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Authors: C. C. MacKenzie

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BOOK: Reckless Nights in Rome
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He removed an
envelope from his pocket placing it on the table between them.

Bronte didn’t
even glance at it.

“What is your
problem?” she demanded.

Rising, she
walked to a magnificent stone mantelpiece and placed her palms on
it.

“This is my
home. These bricks are rooted deep into the soil.” She turned to
him with a determined look in her vivid eyes. “This house anchors
me to a land my family have lived in for generations. It’s all I
have left of them.” She rubbed her head in a sad, tired gesture
that he found curiously moving.

Nico was aware
of a click in the region of his heart and an emotion he didn’t want
to identify. He frowned into his coffee.

“Do you always
get what you want, Mr Ferranti?” she asked him in a soft voice.

He stared at
her. To answer yes would be the simple truth. But he had the
feeling it would upset her further and he found, surprisingly, he
didn’t want to do that.

So he shrugged
and spread his hands.

Bronte’s eyes
narrowed into slits and she folded her arms.

“Last night you
threatened me. Today you’ve come into my home uninvited. You refuse
to take no for an answer. Who the hell do you think you are, the
Cosa Nostra?”

The remark was
targeted to insult and she hit the bull’s eye. He was Italian. The
words were more than a slap in the face. They offended his
integrity, his honour and his hard won reputation.

Unwelcome heat
surged into his face. She knew nothing of his father, his brother
or the extended family he refused to acknowledge. No one did. His
past was carefully buried in Italy. How could Bronte have
discovered it?

Suspicion
narrowed his eyes as Nico observed alarm flare in those stunning
green eyes. He read no guile or hidden agenda. Relief warred with
dismay that he’d been provoked so easily by a rank amateur. He’d
made enemies; a man in his position didn’t rise to the top without
stepping on a few toes. But none of them had managed to get under
his skin or under his guard the way Bronte did.

Taking great
care, Nico placed the delicate cup and saucer on the table.

With a firm
grip on a temper that appeared to be too close to the surface, his
eyes lasered into hers. Colour drained from her cheeks leaving her
too pale. Hands not quite steady, she placed her cup on the
table.

Good, at last
he had managed to get through to her.

He stood.

Pain, the
memory of old hurts, old sufferings, swam through his system as he
slung on his jacket. His eyes never left hers. Nico realised he’d
alarmed her and couldn’t be sorry for it. She had crossed a line
with him. Bronte Ludlow needed her bottom paddled for her rudeness.
That soft mouth trembled as the hectic pulse in her neck matched
his.

The need to
devour those lips, to take, both thrilled and appalled him. But
Nico was honest enough to admit that his anger came as much from
his physical and emotional response to Bronte as the words she’d
used to insult him. No one spoke to him in that tone or challenged
him in that way. She’d thrown him off balance. He could not cope
with the sensation mixed with the mad desire to haul her into his
arms and kiss her senseless.

Therefore he
took refuge in stiff formality.

Nico didn’t
attempt to hide the bite to his tone or keep the anger from his
voice.

“I have asked
you twice before to use my name. I will not ask you a third time.”
He gave a quick bow of his head. “I apologise for disturbing you,
Bronte.”

Without a
backward glance, he walked out.

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

Bronte stared at the door.

Why did she
feel as if she was in the wrong? She’d seen vulnerability in his
eyes, quickly hidden, but it had been there. And she’d upset,
angered him, and why should that make her feel small? He was the
one who’d come into her home - uninvited by the way. He was the one
who’d used that tone and attitude with her. She had every right to
defend herself. He was an adult. He’d get over it. If it meant that
he’d forget all about the Dower House then it was worth it.

Irritated with
herself that she was such a wuss with disagreements and scenes she
actually felt sick. And irritated with him because he’d turned her
into a bitch, Bronte picked up the thick expensive envelope, almost
tossing it into the fire before she stopped herself. Her name was
written in black ink in a strong, fluid hand.

Ripping it
open, she pulled out the stiff cream and gold embossed card and
sank to the sofa as she read.

