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Valentino Grisafi brushed a silky auburn curl away from where it blocked his view of his sleeping mistress's face.
Mistress. An old-fashioned word for a very modern woman. Faith Williams would not appreciate the label. Were he to be foolish enough to use it within her hearing, she would no doubt let him know it too. His carina americana was no wilting flower.
Pretty American. Now, that suited her. But if he should let on he thought of her like a mistress? Ai-yi-yi.
Eyes the blue of a peacock feather would snap with temper while she lectured him on how inappropriate the term was. And he supposed she would have a point. He did not pay her bills. He did not buy her clothes. No matter how many hours they spent together here, she did not live in his Marsala apartment. She did not rely on him for anything but his company.
So, not his mistress. But not his girlfriend, either. Long-term commitment and love had no place between them. Theirs was a purely physical relationship, the duration and depth of which was dictated purely by convenience. Mostly his. Not that Faith had nothing to say in the matter.
She could walk away as easily as he and had no more incentive to make time in her schedule for him than vice versa. Luckily for them both, the relationship such that it wasworked for each of them.
Perhaps they were friends also and he did not regret it, but that had come after. After he had discovered the way her sweet, curvaceous body responded to the slightest touch of his. After kisses that melted his brain and her resistance. After he had learned how much pleasure he could find basking in her generous sensuality, once unleashed.
The sex between them was phenomenal.
Which was no doubt why he could already feel the loss of the coming weeks.
Tracing her perfect oval features he leaned close to her ear. "Carina, you must wake."
Her nose wrinkled and the luscious bow of her mouth twisted into a moue of denial, her exotically colored eyes remaining stubbornly closed. Her recently sated body not moving so much as a centimeter from its usual post-coital curled position.
"Come, bella mia. Waken."
"If you'd come to my apartment, I could stay in bed sleeping while you had to get dressed and leave," she grumbled into the pillow.
"Most nights, I leave as well, carina. You know this." He liked to have breakfast with Giosue. His eight-year-old son was the light of Valentino's life. "Besides, I am not waking you up to go. We need to talk."
Faith's eyelids fluttered, but her mouth did not slip from its downward arch.
"You are adorable like this, you know?"
That had her sitting up and staring at him with grumpy startlement, the tangerine, supersilky, Egyptian cotton sheet she'd insisted he use on his bed clutched to her chest. "Sane people do not find cranky attractive, Tino."
Biting back a smile, he shrugged. "What can I say? I am different. Or perhaps it is you. I do not recall finding any of my other amantes so cute when they were irritable."
He did not like using the word lover, but knew better than to refer to her as the equally ill-fitting title of mistress. And she had already cut him off at the knees for referring to her once as a bed partner. She said if he wanted to use such a clinical term, he should consider getting an anatomically accurate blow-up doll.
Why these thoughts were plaguing him tonight, he did not know. Defining her place in his life was not something he spent time doing, nor was he overly fond of labels. So why so preoccupied with them tonight?
"I have no interest in hearing about your past conquests Signor Grisafi." Now she really looked out of sorts, her eyes starting to flash with temper.
"I apologize. But you know I was hardly an untried boy when we met." He had already loved and lost a wife, not to mention the women who had warmed his cold bed after.
He and Faith had been together for a year, longer than he had been with any other woman since the death of his beloved Renata. But that hardly altered his past.
"Neither of us were virgins, but it's bad form to discuss past relationships while in bed with your current lover."
"You are so worried about following protocols, too," he mocked.
He had never known someone less concerned with appearance and social niceties. His carina americana was the quintessential free spirit.
A small smile teased her lips at that. "Maybe not, but this is one social norm I'm one hundred percent behind."
"Good." She curled up to him, snuggling against his chest, her hand resting casually on his upper thigh and causing no small reaction in his nether regions. "You said you didn't wake me up to send me on my way?"
"No. We need to talk."
She cocked her head to one side. "What about?"
