She'd run from a disastrous betrayal straight into the arms of a sexy Italian aristocrat. From the moment their eyes met, Blair Carson had been under Draco Sandrelli's spell. She'd fallen into their affair with total abandon, without thought.
Now the time had come to face reality. She was pregnant by a man she barely knew. Draco was demanding she return to Tuscany to have their baby. And never once had he uttered the word love.
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"You were comfort sex. Nothing more."
At least that was all she'd ever let him be. Blair maintained eye contact with Draco Sandrelli and prayed he'd leave before she did something stupidlike faint or throw up all over his highly polished handmade boots. Her stomach, which had been unsettled since breakfast, clenched in a completely different way as he flashed a smile at her, the one he'd used just before they'd tumbled into bed together for the first time. "Cara mia, you know I am so much more than that." His voice dripped sensuality, its sound sending a shimmer of heat through her. She still woke in the night remembering the sound of him, as rich as the rolling timbre of distant thunder on an electrically charged, storm-tossed evening. And worse, remembering the feel of him, the sensation of his body against hersinside hers. She fought back the small sound that rose in her throata sound driven by the heat that suffused her body and insinuated itself along her nerve endings in curling tendrils of desire.
The gold flecks in Draco's green eyes glinted as he watched her reaction. For someone she'd barely met, he seemed able to read her like a book. A tiny smile played around the sensual curve of his lips. He hadn't even forgone his usual designer stubble for today's memorial service, although he'd slicked back his glossy dark hair off his almost too perfect face, its length finishing in a ducktail at his nape. On any other man the style would look ridiculous, but on Draco Blair swallowed against the sudden dryness in her mouth.
Really, for a man he was too beautiful to be classed as handsome, but despite her reasoning her pulse still raced to a tribal beat.
"Have dinner with me tonight," he coaxed.
"No. No way. I mean it, Draco. Call what we had a holiday fling, whatever. It's not happening again. I'm home now and back at work. Which reminds me, I have things to attend to and I'm sure you do too."
No matter what, she wasn't going to ask him what he was doing here. After all, what were the odds that her uncharacteristic holiday indulgence would turn up at Ashurst Collegiate today? Especially at the memorial reception she'd agreed to do as a favor for one of her dad's oldest friends. As tempting as it was to indulge in another forbidden delight with the sole heir to the Sandrelli empire, Blair had more important things on her mind.
She summoned every ounce of self-control in her arsenal and, tipping her nose ever so slightly in the air, spun on her heel and stalked away.
She sensed, rather than heard, the moment he decided to follow herthe fine hairs on the back of her neck prickling to attention. Blair increased her pace, turned a corner in the corridor and slipped through the doorway leading into the voluminous kitchen off Jubilee Hall, where the reception was being held. She flattened herself against the wall and fought to control her hammering heartbeat, hoping like mad he hadn't seen her duck in here.
Even her hands were trembling, she realized. She hadn't been this upset since she'd caught her fiancé, Rhys, and her best friend, Alicia, in the wine cellar of the converted villa that housed Carson's, her restaurant. The pain of losing the man she'd planned her future with to the friend who was supposed to have stood beside her in the church only a few days later had been unspeakable. Their joint betrayal still stung with the sharpness of a stingray's barb.
It was what had led her to her flight to Italy and tour of Tuscany, and ultimately to Draco Sandrelli, where she'd promptly fallen under his seductive spell.
Yes, he was comfort sex all right. Totally addictive, mind-blowingly generous comfort sex. And just what she'd needed to rebuild her flagging self-esteem. Nothing more.
She shoved herself off the wall and carried on through the kitchen, mentally checking off what she needed to do before returning to Carson's and preparing for her night's clientele. She was relieved to see her personal tools of the trade had been neatly packed back into the case she'd brought them ina quick check ensured everything was where it should be. There was nothing further for her to do. The casual crew she'd hired to work the reception would complete the cleanup and return the crockery to the restaurant in a couple of hours' time.
