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.”
“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.
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
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
visitors except her, his brother and Chiara. “You
her thank you.” “I do not need this thanks. I am a
could not drive by and do nothing.” “If you ask me,
more than an average man.” She smiled at him,
see her approval. “You’re a hero.” His eyes warmed
“Chiara believes all this,” he indicated his unmoving
my fault.” Giannajumped up and laid her hand
on his arm. “No. You mustn’t think that. You were
best kind of man. You paid a price, but you wouldn’t
stop you from doing it again.” His hand came up to
and she was reminded of the day before, both of the
wonderful feelings his touch invoked and the way
used when she realized he’d touched her only to
Chiara jealous. She pulled her hand away and
“I don’t plan to stay long,” she said quickly, lest he
was clinging like the limpet Chiara had accused her
“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.”
pin your spinsterish hopes on my brother. He is not
settle down.” She clenched her teeth. “I’m not
anything on him, much less a desire to marry. We’re
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?”
with uncharacteristic bite, still stinging from the way
used her to make the other woman jealous the day
His remark about spinsterish hopes had done
make her feel more charitable toward him, either.
could have stripped paint. “My fiancee is none of
Gianna’s heart melted. It had been a rotten thing to
she just knew all that anger was hiding pain. Chiara
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
“I could call Andre and ask him to pick up dinner and
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
phone. “I told him to get you your own room.” “I
but it won’t be necessary. I’ll only be staying one
Surely my reputation and his virtue will be able to
such a short test.” Rico looked disgruntled. “I did not
would attack him.” “How else would a spinster like
expect to get a macho Italian male like your brother
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
well. Do you see me ready to leave this place?” He
like a man ready to explode. She couldn’t imagine
don’t need me to stay and hold your hand. You’ve
and Chiara. And your fiancee doesn’t like having me
underfoot.” The words still rankled. “You did not
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
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
intense, the hold on her wrist almost bruising. “I am
I am not walking.” “But you will walk.”
Frustration was apparent in the set of his firm lips.
believe this. I believe this, but my brother, my
have their doubts.” “You’ll just have to prove them
He nodded, heartwarming in his arrogant confidence
return to full health. “I do not wish to do this alone.”
admission from Rico was astonishing and she
her wits enough to respond. “I need you here,
me, cara” She almost fainted, she was so shocked
words. “You need me?” she asked in a choked
“Stay.” It sounded more like an arrogant command
plea for her support, but Gianna knew what it had
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
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
was not ready to leave. Her eyes opened slowly to
smiling at her. “Thank you.”
“Thank you?” For what? For kissing him?
“For staying,” he replied, not without some
it hit her. It had been a kiss of gratitude. Here she
poised to reconnect with his lips and he was smiling
like an indulgent older brother, pleased he’d gotten
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
be returning right away.” She had a feeling that
wouldn’t go over very well, but even if it meant losing
job, she wouldn’t leave Rico. Not as long as he
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
walking again. Maybe even in that order.
“Something that does concern me is Gianna staying
hotel room. I do not like this.”
Andre gave his brother an interested appraisal.
“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
two bedrooms and since you won’t call Papa and
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
yet to discover.
“You will, allow Andre to care for your needs, but
She barely suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “It’s
same thing. It doesn’t cost Andre anything more to
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
laid aside her fork and allowed herself to make direct
contact for the first time in an hour. She’d perfected
of talking to his shoulder since almost making a
fool of herself over that kiss. “I don’t know what
worried about, Rico. My name doesn’t make it into
columns on a regular basis. No one cares where I
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
not suppress the shiver of apprehension that
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
“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
Chiara were still a virgin, Gianna would dance naked
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.
had already given her away.
