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The Italian's Christmas Child(6)

By:Lynne Graham

‘Then you won’t mind if I eat? I brought supper with me,’ she explained, moving past him towards the kitchen.

She’s not even going to try to entertain me, Vito reflected, positively rapt in admiration in receipt of that clear demonstration of indifference.

When had he become so arrogant that he expected every young woman he came into contact with to make a fuss of him and a play for him?

It wasn’t arrogance, he reasoned squarely. He was as rich as Midas and well aware that that was the main reason for his universal appeal. He poured Holly a fresh glass of wine and carried it into the kitchen for her. She closed the oven, wool stretching to softly define her heart-shaped derrière.

‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ he heard himself enquire, seemingly before his brain had formed the question, while his attention was still lodged on the sweater that both concealed and revealed her lush curves.

‘No. As of today I have an ex,’ Holly told him. ‘You?’

‘I’m single.’ Vito lounged back against the kitchen island, the fine fabric of his pants pulling taut to define long, muscular thighs and...the noticeable masculine bulge at his crotch. Heat surging into her cheeks, Holly dragged her straying attention off him and stared down at her wine. Since when had she looked at a man there? Her breath was snarled up in her throat and her entire body felt super sensitive.

‘What happened today?’ Vito probed.

‘I caught Ritchie having sex with his receptionist on his lunch break,’ Holly told him in a rush before she could think better of that humiliating admission. Unfortunately looking at Vito had wrecked her composure to such an extent that she barely knew what she was saying any more.


IN RECEIPT OF that startling confession, Vito had the most atrocious desire to laugh, but he didn’t want to hurt Holly’s feelings. Her cheeks had gone all pink again and her eyes were evasive as if that confession had simply slipped accidentally from her lips. He breathed in deep. ‘Tough. What did you do?’

‘Told him what I thought of him in one sentence, walked out again.’ Holly tilted her chin, anger darkening her blue eyes as she remembered the scene she had interrupted. ‘I hate liars and cheats.’

‘I’m shockingly well behaved in that line. Too busy working,’ Vito countered, relieved that she had not a clue about the scandal that had persuaded him to leave Florence and even less idea of who he was. In recent days he had been forced to spend way too much time in the company of people too polite to say what they thought but not too polite to stare at him and whisper. Anonymity suddenly had huge appeal. He finally felt that he could relax.

‘So, why are you staying here all alone?’ Holly asked, sipping her wine, grateful he had glossed over her gaffe about Ritchie without further comment.

‘Burnout. I needed a break from work.’ Vito gave her the explanation he had already decided on in the shower. ‘Obviously I wasn’t expecting weather like this.’

He was unusually abstracted, however, ensnared by the manner in which the blue of his sweater lit up her luminous eyes. He was also wondering how she could possibly look almost irresistibly cute in an article of his clothing when the thick wool draped her tiny body like a blanket and only occasionally hinted at the treasures that lay beneath. What was the real secret of her appeal? he was asking himself in bewilderment, even though the secret was right in front of him. She had a wonderfully feminine shape, amazing eyes and a torrent of dark hair that tumbled round her shoulders in luxuriant loose curls. But what was most different about Holly was that she was genuine as so few people dared to be. She put on no show and said nothing for effect; indeed she followed a brand of candour that was blunt to the point of embarrassing.

‘Why are you staring at me?’ Holly asked baldly, straightening her spine and squaring her little shoulders for all the world as though she was bracing herself for him to say something critical.

‘Am I?’ Vito fielded, riveting dark eyes brimming with amusement as he straightened to leave the kitchen. ‘Sorry... I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.’

He was setting up a games console when Holly joined him with her plate of savoury snacks. ‘I thought I’d have a game,’ he told her, ‘but perhaps you would rather watch TV—’

‘No, what game is it?’

It was a war game Holly knew well. ‘I’ll play you,’ she told him.

Vito shot her a startled glance. ‘You play?’

‘Of course I do. Every foster family had a console and you learned to play with the other kids to fit in,’ she pointed out wryly.

