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The Italian's Christmas Child(10)

By:Lynne Graham

Her fingers slid up caressingly to the firm bulge at his crotch and exerted gentle pressure and he groaned, dark head falling back, wide sensual mouth tightening, his broad chest vibrating against her. Holly leant over him, staring down into lustrous eyes that glittered like precious gold. ‘Maybe it’s because you act as though I’m the most ravishing female you’ve ever met, even though I’m perfectly ordinary. But perhaps that’s your true talent. Maybe you treat all women the same way.’

‘No. I’ve never been with any woman the way I’ve been with you...’ Vito surveyed her with frowning force, probing that statement, worrying about it because it was true. He had never felt so comfortable with a woman or so relaxed. He hadn’t once thought about work or about the shocking scandal he had left behind him in Italy. Furthermore Holly was completely unique on his terms because for the first time ever he was with a woman who didn’t know who he was, cherished no financial expectations and in truth attached no undue importance to him. He was Mr Anonymous with Holly and he liked the freedom of that one hell of a lot.

Holly unzipped his jeans with a sense of adventure. Her most driving need was to give him pleasure and she didn’t understand it. Shouldn’t she be more selfish? The catch in his breathing was followed by a long, unrestrained sound of rising hunger. She had distracted him with sex, she thought guiltily. She didn’t want to talk about being a waitress, about any of the things that separated them as people in the outside world, and his unashamed sexual response to her gave her a shocking sense of power.

Heaven for Vito was the gentle friction of her mouth and the teasing, erotic stroke of her tiny fingers. His hand knotted in her hair and he trembled on the edge of release, gruffly warning her, but she didn’t pull away. Then the sheer liberating wash of pleasure engulfed him and wiped him out.

Holly watched Vito sleep with a rueful grin. She went for another shower, donned the dress she had packed and dried her hair. Downstairs, she switched on the television and tuned it to a channel playing Christmas carols before going into the kitchen and beginning to organise the lunch she had prepared with such care. It shook her to acknowledge that she hadn’t even known Vito Sorrentino existed the day before.

The shame and embarrassment she had fought off at dawn began to creep up again through the cracks in her composure. She had broken all her rules and for what? A one-night stand with a male she would probably never hear from or see again? How could she be proud of that? But would it have been any better to lose her virginity with a sleazy, cheating liar like Ritchie, who had pretended that she meant much more to him than she did?

She thought not. Anyway, it was too late for regrets, she reminded herself unhappily. What was done was done and it made more sense to move on from that point than to torture herself over what could not be changed. How much, though, had all the wine she had imbibed contributed to her recklessness? Her loss of inhibition? Stop it, stop it, she urged herself fiercely, stop dwelling on it.

Vito came down the stairs when she was setting the table. ‘You should have wakened me.’

‘You were up much earlier than I was,’ she pointed out as she retrieved the starters from the kitchen. ‘Hungry?’

Vito reached for her instead of a chair. ‘Only for you.’

Her bright blue eyes danced with merriment. ‘Now, where did you get that old chestnut from?’

In answer Vito bent his tousled dark head and kissed her and it was like an arrow of fire shooting through her body to the heart of her. She quivered, taken aback all over again by the explosive effect he had on her. His sensual mouth played with hers and tiny ripples of arousal coursed through her. Her breasts swelled, their buds tightening while heat and dampness gathered between her legs. It took enormous willpower but she made herself step back from him, almost careening into the table in her haste to break their connection. Suddenly feeling out of control with him seemed dangerous and it was dangerous, she told herself, if it made her act out of character. And whether she liked it or not, everything she had done with Vito was out of character for her.

‘We should eat before the food gets cold,’ she said prosaically.

‘I’ll open a bottle of wine.’

‘This is an incredibly well-equipped house,’ Holly remarked as he poured the wine he had fetched from the temperature-controlled cabinet in the kitchen.

‘The owner enjoys his comforts.’

‘And he’s your friend?’

