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Harlequin Presents January 2015 Box Set 3 of 4(11)

By:Lynne Graham

‘No, I took one piece. Your very first gift,’ Billie extended. ‘I had no idea how much it was worth. That was a surprise, I can tell you.’

‘Was it?’ Gio couldn’t even remember his first gift to her and he would have been prepared to swear, having checked the jewellery she left behind, that she had taken nothing with her when she walked out.

‘Yes, you’re so extravagant it’s a wonder you’re not broke. You hardly knew me and yet you spent an absolute fortune on that diamond pendant,’ Billie told him critically. ‘It paid for my house and setting up the shop. I couldn’t believe how valuable it was!’

Gio thrust open the door of his suite. And just like that, the memory of the gift returned to him. He had bought the pendant after their first night together and he was furious that she had just sold it as if it meant nothing to her. ‘I don’t believe that there’s another man in your life.’

‘I’m not coming back to you,’ Billie told him in the most ludicrously apologetic tone. ‘Why would I want a shop in London? Why would I want to move? I’m happy here. And believe it or not there are men out there who would take me out with them into a public restaurant instead of hiding me inside their suite!’

Billie had served a direct hit. Gio paled beneath his Mediterranean tan. ‘We’re in my suite only because we need a private setting in which to talk.’

Billie gave him a wry smile. ‘Maybe that’s true this one time, Gio, but when it went on for almost two years, even I got the message. You might as well have been married from the moment I met you. I was like a guilty, dirty secret in your life.’

‘That is not true.’

‘No point arguing about the past now,’ Billie parried with determination. ‘It’s not worth it.’

‘Of course it is...I want you back.’ A spasm of open exasperation crossed Gio’s lean dark face when a knock sounded on the door, announcing the arrival of two waiters pushing a rattling trolley: lunch had arrived.

Billie folded her arms, thinking of her grandpa’s favourite winning racehorse, Canaletto, and the reality that just four years ago she had never heard of the artist called Canaletto before. Recalling that blunder still made Billie cringe and die inside herself, for the moment she had entered the conversation she had known her mistake but it had been far too late to cover it up. Unhappily for her, the one and only time Gio had taken her out to mix with his friends she had made an outsize fool of herself...and him.

Although he had reacted with neither anger nor criticism, he had dismissed her attempts to talk about the incident and explain that she had grown up more at home in betting shops than museums. But she had known that she had seriously embarrassed him in public in a way that would not be forgotten and, even worse, in a manner that had literally signposted the reality that she and Gio came from worlds and educational backgrounds that were light years apart.

That was why she had never complained about being excluded from his social life and why she had happily settled for dinners out alone in discreet locations where he was unlikely to meet anyone he knew. She had guessed that he was worried she would let him down again and without his awareness she had swiftly set about a self-improvement course in the hope that eventually he would notice and give her another chance. Sadness filled Billie when she recalled that naivety born in the early months of their relationship before she had reached the daunting moment of discovery and slow, painful acceptance that she was not Gio’s girlfriend but instead his mistress, there to dispense sexual entertainment and not much else and never ever to be taken seriously.

‘You’re so quiet. I’m not accustomed to you being quiet with me,’ Gio confessed in growing frustration, closing his hands over her slender, taut shoulders, massaging the tense muscles there as the door flipped shut behind the waiters. ‘Talk to me, Billie. Tell me what you want.’

Feeling the warm tingling of his touch snaking down her rigid spine and the pinching tautness of her nipples while resisting a powerfully seductive urge to lean back into the strong, sheltering heat of Gio, Billie pulled away and quickly sank down into one of the chairs by the beautifully set table. Talk to me. That was an insanely perplexing invitation to receive from a male like Gio, who didn’t like serious conversations and who smoothly sidestepped or downright ignored emotional moments and phrases.

‘We’ve got nothing to discuss,’ she pointed out, tucking into the first course with sudden appetite because while she ate she did not have to speak and had less excuse to be looking at Gio. Gio, surely one of the most beautiful men ever born? She glanced at him from below her lashes, roaming with helpless appreciation across his sculpted features to relish the spectacular slash of his high cheekbones and the tough masculine angle of his jaw. He was out of her reach. He was rich and successful, handsome and sophisticated, educated and pedigreed, everything she was not. He had always been out of her reach. If only she had had the wit to accept that obvious fact, she would never have got involved and never have got hurt.