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Authors: Kate Walker

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BOOK: The Sicilian's Wife
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And suddenly she was reminded of the volcano Etna on his native island of Sicily. The burn of his eyes made her think of the molten lava that had poured down the mountain's sides, scorching everything in its path. She felt as if his gaze had just the same heated power, searing over the delicacy of the exposed skin of her face and neck.

He was so close that she could smell the clean scent of his body, mixed with the tang of some citrus cologne, light and invigorating—and painfully stimulating to her already overwrought nerves. Her heart was thudding in double-quick time, her breath coming raw and uneven.

‘Don't do this to me! Not now! What is this, Cesare—some sort of twisted little game? Do you get some fun out of tormenting me, lying to me? Because—'

‘Would it help if I swore I am not lying now—but that I had lied in the past?'


It seemed that with every word he spoke the situation got stranger and stranger, more complicated and tangled, impossible to sort out. It was as if the Cesare Santorino that she had thought she knew had been taken away and someone new and totally alien had been put in his place.

‘When did you lie to me?'

Her mouth had dried painfully and the words came out on an embarrassing croak.

‘When I said I wasn't interested in you. When I acted as if you bored me. When I—'

‘No—stop it—no, no,

Megan flung her hands up to cover her ears and then rapidly moved them so that they covered her face.

‘Stop it!' she muttered into the protection of her concealing fingers. ‘This isn't fair!'

This time last year—on her twenty-first birthday—she would have been overjoyed to hear those words. At Christmas, and even more at that dreadful New Year party, they would have set her heart dancing for joy, made her spirits sing. But now it was too late.

Then she couldn't think of anything that could have been better. Now she couldn't think of anything
. Because if anything Cesare claimed was the truth in any way, then it very soon wouldn't be when he found out…

‘Stop it!' she repeated more fiercely this time.

Mi dispiace
—I am sorry.'

He'd moved too fast, Cesare told himself reproachfully. Impatience had always been a fault of his and this time he'd rushed right in when he would have done so much better to take things slowly.

He had promised himself he would take things slowly. But in the moment that he'd walked into the library and seen Megan in the flesh for the first time in over six months all his control had deserted him. He had struggled to hold
on to that control for over six years now, and he hadn't been able to do so any longer.

‘Forgive me Megan…'

His tone was so rough, so unbelievably raw with some emotion that it forced Megan to lower her protective hands, gazing up at him in shock and bewilderment.

And that bewilderment struck at Cesare like a reproach.

‘Forgive me…' he said again, lifting his hands swiftly from the chair arms and flinging them up and out in a supremely Italian gesture of surrender.

‘You are right. I was in the wrong to tease you—wrong and cruel. I should never have done it.'

It was only what she had expected, Megan told herself dully as she watched him swing away from her and prowl moodily across the wide, polished wooden floor, his shoulders hunched, hands pushed deep into the pockets of his trousers. She had known all along that he wasn't telling the truth. That he was just tormenting her as he had done when she was little more than a child, and he had been a sophisticated twenty-two year old.

Then he had mocked her starry-eyed hero-worship of him playing on it mercilessly to have her fetching and carrying for him, taking advantage of her keenness to perform any tiny task she could for the object of her devotion. And now it seemed that he was doing it again.

It was only what she had expected but, right now, with the worry that was always there, just below the surface of her mind, nagging at her and throwing her into total confusion about what she should do, his teasing seemed so much worse.

. It hurt terribly, adding another layer to the pain of the way Gary had behaved, and the consequences of that behaviour until her head swum sickeningly, and she was unable to think straight.

‘It's all right,' she managed stiffly. ‘After all, it's only what I'd expect from you. But now that you've had your fun, would you mind leaving?'

With an effort she brought her chin up, forced her green eyes to meet his dark gaze defiantly.

‘I'd prefer to be alone.'


He didn't seem to have heard the last comment or, if he had, he was deliberately ignoring it.


Shock roughed his voice, stopped his restless prowling.

‘You think that this is just
un divertimento
? That I am playing with you?'

‘Well, isn't it?' Her chin lifted a little higher. ‘What else could it be?' she challenged.

La verita
!' Cesare shot back, his tone like the crack of a gun. ‘The truth!'

! Oh come on! Don't…don't…'

To her horror, her voice began to tremble, so that she stumbled over the words she wanted. It was too much. Too cruel. He'd taken his joke too far. And she was in no fit state to be able to cope with this new, sophisticated form of emotional torture.

