The Italian’s Suitable Wife




His lips hovered above hers. Would they make contact? They never had before, no matter how much she ached for it. He started to lower his head and her heart kicked up its pace. Yes. Oh, yes. This would be the time. But even as she strained toward him, he began to back away. His image dissolved completely as the discordant note of a ringing telephone tugged her toward consciousness.

Gianna Lakewood picked up the cordless handset still half immersed in dreamland, a land where Enrico DiRinaldo was no engaged to supermodel, Chiara Fabrizio.

Her voice still husky from sleep and the emotions elicited by her dream, she said, “Hello?”

“Gianna, there’s been an accident.”

The sound of Andre DiRinaldo’s voice brought her eyes wide open as tension immediately tightened her grip on the phone.

“An accident?” she asked, sitting bolt upright and flipping on the bedside light almost in the same motion.

“Porco miseria. How do I say this?” He hesitated while she waited with a premonition of dread for what was to come.”It is Enrico. He is in a coma.”

“Where is he?” she demanded, jumping out of bed and clutching the phone to her ear, her green eyes wild with the fear coursing through her. She didn’t ask what happened. She could find that out later. She needed to know where Rico was and how soon she could get there. She started shucking out of her pajamas.

“He is in a hospital in New York.” New York? She hadn’t even known Rico was in the States, but then she’d avoided news of him since his engagement to Chiara had been announced two months ago. She hopped over to the night stand; one let still encased in cotton pajama bottoms, and grabbed a notepad and pen from the drawer.

“Which one?” She wrote it down. “I’ll be there as soon as I can!”

She hung up before Andre could say another word. He would understand. He had thought to call her even though it was the middle of the night whereas Rico’s parents would have waited until morning in misguided courtesy. Because Rico’s brother knew Gianna had loved Enrico DiRinaldo since she was fifteen years old.

Eight years of unnoticed and unrequited love, even his recent engagement to another woman had not been able to dampen those feelings. She rushed around her tiny apartment, throwing together the necessary items for her trip to New York. She considered checking into flights, but discarded the idea. It was a two ad a half hour drive, but it would take longer to get to the airport, book a flight and make the plane trip to New York.

She wasn’t the DiRinaldos. She couldn’t command first class attention, or even hope to get on the next available flight unless an economy seat was vacant. She didn’t bother to take a brush to her chestnut brown, waist length hair, leaving it in the braid she slept in. Nor did she take time to throw on makeup. She barely dressed, leaving off her bra and slipping into a worn pair of jeans, lightweight sweater and tennis shoes, no socks.

A scant two hours later she walked into the hospital and asked to see Rico.

The woman behind the information desk looked up and asked, “Are you family?”

“Yes.” She lied without compunction.

The DiRinaldos had always said she was family. The only family she had left. The fact she could claim no blood relation was irrelevant at the moment. The woman nodded.

“I’ll call an orderly to take you up.”

Five minutes that felt life five hours later, a young man dressed in green scrubs came to lead her to ICU.

“I’m glad you’re here. We called his family in Italy three hours ago,” so just before Andre had called her, “and they wont be here for another five to six hours. In cases like this having loved ones around in the first hours can make all the difference.”

Well she wasn’t a loved one, but she loved and she supposed that had to count for something.

“What do you mean, cases like this?”

“You know Mr. DiRinaldo is in a coma?”


“Comas are very mysterious things, even with all the medical knowledge we have today. There’s a case to be made for the presence of important people in the patient’s life bringing him out of the coma.”

The orderly said this with a certain acidic bite she didn’t understand. They stopped at the nurse’s station and she was given instructions for her visit with Rico. She also learned why the orderly had seemed so knowledeable about Rico’s condition. He was actually the intern working with the ICU doctor on call.

She walked into the ICU unit, her eyes not taking in the medical paraphernalia surrounding Rico. All she could see was the man in the bed. Six feet four inches of vitality as lifeless as a waxwork doll. Eyelids covered the compelling silver eyes she loved so much. His face was badly bruised and shoulder was splotched with purple as well.

He didn’t appear to be wearing anything but the sheet and blanket, which covered most of his torso. His breathing was so shallow, her heart literally stopped in her chest at first because she thought he wasnt breathing at all.

She moved forward until she stood beside the bed, her lower body pressed against the metal bedrail. Her hand reached out of its own volition to touch him. She desperately needed to feel the life force beating beneath his skin. Seeing no bandages, she laid her hand very lightly over the left side of his chest. Her knees almost buckled with emotion.

The steady beat of his heart under her barely touching fingers was proof that as still as he was, as pale as he looked, Rico was still alive.

“I love you, Rico. You can’t die. Please. Don’t stop fighting.” She didn’t realise she was crying until the intern handed her a tissue to wipe at the tears sliding silently down her cheeks.

She took it and mopped up without once taking her focus off the man in bed.

“What happened?” she asked.

“They didn’t tell you?”

“I hung up before his brother had the chance. Getting here seemed more important than getting details,” she admitted.

“He was shot saving a woman from a mugging.”

“He was shot?” The only bandages she saw were on his head.

“It was just a crease-“ the orderly pointed at the white gauze strips “-along his cranium, but he fell into oncoming traffic and was hit by a car.”

“The bruises?”

“Were from the car.”

“Is there any lasting damage?”

“The doctors don’t think so, but we won’t know until he wakes up.”

There was something in his voice and her head snapped around. “Tell me.”

“The nature of some of his injuries could result in temporary or permanent paralysis, but there’s no way of knowing for sure until he comes out of the coma.”

“Where is the doctor?” She wanted more information, more than the opinion of an intern, no matter how knowledgeable he might be.

“He’s making rounds. He’ll be in to see Mr. DiRinaldo in a little while. You can talk to him then.”

She nodded and turned her eyes back on Rico, immediately forgetting the intern was iin the small cubicle. There was only Rico. He’d filled her world for so long, the prospect of a life without him in it made the pain she’d felt upon his engagement pale into insignificance.

“You have to wake up, Rico. You have to live. I can’t live without you. None of us can. Your mother, your father, your brother…..we all need you. Please don’t leave us. Don’t leave me.”

She even forced herself to mention Chiara and his upcoming wedding.

“You’ll be married and on your way to being a papa soon, Rico. I know that is what you want. You always aid you were going to have a houseful of children.”

She’d hoped with the naïve dreams of a girl that those babies would be hers, but she didn’t care if Chiara was the mother, Gianna just wanted Rico to live. She kept talking, pleading with him to wake up, not to give up and she told him over and over again how much she loved him.

She was holding Rico’s hand and willing him to come out of the coma, when the doctor came by later. He examined Rico’s chart and checked the elcetronic monitors by the bed.

“All his vital signs look good.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do to wake him up?” she asked, her throat raw from swallowing tears. The doctor shook his head.

“I’m sorry. We have already tried stimulants to no effect.”

Her hand tightened on Rico’s unmoving one.

“I guess he’ll just have to wake up on his own then. He will, you know. Rico’s got more stubborn genes than a Missouri mule.”

The doctor smiled, his tired blue eyes warming a little. “I’m sure you’re right. It’s my opinion, having family around does its part, too.”

His tone was censorious, but she didn’t feel it was directed at hr. “His parents and brothr will be here as soon as humanly possible. It’s a long flight from Milan, even on the fastest private jet in the world.”

“I’m sure you are right. It’s too bad his fiancée couldn’t see her way to staying.”

“Chiara is here, in New York?”

“Miss Fabrizio was contacted at her hotel. She came in and became hysterical at the sight of him, furious he’d risked his life for a woman too stupid to know not to walk alone at night.”

This time the censure was blatant.

“But why isn’t she here?”

Perhaps Chiara had stepped out to use the facilities or something.

“She stayed for about an hour, but when we informed her he was in a coma and we didn’t know how soon he’d come out of it, she decided to leave. She left a number to call when he wakes up.”

There was a wealth of disgust in his words.

“She must be really upset.”

Gianna looked again at Rico’s motionless countenance and had no trouble understanding his fiancé going to pieces over it. She couldn’t imagine leaving his side, but then everyone dealt with fear in their own way.

“She’ll sleep fine tonight. She insisted we prescribe her and oral sedative,” the doctor added.

Gianna nodded absently, once again focused almost entirely on Rico. She rubbed the skin of his hand with her thumb.

“He’s so warm. It’s hard to believe he isn’t sleeping normally.”

The doctor made some comments about physiological differences between coma and normal sleep that she only half listened to.

“Is it alright if I stay?” she asked, knowing it would take an orderly form each arm and one for her legs to get her to move from Rico’s bedside. Laughter rumbled in the doctor’s throat.

“If I said no?”

“I’d sneak back in wearing scrubs and a mask and hide under the bed,” she admitted, amazed she could find any humor in a hospital room with Rico lying broken in the bed.

“As I thought. Are you his sister?” the doctor asked.

She felt the blood rush into her cheeks. Should she lie again? Looking at the understanding light in the doctor’s eyes, she didn’t think she would have to.

“No, I’m a family friend.” Speculation flickered briefly in his expression before he nodded.

“I won’t tell if you won’t. It’s obvious you care. Your presence can’t hurt and may very well help enormously.”

Relief swirled through her bloodstream. “Thank you.”

“It’s all about what’s best for the patient.”

The doctor exited the cubicle thinking it was a pity his patient wasn’t engaged to the tiny woman who obviously cared so much instead of the gorgeous Amazon with a heart like a rock.

Gianna was only vaguely aware of the doctor’s departure as memories of Rico assailed her. She picked up his hand. It was heavy and she kissed his palm before laying it back on the bed, her own covering it.

“Do you remember the year Mama died? I was five and you were thirteen. You should have hated having me tag after you. Andre called me a pest often enough, but you didn’t. You held my hand and talked to me about Mama. You took me to Duomo Cathedral, such a beautiful place, and told me I could be close to Mama there. It hurt so much and I was scared, but you comforted me.”

She suppressed the memory of how different it had been a year ago when her dad died. Rico had been dating Chiara then and the other woman had no time for Gianna and had made sure Rico didn’t, either.

“Rico, I don’t want comforting now. Do you hear me? I want you to get better. I thought nothing could hurt more than when you announced your engagement. I was wrong. If you die, I don’t want to go on living. Do you hear me, Rico?”

She leaned forward, her head resting against the strong muscles of his forearm. “Please, don’t die,” she pleaded as tears once again bathed her skin and his.

She was dozing when a familiar voice repeating her name woke her up.

“Gianna? Wake up, piccolo mia.”

She lifted her head from its resting place by Rico’s thigh.

Sometime in the last five hours, she had lowered the bedrail and settled her head beside him. She needed the physical contact as a reminder that Rico was still alive. Her eyes slowly focused as she blinked in the subdued lighting of the ICU cubicle.

“Andre, where are your parents?”

He grimaced. “They left only two days ago on a cruise aboard a friend’s yacht to celebrate their anniversary. Papa insisted on complete privacy and secrecy. They won’t be back for another month and I know of no way to contact them. Rico was the only one with that information.”

He left unsaid the obvious. Rico was in no condition to share his knowledge with them. Her insides twisted when she thought of the reaction Rico’s parents would have to the news of their son’s accident and Andre’s inability to reach them.

“If he dies….” Andre’s emotion filled voice trailed off. She glared at the younger version of Rico.

“He won’t die. I won’t let him,” she said fiercely.

Andre reached out and squeezed her shoulder, but said nothing. He didn’t need to. They both knew she could not will Rico to live, but that wouldn’t stop her from trying.

“The doctor said there has been no change in his condition since it stabilized after he was brought in.”


She’d been there for every blood pressure check, every time a nurse came in and read his monitors, marking the stats down on his chart.

“When did you arrive?” he asked. She shrugged.

“A couple hours after you called.”

“The drive is longer than that.” She just looked at him and he sighed.

“It’s a good thing you didn’t get a ticket. Rico would have blasted you for it.”

“When he comes out of his coma he can lecture me all he likes about my driving.” Andre nodded.

“I know”

Then his gaze skirted the room as if looking for something.

“Where’s Chiara? I thought she was supposed to be with him on this trip. She’s modelling in some show while Rico attends the banking conference.”

She told him what the doctor had said and Andre cursed eloquently in Italian, then switched to Arabic when he saw the way her face turned red.

“I’m sorry. She’s just such a bitch and my brother’s too smitten to see it.”

The image of a love struck Rico was both painful and funny.

“I can’t quite imagine Rico’s judgement completely obliterated by a pretty face, Andre. I’m sure there are things about Chiara that he genuinely admires. He’s marrying her after all. He must love her.”

Even saying the words hurt, but she gritted her teeth against the pain of acknowledging Rico’s desire for another woman.

Andre snorted. “More likely he’s sexually obsessed with her. She knows how to use her body to its best advantage.”

If her face had been red before, now it was flaming.


Andre sighed. “You’re so innocent, piccolo.”

She didn’t want to dwell on her twenty three year old virginal status. She’d never wanted any man but Rico and he’d never seen her as anything other than a younger sister.

“How was your flight?”

Andre shook his head. “I don’t know. I spent the entire time praying and worrying.”

She reached out and gripped his hand, never letting go of her connection with the man in the bed.

“He’ll be alright, Andre. He has to.”

“Have you eaten since you got here?”

“I haven’t been hungry.”

“It’s hours past breakfast,” he admonished her.

And that was how the next four days went. Rico was moved to a private room, per Andre’s instructions. Gianna took the opportunity to shower. Other than that, she refused to leave Rico’s room. She spent every moment, waking and dozing, by Rico’s bedside. Andre bullied her into eating and drinking only by bringing the food and beverages into Rico’s room.

Chiara came to see Rico once a day and stayed for five minutes each time. she looked at Gianna with a mixture of scorn and pity.

“Do you really think this incessant vigil will make the least difference? He’ll wake up when he wakes up and then he will want me by his side.”

Gianna didn’t bother to argue. No doubt Chiara was right, but it didn’t matter. It was three in the morning on the fifth day. The hospital halls were quiet, the nurse had taken Rico’s vitals at midnight and no staff had come to disturb the silence of his room since. Andre was asleep on the reclining chair in the corner. Gianna couldn’t doze, so she was talking and touching Rico. She brushed his arm and looked lovingly into his still face.

“I love you, Rico. More than my own life. Please wake up. I don’t care if it’s to marry Chiara and give her all the babies I want to have. I don’t care if you kick me out of your life after hearing what a besotted fool I’ve been the last five days. Just wake up.” She said the last on a note of desperation and was hoping so fiercely for him to make some sign he’d heard that when he moved, she thought she’d imagined it.

The muscles of his arms spasmed and his head jerked from side to side. She pressed the call button while shouting to Andre.

“He’s coming out of it! Andre, wake up!”

Andre came out of the chair fully alert. After that, everything was a blur. The nurse came running in. Soon she was followed by a doctor and then another nurse.

Andre and Gianna were shooed out of the room.

Then came the waiting.

Gianna paced while Andre first sat and then stood, then paced, then sat again. Finally, the doctor came into the waiting room. It was the same one who’d been on call the night Rico had been brought in. He smiled at Andre and Gianna.

“He’s awake, but he’s a little disoriented. You can see him for five minutes one at a time.”

Andre went first. He came back to the waiting room, his expression troubled. She was desperate to see Rico and would have brushed by Andre without a word, but

his hand snaked out and grabbed her.

“Wait, cara. There is something I must tell you.”

“What is it?” Andre swallowed convulsively and then met her gaze head-on. The look of anguish in his eyes terrified her.

“What’s wrong? He hasn’t gone back into a coma, has he?”

“No. He…” Andre took a deep breath and let it out.

“He can’t move his legs.”




Rico’s eyes were fixed on the doorway when Gianna walked in. She couldn’t miss the expression of disappointment that clouded his expression briefly before he masked it.

“Hello, piccola mia. Did Andre ask you to come and keep him company waiting for me to wake up?”

The endearment did things to her heart when Rico said it that didn’t happen when Andre called her his little one. She smiled, her relief that he was talking so acute, she couldn’t get a word past the blockage in her throat for several seconds. She stopped beside the bed, noticing someone had raised the guardrail. “I couldn’t have been kept away,” she said with more honesty than was probably wise. One corner of his mouth tipped up. “Always the nurturer. I still remember the cat…” His words trailed off. He looked tired.

Exhausted, really. “He turned out to be a lovely pet.”

“So Mama thought. She gave him the run of the place until he died,” he replied, speaking of a tabby cat she had rescued from the road after it had been injured when she was ten.

“Pamela was furious with me and wanted to call the animal people to come take it away,” she said, speaking of her stepmother. Gianna smiled. “You wouldn’t let her.”

“What kind of cat do you have now?” She’d always had pets, usually strays picked up from somewhere, but once there had been a puppy her parents had given her when she was four. He’d been a wonderful friend and she’d cried buckets when he died. “I don’t have any animals.” His face registered surprise. “That’s not like you.” It wasn’t by choice.

She lived in campus housing and pets weren’t allowed. She had no intention of burdening Rico with her problems, however. So she just smiled again and hrugged. “You haven’t asked how I’m feeling.” She gripped the bedrail to stop herself from touching him. She’d gotten so used to the freedom over the past five days. “You look like you’ve been pummeled on the playground by the school bully. I don’t imagine you feel much better.” That made him chuckle and she rejoiced in the sound. Then he sobered. “My legs don’t move.” His expression and voice had gone blank. She couldn’t resist the urge to take his hand. “They will. You’ve got to be patient. You’ve had a terrible experience. Your body is still in shock”

His eyes remained unreadable, but his hand returned her grip with betraying fierceness. “Where is Chiara?”

Oh, Heavens. Gianna had forgotten to call the other woman. She felt guilty color stain her cheeks. “l was so excited you’d come out of coma, | forgot to call.” She reluctantly pulled her hand from his. “I’ll do it right away.”

“Tell her to come round in the morning.” His eyes closed. “I’ll be more myself then.”

“All right.” She moved toward the door. “Sleep well, caro,” she whispered. The endearment was so common it was like saying hey you, but she said it with a surfeit of emotion she prayed he could not hear. He didn’t reply.

Rico waited impatiently for Chiara to come. Andre and Gianna had both been in to see him again this morning and stayed until he had tired. Gianna looked exhausted and thinner than he remembered. He wondered if her job as an assistant professor was taking too much out of her. He’d have to talk to his mother about it.

But even exhausted, Gianna exuded an innocent sensuality that he’d never been completely able to ignore. At times it had made him feel guilty because his body reacted even though his mind saw her as more sister than woman. Regardless of his body’s baffling response, he’d never once considered pursuing it. He didn’t bed virgins and until recently, marriage had held no appeal. His damn legs still wouldn’t move and the doctors could not tell him if the paralysis was permanent or not. Gianna was convinced it was temporary and had said so again that morning.

She was such a sweet little thing. He was surprised she wasn’t married yet. She’d be twenty-four next year, but then American women married later, he thought. It was too bad Andre didn’t see her as marriage material. Rico wouldn’t mind having her in the family.

A surge of something dark and inexplicable stabbed him at the image of Andre

Walking down the aisle with Gianna. He tried to convince himself it was because Rico didn’t know if he would be able to walk down the aisle with Chiara when the time came. He could very well still be in a wheelchair. But something ugly had shifted in him at the thought of Gianna married. Was he such an egoist he couldn’t stand the thought of losing her innocent adoration? The thought did not sit well.

“Caro! You mustn’t glare like that. You’ll scare the nurses off and then who will bring you your lunch?” A trill of laughter accompanied Chiara into the room. He watched his beautiful fiancée’s entrance. Any man would be proud to claim Chiara for his own, but she belonged to Rico. “Give me a kiss and I won’t feel like frowning any more.”

She made a moue with her mouth. “Naughty man. You’re sick.”

“So kiss me and make it better,” he taunted.

Something flickered in her eyes but she came forward and offered her lips for a brief salute.

He wanted to demand more, but he allowed her to step back from the bed. “You weren’t here last night,” he said.

Her eyes filled with tears and her expression was wounded.

“That brother of yours and the little paragon,” she must have meant Gianna, “they kept me out of it. They didn’t call me for hours after you woke up.”

Why hadn’t his brother called Chiara right away?

“They were here. You were not.”

The tears spilled over. “That horrible girl! She’s infatuated with you. She wouldn’t leave your side. There wasn’t even room for me next to the bed. Half the staff are convinced she’s your fiancée.”

He couldn’t imagine Gianna doing something so cruel. “You’re exaggerating.” Chiara spun away and her shoulders shook with misery. “I’m not.”

“Come here, bella.”

She turned around and returned to stand by the bed, her face wet with tears.

“She lied to get into your room the first night. She told them she was related to you. And she never left, just like some pathetic clinging vine.”

“Everyone was upset.”

“But I’m your fiancee. I want you to tell her to stop acting like she is and not to spend so much time here at the hospital. I don’t want to be tripping over her.”

“Are you jealous?” he asked, the thought not unpleasant considering the state of his body.

She pouted with expert effect. “Maybe, a little.”

“I’ll talk to her,” he promised.

Gianna walked into Rico’s room an hour after she’d woken from the first unbroken stretch of sleep she’d had in six nights. Andre had insisted she take the other bedroom in his suite, saying it was just going to waste until his parents could arrive. She’d been grateful as her budget did not stretch to Manhattan hotel prices or taxi fares from a less expensive part of the city. She hadn’t relished the thought of sleeping in her car or depleting her small savings account to nothing.

Rico looked up, his smile of greeting conspicuous in its shortness. She stopped a few feet from the bed. “You look better.”

And he did. His skin wasn’t so pale under the tan and his eyes were clearer.

“Gianna, we need to talk.” He’d found out how she had refused to leave his side. He knew she loved him and he pitied her. She swallowed the knot of pain her pride had lodged in her throat.


“You are like a sister to me.”

She hid the pain those words caused, but remained silent.

“You care about my health and this is understandable, but cara, you must not push Chiara aside in your concern for me.”

He thought she’d pushed his fiancee to the side? Gianna wanted to defend herself, but to do so would require telling him Chiara hadn’t wanted to be with Rico when he was so sick. She couldn’t do it. It would hurt him too much when he was vulnerable from his injuries.

“I didn’t mean to push her aside,” she said instead.

“I did not think you did. You are too tenderhearted to deliberately hurt someone like that, but you must be more considerate in future, no?”

She nodded, Choking on the words she wanted to say. “I’ll try,” she promised.

“Chiara does not want you visiting so often” Rico went on.

“What do you want, Rico?” she asked helplessly.

“I want my fiancee to be happy. This is a trying time for her. I do not want her upset further.”

It was a trying time for him too, but Rico never considered his own needs. He thought only of protecting those he loved.

“Andre said you refuse to contact your parents.”

“No need for them to cut short their holiday.”

“Your mother would want to be here.”

“I do not want to be fussed over.” The impatience in his voice made her smile.

“I’m surprised you’re not working.”

“San celio. Andre refuted to bring in the laptop and the doctor ordered the phone removed when he found me talking to our office in Milan last night.”

“What time last night?” she asked, pretty sure she knew the answer.

“What time do you think? When the office opened.”

Which would have been roughly 3:00 am. No wonder the doctor had the phone removed. She shook her head. “You are supposed to be resting. How can you get better if you won’t let your body recuperate?”

“What choice have I?” he demanded, indicating his still legs below the blanket.

She took several involuntary steps forward until she was next to the bed. She laid her small hand across his large one.

“You don’t have any choice right now, but you will get better.”

His silver gaze caught hers and his hand turned until their fingers were entwined. “Cara, you always believe the best, no?”

She nodded, unable to speak. The feel of his hand holding hers was such a sweet torment she didn’t want words to intrude.

“I believe the best also. I will walk again.”

 He said it with such arrogance, how could she help believing him?

“When have you merely walked, Rico?” she asked with a husky voice she did not recognize.

His free hand came up and cupped her Cheek and a look she did not understand passed across his face. She went completely still, allowing every fiber of her being to absorb the delicious feeling produced by his touch. It would be gone all too soon and she didn’t want to waste a moment of it.

His eyes narrowed. “Chiara believes you are infatuated with me, Cara.”

“l…” She swallowed.

“I told her you are like my sorello piccola.”

Like his little sister? Yes, she knew he saw her that way, but she did not look on him as a big brother and her senses were running riot with his hand on her cheek and his fingers entwined with hers.


Her brushed his thumb across her lips and she shivered. Silver eyes turned gunmetal gray.

“You are cold?”

“No,” she whispered. Why was he touching her like this?

“What is going on in here?” Chiara’s voice raised in furious censure broke the spell of Rico’s touch and Gianna jumped back. She forgot her hand linked with his and was pulled up like a dog at the end of its leash as his hold on her did not lessen. She tugged against her hand, but Rico didn’t let go. He was looking at Chiara, his expression unreadable.

“I am visiting with Gianna. She is not too busy to spend more than five minutes in my company.”

Two things became appatent to Gianna at once. Chiara was jealous and Rico knew it.

“I’ve spoken to Gianna about letting you take your rightful place at my side, but you must be here to do so, bella.” Chiara’s beautiful face turned red with temper and she glared at their entwined hands.

“I am on assignment. You know I cannot spend every waking moment at the hospital like your pet limpet.”

“She has her own job. Yet she finds the time.” He hadn’t even bothered to protest the pet limpet remark, so she did it. She yanked on her hand. Hard. He let go.

“I’m no one’s pet, Chiara. I’m a friend and I didn’t realize my visiting Rico would upset you so much.”

Chiara’s glare did not lessen. “You expect me to believe that, the way you’ve carried on for the last week. Andre treats me with contempt and you, he insists on keeping in his own suite at the hotel.”

“You are staying with Andre?” Rico demanded, a tone in his voice that sounded very much like disapproval.

“There are two bedrooms in the suite. I’m using one until your parents arrive.”

“They aren’t coming.”

“Because you won’t call them,” she said with some exasperation.

He ignored that. “It is not seemly for you to stay with an unmarried man alone in his hotel suite.”

“It would be even less seemly for me to sleep in my car.”

“Per favore, spare us the dramatics,” Chiara jeered.

Gianna wanted to smack the beautifully painted red lips, but she wasn’t a violent person…at least she never had been. She supposed there was a first time for everything.

