A night of earthshattering lovemaking left Nick Lisitano wracked with remorse for taking advantage of Anna’s innocence. He knows Anna deserves deep, enduring love, which is not something he can offer her. He’s managed to keep his distance until now, but his father is ill, and he knows just what will bring his family together and give his father peace. A wedding. His wedding. To the lovely young Anna.
Four years ago, Anna Felgate gave her virginity to the man who held her heart—long-time family friend and legendary lover, Nick Lisitano. That one night branded her for life and ruined her for any other man, but Nick has been cold to her ever since. Until now that is, when he comes to her with a crazy plan…a proposal…of marriage.
Anna knows she shouldn’t agree to Nick’s plan, but how can she refuse the man who holds her heart.
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|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
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About the Author
Portia Da Costa is a British author of over thirty-five novels and novellas, spanning romance, erotic romance, and erotic fiction. She loves writing intense, character driven stories that fuse sensuality with heartfelt emotion.
Her work has been translated into German, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian, Russian, Croatian, Portuguese and Japanese, and in 2012, her saucy, library-set erotic romance, IN TOO DEEP, reached #5 on the Sunday Times Bestsellers list, with only books by E L James and Sylvia Day outselling her.
Portia lives in the heart of West Yorkshire, UK, with her husband and their four adorable cats. When she's not writing she loves to read, watch TV, and hang out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Read an Excerpt
Four Years Later
Niccolo Lisitano stood beneath a tree in a small London square, staring at the lighted windows of the tall Regency house across the road. It was drizzling, and the moisture was gathering on his skin and making his hair curl, but he still felt reluctant to cross the road and knock for entrance.
Nick wasn't a craven or cautious man. In fact his self-confidence was usually rock-solid, a suit of armor with few if any cracks. But the hours ahead could be awkward and emotionally messy if he didn't pitch things exactly right. It was a delicate plan, and a gamble, and he still hadn't quite completely thought it through, which was rare for him. But he'd never shied away from gambles in his life, and he wasn't about to turn his back on this one.
Still he hesitated, monitoring the rectangles of yellow radiance and the shadows of partygoers moving in elegant rooms. Was she there? Of course she was there. It was her father's birthday. The father she loved and would do anything for, just as he would do anything for his. Hence his mission tonight.
Reaching beneath his dark overcoat and into the pocket of his suit, Nick drew out a folded page from a celebrity magazine and opened it up to show the image he'd found himself studying disturbingly often since he'd acquired it a few days ago. It had the same effect on him that it'd had the first time he'd looked at it.
It's just a picture, fool. Don't lose control. She's beautiful and you care about her, but she's not going to be easy to persuade, no matter how hard you try and how much you still want her, even now.
But still his heart thumped and his groin tightened.
Anna Felgate and friend, the caption read. Ignoring the man whose hand she was holding and the laughing group of people around them, his eyes lingered over the image of the slim bright-eyed blonde woman in a sexy little vintage party dress. She was beautiful, more now than ever. But then she'd always been stunning, even when she'd been just a girl and their relationship had been innocent, just buddies.
Anna Felgate was the daughter of one of his father's oldest friends, and she'd always been feisty and undaunted by life. Ever his cherished companion and rival during holidays in both England and Italy, Anna had never been afraid to speak her mind and challenge him, despite their twelve-year age gap. She'd always reached out boldly for what she wanted.
Then one night, she'd been more than bold. One night she'd been exquisite and crazy and made him act in a way that was even crazier.
His long fingers clenched involuntarily, almost crushing the precious tear-out. He no longer saw Anna's bright smile for the paparazzi, nor her pretty elfin haircut, nor her quirky individualistic outfit that suited her so sweetly. Instead, those astonishing green eyes gazed up at him from the deep shadows of a Mediterranean night, brilliant as jewels with anticipation and excitement, pupils black and dilated with desire. Her long, pale hair fanned out across his pillow, framing her face and her bare, satiny shoulders. Along the full length of his body he could feel her daringly naked, all warmth and irresistible female perfection, his for the taking.
Drawing in a deep, ragged breath, Nick smoothed out the increasingly water-splashed picture as best he could, remembering the thrill of running his fingertips over her body. She'd been more rounded in the darkness of his bed than she was now, the years had refined her and made her sleek and toned. But she was still that perfect vision of delicious, entrancing womanhood, and the stirring of his body only confirmed how much she moved him. He was hard now, painfully so, the sensation impossible to ignore or suppress. It was a battle he'd fought whenever they'd met since that one single night of passion in Italy.
Dannazione! As if the evening ahead wasn't fraught with enough complications as it was. He half wished for the heavens to really open, and drench him to the bone, to douse his fires.
Looking up to the night sky, Nick dragged in air, his chest expanding like an athlete's as he composed his mind for the showdown ahead. He would achieve nothing if he lost his cool, and closing his eyes, he gave thanks for what rain there was as it pattered onto his face, soft and calming. After moment or two, he was able to look down again at the damp sheet of torn-out paper, and frowned at the fact Anna was with a man.