‘Don't do this to me!' she wailed, her voice high and tight.

The pain in her words was like a blow to his face, making him freeze into stillness, eyes narrowing sharply. Something was very wrong here. Something much more than any distress at his heavy-handed teasing.

‘What is it?' he asked. ‘What's wrong?'

And then, when she could only shake her head in mute, numb misery, he came close—closer—one warm strong hand sliding under her chin and lifting her face to meet his brown-eyed scrutiny.

Her cheeks were wet with tears. Tears that had trickled down her face, dripping off her chin. And more were welling up inside her eyes, making the deep green glisten like polished gemstones.

, why are you crying? Meggie…'

Unthinkingly, the word slid past his lips, using the long ago nickname she had had as a child.

‘Tell me what's wrong.'

It was the name that did it. If he hadn't said ‘Meggie…' in quite that way. If he hadn't used that once familiar, now rarely spoken, nickname, the name only those closest and dearest to her had used in the past, then she might have been able to resist it.

But he had said ‘Meggie,' and both his voice and his expression had softened on the word. Just for a moment he had pushed aside time and had taken her back to the days when life had been sweet, idyllic, uncomplicated. The perfect bliss of a summer when the sun had always seemed to be shining, and nothing could possibly go wrong.

Days when she had still held on to a dream that one day this man would love her. That somewhere, stretching ahead of her, lay a bright and wonderful future, filled with happy ever after. A future that now was totally beyond her reach.

And suddenly she knew, totally and irredeemably, without a hope of any other possibility, that she was going to tell him the whole sorry story.


tell me

This time, Cesare's use of the childish nickname was far from gentle. Her hesitation, the seconds she had spent hunting for the right words to tell him what was on her mind, had pushed him to the limits of his patience in a very short space of time. He was barely keeping hold of his tenuous grip on his temper, and the way the words hissed through his teeth made that plain.

‘Just what is the problem? I need to know.'

It was the impatience in his tone that caught on Megan's tongue and held it immobile, unable to speak a word. That and the way that, towering over her, big, dark and dangerously imposing, a severe frown drawing together the black arcs of his brows, Cesare had reverted to the man she had known—and feared—as an adolescent. Then he had been able to strike her dumb simply by walking into a room, and any attempt to answer one of the occasional questions he arrogantly tossed her way had reduced her to a mumbling, stammering, red-faced heap of embarrassment totally unlike her normally reasonable, sensibly functioning self.

And that was just what he did to her now.


This time her name had a note of warning in it. One that only made matters so much worse. She could only shake her head despairingly, unable to find any words with which to answer him.

‘Is it your father? Are you worried about the problems he's having with the company?'

‘He told you about that?' Shock released her tongue, pushed the words from her mouth.

‘Of course he told me—I am a friend after all.'

‘Did he ask you to help him—to bail him out? And you agreed?'

Some degree of strength was returning to her limbs now, and her brain seemed to be functioning with just a degree or two of clarity. If he was prepared to help her father, save Tom Ellis from the almost inevitable bankruptcy that was now staring him in the face, then at least one of her worries would be eased.

‘You said you'll lend him what he needs?'

The change in Cesare's face gave her the answer without a word having been spoken. The dark, carved features seemed to close up; the burnt-coffee-coloured eyes clouding as they met the urgent entreaty in hers. He had moved away from her mentally before he stepped back physically, withdrawing into himself in the space of a couple of heartbeats.

‘No,' he said softly. ‘I did not.'

‘You did not!' Megan repeated, unable to believe what she had heard. ‘You said
! I don't believe—'

‘Believe it!' Cesare cut in sharply, not liking this direction the conversation had taken. ‘Your father told me of his problems. Regrettably…'

‘Regrettably… Oh, yes, I just bet you

The cynicism in Megan's voice, the way it twisted at her mouth, dulled her eyes, made him wince. He wouldn't have hurt her this way if he could have helped it.

‘You could have afforded it! The amount he needed would have been just a drop in the ocean compared with the fortune you possess! Why, you must make that much or more in just a year or so!'

Megan had got to her feet now and was coming towards him furiously. The anger that sparked in the depths of her
eyes actually made him take a step or two backwards, away from her.

‘Yes, I could have afforded it.'

‘And you weren't prepared to do so! I thought you were his

‘I am.
, Megan, you know I am!'

