of his family, and he's determined to keep
gold-digging Sam Maguire away from his
sister's husband even if it means seducing
Sam is no femme fatalein fact she's a
virgin! But under Alessandro's expert touch
she succumbs to one night in his arms. And
when passion leads to pregnancy, Sam knows
that Alessandro will do whatever it takes to
have her as his wife and their baby as his heir!
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SAM identified the person who had come to stand behind her chair long before his hands came to rest lightly on her shoulders. Her heart rate quickened a little before she forced herself to relax. As she turned her head her smile stayed in place. It wasn't easy, but Sam had reached the point where she felt pretty well qualified to give a master class in hiding her true feelings.
She firmly steered her thoughts from the self–pitying direction they were drifting. Reality check, Samantha Maguire—you weren't singled out for any particular cruelty from fate. Hearts get broken most days of the week!
So live with it, girl, she told herself sternly.
She was living; in fact she was living proof that there was life after a broken heart! Not that she was ever in danger of downplaying the disaster that was unrequited love—when the only person you had ever imagined spending the rest of your life with married someone else you didn't become indifferent overnight, or even after two years. But you did develop a protective shell; you had to.
There were days now when Sam could go an entire morning without thinking about Jonny Trelevan. Admittedly on those occasions she hadn't had a glass of champagne and he didn't have his hand on her shoulder!
Sam suspected that getting on with her life and not brooding on what might have been would probably have been easier if she could have erased him from her life, but that had never been a serious option. There were just too many connections. Not only were the Trelevan and Maguire families friends and neighbours in the small Cornish seaside town where she had been born and brought up, but Jonny's twin, Emma, was one of her best friends. And now, after the christening that morning, they were both godparents to Emma's first daughter, Laurie.
"So this is where you've been hiding, Sam." Jonny bent down and his lips brushed gently against her cheek.
She was surprised by the unexpected gesture. Jonny wasn't normally a wildly tactile person—at least not with her—and, for a brief moment unable to shield her feelings, Sam dropped her chin and fixed her attention on the baby in her lap while she fought to regain her composure.
Her god–daughter looked back at her and gave a gummy smile. Sam felt a stab of wistful envy for the childlike innocence.
Why are you worrying? she asked herself as she grinned back at the baby and tweaked her button nose. 'Are you laughing at silly Aunty Sam…?" See—even a ten–month–old knows Jonny wouldn't notice if you stripped naked.
Or if he did it would only be to ask if she was warm enough! The bottom line was that to Jonny she was always going to be good old Sam—the slightly odd, skinny redhead from next door.
As she lifted her chin a moment later, her serene just–goodfriends smile firmly pinned in place, Sam's unwary gaze connected head–on with the enigmatic hooded stare of Alessandro Di Livio, who was standing a little apart from a laughing group of guests on the other side of the room.
She stiffened, and her smile guttered.
A little apart just about described the man who, in Sam's opinion, carried 'aloof' to the point of plain rudeness.
With some men she might have suspected that the entire dark, brooding man–of–mystery thing was cultivated for effect, just to make people notice him. But Alessandro Di Livio didn't need to make the effort.
He got noticed!
Of course he got noticed. He was tall, lean, and rampantly male, and if his body looked half as good without clothes as it did—Sam lost the thread momentarily as she thought about him naked. Face rosily tinged, she reined in her wayward imagination and concentrated on his face. Individually, his strong, dark features were memorable; collectively, they were nothing short of perfect. And that was before you even touched on the subject of the forcefield of raw sexuality that preceded him into any room!
Even from this distance the unnerving intensity of his stare had her stomach muscles behaving unpredictably. Without dropping her eyes she rested her chin on the top of the baby's silky head; his eyes really were the darkest she had ever seen—not dark warm, but dark hard. That man, she thought, repressing a shudder, wasn't chocolate. Not even the dark, bitter variety. He was cold, hard steel!
Despite the familiar wave of antipathy she always experienced when around the Italian financier, Sam forced her lips into a polite smile—while thinking, God, but there's just something about you that sets my teeth on edge.
Actually, not something, she admitted. Everything!
From the way he walked into a room as if he owned it to the ability of his deep voice with its tactile quality and intriguing accent to make her skin prickle. Even the fact that his incredibly well–cut suit didn't have a crease in it got under her skin. She knew it was totally irrational, and it probably made her a freak, considering that just about every other female she had ever met drooled when his name was mentioned, but she found his brand of arrogance and raw, in–your–face sexuality a total turn–off.
When she had said as much to Emma, during Jonny and Kat's belated wedding party, her best friend, who had a pretty warped sense of humour, had grinned slyly and suggested innocently that maybe all this hostility was because Sam was secretly attracted to the Italian.
Well aware that if she showed how repugnant she found the joking suggestion Emma was going to take the she protests too much route, she had rolled her eyes and joked, 'Sure I am—I dream about him every night." Trying not to think about that one shameful occasion she had almost successfully blanked from her mind—the one when she had woken with her entire body bathed in sweat and her heart pumping so fast she'd felt as if she was choking.
