The debut novel from SYTYCW winner Amanda Cinelli!
Suave, sensual and utterly scandalous
Leo Valente is as notorious as the tabloids make him out to be. But feisty wedding planner Dara Devlin isn't deterred. She needs his family castle for her top client, so she boldly accepts Leo's outrageous challenge to be his fake girlfriend.
If Dara thinks her sensible suit and unwavering professionalism will discourage him, she's mistaken. They only make Leo want to get beneath her buttoned-up exterior all the more!
Surrounded by the imposing walls and haunting memories of his opulent Sicilian castello, Leo finds seducing Dara is the perfect diversionand claiming her will be this playboy's ultimate prize.
And the story continues in the bonus novella included!
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Dara Devlin had found herself in a few sticky situations in this job, but this had to be by far the worst.
A professional event planner should never gatecrash. It had to be written somewhere in the company handbook. Yet here she was, straddling the second-floor balcony ledge of Milan's most exclusive nightclub in four-inch designer heels.
All in the name of business, of course.
The heels had certainly slowed progress up the slippery emergency ladder, but leaving them in the alley below was unthinkable. A woman stood by her shoes, no matter how sticky the situation. And this situation most definitely qualified as sticky.
Handbag in one hand, she silently willed her skirt not to tear as she manoeuvred herself less than gracefully over the cold stone ledge, landing on hard marble tiles. Her watch showed it was just past ten. An unfashionably early time to be going clubbing in this part of the world, but dancing wasn't on her agenda tonight.
The city's premier celebrity hotspot, Platinum I, was celebrating its grand reopening this weekend and entry was strictly invitation only. No amount of her Irish charm would sway the arrogant hostess with her little black clipboard.
Nevertheless, Dara was determined to get into this party one way or another. She was only in town for the weekend before she had to head back south to her company's office in Syracuse. Failing this task just wasn't an option.
When her various contacts had said Leonardo Valente was untouchable, she had accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. She had the opportunity to plan the most high-profile wedding of her careerall she needed was one man's cooperation.
How hard could it be?
Even after three weeks of rejected emails and deadend phone calls she had refused to give up. Armed with her tablet computer and her snazziest designer suit, she had foolishly believed she could just travel to his Milan office and demand to be seen.
The joke was on her. Because it seemed that Leonardo Valente's office didn't even exist. The address on his secretary's email had led her to a professional call-answering headquarters, where her enquiries had all been rejected point-blank.
It was just plain good luck that she had found out about tonight. The first club in the worldwide Platinum chain was turning ten years old and celebrating with a star-studded relaunch weekend.
Her grasp on the Italian language was far from perfect, but one thing was certain: Leonardo Valente was here tonight, inside these walls. All she had to do was find a way inside.
She looked around the empty terrace and felt her stomach tighten. She had hoped it would be some sort of outdoor seating area where she could just climb over the wall and melt into the crowd. She bit her lip. It was still some part of the club, and it was her only hope of getting inside.
The wall of the building was made almost entirely out of glass, each pane a deep glossy black, making it impossible to see what was inside. The thump of music had been deafening down on the ground, but on this terrace it was completely muffled.
She ignored the uncomfortable twitch in her stomach, putting it down to nerves. She was sneaking into an exclusive event, after allnerves were to be expected. In life sometimes you had to break the rules to get ahead, but this pretty much went against every fibre of her goody-two-shoes nature.
Pushing a strand of blonde hair from her face, she placed one hand on the window. Her pale skin reflected brightly in the black glass, her steel-grey eyes calm and focused as she made her way slowly from pane to pane. She began pressing her fingertips along each narrow gap, searching for a hinge, a hooksomething that hinted at an opening.
After she had exhausted every possible angle, she stepped back and surveyed the rest of the terrace with a frown. It made no sense. Surely there had to be a way to get inside.
She felt a sudden irrational urge to kick the glass and force her way in. But that would never do. Dara Devlin quite simply did not lose her coolno matter how rough the situation was getting. It was the main reason brides from all over the world called her to plan their dream Sicilian weddings.