“Where I stay is neither of your business,” she said firmly.

Chiara’s eyes shot disdain at Gianna. “It is when you take advantage of the generosity of my fiancée’s family to keep yourself underfoot and in the way.”

“Stop playing the shrew and come here. I want my kiss of greeting,” Rico demanded of Chiara.

He hadn’t bothered to deny she was in the way and for all Gianna knew, he felt the same as his fiancee. He’d told her not to visit him as much. But he had taken Chiara to task for being rude. That was something at least. Still, perhaps it was time for Gianna to go back to Massachusetts. She hadn’t had her position long enough to accrue significant vacation time and since she wasn’t related to Rico by blood, the university administration did not see her absence as a family emergency. The department head had already made one not very veiled threat regarding her job if she wasn’t in class teaching the following Monday.

Chiara was obeying Rico with an overkill of enthusiasm. Gianna turned to give the couple some privacy, but the kiss lasted minutes. Finally, the pain of being in the room with the man she loved while he kissed nother woman got to her and she walked out, sure they wouldn’t notice.

“I told you she had a crush on you.”

Chiara’s voice floated out the open door and down the hallway to where Gianna waited for the elevator. Gianna felt waves of mortified color sweep up her skin. She’d spent eight years nursing a secret love and to have it laid bare for that witch to mock was more than she could bear.

She was furious with Rico too. He’d used her to make his barracuda of a fiancee jealous. All that touching that had meant so much to her had been nothing more than a ploy to keep Chiara in line. Evidently Rico didn’t approve of his fiancée’s flying visits any  more than Gianna and Andre did.

“Gianna’s feelings for me are of no concern to you.” Rico could hear the bite in his voice and did nothing to mitigate it. Chiara’s kiss had not blinded him to her vicious attitude toward Gianna, an attitude he would not tolerate.

“And you will not speak to her again as you did when you arrived. Her genuine concern for me is not something to mock.”

Chiara’s eyes widened in shock. “How can you say these things? Another woman’s feelings toward you are definitely my concern.”

“Gianna is no threat to you.” But even as he said the words, he wondered at their truth.

Would he have kissed the younger woman if Chiara had not arrived when she did? He didn’t like to believe he was capable of such a dishonorable act. His affections were committed to Chiara, but he hadn’t wanted to let go of Gianna’s hand and the feel of her soft lips under his fingertips had caught at his emotions in a way Chiara’s extended kiss had not.

“She’s a little schemer and it devastates me that you can’t see that.” The tears welling in his fiancée’s eyes did not move him as they once whould have done.

She’d spent too little time at his bedside and her complaints about Gianna simply did not ring true. He wondared just who the schemer in this situation really was.

 Gianna waited until the following evening to visit Rico again. He was talking on a hospital phone and typing on a laptop set up on a desk across his legs when she came in. She smiled wryly to herself. Nothing and no one could keep Rico out of business circulation for long. He looked up and spotted her.

He motioned to a chair near the bed and she sat down, waiting patiently for him to finish his call. Lines around his eyes made him look tired, but he had more color and his jet black hair had been washed and styled in its usual neat fashion.

He wore a navy-blue silk pajama jacket that looked brand new. It probably was. She didn’t imagine Rico was the type of man to wear pajamas to bed. He rang off and moved the desk with the portable computer aside.

“Been busy sightseeing?” he asked with an edge to his voice.

“Sightseeing?” she asked incredulously.

“You have not been in to see me since yesterday morning.” He needn’t sound so accusing.

“You said Chiara didn’t like me visiting so much.”

“I did not mean for you to stop coming all together.” Silver eyes snapped their disapproval at her. “For all you knew I had slipped back into a coma.”

He was being totally unreasonable and for some reason she found that terribly endearing. It was almost as if he’d missed her.

“I’m here now,” she said soothingly, “and Andre would have told me if you’d taken a turn for the worse.”

“Si. Andre, whom you share your hotel room with.”

“We don’t share a room.” She examined his face for a clue to the source of his irritability.

“Are you in pain?”

He glared at her. “l have been shot and hit by a car driven by a man who could not see his hand in front of his face in a brightly lit room. Of course I have some pain.”

He sounded so outraged, she had to stifle a grin. “I don’t think the driver was expecting a man to fall in the street in front of him.”

Rico dismissed that with a flick of his hand. “Blind fool,” he muttered.

“Andre said you saved the

woman’s life. They caught the mugger and he had a

list of


prior offenses as long as your arm, most of them



violent assault and he’d already killed two women.”



had also told her that the woman had come by the



to thank Rico, but he had told his security to keep

out all


visitors except her, his brother and Chiara. “You

wouldn’t let


her thank you.” “I do not need this thanks. I am a

man. I


could not drive by and do nothing.” “If you ask me,



more than an average man.” She smiled at him,

letting him


see her approval. “You’re a hero.” His eyes warmed



“Chiara believes all this,” he indicated his unmoving

legs, “is


my fault.” Giannajumped up and laid her hand



on his arm. “No. You mustn’t think that. You were

being the


best kind of man. You paid a price, but you wouldn’t

let that


stop you from doing it again.” His hand came up to

hold hers


and she was reminded of the day before, both of the

wonderful feelings his touch invoked and the way

she’d felt


used when she realized he’d touched her only to



Chiara jealous. She pulled her hand away and

stepped back.


“I don’t plan to stay long,” she said quickly, lest he

think she


was clinging like the limpet Chiara had accused her

of being.


“Why? Do you have a hot date with Andre?” he



scathingly, his unreasonable anger back in full force.



taking me to dinner, but I’d hardly call it a hot date.”

“Do not


pin your spinsterish hopes on my brother. He is not

ready to


settle down.” She clenched her teeth. “I’m not



anything on him, much less a desire to marry. We’re

going to


dinner because he doesn’t mind my company.” “I do



mind your company.” He pointed at his chest with an

arrogant finger. “You could have dinner here, with



“What’s the matter, can’t Chiara get away from her



modeling schedule to share a meal with you?”

Gianna asked


with uncharacteristic bite, still stinging from the way

he had


used her to make the other woman jealous the day



His remark about spinsterish hopes had done

nothing to


make her feel more charitable toward him, either.

His look


could have stripped paint. “My fiancee is none of





Gianna’s heart melted. It had been a rotten thing to

say and


she just knew all that anger was hiding pain. Chiara

was a


totally selfish person who wouldn’t know how to put



out for another human being if her life depended on



Worse, here was Rico, tired, in pain, not sure if he’d



again and Gianna doing her best to act like a witch

as well.


“I could call Andre and ask him to pick up dinner and

bring it


here,” she offered by way of a peace offering. “I will



him.” And he did just that. He made arrangements



Andre in a burst of staccato Italian before hanging


up the


phone. “I told him to get you your own room.” “I

heard you,


but it won’t be necessary. I’ll only be staying one

more night.


Surely my reputation and his virtue will be able to



such a short test.” Rico looked disgruntled. “I did not

say you


would attack him.” “How else would a spinster like



expect to get a macho Italian male like your brother

to the


altar?” “Why do you say you will only be staying one



night?” he asked, sidestepping her taunting words.



going home tomorrow.” “Why would you do this? I

am not


well. Do you see me ready to leave this place?” He



like a man ready to explode. She couldn’t imagine

why. “You


don’t need me to stay and hold your hand. You’ve

got Andre


and Chiara. And your fiancee doesn’t like having me


underfoot.” The words still rankled. “You did not

remain by


my bedside for five solid days for Chiara’s sake.” So,



knew about her vigil. Probably realized how much



him, too, which was all the more reason for her to

leave. Her


pride had already been dented but good by Chiara’s



comments. “You’re better now.” He reached out and



her wrist, pulling her close to the bed. His

expression was


intense, the hold on her wrist almost bruising. “I am

not well.


I am not walking.” “But you will walk.”


Frustration was apparent in the set of his firm lips.

“Yes. You


believe this. I believe this, but my brother, my

fiancee, they


have their doubts.” “You’ll just have to prove them



He nodded, heartwarming in his arrogant confidence

of his


return to full health. “I do not wish to do this alone.”

Such an


admission from Rico was astonishing and she

couldn’t gather


her wits enough to respond. “I need you here,

believing in


me, cara” She almost fainted, she was so shocked

at his


words. “You need me?” she asked in a choked



“Stay.” It sounded more like an arrogant command

than a


plea for her support, but Gianna knew what it had

cost him


to say it and she could not refuse. “Okay.” He smiled



pulled her close for a kiss of gratitude. At least that’s



she assumed it was supposed to be, but Rico kissed



not her cheek and the moment their mouths



their surroundings ceased to exist for her.



COLORS in every hue swirled around her as

Gianna’s lips


tasted Rico’s for the first time. His mouth was firm,



and tasted faintly spicy. She inhaled and was

engulfed in his


masculine scent. Rico. She ached to run her fingers



his hair, to explore the contours of his chest under



pajama jacket. She probably would have, if he didn’t



such a firm hold on her wrist. Her other hand was



the bedrail with white-knuckle intensity. He broke the



and she hung there, suspended in a world of

sensation she


was not ready to leave. Her eyes opened slowly to

see him


smiling at her. “Thank you.”


“Thank you?” For what? For kissing him?


“For staying,” he replied, not without some

amusement. And


it hit her. It had been a kiss of gratitude. Here she



poised to reconnect with his lips and he was smiling

at her


like an indulgent older brother, pleased he’d gotten

his own


way. She straightened and spun away so quickly the



braid down her back arced over her shoulder to land



her left breast.


“N-no problem. I’ll call the college and let them know

I won’t


be returning right away.” She had a feeling that

phone call


wouldn’t go over very well, but even if it meant losing



job, she wouldn’t leave Rico. Not as long as he

needed her.


Andre arrived with dinner and Rico ate the



prepared pasta dishes and steamed vegetables with



“This is a great improvement over the food served



“You could have your meals delivered,” Andre



Rico shrugged. “It has not been my main concern.”

No, Gianna thought, that would be reserved for

business and


walking again. Maybe even in that order.

“Something that does concern me is Gianna staying

in your


hotel room. I do not like this.”


Andre gave his brother an interested appraisal.

“Why not?”


“It is not good for her reputation.”


Gianna couldn’t help laughing at this. “Rico, you’re a



throwback. No one cares if I stay in Andre’s suite.”


“I care,” Rico informed her with an attitude that said



was all that should matter. “Well, you are not my



haven’t got the money for a prolonged stay in a hotel



Particularly if she lost herjob.


“I will pay for it.”


She glared at him. “No, you will not.”


“Besides, there is no need,” Andre inserted. “My

suite has


two bedrooms and since you won’t call Papa and

Mama back


from their cruise, the second one will go empty if



does not stay in it.”


She thought Andre’s argument had merit. From the



tilt to Rico’s chin, he did not agree.


He pinned her with a look that sent shivers to places

she had


yet to discover.


“You will, allow Andre to care for your needs, but

you refuse


my help?”


She barely suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “It’s

not the


same thing. It doesn’t cost Andre anything more to

give me


the extra room in the suite.”


“You think | begrudge you this trifling amount?” Rico



Why was he being so obtuse?


“No. Of course, not. It’s simply that I’m already

there.” She


laid aside her fork and allowed herself to make direct



contact for the first time in an hour. She’d perfected

the art


of talking to his shoulder since almost making a



fool of herself over that kiss. “I don’t know what

you’re so


worried about, Rico. My name doesn’t make it into

the social


columns on a regular basis. No one cares where I

sleep or


who I do it with for that matter.”


His expression turned feral and she found herself



to the back of her Chair, her body posed stiffly away





“You have shared your bed with a man?”


Heat scorched up her cheeks until they burned like



Chicago fire of 1908.


“That’s none of your business.”


“I do not agree.”


He looked ready to get up out of the bed and shake



answer out of her. Even knowing that was not

possible did


not suppress the shiver of apprehension that

skittered down


her spine. She swung her gaze to Andre, appealing

to him for


help with her eyes, but he was obviously enjoying



conversation too much to step in on her behalf.

She looked back at Rico. His expression had not

softened at




“I really don’t want to talk about this with you.”


“You will tell me the name of the man.”


Heavens. When had her silence become an



answer? And what right did he have to grill her like

this? If


Chiara were still a virgin, Gianna would dance naked

on the


top floor of the Empire State Building.


“Are you saying you and Chiara don’t sleep



“This is not under discussion.”


“Nothing is under discussion,” she came close to



“You are very red. You are embarrassed, no?”


Why bother denying it? He’d know she was lying.

Her blush


had already given her away.




“A woman of experience would not be so

discomfited,” he


said with smug assurance. That set her over the



“Are you sure about that? Maybe l’ve slept with tons

of men.


Maybe I’m even sharing Andre’s bed now and the

two room


suite is only a ruse.”


She realized she’d let her temper lead her into deep,



waters a second before he exploded. Mr. Cool



business magnate sent the portable table with his

dinner on


it careening across the room and started shouting at



Gianna spoke fluent Italian, but she didn’t recognize

some of


the words. From the ones she did, she guessed they





Andre’s usually smiling face was stiff with shock. He

tried to


tell Rico it was a joke, but Rico’s fury did not abate.



hands pounded the air, punctuating his angry

speech and if


he had been mobile, his brother would have been

flat on his


back. She was sure of it. “For Heaven’s sake.”


She jumped out of her chair and crossed to the bed,



between Rico and Andre. “Calm down. I said what if,

not that


I had. Rico—”


His arms snapped around her waist and she found



sitting next to him on the bed, her chin cradled in a

surprisingly gentle but firm hold.


“Do you sleep with my brother?”


“No. I’ve never been with any man,” she admitted,



nothing but the truth could completely diffuse the



Rico’s glare was sulfuric. “Yet you taunted me with



you had.”


She couldn’t begin to understand why it mattered so



to him. Perhaps he felt responsible for her in some

way since


her father had died. She wouldn’t have known it by

the way


he’d ignored her for the past year, but maybe the



was there all the same.


“I wasn’t taunting you. You embarrassed me and

made me


angry. Most women are not…not…” She couldn’t



herself say the word. “Well, by my age, most women



some experience.”


“But you do not.”


“I do not.” She agreed and stifled a depressed sigh.

With him


marrying Chiara, that wasn’t likely to change, either.



brushed her cheek with his fingers before dropping

his hand


from her face.


“You should not be embarrassed to speak of these

things to




She didn’t know where he’d got that from. How could



help but be embarrassed to talk about it? She’d



admitted her lack of practical application when



the subject with her girlfriends in college. But she



want to spark another outburst so she remained

silent. She


went to get up, but his arm around her waist

prevented her.




“You are very innocent.”


She grimaced. That had been well and truly

established. “If


you’re finished dissecting my lack of a love life, could

I get


up please? I want to go back to the hotel.”


His hand was warm against her waist and he was



brushing his thumb back and forth in a manner



to drive her mad or into a lustful frenzy. She wasn’t



there was much difference between the two.


“You will move to another room.”


“No.” Andre’s firm denial surprised her into looking at



regardless of the fascination Rico’s small caresses

held for


her. Andre’s face was set in hard lines. “This is New



Enrico. It would be inadvisable to allow Gianna to

stay in a


room by herself, even in a hotel with security.”

“Then I will assign one of my security people to

watch her




This conversation was growing more bizarre by the



Andre shook his head in a short, decisive negative.

“How can it be better for her to stay in a hotel room

with a


stranger, than with me?” Her attention swiveled back



Rico. He was scowling thoughtfully.


“Perhaps we should get Chiara to stay in the suite

as well.”


“No!” Andre and Gianna chorused at once. Rico’s

brows rose.


“What bothers you about this?”


How did you tell a man you could not stand his

fiancee for


dirt? Gianna cleared her throat, trying to think of a



way of putting her absolute refusal to share living

space with


the selfish witch.


“Gianna told me what Chiara said about her,” Andre



disapproval clear in his voice. “Your fiancée’s



jealousy was the reason Gianna considered going

back to


Massachusetts in the first place.”


“Now you seek to protect her from my fiancee?” Rico



with silky vitriol. “Are you sure there is nothing you

two wish


to share with me?”


She’d had about enough of Rico’s overdeveloped

sense of


responsibility toward her. She was not some

helpless female


in need of his protection. She’d been on her own, if



physically then emotionally since long before her

father had


died. Or maybe Rico really thought she’d set her

sights on


marriage to the younger DiRinaldo brother.


“This is ridiculous. I’m not about to trip Andre and try

to beat


him to the floor.”


Andre smiled all ltalian male. “Which is not to say,

cara, that


I will not be so inclined.” The hand on her waist



and Rico glared retribution at his brother.


“Your humor is misplaced.”


“So is your hand, considering you are engaged to



someone else,” Andre taunted. Rico’s hold did not



one bit. “She is practically family.”


“Is she?” Andre asked. “I wonder.”


“What I am is tired of this conversation.” She yanked



Rico’s hand at her waist. He let go and she stood up.



both fists on her hips, she directed her next words to

Rico. “If


you want me to stay in New York, it will be in Andre’s



and Chiara’s services as chaperone will not be



Even virginal spinsters have their standards and

mine don’t


run to primitive, arrogant males who talk about me

as if I’m


not even in the room.”


Rico winced at the word spinster and Andre’s



turned calculating.


“It is true, Enrico is almost medieval in his outlook,

but I am


a modern man. I do not see anything wrong with a



year-old woman remaining unmarried.”


“Fine, modern man, take me back to the hotel. I’m

ready for


some of my own company.”


Rico grumbled some more about her staying in

Andre’s suite,


but in the end he acquiesced. He didn’t have any



Gianna loved him enough to risk herjob, but that



make her a doormat.


Doormat was the last thing Rico would have called



over the next two weeks. She harangued him about



too much and not participating in his physical



sessions enough. She argued when he had the fast



line installed in his room at the private hospital he’d



to. That same day he had caught her unplugging the



beside his bed and giving it to an orderly to take

away. She’d


been unrepentant.


Whereas Chiara spent very little time at the hospital



refused to attend his sessions at all. She’d left for

Paris two


days before to model in a Fall fashion show. Which

was fine


by him. No man wanted his woman around to see



helpless and that’s how he felt with his damned

useless legs


refusing to do what he wanted them to. If a part of

him was


relieved to see the back of his fiancee and her



comments about Gianna, who could blame him.

He’d made


her angry more than once defending the younger



and was sure to do so again. He would not allow

anyone to


denigrate the girl he’d spent a good portion of his life

protecting…even from himself. Chiara’s attitude



his health had also worn thin. She said she believed



would walk again, but her eyes said not. Gianna was



reticent. She continued in her unwavering belief that



would return to his lower body in due course. She



him repeatedly that spinal shock injuries often



complete recovery given enough time, something

one of the


doctors had asserted the first week. She also not



attended the physical therapy sessions, she

participated in


them. Which he did not thank her for. He needed her



in him, not her interference.


“Get me back my phone,” he gritted at her.


She shook her head, her long chestnut braid

swinging gently


from side to side catching the light and his attention.



would the richly colored hair look like unbraided? It



easily long enough to fall past her waist. Did she

ever let it


down? It would be beautiful.


“That was the third call in fifteen minutes.” Gianna



at him like a diminutive school-teacher lecturing a



caught passing notes in class. “You aren’t going to



again talking on the phone.”


The physical therapist had the gall to nod his



“Gianna is right, Mr. DiRinaIdo. You need to

concentrate on


your therapy.”


The therapist smiled conspiratorially with Gianna

and Rico’s


blood pressure Climbed several notches. The over



blond Adonis was supposed to be the best physical



in New York, but Rico would gladly have flattened



“You wouldn’t take a phone call in the middle of



an important deal, would you?” Gianna asked.


“I am not negotiating. I am sitting here bored out of

my skull


while he,” Rico pointed to the therapist with one



“moves my legs as if that will magically make them



working on their own.”


“It’s not magic. lt’s work and I wouldn’t have thought



were afraid of hard work,” she jeered.


“Porco miseria! l, Rico DiRinaIdo, afraid to work?

You are out


of your mind.”


“Good. I’m glad you said so.” Her pixie chin set at a



angle. “Then you understand why the phone is not



for the rest of the session.”


“At least let me forward it to my answering service.”



she got back the phone, he could finish his call and

then he


would unplug it if she was so insistent. She crossed



arms, pressing surprisingly feminine curves for such



woman into prominence.


“I already did it. You’re not getting the phone back,



might as well accept it.”


He gave her the look that sent bank presidents

running for


cover, but she just stood there, arms crossed and

did not


budge. He turned to the therapist.


“Give me something to do.” The other man jumped

at the


tone of his voice and Rico felt a small measure of



that unlike Gianna, the therapist found him



Gianna knocked lightly on Rico’s door, but heard no

answering voice within. She’d made it her habit to



after breakfast and stay through the morning’s



therapy. Perhaps Rico had already been taken down

to the


treatment room. She was running a bit late. She had


overslept. The day before had been exhausting and



a late night. She’d driven to Massachusetts and back

all in


one day so she could retrieve her belongings from



furnished university apartment that was no longer

hers. Her


prediction the department head would not see her

staying in


New York in an understanding light had been right

on. But


she’d finally found something to be grateful for in the

debacle following her father’s death. When her



had sold the house, Pamela had tossed everything

she did


not want to keep personally. Which meant that



belongings fit in her car and she would not have to

go to the


expense of renting a storage facility.


When there were no answers to Gianna’s second



pushed the door open. She wouldn’t mind missing



session. They were getting more and more difficult

for her to


handle. The therapist insisted on Rico dressing in



shorts and a body hugging T-shirt for his physical



Every ripple of Rico’s muscles was visible to her



scrutiny. She felt like a voyeur watching him exercise



incredibly gorgeous body.


It would be fine if she could encourage him and be



unaffected “cheerleader” on the inside she portrayed

on the


outside, but she wasn’t. She had loved Rico since

she was


fifteen years old and wanted him almost as long.



temporary paralysis and a foul temper were no

deterrent to


those feelings. She felt like some kind of depraved

sex fiend.


The sight that met her eyes when she came into the



stopped her like a clanging train crossing.


Rico sat on the side of his bed, wearing nothing but



sexiest pair of briefs she’d ever seen. Not that her



eyes had seen all that many, but it wouldn’t have

mattered if


she’d seen a thousand men in their skivvies. This

was Rico.


He was the only man that mattered. She practically

swallowed her tongue trying to speak.


“I… You… The door…”


His head swiveled round and the look on his face

was a


revelation. He looked elated. “Rico? What…”


“You are having a difficult time with your sentences,



She nodded mutely. His mouth curved in a wide grin

and his


eyes glittered silver triumph.


“I can feel my toes.”


It took a second for the words to register, but when

they did


she flew across the room to hug him. She landed

against his


chest with all the momentum of a dead-on run. Rico



backward and she went with him, her arms wrapped



his neck, her mouth babbling her excitement.


“I knew it! I knew you could do it!”


His hard male body shook with joyous laughter



“And is it I, piccola mia, that has done this or ii buon



Laughter trilled out of her to mingle with his.


“A bit of both, I think.” She grinned down at him.

“When did




“I woke before dawn with a tingling in my feet. The



became feeling as the morning advanced.” T


he satisfaction mingled with relief in his voice tugged

at her


emotions and her heartjust melted. “Oh, Rico…”

“Do not turn into a waterworks on me, woman.”


Her smile was misty, but she managed to blink back

any real


tears. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m just so happy,” she

said in


her own defense.


Then she did something she would never have done

had she


been thinking clearly. She kissed him. It was just a



salute on his chin, but her lips didn’t want to move



landed against Rico’s warm, stubble covered jaw.



wanted to go on kissing him, tasting his skin,

nibbling at his


neck. She knew she had to move away, but she

couldn’t do


it. She told herself she would let it lastjust one more



and then she would get off him and let him get



Then it hit her. Where she was. What she was doing.



was barely dressed and she was plastered all over

him like a


sticky blanket. She reared up, which had the effect



pressing her legs in a V over his thigh and pushing

her skirt


up at an indecent angle. She tried to get her knees



her to crawl off of him, but only managed to put her



into intimate contact with male flesh for the first time

in her


life. It paralyzed her. The thin silk of her panties

were no


barrier to the heat of his flesh and the erotic

stimulation of


his hairy leg between hers. She should have worn



today instead of her short boots and slouchy socks.

At least


then her thighs would not be bare against him. She

felt a


flush crawl up her body from her toes to her hairline.



heat was caused by both embarrassment and





“Rico… |…”


“You have lost your words again, piccola mia.”

Lazy amusement laced his voice. She felt like

anything but a


little girl at that moment. In fact, she’d never felt

more like a




“I’m sorry,” she muttered as she once again tried to



away from him, but two very strong hands at her

waist held


her still.


“You have nothing with which to reproach yourself.



excitement equals my own.” She doubted it. Where



excitement was limited to a very natural joy at the



of walking again, hers had a large dose of sexual



mixed in. The hands at her waist moved and she

found her


face directly above Rico’s.


“I am happy, cara.”


“Me, too.” She tried to control her breathing, but

pulling air


into her lungs had become an Olympic event.


His mouth quirked. “I could tell.”


“Could you?” she asked stupidly, her mind focused

on the


ten different ways she wanted to close the gap

between his


mouth and hers.


Silver eyes flared wide and primal man came to the



as Rico became aware of her preoccupation.

“Have many men kissed that luscious bow of a





Had hejust asked her if she’d done much kissing?



couldn’t take it in. Rico had no reason to be

interested in her


kissing history. Her thoughts cut off midstream as

Rico went


about discovering her level of experience for himself.

Though she was on top, she felt as if his lips were



hers, holding her captive with masculine domination

of the


most basic kind. She felt a hand at the back of her



holding her in place. She could have told him it



necessary… if she could stop kissing him long

enough to




His lips molded hers with expert precision and she



hers parted without having been aware of opening

them. His


tongue ran along her lips before dipping inside her



sharing an intimate sort of kiss that had disgusted

her in the


past. With Rico, she found it exciting beyond belief

and she


squirmed against him like a wanton. Her hands

explored his


naked chest with abandoned delight while her

tongue dueled


shyly with his male aggressiveness. Soon, the entire



was reduced to his body under hers, his mouth

against her


mouth and their mingled breath.