Mr Nico
Ferranti would be delighted and honoured if Miss Bronte Ludlow
would accept an invitation, to accompany him to a Ball to celebrate
the Grand opening of Ludlow Hall next Saturday evening, in seven
days time.

Shit, shit,
shit.

Bronte stared
at it in dismay, tapping the card on her palm before dropping it on
the table. He’d set her up knowing she’d assume the letter was an
offer for the house. Great, she’d just jumped down his throat over
an invitation. And now she would need to apologise.

By the afternoon Bronte
had managed to put him out of her mind.

At least that’s
what she told herself. The hot lump of guilt in her stomach was a
niggling reminder of the scene. Yes, she’d been unpleasant, but he
deserved it. The task in hand should be her main focus, not an
Italian who was so damned sexy he should have a warning label
tattooed to his forehead.

The wedding
ceremony itself was being held in the old chapel in the grounds of
Ludlow Hall and she had mixed feelings about the entire business.
Today was the first time she’d really seen inside her old home
since Nico Ferranti had sprinkled money like fairy dust. Honesty
had her admit that the house looked fabulous, but she missed her
previous life and the people in it too much. Money had always been
tight with not much left over to indulge in the pretty things as
her mother had called soft furnishings.

The grand hall
was filled with round tables and chairs covered in pristine white
cotton. Heavy brocade curtains in deep jewel colours spilled onto
the floor from windows that arched almost to the ceiling.
Glittering chandeliers, dripping with clear crystals bathed the
room in light. The effect was one of quiet good taste edged with
luxury. Pink and cream wild roses spilled out of tall centre-pieces
on the tables, swept over the arches and wound around staircase
balustrades. Nico’s expert team obviously knew how to put on a
wedding.

She checked the
soft pink roses were still fresh between each tier of the cake and
nearly jumped out of her skin at the deep voice too close behind
her.

“It is a work
of art. You are not a guest? I understand you are a friend of the
groom.”

Turning to the
harsh unsmiling face of Nico, for a moment Bronte lost the power of
speech. He wore a dark bespoke suit which hugged those enormous
shoulders and lean, muscular thighs. Along with a snowy shirt and a
silk tie the precise colour of his eyes. Heavy silver cufflinks
peeped out from the sleeves. Black hair was brushed back and
immaculate, merely enhancing the smooth skin, the plains and
valleys of his brows and cheekbones. Eyes, almost black with what
looked like possession, swept over her face and settled on her
mouth. Bronte felt the heat of mortification rush into her cheeks
as she realised she’d been openly staring, again.

Add in the fact
that he smelt amazing and Nico Ferranti in all his finery was quite
the package. He was too close and judging by her body’s reaction to
him, too dangerous.

Rubbing damp
palms down the front of her crisp white apron, Bronte felt like
Cinderella at the Ball minus the gown and glass slippers.

Her hormones
buzzed like bees in her system. She studied his expressionless mask
and found it difficult to swallow. He was still angry with her. It
was ridiculous to be so nervous of him. What on earth could he do
to her in the middle of a room full of staff?

“We almost
never mix business with pleasure. It’s not a good idea. But we will
attend this evening and have a drink with the happy couple. Rosie
loves to burn up the dance floor.” Mortified, Bronte realised she
was babbling. And decided she really needed to get a grip.

Unable to meet
his eyes she focused instead on his chin, which was a mistake since
just above it was that amazing mouth with the sensual bottom lip.
It was important to Bronte to apologise for her behaviour this
morning. She’d deliberately insulted him. There was nothing worse
than being in the wrong.

“Look, I want
to apologise for my behaviour ...”

Before Bronte
could finish her carefully rehearsed speech, he took her hand,
rubbing his finger over the back of her knuckles as his eyes caught
and held hers.

“Please, do not
worry. I should have made it clear the letter was an invitation and
not another offer. But I could not resist bringing the spark to
your eyes. You are quite beautiful when you are angry.”

She was?

Then she
wondered if it was an Italian thing the way he always wanted to
touch her, because she seriously wished he wouldn’t since it kept
her off balance and scrambled her brain cells.