‘Dio mio...how many different families did you live with?’

‘I never counted but there were a lot of them. I’d get settled somewhere and then someone somewhere would decide I should have another go at bonding with my mother, and I’d be shot back to her again for a few months.’

Vito was frowning as he set up the game. ‘Your mother was still alive?’

‘Just not a good parent. It never worked out with her,’ Holly completed wryly, keen to gloss over the facts with as little detail as possible while she watched Vito, lean hips flexing down into powerful thighs as he bent down.

From her position kneeling on the floor, she could admire the fluidity of his long-fingered brown hands as he leant over the console. His every movement was incredibly graceful, she acknowledged. And when she glanced up at him she noticed the black density of his eyelashes and the definition that dark luxuriance lent to his already stunning dark eyes. Her nipples were tight little buds inside her bra and she felt hot.

‘Your father?’ Vito queried.

‘I had no idea who my father was so he didn’t come into the picture. But my mother still being around was the reason why I moved around so much, because she refused to allow me to be put up for adoption. Every time I went back to my mother and then had to leave her again to go back into care, I ended up with a new foster family.’ Holly grimaced and shrugged. ‘It was a messy way to grow up.’

Vito had always thought he had it rough with a tyrannical grandfather, warring parents and being an only child on whom huge expectations rested. But his glimpse at what lay on Holly’s side of the fence sobered him and gave him an unsettling new perspective. He had always had security and he had always known he was loved. And although Holly had enjoyed neither advantage, she wasn’t moaning about it, he thought with grudging appreciation.

As Vito lounged back on the sofa his six-pack abs rippled below the soft cotton stretched over his broad chest and Holly’s mouth ran dry. He was amazingly beautifully built and the acknowledgement sent colour surging into her cheeks because she had never looked at a man’s body and thought that before. But she couldn’t take her eyes off him and it mortified her. It was as if she had been locked back into a teenager’s body again because there was nothing sensible or controlled about what she was experiencing.

‘We’ll set the timer for a ten-minute challenge,’ Vito told her lightly, doubting that she would last the game that long.

Fortunately, Holly didn’t even have to think while she played him. In dark times the engrossing, mindless games had been her escape from the reality of a life that hurt too much. With the weapon she had picked she made kill after kill on screen and then the challenge was over and she had won.

‘You’re very fast,’ Vito conceded with a slashing grin of appreciation, because once again he could not think of a single woman who, having chosen to play him, would not have then allowed him to win even though she was a better player. Of course that was a debatable point when he didn’t actually know any other woman who could play.

‘Lots of practice over the years,’ Holly conceded, still recovering from the raw charisma of that wolfish grin that cracked right through his essential reserve. Gaming had relaxed him, warmed him up, melted that cool façade he wore to show the real man underneath. And now he didn’t just strike her as heartbreakingly handsome, he was downright irresistible. She shifted uneasily in her seat, her body tense and so weirdly super sensitive that even her clothes seemed to chafe her tender skin.

‘And the prize is...’ Vito’s attention locked like a missile to the soft pink fullness of her mouth and her nipples pinched into tight little points. ‘You get to put your Christmas tree up.’

Holly sprang off the seat. ‘Seriously?’ she exclaimed in surprise.

‘Seriously.’ Vito focused on that sparkling smile and gritted his teeth in a conscious attempt to cool off and quell his hard-on. He didn’t know what it was about her but one look from those melting blue eyes and he was hotter than hell. ‘Go ahead...’ He pinched one of the snacks on her plate by his feet. ‘Any more of these?’

Holly laughed. ‘I’ll put more on before I get the tree sorted.’

Vito watched her rush about full of energy, and suppressed a rueful sigh. It didn’t take a lot to make her happy. ‘Why does Christmas mean so much to you?’

‘I didn’t have it when I was very small,’ she admitted.

‘How can you not have Christmas?’

‘Mum didn’t celebrate it. Well, not in the family sense. There was no tree, no present, nothing. She went out partying but I didn’t know what the day was supposed to be until I went into care for the first time.’