“Rico!” The feminine shriek from the doorway



Gianna out of her sensual haze with shattering





GIANNA tore her mouth from Rico’s and rolled aside

as his


hands fell away from her. She jumped off the bed



straightened her short plaid wool skirt while her skin



with embarrassment to match the cherry-red of her



turtleneck sweater.


“You filthy little slut,” Chiara raged at her while Rico



himself back into a sitting position. Rico rapped out

something in Italian, but Gianna’s senses were still

so fogged


up she didn’t catch anything but his comment that he



expected Chiara back in New York so soon.

Whatever else he


said, it caused Chiara to reel back like a drunken

sailor and


then glare at Gianna with undisguised malice.



stormed over to the bed, her high heels clicking on

the floor,


her eyes promising murder and mayhem.


“That is obvious. I won’t tolerate this sort of thing,

Rico! Do


you hear me?”


Gianna thought the entire medical staff probably

heard her,


but forbore saying so. Just before reaching the bed,



swung to face Gianna.


“Do you think I don’t know what was happening? I

am not so


stupid I believe Rico made a play for a plain little

thing like


you. It is obvious you were throwing yourself at him

in some


desperate attempt to get him to notice you as a

woman, but


you will never be enough woman for a man like

Rico… even




Each word found their target in Gianna’s vulnerable



She knew she wasn’t Rico’s type. Never had been.

And she


felt guilty because she knew Chiara was right.

Gianna had


thrown herself at Rico, kissing him, going all gooey-

eyed on


him when all he’d been doing was sharing his good

news. Of


course, none of that explained why he’d kissed her



then with a man of Rico’s machismo, maybe the



was automatic. She opened her mouth to apologize,



Chiara spun away and addressed Rico. “You either

send that


wretched girl away, or I’m leaving and I won’t come



Everything inside Gianna froze. Given a choice like

that she


knew what decision Rico would make. Hadn’t he

made it


time and again over the past year when Chiara had



sure he had nothing to do with Gianna, even to the

point of


dragging Rico from Gianna’s father’s funeral with



haste? “Well, Rico?” Chiara demanded, her full,

glossy lips


set in a pout, her eyes filled with crocodile tears that



Gianna grind her teeth. “I think you know my

answer,” Rico


replied. They were the last words to register as

Gianna spun


and walked as fast as her wobbly legs could carry

her from


the room, real tears burning a path down her

cheeks. She


thought she heard Rico call her name, but she

dismissed the


idea as fancy. He’d made his choice. He would send



away, but as of yesterday, she officially had

nowhere to go.


Which did not lacerate her heart with near the



as the fact Chiara had successfully evicted Gianna



Rico’s life.


Gianna plopped down onto her bed in the hotel



grateful Andre was at a banker’s meeting in Rome

on Rico’s


behalf. She could do her packing and grieving in



She felt like she had when her father died: alone,

lost and in


pain. And humiliated. Though, humiliation was



she hadn’t felt at her dad’s death. The memory of



shameful reaction to being on top of Rico mortified

her. How


could she have been so brazen? Rico probably

thought she


was some kind of nymphomaniac virgin. She

groaned and


buried her face in the bedspread covered pillow.

Hiding her


face did not hide her tormenting thoughts. She’d

made an


absolute fool of herself and she felt sick to her soul

acknowledging it. The phone rang, but she ignored it



wallow in her misery. It was probablyjust

housekeeping or


something. Or maybe one of Rico’s doctors. Darn it.



forced herself to sit up and reached for the phone

just as it


stopped ringing. She couldn’t work up any real

chagrin she’d


missed the call. She didn’t want to talk to anyone

right now.


But thinking the caller might have been one of Rico’s



introduced another line of thinking to add to her



With her gone, who was going to make sure Rico

focused on


his rehabilitation? The therapist, big blond giant that

he was,


was afraid of Rico. Even Andre hesitated to cross

his brother


in Rico’s current mood. Andre had been the one to



for the high-speed phone line to be installed in

Rico’s room


at the hospital. No one would be around to make

sure Rico


didn’t channel too much of his energy into business



of getting better. Tears burned the back of her eyes.



been such a fool and because of it, Rico would

suffer. She


wasn’t so arrogant she thought he really needed

her… but


he needed someone to help him stay on track and



certainly wasn’t going to do it. The beautiful model

was too


self-centered to care. Gianna curled into a fetal

position and


concentrated on not letting the tears fall. She didn’t



how long she wallowed in her gloomy despair, but



eventually got up and started packing. The sound of

the door


opening in the outer room alerted her to Andre’s

return. She


hadn’t expected him back from the banking

conference until


tomorrow. She’d have to face him sometime and tell



about her stupidity and Chiara’s ultimatum. It might

as well


be now. She trudged into the living room of the suite

only to


stop and rub her eyes, sure they were playing tricks

on her.


“Why did you not answer the phone?” Rico raked at

her, his


face set in furious lines. “I didn’t know it was you,”

she said


rather stupidly. He was here. In the suite. Other than



streamlined wheelchair, he looked every ounce the



Italian businessman. His dark hair gleamed smoothly



his head and his Armani suit was immaculate.

More intimidating than that was the incandescent



gleaming in his silver eyes. “You ran away.”


“I thought you wanted me to go.” His fiancee

certainly had.


“Where’s Chiara?” His mouth set in a grim line.



“Because of me?” she asked, stricken to the heart at



thought her shameless behavior was to blame for

Rico losing


the woman he loved.


“Because I do not allow others to dictate my



Gianna bit her lower lip until she tasted blood. “I’m

sorry I


jumped on you like that.”


“You were excited about my news. So was I.”


“But I…” She swallowed and screwed up her

courage to say


it. “I kissed you.” “That is not the way I remember it,





“I acted like a…a hussy. l attacked you,” she said



“You behaved like a warm and vibrant woman when

confronted with the unexpected physical proximity of

a man


you are attracted to.”


He rolled the wheelchair forward. “You are attracted

to me,




Her hands curled into fists at her side in an effort not



reach out and touch him. “Yes.”


She ducked her head, breaking eye contact with

him. She


did not want to see the disgust he was bound to be

feeling at


her admission to being attracted to a man engaged

to marry


another woman.


Warm, masculine fingers touched her chin, lifting her



“This is nothing for you to be ashamed of, cara.”

“But, Chiara…”


“ls gone.” The words sounded very final.


“You mean she’s not coming back? Didn’t you tell

her it


meant nothing? She knew I was to blame already.”

“She does not wish to tie herself to a cripple.”

Gianna felt the words like a blow and she dropped to



knees by Rico’s feet. She grabbed his hands and

held them


to her breast.


“You are not a cripple. It’s just temporary. Doesn’t



realize that? Did you tell her you felt your toes this



Rico’s expression blanked. “What I told her is of no



to you. She is no longer in the picture. Accept it as l



“I…” She felt so guilty, but what could she say? He

turned his


head and looked through the open door to her

bedroom. The


suitcase on the side of the bed told its own story.

“You were going to leave, no?”


Strangely enough, he sounded angrier by her



defection than Chiara’s. “I thought that was what you

wanted,” she repeated.


“It is not. Did I not say I wanted you to stay?”


“Yes, but—”


“There is no but. You stay with me.”


Mother, he sounded arrogant.




“You will not return to the university to teach. You



me this.”


“I couldn’t go back if I wanted to,” she admitted

wryly, “they


fired me.”


She suddenly realized where she had his hands.

She might


as well be mauling him again. Dropping them with

the speed


of a lightning bolt, shejumped to her feet.


His fingers curled possessively around her wrist

before she


could move away. He tugged until she found herself

on top


of Rico for the second time that day, but this time in

his lap.


She ended up sitting sideways to him, her legs

dangling over


one hard muscled thigh.


“You were fired?” he asked, his silver gaze probing



“Yes. So, I’m footloose and fancy-free.” She tried to



about her lack of a job or any prospects in that



Getting an assistant professorship right out of

university had


been a fluke she couldn’t expect to repeat.


“I can stay with you as long as you need.”


“What of Pamela?”


The mention of her stepmother’s name did nothing

to soothe


Gianna’s agitated feelings. Pamela had made it very



after the death of Gianna’s father that she did not



their tie familial or binding.


“She sold the house and pretty much everything in it



moved away two months after Dad’s death. She’s



the French Riviera with one of my father’s former



Rico’s eyes darkened. “She sold your home? She

disposed of


your family possessions?” He sounded incensed.

He would be, of course. An Italian as traditional as



would find it impossible to understand the willful



of the family home and all it represented. The



had been living in the same villa in Milan for over a



“Where have you been living?”


She was finding it increasingly difficult to

concentrate while


sitting in such close proximity to him.


“What? Oh, in a furnished flat provided by the



“A furnished flat.” His mouth twisted with distaste.

“How long


have they given you to move?”


He caught on quick.


She grimaced. “I went up yesterday and packed



into my car.”


“You are homeless?”


He made it sound like she was living under a bridge.

“I’m not. I’m staying here for now, but I’ll find a place



you’re back on your feet—” she meant that literally



no longer require my services as cheerleader.”

“This is not acceptable.”


She smiled. “Don’t let it worry you. I’m a big girl. I

can take


care of myself. I’ve been doing it since I was

eighteen and


went away to college. Pamela never wanted me to



home, even for the summers.”


“No wonder you spent vacations with Papa and



“Your parents are wonderful people, Rico.”


“Si.- Yes, but I think you are also very special.” His



warmed her heart and made her smile again.

“Thank you. I think you’re pretty special yourself.”

“Special enough to marry?”


Her heart stopped beating and then resumed at





“M-married?” she squeaked.


“Perhaps, like Chiara, you do not wish to link your

life with


that of a cripple.” Sheer rage filled her at his

repeated use of


the ugly word and she slammed her fist against his



“Don’t you dare use that word to describe yourself!



you remained paralyzed for the rest of your life and

we both


know you won’t, you would never be a cripple!”


“If you believe this, then marry me.”


“But you don’t want to marry me!”


“I want children. Mama is expecting a daughter-in-

law. I


think she will like you in that role, no?”


The thought of having Rico’s children left her weak,



“This is ridiculous. You’re angry with Chiara, but you



want to spend the rest of your life with me as your

wife and


you know it.”


“I want to go back to Italy. I want you to come with



“Of course, I’ll come. You don’t have to marry me to

convince me to return with you.”


“And to have my children? Are you content to do that

outside of wedlock?”


She could feel her cheeks literally drench with color.

“I don’t


know what you are saying.”


“I’m saying I want bambini. Is this so difficult to



No. It wasn’t. Rico would be an incredible father and



never made any secret of his desire to become one.



“You will have to undergo an IVF procedure. I





It was his turn to let his voice trail off and she knew it

shattered his pride to say the words.


“Of course not. That’s only to be expected, but it

won’t last,”


she tried to reassure him.


His expression told her she had fallen short of the

mark. The


forbidden flirted at the edges of her consciousness.

It was


irrational. It was insane, but forjust a moment she let



picture what it would be like to be Rico’s wife. To

belong to


him and to bear his child. It was all too easy to



herself round with his baby…and very, very happy to

be in


that condition.


“Perhaps you are afraid of the procedure.”


“No.” She looked at him and sucked in air in

response to the


intense will beating at her. “Rico—”


He cut her off with a finger over her lips. “Consider



She nodded her head, mute. Even if she hadn’t

wanted to


marry Rico more than she wanted anything else out

of life,


she would not have refused him flat out. After



rejection, such an action would be cruel.


“And while you are considering, think of this.”


His lips replaced his finger and her brain short-



Zinging electric charges shot from one part of her

body to


another. Her nipples beaded almost painfully against

the silk


confines of her bra and an ache of emptiness pulsed

between her thighs.


This was no kiss of discovery. It was an all out

assault on her


senses and when Rico’s tongue demanded entry

into her


mouth, she gave it without a murmur. The pulse in

the heart


of her womanhood increased its beat, tapping out a



of need she had never before felt.


She moaned and pressed herself against him, her



curled tightly around the lapel of his jacket. His hand

tunneled under her sweater and caressed the



skin between her shoulder blades, making her

shudder. Then


she felt the clasp of her bra give and a masculine



cupping the fullness of her breast.


Shocked delight froze her. She’d never allowed any

of her


dates to explore and had never had a hand on her



breast, not to mention her naked flesh.


But this was Rico and she craved his touch. She

cried out,


the sound lost in his mouth as his fingers gently

pinched and


pulled her nipple into even more aching rigidity. The



between her legs increased until she felt like

screaming. She


squirmed in his lap, unable to control the impulse to



He pulled his mouth from hers and she chased it

with her




He couldn’t stop kissing her. Not now. He didn’t. He



moved from her mouth to the sensitive spot behind

her left


ear. She shivered. She quaked. She moaned. All the

while his


hand kept tormenting her breast while his lips



havoc with her nape.


“You taste so sweet, tesoro mio.”


Then he proved his words by tasting every inch of

skin his


lips could reach. The neck-high collar on her



sweater seemed to get in his way and he tugged at

the hem.


“Take this off.”


Her eyes opened and she stared at him, confused.



But he didn’t answer. He was already sliding the soft

red knit


up her torso. Her skin tingled where he touched it

and she


was naked from the waist up before she came out of



passionate daze he’d sent her into enough to realize

what he


had done. She blinked down at the plush carpet and



small pile of red knit and silk thrown there by his





The silk thing was her bra. She was completely



open to Rico’s hot stare. And it was hot. His silver



looked like molten metal as they centered on her



blushing breasts. Her hands flew to cover the



curves. “You shouldn’t look at me like that.”


He did not shift his gaze, but gently curled his



around each of her wrists, brushing the undersides

of her


breasts in the process. She nearly came out of her

skin at


the contact and choked out some kind of inarticulate



“Let me look.”




His head tilted up and he pinned her in place with

his look.


“You want me to see.”


That was just too arrogant for words. “I don’t.”


“You do, cara mia. lt excites you to have my eyes on



flesh, to let me see what you hide from others.”

She shook her head, denying it—but knowing he

spoke the


truth. He could have been touching her, she was so

impacted by his stare. He tugged at her wrists and



allowed him to pull her hands away. Then sat there



hotly while he looked his fill. She’d never sunbathed



so her skin was pale, contrasting starkly with the



excited flesh peaking each breast. One long

masculine finger


reached out and touched the end of a hardened



“Bella… ” he said with a reverence that brought

moisture to


her eyes. “Bella mia,” he added, his tone possessive

as both


his hands cupped her, one reaching around her

ribcage from


behind so she felt completely surrounded by him.





He molded her with his hands, gently squeezing,



her with an expertise of which she refused to

consider the


source. She watched in fascination as his head

lowered. He


closed his lips around her nipple. The sight of his



against her untouched flesh sent shards of



slicing through her.


Then everything went out of focus. The feeling was



electric, she could have powered a small town with



excitement. He nipped at her and then soothed the



stabs of pleasure filled pain with his tongue. Her

eyes slid


shut and her head fell back, her chest heaving with

sobs of


pleasure. She cried out, “Please, Rico, please!”

She didn’t know what she was asking for. But she



something. Her body felt on fire. She could not



She was going to fly apart, explode like a bomb on a



short fuse. And Rico’s touch was that fuse—his

mouth the


match to light it. How could it be anything else? She



dreamed of this moment for almost a decade and



fantasies had never come close to the reality. In all



world, she had only ever loved this man.


Husky male laughter greeted her desperate pleas

while one


hand trailed up the inside of her calf. He tickled the

back of


her knee, making her squirm and then brushed the

inside of


her thigh. Her legs parted of their own volition and

his touch


continued its upward journey until he brushed the

apex of


her womanhood. She jolted with sensation and cried

out. He


brushed her through the silk of her panties again

and she


moaned, shamelessly pressing herself into his





His thumb slid past the elastic band at her leg and



her intimately, making her whimper with both

pleasure and


feminine fear. She had never done this, had never,



even considered allowing another man to touch her

like Rico


was doing. In some ways she was more naive than





“What are you doing to me?” she whispered.


“Loving you…” The words sounded so good. She



pretend forjust this moment in time that he really did



her, that his touch was spurred by his need for her.



sweet thought increased her pleasure to the point of

mindlessness. For right now…Rico loved her as she



him. If only in her mind. He pulled her to stand

beside him.


Was he done? The thought sent distressed need



through her. He unzipped her skirt and let the red

and black


plaid wool drop to the carpet. Then he pushed her



panties that matched her bra down her thighs. They



to pool at her feet.


“Step out of them,” he commanded her. She obeyed

mindlessly, toeing off her short boots and socks at

the same


time, wanting nothing more than to return to the safe



of his lap. She had her wish almost instantly as he

pulled her


back into his arms and began again with the

ministrations to


her over sensitized flesh.


He probed her warm depths with one finger while his



played a gentle sonata on her most sensitive spot.

The sobs


returned. The shaking increased. Her body caught

fire of the


volcanic kind. She felt on the verge of a precipice,

desperately wanting to jump off but terrified of what



happen when she did. “Let go, cara mia.” He moved



mouth to her lips, kissing her with passion she had


only ever


dreamed of feeling. “Give me the gift of your



She went over the edge into starbursts and



The pleasure went on and on while she screamed

and cried,


begging him to stop, begging him to go on. He

touched her


until her body’s convulsions almost tipped her off his

lap. His


hold on her torso was too tight. His touch was too

much. She


tried to say it, but no coherent words would leave

her mouth


and she found herself shuddering in a series of

climaxes that


left her spent and barely conscious in his arms. He



her up against him and guided the wheelchair into



bedroom. He rolled up to her bed and pulled back

the covers


before lifting her gently onto the cool white sheets.

He tucked the blankets around her. “Sleep, tesoro.

We will


talk tomorrow.”


Gianna woke sometime before dawn, the feel of the

bedclothes against her naked flesh an unfamiliar

one. It only


took a few seconds for the events of the day before

to come


flooding back. Heat traveled up her body as she

remembered what she had allowed Rico to do to

her. He’d


touched her every intimate place. He’d made her



with pleasure and beg with abandon.


And he hadn’t even taken off his suit coat. Why had

he done


it? Until yesterday, Rico had never so much as

noticed she


was a woman—except maybe of the sisterly variety.

Now, all


of the sudden, he’d made love to her with a



expertise that had left her nearly comatose. Okay,

so they


hadn’t technically had intercourse, but she wasn’t

sure she


could feel more intimately touched. He’d been inside

of her,


with his hand. Just remembering the way he had



her body with pleasure had her breath sawing in and



her heart beating an arrhythmic pattern.


It had been a fantasy fulfillment so spectacular that



could live on the memories for the rest of her life. But



didn’t have to, an insidious voice reminded her. He’d

said he


wanted to marry her. If she agreed, he would not



the offer, even if he wanted to. He had too much Old



honor to even consider it. He couldn’t really want to



her though. Chiara had rejected him and he had



with typical DiRinaldo action.


He’d asked another woman to marry him and made

love to


her so incredibly well, her response had to have

boosted his


male ego. Rico was a macho man and being ditched



beautiful but shallow Chiara would have left him

feeling the


need to prove that in some way. Well, he’d done it.



completely convinced Gianna that his machismo

rating was


off the Richter scale. Of course, she’d never been in



doubt. Just walking into a room with him in it

bombarded her


with enough testosterone to set her female





She hesitantly touched the places of her body that

still felt


achy from his attention. They felt no different than


normal…no more or less feminine than they ever



washing those bits in the bath. And yet she felt



lnfinitely more womanly. Rico had given her that



had made her feel like a complete woman.


The least she could do would be to give him the gift

of her


understanding in return. She would not use his



reaction yesterday to trap him into a marriage he

could not


possibly want in the cold light of a new day. She



crushed the glowing dreams of being his wife and



his child. She would get up and shower and get to



hospital first thing so she could let Rico off the hook



he had too much time worrying about it.




GIANNA dressed more carefully for her visit to Rico



usual. She dithered between wearing a doeskin skirt



shortjacket set and a long denim skirt with black



long sleeve T-shirt. The doeskin skirt was short,

hitting her


right above the knees and even with tights—she felt

exposed. She pulled it off and slid into the other

outfit before


brushing her hair into a large black oval clip at her



didn’t know if her clothes would be sufficient armor



memories of Rico holding her naked body and

making her


sob with pleasure. She hated the idea of facing him

at all,


but she refused to be a coward. Yesterday would

have to be


dealt with and then they could move on. Of course,



said about the embarrassing episode the better, in



opinion. This time when she knocked on his door at



private hospital, she did it loudly and waited for him

to call


for her to enter. She pushed open the door to his



which resembled Andre’ s suite at the hotel more

than a




Rico was sitting at his desk, wearing the skimpy

shorts and


form-fitting T-shirt that were de rigueur for his



sessions. His concentration was on the computer,

not her, so


she took the time to compose herself in the face of

his sexy


attire. It didn’t do much good. She wanted

desperately to fall


on him and beg for more of what he’d given her



The urge left her feeling shaky and she moved to a

chair to


sit down.


“Good morning, Rico. | see you’re already at work.”



turned his chair to face her. “Buona mattina, bella

mia. Did


you sleep well?”


And that quickly she felt her composure slipping to





“Yes,” she answered in a strangled tone.


“You were exhausted when I left you.” Her gaze flew

to his


and she read smug satisfaction in the silver depths.

“You made sure of it.”


His smile was all conquering male. “There can be no



will satisfy your needs in marriage, tesoro.” Rico had



to prove his manliness to himself and he’d done it.

One part


of her hurt that she’d been little more than another

form of


therapy for a man frustrated by his limitations.

Another part


of her— the part that loved him—rejoiced in the fact



could give him back a small part of his pride by



her reaction to his touch. Still, she had never

questioned her


level of satisfaction married to him.


“But you won’t be happy, Rico. You don’t want to

marry me.”


“You said this yesterday, but I proved differently,

no?” What


did she say to this? She had no desire to tromp on

his male


ego by telling him she thought he had needed to



something to himself. On the other hand, how could



seriously contemplate marrying her when only



morning he had still been engaged to Chiara?

“Chiara will


come back, Rico. She was angry, but she’ll realize



mistake and you don’t want to be tied to another



when she does.”


His expression hardened. “It is over with Chiara. I

said this


already.” And he didn’t like repeating himself.



“Do not argue. You want to marry me.”


She gasped at his arrogant claim. “Says who?”


III say.”


“It wasn’t so long ago you were using me to make



inattentive fiancee jealous.” Or had he forgotten that



His eyes registered genuine surprise. “This I did not



He’d never lied to her before and she couldn’t

tolerate him


doing so now, even for the sake of his pride. “You



“When did I do this?”


“You touched me that day and you knew she would

see. I’m


not even sure yesterday morning’s kiss wasn’t for



benefit,” she admitted, getting the worst of her fears

out in


the open.


“I have only ever touched you because it is what I

wanted to


do, mi tesoro. How can you believe otherwise? Am I



scoundrel that I would use you in such a way?” Put

like that,


she had to pause. His expression said she’d really



him. His hand sliced through the air.


“I do not deny her initial jealousy at your

attentiveness did


not please me, but I have never courted such a

thing. I, Rico


DiRinaIdo, do not need to do such a thing.”


Great. Now she’d offended not only his sense of



but his pride as well. It did not help her equilibrium

that the


gesture drew her attention to his sculpted muscles.



only weight lifters supposed to have that kind of



“Do you lift weights?”


“What is this?” Her face burned when she realized



she’d said and she dragged her attention back up

his body to


the amused expression on his face.


“Never mind. It’s not important.”


“This is true. We have other things to discuss. Will

you be


disappointed not to have a big wedding?”


“It doesn’t matter.” She wouldn’t care if they got

married in


the register’s office if she believed Rico really

wanted to


marry her.


“Good. I want to marry before we return to Italy.”

“I haven’t said I’ll marry you.” She should not even



considering it. “Look, if this is about what you said

yesterday. You don’t need to worry. I knew you



serious at the time. You were distraught.”


“l, Rico DiRinaIdo, do not get distraught. This is an



for old women and young girls.” What about young



She was fast approaching that state.


“My point is, I’m not holding you to what you said



“But I am holding you, cara.” The image of him doing



interrupted her normal thought pattern for several



He smiled at her as if he knew what she was

thinking. He


probably did, the fiend.


“What are you holding me to?” she asked, quite

proud of


herself for remembering the thread of conversation.

“You let me make love to you. That implies a certain

commitment. I am holding you to that commitment.”

He was devious and too smart for his own good.

She didn’t


even attempt to say they hadn’t made love, because

for all


intents and purposes they had.


“Women make love with men all the time without



them,” she said instead.


“Not you.”


She glared at him, wanting to wipe that look of

overconfidence right off his face. “Maybe I do.”


He laughed and she wanted to scream. “You have



admitted your untouched state to me. You cannot

prevaricate now.”


“Just because I haven’t had sex does not mean I’ve

never let


a man touch me,” she pointed out.


How had she forgotten his unreasonable fury when



taunted him similarly before?


One second, his chair was several feet across the

room and


the next he was in front of her, his hands clamped



her shoulders. The hold was not painful, but it was

unyielding all the same.


“Tell me the truth,” he bit out, each word a sharp



“Why are you so angry?” she asked, feeling helpless



face of such an irrational reaction.


“You ask this after yesterday?”


Funny, but somehow she had seen the day before



happening to her only. Sure Rico had made it



she hadn’t thought of it affecting him in any way.


Apparently, giving a woman her first orgasm, or

several of


them, made a guy feel possessive.


“I’ve never let another man touch me like you did,”



admitted grudgingly. She wasn’t about to deal with



eruption like the other day when first she, then

Andre had


goaded Rico. His hold changed to a caress on her





“I believed this. Do not tease me again.”


“You’re so bossy.”


“It comes with being the oldest.”


“You’d be that way if you were the youngest of six



she postulated.


He shrugged, clearly dismissing the subject. “The



say there is no problem with returning home within





“What about your therapy?”


“I have arranged for an eminent therapist to treat me

in our


home in Milan.” There he went, assuming her





“Rico, do you still love Chiara?” she asked baldly.

