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The Italian's Christmas Child(7)

By:Lynne Graham

Vito frowned. ‘And how did that happen?’

Holly hesitated, eyes troubled as her oval face stiffened. ‘You know, this is all very personal...’

‘I’m curious... I’ve never met anyone who grew up in care before,’ Vito told her truthfully, revelling in every fleeting expression that crossed her expressive little face. She was full to the brim with emotional responses. She was his exact opposite because she felt so much and showed even more. It shook him that he could find that ingenuousness so very appealing in a woman that he was challenged to look away from her.

Holly compressed her lips, those full pink lips with that dainty little cupid’s bow that called to him on a far more primitive level. ‘When I was six years old, Mum left me alone for three days over Christmas. I went to a neighbour because I was hungry and she called the police.’

Taken aback by that admission, Vito sat up very straight, dark-as-night eyes locked to her as she finished that little speech in an emotive surge. ‘Your mother abandoned you?’

‘Yes, but eventually she probably would have come back, as she’d done it before. I was put into a short-term foster home and the family gave me Christmas even though it was already over,’ Holly told him with a fond smile of remembrance.

‘And you’ve been making up for that loss ever since,’ Vito said drily, shrugging off the pangs of sympathy assailing him, taking refuge in edgy cynicism instead. He didn’t do emotion, avoiding such displays and feelings whenever he could because the memories of his mother’s raw pain in the face of his father’s rejections still disturbed him. As far as he was concerned, if you put your feelings out on display you were asking to be kicked in the teeth and it was not a risk he was prepared to take for anyone. Yet just looking at Holly he could tell that she had taken that same risk time and time again.

‘Probably. As obsessions go, Christmas is a fairly harmless one,’ Holly fielded before she got up to hurry into the kitchen and retrieve the snacks from the oven. After handing him the plate, she returned to winding the fairy lights round the small tree.

He watched the firelight flicker over her, illuminating a rounded cheekbone, a tempting stretch of gleaming thigh as she bent down, and the provocative rise of her curvy behind. ‘How old are you, Holly?’

Holly attached an ornament to a branch and glanced over her shoulder at him. As soon as she collided with his spellbinding dark golden eyes, her heart raced, her mouth ran dry and her mind went blank. ‘I’m twenty-four...tomorrow.’

Vito’s gaze glittered in the firelight. ‘It’s both Christmas and your birthday.’

‘Now it’s your turn. Tell me about you,’ Holly urged with unconcealed eagerness because everything about Vito Sorrentino made her insanely curious.

It should not have been an unexpected question but it hit Vito like a brick and he froze on the reality that having questioned her so thoroughly he could hardly refuse to respond in kind. He breathed in deep, squaring his broad shoulders, fighting his tension. ‘I’m the only child of ill-matched parents. Holiday periods when my father was expected to play his part as a family man were always very stressful because he hated being forced to spend time with us. Christmas fell into that category.’

‘Why haven’t they separated?’ He was so on edge talking about his family situation that it touched her heart. Such a beautiful man, so sophisticated and cool in comparison to her, so seemingly together and yet he too bore the damage of a wounding childhood. Holly was fascinated.

‘My mother was raised to believe that divorce is wrong...and she loves my father. She’s incredibly loyal to the people she loves.’ Vito spoke very stiffly because he had never in his life before shared that much about his family dynamics. He had been taught to live by the same code of secretive silence and polite denial that his mother had always observed. Even if the roof was falling in, appearances still had to be conserved. Breaking that code of silence with an outsider filled him with discomfiture.

‘That must’ve put a lot of pressure on you,’ Holly remarked, soulful big blue eyes pinned to him with an amount of sympathy far beyond what he considered necessary.

And yet inexplicably there was something in Vito that was warmed by that show of support. He came up off the sofa as though she had yanked a chain attached to his body, and pulled her up into his arms, and in neither of those moves did he recognise conscious thought or decision. It was instinct, pure instinct to reach for Holly.

He tugged her close, long brown fingers flying up to tilt her chin, and gazed down into those inviting clear eyes of hers. A split second later, he kissed her.

