."

She winced at that name. That hated name she hadn't used since the day she'd lost him. Hearing it again, after all this time and in that voice of his was physically upsetting. Deeply repellant. Her stomach twisted again, harder, and then knotted.

"I don't—" Paige didn't know what to say, how to say it. How to explain what had happened since that awful day ten years ago when she'd sold him out and destroyed them both. What was there to say? She'd never told him the whole truth, when she could have. She'd never been able to bear the thought of him knowing how polluted she was or the kind of place, the kind of people, she'd come from. And they'd fallen in love so fast, their physical connection a white-hot explosion that had consumed them for those two short months they'd been together—there hadn't seemed to be any time to get to know each other. Not really. "I don't go by Nicola anymore."

He froze solid in the doorway, a kind of furious astonishment rolling over him and then out from him like a thunderclap, deafening and wild, echoing inside of her like a shout.

It hurt. It all hurt.

"I never—" This was terrible. Worse than she'd imagined, and she'd imagined it often. She felt an awful heat at the back of her eyes and a warning sort of ache between her breasts, as if a sob was gathering force and threatening to spill over, and she knew better than to let it out. She knew he wouldn't react well. She was lucky he was speaking to her at all now instead of having Violet's security guards toss her bodily from the estate without so much as a word. But she kept talking anyway, as if that might help. "It's my middle name, actually. It was a—my name is Paige."

"Curiously, Paige is also the name of my mother's personal assistant."

But she could tell by the way his voice grew ominously quiet that he knew. That he wasn't confused or asking her to explain herself. That he'd figured it out the moment he'd seen her—that she'd been the name on all those emails from his mother over the past few years.

And she could also tell exactly how he felt about that revelation. It was written into every stiffly furious line of his athletic form.

"Who cannot be you." He shifted and her breath caught, as if the movement of his perfect body was a blow. "Assure me, please, that you are no more than an unpleasant apparition from the darkest hour of my past. That you have not insinuated yourself into my family. Do it now and I might let you walk out of here without calling the police."

Ten years ago she'd have thought he was bluffing. That Giancarlo would no more have called the police on her than he would have thrown himself off the nearest bridge. But this was a different man. This was the Giancarlo she'd made, and she had no one to blame for that but herself.

Well. Almost no one. But there was no point bringing her mother into this, Paige knew. It was his he was concerned about—and besides, Paige hadn't spoken to her own in a decade.

"Yes," she said, and she felt shaky and vulnerable, as if it had only just occurred to her that her presence here was questionable, at best. "I've been working for Violet for almost three years now, but Giancarlo, you have to believe that I never—"

"Stai zitto."

And Paige didn't have to speak Italian to understand that harsh command, or the way he slashed his hand through the air, gruffly ordering her silence. She obeyed. What else could she do? And she watched him warily as if, at any moment, he might bare his fangs and sink them in her neck.

She'd deserve that, too.

Paige had always known this day would come. That this quiet new life she'd crafted for herself almost by accident was built on the shakiest of foundations and that all it would take was this man's reappearance to upend the whole of it. Giancarlo was Violet's son, her only child. The product of her fabled second marriage to an Italian count that the entire world had viewed as its own, personal, real-life fairy tale. Had Paige imagined this would end in any other manner? She'd been living on borrowed time from the moment she'd taken that interview and answered all the questions Violet's managers had asked in the way she'd known—thanks to her insider's take on Violet's actual life away from the cameras, courtesy of her brief, brilliant affair with Giancarlo all those years ago—would get her the job.

Some people might view that harshly, she was aware. Particularly Giancarlo himself. But she'd had good intentions. Surely that counted for something? You know perfectly well that it doesn't, the harsh voice in her head that was her last link to her mother grated at her. You know exactly what intentions are worth.

And it had been so long. She'd started to believe that this might never happen. That Giancarlo might stay in Europe forever, hidden away in the hills of Tuscany building his uberprivate luxury hotel and associated cottages the way he had for the past decade, ever since she'd set him up and those sordid, intimate photographs had been splashed across every tabloid imaginable. She'd lulled herself into a false sense of security.

Because he was here now, and nothing was safe any longer, and yet all she wanted to do was lose herself in looking at him. Reacquainting herself with him. Reminding herself what she'd given up. What she'd ruined.

She'd seen pictures of him all over this house in the years she'd worked here. Always dark and forbiddingly elegant in his particularly sleek way, it took no more than a glance to understand Giancarlo was decidedly not American. Even ten years ago and despite having spent so much time in Los Angeles, he'd had that air. That thing about him that whispered that he was the product of long centuries of European blue bloods. It was something in the way he held himself, distant and disapproving, the hint of ancient places and old gods stamped into his aristocratic bones and lurking behind his cool dark gaze.