Everything else could be dealt with, but she wasn’t

about to


marry a man in love with another woman. His upper



tensed and he moved away from her.


“My feelings for Chiara are of no concern to you.”

“How can you say that?” She shook her head. “You

want me


to marry you thinking you love another woman.

That’s cruel,




“Because you love me, no?” Love him? She wanted

to brain




“Don’t put words in my mouth. We’re talking about



feelings here.”


“No. We are not. Anything I felt for Chiara is in the

past, as


she is.” That sounded somewhat reassuring. If it

were the




“Why do you want to marry me?” Perhaps if she

made him


face his reasons, he would realize how unrealistic he





“I told you yesterday. I am of an age to marry.

Mama, she is


expecting a daughter—in-law and I want bambini. You

and l,


we get along, cara. We always have. You will make



admirable wife and mother.”


That was quite a speech for a man like Rico.


“You want to marry me because you think I’ll make a



mother?” He shook his head.


“I also believe you will be a good wife. You know my

schedule. You know my limitations. You will not

expect more


than I can give.”


Wouldn’t she? Perhaps not, but that didn’t mean she

wouldn’t want it. One phrase stuck in her mind



knew his limitations. He was still hung up on the



paralysis. She realized there never had been any

real choice.


He was vulnerable right now and for a man like Rico

that was


an anathema. She could not compound that

vulnerability by


rejecting him. But she couldn’t fool herself into

believing her


decision was entirely altruistic.


If she married Rico, she would once again have a



She’d been lonely since her mother’s death, but

never more


so than after her father remarried and Pamela had



cut Gianna out of the family circle in everything but



The DiRinaIdo’s had been kind, but they had not

belonged to


her. She had not belonged to them, but if she

married Rico


that would change. She would once again have a

real home,


a place in the world she could call her own. And

when the


babies came, she would have so much more. She

could once


again share the type of bond she’d shared with her



Only this time she would be the doting mamma.

“l’ll marry you.”


Andre came back to New York later that night.

Gianna was


curled up in an armchair watching television in the



living room when Andre came in. She knew he’d

been to visit


Rico and warily waited to see how he would respond

to the


news she was marrying his brother. Andre peeled

out of his


trench coat and hung it over the back of the sofa



sitting down across from her. He measured her with

a look.


“So, you’re going to marry my brother. That’s pretty



work considering he was engaged to Chiara not so

long ago.”


Gianna felt heat crawl up her neck. “I didn’t set out to





Andre gave her a lazy smile and shrugged. “But you

succeeded piccola mia. This is a good thing.”


Was it? She’d been plagued with doubts since

leaving Rico’s


room shortly after dinner. She bit her lip, abusing the



tissue until the pain made her realize what she was



and she stopped.


“He doesn’t want to marry me.”


“He assured me he did.”


“He only thinks that. He’s feeling down because he



walking yet and Chiara broke off their engagement.

As soon


as he calms down, he’ll regret this craziness.”

Andre’s smile disappeared. “It is not crazy.” He



forward, his brown gaze set intently on her. “Rico

needs you


right now and he recognizes that fact. Hell, I think he



always needed you. He just didn’t realize it until he



he’d lost you for good.” So Rico had told Andre

about the


confrontation with Chiara. “My brother’s answer to

his need


is marriage. Considering how you feel about him, it’s



ideal solution.”


Men could be so dense. “He won’t even tell me if he



loves Chiara.”


“He is not that stupid.”


“I thought I was pretty smart myself until I agreed to



Rico.” She’d been questioning her intelligence and



ever since. What sane woman agreed to marry a

man who


did not love her, who made no pretense of loving

her? Even


if that marriage fulfilled the deepest desires of her



Andre shook his head. “But this is a good decision. It

is what


he wants. It is what you want. What could be



Rico wanting her for the right reasons. She didn’t



saying so. Andre wouldn’t get it. In some ways, he

and his


arrogant brother were too much alike.


“Come. You will have Mama and Papa as your new

parents. I


as your brother.” He pointed at himself with an



wave of his hand. “This can only be good.”


She was too agitated to respond to his attempt at

humor and


all too true comment. “You really think I’m doing the



thing?” Andre reached out and took her hand,

squeezing it


with his own larger one.


“Yes, not only the right thing, but a good thing,

piccola mia. I


will be very pleased to welcome you into our family.

And will


it not please you to become my sister?” She nodded,



slightly, her worries temporarily assuaged by Andre’s

wholesale support of her marriage to Rico. But what



his parents think? Would his mother believe Gianna



trapped Rico in a moment of weakness as Andre

had jokingly


suggested? The worries kept her awake most of that



and the next two before the wedding.


“Mama will be furious about this register office



Andre’s comment came as he, Rico and Gianna



ushered into the judge’s chamber for the short civil

ceremony three days after Rico proposed. Rico

turned his


head, “She will get over it.”


“More likely she’ll insist on a church blessing and all



expected conventions of a traditional wedding to



it,” Andre replied with some humor. Rico shrugged.

“This is


fine with me, but she will wait to arrange such a

thing until I


can walk to the altar.” Rico’s insistence on a speedy



ceremony began to make sense. Gianna had

wondered if he


had seen their marriage in such a clinical light that

he did


not want to be bothered by the traditional ceremony.

Instead, Rico had not wanted to put himself on

display for


family and friends in his current condition.


Which only drove home the knowledge that his

decision to


marry her had been made under duress. Andre had

told her


not to worry about it, but how could she help it? Rico



love her.


As she repeated the short vows, she could not make



meet Rico’s gaze. She kept her eyes lowered, her

focus on


the small bouquet of white roses Rico had provided.


However, when he spoke his vows, he tipped her

chin up and


said them to her, promising fidelity and honor in a

voice that


left no doubt to his sincerity. She couldn’t help being



The judge gave Rico permission to kiss her and he



pulling her forward, their heads almost level because

he was


sitting in the streamlined wheelchair again. The kiss

was soft


and sweet, leaving her wanting more and yet



“Congratulazioni, fratello.” Andre hugged his brother



kissed Rico’s cheeks with typical Italian warmth.

Then he


turned to Gianna and lifted her off her feet in a bear



“Welcome to the family, little sister.” Gianna



despite her misgivings and hugged him back



“Grazie!” Andre returned her to her feet and she

turned to


smile at Rico only to be hit with the unread ability of





They arrived in Milan in the wee hours of the

morning and


Gianna sleepily went through customs and then slid

into the


waiting limo with a tired feeling of relief. She’d slept

so little


over the past days, it was all she could do to keep



open. Rico and Andre sat on the seat opposite and

she knew


there was something wrong with that picture. She



married, but she didn’t feel married. It was all so

unreal. Rico


had pretty much been treating her like a piece of



since the wedding. She hadn’t expected his



attention on the DiRinaldo jet. There’d been several



people present after all. Andre was flying back with



along with the usual complement of security staff

and Rico’s


personal assistant who had been in New York for

the past


week working with Rico. Yet, even with the others on



she hadn’t expected him to forget she was even

there. He’d


spent almost the entire eight-hour flight working. The



time Rico had acknowledged her presence had been



dinner, when the flight attendant, a gorgeous, tall



had made a completely unnecessary fuss over Rico.



Gianna had fussed like that, Rico would have torn

strips off


her, but he smiled indulgently at the flight attendant.



of a dinner plate dumped in her new husband’s lap

had done


little to assuage the feeling ofjealousy that had

plagued her.


Which was why Rico was sitting across from her.

She’d waited to get into the limo until he had done

so and


then sat on the opposite seat. Andre had taken a



beside Rico after only the slightest hesitation.

Focusing her


attention out the window, she ignored her new



watchful regard and tried to pretend she was alone.

It hurt




“Papa and Mama will return from their holiday next



Rico’s voice broke the silence. Gianna said nothing,

assuming he’d been speaking to Andre. It wasn’t like



bothered to speak to her for the last eight hours.



She didn’t turn her gaze from the dark window.



“You will be happy to see Mama, no?”


“Of course.” But was that true? She was still afraid



Rico’s parents were going to think she had somehow

manipulated Rico while he was vulnerable and

wrung a


marriage proposal out of him.


“You do not sound enthusiastic.”


“I’m tired.”


“I do not like speaking to the side of your head,



She shifted until their gazes met. It was difficult to

read his


expression in the limo’s dim interior lights. “I got the


impression you weren’t particularly fond of speaking

to me




“What is this? When have I ever said such a thing?”

“Actions speak louder than words.” The trite saying



off her tongue with more venom than she’d meant it



He sucked in a breath. “What is your problem?”

Gianna slid her gaze from Rico to Andre to see what

he was


making of their exchange. The younger man had an

inexplicable look of satisfaction on his face. He liked

watching his brother argue with his new wife?


“I asked you a question, cara.”


“And I chose not to answer it.” With that, she

dismissed him


and the irritatingly amused Andre.


In an obvious bid to smooth troubled waters, Andre



Rico a question and soon the men were making

plans for


their parents’ return. Gianna tuned them out. She



struggling with a horrendous fear. That she’d made



biggest mistake of her life. It was obvious Rico was


regretting his decision to marry her, but why he



have woken up to reality before the ceremony,

eluded her.


When they arrived at the DiRinaldo villa, Gianna



outside the limo for Rico’s wheelchair to be

unloaded. Rico


noticed her waiting and waved her off.


“Go inside. There’s no reason for you to hover.”


Her eyes widened with hurt and she turned on her



doing just as he suggested. When she got inside the



she went directly to the room she always used when



stayed at the villa. There was no way she was going

to risk


getting kicked out of the master bedroom.


She found a nightgown she’d left behind the summer



and took it into the bathroom. She wrapped her hair



style in a towel and took a quick shower, washing

the feel of


extended travel from her skin.


Later, she was sitting in front of the vanity mirror,



out her hair from the French roll she’d styled it into

for her


wedding when Rico came in.


“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded.

“Brushing my hair.”


She flipped her hair over the opposite shoulder and



on the other side. There was absolute silence from



Rico remained near the door. When she had

removed every


tangle from her hair, she parted it into three sections



started braiding it for sleep.




The harsh demand startled her and her fingers

stilled in their


task. She heard the wheelchair moving across the

floor, but


she couldn’t make herself face him.


“Per l’amore di cielo, it is beautiful.”


His fingers threaded through the tresses, undoing



beginnings of the braid.


“l have wanted to see it like this, but it is more than I





She peeked a look at him through the curtain of her

hair and


her breath caught at the look of intense

concentration on his




“You like my hair?” It seemed like such an



thing. She wore it long because her mother had liked

it that


way and letting it grow had been a way to feel close

to her. It


would never have occurred to her that Rico might

find her


very ordinary locks so fascinating, but he did. His



was riveted.


“Come here.” He went to pull her into his lap, but



had her shooting to her feet and moving away.


“I’m tired. lwant to go to bed.”


Rico’s eyes glittered silver messages at her she did

not want


to read. “I too wish to go to bed.”


“Then you’d better get to it, hadn’t you?”


He drew himself into a stiff and imposing stance.



wheelchair, he was easily as tall as her and a

hundred times


more intimidating. “You plan that I should return to

my bed,


while you sleep here?”


She shrugged, trying for an insouciance she did not



“What difference does it make?” She’d meant that

since he


did not love her or particularly want her, he shouldn’t



where she slept. His head reared back as if she’d





“Indeed, what difference, cara? I cannot perform the



wedding night ritual and undoubtedly the thought of



my bed is not a welcome one.”


“That’s not what |—”


“It does not matter,” he said, cutting across her

words. “It is


just as well to me if you do not expect me to perform



husbandly duties. They hold little appeal when I



participate fully and are unnecessary to the

conception of


our child.”


The words were like icy rain stinging her with their



cruelty. She stood there in mute pain while he spun

his chair


and left her room. She walked to the bed, feeling like

an old


woman, all the energy necessary to braid her hair

drained by


Rico’s cold rejection.


He saw the most beautiful experience of her life as a

duty…an unnecessary one at that. And unappealing.

How he


must have despised her wanton eagerness to



pleasure at his hands while incapable of giving any



Even if Rico had not been paralyzed, she would not



known how to return his caresses. Chiara had been



Gianna was not enough woman for a man like Rico,

regardless of his condition. Why had he wanted to

marry her,


then? The answer came in another blinding wave of



Because he didn’t love her or want her. She could

give him


babies, but she would not be a constant reminder of

what he


could not have. She didn’t know what would happen



Rico regained feeling in the lower half of his body.

Regret for


their marriage would play a major role in his feelings,



was sure of it.




Rico sat on the balcony above the swimming pool



watched Andre and Gianna cavort in the water. It

was a


scene like so many he had witnessed in the past.

Gianna and


Andre had always played together, being of almost

the same


age. But now she was his wife and Rico was seeing



brother as a rival male rather than her childhood



The feelings ofjealousy surging through him were

unwelcome. He had not expected them to be part of

marriage, but then he had not expected to sleep

alone in the


marital bed either. Even so, he didn’t want to feel

jealous of


his own brother and the woman he had married. He



had not anticipated experiencing such an emotion



Gianna. He’d never been particularlyjealous of



Possessive, yes, but jealous, no.


It made no sense. It was not as if he was in love with




wife. He cared for her. Of course he did. She had

been a part


of the fabric of his life since her birth. Their mothers



been best friends as children and behaved as sisters



adults. Gianna’s mother, Eliana, had married an



professor and returned to the States with him, while



mother had moved to Milan after marrying his father.

But the


two women’s families had shared holidays and visits



Gianna’s mother died. Gianna had continued to

come to stay


with his family, more frequently after her father



She did not play emotional games like Chiara.


Chiara had used sex to manipulate and even before



accident, Rico had been growing increasingly

intolerant of


her tactics for getting what she wanted. He had



marriage to Gianna would have all the benefits of



wedded state without making him vulnerable again

to a


woman. Gianna was too innocent and too good to

manipulate him as his former fiancee had done.

Even so, he’d been wrong. He’d felt damn vulnerable

when she rejected him sexually the night before.

He’d been


sure that in this area he could at least give her the

semblance of a normal marriage. She’d gone to

pieces in his


arms when he touched her in the hotel suite, letting



make love to her with a sweet trust he’d found



He’d suspected she had tender feelings for him

before that.


She had made it to his bedside after the accident

before his


brother. And according to a scornful Chiara and



admiring Andre, Gianna had not left Rico’s side until

he came


out of coma. Awareness of her devotion had buoyed



when so much had seemed hopeless. After making

love to


her, he had been sure she had stronger feelings



friendship toward him. No woman responded with



speed and abandon without feeling something

powerful for


the man making love to her. So, why the hell had



rejected him last night?


They hadn’t spent much time together on the plane.



had to work. At least making money was something

he could


do unhindered without the use of his legs. At dinner,



hadn’t seemed to care when the flight attendant

flirted with


him, and for some reason that had irritated him.


So, even though he’d found the other woman’s



attentions annoying; he had suffered them in some


ridiculous attempt to get a rise out of Gianna. lt



worked and he’d ended up feeling angry and stupid.



he told Gianna that he did not play those kind of

games? He


had enjoyed feeling like an idiot even less than his





So, he’d been short with her in the limousine and felt



for being that way. But she’d got her own back. She



ignored him. He still had not expected to find her



a guest room instead of his bedroom when he made

it up the


stairs. He’d gone to her room breathing fire to be

pole axed


by the sight of that gorgeous hair streaming down



It had rippled like living silk and he had wanted to

touch it


with a hunger he had not been willing to analyze.

He’d done so. And it had only made him want more.

More of


her soft skin. More of her. But when he’d gone to pull

her to


him, she had backed away. She’d lost no time

making it


clear she had no interest in sharing his bed.


The rejection still stung and watching his brother

play with


her in a way he could not, was doing nothing to



Rico’s temper.


Gianna approached the room set aside for Rico’s



therapy with some trepidation. She’d avoided him

the entire


morning, shared stilted conversation with him and



over lunch and had only ventured down here in

order to


meet the new physical therapist. It was silly, but she



to assure herself that Rico was truly in good hands.



she’d been participating in Rico’s therapy since the

beginning. She stepped into the room that looked so



like the one used for the same purpose at the



stopped to marvel at how quickly the transformation



taken place. The warm wood decor had been

replaced with


exercise mats, a set of parallel bars, a treatment

table and


assorted weight lifting equipment.


The big windows still allowed the sun to stream in



the clear glass, which was a great improvement over



hospital’s fluorescent lighting. Rico lay on the



table. A man with steel-gray hair and a very fit body



in white cotton trousers and T-shirt put Rico’s legs



the usual stretching exercises. Rico’s own clothes



those he’d worn for sessions in New York and had

the same


destabilizing effect on her nervous system. She had



concentrate on getting her breath to come more



before she greeted the two men.


“Good afternoon.”


Rico’s head swiveled toward her, an expression she



not decipher in his eyes. “Buon giorno.”


The therapist turned around. “Hello. You must be



DiRinaIdo. I am Timothy Stephens. Rico tells me you



newlyweds. Congratulations.”


“Thank you, Dr. Stephens. I didn’t realize you would



English,” she blurted out. “Canadian, actually, and



call me Tim. A colleague of mine in New York



me to your husband.”


She felt foolish for not distinguishing the accents.

Her only


excuse was the shock she’d experienced that the



wasn’t Italian. “I hope your temporary relocation

wasn’t a


problem for you.”


Tim laughed. It was a warm, rich sound, reminding

her of her


father’s laughter when her mother had been alive.

“My wife


would have killed me if I had turned down an

opportunity to


work in Milan, all expenses paid. She’s out shoe

shopping as


we speak.”


Gianna felt her mouth crease upward in response to



man’s friendly manner. “You’ll have to bring her to

the villa


for dinner after Rico’s parents return from their trip.

I’m sure


they’ll want to meet her.”


“Thank you. I will.” The whole time they’d been

talking, Tim


had not hesitated in his ministrations on Rico’s legs.

He now


laid the one he had been exercising on the table and



an examination, testing for feeling. Not only did Rico



feeling in his toes and feet, but he actually moved

his right


foot in the beginnings of a rotating movement.



rushed to his side and grabbed his arm.


“You didn’t tell me you’d regained some movement.”

“It is hardly more than a twitch, cara. Nothing to get



excited about.” She stared at him, unable to believe

his cool




“You’ve got to be kidding! I was ecstatic when you

felt your


toes…that twitch you’re so nonchalant about is

cause for


major celebration.”


“Is it really, tesoro?” And suddenly memories of what



happened when she had celebrated his first

milestone filled


her mind. She’d leapt on him and they’d kissed. Her



skittered to his lips. They were curled in a sardonic



but all she could think about was matching her

mouth to his.


“I think all celebrations of the sort you are

contemplating will


have to wait, no?”


His mocking tone brought her back to the present

with a




He didn’t want her. He found kissing her a duty, a

chore, not


his preferred method of celebration. She turned her



face away from the men and pretended an interest



parallel bars at the other end of the room. She was

embarrassed by his comment as well as hurt



how little she fulfilled his needs as a woman.


“How soon do you think before Rico will be using

these?” she


asked Tim regarding the parallel bars.


“That’s difficult to gauge. Every patient has their own

timeline of healing, but your husband has a strong

will and


with a new wife, a pretty good incentive to recover



quickly as possible. We could see him using those in

as little


as seven days.” She spun around at such good

news, only to


be stopped short by Rico’s cold voice.


“I am a man, no? I do not need to be spoken of as a



who has no say in his future.” His masculine ego



definitely out of kilter.


Gianna wasn’t sure how to assuage Rico’s anger,

but Tim


just smiled. “It’s a bad habit family members and



can fall into. Talking about a patient as if he’s not



Thanks for calling us on it. How do you feel about

targeting a


goal of seven days for preliminary work on the



“It is doable,” Rico replied with a confidence that



Gianna. That confidence seemed well placed as he



regained feeling up his legs. Rico pushed himself

mercilessly, doing more therapy sessions than he





Gianna still attended the sessions with him, but he



to need her encouragement less and less. It was as



something inside him had clicked and even the



bank and Enterprises took backseat to his drive to





“Still, there is no feeling from the knees up,” he said

to Tim a


few days later. “How can I use the bars with only half



legs working?”


Tim smiled as he helped Rico move from the weight



machine back to his chair. “You’re doing great. You’ll

be on


the bars in no time.”


“It has been six days. Tomorrow is seven.”


“You’re almost there,” Tim said with an insouciance



envied as he packed up his supplies.


She wished she could respond in such a relaxed

fashion to


Rico, but she couldn’t. Tim promised to be in early

the next


morning for a session.


“It is easy for him to dismiss this. He does not sit

useless in a


wheelchair.” Rico’s frustration didn’t surprise her, but



voicing it did. He’d been stoic about everything since

returning to Italy. And very distant. She handed him



towel to wipe the sweat from his brow. He’d been

working on


his upper body tone and his muscles rippled with the



of weight training.


“Only a fool would call you useless, Rico.”


“But what else can I be? My wife, she sleeps in a



bed. My business, it must run itself while I retrain my

body to


function normally. Do not spout these happy

platitudes at




She felt herself blushing. They’d never discussed



wedding night. She assumed he was glad she

stayed in the


other room considering his attitude toward making

love to




“If your business is running itself then why do you

spend so


much time on the computer and phone, not to



attending board meetings at the bank?”


He’d gone to one yesterday, intent on proving to the



stockholders that all was well. According to Andre,

Rico had


been very convincing.


She wasn’t surprised.


“I notice you ignore the reality of separate beds.”

The blush intensified and she turned away, wanting

to hide


her vulnerability to him.


“We both know why I don’t sleep with you, Rico. It’s

not as if


our marriage is real.”


Strong fingers curled around her wrist and pulled



faced him.


“And why is our marriage not real?” The molten

metal of his


gaze burned into her. “You agreed to have my baby,

to be


my wife. I made vows to you. What is not real about



“Y-you weren’t thinking straight. Now that you’ve had



time to think about it, I’m sure you’ve come to your



She tried to smile as if the words she was saying



tearing her into a million pieces.


“We can get an annulment. No one need ever know



our crazy wedding.”


He tugged her a step closer, his body exuding





“Andre knows. I know. You vowed to be my wife.”

“But you didn’t really want to marry me. You know



didn’t. I knew you’d come to your senses and you



“On what do you draw this conclusion?”


What could she say? You find kissing me a chore.

That would


sound like she cared, which she did, but she didn’t

want him


to know that. She had very little pride left where he



concerned, but she didn’t want what remained



When she didn’t answer immediately, his eyes



“Perhaps it is not that you believe I have changed

my mind,


but that you have changed yours.”


She shook her head. “No. | feel the same way I did

when I


agreed to marry you,” she answered honestly.


He held her gaze captive with his own, his eyes

drilling into


her with ruthless determination. What was he

looking for?


For her part, she was becoming increasingly aware

of his


physical person.


His scent tantalized her, made her think of things

she’d tried


desperately to forget since leaving New York. He



earthy, his sweat-covered skin irresistibly drawing



and to look was to want. To want was to remem ber

and to


remember was madness. Yet, she could not turn off



images in her mind.


“You pity me?” he asked, shocking her.




“You pitied me. You did not wish to marry me, but

you felt


too sorry for me to reject me. You hoped I would let

YOU 90,


but I have not done this.” She stared at him,





“Pity?” she squeaked. Who could pity Rico? He was

too vital,


too much a man. “You’ve got the wrong end of the



He glared at her and she felt guilty even though she



she wasn’t guilty of what he’d accused her of.


“Is it also this wrong end of the stick for me to

believe my


parents will share in your pity when they realize my

wife will


not share my bed?”


“I didn’t refuse to share your bed,” she practically



“Then you will not be bothered to learn I have

instructed the


maid to move your things to my suite.”


He’d done what? “But, Rico—”


“If you married me out of pity, | ask you allow that



to prompt you to sleeping in my bed. It is not as if I

am a risk


to your virtue.”


“I don’t pity you!”


“But you also do not wish to be married to me.”


“I didn’t say that.”


“Then what is this talk of annulments?”


“I thought you wanted out.”


“I did not say this. I do not want this,” he said with

emphasis. “Marriage is for a lifetime.”


She groaned. “I knew you thought that.”


“I do not think it; I know it.”


“But, you don’t have to stay married to me.”

“Enough of this.” He threw her hand from him in



repudiation. “You want out of our marriage. You say

so. Do


not hide behind a false concern for my wants. You

are my


wife because I chose you for my wife. You cannot



believe I want to end our marriage before it has even



The hot sulfur of his glare singed her tender

emotions. “You


do not want to be the mother of my bambini. Fine.

Non e un


problema. Go.” He waved his hand toward the door.



before my parents come tomorrow. I will have



sympathy to deal with without explaining a wife who

is no




Pain coursed through her so she could barely

breathe. For


the second time, she was being told to leave Rico’s

life. Only


this time by him. If she went, would he ever let her



Apparently, he truly did want to remain married.



that, could she leave him? Did she want to leave

him? The


answer was simply no.


“I don’t want out of our marriage.” She whispered the



because she couldn’t speak more loudly past the



in her throat.


“Then you sleep in my bed.” She nodded and turned

to go,


her heart aching from a choice that had been no

choice at


all. Share a bed with a man who saw touching her

as an


unpleasant duty or be evicted forever from the life of



man she loved.


Crunch time came that night when she walked into



suite to find him getting ready for bed.


The cool blue tones and Mediterranean-style wood



hardly registered on her consciousness. He was

sitting on


the edge of the huge bed, half dressed. He’d taken

off the


immaculate suit he’d worn at dinner. His tie was

gone and


his shirt hung open on his torso. Short black hair



across his chest and down to the navy—blue silk

boxers that


rode low on his hips. He was just so gorgeous, it



criminal. No one man should be allowed to have so

much sex




How was she going to sleep tonight with all that



perfection lying within inches of her body? Okay, on



oversize king bed, maybe it would be feet, but she



think the width of the room would be enough.


What if he slept naked? She didn’t think she could

handle it.


She was already on sensory overload and he still

had his


shirt and boxers on. She gulped and met his eyes,



breathing already erratic. He was looking at her with



arrested expression. Maybe he’d never seen a

woman do an


imitation of a blushing, gasping fish before. Must be

entertaining from his perspective.