With a deep, calming breath, she forced herself to think. While climbing up here had definitely been worth a shot, unfortunately she was now two storeys up and not going anywhere fast. Her hands gripped the cold stone as she peered over the ledge. The street looked much further down from up here, and she was suddenly feeling a lot less brave.
''Signorina, is there a particular reason you are sneaking around out here in the darkness?'
The deep, sensual voice came suddenly from behind her, making her breath catch painfully in her throat.
Dara turned slowly, eyes widening when she saw that a pane of glass had somehow disappeared and a man now stood watching her.
How had she not heard someone coming? It was far too late to try and escape back down the ladder now. Her mind raced as she tried to find a way to spin this that wouldn't get her arrested.
'I'm waiting for an explanation.'
His face was slightly obscured in the shadows, but she could tell from his dark suit and crossed arms that he was definitely someone in chargemost likely Security. Damn and double damn. This was not going well.
Time to think, Devlin. Forcing her tone to keep light, she laughed breathlessly and spoke in fast-paced English. No one arrested a silly blonde in trouble.
'Well, finally someone's bothered to come out and help me.' She sighed for dramatic effect. 'I've been banging on the glass for twenty minutes, trying to get back inside.'
'You couldn't find the door, no?'
His perfect English surprised her, but the mocking tone said he wasn't buying it. She kept talking anyway.
'It's a safety hazard. I was looking to get some fresh air and someone said I could step out here for a moment'
'So you decided to scale the building to get to it?' he said. It wasn't a question, more an amused statement. 'Do you make a habit of wearing heels to climb up buildings? It's quite a talent.'
Dara opened her mouth to protest, but thought against it.
'One-way glass.' He gestured over his shoulder. It was too dark to see his face, but there was a definite smirk in his silky voice as he spoke. 'The moment you realised you weren't getting inside was really quite entertaining. I was convinced you were about to throw a tantrum.'
Dara huffed out the breath she hadn't even realised she had been holding. Well, it was great that he found this situation so funny, because from where she was standing her mission had just been unceremoniously called to a halt. She would likely be hauled out of here by the collar of her crisp white shirt and maybe even charged with trespassing.
'I realise how this looks' she began, trying to keep the panic out of her voice.
'Do you? Because from here it looks like you were trying to break into my private floor in what I can only assume is a naughty secretary outfit.'
Dara frowned at that. 'What? I am not a naughty' Her brain froze, processing the first chunk of his accusations.
The man stepped forward into the light, revealing a face that she had seen countless times in the tabloids. Dara felt her entire body freeze as she realised just who she had been lying to.
'Oh, God, you're him.'
Her razor-sharp professional reflexes turned to mush as she took in all six-feet-plus of muscular Sicilian male.
'If by "him" you mean the owner of the building you just attempted to break into, then that's a yes.' The glow seemed to have left his eyes now, and had been replaced by a keen cynicism. 'I suppose you're going to want to come inside now? Start telling me about how this is all some crazy misunderstanding?'
Arms folded across an impressive chest, he stood waiting for her to dig her hole even deeper.
Hot embarrassment clawed up Dara's neck. He clearly thought this was a scheme to get him alone. She'd read the magazines. Women threw themselves at Leo Valente everywhere he went. And it wasn't just that he was mega-richalthough for some women that would be more than enough. With this man, the words they used were mouthwatering, delicious and sinful.
It had always made her laugh to hear of men described like desserts, but now, standing five feet away from him, she could kind of understand the madness.
He was a far cry from her usual type. His dark hair reached just under his collar and was a bit too untidy, his eyelashes were too long and his jaw overgrown with dark stubble. But even she couldn't argue that he was a sight to behold. And he had taken one look at her tidy blazer and blouse and presumed she was some groupie, here to play dress-up games.
She almost groaned with embarrassment. This was not the shining first impression she had banked on.
'Well, as much as I enjoy being stared at, I really don't have all night.'
Dara's heart gave an uncomfortable thump. 'I wasn't staring,' she said, rather too quickly. 'I was just thinking.'
