Celebrity heart surgeon Dr. Alessandro Lucioni might be gorgeous, but I will never forget what we shared in Paris five years ago or how he broke my heart!
And now he's standing in front of me, asking for my help with his young nieceand determined to pick up where we left off! But this time I won't be his consolation prize. I will remain strong. Yet with memories of those magical blazing nights swirling through my mind, he's just so very hard to resist
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Even though I'm a fully qualified teacher I still hate getting called into the headmistress's office. I get this nervous prickle in my stomach, like a bunch of ants are tiptoeing around in there on stilettos. My knees feel woolly and unstable. My heart starts to hammer.
It's a programmed response from my childhood. I was rubbish at school. I mean really rubbish. Which is kind of ironic since I ended up a teacher at the prestigious Emily Sudgrove School for Girls in Bath, but that's another story.
Being called in to the office nearly always means there's a problem with one of the parentsa complaint or a criticism over how I'm handling one of their little darlings. Everyone knows helicopter parents are bad news. But, believe me, fighter pilot ones are even worse.
I stood outside the closed door and took a calming breath before I knocked on the door and entered.
'Ah, here she is now,' said Miss Fletcher, the headmistress, with a polished professional smile. 'Jem, this is Dr Alessandro Lucionia new parent.'
The words were like a closed-fist punch to my heart. Bang. I'm sure it missed a beat. Maybe two. Possibly three. I stood there with a blank expression on my face or at least I hoped it was blank. God forbid I should show any sign of the shock that was currently rocketing through me.
Alessandro was a parent? A father? He was married? He was in love?
The words were like a ticker tape running through my head. But then it flipped off its spool and flickered in a tangled knot inside my head. One of the stray tapes wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed until it hurt.
Alessandro gave a formal nod and held out a hand. 'Miss Clark.'
I stared at his hand. That hand had known every inch of my body. That hand had coached me to my first orgasm. Those long, clever fingers had made me feel things I hadn't felt before or since. The sight of that hand made memories I'd locked away twist and writhe and wriggle out of their shackles and run amok with my emotions. I could feel the spread of heat flowing through me. Furnace-hot heat. Heat that made me acutely aware of my sexuality and the needs and urges I usually staunchly, stubbornly, furiously ignored.
I brought my gaze up to his unreadable one. So he wasn't going to let on that he knew me. Biblically or literally. Fine. I would play the same game.
'Welcome to Emily Sudgrove,' I said, and put my hand in his. His fingers were cool and strong, and closed around mine with just enough pressure to remind me of the sensual power he'd once had over me.
Okay. Forget about once. I admit it. He still had it over me. I felt the tingle of the contact. The nerves of my fingers and hand were lighting up like fairy lights on a tree. Sparking. Fizzing. Wanting.
'Thank you,' he said, with a brief flicker of his lips that passed for a smilebut I noticed it didn't make the distance to his eyes.
Oh, dear Lordy me, his eyes! They were a dark lustrous brown. Darker than chocolate. Strong eyes. Eyes that could melt frozen butter like a blowtorch. Eyes that could be sexily hooded and smouldering when he was in the mood for sex. Eyes that could make my blood sing through my veins with just a look.
I felt his gaze move over my face in an assessing manner. I hoped he wasn't noticing my eyebrows needed shaping. Why hadn't I made the time for a bit of lady landscaping? Why, oh, why hadn't I used the hair straightener that morning? My hair is my biggest bugbear. I hate my corkscrew curls. For most of my life I've had to endure dumb blonde jokes. At least when I tame my hair it gives me a little more credibility, or so I like to think.
Think. Now, there's an idea. But my brain wasn't capable of rational thought. I was in fightor-flight mode. I wanted to get away from Alessandroas I'd been doing for the last five years.
I'd seen glimpses of him from time to time. He'd saved the life of a London theatre actor a couple of years ago, which had made him into a celebrity doctor. He's a heart surgeon. A pretty darn good one tooI have to give him that. He ripped my heart right out of my chest without anaesthetic. Oh, and the reason he's called 'Dr', and not Mr like other surgeons, is because he's done a PhD on top of his arduous training.
