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Francesco Calvetti brought his MV Agusta F4 CC to a stop and placed his left foot on the road as he was foiled by yet another set of red lights. Barely 7:00 a.m. and the roads were already filling up.
What he wouldn't give to be riding with nothing but the open road before him and green fields surrounding him.
He thought of Sicily with longing. His island had none of the grey dreariness he was fast associating with London. This was supposed to be spring? He'd enjoyed better winters in his homeland.
He yawned widely, raising his hand to his visor out of pure habit. After all, no one could see his face with his helmet on.
He should have gotten Mario to bring him home after such a long night, but being driven by anyone irritated him, especially in a car. Francesco was a man for whom drive had multiple definitions.
The light changed to green. Before twisting on the throttle and accelerating smoothly, he swiped away the moisture clinging to his visor.
What a country. At the moment it was like driving through a saturated cloud.
As he approached yet another set of lights, a cyclist on a pushbike just ahead caught his attentionor, rather, the fluorescent yellow helmet she wore caught it. She reached the lights at the moment they turned amber. If that had been him, Francesco mused, he would have gone for it. She'd had plenty of time.
But no, this was clearly a law-abiding woman with a healthy dose of self-preservation. She stopped right at the line. The car in front of Francesco, a large four-wheel drive, drew level on her right side.
She had the thickest hair he'd ever seena shaggy mass of varying shades of blonde reaching halfway down her back.
The light turned green and off she set, sticking her left arm out and turning down the street in that direction. The car that had been beside her also turned left, forced to hang a little behind her, with Francesco joining the convoy.
The road ahead was clear. The cyclist picked up speed
It happened so quickly that for a moment Francesco was convinced he had imagined it.
Without any indication, the four-wheel drive in front of him pulled out to overtake the cyclist, accelerating quickly, but with the spatial awareness of a cauliflower, because it clipped the cyclist's wheel, causing her to flip forward off the saddle and land head-first on the kerb.
Francesco brought his bike to an immediate stop and jumped off, clicking the stand down through muscle memory rather than conscious thought.
To his disgust, the driver of the offending car didn't stop, but carried on up the road, took a right and disappeared out of sight.
A passer-by made a tentative approach towards the victim.
'Do not move her,' Francesco barked as he pulled off his helmet. 'She might have a broken neck. If you want to help, call for an ambulance.'
The passer-by took a step back and dug into his pocket, allowing Francesco to stand over the victim.
The woman lay on her back, half on the pavement and half on the road, her thick hair fanning in all directions. Her helmet, which had shifted forward and covered her forehead, had a crack running through it. Her bike was a crumpled heap of metal.
Dropping to his haunches, Francesco yanked off his leather gloves and placed two fingers on the fallen cyclist's neck.
Her pulse beat faint beneath his touch.
While the passer-by spoke to the emergency services, Francesco deftly removed his leather jacket and placed it over the unconscious woman. She wore smart grey trousers and an untucked black blouse covered with a waterproof khaki jacket. On one of her bare feet was a white ballet shoe. The other was missing.
His chest constricted at the thought of the missing shoe.
He wished he could tuck his jacket under her to create a barrier between her and the cold, damp concrete, but he knew it was imperative to keep her still until the paramedics arrived.
The important thing was she was breathing.
'Give me your coat,' he barked at another spectator, who was hovering like a spare part. A small crowd had gathered around them. Vultures, Francesco thought scornfully. Not one of them had stepped forward to help.
It never occurred to him that his presence was so forbidding, even first thing in the morning, that none of the crowd dared offer their assistance.
The spectator he'd addressed, a middle-aged man in a long lambswool trench coat, shrugged off his coat and passed it to Francesco, who snatched it from his hands. Francesco wrapped it across the woman's legs, making sure to cover her feet.
'Five minutes,' the original passer-by said when he disconnected his call.
Francesco nodded. For the first time he felt the chill of the wind. He palmed the woman's cheek. It felt icy.
Still on his haunches, he studied her face carefully, ostensibly looking for a clue to any unseen injuries. No blood ran from her nose or mouth, which he assumed was a good thing. Her mass of blonde hair covered her ears, so he carefully lifted a section to look. No blood.