“A woman of experience would not be so
said with smug assurance. That set her over the
“Are you sure about that? Maybe l’ve slept with tons
Maybe I’m even sharing Andre’s bed now and the
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
it careening across the room and started shouting at
Gianna spoke fluent Italian, but she didn’t recognize
the words. From the ones she did, she guessed they
Andre’s usually smiling face was stiff with shock. He
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,
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
She couldn’t begin to understand why it mattered so
to him. Perhaps he felt responsible for her in some
her father had died. She wouldn’t have known it by
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
angry. Most women are not…not…” She couldn’t
herself say the word. “Well, by my age, most women
“But you do not.”
“I do not.” She agreed and stifled a depressed sigh.
marrying Chiara, that wasn’t likely to change, either.
brushed her cheek with his fingers before dropping
from her face.
“You should not be embarrassed to speak of these
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
went to get up, but his arm around her waist
“You are very innocent.”
She grimaced. That had been well and truly
you’re finished dissecting my lack of a love life, could
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
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
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
stranger, than with me?” Her attention swiveled back
Rico. He was scowling thoughtfully.
“Perhaps we should get Chiara to stay in the suite
“No!” Andre and Gianna chorused at once. Rico’s
“What bothers you about this?”
How did you tell a man you could not stand his
dirt? Gianna cleared her throat, trying to think of a
way of putting her absolute refusal to share living
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
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
to share with me?”
She’d had about enough of Rico’s overdeveloped
responsibility toward her. She was not some
in need of his protection. She’d been on her own, if
physically then emotionally since long before her
died. Or maybe Rico really thought she’d set her
marriage to the younger DiRinaldo brother.
“This is ridiculous. I’m not about to trip Andre and try
him to the floor.”
Andre smiled all ltalian male. “Which is not to say,
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
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
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
“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
some of my own company.”
Rico grumbled some more about her staying in
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
Whereas Chiara spent very little time at the hospital
refused to attend his sessions at all. She’d left for
days before to model in a Fall fashion show. Which
by him. No man wanted his woman around to see
helpless and that’s how he felt with his damned
refusing to do what he wanted them to. If a part of
relieved to see the back of his fiancee and her
comments about Gianna, who could blame him.
her angry more than once defending the younger
and was sure to do so again. He would not allow
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
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
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
The therapist smiled conspiratorially with Gianna
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
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
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
cover, but she just stood there, arms crossed and
budge. He turned to the therapist.
“Give me something to do.” The other man jumped
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
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
one day so she could retrieve her belongings from
furnished university apartment that was no longer
prediction the department head would not see her
New York in an understanding light had been right
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
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
outside, but she wasn’t. She had loved Rico since
fifteen years old and wanted him almost as long.
temporary paralysis and a foul temper were no
those feelings. She felt like some kind of depraved
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
she’d seen a thousand men in their skivvies. This
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
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
eyes glittered silver triumph.
“I can feel my toes.”
It took a second for the words to register, but when
she flew across the room to hug him. She landed
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.
“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
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
tears. “I wouldn’t dream of it. I’m just so happy,” she
her own defense.
Then she did something she would never have done
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
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
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
life. It paralyzed her. The thin silk of her panties
barrier to the heat of his flesh and the erotic
his hairy leg between hers. She should have worn
today instead of her short boots and slouchy socks.
then her thighs would not be bare against him. She
flush crawl up her body from her toes to her hairline.
heat was caused by both embarrassment and
“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
“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
face directly above Rico’s.
“I am happy, cara.”
“Me, too.” She tried to control her breathing, but
into her lungs had become an Olympic event.
His mouth quirked. “I could tell.”
“Could you?” she asked stupidly, her mind focused
ten different ways she wanted to close the gap
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
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
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
His lips molded hers with expert precision and she
hers parted without having been aware of opening
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
squirmed against him like a wanton. Her hands
naked chest with abandoned delight while her
shyly with his male aggressiveness. Soon, the entire
was reduced to his body under hers, his mouth
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
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
“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
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
then glare at Gianna with undisguised malice.
stormed over to the bed, her high heels clicking on
her eyes promising murder and mayhem.
“That is obvious. I won’t tolerate this sort of thing,
you hear me?”