“I… Where’s my nightgown?” she asked, for lack of



better to say.


“Do you need it?” he asked, with a positively wicked



in his eyes.


“Do I need it?” she repeated, her mind finding it



to wrap around the concept of going to bed naked.

“Many husbands and wives sleep together without



anything, no?” Was that humor in his voice? She

could hardly


credit it, not after his mood earlier.


“Are you going to sleep that way?”


“What way?” He was tormenting her and loving it.

She took


a deep breath and let it out.


“Without your shorts?” She was proud of the ability

to get


the words out when her mind had gone on an erotic



“I do not like confinement in my sleep.”


“Oh… I think I prefer wearing a nightgown.” He

shrugged as


if it did not matter one way or the other to him. Which



was sure it didn’t. He wasn’t the one practically

hyperventilating at the thought of sleeping together



same bed.


“Uh—where is it?”


“In there.” He indicated the walk-in closet on the

other side


of the room. She almost tripped over her feet in her

haste to


get to the relative privacy of the closet. She found



nightgowns hanging at one end of the wardrobe.

She chose a white one with an embroidered yoke

and no


sleeves. It was unseasonably warm for late

September in




She took her time in the bathroom, hoping Rico



already be under the covers when she returned to





She got her wish, for all the good it did her. He sat,



up against pillows, his upper body naked and the



hitting him low enough to be indecent. She stopped



stared at the sight he presented for several seconds.

“Are you coming to bed, cara?”


She swallowed and nodded, speech beyond her. It

took all


her strength of will to cross that room and climb into



opposite side of the bed from him. What would she



snuggled up to him in the night? What if she had one

of the


sensual dreams that had plagued her since the night

in New


York? The dreams in which he played center stage.

And what


if her body acted out the fantasy with him so close?



woken up wrapped around a pillow on more than



occasion, her lower body throbbing. She lay beneath



covers, stiff with nerves.


“You look like a thirteenth-century bride waiting to be

ravished by her despot husband.” Her head whipped

sideways to see gleaming silver eyes and a



twisted mouth on his handsome face. ‘


“I’m not used to sleeping with anyone.”


“We established that in New York.”


She nodded.


“I thought we also established you liked my touch,



She thought about denying it. Her pride begged her

to, but


innate honesty wouldn’t let her. “Yes.”


“Yet you have refused to share my bed since our





“You said it was a duty. You didn’t like it.” Tears

pricked her


eyes with pained remembrance. His look sliced into



“A man may say many things after his woman

rejects him,




“I didn’t reject you.” How could he believe that? She



him. Desperately. It had to be obvious.


“You did.”


Remembering how she’d pulled away, she bit her lip.



a little, but I didn’t mean it the way you took it.”

“And how should I have taken it?”


“Not as a big rejection,” she answered rather lamely



then added, “I was jealous and angry,” with more



“Of what were you jealous?”


“You seemed to ignore me on the flight and then

you let the


flight attendant fawn over you, but when we got

here, you


took me to task forjust waiting outside the limousine





He sighed, his expression pained. “I thought you did



notice. I thought you did not care. So, I tolerated her

annoying behavior to try to make you care. I felt



stupid aftenNard and that made me lash out at you.”

Was he telling her the truth? He hadn’t tried to make



jealous, but he’d admitted to wanting to make



jealous. That was a major admission for a man like



“It wasn’t meant as a big rejection,” she repeated,

with more


conviction this time.


“For a man, any sexual rejection is big, cara mia. Did



not know this?”


“No.” She sighed. It was hard to believe he had not



how very much she wanted him, but as impossible

as it


seemed to her, she had hurt him. “I’m sorry.”


“Are you really, tesoro?” Her heartjust melted every

time he


called her that. It was so much more intimate than

cara. An


endearment reserved for her alone…or that is how

she felt.


She’d never heard him use it with Chiara, or anyone



“Yes,” she replied, a little breathless. Who wouldn’t

be, two


tiny feet from a man as sexy as Rico?


“Show me.”




GIANNA didn’t move, unable to believe what Rico

had just


said. Show him? How?


He reached across the width dividing them and

tugged on


her wrist.


“Venuto a me.” His huskily growled command to

come to


him sparked an instant ache deep in her core while

his grip


on her wrist kindled an uncontrollable desire for

more of his


touch. She stared at him, feeling like a small animal

mesmerized by a predator ready to pounce. Did he



what she thought he meant?


“W-why?” she managed to stutter out in a whisper

past a


throat as dry as the sand in the Sahara. The tug on

her wrist




“Come here and you will find out.” How could seven



words short-circuit her brain and send her pulses



She loved him. She wanted him. She’d been pining

for his


touch since New York. She felt more alive right now

with just


his fingers circling her wrist than she had any time in



week since their wedding. That knowledge along

with a trick


of the light that made him look vulnerable

undermined any


resistance she might have considered putting up. At



that is what she told herself as she docilely allowed

him to


pull her to his side. Once there, she lay in total



wondering what came next.


“Sit up.” Captivated by the intense sensuality that



to come off him like an electric force field, she did as

he said


without a murmur. She knelt beside him, her knees

centimeters from his powerful thigh. She could now

see he’d


left on the silk boxers. ln deference to her feelings?

“Unbraid your hair, tesoro.” She didn’t know why, but

she felt


com pelled to obey the enthrallingly sexy voice of her

husband. She carefully undid her braid, finger-

combing the


long chestnut strands into a curtain down her back

and over


one shoulder.


He watched her with deep concentration that made



hands tremble. When she was done, he reached out

and ran


his fingers through the hair covering her shoulder



breast. “So soft.”


She shivered as the pads of his fingers brushed over



nipple in their path to the end of her hair. He smiled



repeated the entire process, beginning his long

caress in the


hair at her nape and following it down again, but this



when he reached her breast, he stopped. He cupped



rubbed her nipple into more pronounced arousal.



sensation of hair brushing against the thin fabric of



nightgown over her very sensitive flesh sent her



endings into orbit.


“Take off your nightgown,” he commanded



Her breath caught somewhere between her

breastbone and


expelling. She didn’t think she could do it. She

wasn’t one of


his experienced lovers, used to undressing for a

man. Gianna


had never been nude with any man but Rico. She

shook her




“Do you want me to stop touching you?”


How could he ask such a stupid question? He’d

barely begun


and she felt as if her entire body had gone on red





“Then take off your gown.” The sensual threat in his



enervated her, but he merely dropped his hand to

his side


and watched her. Waiting.


“You’re being bossy again,” she whispered.


He shrugged. That’s all. Just a shrug. No words. No



movement. He was leaving it completely up to her.



could either remove her gown or…or what? Turn

over and go


to sleep? She almost laughed at the ludicrousness

of that


thought. Her sane mind demanded she give it

credence, but


her body throbbed for what it knew Rico could

give…pleasure beyond comprehension. Did it really

matter if


he saw this as some kind of duty when he did it so



When he touched her, she felt loved. She knew she



but she would face that truth aftenNard— for now the



potential of fulfilled passion lured her like a siren’s



If she ended up crashed and broken on the rocks of

unrequited love, at least the journey there would

have been


more satisfying than the endless ocean of loneliness



known for so long.


Her decision made, she began pulling her gown up



and over her head. Warm, sure hands cupped the



of her breasts when the fabric was still blocking her



The sensation was so incredible, her entire body



movement in arrested delight. Which left her literally





Rico abraded her nipples with his thumbs. Drawing

concentric circles around them until she thought she



go mad with desire. She groaned and arched into

his touch,


her entire being focused on those two small peaks



pleasure they were receiving.


He gave a growling laugh and one hand abandoned



breast. She made a sound of protest and then felt



nightgown being pulled the rest of the way off.

Suddenly she


could see him as well as feel him. And what a sight it



His eyes were lambent with desire, his chest rippled

as he


moved to pull her into the circle of his arms. She



against the short curling hair of his chest and

shuddered in


reaction to the feel of her body against his without



barrier of clothing, except those barely there silk

boxers, for


the first time.


“Si, yes, it feels right, no?”


She kissed the hollow between his neck and



lingering to taste the salty goodness of his skin and



the spicy scent that was distinctly Rico.


“Yes.” The arm around her waist tightened and she

squeaked, finding it difficult to breathe. He loosened

his hold


immediately, but she was so proud of the reaction



caused she repeated the kiss, this time licking his



delicately along his collarbone. He molded her



pinching her nipple and sending arcs of sensation to



most feminine place. Then his other hand moved



was cupping her backside, his fingers flirting with the

vulnerable softness at the apex of her thighs. She



against his touch, seeking remembered pleasure

with blind


passion. He nipped her onto her back and loomed

above her,


his body angled and resting on one elbow.


“I want to make love to you.”


“Yes.” The word was barely out of her mouth when

his lips


were over hers.


She gasped in a mixture of shock and bliss.


He immediately deepened the kiss, taking command

of her


mouth in a way that left her breathless and aching

for more.


While he kissed her with a fervor she found



overwhelming, his free hand brushed up and down



in repeated erotic caresses that left her shivering



craving a more intimate touch. He broke the kiss and



starving lungs sucked in air.


“You are so responsive, piccola mia.”


She’d never felt less like a child, but she wasn’t sure

her all


out abandoned response was a good thing. Maybe

he liked a


more composed partner. Judging by Chiara, Gianna

knew he


was used to a more sophisticated one.


“I can’t help it,” she admitted, not without a little

embarrassment. His look was pure, primitive male.

“I don’t want you to.”


“Oh.” She bit her lip, wondering why he’d stopped



her, why his hand was motionless against her waist.

Then he


did something she found very odd. He carefully

arranged her


hair over the pillow, taking so much time she was



for more of his touch when he was finished.


“Why did you do that?”


“l have dreamed of seeing you like this.”


Could that be true? “You dreamed of me?”


She couldn’t accept that a man who saw touching



some kind of chore would dream about it. He didn’t



Instead, he picked up a lock of her hair and using it

like a


paint brush, began to “paint” her body, paying



attention to her breasts and nipples. He was so

focused in


his efforts, she felt unsettled by his attention. He

didn’t seem


to notice that her body was a little too curvy by



fashion standards. If the look on his face was any



it didn’t bother him a bit that she was easily six



shorter than Chiara and both a bra and dress size



The length of her hair allowed him to tease her



and he did so, in such an erotic way she was soon



shamelessly in a mindless search for relief from the



pulsing between her legs. She wanted to touch him



reached out to do so, but he stopped her.






“This is for you, tesoro.”


“I want it to be for you too,” she replied.


He ignored her words, kissing her into total



Speaking in Italian, he told her how sexy she was,



beautiful he found her body and its assorted bits.

Some of


his words were so frank, they embarrassed her, but



found them all arousing. Why wouldn’t he touch her



she needed to be touched?


She realized she’d made the demand out loud when





“In time, tesoro. Making love to a virgin should not



rushed, no?”


“This virgin wouldn’t mind,” she assured him.


But he just laughed again and continued with the



caresses. She cried out in relief when his mouth

closed over


one nipple. But her relief soon turned to wanton

need that


remained unfulfilled. He suckled her until she was



with desire. She begged him to stop. He moved to

the other


breast. By the time he was done with that one, she

was a


shaking, gasping bundle of over sensitized flesh. His



moved to the soft curls between her legs and teased



with light touches.


“You belong to me.”


“Yes.” How could he doubt it? His finger dipped

between her


legs, finding the evidence of her excitement. She



her legs, no longer caring if her actions betrayed her

overpowering need for him. He caressed her like he

had the


last time, gently circling her bud of feminine pleasure



then rubbing it in alternative movements until she

came with


an ecstatic scream that reverberated in her

eardrums long


after it was over.


His hand stilled, but he did not take it away. She lay,



wondering if he would do as he had in New York and



her into senselessness. He kissed her. Softly.



His hand moved and she felt flesh inside her body

for the


first time as he probed her opening with the tip of his



The sensation was incredible.


“That feels good,” she blurted out.


He smiled, elemental male claiming his woman.


“It will feel better,” he promised and his finger dipped





Incredibly, her body responded with renewed ardor

and she


could feel the build of yet another explosion in her



places. He probed further and suddenly she felt

pain. She


tried to back away from it, but he wouldn’t let her



“Trust me.” She met his silver gaze and stopped

trying to


get away. She nodded as tears stung her eyes from





His thumb teased her sweet spot while he pushed



forward into her until the burning became almost

unbearable. His mouth closed over her left nipple as



pushed through the barrier and pressed into her

body in an


intimate way she would not have believed possible

in their


current circumstance. Then pain turned to



pleasure as he made love to her with the moves of a



who knew exactly what he was doing.


Pleasure built and built and built until her entire body



shaking on the edge of going over. He gently bit her



and everything inside her convulsed in the most



wave of ecstasy she could ever have imagined.



were too tame to describe it. A supernova too distant



express the intimacy of it. Love was the only word

that could


possibly describe her body’s reaction to her



lovemaking. She shuddered every time he moved

his hand,


experiencing aftershocks course through her time

and again


until she fell into a dozing stupor.


She felt him move beside her and then the

depression of the


bed as he lifted himself off and onto his chair. She



get her glued eyelids open enough to see what he



doing. Time went by. She didn’t know how long, but

at some


point he returned to their bed. She felt a warm



between her legs. She twitched, made self-

conscious by his


actions, but he gentled her with a caress.


“Shh, tesoro. Let me do this. It is a husband’s





Still reeling from the other “honorable right” he had

exercised, she relaxed and let him complete his

ministrations, feeling cherished if a little



Afterward he pulled her to his side, his solid,

muscular arm


closing around her with the warmth of a security



“This, what I do with you. It is not a duty.”

Remembering his words of praise, his passion filled



she believed him. They’d both lashed out and said



they hadn’t meant, but he liked touching her.


He’d made that very, very clear. She smiled,



content. She snuggled into him and mouthed words

of love


against his skin before settling against his body. On



verge of unconsciousness she heard him say,

“There can be


no annulment now.” She wanted to ask him what he



but she was too tired.


Gianna swam to wakefulness with a sense of



Why was her bed so warm? She couldn’t move her



Panic at the thought lessened only fractionally as



registered the fact her hair was trapped under



preventing her movement. A heavy weight was



across her ribs as well. An arm. An arm whose hand



positioned possessively over one of her breasts.



Oh, Mother.


Her eyes flew open to warm ltalian sunshine and the



form of the man beside her. Neither of them was

wearing a


stitch of clothes. The sheet covered the lower half of



body, but both their upper bodies were cast in stark

relief by


the bright morning light. His dark hand over the pale

skin of


her breast sent a shiver of alarm through her. What

had she




She’d let Rico make love to her. That’s what. A very



ache between her legs attested to it. She hadn’t

known a


man could do what he had done to her with his



Thinking of how intimately he had touched her

brought a


rush of embarrassed heat up her skin and her gaze



drawn irresistibly back to his sleeping form. His face



relaxed in sleep, appearing younger, not so

intimidating; but


not even unconsciousness could dispel the arrogant

set of


his mouth. His dark hair was mussed and stubble



his jaw.


Seeing him like this felt infinitely special, as private

as what


they had shared the night before. But they hadn’t

shared it,


her mind taunted her. He’d refused to let her touch



Why? Unable to resist the urge, she reached up and



softly brushed back a lock of black hair falling

rakishly over


his forehead. After his insistence she keep her



herself the night before, she felt like a cat burglar,



in to steal the family silver.


Emboldened when he did not wake up, she allowed



fingers to trail over his hair roughened chest as she



longed to do before. It felt strange. The hair was

both soft


and springy, different from her own body hair which



much finer and of course nowhere near as



She tentatively pressed her finger into his flesh and



in the hard strength of his muscles. He was just so



A secret smile tipped the corner of her lips. It would



offend Rico to be described as beautiful, she knew.

But to


her, he was everything masculine beauty could be.



Virile. Hard. And big.


He was so much bigger than her. Lying beside him


emphasized the difference in their sizes. It made her





He stirred and she snatched her hand back, her



palpitating at a terrifying rate at the thought of



caught both ogling and touching him like a small

child with a


new toy. He didn’t move again and she let out a rush

of air


from tight lungs. Would he be bothered to waken to



touch? She wished she knew more about men and



made them tick. Rico was the only man she’d ever



interested in and he was as incomprehensible to her

as a


Chinese word puzzle.


But he’d shared a little of himself last night. He’d



to wanting to make herjealous. He’d also told her



touching her was not a duty. It was a fair start. And

he had


been emphatic that he wanted their marriage to



Comprehension of the meaning of his final words hit



with the force of a Tae Kwon Do ax kick. Rico had

“consummated” their marriage last night. She was



a virgin and that ruled out an annulment. He’d done

it on


purpose. Of course he had, but she couldn’t be

angry about


that. Not when his actions were further proof ofjust



permanently he wanted them to stay together.


She smiled at the thought even as Rico’s arm

shifted, telling


her he was waking for real this time. He opened his

eyes and


silver light caught her gaze as inexorably as a high-



magnet trapping a paper clip.


“Buona mattina.” His voice was husky from sleep.

She was


now very aware of his hand against her breast.

“Good morning,” she croaked with something less



sophisticated cool.


“Is it?” His eyes probed hers. He needed her



She didn’t mind giving it to him.


“Yes.” Feeling embarrassed by their new intimacy,

she tried


to move away, but his arms gave no quarter.


“We need to get up. You have a session in less than





Now that he was awake, she realized she wanted to

avoid a


postmortem on the night before. He might want to



married to her, but he didn’t love her and that

colored the


night before gray around the edges.


“What is wrong, cara? Are you sore?” he asked, with



she considered an extreme lack of tact. She averted



gaze. How did other women deal with this first





“A little.” His hand tipped her chin until she was

forced to


look into his eyes.


“I regret I had to hurt you.” She could read the

sincerity in


his expression. She didn’t want him to feel guilty for

something so natural.


“No big deal.” She tried to sound as sophisticated as



wished she felt.


“It’s usually at least a little painful the first time, I’ve





“Less painful maybe than if it had been a normal first



no? You are very tight, little one.” This was going too



“Rico! I don’t think we need to discuss the



His smile sent her thoughts exploding in different



none of them rational.


“It is nothing for which you should feel shy with me,

tesoro. I


am your husband.”


Remembering a similar statement he had made after

goading her into admitting her virginity, she said,

“Rico, your


idea of what should and should not embarrass me is

nowhere near my own.”


“You are very innocent.”


“Not anymore,” she was provoked into saying. He

looked so




“No, tesoro. Not any longer. Now, you belong to



“For better or worse.” A tinge of unexpected

bitterness laced


her voice. What was wrong with her? He frowned.

“You are not happy to be married to me? I do not

believe this


after last night.”


Could a guy get any more conceited?


“Face it, Rico. This marriage is not what either of us

envisioned for our future.”


And it was only as she said the words, she realized

how true


they were. Rico had planned to marry supermodel



and she, well she had planned to marry for love. He



her cheek in an oddly tender gesture.


“This is true, but life is rarely what we expect, no?”

“I guess you’re right.”


She let her hand rest against his chest, over his



steady beat was reassuring.


“I always expected to marry because of love.”


His arm tightened around her and an expression she



not identify hardened his features. “You love me.”


She opened her mouth, to say what she didn’t know.



forestalled her.


“Do not deny the gift of your heart to me.”


He put his finger over her lips, sealing them shut. “I



treasure it always.” Rather than confirm or deny his



she voiced her own worry.


“You don’t love me.” What had been a difficult

expression to


interpret became no expression at all.


“I care for you, tesoro. I will be faithful.” Again that



brush of fingers along her temple and cheek. “We

will have a


good life.”


She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Knowing something



hearing it were two very different animals she

discovered at


that moment.


She’d known Rico didn’t love her, but secretly she’d

nursed a


hope that his insistence on marriage and keeping



marriage had meant something more than it did.



him say he only cared for her and they would have a



life was like taking a mortal blow and yet having her

opponent expect her to remain standing. Rico wasn’t



enemy, but at that moment he hurt her more than all



stepmother’s petty cruelties over the years had been

capable of doing.


Years of loneliness in her marriage, longing for a

love he did


not feel stretched out before Gianna. But, perhaps

the most


lowering thought of all was that those years looked



more devastating without Rico in them. She took a



breath and let it out, concentrating on not allowing



devastated emotions to show in her voice. “We still

need to


get up.”


He looked like he was going to pursue the



further. She could not stand it. “Please,” she



caring if she sounded pathetic at that point. She

could not


bear one more minute of their current conversation.

He wasn’t feeling merciful because he shook his



cannot let you go looking as you do. You must trust

me that


our marriage will be all that a marriage should be.”

“Did you love Chiara?” she asked with masochistic



“With Chiara, it was sex. I thought there was more at



time, but I find now my memories of our time



center on one activity.” She didn’t like the thought of



remembering sex with Chiara. Complete sex.



they could not yet experience.


“And with me?” she asked.


“It is infinitely more.”


“But not love,” she said, wondering why she was



herselfthrough this. His mouth hardened while his



searched for words. When they came, they were not



she needed to hear.


“We have a history.”


“You and Chiara have a history, too.”


“Chiara is the past. You are the present.”


“The wife you don’t love, but refuse to let go.”


“And do you wish to go?” She swallowed, incapable



uttering a face-saving lie. He pulled her across his



exciting her flesh even as she tried to come to terms



her emotions. He stopped when her face was

directly above


his, her lips only centimeters from his own.


“I know you do not.”


“You’re right.” Leaving him would be like severing a



from her body without anesthetic. But living without

his love


would be as painful as constantly chafing an open



“I do not wish you to go either.” Looking into eyes



demanded she believe his words, she felt a small

spark of


hope ignite. He did not want to let her go. That had

to mean


something. Maybe he did not love her, but they had



lifetime together. Surely he would eventually figure



was the best woman in the world for him. After all,

Rico was




He gave up on words at that point and kissed her.

The kiss turned carnal in less than five seconds and

soon his


hands were roaming over the naked contours of her



and exposed bottom with possessive assurance.

She fell into the lovemaking without protest, needing



physical intimacy more than ever after the denial of

emotional ties.


They were late for Rico’s physical therapy, but Tim



laughed, ribbing them about being newly-weds. He

said he


could understand how a woman like her could make

Rico run


late in the mornings. She wondered if Tim would find



equally easy to understand the fact her husband still



not allow her to touch him? Or would he be as

perplexed as


she was? Because Rico had done it again.


He had seduced her into blind response and



deflected her every attempt to explore his body as



explored hers. She couldn’t help wondering why and



didn’t believe Rico would see it as the grossest act



betrayal to their privacy, she would ask Tim if there

were a


physiological reason for Rico’s reticence.


Rico slammed back against the rowing



resistance and then yanked himself forward with



jerk made powerful by his frustration. He wanted



walk, damn it. He wanted to make love to his wife.

Completely. With his whole body. He’d thought that

might be


a possibility the night before. His sex had become

semi erect


when he started touching her, but it hadn’t lasted

and he


hated the feeling of sexual helplessness that

experience had


left him with. That morning, she’d wanted to discuss



emotions. He didn’t know what he felt. He needed

her in his


life in a way he had not needed Chiara. His inability



experience sexual release underscored that truth.



wondered if his innocent wife realized that. She’d

been upset


when he hadn’t said he loved her, but didn’t she

realize that


what they had was more permanent and lasting than



kind of romantic ideal? He was committed to her. He



she was committed to him. In time there would be



He had begun to hope he would be able to father

them in the


normal way, but this morning’s repeat performance

of only a


semi erection and a temporary one at that, put paid

to those


thoughts. He wanted Gianna pregnant with his child.



thought consummating their marriage would help her



settle into her role as his wife, but he still sensed


restlessness in her. Once she was pregnant with his



she would not consider leaving him again.



Rico’s parents arrived back from their anniversary

trip late


that afternoon to the news of both their son’s

accident and


his first time standing with the parallel bars. Renata



Rico, kissing his cheeks with typical ltalian



“Oh, my son, you are ever the achiever, yes?”


“It was hardly the accomplishment of the century,”



dismissed, glaring at Gianna for bringing it up.


She refused to let him make light of it. Besides

which his


mother’s tearful sympathy would have worn thin with



very shortly. Both his parents had been gratifyingly



of Rico’s choice to help the woman being mugged.

Then, not


unexpectedly, Renata had gotten emotional at the

sight of


her son in a wheelchair. Gianna had mentioned



achievement in an effort to focus Renata’s attention

on the


strides he was making, not the results of the



Gianna shifted in the chair she had taken upon

entering the


drawing room twenty minutes earlier and met his



without flinching.


“It is proof positive that you will be walking again



Renata smiled mistily toward Gianna, “Of course

Rico will


walk again.” Understanding Rico’s male pride, Tito



nothing about Gianna’s revelation.


“Look at how she stands up to him,” he commented



“No simpering little miss, our Gianna.”


Rico’s father’s brown eyes twinkled at her with





“Ay, ay, ay. I still cannot believe my son had the

good sense


to marry our girl,” Renata responded, going back to



beside her husband on the sofa facing Rico.


Tito, a commanding man, only a couple of inches



than Rico, hugged his wife of over thirty years. “He

has good


taste like his papa.”


Renata blushed, her still beautiful skin taking on a

rosy hue.


“Oh, you!”


She slapped Tito’s arm playfully. Andre’s low



laugh brought Gianna’s gaze around to him. He

grinned at


his father.


“I’d say Rico’s taste has certainly improved over six





Tito nodded, his expressive face showing his

agreement. “Si.


That one. Her heart is as empty as my bank account



your mama went shopping on Corfu.”


The others laughed, but Rico scowled. “You imply I



no discernment in choosing my fiancee.”


Gianna stifled a groan. Rico’s pride wouldn’t allow

him to


take his family’s ribbing in stride.


Andre shrugged. “You showed better taste in

selecting a


wife, in my opinion.”


“We can thank the good God he came to his senses

in time,”


Tito said with tactlessness allowed only in a parent.

“Or maybe the driver of the car?” Renata asked, her

expression thoughtful. Gianna gasped and Rico’s

scowl had


grown worse, but Renata shook her head, a look of



wisdom in her loving eyes.