He couldn't help himself. He leaned down and kissed the tip of her straight nose. "You really are adorable when you first wake up."
"I thought it was when I was grumpy."
"Have you ever woken up not irritable?"
"I have a perfectly sunny disposition in the morning. Not that you would know that little fact as we've never spent a full night together, but you'll have to take my word on it. It's only when I have to wake up after being sated so gorgeously with your body that I complain."
It was an old argument. She had never taken his refusal to spend the entire night together with full grace. She understood his desire to be home for breakfast with his son, but not his insistence on leaving their shared bed after at most a short nap after their lovemaking.
Her continued pressing the point frustrated him and that leaked out into his voice when he said, "Be that as it may, there is something I have been meaning to tell you."
She stiffened and pulled away, her blue-green gaze reflecting an instant emotional wariness. "What?"
"It is nothing bad. Well, not too bad. It is simply that my parents are going on a trip. They wish to visit friends in Naples."
"Oh, really? I didn't know."
"Naturally, I did not tell you."
"And I cannot leave Giosue at night when he does not have his grandparents there to watch over him." Never mind the staff that lived on site at their vineyard, Vigne di Grisafi, much less the housekeeper that had her own room in the house. It was not the same.
"I understand." He could tell from her expression that she really did. "How long will your parents be gone?"
"Two weeks only."
"I won't see you at all?"
"It is unlikely."
She looked like she wanted to say something, but in the end she simply nodded.
"I will miss you," he found himself admitting. Then he scowled. He hadn't wanted to say that. "This." He brushed his hand down her body. "I will miss this."
"I heard you the first time, tough guy. You can't take it back now. You may as well admit you like my company as much as me in your bed."
He bore her back to the bed, his mouth hovering above hers. "Maybe almost as much. And speaking of sex. I will have to do without you for two weeks, I think we should take advantage of our time together."
"Have I ever said no to you?" she asked with a husky laugh.
"No and tonight is no time to start."
Faith woke surrounded by warmth and the scent of the man she loved.
Her eyes flew open and a grin split her face. It hadn't been a dream. After making love into the wee hours of the morning, Tino had asked her to spend the night. For the first time ever.
Okay, maybe not asked
more like informed her that she was staying, but it was the same result. She was in his arms, in his bedthe morning after they'd made love.
And it was glorious.
Every bit as delicious a feeling as she had thought it would be.
"Are you awake?" his deep voice rumbled above her.
She lifted her head from its resting place on his hair-covered chest and turned the full wattage of her smile on him. "What does it look like?"
"It looks like you were telling me the truth when you said you had a sunny disposition in the morning. Maybe I will have to start calling you solare."
Sunlight? Her heart squeezed. "Tay used to call me Sunshine."
"A past boyfriend?" Tino asked on a growl, the morning whiskers on his face giving him a sexily fierce aspect. "You are right, discussing past amores while in bed with your current one is definitely bad taste."
She laughed, not in the least offended. "He was my husband, not a past boyfriend," she said as she scooted out of the bed, intent on making coffee.
"You were married?"
"Yes." Weird that after almost a full year together, she was telling him about having been married before for the first time. But then, that was the nature of their relationship. She and Tino focused on the present when they were together.
She'd learned more about himand a tragic past similar to her ownfrom his mother than she'd ever learned from him. Strangely enough, where Tino showed no interest in Faith's art, his mother was a fan. They'd met at one of Faith's showings in Palermo. In spite of the generation difference in their ages, the two women had hit it off immediately and both had been thrilled to discover they lived so close to one another. Vigne di Grisafi was a mere twenty-minute drive from Faith's small apartment in Pizzolato.
Not that she'd ever been there as Tino's guest. She'd been seeing Tino for two months before she realized the Valentino Agata mentioned so frequently was Tino, the man Faith spent her nights making love with. At first, she'd found it disconcerting, but she'd soon adjusted. She hadn't told Agata about the fact she was dating Tino though.