Paige had expected Giancarlo would still be attractive, of course, should she ever encounter him again. What she hadn't expected—or what she'd allowed herself to forget—was that he was so raw. Seeing him was like a hard, stunning blow to the side of her head, leaving her ears ringing and her heart thumping erratically inside her chest. As if he knew it, his head canted to one side as he regarded her, as if daring her to keep talking when he'd ordered her to stop.

But she couldn't seem to do anything but stare. As if the past decade had been one long slide of gray and here he was again, all of him in bold color and bright lights. So glaring and hot she could hardly bear to look at him. But she did. She couldn't help herself.

He stood as if he was used to accolades, or simply commanding the full and rapt attention of every room he entered. It was partly the clothes he wore, the fabrics fitting him so perfectly, almost reverently, in a manner Paige knew came only at astronomical expense. But it was more than that. His body was lean and powerful, a symphony of whipcord strength tightly leashed, the crackle of his temper and that blazing sensuality that felt like a touch from ten feet away, carnal and wild. Even though she knew he'd never willingly touch her again. He'd made that clear.

Giancarlo was still so beautiful, yes, but there was something so male about him, so rampantly masculine, that it made Paige's throat go dry. It was worse now, ten years later. Much worse. He stood in the open doorway in a pair of dark trousers, boots, and the kind of jacket Paige associated with sexy Ducati motorcycles and mystical places a girl like her from a ramshackle desert town in Nowhere, Arizona, only fantasized about, like the Amalfi Coast. Yet somehow he looked as effortlessly refined as if he could walk straight into a black-tie gala as he was—or climb into a bed for a long, hot, blisteringly feral weekend of no-holds-barred sex.

But it did her no good to remember that kind of thing. For her body to ready itself for his possession as if it had been ten minutes since they'd last touched instead of ten years. As if it knew him, recognized him, wanted him—as deeply and irrevocably as she always had. As if wanting him was some kind of virus that had only ever been in remission, for which there was no cure.

The kind of virus that made her breasts heavy and her belly too taut and shivery at once. The kind of virus that made her wish she still danced the way she had in high school and those few years after, obsessively and constantly, as if that kind of extended, heedless movement might be the only way to survive it. Him. His marvelous mouth tightened as the silence dragged on and she sent up a prayer of thanks that he hadn't thought to remove his mirrored sunglasses yet. She didn't want to know what his dark gaze would feel like when she could actually see his eyes again. She didn't want to know what that would do to her now. She still remembered what it had been like that last time, that short and harsh conversation on the doorstep of her apartment building that final morning, where he'd confronted her with those pictures and had truly understood what she'd done to him. When he'd looked at her as if he'd only then, in that moment, seen her true face—and it had been evil.

Pull yourself together, she ordered herself fiercely. There was no going back. There were no do-overs. She knew that too well.

"I'm sorry," she managed to get out before he cut her off again. Before she melted into the tears she knew she'd cry later, in private. Before the loss and grief she'd pretended she was over for years now swamped her. "Giancarlo, I'm so sorry."

He went so rigid it was as if she'd slapped him, and yet she felt slapped. She hurt everywhere.

"I don't care why you're here." His voice was rough. A scrape that tore her open, ripping her right down her middle. "I don't care what game you're playing this time. You have five minutes to leave the premises."

But all Paige could hear was what swirled there beneath his words. Rage. Betrayal, as if it was new. Hot and furious, like a fire that still burned bright between them. And she was sick, she understood, because instead of being as frightened of that as she should have been, something in her rejoiced that he wasn't indifferent. After all this time.

"If you do not do this of your own accord," Giancarlo continued with a certain vicious deliberation, and she knew he wanted that to hurt her, "I will take great pleasure in dumping you on the other side of the gates myself."

"Giancarlo—" she began, trying to sound calm, though her hands nervously smoothed at the soft blouse and the pencil skirt she wore. And even though she couldn't see his eyes, she felt them there, tracing the curve of her hips and her legs beneath, as if she'd deliberately directed his gaze to parts of her body he'd once claimed he worshipped. Had she meant to do that? How could she not know?

But he interrupted her again.

"You may call me Count Alessi in the remaining four minutes before I kick you out of here," he told her harshly. "But if you know what's good for you, whatever name you're using and whatever con you're running today and have been running for years, I'd suggest you stay silent."

"I'm not running a con. I'm not—" Paige cut herself off, because this was all too complicated and she should have planned for this, shouldn't she? She should have figured out what to say to someone who had no reason on earth to listen to her. And who wouldn't believe a word she said even if he did. Why hadn't she prepared herself? "I know you don't want to hear a single thing I have to say, but none of this is what you think. It wasn't back then, either. Not really."

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