Talk about an overachiever. And people think I'm a workaholic. I reckon his business card would have to be one of those fold-out concertina ones, like those old-fashioned postcards, to accommodate all the letters after his name.
I saw him just a couple of weeks ago in Knightsbridge, when I was having lunch with my younger sister Bertie. He didn't see me, thank God. He was with a blonde. A gorgeous supermodel type, with legs up to her armpits and perfect skin, perfectly shaped eyebrows and perfectly smooth straight hair. The type of woman he's been seen out and about with ever since our relationship. Luckily my sister didn't recognise himor if she did she knew better than to say anything.
Urgh. I hate thinking about my relationship with Alessandro. I hate even using that term. It wasn't a relationshipnot for him, anyway. I was a rebound. That's another word I loathe. I was a consolation prize. Not Miss Right, but Miss Will Do.
'Dr Lucioni has enrolled his niece into your class, Jem,' Miss Fletcher said into the canyon of silence.
An inexplicable sense of relief collided with shock. He had a sister? A niece? Relatives? He'd told me he was an orphan.
I'd been amazed at how well he had done for himself when he had no one to back him. Not many people get to where he has without a leg-up somewhere along the way. But on the rare occasions when he spoke of his past he'd told me his parents died when he was a teenager and he had put himself through school and then medical school by working three jobs. There was no family money. No extended family support.
What other lies had he fed me?
I looked at him with a quizzical frown. 'You have a sister?'
Something moved at the back of his eyes, like a stagehand darting back into the shadows behind the curtains between acts.
'Yes,' he said. 'She's currently unwell, and I'm taking care of Claudia until she recovers.'
His voice Holy guacamole. His voice was like a caress to my sex-starved body. It stroked over me like a sensual hand, making the base of my spine melt like a marshmal-low in front of a campfire. The deepness of it, the mellifluous tone of it, the Sicilian accent even years living outside his homeland hadn't been able to remove.
That voice had told me things I had no business believing. I had fallen for every word. Every shallow promise I had taken to heart. I was ashamed of how stupid I'd been. Deeply and cringingly ashamed.
I'd spent years scoffing at my hippie parents for falling for the latest fad and then I'd gone and done the same. I'd latched on to Alessandro like a directionless follower does a guru. I'd worshipped him. I'd been prepared to give up all I had to be with him. I would have walkedno, crawled on my kneesover glass or razorblades or burning coals or a pit of hissing vipers to be with him.
But what I'd thought we had was a sham. It was all smoke and mirrors. He hadn't loved me at all. I was payback to the woman who'd dumped him for a richer man.
'Claudia will be boarding with us,' Miss Fletcher said.
I swung my gaze back to Alessandro's. 'Boarding?'
His expression gave nothing away. 'I work long, sometimes unpredictable, hours at the hospital.'
I teach six and seven-year-olds. Key Stage One as we call it in the UK. Grade One in the US and other parts of the world. I know children in the UK go to boarding school a lot younger than anywhere else, but sometimes it's a good thing. Sometimes. If a family is dysfunctional or not coping with the demands of kids then a well-run boarding school is a good option. Maybe even the best option in some cases. But I worry about kids who are shunted off before they're emotionally ready.
Boarding school can be a brutal place for a child who is overly sensitive. I have a history of oversensitivity, so I kind of know about these things.
Mind you, I never went to boarding school. Maybe if I had my childhood would have been a little less chaotic. My sister and I were hauled out of school when we were six and seven respectively and taken off to live in a commune in the Yorkshire moors, where we were supposed to learn through play. We were there two whole years before the authorities tracked us down and stepped in.
My sister Bertie's playing and learning was clearly of a much higher standard than mine, because she was a year ahead of her peers when she was placed back in the system. Unfortunately I was behind. Way, way behind. It took me years to catch up, and even now whenever I don't know the answer to something I get that same sinking sensation in the pit of my stomacha feeling of inadequacy, of not being smart enough, of not quite making the grade.