Fortunately a girl couldn't be held accountable for what her subconscious got up to.
"I think we'll make a lovely couple," she'd added. Disregarding the irony heavily lacing this prognosis, Emma grinned. 'So, you think you're the woman to get our famously commitment–phobic Italian stud to the altar? You do realise that the only time his name has ever been linked with marriage was with that woman…the lawyer…messy divorce, husband a junior minister or something." Her smooth brow furrowed as she failed to retrieve the name. 'What was her name…?"
"Marisa Sinclair."When the ring everyone had expected to see appear on her finger hadn't materialised Marisa Sinclair had responded to prying questions by saying that Alessandro was and always would be one of the most important people in her life.
"That's the one. Stunning–looking—half–Scottish, half–Italian, and super smart. But she didn't get her man in the end. You fancy taking a shot, Sam…?"
"You don't think I'm his type?"
Emma ran a mock critical eye over her friend. 'You scrub up pretty well when you make the effort, Sam, but…"
Sam held up a hand. 'I'm no Marisa Sinclair. All right, stop right there, while I still have some self–esteem left," she pleaded.
"Don't fret, Sam. You're too deep for him. I think he goes for superficial and obvious. You want to know what my theory is about our enigmatic Italian?" Taking Sam's silence as assent–wrongly, as it happened—she went on to explain. 'When they were handing out the pheremones he got a treble dose. Have you seen the way women act when he walks into a room? Honest to God, an expert in body language would have a field–day!"
Thinking about the uncomfortable all over tingle she had personal experience of, Sam nodded.
"All that and money too." Emma sighed. 'They do say that the palazzo on his Tuscan estate is out of this world—though I don't see how anyone knows, because nobody ever gets to go there except a few really close friends."
"I'm surprised he has any."
From Emma's amused expression Sam could tell that there were more comments about hostility masking attraction heading her way, so she added quickly. 'Well, maybe now you're related you'll get to see it in person."
"I hope so. I could do with a couple of weeks in Tuscany this summer. However, if my brother's connections don't get me an invite, I'll just have to rely on my best friend to remember when she lands her dream man."
Nightmare man, Sam thought, maintaining a long–suffering, smiling silence as her friend dissolved into fits of helpless laughter once more.
Sam sighed and pushed aside the recollections as across the room the man who had been the subject of that long–ago conversation carried on staring, with that same unnerving intensity.
Damn the man, she fumed. He has no manners at all! It was childish, she knew, and maybe the challenge she thought she read in his eyes was all in her imagination, but Sam was determined that she wasn't going to be the one to look away first. Consciously allowing her own smile to fade, because making an effort to be polite was clearly wasted on him, she picked up her glass of orange juice and raised it to him in a mocking salute.
The defiant gesture fell rather flat when he didn't respond. His enigmatic dark eyes, with their heavy fringe of curling lashes, just continued to drill into her from across the room.
Sam's resolve was wilting fast, but she was saved a humiliating climb–down when an attractive blonde sidled up to him… sidled so close that her breasts were almost touching his chest. Actually, they were touching.
Sam recognised the blonde, who had come with one of Emma's cousins. The girl had been stalking Alessandro with single–minded determination all day. Sam saw her catch hold of his sleeve and thought viciously, Serve you right! It wasn't until he turned his head away that she realised she had been literally holding her breath.
Gasping a little, to draw air into her oxygen–deprived lungs, she put her glass down on a table. What a conceited bore the man is, she thought, her lips thinning contemptuously.
A conceited bore with the ability to make your hands shake just by looking at you.
The warm fingers on her shoulder tightened and Sam's eyes widened. It was kind of shocking to realise that, far from struggling to keep a lid on her feelings for Jonny, she had forgotten he was there! And it was utterly irrational—considering he was not only another woman's husband, but oblivious to the fact she adored him—that Sam felt a pang of guilt.
As if I've been unfaithful! Now, how crazy is that? 'And how are you, my gorgeous one?"
Sam relaxed a little and felt wistful. Jonny's voice was exactly like him. Warm, solid, uncomplicated and reliable. Everything, in fact, that the Italian was not, she thought, unable to repress a tiny shudder as an image of those dark, lean, impossibly symmetrical features formed in her head.
Feeling irritated with herself for allowing Alessandro Di Livio to intrude once more into her thoughts, she angled a warm smile at Jonny. And of course she hadn't for a second made the mistake of thinking that his crooning question had been addressed to her.
She'd known it never would be. It hadn't always been that way, and it was deeply embarrassing to recall that for a long time she had firmly believed that one day the scales would fall from Jonny's eyes and he would finally realise that little Sam Maguire was the only woman he could love.
A rich fantasy life was one thing, Sam mused, but her fantasy had become so firmly embedded that she had believed totally that it was going to happen—to the extent where it had affected the decisions she'd made. This belief had persisted right up to the moment Jonny had arrived home with a stunning girl whom he had proudly introduced to his family as 'my wife."
"She's pretty much perfect," Jonny observed now, awkwardly stroking the smooth cheek of his baby niece with a finger.