He'd been careful to keep their relationship discreet and she felt it was his prerogative to determine when his family would be told about her.
In another almost unreal twist of fate, Faith was his son Giosue's teacher, too. She taught an art class for primary school children in Marsala once a week. She may have lost her one chance at motherhood, but she still adored kids, and this was her way of spending time with them. Giosue was an absolute doll and she more than understood Tino's desire to be there for him. She applauded it.
"Divorced?" Tino asked, his brown eyes intent on her and apparently not done with the topic of Tay.
"Widowed." She didn't elaborate, knowing Tino wouldn't want the details. He never wanted the details. Not about her personal history.
He said he liked to concentrate on the here and now. Since that was her own personal motto, she didn't balk at the fact he showed no interest in her life before Sicily.
She had to admit, though, that he didn't show much interest in her life here, either.
He knew she was an artist, but she wasn't sure he knew she was a successful one or that she was a clay sculptor. He knew she lived in Pizzolato, a small town a few minutes south of Marsala, but she doubted he knew exactly where her apartment was. In the entire year they'd been together, they had made love in one place onlyhis apartment.
Not his home, because he didn't live there. He said he kept it for business purposes, but she thought he meant the business of getting sex without falling under the watchful eye of his mother. Tino had been very careful to keep their lives completely separate.
At first, she hadn't minded. She'd been no more interested in a deep emotional connection than he had been. He'd promised her sex and that was all he'd given her.
Only, at some point along the way, she'd realized, she couldn't help giving him love.
Even so, she'd been content to keep their relationship on a shallow level. Or at least convinced herself to be. She'd lost everyone she'd ever loved and had no doubt that one day she would lose him, too. That didn't mean she hadn't loved spending the whole night togethershe had. But as for the rest of it, the less entwined in her life he was, the better for her it would be when that time came.
At least, that was how she had thought. She wasn't so sure anymore.
"So, that is all you have to say on the matter?"
She pushed the start button on the coffeemaker and turned to face Tino. "What?"
He'd pulled on a pair of boxers, leaving most of his tall, chiseled body on mouthwatering display. "Your husband died."
Were they still on that? "Yes."
"A car accident."
"Six years ago."
He ran his fingers through his morning tousled dark hair. "You never told me."
"Did you want me to?"
"I would think that sometime in a year you would have thought to mention that you were a widow." He came into the kitchen and leaned against the counter near her.
"It is an important piece of information about you."
"About my past."
He frowned at her.
"You prefer to focus on today, not yesterday. You've said so many times, Tino. What's going on?"
"Maybe I'm just curious about the woman I've been bedding for a year."
"Almost a year."
"Do not banter semantics with me."
"I'm glad you're curious."
" For the first time in memory, her lover, the ber-cool Valentino Grisafi, looked lost for words.
"Don't worry about it, Tino. It's not a bad thing."
"No, no, of course not. We are friends as well as lovers, si?"
"Yes." And she was more relieved than she could say that he saw it that way, too.
"Good. Good." He was silent a second. "Do I get breakfast to go with my coffee?"
"I think that can be arranged."
He got a borderline horrified look on his face. "You do know how to cook, don't you?"
She laughed, truly tickled. "We aren't all filthy rich vintners, Tino. Some of us can't afford a housekeeper or to eat out every mealthus, knowing how to cook is essential. But I don't mind telling you, I'm pretty good at it as well."
"I'll reserve judgment."
She laughed and launched herself at him to tickle the big man into submission, or at least a lot of laughter before he subdued her wandering fingers.
Faith finished the third form of a pregnant woman she had done in as many days. She hadn't done women enceinte since the loss of her baby in the accident that had killed Taylish and any chance Faith would ever have at a family.
Or so she had believed.
Her clay-spattered hand pressed over her still-flat stomach, a sense of awe and wonder infusing her. It had taken her four years and fertility counseling for her to become viably pregnant the first time.