It doesn't take a psychotherapist to understand why I chose to teach at a posh girls' school. I needed to prove to myself that I was good enough to teach in one of the best schools in the country. But the thing I've come to realise is that it doesn't matter how rich or poor your parents arechildren are the same the world over. Some are strong academically; others, like me, can wangle the social side to their advantage. I made the art of fitting in into a science. I totally nailed it. Even though at times I compromised myself.
Alessandro was watching me with that same unfathomable expression on his face. Why had he chosen my school? There were dozens of boarding schools across the country. Why The Emily Sudgrove School for Girls in Bath? He worked in one of London's top hospitals. He lived in Belgravia. Yes, Bel-gravia. I told you he'd done well for himself. Why didn't he enrol his niece in a school closer to where he lived?
'Dr Lucioni would like a tour of the school,' Miss Fletcher said.
Her name was Clementine, but no one was allowed to call her that. She was proudly single and preferred Miss to Ms. She believed in formal address from her staff to establish respect, although she always called us by our Christian names when the children weren't around.
'Will you see to that, Jem?' she added.
'Sure,' I said brightly.
See how good I am at playing the game? Show no fear. That was my credo. It comes in pretty useful as a teacher too. You'd be surprised at how knee-knockingly scary some six or seven-year-olds can be. Although nothing compares to a six-foot-three hot Sicilian guy you once had monkey sex with, but still
'Come this way,' I said.
I felt him just behind me as I walked out of the office. If I stopped he would cannon into me. I was tempted to stop. It had been a long time since a man had touched me, even by accident. I'm no nun, but neither have I been getting out there much. Not lately. Not since
I had to really think before I could remember. Ah, yes, I remember now. I had a blind date with a friend of a friend's older brother a couple of years ago. God, what a disaster that was. No wonder I don't like remembering it. He was on something illegal and kept leaving the table where we were having dinner to have another snort. It took me a while to realise what was going on. The third time he said he needed the bathroom I ordered the most expensive wine on the wine list, drank half a glass and then left him to sort out the bill. I don't let men walk all over me any more. I get in first.
Speaking of illegal There should be a law against men as good-looking at Alessandro Lucioni. I know the tall, dark and handsome tag is a bit of a cliché, but he's exactly that. Tall and olive-skinned, and with the sort of looks that would make any woman between the ages of fourteen and fifty throw herself on the nearest bed and beg to be ravished by him.
He has sharply chiselled cheekbones and a prominent brow that gives him a slightly intimidating air whenever he frowns. His hair is thick and plentiful and not quite short, not quite long, but somewhere fashionably in between. He looks like one of those dishy European aftershave models. That day his hair was brushed back off his forehead, and it looked like the last time he'd done it he had used his fingers.
I wished I could stop thinking about his fingers. I was breaking out into a hot flush. I could feel it deep in my core. That subtle tensing of my girly bits as I recalled the way he had stroked me there. I pressed my knees together, but that only made it worse.
'This is the erm library,' I said as I pushed open the door.
He stood waiting for me to go in before him. He had excellent manners. That's another thing I have to give him. Ladies firstthat's his credo. Yikes, why couldn't I stop thinking about sex?
I turned on my heel and walked in with my head high, waving my hand to encompass the shelves and shelves of books. 'We at Emily Sudgrove Academy pride ourselves on giving our girls a broad choice in reading material which is both age-appropriate while giving them the opportunity in which to extend their reading range.'
I sounded like I was reading it from the school information bookletwhich is not surprising since I was the one who rewrote the latest edition.
I get called by my name, or at least the shortened version of it, all the time. There was no reason why my legs should suddenly feel as if the bones had been taken out. Or for my heart to beat extra quickly and my chest to feel tight, as if something rapidly expanding had taken up all the space in there. But something about the way Alessandro said my name made the base of my spine tingle.
I took a slow deep breath and turned to face him with my Key Stage One teacher face on. My sister Bertie calls it my Miss Prim and Proper face. Apparently I've been doing it since I was a little kid, which is kind of ironic since nothing about our childhood was anywhere close to being prim and proper.
'Miss Clark,' I said, with a tight smile that didn't reveal my teeth. 'We at Emily Sudgrove believe in teaching our girls proper forms of address, so as to equip them with the necessary tools to'
'Why did you run away the other week in London?'