As he searched, he noticed what a pretty face she had. Not beautiful. Pretty. Her nose was straight but just a touch longer than the women of his acquaintance would put up with before resorting to surgery. She had quite rounded cheeks, too, something else that would be fixed in the endless quest for perfection. But yes, pretty.
He remembered she'd had something slung around her neck before he'd covered her chest with his jacket. Carefully, he tugged it free.
It was an identity card for one of the hospitals in the capital. Peering closer, he read her name. Dr H Chapman. Specialist Registrar.
This woman was a doctor? To his eyes she looked about eighteen. He'd guessed her as a student
Her eyes opened and fixed on him.
His thoughts disappeared.
Shock rang out from her eyesand what eyes they were, a moreish hazel ringed with blackbefore she closed them. When they reopened a few beats later, the shock faded to be replaced by a look of such contentment and serenity that Francesco's heart flipped over.
Her mouth opened. He leaned closer to hear what she had to say.
Her words came out as a whisper. 'So there really is a heaven.'
Hannah Chapman leaned her new bike against the stone building and gazed up at the sparkling silver awning that held one word: Calvetti's.
She admired the explicitness of it. This belonged to Francesco Calvetti and no one else.
Even though it was 6:00 p.m. and the club wasn't due to open for another four hours, two hefty-sized men dressed all in black stood beneath the awning, protecting the door. She took this as a good signthe past three times she'd cycled over, the door hadn't been manned. The club had been empty.
'Excuse me,' she said, standing before them. 'Is Francesco Calvetti in?' 'He's not available.' 'But is he in?'
'He's in but he's not to be disturbed.'
Success! At last she'd managed to track him down. Francesco Calvetti travelled a lot. Still, tracking him down was one thing. Getting in to see him was a different matter entirely.
She tried her most winning smile.
Alas, her fake smile wasn't up to par. All it resulted in was the pair of them crossing their arms over their chests. One of them alone would have covered the door. The pair of them standing there was like having a two-man mountain as a barrier.
'I know you don't want to disturb him, but can you please tell him that Hannah Chapman is here to see him?
He'll know who I am. If he says no, then I'll leave, I promise.'
'We can't do that. We have our orders.'
She could be talking to a pair of highly trained SAS soldiers, such was the conviction with which the slightly less stocky of the duo spoke.
Hannah sighed. Oh, well, if it wasn't meant to be, then
so be it.
All the same, she was disappointed. She'd wanted to thank the man personally.
She thrust forward the enormous bunch of flowers and thank-you card. She'd cycled the best part of two miles through London traffic with them precariously balanced in her front basket. 'In that case, could you give these to him, please?'
Neither made a move to take them from her. If anything, their faces became even more suspicious.
'Please? This is the third bunch I've brought for him and I'd hate for them to go to waste. I was in an accident six weeks ago and he came to my rescue and
'Wait.' The one on the left cocked his head. 'What kind of accident?'
'I was knocked off my bike by a hit-and-run driver.'
They exchanged glances, then drew back to confer in a language that sounded, to her untrained ear, as if it was Italian. Or she could have imagined it, knowing Francesco Calvetti was Sicilian.
Since she'd discovered the identity of her benefactor, she knew a lot more than she should about Francesco Calvetti. Internet searches were wonderful creations. For instance, she knew he was thirty-six, unmarried but with a string of glamorous girlfriends to his name, and that he owned six nightclubs and four casinos across Europe. She also knew his family name was synonymous with the Mafia in Sicily and that his father, Salvatore, had gone by the nickname Sal il SantoSal the Sainta moniker allegedly given due to his penchant for making the sign of the cross over his dead victims.
She wouldn't have cared if his father had been Lucifer himself. It made no difference to what Francesco wasa good man.
The man who'd brought her back to life.
The stockier one looked back to her. 'What did you say your name was?'
'One minute. I will tell him you are here.' He shrugged his hefty shoulders. 'I cannot say if he will speak to you.'
'That's fine. If he's too busy, I'll leave.' She wasn't going to make a scene. She was here to say thank you and nothing else.
He disappeared through the double doors, letting them swing shut behind him.
She hugged the flowers to her chest. She hoped Francesco wouldn't think them pathetic but she hadn't a clue what else she could give him to express her gratitude. Francesco Calvetti had gone above and beyond the call of duty, and he'd done it for a complete stranger.