“Things happen for a reason. Rico will heal, but this

accident…it has stopped him from making a bad

mistake in


his marriage.”


Her expression turned to one of distaste. “He could



been stuck with such a wife! Ay, ay, ay. A conceited



miss who took her clothes off for a living!”


Gianna winced and she shot a glance at Rico, her



concern justified by his cold expression.


“Chiara is a model, not a stripper, Mama.” Rico’s



dripped icy censure.


Gianna bit her lip. For a man who didn’t still love his



Rico was reacting with singular offense to criticism

of her. She tried to tell herself it was just his pride



Rico’s standards for himself were very high, so high

in fact,


he found it almost impossible to admit when he was



Even knowing this, his defense of the other woman



Renata pursed her lips.


“In my day, decent Italian girls did not undress for



or parade themselves on a stage in clothing that



less than their underwear. Can you see Gianna

doing such a




Rico looked at Gianna with enough consideration to

imply he


was trying to picture it. She deliberately looked away



those musing silver eyes.


She hated the thought he might be comparing her



attributes with Chiara’s.


“l’m inches too short and a stone too heavy to even


compete for a modeling contract,” she said to



“I don’t know. I think you would do things to



Chiara and those other skinny models could



manage,” Andre said with a truly wicked



“I’ve already seen what you do for a bikini.”

He kissed his fingertips and opened his hand in



gesture of approval.


It was Renata’s turn to gasp. “Andre, it is not

appropriate to


make such a comment about your sister-in-law.”



moved shoulders encased in a well-cut gray Italian

suit in a


careless gesture.


“If I have offended her, I am sorry.” He turned



laughing eyes on Gianna. “Have I offended you,





She shook her head, unsure what to say. His

comment had


embarrassed her, but it hadn’t made her angry.


She could hardly mind when his expressed

sentiments were


so good for her feminine ego. Besides, she knew he

saw her


as more sister than woman and took his remarks in



light. They were the bland teasing of an older



“You have offended me,” Rico declared with freezing



“You cannot be serious,” Andre taunted. “Had you



Chiara, you would have had to accustom yourself to



comments being made in the newspapers, notjust

by your




What was Andre trying to accomplish? She couldn’t



he really wanted to bait Rico into losing his temper

and yet


that event was fast approaching.


“But I did not marry Chiara, did I?” Rico asked, his



dangerously soft.


“No, and we are grateful,” Tito answered for his



doing nothing to lessen Rico’s smoldering anger.


Although the subject changed soon after that, the

next hour


spent bringing Rico’s parents up to date about what



happened while they had been on vacation was a

tense one


for Gianna. She couldn’t forget Rico’s defense of

Chiara, or


his angry reaction to criticism of her. When the



moved into business channels, the women excused

themselves so Renata could show Gianna the things



bought on her trip with Tito. Gianna ran loving

fingers over a


hand-embroidered duvet cover. “It’s so beautiful. It



have taken a year to finish.”


The pale lavender silk was covered with purple

irises, their


dark green stems and leaves intertwined like ivy.



smiled the smile of a woman who has made a killer



“The woman who did it told me it took her several



to finish.” She pulled out a white lace mantilla she’d



off the coast of Spain. “Now this would have been



as a wedding veil.”


Gianna felt herself color under the heavy hint. “lt’s



“A register office. DiRinaIdos do not marry in such



surroundings. No friends. No priest to bless the

union. No




Renata stood up and laid the mantilla over Gianna’s

hair and


settled it around her shoulders, then stood back to



the effect.


“Si. This is how you should have looked on your





“Rico didn’t want to expose himself to the curious

stares of


wedding guests while he was still forced to use the

wheelchair to get around.”


“Then he should have waited, that son of mine. To



without even his parents present…” She shook her



disapproval obvious.


Gianna said nothing.


“We will have to plan a proper blessing on the

marriage after


Rico has regained his mobility.”


Gianna made a sound that could be taken as



and soon Renata was deep in plans for a big Italian



which would include everything but the actual

ceremony. A


formal church blessing would replace it. She shooed



out of the room, saying she had lists to make and

thinking to


do. Gianna did not point out that as the bride, she



have some say in the preparations.


If her own mother were still living, she would be



exactly as Renata was, only she would have called



for advice. Gianna went to the library and tried to



herself in a book, but thoughts of the afternoon kept

intruding. Although she was horribly relieved that



parents apparently approved of their marriage, she



that their voiced dislike of Chiara would cause

problems with




Her worry was justified later as she and Rico

dressed for


dinner. She had gone into the bathroom to change

and came


out wearing a demure sheath dress in chocolate-

brown silk


with a gold pendant formed in the shape of a rose



matching earrings she’d inherited from her mother.

She’d left her hair down, pulling only some of it back

into a


gold clip she fastened on the back of her head.

Rico’s eyes


flared when he saw her and then grew cold.

“Attempting to live up to my parents’ image of you as



Madonna bride, cara?” His voice was lethally

sarcastic and


the endearment sounded like an insult.


She looked down at her dress. It wasn’t so different

than the


outfits she’d worn to dinner over the past week at the



“I don’t know what you mean.”


His dark brows rose in mocking disbelief. “Don’t



Her fingers curled into her palms until she felt her

nails dig


into the soft flesh.




“Chiara complained about how you and Andre made

her feel


unwelcome at the hospital and l dismissed it at the

time, but


after the visit with my parents and Andre earlier I

have to


wonder if she saw things more truthfully than I did.”

Gianna remembered the accusations. She’d been

relieved at


the time that Rico hadn’t taken the blatant lies

seriously. lt


irked her unbearably that they’d come back to haunt



now, when there were already enough issues in her



causing her pain. From the look on his face, Rico



going to believe her version of events, but she had

to try




“Your brother may not be fond of her, but that does



mean he treated her with anything other than

courtesy while


she was your fiancee. He respects you too much to





“You think so?” Rico had moved until they faced

each other


with less than a foot separating them. She

swallowed, made


nervous by his proximity and the brooding anger



from him.


“I know it. l was there, remember?”


“Si. You were there, but if you aided my brother in

dispossessing my fiancee of her place by my side,

you would


hardly advertise the fact, no?”


Fury filled her. How dare he question her integrity?



was a royal pain in the neck and Gianna refused to



tamely to an indictment on her character based on

the other


woman’s manipulative games.


“I didn’t dispossess anyone because she wasn’t

there to


begin with. When I arrived at the hospital, your

fiancee,” she


said the word sneeringly, “was nowhere to be found.

She’d taken a flit while you lay in that bed in a coma



the fact the doctors had told her having a loved one

by your


side could make all the difference in your recovering



She yanked her hair from his hand, bringing stinging

tears to


her eyes as the action caused a painful pull on her



“If you don’t believe me, ask Andre.”


“My brother has made it clear where his affection



“Are you saying you think he would lie to you?”


“For you? Maybe.”


“That’s ridiculous.”


“Is it? My brother has made no secret of his

admiration for




She looked into his eyes and read anger and

something else.


“You’re jealous,” she said on a gasp.


Making a sweeping arc with his hand to indicate the



glared at her.


“Is that such a surprise?”


Funnily enough, it was.


“I didn’t marry Andre.”


She’d never wanted to marry Andre. Only Rico. Only





“And yet you found his compliments on your body in



swimsuit pleasing.”


“Did you think I should have been offended?”


She didn’t know why she bothered to ask. The

answer was




“You should not desire the admiration of other men.”

“I don’t desire his admiration, but that doesn’t mean



when he says something nice I’m going to tell him to

stuff it,


either. He’s my brother now.”


“And I am your husband.”


How had this crazy conversation gotten started? Oh,



“Do you really believe I kept Chiara away from you

in order


to keep you for myself?” His sensual lips twisted in a



“No. I spoke in anger.”


Remembering another time he’d spoken in anger,





“You were jealous.”


He sighed long and loudly, his expression of



for once easy to read.




She grinned and did something she’d never done

before. She


plopped down on his lap and clasped her hands

behind his


neck, then kissed him on the chin before laying her



against his chest.


“Don’t be. You have no reason.”


His arms came around her in a hug that was almost



Eventually his hold loosened, but kept his arms

around her


and rubbed the top of her head with his cheek.



They sat that way for several minutes in complete



before going down to dinner.


Rico entered his bedroom after two late night



calls to find his wife sleeping, her hand curled under



cheek like a small child. He was still reeling from

how much


having her sit in his lap voluntarily had meant to him.

He had


felt like he had his entire world in his arms.


The feeling had not been wholly pleasant. lt implied

a lack of


emotional independence he’d never before



Definitely not with Chiara. He got himself into bed.



mobility had increased greatly over the past week,

but still


he could not walk. And things he had always taken



granted were impossible tasks to perform. Like right

now. He


wanted to pull Gianna across the bed and into his

arms. He


finally managed it, but only after a lot of

maneuvering. It was


worth it to feel her small body curled so trustingly





She automatically snuggled into his side, as if they



been sleeping together for years, not a single night.



in her dreams like his, they had.


Remembering his irrational accusations earlier, he



Jealousy, he was discovering, could be hell. He’d



jealous of Chiara. No matter how skimpy the outfit



modeled in. Andre had gotten that right, butjust the



of Gianna in a bikini within fifty feet of another man



Rico see red. He’d ask his mother to find her a

modest one


piece. Getting his independent wife to wear it would



something else entirely, he admitted to himself.

While in some ways Gianna was traditional Italian to



core, in others she was very American in her


thinking and




Her small hand rested against his chest, while one



insinuated itself over his thigh. He could feel the

sensation of


her weight, but had to touch her with his hand to



the softness of her skin. It was maddening. When

would he


be whole again? He let one hand rest possessively

over her


bottom, keeping her pressed against him in a way



should have caused a certain reaction in his male



but did not. Would it return with the complete return

of his


mobility? The metallic taste of fear accompanied the

possibility that it would not. No man wanted to be

half a


man. He would not let Gianna touch him in case she

discovered his lack of true virility.


Yet, he ached to allow those small hands to roam

over his


body in a way he had never wanted Chiara, or any



woman’s touch. One thing was certain. Half a man

or a


whole one, he would never let her go.


Gianna woke in the morning curled around a pillow



with Rico’s masculine fragrance. She was warm and

had the


vague impression of being held through the night.

Had she


been, or was itjust wishful thinking on her part?


Rico was the only person at the breakfast table

when she


went down less than an hour later. She slid into a



across the table from him.


“Where is everyone else?”


“Papa and Mama are still sleeping and Andre is at a

breakfast meeting on behalf of the bank.”


She smiled. “It’s nice to have your parents home.”

His expression of approval warmed her insides.

“They are


thrilled to have a new daughter.”


“Renata wasn’t happy about how our marriage took



Gianna smiled ruefully. “Your mother wants to have



marriage blessed. I think Andre was right about her

using it


as an excuse to have all the trappings of a wedding.”

Rico’s smile made her melt inside like milk chocolate

on a


hot sidewalk.


“She will enjoy it. Do you mind, cara?”


“No. When she was making plans yesterday, it made



think of what it would be like if my mother was still

alive. It


felt nice.”


“Then we will let her have her way.” She nodded and



eating the fruit she’d served herself from the bowl on



table. Rico checked his watch.


“Hurry with your breakfast. We have an appointment

in an


hour’s time.”


“An appointment?”


“Si. With the fertility specialist,” he elucidated.


“But why?” He was weeks, if not days from walking.

Why go


through IVF if they didn’t have to?


“So we can begin the process of making you

pregnant with


my baby.” He said it as if speaking to a slow-witted





“Were you hoping I would forget that side of our



Sometimes he could be very paranoid. “No. I want to





“Then, finish your breakfast so we can be on our



“But, you’re almost walking,” she blurted out.



flickered in his silver eyes, but then it was gone.


“There is no guaranteed timeline for that eventuality.

I want


to begin on a family right away.”


And a baby would be another bond between them,

something else to build emotional connections

around. “All






SHE was still trying to comprehend Rico’s desire to

try for


conception with IVF when they were shown into the



office. The only thing she could think was that he



believe he would be capable of fathering her child

any other


way. She hated the thought of him tormented by

such fear,


but she knew too little about such matters to

assuage those


fears. Maybe she would talk to Tim. “You realize the



invasive procedure, intravenous fertilization, will not



necessary,” the doctor was saying, bringing



attention back firmly to the matter at hand. “We will



performing TESE on you, Mr. DiRinaIdo,” the doctor



talking about the process by which they would

collect Rico’s


sperm, “a fairly painless, outpatient procedure.” Rico

nodded, his expression bland. The doctor turned to

her. “You


will have to go through intra-uterine insemination,



DiRinaIdo.” Gianna found the ensuing conversation

with the


doctor embarrassing to say the least. He discussed



and asked questions about her fertility cycle that left



stuttering for answers. She’d never been one of



women who marked things like that on a calendar.

After her


third stammering answer, Rico sighed. “Would you

prefer I


left while you discuss such details with the doctor?”

She felt


her face heat with an even stronger blush. “Yes.”

Her eyes


pleaded with him to understand. His half smile told

her that


he had. He turned and left the room, closing the

door behind


him. The doctor laughed. “I’m surprised he offered to

go. Mr.


DiRinaldo strikes me as a man who likes to maintain



and his protectiveness toward you is apparent.” But



understanding for her feelings was greater than his

need for


control, she thought with a warm gratitude. In that,



relationship had grown, at least. He might believe

she should


not be embarrassed discussing anything with him,

but he


now apparently accepted that she was. “What were



saying about the lUl?” She wanted the consultation



she could get back to Rico. “The procedure is one of



least complicated treatments for infertility and little



for concern.”


She nodded, encouraging him to continue. The

doctor went


on to explain what she needed to do to prepare for



procedure and how to keep track of her temperature



other physiological indicators in order to determine



optimum time for the procedure. Finally, the doctor



benevolently. “Although it is a simple procedure, it

can be a


trifle painful. You understand this, si?” She nodded



affirmative, though she wasn’t quite sure why or how



would hurt. Discussing such private matters with two



even her doctor and husband, held no appeal. The



made a notation in the file open on the desk in front

of him.


“You will experience anything from minor discomfort



lingering pain from the procedure. Though to be



than three percent of women undergoing treatment

complain of anything more than the most minor of

discomfort.” That was comforting, but even with the



percentage… not something she was willing to share



Rico. He might not allow her to undergo the

procedure and


she wanted his baby. Very much. “I’m not worried

about it,”


Gianna asserted. “It often takes as many as six



before conception happens,” the doctor warned her.



hoped Rico would have regained full functionality by



but she nodded in understanding and acceptance.

Rico was


called back in and the doctor loaded her down with a

lot of


paraphernalia that was supposed to let her know

when the


optimum time for the procedure would occur. She



askance. “I’m supposed to take my temperature

every day?”


“Yes. And—” “Never mind. I’ll read the instructions,”



hastily inserted before he started explaining the



methods of measuring her productivity in front of

Rico. It had


been bad enough the first time around with only the



in the room. They left the private clinic after making



appointment for Rico’s TESE on the following

Tuesday. It was


the day after his appointment when Gianna followed

him into


the room where he had his physical therapy

sessions. Tim


had not yet arrived, but Rico settled himself into the



machine and started exercising with the same



concentration he gave everything in his life. His thigh

muscles corded as he forced the machine through



rotation with his arms.


Gianna filled a water bottle and placed it on the mat





“Tim said you took several steps yesterday.” She

had gone


shopping with Renata and hadn’t found out about



progress until Tim and his wife came for dinner.

Gianna had


been seeing them out, the rest of the family still in

the sala,


when Tim had mentioned it.


He’d tactfully ignored her shock at the news. The



Rico hadn’t shared his progress with her hurt and



her. She thought they had been growing closer.

“Si. Can I expect a big announcement at dinner



She flinched at the sarcasm.


“Your parents and brother are interested in your



He grimaced.


“You are right, cara. I should not snap at you. Tell

them what


you like.”


She couldn’t help wondering if he were in pain from



procedure the day before. She bit her lip as he



pushing his body to the limits.


“Are you sure you should be going at it quite so hard





His jaw tensed and he pushed through three more



before answering.


“I do not need a nursemaid, Gianna.”


He hardly ever called her by her first name and she



help feeling it wasn’t an indication of intimacy at the



“I’m not trying to be one.”


“Then why are you here?”


Good question. She’d attended his sessions at first

to cajole


him into working on his rehabilitation rather than his

company. But since their arrival in Italy, he had

given more


than enough attention to walking again. She

continued to


come to his sessions to spend time with him



rest of the day his business kept him occupied. She

saw him


at dinner, but rarely otherwise.


Half the time she was asleep before he came to bed.



when she was not, he never wanted to talk. He

made love to


her, but steadfastly refused to allow her to touch

him. She


enjoyed sleeping in his arms, but an underlying

sense of


insecurity accompanied his rejection of her attempts

to give


back a small measure of the pleasure she enjoyed in



embrace. She still hadn’t worked up the courage to



their intimacy with Tim. She wondered if she ever



Perhaps if she could convince herself it wouldn’t be



betrayal of Rico’s privacy.


“I thought you liked having me here,” she replied



realizing even as she spoke, she’d clearly become

surplus to


requirements. “I’ll leave you to your exercise.”


She turned to go.




“Was there something you needed?” she asked



turning to face him.


Several seconds passed in silence. “I enjoy your



Spoken after an uncomfortable pause and in such a



voice, she wasn’t buying it. Rico was too polite to tell

her to


get lost, but it was obvious he wanted to. Had

probably been


wanting to for several days now. She squared her



and forced a lightness into her voice she did not feel.

“I think I’ll find Renata and see if there’s anything

she wants


me to do.” At least his mother made her feel



pulling Gianna into her social life and charity work at









Maybe she’d been wrong. Maybe he would ask her

to stay.


“Did you take your temperature this morning?”


The question was like a douse of ice water. The only



Rico apparently wanted from her was her womb.





“I started.”


He could figure out for himself what that meant.


“I’ll be going in for the procedure in less than three

weeks if


my body follows the normal cycle.”


She didn’t wait around to hear his reaction. She

knew what


he wanted. A baby. She was the necessary



body of his dream. Nothing more. Sometimes, in the



when he touched her with tenderness that brought

tears to


her eyes, she convinced herself she meant

something to




But she didn’t and the sooner she accepted that, the



she would stop butting her head against the wall of





Rico watched Gianna leave and wanted to call



back again, but what could he say? He hated the



he had to use a sterile medical procedure to

impregnate his wife with his child. It made him

feel like


less of a man. Added to that, having her witness his

struggles to return to mobility was becoming more

and more


difficult. She treated him like an invalid. She’d gone



cajoling him to work harder to reproaching him for

expending too much energy. The only time he felt

like her


husband was when he made love to her at night.



made no difference he had less control over his legs

than a


two-year-old. She responded to him with such

passion, he


soon became addicted to the sounds of pleasure

she made


and the feel of her body as she convulsed in



He found it so gratifying, it was like finding his own

satisfaction. According to Tim, that could very well

be the


only gratification Rico would ever know again.

Asking the


therapist about his lack of recovery in that area had



lowering for Rico, but he did not shrink from doing



He had to know. Tim’s comments had been both

encouraging and discouraging. In many cases, full



was restored, but there were the small percentage of



that even after mobility was restored were unable to


maintain an erection. Fear he was one of those men



him short with Gianna.


She was his wife, his woman. He loved her. He



know when the knowledge had seated itself in his

brain, but


he’d known since waking in his hospital room in New



that he needed her in a way he had never needed



person. And he wanted nothing more than to be

whole for




This meant giving his rehabilitation everything he



Exercising his legs. Going with Tim through the



rotations. Trying to walk no matter how many times

he fell in


humiliating defeat to the exercise mat. It wasn’t



though. Not if he didn’t give up and with the impetus



becoming whole for Gianna…he never would.

Gianna saw almost nothing of Rico for the following



She didn’t visit him during his therapy sessions and

he did


not seek her out. He had business meetings during



three nights out of seven. The nights he was home



dinner, she kept the conversation centered on his



plans to celebrate their wedding. Gianna avoided

any sort of


intimate conversation, wanting to sidestep the

possibility of




Rico seemed just as intent on avoiding her, coming

to bed


long after she’d gone to sleep each night.


Once, he woke her when he came to bed and she

coldly told


him she was too tired. She hadn’t wanted to deal

with the


pain and pleasure mixture that accompanied his

making love


to her.


He hadn’t tried again. But there were nights she

could have


sworn she slept in his arms. He was always gone

before she


woke and she had to wonder if she had dreamed the



of warmth and security.


In the middle of the third week, she came out of the

bathroom after her shower to find him in their bed.

“What are you doing here?”


His brows rose. “I sleep in this bed, no?”


“I meant now. You don’t usually come to bed so



“So, tonight it is different.”


There was something different all right…something



him. Triumph glittered in his silver eyes. Triumph

over what?


And then it hit her.


“Where is your wheelchair?”




“You’re walking?” she practically shrieked. He’d said



“After a fashion. I must use a stick, but this is

progress, no?”


“Yes!” she shouted and threw herself across the bed

to hug


him in exuberantjoy. His arms locked around her

and she


found herself sitting across his lap, her hands locked



his neck.


“You’re walking,” she whispered with awe. “I knew

you could


do it!”


“With the right incentive, a man can do anything.”



smiled, her eyes tearing up. “Oh, Rico…” She didn’t



what had altered his focus so completely, but

whatever it


was had her eternal gratitude.


“I thought we could celebrate, no?”


His husky voice brought back memories of their first

“celebration” of his progress. A kiss that had



changed their relationship. Was he thinking the

same thing?


The sexy gleam of a predator in his eyes said he



“Yes,” she said with a sigh against his lips.


He let her kiss him for several seconds, allowing her



explore his lips with her tongue. It was heavenly.

Finally, he was going to let her be an active

participant in


their loving. She tunneled her fingers into the silky



strands of his hair and deepened the kiss. He



against her lips as his hand cupped possessively

over her




She arched into the touch, joy coursing through her



from his achievement and this new, more

evenhanded lovemaking.


She let her hand trail down his neck to his

collarbone. She outlined it with one fingertip. He



under her and she felt feminine power surge through

her for


the first time. It gave her the confidence to be bolder



she had ever thought possible. She shifted until she



straddling his thighs and placed both hands on the

hot skin


of his chest. It was her turn to shudder. She had

wanted this


for so long. The freedom to touch him. She could

feel his


heart beating a rapid tattoo against one palm and



protrusion of his male nipple against the other. She



to touch him everywhere.


Her hands slid lower and lower as she edged toward



mysterious part of his body, she found so

fascinating. She’d


never seen a completely naked male in the flesh and



desperately wanted to see Rico. Her husband.

Suddenly his hands gripped her wrists like





Her eyes flew open and she stared into an

immovable gaze


of molten metal.


“I want to touch you,” she practically begged.


“It is better that I should touch you, tesoro.”


No. No. No. She wanted this to be equal. “Please.”

He ignored her, bending his head to capture her

mouth in an


incendiary kiss. Her body reacted with its usual



pleasure, but a small part of her brain remained

functioning. And that part protested this further



He didn’t want her to touch him. He. Did. Not. Want.

Her. To.


Touch. Him. The refrain went round and round in her



until it drowned out even the nerve centers

clamoring for


more pleasure from the hands now roaming over her



She tore her lips from his.




His eyes opened, a dazed expression in them that



gave her hope.


“Why won’t you let me touch you?”


“Is it not enough I give you pleasure, tesoro?” he

asked in a


thickened voice. Something cracked inside her





“You can say that when your body is already

throbbing for


release, when you are aching for my touch?” He



his point by gently pinching her nipple, causing her

to groan


and arch in involuntary desire. His expression was



dazed, if it ever had been. It was calculating and she



stand it. Reasons for their lovemaking when he so

clearly did


not want her presented themselves to her

conscious. None


of them were good. It was all about control. His over

her. It


renewed his male ego to have a woman so blatantly



his sensual thrall. Then there was pity. He felt sorry

for her.


It had to be obvious to him that she was in love with



He’d even said so once. So, he made love to her

because he


pitied her. Maybe there was even some element of

payoff for


her willingness to have his baby.


She didn’t want to be paid off. She wanted to be

loved. A sob


welled up and she ripped herself out of his arms,

landing on


the floor beside the bed.


“I want my own room.”


He reeled back as if she’d hit him. “What?”


“I don’t want to sleep with you anymore.”


He threw back the bedcovers, revealing wine-red silk



and the hair roughened contours of his legs. “Like

hell! You


are my wife. You sleep in my bed.”


She was so angry, she was shaking.


“I’m your incubator,” she screamed at him, “not your



His olive skin turned pale and silver eyes registered



“No!” He reached for her, but she spun away and

ran to the


bathroom. She slammed and locked the door. She

heard a


thump and voluble cursing in Italian.


Seconds later, he was pounding on the door.

“Come out of there, Gianna.”


“No!” Tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t

stand one


more bout of pity sex. Silence met her defiance.



moments of utter silence.


“Come out of there, tesoro. We need to talk.”


He spoke calmly, but she didn’t feel calm.


“I don’t want to.”


“Please, Gianna.” She stared at the door as if it



suddenly dissolve and leave her with no defense.


“I d-don’t want you t-touching me anymore,” she said

between sobbing breaths.


“Okay. I will not touch you.”


“Do you p-promise?” Part of her mind acknowledged



was overreacting, but her emotions were out of



“You have my word.”


She unlocked the door. He opened it and then

leaned against


the frame. His expression was almost as tortured as

she felt


and a white line of stress outlined his firm lips.


“I am not a rapist.”


She stared at him, appalled chagrin adding to her

pain. “I


know that.”


“Then come to bed, moglie mia.”


His wife. Was she his wife? Or was she just his baby



At that moment it really did not matter. Too drained

to fight


anymore, she silently climbed between the sheets.



followed her at a slow pace, taking careful steps, his

expression one of grim determination. She realized

belatedly that the thump she had heard earlier



probably been him falling.