Blair smoothed her hands over her uniform, the tailored, crisp short-sleeved white blouse and black skirt which neatly hugged her slim hips, drawing strength from the familiarity of its texture.
She hitched the box against her hip and carried it through the kitchen to the back door and walked around on the graveled drive to where she'd parked her station wagon. She eyed the paint work on her old workhorse with a critical eye. If she hadn't taken the trip to Tuscany she could have replaced old Gertie here with a new vehicle. But if she'd done that she would have remained a victim to Rhys and Alicia's perfidy, instead of learning more about the woman she could be. About the woman she had been.
And it had been that very discovery that had taught Blair she couldn't have it all. She wasn't the kind of person who could develop an award-winning business and be a devoted life partner to anyone. No. She was happy with her decision. Work would be her life for now. And as for Draco, well, everyone was entitled to a "Draco" in their life at one time or another, she rationalized. The intensity of their affair had burned so bright and fierce, it would have totally consumed her had she stayed any longer with him. That one certain truth had made her put everything into perspective. She'd seen it happen to her father over and over, each time destroying his inner self a little more, and she'd sworn she would never succumb to such obsession.
Her wake-up call had come one morning as she'd stirred in Draco's arms, their sheets in a tangle about their naked, sated bodies, and she realized that she hadn't so much as thought about Carson's in three whole days. The realization was sobering. She'd embraced her affair with Draco with the level of passion she usually reserved solely for her work.
No, there definitely wasn't room for both a grand love and a career in her life. Her work was everything. Its success was what defined her, not something as ephemeral as physical attraction between consenting adults.
Blair had risen from their bed and packed immediately, turning a deaf ear to Draco's enticement to stay longer. As sinfully delightful as her time with Draco had been, it wasn't the kind of temptation one could build a future on. There was no security in incendiary attraction. She knew that from both her father's painful past and her own.
There was only one thing she wanted right now, and that was to see Carson's make the five-star review page of Fine Dining magazine. It had been her father's dream, until ill health had forced him to hand the reins of the restaurant over to Blair as he reluctantly settled into early retirement. Now it was her dream. One she thought she'd achieve with Rhys and Alicia by her side. But she could do it on her own. Carson's would become Auckland's leading restaurant. And she'd forget all about Draco Sandrelli.
Draco hesitated outside the door to the kitchen. He'd prowled the corridor in frustration, after finding no sign of Blair. She had to be in here. Unconsciously, he straightened his shoulders. They needed to talk and he wasn't taking no for an answer. When Blair had left his bed that morning he had been prepared to move mountains to get her to stay. It had only been the urgent call to his parents' home, situated a few kilometers away within the Sandrelli estate, that had stopped him. Of course, by the time he'd returned from his father's sickbed, Blair had left the palazzo, leaving no forwarding address.
Seeing her here today had taken him by surprise, but he wasn't the kind of man who looked a gift horse in the mouth. This was a second chance. The magnetism between them had been instant, and he knew better than most that that kind of draw did not happen between couples every lifetime. Too many people settled for what was expected of themfor second best. He'd done that very thing once, out of honor and respect for his family and his dead brother, but the result had been catastrophic. He would not do that again.
The attraction was too fierce.
He settled his hand on the swing door into the kitchen and entered just in time to see Blair exiting at the far end of the room. Draco's strides ate up the distance between them and he burst through the back entrance just as Blair loaded a case into the back of the barely roadwor-thy vehicle in front of her.
"I've said all I have to say, Draco," she sighed, as she unlocked the driver's door and slid in behind the wheel.
Draco stopped her as she tried to swing her door shut.
"Ah yes, but you haven't listened yet to what I have to say."
"To be frank, I'm really not interested in what you have to say."
She tried to wrestle the door closed, and gave up with an angry huff of air when that proved impossible. She crossed her arms defensively over her stomach and stared fixedly out the windshield.
"What's the matter, Draco, can't you tolerate someone turning you down? Granted, I'm sure it probably hasn't happened often in your lifetime, but surely you can get used to it just this once," she snapped.