In shock, Holly simply stood there, conflicting feelings pulling her in opposing directions. Push him away, back off now, one voice urged. He finds me attractive, find out what it’s like, the other voice pleaded while she brimmed with secret pride. He touched her mouth slow and soft, nipping her lips lightly and teasingly, and she could hardly breathe. Her heart was thumping like a jackhammer inside her ribcage. His tongue eased apart the seam of her lips and flickered and a spasm of raw excitement thrilled down into her pelvis. With a hungry groan he tightened his arms round her.

Nothing had ever tasted as good as Vito’s mouth on hers and she trembled in reaction, her whole body awakening. Her hands linked round his neck as the hard, demanding pressure of his mouth sent a delicious heat spiralling down through her. She felt wonderfully warm and safe for the first time ever. In that moment of security she rejoiced in the glorious feel of his mouth and the taste of the wine on his tongue. His fingers splayed to mould to her hips and trailed down the backs of her thighs. Tiny little shivers of response tugged at her as she felt a tightening sensation at her core and her breasts felt achingly full.

Vito lifted his dark head. Dark golden eyes sought hers. ‘I want you,’ he husked.

‘I want you,’ Holly framed shakily and it was the very first time she understood the need to say that to someone.

In all the years she had thought about having sex it had always been because sex was expected of her in a relationship, never because she herself was tempted. In the face of those expectations, her body had begun to seem like something to cede, and not fully her own. And that had been wrong, so wrong, she finally saw. It should be her choice and her choice alone. But she was learning that only now in Vito’s arms and recognising the difference because she was finally experiencing a genuine desire for something more. And it was a heady feeling that left her bemused and giddy.

Staring up into Vito’s dark, dangerous eyes, she stretched up on tiptoe to reach him, simply desperate to feel his beautiful mouth on hers again. And the sheer strength of that physical connection, the locking in of every simultaneous sensation that assailed her, only emphasised how right it felt to be with him that way.

This was what all the fuss was about, she thought joyously, the thrumming pulse of need that drove her, the tiny little tremors of desire making her tremble, the overwhelming yearning for the hard, muscular feel of his body against hers. And as one kiss led into another he drew her down onto the rug again and the heat of the fire on her skin burned no more fiercely than the raw hunger raging through her with spellbinding force.

With her willing collusion he extracted her from the sweater and released the catch on her bra. He studied the full globes he had bared with unhidden hunger. ‘You have a totally amazing body, gioia mia.’

A deep flush lit Holly’s cheeks and the colour spread because she was not relaxed about nudity. Yet there in the firelight with Vito looking at her as though he were unveiling a work of art, she was horribly self-conscious but she felt no shame or sense of inadequacy. Indeed, the more Vito looked, the more the pulse of heat humming between her thighs picked up tempo. Long fingers shaping the plump curves of her breasts, Vito flicked a tongue over a straining pink nipple and a hungry groan of appreciation was wrenched from him as he dallied there, toying with her sensitive flesh in a caress that made her hips squirm while a new sense of urgency gripped her.

‘Kiss me,’ she urged breathlessly as he tugged at the tender buds of her breasts and an arrow of burning heat pierced her feminine core, only increasing her agitation.

He crushed her ripe mouth beneath his again, his tongue plunging deep, and for a split second it satisfied the craving pulling at her, and then somehow even that wasn’t enough any more. She shifted position restively, her legs sliding apart to let his hips slide between as she silently, instinctively sought more. Her hips rocked. She wanted and she wanted...

And then at last, as if he knew exactly what she needed, he smoothed his passage up a silken inner thigh and tugged off her panties. He stroked her, found the most needy place of all, and a current of almost unbearable excitement shot through Holly’s veins. Suddenly in the hold of her own explosive response she was all heat and light and sensation. A long finger tested her slick, damp core and she whimpered, her teeth clenching, the ferocious need clawing cruelly at her as her spine arched, her body all too ready to take charge.

There was no room for thought in the passion that had swept her away in the way she had always dreamed. But it wasn’t the same as her dream because what she was feeling was much more basic, much more wild and out of control than she had ever allowed herself to be. He moved to one side, yanking off his top, revealing an abdomen grooved with lean, hard muscle, and her hand slid greedily up over his chest, rejoicing in his sleek bronzed skin and the manner in which every muscle jerked taut the instant she touched him.