Guilt washed over her even as a sense of unreality

accompanied it while she watched as her husband



under his own power for the first time since the



Happiness at his accomplishment mitigated some of

the pain


of his rejection. He eventually made it to the bed and

he slid


into place next to her. She reached over and turned

out the






“I don’t want to talk,” she slotted in before he could



anything more.


“I need to tell you—”


“No! There’s nothing to say. Please. Just let me go

to sleep.”


She started crying again and he pulled her into his



cursing under his breath. She struggled feebly

against him,


but he just tightened his hold.


“Shh, tesoro.”


He stroked her hair and whispered words of comfort

In a


mixture of Italian and English. Her tears finally

ceased and


he tried to talk to her again, but she begged him to

let her


be. She would do anything to stave off his

explanation of


why she wasn’t woman enough for a complete



relationship with him. Even if he was afraid of an

inability to


perform, if he wanted her, wouldn’t he want to try?



he want her help? A heavy sigh was the only

response to her


pleas, but his arms remained warm and strong

around her


throughout the night.


The next morning, Gianna woke up before Rico. Her

histrionics of the night before brought a wave of

shame. He


had wanted to talk to her and she had refused.



stupid, stupid. But even after her refusal, he had

held her


and comforted her throughout the night. She loved

him so


much, but she certainly hadn’t let love guide her

actions the


night before. Well, today would be different. She



his warmth and allowed herself the luxury of feeling


cherished for several minutes before slipping from



sanctuary of his arms and the bed.


Fifteen minutes later, she surveyed the results of her



tests to measure her body’s readiness for the



insemination. Well, that explained at least part of her

irrationality, she thought wryly.


A sound from behind her alerted her to Rico’s

presence. She


turned to face him, her hand gripping the lapels of

her robe


together at her neck. He stood framed in the

doorway, all six


feet four inches of him exposed but for what his silk



covered. His hair stood endearingly on end and



stubble shadowed his jaw, giving him a dangerous

air. Eyes


the color of stainless steel surveyed her with intense



“We need to talk, cara.”


She nodded and swallowed. Yes, they did, but right

now they


had things to do.


“My body is at optimum temperature for the



His eyes flared. “What did you say?”


“I need to contact the clinic and make an

appointment for




“Today?” He looked dazed.




He closed his eyes as if he was battling something



Had he decided he didn’t want her to have his baby

after all?


“Have you changed your mind?” His eyes flew open.

“I do not know…”


She couldn’t believe it. “Does what I want matter at



He looked so grim.


“It matters a great deal, tesoro.”


“I want to try.”


His jaw clenched, but his head went up and down in

a short


affirmative movement. She called the doctor from

the phone


beside the bed.


Turning to Rico after she hung up, she felt a faint

tremor of


nerves attack.


“He wants me to come in right away. It’s better if I

don’t eat


anything first.”


“I’ll be ready to leave in fifteen minutes.” She stared

at him.


“You want to come with me?” She hadn’t considered



He’d gone to his procedure alone. She assumed she



be on her own for hers as well.




“But there’s no need.” Did he think she was a basket



after last night? She wouldn’t blame him.


“There is every need.”


The words were implacable, his expression even

more so.


She chewed on her bottom lip and nervously pleated

the soft


velour of her robe.


“They’re going to put something inside me,” she

said, her


gaze firmly fixed on the plush pale blue carpet.


“And this embarrasses you?”


Give that man a cigar. “Yes.”


“I will keep my eyes on your beautiful face, cara



That brought her gaze up from the carpet.


“I’m not beautiful,” she blurted.


“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever



“You don’t mean that.” He couldn’t, not unless he

loved her.


Only love would put her physical attributes above



gorgeous women he had dated.


He grimaced, as if in pain. “I do, but I do not expect

you to


believe me.”


But she wanted to. Oh, how she wanted to.



“Will you allow me to accompany you?”


“Can I stop you?”


Again, the grimace. “ln honesty? It is not likely.”

He said it apologetically, like he was sorry he had

his own


ideas and intended to follow through on them. The

embarrassment aside, the thought of having him

with her


was comforting.


“You can come. I want you to come.”




SHE realized halfway to the clinic that she’d

forgotten to


take the prescription-strength pain reliever she’d



instructed to take an hour before the procedure. She



swallowed a couple of over the counter meds from



pillbox in her handbag. The dose only called for one,



should make up for the fact it wasn’t prescription



Rico was instructed to wait in the waiting room while



undressed and donned an ugly blue hospital gown.



looked down at it ruefully. Somehow it seemed



with an event that was supposed to leave her

pregnant with


her husband’s baby, but then she’d never

considered getting


pregnant in the sterile environment of an outpatient

procedure room, either.


It did not matter, though. She wanted Rico’s

bambini, no


matter what she had to do to get them. Rico was



into the room after her vital signs were measured



nurse confirmed Gianna’s morning test results.


He smiled as he came in, leaning only slightly on the



stick. She smiled back nervously.


“Like my new togs?” she asked, indicating the





He leaned down and kissed her gently. “I like what is



them better.”


His words rendered her speechless with pleasure.

“Did you remember to take your pain medication?”



nurse asked Gianna.


She flushed guiltily and shook her head. “But I took

a double


dose of the meds I take for period cramping on the





The nurse, a middle aged brunette with a kind smile,



Gianna reassuringly.


“That should be fine.”


Rico had tensed beside her at the first mention of



“What pain medication? I thought this procedure was



free. What is going on?” Gianna reached out and

took hold of


his arm.


“It’s just a precaution. Nothing to worry about. The



and I discussed this.”


He looked unconvinced. “Are you sure? Perhaps we



consider waiting.”




She took a deep breath. “This is what I want.”


His frown said he wasn’t happy about it. He turned to





“Perhaps she should take some now. Surely you

keep a


supply for such an occurrence.” The nurse looked



“We do, but I don’t think it would be wise to mix the



medications. Some pain relievers wouldn’t be a





She didn’t finish her statement, but Gianna got the

message. She reached out and took Rico’s free



“I’ll be fine. Please, Rico, don’t make such a big deal





Twenty minutes later her grip on Rico’s hand was



channel locks around a water pipe and she was



regretting her blithe assurances. The discomfort of



the catheter inserted to her womb hadn’t been



but now she was cramping painfully and the entire

lower half


of her body felt like it was sharing in the experience.



filled her eyes and she clung more tightly to Rico,



eyes reflected the tortures of the rack.


He had tried to get her to abandon the procedure at

the first


sign of her pain, but she had refused. He’d stood by

her side


willing his own strength onto her. It was a small

glimmer of


the support she could expect having the baby and



amidst the physical pain, it pleased her.


“Is it almost over?” Rico demanded of the doctor in a



that implied a negative answer would have a very

bad affect


on Rico’s temper.


“Yes, just another few seconds and we’ll be



The man was as good as his word and within



everything had been removed. Her hips were

elevated with a


wedge and the doctor informed her she would have



remain like that for an hour. It would have been fine,



cramping had stopped, but it hadn’t.


She didn’t say anything, however, already feeling

like a


wimp for making such a big deal about the

procedure. Rico


seemed to know anyway. He didn’t say anything, but



her hand and massaged her tummy with a light,



circular motion. After a few minutes of the lulling



she slipped into a doze despite the painful cramping.



was startled when the nurse returned to the room

and told


her she could change back into her street clothes.


Rico had kept up the soothing touch for the entire



Normally shy, she made no demur when he showed



sign of staying in the room while she dressed. She

found his


presence comforting and wasn’t about to give it up.

“Is it getting any better?” Rico asked as he helped

her into


her clothes like a parent with a small child. She let

him zip


her dress and settle her braid down her back before



turned to face him.


“Yes. Next time, I’ll remember to take the prescribed



relievers, I can tell you.”


She smiled at him, but he did not return the gesture.



looked like she’d said something repugnant.


“There will not be a next time, piccola mia.”


His words left no doubt he meant what he said.


She wanted his baby and was preparing to argue

with him,


but everything went fuzzy and her head felt like

she’d been


on a spinning ride at the county fair. She reached

out for


Rico, her hand colliding with his torso as she felt her



give way.


She woke on the bed to the sound of Rico shouting.

He was


chewing the doctor out for everything from her

cramping to


the state of the world economy. Or at least, that was

how it


sounded to her still fuzzy brain.


“Rico?” The word came out a whisper, but he spun



mid-shout, his attention focused in on her with



probing intensity.


“How do you feel? The pain, is it still there?”


“Only a little bit. I feel kind of woozy.”


“I told your husband it is probably the lack of food.

We’ll give


you a glass ofjuice to bring your blood sugar level

up before


he takes you home.”


The doctor’s normally calm demeanor appeared a bit



around the edges. She nodded, but Rico scowled.

“If this is so, such a thing should have been attended



before she was instructed to dress. What if she had



alone? She could have hurt herself falling to the



His voice rose with every word until he was shouting



She winced and touched her hand to her temple. His





“I am sorry, tesoro. You do not need your out-of-



husband shouting right now, no?”


“Did you catch me?” she asked rather than answer



rhetorical question,


“Si. It was doubtful for a moment if I could keep us

both up,


but you are such a tiny thing, cara mia. l was able to

lift you


onto the bed.”


A nurse arrived with a glass of apple juice, which

Rico took


from her with a look that sent the other woman



from the room. He put his arm around Gianna’s



lifting her into a sitting position and placed the glass

to her


lips. She drank the juice, cheered by Rico’s coddling.



looked into his metallic gaze as she finished the



“You’re going to be a wonderful papa.” His features

contracted in bleak lines.


“Not if it requires a repeat of today.”


And if she couldn’t have his baby, would he want her



His actions pointed to an answer she was terrified of



Rico insisted on her going back to bed as soon as



reached the villa. She knew she was supposed to



horizontal for the rest of the day, to increase

chances of


conception, but she’d planned on doing so on a



sala. She had not intended being cooped up in the



“But I don’t want to stay in bed. I can lie down just as



downstairs,” she argued with Rico even as he

undressed her


and put a nightgown over her head.


“You are in pain. You must rest.”


She ground her teeth. “I don’t want to.”


He smiled, the first lightening of his expression since





“You sound like a recalcitrant child.”


“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can treat me



one. I want to go downstairs.”


“No, tesoro.”


“How would you like being bored and cooped up in a

bed all




He raised his brows and she felt like shouting. Last



being a rare exception, she never shouted. She

glowered at




“I know you were in the hospital, but you worked.

You had


your personal assistant around. I visited you. Andre



you. Even the wicked witch of the west visited you.”

“Do you want me to call Chiara and see if she’ll pay

you a


visit?” he asked, showing he knewjust exactly who



been speaking about. “I hear she’s in Milan.”


Heard from whom? Had Rico asked? The thought

he was still


interested in the comings and goings of his eX-

fiancée made


her angrier. She flounced onto the bed and fluffed



pillows as a backrest with more energy than



“The last person I want to spend the day with is your





“How about me?”


Was he saying he had planned to stick around and

visit her?


“You kept me company in the hospital.”


“But I thought you would be going back to work.”

He’d spent so much time lately at the bank and



industries office, she hardly ever saw him.


“No way am | leaving you alone after your ordeal this



She smiled in receipt of that statement. “Thanks.”

“Do not thank me.”


He picked up the phone, pressing the inside line

button. “l’ll


ring for some food.”


She nodded and he spoke into the mouthpiece,

ordering a


late breakfast for them both. When he hung up, he

went to


pull a chair over by the bed, but she scooted toward



center, making room for him to sit beside her.

“You can sit here if you like.”


“I’m not sure that is a good idea.”




He made a face. “Having you next to me in bed

sends my


brain down a path you cannot take at the moment,



She thought he was teasing, so she responded in

kind. “I’m


sure you can control yourself.”


“You are only certain of this because you do not



the workings of a man’s mind, I assure you.”


He sounded so serious, but lowered himself onto the



beside her, propping his walking stick against the

small table


with a lamp on it.


“How are you feeling?”


“Hungry,” she answered honestly.


He smiled. “I too am hungry.”


“You could have eaten breakfast,” she reminded



“Not when you did not.”


“Is that some kind of macho guy thing?” He reached



brushed her lower lip, making all the air in her lungs



between exhaling and inhaling.


“It is a Rico DiRinaldo thing.”


“You’re a pretty special man, aren’t you?” Her lip



against his finger and it was all she could do not to



digit into her mouth. But she wasn’t leaving herself

open for


another physical rejection.


Even if maybe she was beginning to understand why

he did


so, it still hurt. She pulled her head back and he

dropped his


hand, an emotion like pain flaring briefly in the silver



of his eyes.


“I am so special I allowed my wife to undergo a



procedure rather than face up to my own fears,” he



in a driven undertone, his head bent the light glinting

off the


black smoothness of his hair.


She stared at him, flummoxed by what he had said.


“I don’t understand caro. What fears?”


His head reared back and something powerful

burned in his




“You never call me that. You use endearments



with Andre, but with me, it is always my name.”

She felt like she was walking through the woods



morning, when the fog had not yet lifted and she



barely see one step in front of her face. She didn’t

want to


trip on a fallen log and yet felt compelled to take the





“Does that bother you?”




Painfully honest. Painfully vulnerable. Doubly hard

for a man


of Rico’s temperament to admit.


“With Andre, it’s natural because they don’t mean



She wanted to repay Rico’s honesty with her own,

but it was


hard. “With you, they mean too much.”


His hand curled around her own. “So, you do not say



She swallowed and went for broke.


“To me, your name is like an endearment.”


He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the center of



palm. A noise near the doorway heralded the arrival

of their


breakfast and the discussion was abandoned while

they ate.


She yawned when she finished. “I can’t think why I’m

tired. I


shouldn’t be. It’s not as if I’ve run a marathon today.”

He hadn’t even let her walk to the car, insisting on



her in a wheelchair. She had the sense that if he

were just a


tad steadier on his feet, he would have carried her.

“It has been a difficult time for you.”


“| feel a lot better,” she tried to reassure him.


He looked at her for several seconds, as if trying to

read her


mind, then without a word, he stood up and took the

tray to


the door and left it in the hallway. He came back

toward her,


an expression so grave on his features, she felt a



hurt seeing it. He did not sit down again, but went to



at the window, his hand gripping the cane with





“When I married you, l was not sure I would walk



She’d known that—deep in her heart, she had

known. If he


had believed absolutely in his own recovery, he

would never


have married someone as ordinary as herself.

“But you believed in me and I needed that.”


Each word sounded ripped from deep inside him.

“I was not thinking about what was best for you and



shames me to admit it.”


“You were frightened.”


His shoulders stiffened, but he didn’t deny it.




“I understand.”


He spun around to face her and torment gave his

face a


haggard look.


“Do you? How can you understand me when I do

not? I was


selfish, tesoro. I did not care for your happiness,

only my




She shook her head, remembering his infinitely



introduction to lovemaking.


“I don’t believe that.”


“Perhaps you are right. I thought in my arrogance

that being


married to me, sharing my bed, it would be enough

for you.”


She had thought so too. It had certainly beaten the

alternative…life without him.


“I accepted, knowing that was all that was on offer.”

“Because you love me and l shamelessly used that

love to


get what I wanted, what I needed.”


“You can’t use what is freely given.”


She didn’t want him wallowing in guilt. They couldn’t



forward if he was regretting the past.


“Was it freely given?”


She met his gaze, her own steady. The time for



behind face saving generalities was over. “Yes.”

“You can say that when l seduced you into

accepting my


marriage proposal, when I took your virginity so you

could no


longer speak of annulments?”


He really was feeling guilty.


“But I wanted you. I love the way you make me feel



you touch me.”


“If that is true, tesoro, then what happened last



“You wouldn’t let me touch you.'”


And it had hurt so much.


“I was afraid.”


Okay, he’d owned up to being scared when she’d

said it, but


she never, ever, ever expected those three words to



out of Rico’s mouth.




She thought she knew, but she had to be sure.


“I do not know if I can perform as a man.”


“You’re afraid I won’t turn you on enough to make

love to


me?” she asked painfully.


“Porco miseria! Where did you get this idea?”

“You said…”


“I said I did not know ifl could perform. I said

nothing about


the beauty and sexiness of your body.”


“But if I were the type of woman you usually went



wouldn’t it be easier on you?”


In her mind, it made sense, but he stared at her as if



gone mad.


“You are my type of woman.”


She closed her eyes against the pity she was sure

was in his.


“You don’t have to say things like that.”


Weight settled next to her on the bed and a fingertip

outlined the contours of her face.


“Have you ever known me to lie, piccola mia?”


She shook her head, her eyes still tightly shut.

“Then if I say that you are the sexiest woman I have



known, you will believe me, no?”


At that, her eyes could not remain closed and she



them to his gently mocking smile.


“You… I…”


“l have never made love to a woman who made me



more like a man.”


“But you said…”


“That I did not know if I could sustain an erection,

but when I


love you, your response gives me joy without my

own body’s




Part of her wished he’d stop tossing the 1-word

around so


flippantly and another, much bigger part of her—her



wished he meant it the way she needed him to mean



“Have you… Did you… I mean, has there been…”

He laughed huskily.


“If you are asking if I have reacted physically to you,



answer is yes. It did not happen that first time I

touched you


and this worried me, but I thought when l regained



would regain this as well.”


She had assumed the same thing.


“Didn’t you?”


“I do not know.”


His hands framed her face, his own expression



“I let you go through the pain today because I, Rico

DiRinaIdo, was afraid to find out.” But he hadn’t

known it


would be painful. She’d hidden the possibility from



because instinctively she’d known he wouldn’t let her



through with it.


“It’s not your fault.”


He shook his head.


“You said you’d had a response.”


She couldn’t make herself say the word erection for

all her


love for him.


“Yes. Many times when l have touched you, I felt a



never more so than last night.”


“But you stopped me.”




“Why? I don’t understand.”


“If it did not last. lfl could not climax…” His voice



into nothingness, but she knew what he meant. He



have been humiliated.


“I would do anything for you.”


“Si, today you proved this.” He dropped his hands

from her


face and turned away.


“I will never forget the sight of you falling to the floor,



tears in your eyes when they performed the



“It wasn’t your fault,” she repeated. “The doctor told



that first day that some women experience lingering



but I didn’t tell you. Honestly, I thought I wouldn’t be

one of


them and I wanted your baby so much.”


“If I had faced my own cowardice, perhaps you

would not


have felt that sacrifice necessary.”


She reached out and turned his face toward her. So



of Rico to take responsibility for the whole world and



population on his shoulders.


“You are not a coward, Rico. You faced your

paralysis. You


fought it.”


“But I did not face my fear and for that you paid.”



his eyes glistened.


She couldn’t stand it anymore. To heck with worrying



if she’d been horizontal long enough for conception

to take


place. She sat up and threw her arms around his



“No, Rico, no. I wanted to try for a baby with you. I



care how we had to do it. I want to have your

bambini so




He kissed her, softly, sweetly, like a benediction.

“How are you feeling?”




“No more cramps?”


She shook her head.


“Then maybe we should see if I can give you my

child with


more pleasure than you felt this morning, no?”

She sucked in air, her heart pounding rhythmically.

“Are you sure you want to try?”


“Si, mi amore bella.”


His beautiful love. If only he meant it. Then she

smiled. The


tender look in his eyes, his willingness to risk

failure…all for


her. It was enough.




Rico’s head lowered. His lips brushed hers. Once.



Three times before she whimpered in protest to his



She turned her head, trying to catch his lips for a



satisfying kiss, but he was busy nibbling his way

down her




“Rico, please.”


She didn’t want the gentle touch. She needed more.

All of


him. All of his passion. “Shh…tesoro.” His tongue

dipped into


the shell of her ear. “This will be perfect.”


His voice and sensual touch sent shivers of

anticipation and


delight cascading along her nerve endings.


Her lips parted on a breathless sound and he finally

let his


lips settle over hers with firm possession and he took



of the warm recesses of her mouth. The evocative

kiss had


her moaning and tightening her arms around his

neck. Then


she remembered. She could touch him. She broke

her mouth


from his, panting with excitement, but adamant that



time things would be different.


“Take off your clothes, Rico.”


He went still. His eyes slid shut and she watched as



internal battle raged within him. Instantly, she

doubted her


actions. Maybe she should just touch him and worry



getting him naked later. The raw vulnerability on his



hurt her. She was about to tell him to kiss her again,



ignore her demand, when he gently, but firmly

removed her


hands from around his neck and stood.


“You don’t have to—”


He shook his proud head.


“I want to. You deserve this. I deserve this. I want to



you mine in the most elemental way a man can

possess his




She loved it when he referred to her as his woman.

It implied


a chosen intimacy, not a marriage of convenience

he was


stuck with because of his strong sense of integrity.



removal of his suit jacket acted like a catalyst to her



response centers and it felt like everything inside her



on hyper alert. The movement of the very air around



became a tantalizing precursor for what was to

come. She


watched, enthralled, while long, dark, masculine



loosened his tie and pulled it off. He let the patterned

silk fall


to the carpet with a soft swish of sound.


The jet black buttons came next. First those at his

cuffs and


then the ones down the front of his shirt. One by



undid them, revealing the well-muscled contours of

his chest


in tantalizing bits until the white silk hung open.



curling hair made a V pattern on his chest. lt



enticingly at the waist of charcoal gray pants that

clung to a


dauntingly large bulge and the hard, defined

muscles of his


thighs. She waited with suspended breath as he



the shirt from his broad shoulders before moving to

undo his


slacks. He toed his shoes off at the same time he let



pants fall in another crumpled pile of fabric on the



beside his shirt. He stepped out of them without



away from her rapt face. His socks came next and

then he


stood before her.


Proudly male. Nude but for the black silk boxers

riding low


on his hips. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband

and she


expelled her held breath as he pushed the shorts

down his


thighs. An unintelligible sound came from her throat

as she


watched the most intimate of his male flesh come

into view.


She swallowed. She opened her mouth. Nothing

came out.


She closed it.


She closed her eyes. She opened them again. She

shook her


head. None of it helped.


“Does it get bigger?” she asked in a truly mortifying



Rumbling laughter had her gaze flying from his



impressive form to his face. He looked amused, darn

him. It


wasn’t funny. How was she supposed to face that

with any


equanimity, she asked herself furiously.


Rico shook his head, unable to believe his wife’s



He’d expected concern, perhaps even a little pity. An



of feminine nerves and genuine fear at the sight of

his only


semi-erect flesh had never even made it on the



was scared to death of the prospect of his complete



and that boosted his morale in a way nothing else



have. She didn’t see him as a eunuch. Far from it.

By the


look on her face, she thought he was too virile. He



himself stir in reaction and watched in fascination as



blanched. She really was worried, the poor little

thing. And


she was little. Over a foot shorter than him and built



delicate lines that made women like his ex-fiancée

seem like




Yet, he had no doubt they would fit together as il

buon Dio




“Your body was created to accommodate mine.”

She licked her lower lip, igniting more flames of

desire low in


his belly.


“Are you sure? Maybe, I’m not made right.” She

chewed that


same sexy lip. “| feel full with your finger. I don’t think



ever get that in.”


If he laughed at her, he was dead. He knew it, but

still it


took all his self-control to bite back the amusement



words invoked in him and the relief.


“You’ll stretch, cara. Trust me.”


He watched as she visibly swallowed and then

squared her


shoulders as if preparing to face the firing squad.

“All right.”


He walked slowly to the bed, his bare feet

whispering across


the carpet. His balance was improving all the time,

but he


wasn’t about to risk falling. She seemed to shrink

back into


the pillows as he approached, her beautiful emerald



wide with apprehension. He stopped when his legs



against the side of the bed.


“Do you want to touch me?”


It was a hard question to ask. He was reacting to her

physically already, but still the fear that he would not



the full sexual response he had once been capable



plagued him.


If she caressed him and he remained only semi

aroused, or


worse, lost what hardness he did have, it would be



unspeakable blow to his pride. But watching her

endure pain


for his cowardice that morning had made him see



whole for her meant taking this risk.


She hadn’t answered his question. She simply

stared at him,


her gaze seemingly permanently fixed on his

manhood. Then


her lashes lowered and she shuddered.




It was such a quiet whisper, he almost hadn’t heard



“Maybe it would help, tesoro, if you started





Wide, glistening green eyes, pleaded with him

silently. He


reached out and pulled her to her knees on the high,

oversize bed. Then he guided her hands to his

chest, placing


her small palms over the already stimulated flesh of

his male


nipples. They both shuddered at the contact. She



forward and kissed him, flicking a sweet exploring



out to taste his skin. He groaned.


“Do it again,” he demanded hoarsely.


She obeyed without pause, this time nipping at his

flesh with


her sharp little teeth. Then her hands began moving.

Just as


they had the night before, but this time he made no

effort to


stop them. Small circles over his hardened nipples,

fingernails kneading him like a cat. He pulled at her

nightgown until she allowed him to slip it off over her



Then he pulled her to him, pressing his hard flesh



her yielding softness and they both stilled, their



shallow as they absorbed the sensation of body





He felt his sex pressed up against the smooth skin

of her


stomach and it was all he could do not to toss her on



back and impale her. The knowledge he could do it



his senses as excitement surged through his

hardened flesh.


Oh, Mother. He was getting bigger. She could feel



swelling against her. Her forehead rested against his



while her fingers dug into the hard wall of muscle in

front of


her. She’d wanted to touch him, but now that the



had arrived, she was terrified. What if she did it

wrong? What


if she turned him off with her clumsy, inexperienced

fondling? Then he was taking the decision out of her



and putting himself into them. Literally. He pressed

his hand


over the back of hers and meshing them together,

slid them


down his torso until they reached the mat of hair at

the base


of his shaft. It felt silky and springy at the same time.



pressed her fingers into it and his big body trembled,

building her confidence. Gently, but with firm

purpose, he


guided her hand to the rocklike hardness protruding

from his




“Touch me, amore. Touch me, here.”


And she curled her fingers around him, awed by the

feel of


velvet like skin stretched taut over steel rigidity. She

tentatively caressed him from the tip to the base,



as he made guttural sounds of excitement low in his



She wasn’t turning him off.