Oh, now this was just getting worse and worse. The moment she had been working towards for three weeks had finally presented itself and her mind had decided to go into sleep mode.
One dark eyebrow rose, mocking her. 'Were you thinking about this particular situation, or are there other criminal acts you've committed tonight?'
Criminal? Dara felt hot panic rise in her chest. 'Mr Valente, I can assure you I was not attempting to commit a crime.'
'Relax. I won't call in the hounds just yet. But you failed to notice the security camera watching your every move.' He pointed to a tiny blinking red light above her head. 'My team was halfway up here when I told them to wait.'
'Why did you do that?' The question was out before she could stop herself.
He shrugged one shoulder. 'I was bored. You looked interesting.'
She thought for a moment, but could not come up with a single response to that comment. Perhaps if he found her so interesting she could captivate him long enough to make her proposal.
She cleared her throat. 'Just so we're clear: I'm not a criminal. I'm a wedding planner.' She watched as his eyes narrowed.
'Same thing, in my opinion.' He smirked. 'I liked my naughty secretary theory much better.'
And just like that Dara found herself the subject of Leonardo Valente's infamous smouldering gaze. She cleared her throat, trying to think of somethinganythingto break the tension. The air was beginning to feel very thin up here on this darkened terrace, and it had nothing to do with the altitude.
'Your theory is incorrect. I'm not here for anything like like that.'
'Such a pity. Nonetheless, you have my attention.' He turned abruptly to go inside, pausing when she didn't immediately follow behind him. 'Unless you plan on going back down that ladder again, I suggest you follow me.'
With that he was gone, leaving Dara with no choice but to obey.
The room on the other side of the glass was twice the size of her entire apartment. She saw him press a few buttons in a panel on the wall and suddenly soft light illuminated the room. It was not an office, but nor was it an apartment. It reminded her of the lobby of a very exclusive hotel, with modern cubic seating and an impressive glass fireplace.
Exactly why a nightclub needed a room like this she wasn't suremaybe he used it to entertain private guests. That thought made her clutch her handbag a little tighter in front of her, and feeling the outline of her computer reminded her of why she was there.
He pressed another button on the panel and the clever door slid silently back into place behind him. She could see that it was indeed one-way glass, and her ears burned at the thought of him watching her for all that time.
He turned around to face her and for the first time she noticed the vivid colour of his eyes. They weren't dark, as she had thought from his photographs, but a unique shade of deep forest green. Dara shook her head. Why was she even looking at his eyes, for goodness' sake? This was a business meeting, not a school dance.
'So, do you have a nameor will I just call you Spiderwoman?' That smirk was still firmly in place as he took a couple of steps towards her.
Her inner professional was sharp enough to see a perfect moment. 'I actually have my card in here somewhere if you'd just give me a second ' She began fishing in her bagmaybe she should launch into the entire presentation now, before he had a chance to shoot her down.
Without warning he was in front of her, taking the bag from her hand and placing it gently on the floor. 'I did not ask for a card. I asked for your namefrom your lips, preferably.'
His gaze travelled down to her mouth and she felt her stomach flutter in response. She ignored the sensation, straightening her chin and meeting his gaze head-on. 'It's Dara Devlin.'
He nodded, as though she had answered correctly.
'So Dara the wedding planner ' His deep voice purred her name, as though he was tasting it on his tongue. 'What gives me the pleasure of your company this evening?'
'I'm not here for pleasure.' She took a step back, wanting to put as much distance between them as possible. 'What I mean is, I came here to find you. To talk business.'
He raised one dark brow. 'Who comes to a nightclub to talk business?'
'Well, you do,' she said confidently. That earned her a puzzled look. 'I'm here to discuss a possible deal between you and a very high-profile client of mine. All I'm asking is just five minutes of your time.'
'I have a swarm of media vultures downstairs in the club. Every one of them is waiting for "just five minutes". Why should you get to skip the queue?'
'If they deserved the time they would have climbed up here by now.'