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Authors: Christina Hollis

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BOOK: The Count of Castelfino
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‘I can’t do this, Gianni. Really, I can’t. My skin isn’t thick
enough. I can’t go on being your mistress, and I can’t bear to think of you marrying another woman. Imagine how much more painful it will be for me to become nothing more than a bystander in your life. I’ll be sidelined in favour of your wife, and over the years as your legitimate children are born and grow, my baby and I will be pushed further and further away from you. We’ll be abandoned and forgotten—’

‘It isn’t going to be like that.’ His voice resonated through her entire body.

‘But it will be! It
will
!’ In a sudden panic Meg tried to pull away from him.

In the stillness of the dining room her priceless antique jewellery tinkled, the candlelight sending brightly coloured stars dancing in a halo around her head.

‘No, it won’t. I won’t let it. Listen to me, Meg!’

‘I’ve listened to you too often in the past, Gianni. This is hopeless! I can’t be your mistress any longer!’

‘I know!’ he barked, silencing her instantly. Once her full attention was riveted on him he spoke with a quiet authority that almost stopped her heart.

‘I want you to become my
wife
, Meg,’ he explained slowly. ‘I want you as my
contessa
as well as my lover. My partner. My companion. My
friend
,’ he finished softly.

It took Meg several seconds to realise what she was hearing.

‘But what about—’ She looked across at the table set for two, crowned by the beautiful flower she had brought for presentation to Gianni’s fiancée.

‘Bellini men don’t beg,’ he said succinctly. ‘The moment I saw you again today I knew I had to have you, and you alone, Meg. Now and for ever. I had the Bellini hoard wrapped and flown over especially, in time for your arrival
tonight. I love you, Meg, and without you I’m only one half of the spectacular whole our family will be.’

There were no fanfares and no fireworks. Gianni simply spoke all the words she had longed to hear. It felt like coming home, without ever having been away. Slowly, delicately she leaned forward until her head was resting against his chest. She expected to feel the slow, steady beat of his heart. It would have been perfectly in accord with the indulgent way he silently stroked her hair and patted her shoulders. Instead, she got a surprise. A rapid pulse thrummed through his body in feverish excitement.

‘Can I trust you, Gianni?’ she whispered.

‘With our baby’s life,’ he assured her, kissing the crown of her head with its sparkle of diamonds. Meg melted as he pressed the side of his face against hers. For a long time she sheltered in his arms, trying to catch her breath as she thought back over the pain of the last days. All she had ever wanted was to feel safe and secure in Gianni’s love. Now she had a promise, and trinkets beyond her wildest dreams, but none of it meant anything at all without integrity. A single tear beaded her lashes and rolled down her cheek. His face pressed tightly against hers, Gianni felt it the moment it fell. Alarmed, he straightened up and held her at arm’s length, studying her intently.

‘You’re crying!’ He could hardly believe it. ‘What’s the matter? I only wanted to make you happy!’

‘D-did you?’ Blinded with tears, Meg gazed at him in hopeless doubt. ‘If that’s the case, w-why did you spend all that time keeping me at arm’s length? Y-you never even put my details on your phone!’ she sobbed, almost inaudibly. Chuckling, Gianni drew her towards him again.

‘That’s because I never needed to. They’re here,’ he
said softly, lifting her hand and pressing her palm against his chest. ‘Every word you have ever spoken to me is carved in my heart, Meg.’

She felt it beating more slowly and steadily beneath her fingers. Gianni closed his fingers around hers and took them to his lips for a gentle kiss.

‘Really?’ she whispered.

‘Really.’ He nodded. ‘Meg, my love, you are the only woman for me, now and for ever. I’m going to take you as my wife, my mistress and my soulmate. From the moment we met no woman has matched up to you in any way. I spent my whole life looking for love, but in all the wrong places. And when we found each other, I almost let you slip through my fingers. That’s never going to happen again. I can promise you that.’

She leaned against him. He gathered her in to his body. Once upon a time Meg would have been terrified to admit she wanted someone she could depend on. Now she was safe in Gianni’s arms, she could see things so much more clearly. He needed her every bit as much as she needed him. They were a team now. It didn’t matter which one of them dealt with the little niggles and worries of day-to-day life, as long as they were solved.

As though reading her mind he held her close and whispered: ‘I never thought I would find a woman I could rely on. You are all I need, my love. You—and our family,’ he said simply, before his kisses swept her away to a place where nothing else mattered any more.

All the characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author, and all the incidents are pure invention.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the prior consent of the publisher in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

® and ™ are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with
®
are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries.

First published in Great Britain 2009
Harlequin Mills & Boon Limited,
Eton House, 18-24 Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1SR

© Christina Hollis 2009

E-ISBN: 978-1-4089-1303-1

01-1109-50800

BOOK: The Count of Castelfino
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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