His hand closed over hers, forming her fingers more



to him and showing her a rhythm and a level of



that gave him obvious pleasure. He dropped his

hand and


she continued to caress him, shocked by the



tenseness of his body. She raised her head, taking



expression of ecstasy on his face, the flushed heat

of his


skin, the stiffness of his nipples, all bespeaking a



excitement she had never dreamed she could

generate in




“You want my touch,” she whispered in wonder.


His eyes opened, liquid silver gleaming down at her.

“Si. Very much.”


Tears flooded her eyes.


“I thought you didn’t,” she admitted on a ragged



His bodyjerked and he pushed her back on the bed,

dislodging her hold on him as he settled between



splayed thighs.


“l ached for you.”


“But—” He placed his finger over her lips.


“Do not talk, amore. Feel.”


And what she felt. He caressed every inch of her

body, first


with his hands and then with his mouth. When he

buried his


lips in the center of her feminine desire, she



“No! Rico… |… You…”


Soon her incoherent words turned to moans of the



incandescent delight. He made love to her with his

mouth in


a way that sent her orbiting into space almost



She screamed his name as the cataclysm of

pleasure burst


in her. She writhed under him, the pleasure so great

it was


almost pain, but he didn’t stop and soon his clever



was sending her into an oblivion of bliss again.

Pleasure built


upon pleasure until it felt like one, prolonged wave.

Her body bowed off the bed, every muscle taut with



reaction to his ministrations. But this time she knew



was more and she wanted it. Needed it. Demanded

it with


hoarse shouts that would have mortified her if she

wasn’t so


lost to the feelings he gave her. She was shaking

with her


need by the time he returned to his position above



“I want you,” she cried.


“Si. This I can see.”


The smug satisfaction in his voice should have

irritated her,


but she was beyond irritation at male posturing. He



her entrance, pushing inside a little bit.


“Now we make love.”


She stared up at him, sure they could not possibly



but equally positive she would not pull away. This

was too


important to him and therefore to her, for her pseudo

virginal fears to hold sway.


He smiled down at her, but there was no

amusement in his


expression. It was the smile of a predator, of

primordial man


establishing his place in the hierarchy of priorities in



woman’s life…at the top.


“You are mine, Gianna. Always.” The mesmerizing



in his molten eyes rendered her mute, but she

nodded her


head. Incredibly she felt her body stretch to



him and then swollen, tender flesh molded around



hardness to leave her feeling completely possessed,



with him and surrounded by him. It was more

intimate than


anything she could have imagined. More emotionally

devastating than anything they had done before.

She didn’t realize she was crying until he licked the

trail of


her tears from the corner of her eyes to her temples.

“Am I hurting you?” he asked in a shaken voice.

“No.” She shook her head frantically, unable to utter



coherent word, but he seemed to understand

because he


began moving his body.


He slid almost all the way out of her, making her

catch at


him with her hands, desperate for a return of the

feeling of


intimate connection. But he did not withdraw; he



back into her and began a rhythm that quickly

escalated to


something pounding hard and fast.


The ecstasy built inside her, making her shout his

name and


utter other less intelligible noises. How could it be



better than what he’d already done? She didn’t

know, but it



Infinitely more intense. Maybe because they were



She arched up to meet him, matching his beat,

matching his


fierceness with her own sensual aggression. Then

the world


exploded around her, going black around the edges

and she


came close to losing consciousness for the second

time that


day. A scream echoed in her head and she realized



that it had been her own.


Then a shout reverberated in her ears as Rico joined

her in


this ultimate pleasure between a man and a woman,



body bowing, his manhood growing impossibly large





The tension drained from his body increment by



until his torso met her own as he allowed his body to



against her. She hugged him with both her arms and



wrapping herself around him in exuberant delight.

“You’re a


wonderful lover, caro.”


His bodyjolted. With a growl, he started raining

kisses all


over her face. He interspersed them with words of



and extravagant approval. It was all so unreal. Rico,



her for making love. Rico, telling her she was the



beautiful woman alive. Rico, kissing her with totally





He rolled onto his back, taking her with him. She



astride him, his flesh still firmly embedded in her.

She laid


her head on his heart and listened to the rapid beat

with a


sense of the miraculous.


“Grazie, mi amore bella.” She smiled against his



“Thank you, my love.” His arms tightened around

her. “You


have restored to me wholeness.”


Was that anything like the gift he had just given her?

“I love


you,” she said, unable to keep the words inside.

“Si. With you. This was safe,” he said with deep



“A man can be vulnerable with a woman who loves



She pushed herself up on her arms, causing him to



more deeply into her, and looked into his content



“I’m glad.” Simple, but heartfelt.


“Not as glad as I am.” And incredibly she felt a



expression of that gladness swell inside her. She



air on a shocked gasp.








But even as the question was forming, his body was



her the answer as he arched under her, sending her

quivering body on a new voyage of discovery. He

really was


intent on letting her share more equally in the loving

was her


last coherent thought as he taught her to set a pace

to bring


them both sexual satisfaction.


Gianna woke to the soft caress of lips against her



She smiled, her eyes still closed and husky male



blanketed her in its warmth.


“Buona mattina, tesoro. Open your eyes.”


She obeyed him and feltjoy well up from the depths

of her




“Good morning.”


She reached up to wrap her arms around his neck

and lifted


her face for a kiss, secure in their physical intimacy



night of making love. He kissed her, his lips moving



hers with possessive pleasure and soon she was



against his shirtfront, her tongue dueling with his.



he pulled away.


She stared up at him, not comprehending why he





“I must go, tesoro. l have a meeting this morning. I



cancel it if I could.”


Then she noticed the immaculate suit, conservative

tie, his


perfectly groomed hair and the smooth skin on his

jaw from


a recent shave.


His eyes devoured her with hungry force and she



he was leaving under duress. She shifted and

winced as her


body reminded herjust how many times they had

made love


in the past twenty-four hours.


He brushed her cheek, letting his fingers twine into

her hair,


which he had unbraided in the most erotic way





“Perhaps it is best for you that | go, no?”


She grimaced, but could not deny the twinges of



“I don’t want you to leave,” she said regardless.


“I will return as quickly as possible.”


She felt her lips curve into a pout and part of her

mind was


shocked. She’d never pouted in her life. He gave a

groan of


male appreciation and nipped at her protruding lip.

“I promise.”


She caught his mouth for a lingering kiss and then





“All right. If you promise.”


His gorgeous face creased in a smile of sexy

approval. “On


my life.”


He kissed her briefly again, as if he couldn’t quite



himself leave.


“I will cut the meeting short if I can. Take a long, hot



mi moglie.”


“Will it help?” she asked with projected innocence.



He stood up, a serious expression passing across

his face.


“We will talk when | return.”


They hadn’t done much talking last night. She

nodded and


smiled. He moved toward her as if he would kiss her



but then stopped, a look of grim determination

crossing his


sculpted features and left. She watched him walk

from the


room, a sense of foreboding that overshadowed her

joy from


their lovemaking coming out of nowhere. What did

he want


to talk about? Despite the mysterious sense of

apprehension, she refused to consider it might be



bad. Rico had spent almost twenty-four hours doing

everything in his power to give her pleasure and



her with his child. She should feel a deep sense of

security in


her marriage, she chided herself. With that thought

firmly in


mind, she followed Rico’s instruction and had a long



bath, the water softened and scented with expensive

oil that


had been a gift from her mother-in-law on one of

their many


shopping expeditions. The hot, swirling water

soaked away


the unfamiliar aches in her muscles and feminine



Later that morning, after a solitary breakfast



rest of the family was gone from the villa, she was

told she


had a visitor in the sala. She walked into the room

and as it


always did, her gaze first went to the rich murals on



ceilings and down one third of the wall. The villa had



the DiRinaldo family for many generations and



artwork by some of Italy’s greatest masters. A sound



the window brought Gianna’s gaze around to her



Chiara stood outlined in the autumn sunlight, her

face cast


in shadow so Gianna could not read her expression.



suppose you think you’ve been very clever,” was her


opening gambit. “I don’t know what you mean.”



stepped toward Gianna, revealing the look of



pity on the other woman’s face. “You’re a little fool.

He won’t


stay with you now that he is a man again.” How

could Chiara


know what Rico had only discovered yesterday? He



have called her. He couldn’t have. Gianna’s stomach



at the thought and she had to breathe slowly and



to stop herself being sick. “What are you talking



“Don’t play the ignorant with me. I know Rico’s



again.” So she didn’t know about the other. A



relief shook Gianna. But how had Chiara learned

about his


walking? Gianna had only found out the day before

yesterday. “We always knew Rico would walk

again.” “If he’d


believed that, he’d never have let me go,” Chiara



scathingly. After his revelation that he had had his



Gianna could not bring herself to give Chiara the



she deserved. “I don’t know what difference you

think that


makes,” was the best she could do. “You really are a



little cow, aren’t you?”


Gianna stiffened at the insult. “You clearly have



to say. | suggest you say it and then leave my

home.” “Your


home? How long do you think that will last? Until you



Rico a baby. That’s how long. He knew I wasn’t keen



getting pregnant and spoiling my figure. Once you’ve



your broodmare bit, he’ll come back to me, the

woman he


really loves.” “Rico’s not like that.” He had far too



integrity to abandon the mother of his child. Chiara



viciously. “When a man wants something enough,



sacrifice anything to get it.” “What makes you think



wants you? He let you go.” “He thought he couldn’t

be the


man I needed him to be. He let me go for my sake.

Now, we


both know differently.” Gianna’s hands fisted at her



and she felt tension filter into every muscle group in



body. Chiara was more right than she knew. Rico’s



fear, that he would be incapable of making love, not

that he


would not walk again, had been laid to rest only the



before. “You don’t love him.” Chiara’s laugh was

ugly. “When


you have sex as good as Rico and I had it, you don’t



maudlin emotions like love.” Gianna could not bear



image of Rico touching Chiara the way he had



Gianna, so she forced such imaginings from her



“You’re very crude and I think it’s time you left.” “Not

so fast.


There are still things I want to say to you and then I

think I’ll


wait around for Rico to show up. I need to

congratulate him


on his walking.” Gianna could not believe the

audacity of the


other woman. “If you want to see my husband, you’ll

have to


make an appointment with his secretary. You aren’t



in my home.” She emphasized the words, reminding



herself and Chiara that it was she Rico had married.



catlike eyes narrowed. “I’m not going anywhere.”



security staff will say differently, I think.” “You

wouldn’t kick


me out. You haven’t got the guts.” Chiara sounded



and just the tiniest bit unsure of herself as if

Gianna’s threat


had been completely unexpected.


Gianna opened her mouth to answer when she was

interrupted by the sound of Rico’s voice. “I didn’t

realize you


planned on company, cara.”


Gianna spun to face him, finding his expression





“I didn’t. She came uninvited.”


“And your wife threatened to have me thrown out.”



voice had gone husky with hurt and much to



disgust, tears now sparkled in the other woman’s

feline eyes.


Rico’s black brows rose in sardonic question. “Did





Chiara rushed across the room. Clutching at Rico’s



with red lacquered nails, she said, “Yes. It isn’t

enough she’s


married to you. She wants me out of your life


com pletely.”


Rico carefully removed Chiara’s clinging hands and



his silver gaze to Gianna. “Is this true?”


Did he expect her to deny it?


“Yes. I told her if she wanted to see you to make an

appointment with your secretary. I don’t want her in





Gianna wasn’t going to put a polite facade on for


appearance’s sake. Chiara had lied about her in

New York,


had threatened her marriage just now and Gianna



certain would do anything in her power to seduce

Rico back


into her bed. She was not a person Gianna was

willing to


embrace in her circle of friends. Rico nodded, as if

taking in


her words.


“I don’t think an appointment will be necessary,



He looked down at Chiara, so he missed the spasm

of pain


that tightened her features that Gianna could not



“We can talk now, no?”


Chiara practically purred.” Yes, Rico. Please. ljust

wanted to


see you and tell you how happy I am that you are



again.” Rico stepped away from her, moving to the



cabinet. He poured himself a Scotch.


“How did you find out?”


“I met your therapist’s wife quite by accident while



one day. We struck up a friendship. You couldn’t

blame me


for wanting to keep track of your progress, not after

all we


were to each other.”


The words, the nauseatingly sugar sweet voice and ,



obvious duplicity were enough to make Gianna sick.



might not have supported her throwing his ex-

fiancée from


the house, but that didn’t mean Gianna had to stand



and watch the other woman work her wiles on her



She spun on her heel and walked out of the room.



called her name, but she ignored him, just as she

tried to


ignore Chiara’s voice telling him to let Gianna go.



GIANNA walked upstairs in a fog of pain. Why had



allowed Chiara to stay? She stopped outside the



door and realized she could not go in. She couldn’t

face the


bed, couldn’t face the memories in light of that



woman’s threats. She spun around and headed back



the stairs. She went to the garage and climbed

behind the


wheel of the first car she found with a key in the

ignition. It


was a Mercedes sedan. It was bigger than she was

used to,


but she didn’t care. She just had to get away. The



guard was waving wildly at her to stop when she

pulled out


of the driveway after pushing the automatic gate



Rico and his father had been adamant she and

Renata only


leave the villa with a security escort, but Gianna

wasn’t in


the mood for company. Any company. She drove

around the


city mindlessly until she found herself in the vicinity

of the


Duomo. Memories of Rico bringing her here after her

mother’s death guided her in bringing the car to a

halt. She


found parking, which in itself was a shock, and left

the car to


venture inside the huge cathedral. She was no

longer a child,


but she hurt and the vast open space inside the

church was


just as awe-inspiring to her now as it had been when

she was


a little girl. She needed the peace she’d found then



the cavernous structure. Her feet took her of their



volition to the rose windows. Rico had brought her

here, to


this exact spot. He had told her she could talk to her



that even though Mamma was in Heaven, she would



Had she started loving Rico that day? She hadn’t



as sexual love until she was fifteen, but Rico had



been the cornerstone to her heart. The only man she



give herself to. The only man she had ever wanted

to marry,


but he hadn’t seen her for dirt. Not until the accident

and his


beautiful, but excruciatingly selfish fiancee had

ditched him.


Gianna leaned against a column, letting her body



sense of peace hundreds of years of pilgrims had

felt before


her. Rico was hers, but for how long?


After almost twenty-four hours in his bed, she

refused to


believe he still did not see her for dirt. He’d proven to



over and over again that she was a desirable

woman in his


eyes. That didn’t mean he loved her, but then again,



certainly did not indicate a lack of feeling, either.

He’d let


Chiara stay. The memory of something he had said

the day


before intruded with ominous significance. He had

said he


felt safe assessing the level of his virility with her—



she loved him. Did that mean he had only been

using her as


a testing ground to determine if he could go back to



whole? The very prospect was enough to make her



buckle and she sagged against the pillar. But Rico

wasn’t like


that. She knew he wasn’t. So, why was she

imagining all


sorts of ugly scenarios? “I thought I would find you



tesoro.” Her head snapped up. “What are you doing



His expression was somber. “Looking for my

runaway wife.”


“I didn’t run away.” She straightened against the

pillar. “You


did not take a bodyguard. You drove yourself off the

property, though my security men tried to wave you

to a


stop.” He made it sound like she’d committed

cardinal sin


number nineteen. “I wanted to be alone, all right?”

He shook


his head, his hair looking black in the muted light of



Duomo, his expression bleak. “No, it is not okay.”

She glared


at him. “You can’t dictate my every movement.” “I do



desire this.” Right. “Then why are you here?”

“Because you


are here.” “You let Chiara stay in my house,” she



him. “I had things to say to her.”


She angled her head away from him and said

nothing. “Do


you not want to know what those things were?” “No.”



didn’t want to hear if he still had feelings for his ex-



“How can you doubt me after what we shared

yesterday and


last night?” he asked in a driven tone. Her head



back and she met his glittering, accusing gaze. “We



our bodies. According to Chiara, that’s nothing new

to you.”


“We shared our souls and that, mi moglie, is

something I


have never done with another woman.” She wanted



believe him so much. Tears burned her eyes and



her throat. She shook her head. “Si.” “You married

me for all


the wrong reasons,” she said, fighting to talk around



crying. His jaw clenched. “Si.” The tears fell faster

and she


turned from him, but she found no peace in her

surroundings. There was too much pain slicing

through her.


A sob welled up and broke past her tightly clenched



His hands gripped her shoulders. “Do not do this to



The past cannot be changed.” She twisted from him,

knocking his hands away. She felt like a wounded



wanting to lash out. “Don’t touch me.” He spun her

back to


face him. Pain easily equal to the hurt she was



glittered in his eyes. “Does not forgiveness come

with love?”


Forgiveness for what? Did he expect her to forgive

him for


not loving her? It wasn’t that easy, nor was it a

matter of


forgiveness but learning to accept. “I don’t know if I



she said, speaking to herself rather than him. She

knew she


had to learn to live without his love, but she did not



how to do that. Rico’s features set in chilling resolve



even amidst her emotional turmoil’ made her feel

apprehensive. “I will not let you go, mi moglie. You





“I never wanted to be anyone else’s.” The words

came of


their own volition, in a painfilled whisper. “Then what

is this


do not touch me?” “I hurt,” she admitted. “Turning

from me


will not make it better.” Her lower lip trembled and

she felt


another sob well up. He cursed and stepped

forward. “Come,


cara. Let me take you home where we can talk in



She found herself swung high against his chest, his



unbreakable bonds around her. “Where is my

home?” she


asked, thinking of Chiara’s smirking face when

Gianna had


left the sala. “Where I am.” His voice vibrated with



and his mouth came down over hers in a bruising

kiss. She


responded with a passion released by her anguish.



didn’t know how long they stood there, his lips

staking claim


on her, but eventually the sound of a child asking his



what the man and his girlfriend were doing

penetrated her


conscious mind. She pulled her mouth away and it

was at


that moment, the significance of her position hit her.



put me down.” The thought of the English tourists



while she and Rico kissed made her cheeks burn



embarrassment. lnimical rage burned into her from



color of molten metal. “No.” Why was he so angry?

“Think of


your legs. It’s too much, too soon.” What if he fell

and hurt


himself? “You are worried about my well-being?” he



his ire fading slightly. “Yes.” “You are not trying to

push me


away again?” She sighed, linking her arms around

his neck


and letting her head fall onto his shoulder. “I can’t.”



nodded, the anger completely gone now. She could

feel it


drain out of him as surely as if it had been herself.

He turned and with amusement and what she could



sworn was masculine pride in his voice, said to the

little boy,


“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife.” The child



“Okay,” with the ageless wisdom reserved for the

very young


while his mother blushed scarlet. Rico winked and



turned to leave the Duomo. He still hadn’t put her



“Rico—” “I told you, I will not let you go.” “I didn’t

realize you


meant it so literally.” “lf holding you in my arms is

how I


keep you with me, then you will spend the next fifty



years in my constant company.” The words should



sounded amusing, but they didn’t. They sounded

more like a


threat from a man perfectly capable and willing to

carry it


through. She said nothing else as he carried her out

to the


limousine waiting in a no-parking zone. The



opened the door and Rico let her down to get inside.



they were seated, he pulled her back into his arms

and onto


his lap. “What about the car?” They couldn’tjust



“Tell Pietro where it is and he will collect it.” So, she

told the


young security man where she’d parked and handed

him the


keys, all the while aware of Rico’s hard body

surrounding her


and his hand laying possessively across her thighs.



looked into his eyes and emotion she was terrified of



burned in the silver depths. “Why didn’t you kick



out?” The hand on her thigh moved in a provoking

caress. “l


did.” “But…” “She came to our home and dared to

upset you,


cara. I could see it in your beautiful green eyes and



tense way you held your delectable body so erect.”



She didn’t understand. “Then why the heck did you

let her




“I needed her to know that I would tolerate no more

interference in my life or that of my family, that if she

attempted to hurt you again, she would answer to

me. I do


not play nice, she knows this. She will leave us

alone.” “You


were warning her off?” “Si. I had barely enough time



make my position clear and have her escorted to the



when Security came with the news my wife had run

away.” A


twinge of guilt niggled at her. “I didn’t.” “You did.”

She didn’t


bother reminding him she had wanted to be alone, to



time to think. The excuse had carried no weight with

him at


all. “Where do we go from here?” “Home, mi moglie.

Back to


bed maybe…” She was tempted to give into the

promise in


his voice, but she wanted more than a physical

satiation of


their bodies’ desires. “That’s not what I meant.” He



“It is up to you.” “What do you mean?” “I cannot

force you to


stay if you want to go.” The tight band of his arms



her said otherwise. “And if I don’t want to go?” “I will

be the


happiest of men.” “You did not love me when we got

married.” “You were with me when I came out of

coma,” he


said, she thought apropos to nothing. “Yes.” “It was



voice, your words that brought me out of it.” She bit



bottom lip. Had it been her voice, her words? “I don’t



Maybe it was just the right time.” “No, tesoro. It was

not. Do


you know how I know this?” She shook her head,



of speech in the face of the warmth emanating from



“I remember the words. You told me you loved me.”

He could


be guessing. He smiled. “You do not believe me, but

it is


true. I heard and I woke.” “I could not stand the

prospect of


a world without you in it.” She laid her hand over his



even now needing affirmation of the life pulsing in

him. “Si.


There has been no doubt in my mind of your love for



from the moment I woke. lt sustained me, gave me



when I had little of my own.” “But you don’t love me.”



saying the words hurt. “Do | not?” “You said you only



for me.” “And caring, it is not part of love?” “What

are you


saying?” Hope was starting to unfurl in her heart like



petals of a rose exposed to the sun. “How could your



bring me back from a living death if there was no


corresponding love in my heart to meet it?” She

shook her


head, terrified of believing. “I did not realize it at first.

I tried


to stick with the familiar… the safe.” “Chiara.” “Si.



wanted nothing from me but my money.” “And your



she slotted in. “Without love, it is only that. A body.

Any man


would do, but for you it is only me, no?” “Yes.” “Did it



make you wonder when l demanded we marry



leaving New York?” Of course it had. Nothing about



marriage had made any sense to her. “I didn’t



your wanting to marry me at all, much less so



“I did not want to risk losing you and I knew you

would take


your wedding vows seriously, but my reasoning was



amore. I wanted you, but was unwilling to admit I

loved you.


I would have deserved it if you had decided you



Andre as I feared.” “You thought I wanted your



Was he blind? She thought Rico’s anger toward her



spent with his brother had been possessive pride,

not the


result of any real fear. “Si.” “But I never even flirted



him.” “He flirted with you.” And from the

remembered anger


in her husband’s eyes, he had liked it even less than



thought at the time. “But you said you didn’t love

me,” she


reminded him, hurting a little less, but still not sure

what to


believe. “I broke it off with Chiara in New York.”

“What?” “I


told her | no longer wanted to marry her. I told her



because my dreams were filled with a tiny green-

eyed sprite


who nagged me and stood up to me in a way no



woman would dare to do.” “You broke it off with her



me?” She thought it had been his inability to walk.

“She said


—” “She convinced herself I had done it for her and



when I started walking again, I would want her back.

I didn’t.


I don’t. I only want you, Gianna.” She stared at him,



chest tight with emotion. His expression was more



than she’d ever seen it. “I love you.” “You can’t,” she



crying again. “Mi amore bella, I can and I do. You

are my


heart. My life. Without you, nothing matters. I did not

tell you


of my love because I was afraid. Afraid I would not



again. Afraid ifl did, I would not be able to perform

as man


—” “Even if you were paralyzed from the neck down

for the


rest of your life, you would still be everything a man



be to me,” she said stopping his flow of words.


His eyes closed and he shuddered. Then they

opened and he


kissed her gently. “A man would give his very life for



kind of love, amore. It is so beautiful, so real, I

thought I


could not match it.” “But now you can?” she asked,

desperately hoping the answer would be yes. “I

realized I


could yesterday morning during the lUl. You were



and I knew that no matter the sacrifice, I would

never allow


you to hurt like that again.” She didn’t think it was the



to remind him that childbirth wasn’t exactly painless.



had the feeling he’d decide to adopt and she wanted

to have


his bambini. His hands cupped her face and his

eyes grew


suspiciously bright. “I love you, tesoro, with all that I

am and


ever will be. You are the other half of my soul and I

thank il


buon Dio for that mugger and the driver of the car

that hit


me because if it had not happened, I would have lost



the only treasure worth having in my life.” Her heart



stopped beating. “You can’t mean that.” “Si. | now


understand my mother’s views. She knew I would be

miserable with Chiara, that my life with you would be

superior in every way. What is a little pain, a little

work in


the face of such a gift as your love?” She would not



used little to describe the work or pain he’d gone



“You could have had my love without it.” He wiped at



wetness below her eyes with gentle fingers. “You

would have


given it yes, but I was not ready to receive it. l was



to your beauty and how important you have always



my life.” She would never agree with him or his

mother that


the accident was a good thing. It had hurt him too

much, but


she would not deny the joy his words placed in her

heart. “I


love you.” “Si. You can never say this too often, mi



So she said it again, and again, and again,

interspersed with


kisses until they reached their home and continued

saying it


far into the night as he gave the words back to her in



action and voice.


The blessing of their marriage was everything an



mother could want it to be. Renata spared no effort



making sure every wedding tradition was observed.



included her daughter-in-law wearing a traditional



gown for the blessing ceremony and the lace



Gianna had tried on the day Rico stood for the first



since the accident. Doing his part to provide as



authenticity to the occasion as possible, Rico

insisted on


taking Gianna away for a honeymoon. When they



the luxury hotel in Switzerland and were once again



the closed door of their room, she expressed her

love for him


in the most intimate way she could. Remembering



fascination with her hair, she unbound it and used it

like he


had taught her, painting his body with erotic strokes,

eventually driving him to a passionate, almost



possession. Afterward, they lay entwined whispering



of love in Italian and English. “My baby, it is here. |

feel it.”


Rico laid his big hand over her stomach. She smiled



“I do, too.” “I love you, tesoro.” “No more than I love





Eight months later, they were proved right when she



birth to paternal twins. Rico was convinced he was

so potent


for her that both the lUl procedure and their making

love had


borne fruit. Who was she to doubt him? Her love had



him back from a living death, why couldn’t his love



life not once, but twice in her womb?




Books Lucy Monroe

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