Much like yourself.
Sam guiltily lowered her eyes and turned her attention back to the baby on her lap, who gave a contented gurgle and captured the pendant around Sam's slim neck.
"She looks just like Emma, doesn't she?" 'Kat thinks she looks like me," Jonny mused. 'The same thing, really," Sam pointed out.
The twins, though poles apart personality–wise, had always been very alike in looks.And now that Jonny had given up surfing competitively to run first one and then several more stores across the country selling surf gear, his sun–bleached blond hair had darkened to the same honey–brown as his sister's, so the likeness between the siblings was even more pronounced.
"What's up, Sam…?" 'Up?" 'You sound… I don't know…' He studied her profile. 'Cranky," he decided.
"I was just thinking about your brother–in–law." 'Alessandro!" Jonny's eyes automatically sought out the tall figure standing across the room. Their eyes connected and Jonny smiled tensely before looking away. He never had been able to rid himself of the feeling that the older man could read his mind…always an uncomfortable experience, but with the cheque burning a hole in his pocket at that moment particularly so.
She nodded. 'He may have a perfect face, but his manners could do with some major work."seeing Jonny's brows lift at the spitting vehemence of her declaration, Sam cautioned herself to downplay her dislike. 'You have to admit," she challenged in a milder tone, 'he makes no effort whatsoever." 'Effort to do what?"
She pursed her lips into a disapproving line. 'Mingle." 'Mingle!" Jonny echoed, and laughed. 'He always gives the impression that he's looking down his nose at me…at everyone…but then I suppose he thinks he doesn't need to be polite to ordinary people like us,"she observed contemptuously.
Jonny gave a shrug, still looking amused. 'Oh, you know Alessandro."
For once Sam found Jonny's laid–back attitude irritating. 'Happily, no, I don't. We don't exactly move in the same circles."
"He's actually a pretty private person, Sam, and with the paparazzi on his case all the time, sniffing for a scandal, you can't really blame him for being a bit cautious."
"He's not cautious. He's stuck up and snobbish. Still, at least he's safe from the paparazzi today." Nobody was going to expect to see Alessandro Di Livio at a christening in a Cornish seaside village.
Jonny looked at her curiously. 'God, you really don't like him, do you, Sam?"
"He doesn't like me," she countered. Jonny looked startled by the suggestion. 'Oh, I doubt that."His eyes moved from her bright copper head and slid over her trim but slight figure. 'He's probably not even noticed you, Sam."
From his expression it was obvious that Jonny thought she'd be pleased to realise that she was actually too insignificant even to register on Alessandro Di Livio's radar.
Sam forced a smile. 'You mean I'm mistaking indifference for rudeness?"
The ironic inflection in her voice sailed over Jonny's head. 'He can be a bit stand–offish," he admitted. 'And he's not a great talker—at least not with me. But then he still thinks I'm not good enough for Kat." He lowered his voice and recalled, 'You know, the night we told him we'd got married I was expecting an explosion, but the guy didn't turn a hair. Then later, when Kat wasn't in the room, he told me that if I ever hurt her he would make me wish I'd never been born." The recollection made him shudder.
"He threatened you?" Sam bristled with indignation. The man was nothing but a thug!
"It was more in the nature of a promise." 'I hope you told him where he could put his threats."
Jonny looked amused. 'Yeah, that's really likely." 'You have to stand up to bullies," Sam contended angrily. 'He wasn't being a bully, he was looking out for his sister–and I don't really blame him. He's been fine with me since, but I've never forgotten, and he…' Jonny shrugged. 'Alessandro doesn't forget anything," he admitted.
"Well, I think you and Kat were made for each other!" Sam declared, meaning it.
It should have been easy to dislike Kat. She had it all—pots of money, beauty and Jonny. But it wasn't! It was impossible not to like Jonny's wife, who was as warm, spontaneous and sweetnatured as her brother was revolting, cold and conceited.
"But he's right." Jonny sighed gloomily. 'I'm not good enough for her."
"Rubbish. Since when is Alessandro Di Livio the expert on relationships? The only person he's likely to form a loving and long relationship with is his own reflection!"
Jonny chuckled. 'Don't let Kat hear you say that," he warned, flashing a guilty look towards his wife. 'As far as she is concerned, Alessandro can do no wrong. But then," he added, a note of defence creeping into his voice, 'he did virtually bring her up single–handed after their parents were killed in that crash."
Sam felt a cold shiver running down her spine and gave the baby a sudden hug, closing her eyes and burying her face deeper in the comforting warmth of her sweet–smelling soft hair.
The crash Jonny referred to had killed two members of the famous aristocratic Italian family and left a third fighting for his life. It must have had saturation media coverage at the time, but Sam, who had only been in her teens, had only a vague recollection of the story. Coincidentally, she had caught a TV programme only the previous night, in which it had featured prominently.
In asking Are Some People Born Lucky?, the programmemakers had presented a pretty compelling argument that some people did lead a charmed existence, surviving situations which logically they should not have.
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