In less than a minute, the door swung back open, but instead of the bouncer, she was greeted by a man who wasand Lord knew how this was even possibletaller than the guards he employed.
She'd no idea he was so tall.
But then, her only memory of the man was opening her eyes and seeing his beautiful face before her. How clearly she remembered the fleeting certainty that she was dead and her guardian angel had come to take her to heaven, where Beth was waiting for her. She hadn't even been sad about itafter all, who would be upset about being escorted to paradise with the most gorgeous man on either heaven or earth?
The next time she'd opened her eyes she had been in a hospital bed. This time, the fleeting feeling was disappointment she hadn't gone off to paradise with Adonis.
Fleeting feeling? No. It had been more than that. Adonis had come to take her to Beth. To learn she was still alive had been on the verge of devastating. But then, of course, sanity poked through.
As she'd come back to the here and now, and memories of her Adonis kept peppering her thoughts, so, too, came the revelation that she truly was alive.
Something she hadn't felt in fifteen years.
Limbo. That was where she'd been. She, hardworking, practical Hannah Chapman, for whom bedtime reading consisted of catching up on medical journals, had been living in limbo.
In the weeks since her accident, she'd convinced herself that her memory of that brief moment was all wrong. No one, surely, could look like he did in her memory and be a mortal? She'd had severe concussion after all. Even the pictures she'd found on the internet didn't do justice to her memory of him.
Turned out her brain hadn't been playing tricks on her.
Francesco Calvetti truly was beautiful.
But in a wholly masculine way.
His tall, lean frame was clothed in tailored dark grey trousers and a white shirt unbuttoned to halfway down his chest, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. In the exposed Vwhich she was eye height withhe wore a simple gold cross on a chain, which rested on a dark whorl of hair.
A rush of. something coursed through her blood, as if a cloud of heat had been blown through her veins.
Unsettled, Hannah blinked and looked back up at his unsmiling face. Not even the forbidding expression resonating from his deep-set eyesand what a beautiful colour they were, making her think of hot chocolate-fudge cakecould dent the huge grin that broke out on her face. She extended the flowers and card to him, saying, 'I'm Hannah Chapman and these are for you.'
Francesco looked from the flowers back to her. He made no effort to take them.
'They're a thank you,' she explained, slightly breathless for some reason. 'I know they're a drop in the ocean compared to what you've done for me, but I wanted to get you something to show how grateful I amI am truly in your debt.'
One of his thick black brows raised and curved. 'My debt?'
A shiver ran up her spine at his deep, accented voice. 'You have done so much for me,' she enthused. 'Even if I had all the money in the world I could never repay you for your kindness, so yes, I am in your debt.'
His eyes narrowed as he studied her a little longer before inclining his head at the door. 'Come in for a minute.'
'That would be great,' she said, not caring in the least that his directive was an order rather than a request.
The two-man mountain that had flanked Francesco up to this point, guarding him as well as they would if she were carrying an Uzi nine-millimetre, parted. She darted between them, following Francesco inside.
After walking through a large reception area, they stepped into the club proper.
Hannah's eyes widened. 'Amazing,' she whispered, turning her head in all directions.
Calvetti's oozed glamour. All deep reds and silver, it was like stepping into old Hollywood. The only club she'd been to was at the age of eighteen when her entire class had descended on The Dell, their sleepy seaside town's only nightclub, to celebrate finishing their A levels. It had been one of the most boring evenings of her life.
Compared to this place, The Dell had been grey and dingy beyond imagination.
And, in fact, compared to Francesco, with his olive skin, short black curly hair and strong jawline, all the men she had ever met in her life were grey and dingy beyond imagination, too.
'You like it?'
Her skin heating under the weight of his scrutiny, she nodded. 'It's beautiful.'
'You should come here one evening.'
'Me? Oh, no, I'm not into clubbing.' Then, fearing she had inadvertently insulted him, quickly added, 'But my sister Melanie would love it hereit's her hen night on Friday so I'll suggest she drops in.'
'You do that.'
It didn't surprise Francesco to learn Hannah Chapman wasn't into clubbing. The women who frequented his clubs were a definite typepartygoers and women looking to hook up with a rich or famous man, preferably both.