He smiled in response to her rancor. She sounded like a spitting kitten all in a temper.
"I just want to talk. You left so suddenly. We never had a chance to say good-bye properly."
Draco noticed that that elicited a response. Through the thin cotton of her blouse he saw the instant her nipples peaked against the sheer fabric of her bra. A bra he knew she wore more as a concession to her position at work than out of necessity. He loved her small, high breasts. Loved the way he could elicit a screaming response from her just by nipping ever so gently at their rose-pink tips. He'd never known a woman so sensitive in that area. Never enjoyed one as much as he had Blair. And he wanted to do it all again. And again.
Blair looked up, catching his gaze that was firmly riveted on her breasts.
"Oh, for goodness' sake." She reached forward to twist her keys in the ignition. "We've said all we have to say. Or at least I have. Like I said before, you were a holiday fling. Good in bed and good for my ego. But that's it. What we had is finished. Now please, let go of my car door before I have to call security."
"Now that's where I disagree, delizia, we are far from finished. I will let you go now, but rest assured, Blair, I will see you again and we will finish this conversation properly."
He stood back from the car and watched as she slammed the door shut without saying another word. She crashed the car into gear, and he winced at the ancient motor's protest as she floored the accelerator and spun up a rooster tail of gravel from beneath her tires.
He watched as she drove away, a grim smile of satisfaction on his face, now that the registration details of her vehicle were firmly emblazoned in his mind. She might think she'd gotten away. But his reach far exceeded his grasp and he'd find her, and have her in his bed again. Soon.
Movement over by the car park caught his attention. His best friendsBrent Colby and Adam Palmer stood by the Moto Guzzi bikes he'd arranged to have exported to New Zealand so they could enjoy a taste of their misspent youth whenever they managed to all be in the country at the same time. They'd come a long way from the teenage maniacs who'd spent the night of their graduation dinner demon riding on the back roads near their prestigious private school, but there was nothing that beat the sensation of mastering the power of the motorbike and flying along the road.
Brent was a self-made millionaire, and if Draco hadn't already loved and respected him as much as he did, Brent would have earned that respect twice over when he'd made and then lost his fortune, only to rebuild it twenty times stronger than before. Brent's cousin, Adam, came from different stock. New Zealand old money, which, although it didn't go back as far as the Sandrelli bloodlines, could hardly be sneered at. The Palmer family was a mover and shaker in New Zealand industry, with interests spread far and wide across the globe.
Thinking about the Sandrelli bloodlines brought solemn awareness, settling like a dark cloak around his shoulders. The Sandrellis ended, or continued, with Draco, as his ailing father had pointed out to him on more than one recent occasion. The responsibility to his family history sat firmly and heavily on his shoulders alone. Which made prospects with Blair all the more interestingif he could only get her to agree to see him again.
He jogged over to meet his friends. It was time to head back to Brent's for drinks and a few hands of cards, and on the ride back to Auckland, Draco could formulate his plan.
Blair might think she'd gotten away from him, but all she'd done was entice him all the more. Let her think she had the upper hand for now, but he knew she was no more capable of resisting him than he was of walking away from her. A man didn't get this lucky twice in his life and walk away.
The problem was, would he be able to bring his father his heart's desire before it was too late? His last stroke had been mild, but the doctors had warned that he could suffer a debilitating or fatal stroke at any time.
Draco would just have to make certain he wasn't too late. Sandrellis had dominated the countryside around the palazzo for centuries. And even though the mantle of succession had fallen by default onto his shoulders with the death of his brother ten years ago, he would not be the one who saw to their end. His union with Blair Carson would provide the grandchildren demanded by his parentsand if their incendiary attraction was anything to go by, it would be no hardship to do so.
Neither Brent nor Adam spoke as he came to a halt beside his motorbike, but the curiosity on their faces spoke volumes.
"Don't even ask," he warned as he reached for his glossy black helmet and jammed it onto his head, flipping the dark visor down over his face.
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