The haughty toss of her head dismissed his words with supreme contempt, green flames flaring in the angry eyes that blazed into his.

‘Some sort of friend that wouldn't help him when he most needed you!'

Cesare could not hold back an impatient sigh as he raked both hands through the midnight-dark strands of his hair. He had hoped to have this conversation later—much, much later when things would have had a very different sort of perspective.

‘Meggie,' he remonstrated as calmly as possible, ‘it wouldn't have done any good. Your father understands that.'

‘Well, I don't! I think you're going to have to explain it for those of us who aren't blessed with your near-genius financial ability. And don't “Meggie” me! I might have let you call me that when I was growing up, but I'm no longer a child. I'm a woman of twenty-two, with three years at university and a degree behind me. I've done a lot of maturing lately!'

‘You certainly have.'

Dark-chocolate eyes skimmed over her slender figure in the close-fitting jeans and T-shirt, lingering appreciatively on the high curves of her breasts in a way that made Megan think unwillingly of the changes she had sensed in her body over the last week or so.

‘My name is Megan and I'll thank you to remember that!'

‘Of course.'

His smile at her outrage was wry, and the small, sideways inclination of his head in acknowledgement of her outburst seemed to make a mockery of the apparent gesture of submission.

‘Are you laughing at me?' Megan demanded suspiciously.

‘Would I dare?' he returned drily, the lift of humour in his voice, the hint of a gleam in his eyes, tugging at something in her heart.

The man was too damned attractive for his own good, she told herself furiously—furiously because she didn't want to find anything in him appealing right now. Once she had thought him the most delicious, the most devastating man in the world, but not any more. Especially not now! Though when he smiled like that…

Hastily she caught herself up, cursing her wandering mind. Such thoughts were dangerous, weakening her when she most needed to be strong.

‘My father might understand, but I certainly don't! Would you care to explain?'

No, Cesare answered in the privacy of his thoughts. No, I would definitely not care to explain. Once more he was caught by the way he had given his word to Tom Ellis. The older man was proud to the point of stupidity. Even to rescue his company he couldn't take a hand-out from his friend—but his
was a different matter.

‘If Meggie marries you,' he'd said, ‘then I'll take your money. It will be a family matter then. But not otherwise.'

Tom had demanded that this deal was to be a secret between the two of them and, knowing it was the only way his stubborn friend would take his help, he had been forced to agree. But his loyalty to Tom was being worn away by his feelings for the woman in front of him.

Did she know how it twisted a knife in his heart when she had looked at him, first with that entreaty in her eyes, and then with the scorn that had replaced it? And what made it so much worse was the instinctive, very basic way that his body reacted simply to being in the same room as her. Every sense was on heated red-alert, his pulse throbbing heavily in his veins. Since the moment he had walked into the room to find her sitting in the shadows, he had been fighting the impulse to grab her and kiss her, plundering her mouth with the force of the hunger that had him in its grip.

But to act on that impulse would be the most stupid behaviour he could come up with. At best, it would annoy and alienate her. At worst, it would drive her right away from him, send her screaming from the room. With a violent struggle he pushed the uncomfortable feelings back down inside himself, stamping on them hard.

‘Cesare…' Megan's tone was a warning. ‘Explain!'

‘Your father's in a very tricky situation,' he began carefully. ‘The state of the markets has just about destroyed the value of his investments—and the company's been having problems too.'

‘So why wouldn't you help him?'

‘I'm not in the business of buying up failing concerns! If word got about that I'd done it for one, then next moment I'd have thousands of lame dogs at my door, looking for a rescue deal—a hand-out!'

Pushed to the limit by the reproach in her voice, Cesare flung the words at her then almost immediately wished them back as he saw her recoil in distaste at his outburst. For perhaps the millionth time he cursed the promises to Tom Ellis that tied him down, making him feel like an angry, frustrated fly caught in the imprisoning, sticky threads of a huge spider's web.

‘It isn't sound business sense, Megan.' But for Tom he would do it. If he got the chance.

‘Oh, and we must always put “business sense” first!' Megan flung back bitterly.

‘I wouldn't have got where I am unless I had.'

‘No—you wouldn't. But now that you are where you are, you seem to have lost all sense of caring about the smaller man. You used to have more charity than this, Cesare!'

‘It wouldn't help!'