Gianna thought the entire medical staff probably
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
you. It is obvious you were throwing yourself at him
desperate attempt to get him to notice you as a
you will never be enough woman for a man like
Each word found their target in Gianna’s vulnerable
She knew she wasn’t Rico’s type. Never had been.
felt guilty because she knew Chiara was right.
thrown herself at Rico, kissing him, going all gooey-
him when all he’d been doing was sharing his good
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
wretched girl away, or I’m leaving and I won’t come
Everything inside Gianna froze. Given a choice like
knew what decision Rico would make. Hadn’t he
time and again over the past year when Chiara had
sure he had nothing to do with Gianna, even to the
dragging Rico from Gianna’s father’s funeral with
haste? “Well, Rico?” Chiara demanded, her full,
set in a pout, her eyes filled with crocodile tears that
Gianna grind her teeth. “I think you know my
replied. They were the last words to register as
and walked as fast as her wobbly legs could carry
the room, real tears burning a path down her
thought she heard Rico call her name, but she
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
Gianna plopped down onto her bed in the hotel
grateful Andre was at a banker’s meeting in Rome
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
could she have been so brazen? Rico probably
was some kind of nymphomaniac virgin. She
buried her face in the bedspread covered pillow.
face did not hide her tormenting thoughts. She’d
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
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
missed the call. She didn’t want to talk to anyone
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
his rehabilitation? The therapist, big blond giant that
was afraid of Rico. Even Andre hesitated to cross
in Rico’s current mood. Andre had been the one to
for the high-speed phone line to be installed in
at the hospital. No one would be around to make
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
wasn’t so arrogant she thought he really needed
he needed someone to help him stay on track and
certainly wasn’t going to do it. The beautiful model
self-centered to care. Gianna curled into a fetal
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
opening in the outer room alerted her to Andre’s
hadn’t expected him back from the banking
tomorrow. She’d have to face him sometime and tell
about her stupidity and Chiara’s ultimatum. It might
be now. She trudged into the living room of the suite
stop and rub her eyes, sure they were playing tricks
“Why did you not answer the phone?” Rico raked at
face set in furious lines. “I didn’t know it was you,”
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
“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
the woman he loved.
“Because I do not allow others to dictate my
Gianna bit her lower lip until she tasted blood. “I’m
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
you are attracted to.”
He rolled the wheelchair forward. “You are attracted
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
did not want to see the disgust he was bound to be
her admission to being attracted to a man engaged
Warm, masculine fingers touched her chin, lifting her
“This is nothing for you to be ashamed of, cara.”
“ls gone.” The words sounded very final.
“You mean she’s not coming back? Didn’t you tell
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
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
head and looked through the open door to her
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?”
“There is no but. You stay with me.”
Mother, he sounded arrogant.
“You will not return to the university to teach. You
“I couldn’t go back if I wanted to,” she admitted
She suddenly realized where she had his hands.
as well be mauling him again. Dropping them with
of a lightning bolt, shejumped to her feet.
His fingers curled possessively around her wrist
could move away. He tugged until she found herself
of Rico for the second time that day, but this time in
She ended up sitting sideways to him, her legs
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
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
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
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
sitting in such close proximity to him.
“What? Oh, in a furnished flat provided by the
“A furnished flat.” His mouth twisted with distaste.
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
care of myself. I’ve been doing it since I was
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
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
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-
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
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.
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
she tried to reassure him.
His expression told her she had fallen short of the
forbidden flirted at the edges of her consciousness.
irrational. It was insane, but forjust a moment she let
picture what it would be like to be Rico’s wife. To
him and to bear his child. It was all too easy to
herself round with his baby…and very, very happy to
“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
marry Rico more than she wanted anything else out
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
another. Her nipples beaded almost painfully against
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
mouth, she gave it without a murmur. The pulse in
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
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
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
the sound lost in his mouth as his fingers gently
pulled her nipple into even more aching rigidity. The
between her legs increased until she felt like
squirmed in his lap, unable to control the impulse to
He pulled his mouth from hers and she chased it
He couldn’t stop kissing her. Not now. He didn’t. He
moved from her mouth to the sensitive spot behind
ear. She shivered. She quaked. She moaned. All the
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
lips could reach. The neck-high collar on her
sweater seemed to get in his way and he tugged at
“Take this off.”