If I don't act now, I'm in trouble. She'll settle for the latest of these bland, inoffensive nonentities she seems to go for, and that'll mean the end of my plans, no matter how half-formed they are.
Taking a deep breath, he folded the page again, wryly aware that he was taking the utmost care not to place a crease across Anna's face. Then, as he slipped it back into his pocket, he squared his shoulders with purpose and strode out across the square towards the Felgate house and the party.
Not into battle as such, though a part of him expected it.
On hearing the front doorbell, Anna Felgate shuddered with a sudden, crawling sense of premonition.
"Will you answer it, sweetheart?" her father asked, his eyes brightening. She knew he'd been putting a brave face on things for her sake, given all the financial uncertainty. The economic downturn had hit his manufacturing business hard, and she knew he'd been faced with some worrying numbers, but all of a sudden he looked genuinely excited and optimistic. "I just want to check something with the caterer."
A scan of the room revealed everything going smoothly, and drinks and nibbles circulating efficiently, but Anna shrugged. If Dad wanted to check on the catering that was his prerogative. It was his birthday. So, with a quick smile, she sped towards the front door to let in the tardy guest. She knew her late mother would have made a far more efficient hostess than she did, and it was at times like these she missed her more than usual, and longed for the sense of welcome and being cherished.
Maybe it's Martin? she thought, trying to squash a mild sense of unease. He'd said he'd try and get here if he could, but a craven part of her rather wished he wouldn't make it. She was going to have to do something about herself and Martin, and do it quickly. It wasn't fair to him, and she hated feeling like a fraud.
The doorbell chimed again, this time long and impatiently. "Oh, keep your hair on," she muttered. Bloody hell, if it was Martin he was being a damn sight more assertive than usual. The way he was abusing the bell reminded her much more of a certain other person. A person her father would be much happier for her to pair up with, on a permanent basis if possible.
No, no, no! That book is closed, idiot. Locked and bound with chains and consigned to the bottom of the ocean.
And yet, even as she tried to squelch the fantasies that even after all these years would not be squelched, her steps faltered and her heart drummed guiltily beneath the silk embroidery on her bodice.
It was too late. She'd done it now. It could be him, even though to her knowledge there'd been no formal answer to the invitation they'd sent him. And the mega-jitters, the shallow breathing and the maniacal thumping of her blood were her natural response, even though there was still a chance it might be Martin who never provoked any of those reactions.
But the door swung open with a fatalistic inevitability, revealing the person her heart and gut had known would be there. Anna's smile froze, her jaw tightened and the bright, half-prepared words of greeting expired on her lips. For just a millisecond, she was bereft of the power of speech altogether, but then self-possession kicked back in and she mustered her voice.
"Nick! Hello. How lovely to see you. I'm so glad you were able to make it."
Amazing. Such eloquence. Was that all she could manage? Apparently, yes, because Niccolo Lisitano's ability to take her breath away was still fully intact, and now he seemed to have stolen her command of the Queen's English too.
"Good evening, Anna."
The lean, dark-clad figure on the doorstep smiled. His oh-so-familiar devastating grin looked so real, so genuine, despite everything. Maybe it was? "Can I come in then?"
What if she didn't invite him in? Could she just shut the door and leave him and his animal magnetism or whatever it was out there? For a moment, she entertained notions about vampires and demons that couldn't come in if you didn't invite them, then dashed them away, telling herself not to be mad.
"Yes ... yes, of course. Come in." Anna stepped quickly back. Almost too quickly. Her body reacted to something the eye couldn't see, and that shouldn't really exist. A kind of field of dazzling energy that always seemed to surround Nick. It had been almost a year since she'd last seen him, but the effect was always the same. "You're always welcome here," she added, attempting to project casual friendliness, even though she had a nasty feeling she wasn't succeeding — and that Nick knew it.
"Of course." He was already just inches from her, moving faster than seemed natural, and already far too close for her peace of mind.
The voice was as ever deep and soft, playful yet utterly assured. Against her will, Anna's eyes devoured the strong, athletic frame, enhanced rather than hidden by his perfectly tailored suit and the long black overcoat he wore open despite the spring drizzle outside. His tawny-gold, sun-bleached hair was bedewed with rain and there was a light sheen of moisture across his familiar and almost unfairly handsome features.
Time had passed, and a stray line or two had appeared around his eyes, yet still that near-perfect male face seemed to have been in her mind constantly. She stared into his blue gaze and found it cool and assessing, and infinitely disturbing.
Yet was there a shadow there, a flicker of acknowledgement of all they'd agreed to bury? Or was it a question? She remembered a time — the long hazy summers of her girlhood — when those amazing eyes had sparkled only with warmth and a rascally older-brother affection towards her. And there was a time just once when they'd been velvet dark with passion.
"What a filthy night." Banishing that thought with another bright smile, she attempted to breathe as normally and unobtrusively as possible whilst feeling as if she'd just run a marathon. But she couldn't hide anything from Nick. His laser gaze zeroed in instantaneously on the lift and fall of her breasts beneath her delicate, silky and lace top.