Stung beyond endurance, Cesare couldn't hold back any longer. His conscience only added to the feeling of mental discomfort, giving him another reproachful twist as he saw her flinch as if he had slapped her in the face.

‘Your father's in too deep—and he knows it! He couldn't manage another loan—he owes too much already to too many people.'

Her silence betrayed the depth of her shock, and his spirits, already low, sank right to rock-bottom. This wasn't how this had been supposed to go. But from the moment he had walked into the library nothing had followed the path he had expected.

‘It—it's that bad?'

Megan felt as if there were a thousand angrily buzzing bees swarming inside her head, making it swim unpleasantly so that rational thought was impossible.

‘Cesare—are you telling me that—he's ruined?'

He didn't have to spell it out. It was there in his face, etching lines around the stunning eyes, the beautiful mouth.

‘Oh, no!'

Her legs went from under her, threatening to send her crashing to the floor but, even as she sagged weakly, Cesare had moved, coming to her side with the swift, instinctive reflex action of a hunting tiger. Powerful arms folded round
her, enclosing and supporting her, holding her close as one hand fluttered in a weak gesture of supplication.

‘It's all right,
.' His voice was rough, sounding husky in her ear. ‘I have you safe. I won't let you fall.'

Safe, Megan thought hazily, the single word, the only one that would register in her clouded thoughts. Yes, here, at last, she felt safe. For the first time in six long, unhappy weeks, she felt something other than lost and afraid and alone. It seemed as if Cesare's strength flowed along his arms and into her through the strong-fingered hands that clasped her around her waist.

The heat of his body surrounded her, the clean, musky scent of his skin reaching her nostrils, making her want to inhale deeply, as if to draw in more of him that way. The urge to lean on him even more was irresistible, her head feeling too heavy for her neck to support. Giving in to the impulse, she let her head drop down onto his shoulder, feeling the hard bone, the taut muscle provide the perfect, much needed rest.

‘Oh, Cesare…' she sighed, abandoning herself to the luxury of giving in to a moment of weakness.


His voice was unexpectedly gruff and tight. Her heart thudded in time with his breathing, the sound of his own pulse under her cheek providing an echo, beat for beat. Again Megan sighed, nestling closer, turning her head so that her mouth was close to the smooth, bronzed skin of his neck.


This time there was a note of what seemed like warning in his use of her name, but she was too comfortable, too relaxed to heed it. For the first time since she had left Lancaster and travelled back to London at the end of her university life, she felt as if she had truly come home. As
if she was where she wanted to be. Where she had always been meant to be.

The heavy throb of Cesare's heart gave a sudden jolt then lurched into a new and faster beat and she felt her own pulse quicken in response. Her breathing became faster too, shallower, uneven, until it was rasping in and out of her lungs like liquid fire.


She tried for his name but the heat inside her had dried her throat so that the single word came out on a raw, uneven croak. Her lips were parched and as she licked them nervously to ease the uncomfortable sensation she felt the faint adjustment of his head, knew even before she opened her eyes that he was looking down at her and that he had caught the small, betraying movement.

Her eyelids felt unnaturally heavy and swollen so that it was an effort to lift them and meet his gaze. But in the second that she managed it and looked straight into the dark unblinking force of his stare, she was caught and held transfixed, like a rabbit in the oncoming glare of a car's headlights.

And she didn't want to move. Instead she waited, outwardly patient, but inwardly fizzing with anticipation and excitement. Waited, knowing that this was a moment she had been moving towards all her life. One that she had dreamed would come, then feared she had missed out on altogether, but which now she knew was as inevitable as her next breath, the beat of her heart.

‘Megan…' Cesare began again in a voice that was thick and raw and sounded quite unlike the controlled, sophisticated man she had always known. ‘I think I'm going to have to kiss you.'

‘I know…'

‘I am sorry if you—you


Megan nodded slightly, feeling the brush of the soft cotton of his shirt against her cheek, the warmth of his skin burning through it.

‘I know. And do you know something?'

Her mouth quirked up at the corners into a mischievous pixie-like smile.

‘I'm going to have to let you—'

The words were smothered, crushed back down her throat, as his mouth covered hers. With a rough, jerky movement, he swung her round in front of him, his hands coming up to the back of her head, shaping themselves round the fine bones of her skull, holding her close, crushing her face up against his. It was the wildest, most passionate kiss of her life, one that drove her breath away, made her head spin, set her heart pounding.

BOOK: The Sicilian's Wife
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