Her eyes opened and she stared at him, confused.
But he didn’t answer. He was already sliding the soft
up her torso. Her skin tingled where he touched it
was naked from the waist up before she came out of
passionate daze he’d sent her into enough to realize
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
breasts in the process. She nearly came out of her
the contact and choked out some kind of inarticulate
“Let me look.”
His head tilted up and he pinned her in place with
“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
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
reached out and touched the end of a hardened
“Bella… ” he said with a reverence that brought
her eyes. “Bella mia,” he added, his tone possessive
his hands cupped her, one reaching around her
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
source. She watched in fascination as his head
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
shut and her head fell back, her chest heaving with
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
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
hand trailed up the inside of her calf. He tickled the
her knee, making her squirm and then brushed the
her thigh. Her legs parted of their own volition and
continued its upward journey until he brushed the
her womanhood. She jolted with sensation and cried
brushed her through the silk of her panties again
moaned, shamelessly pressing herself into his
His thumb slid past the elastic band at her leg and
her intimately, making her whimper with both
feminine fear. She had never done this, had never,
even considered allowing another man to touch her
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
Was he done? The thought sent distressed need
through her. He unzipped her skirt and let the red
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
time, wanting nothing more than to return to the safe
of his lap. She had her wish almost instantly as he
back into his arms and began again with the
her over sensitized flesh.
He probed her warm depths with one finger while his
played a gentle sonata on her most sensitive spot.
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
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
begging him to stop, begging him to go on. He
until her body’s convulsions almost tipped her off his
hold on her torso was too tight. His touch was too
tried to say it, but no coherent words would leave
and she found herself shuddering in a series of
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
before lifting her gently onto the cool white sheets.
He tucked the blankets around her. “Sleep, tesoro.
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
flooding back. Heat traveled up her body as she
remembered what she had allowed Rico to do to
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
it? Until yesterday, Rico had never so much as
was a woman—except maybe of the sisterly variety.
of the sudden, he’d made love to her with a
expertise that had left her nearly comatose. Okay,
hadn’t technically had intercourse, but she wasn’t
could feel more intimately touched. He’d been inside
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
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
her so incredibly well, her response had to have
male ego. Rico was a macho man and being ditched
beautiful but shallow Chiara would have left him
need to prove that in some way. Well, he’d done it.
completely convinced Gianna that his machismo
off the Richter scale. Of course, she’d never been in
doubt. Just walking into a room with him in it
with enough testosterone to set her female
She hesitantly touched the places of her body that
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
understanding in return. She would not use his
reaction yesterday to trap him into a marriage he
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,
right above the knees and even with tights—she felt
exposed. She pulled it off and slid into the other
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
sob with pleasure. She hated the idea of facing him
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
for her to enter. She pushed open the door to his
which resembled Andre’ s suite at the hotel more
Rico was sitting at his desk, wearing the skimpy
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
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
“Good morning, Rico. | see you’re already at work.”
turned his chair to face her. “Buona mattina, bella
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
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.
of her hurt that she’d been little more than another
therapy for a man frustrated by his limitations.
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
level of satisfaction married to him.
“But you won’t be happy, Rico. You don’t want to
“You said this yesterday, but I proved differently,
did she say to this? She had no desire to tromp on
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?
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
already.” And he didn’t like repeating himself.
“Do not argue. You want to marry me.”
She gasped at his arrogant claim. “Says who?”
“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
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
not even sure yesterday morning’s kiss wasn’t for
benefit,” she admitted, getting the worst of her fears
“I have only ever touched you because it is what I
do, mi tesoro. How can you believe otherwise? Am I
scoundrel that I would use you in such a way?” Put
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
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
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
disappointed not to have a big wedding?”