"Don't worry. I enjoy the rain." His eyes flicked back to her face only after a long, assessing pause, "It's refreshing. It clarifies the thoughts."
Clarifies them for what?
Anna's stomach swooped. What was going on in that devious razor of a mind? And why had he suddenly looked at her in that way, the way they'd agreed did not, had never existed between them? She searched his face for clues, but it was unreadable again. Stunning, as perfectly carved as ever, but now completely opaque to her.
"Yes ... right." She felt herself starting to flounder. How could he send her into a flat spin in just a few seconds and with a few innocuous words?
"Did you have a good flight? Where are you staying? When did you arrive?"
She flung questions at him, not really seeking answers, but just for something, anything, to say.
His eyes narrowed and she knew she'd made a mistake. Or at least she thought she had. A moment later, amusement softened the harder lines of his face and his mouth, always his most sensuous, almost voluptuous feature, curved in a way that made her heart skip and gallop and her knees turn to paper.
"Is this an interrogation?"
Staring down at her, he laced his fingers in front of him, lights dancing in those marvelous, magical eyes.
"No! Of course not. I'm just making small talk." The words were quick and flustered, and emotion rioted inside, making her rash. "As we always do."
His dark blond brows lifted, and if a man as composed as Nick could be said to flinch, he appeared to. He mimed the word, touché then went on smoothly as if the small moment of conflict and real communication as opposed to play-acting had never existed. "Well then, I arrived around two, and I'm staying at the Savoy. And I didn't fly. I drove from Italy." That stood to reason. Industria Lisitano was a huge conglomerate with diverse holdings, but the automotive division, especially the high-performance sports cars, had always been Nick's baby. And he never missed a chance to get behind the wheel of their latest offering.
"That's some drive." Hyper-awareness of him created the image of the interior of a supercar, cramped and intimate, herself beside him, and only inches between their bodies, their thighs. The relative spaciousness of the hall seemed to close in on them. "May I take your coat," she added quickly, reaching out.
This is the first time we've actually been completely alone together since ...
It dawned on her like a thunderbolt, and her hands stilled and dropped to her sides.
No! We don't go there.
But it was too late. The interior of some fast car or other morphed into that of a darkened bedroom, an envelope of Mediterranean heat, with the scents of pine and lemon groves and aroused man flooding her senses.
"Is something wrong?"
The question sounded genuine and concerned, yet the low, almost purring note in his voice played across her strung-out nerves.
"No ... Nothing at all," she claimed, feigning a calm, untroubled cheerfulness she didn't feel.
Yes! Everything, an inner, disorientated voice cried. Please go back to Italy, Nick, and don't make things complicated. Flashing him a twinkling smile to match his own, she finally reached for his coat.
Nick's face was a picture. His smile was the most amazing she'd ever seen, yet somehow she could feel a frown in there too, and complex feelings playing out behind his mask of glamour. Automatically, she worried for him, as she always did, despite everything. Then the darkness was gone again, and for half a second she got the distinct impression that he intended to turn around, stretch out his arms and let her relieve him of the coat like some kind of dutiful parlor maid. But instead he shrugged elegantly out of the long, dark garment himself and caught it behind him before shaking it free of raindrops and handing it to her.
Hanging the coat up gave Anna a moment breathing space when she wasn't forced to look directly into Nick's face and be subject to that bamboozled, sideswiped feeling he induced in her. She had to think straight, and as she did a wash of guilt gripped her. Dear God, she hadn't even asked about Carlo.
"How is your father doing? Is he feeling better?" As she turned back towards him she caught the pain crossing his face, and her heart turned over in sympathy. The relationship between Italian sons and their fathers was often turbulent, and particularly so in Nick and Carlo's case, but filial love ran far deeper than antipathy.
"He's doing well ... Being a pain in the hindquarters, as usual, so yes, definitely improved."
Nick seemed very still somehow. It was a quality he sometimes possessed, and in the narrow confines of the hall it was amplified and bizarrely felt almost energetic. The impact of his body just inches away from hers buffeted Anna's senses and sent flight-or- fight instinct racing through her. But she stomped it down ruthlessly and focused on more tangible matters. "Uncle" Carlo had always been extravagantly kind to her and news of his heart attack and major surgery had been a horrible shock. She'd wanted to visit, despite the fact she'd almost certainly run into Nick, but the medics had insisted on quiet and only the very immediate family as visitors.
"He was most insistent on me coming here to represent him," Nick went on with a wry smile that made Anna's stomach flutter. "Especially with Sofia too heavily pregnant to leave Rome," he added, referring to his happily married sister, "And Pietro, naturally, wanting to stay close to her."
"Of course. And are they well too?" she enquired.
Pleasantries, polite social niceties, family chit-chat. Was this what they were eternally reduced to? She felt awkward and somehow despairing as Nick nodded in reply.
"Look, come on through, Dad will be thrilled to see you."
"So you're playing quite the little hostess tonight, eh?" observed Nick, still not moving, his blue, unblinking eyes pinning her to the tiled floor.
Excerpted from "Far from Perfect"
Copyright © 2011 Portia Da Costa.
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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