‘We went to school together.’ A breathtaking smile of amused recollection curled Vito’s mouth. ‘He was a rebel and although he often got me into trouble he also taught me how to enjoy myself.’

‘Pixie’s like that. We’re very close.’ Holly lifted the plates and set out the main course.

‘You’re a good cook,’ Vito commented.

‘My foster mother, Sylvia, was a great teacher. Cooking relaxes me.’

‘I eat out a lot. It saves time.’

‘There’s more to life than saving time. Life is there to be savoured,’ Holly told him.

‘I savour it at high speed.’

The meal was finished and Holly was clearing up when Vito stood up. ‘I feel like some fresh air,’ he told her. ‘I’m going out for a walk.’

From the window, Holly watched him trudge down the lane in the snow. There was an odd tightness in her chest and a lump in her constricted throat. Vito had just rebelled against their enforced togetherness to embrace his own company. He hadn’t invited her to join him on his walk, but why should he have? Out of politeness? They weren’t a couple in the traditional sense and he didn’t have to include her in everything. They were two people who had shared a bed for the night, two very different people. Maybe she talked too much, maybe he was tired of her company and looking forward to the prospect of some silence. It was not a confidence-boosting train of thought.

Vito ploughed up the steep gradient, his breath steaming on the icy air. He had needed a break, had been relieved when Holly hadn’t asked if she could accompany him. A loner long accustomed to his own company, he had felt the walls closing in while he’d sat surrounded by all that cosy Christmas spirit.

And that really wasn’t Holly’s fault, Vito conceded wryly. Even her cheerful optimism could not combat the many years of bad Christmas memories that Vito harboured. Sadly the stresses and strains of the festive season were more likely to expose the cracks in an unhappy marriage. His mother’s resolute enthusiasm had never contrived to melt his father’s boredom and animosity at being forced into spending time with his family.

They had never been a family, Vito acknowledged heavily, not in the truest sense of the word. His father had never loved him, had never taken the smallest interest in him. In fact, if he was honest with himself, his father sincerely disliked him. From an early age Vito had been treated like the enemy, twinned in his father’s mind with the autocratic father-in-law he fiercely resented.

‘He’s like a bloody calculator!’ Ciccio had condemned with distaste when his five-year-old son’s brilliance at maths was remarked on. ‘He’ll be as efficient as a cash machine—just like his grandfather.’

Only days earlier, Vito’s relationship with his father had sunk to an all-time low when Ciccio had questioned his son’s visit to the hospital where he was recovering from his heart attack. ‘Are you here to crow over my downfall?’ his father had asked nastily while his mother had tried to intervene. ‘My sins have deservedly caught up with me? Is that what you think?’

And Vito had finally recognised that there was no relationship left to rescue with his father. Ciccio bitterly resented his son’s freedom from all financial constraints yet the older man’s wild extravagance and greed had forced Vito’s grandfather to keep his son-in-law on a tight leash. There was nothing Vito could do to change those hard facts. Even worse, after his grandfather had died it had become Vito’s duty to protect his mother’s fortune from Ciccio’s demands, scarcely a reality likely to improve a father and son relationship.

For the first time Vito wondered what sort of relationship he would have with his son if he ever had one. Momentarily he was chilled by the prospect because his family history offered no encouragement.

Holly had just finished clearing up the dishes when the knocker on the front door sounded loudly. She was stunned when she opened the door and found Bill, who ran the breakdown service, standing smiling on the doorstep.

‘I need the keys for Clementine to get her loaded up.’

‘But it’s Christmas Day... I mean, I wasn’t expecting—’

‘I didn’t want to raise your hopes last night but I knew I’d be coming up this way some time this afternoon. My uncle joins us for lunch and he owns a smallholding a few fields away. He has to get back to feed his stock, so I brought the truck when I left him at home.’

‘Thank you so much,’ Holly breathed, fighting her consternation with all her might while turning away to reach into the pocket of her coat where she had left the car keys. She passed the older man the keys. ‘Do you need any help?’

He shook his head. ‘I’ll come back up for you when I’m done.’