A commotion at the
entrance alerted them to the presence of a tiny flower girl with
black curls, flushed cheeks and over excited eyes.

A pink circlet
of flowers hung at a crazy angle on her head. Spotting the wedding
cake, she let out a yell and headed straight for it.

Bronte moved to
intercept, scooped her up in her arms with a laugh and spun her
round to delighted squeals and giggles.

“Oh, no you
don’t, Melissa Jane Lucas. You can have cake after the ceremony.”
She gave the child a big kiss on her rosy cheek. Melissa dimpled
adorably so Bronte indulged herself with a soft kiss on the small
nose and adjusted the circlet of flowers on her dark head. “And
don’t you look like a princess? Are those new shoes?”

Three year old
Melissa dressed in pink silk taffeta with huge puffed sleeves and
skirt that made her look like an irresistible fairy, batted big
blue eyes. She arched a foot that wore butter soft ballet pumps in
white leather, nodded and stuck a thumb in her mouth. Someone,
Bronte realised with a smile, had missed her nap.

“There you
are.” The pregnant sister of the groom, looking flushed, plucked
Melissa out of her arms and air-kissed Bronte’s cheek. “Thank you.
I’m going to enter this one for the sprint in the Olympics. Gosh
the cake looks fabulous, darling. You are so clever.”

She stared at
Nico with a look in her eye that was pure female checking out an
attractive male. With a roll of her eyes at Bronte, she rushed off
with Melissa gazing longingly at the cake over her shoulder.

For a big man,
Nico moved fast.

His breath sent
a frisson of awareness from her neck to her toes.

The firm hand
at her waist and deep voice in her ear made her tremble in
reaction.

“Good with
children too, I’m impressed.”

The words might
have been like a dagger to the heart, but the low suggestive purr
in his throat scorched her cheeks. His breath fanned her ear, the
scent of him making her head spin. She knew it wasn’t his fault, he
had no idea she may never have a child.

Emotions all
over the place, instinctively Bronte moved out of reach.

The hot
expression in his eyes cooled and the realisation she’d annoyed him
again made the nerves in her stomach wind even tighter.

The man tied
her every logical thought in knots.

“It’s all part
of the job.”

She took
another step back, cleared her throat and smoothed the table cloth
with a hand that was far from steady.

He took a step
forward and she forced herself not to retreat.

“Have dinner
with me tonight,” he said, without taking his eyes off her face. It
wasn’t a request.

As a result of
her stomach clutching, her chin lifted with sheer bravado.

“No, thank
you.”

Dark eyes
explored her face as his thumb caressed her jaw. He studied her
mouth as if it was the last Belgian chocolate in the box.
Attraction flooded her system and his pupils dilated as his eyes
stayed on hers.

She couldn’t
look away.

“Scared,
Bronte?” His husky voice deepened his accent.

Terrified
actually. “Now you’re being ridiculous.” Why couldn’t she breathe?
Bravado leaked away to be replaced by a dark longing, a response to
the soft seduction of his accent.

“Prove it,”
Nico demanded.

Grey eyes
challenged hers and she studied him for a long moment. Taking a
breath, she stepped out of his touch. “I’m attending the party this
evening, or had you forgotten?”

“What time did
you rise this morning?”

She
blinked.

What had that
got to do with anything? “Six o’clock.”

“Then you need
to eat. We have a new chef, what do you say? I’ve been invited too.
We can have a few dances with the band, have dinner and return
later for the disco. We appear to have got off on the wrong foot,
Bronte. This way we can have a chance to get to know one
another.”

He took her
hand and rubbed his thumb across her knuckles, again the sensation
sent shock waves through her system. That voice went dark and low.
“Please,
cara
.”

Bronte hissed
out a breath as her hormones fizzed.

Temptation
whispered in her ear, it would save her heating up a pizza. The new
chef was supposed to be brilliant too. Perhaps they could get to
know one another and perhaps he would realise how much her home
meant to her.

Almost swaying
on her feet, she wondered if this devastating and exciting
sensation was the elusive chemistry that Rosie was always going on
about. For the first time in months, she felt truly alive.

BOOK: Reckless Nights in Rome
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