“It doesn’t matter.” She wouldn’t care if they got
the register’s office if she believed Rico really
“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
probably did, the fiend.
“What are you holding me to?” she asked, quite
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.
even attempt to say they hadn’t made love, because
intents and purposes they had.
“Women make love with men all the time without
them,” she said instead.
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
“Just because I haven’t had sex does not mean I’ve
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
to marry you thinking you love another woman.
“Because you love me, no?” Love him? She wanted
“Don’t put words in my mouth. We’re talking about
“No. We are not. Anything I felt for Chiara is in the
she is.” That sounded somewhat reassuring. If it
“Why do you want to marry me?” Perhaps if she
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
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
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
He was vulnerable right now and for a man like Rico
an anathema. She could not compound that
rejecting him. But she couldn’t fool herself into
decision was entirely altruistic.
If she married Rico, she would once again have a
She’d been lonely since her mother’s death, but
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
her. She had not belonged to them, but if she
that would change. She would once again have a
a place in the world she could call her own. And
babies came, she would have so much more. She
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.
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
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
“So, you’re going to marry my brother. That’s pretty
work considering he was engaged to Chiara not so
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
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 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
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
confrontation with Chiara. “My brother’s answer to
is marriage. Considering how you feel about him, it’s
Men could be so dense. “He won’t even tell me if he
“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
did not love her, who made no pretense of loving
if that marriage fulfilled the deepest desires of her
Andre shook his head. “But this is a good decision. It
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
arrogant brother were too much alike.
“Come. You will have Mama and Papa as your new
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
all too true comment. “You really think I’m doing the
thing?” Andre reached out and took her hand,
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.
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
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
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.
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
not want to be bothered by the traditional ceremony.
Instead, Rico had not wanted to put himself on
family and friends in his current condition.
Which only drove home the knowledge that his
marry her had been made under duress. Andre had
not to worry about it, but how could she help it? Rico
As she repeated the short vows, she could not make
meet Rico’s gaze. She kept her eyes lowered, her
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
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
sitting in the streamlined wheelchair again. The kiss
and sweet, leaving her wanting more and yet
“Congratulazioni, fratello.” Andre hugged his brother
kissed Rico’s cheeks with typical Italian warmth.
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
smile at Rico only to be hit with the unread ability of
They arrived in Milan in the wee hours of the
Gianna sleepily went through customs and then slid
waiting limo with a tired feeling of relief. She’d slept
over the past days, it was all she could do to keep
open. Rico and Andre sat on the seat opposite and
there was something wrong with that picture. She
married, but she didn’t feel married. It was all so
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
personal assistant who had been in New York for
week working with Rico. Yet, even with the others on
she hadn’t expected him to forget she was even
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
her, but he smiled indulgently at the flight attendant.
of a dinner plate dumped in her new husband’s lap
little to assuage the feeling ofjealousy that had
Which was why Rico was sitting across from her.
She’d waited to get into the limo until he had done
then sat on the opposite seat. Andre had taken a
beside Rico after only the slightest hesitation.
attention out the window, she ignored her new
watchful regard and tried to pretend she was alone.
“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
marriage proposal out of him.
“You do not sound enthusiastic.”
“I do not like speaking to the side of your head,
She shifted until their gazes met. It was difficult to
expression in the limo’s dim interior lights. “I got the
impression you weren’t particularly fond of speaking
“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
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
and the irritatingly amused Andre.
In an obvious bid to smooth troubled waters, Andre
Rico a question and soon the men were making
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,
When they arrived at the DiRinaldo villa, Gianna
outside the limo for Rico’s wheelchair to be
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
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
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
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
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
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
way and letting it grow had been a way to feel close
to her. It
would never have occurred to her that Rico might
very ordinary locks so fascinating, but he did. His
“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
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
more intimidating. “You plan that I should return to
while you sleep here?”
She shrugged, trying for an insouciance she did not
“What difference does it make?” She’d meant that
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
The words were like icy rain stinging her with their
cruelty. She stood there in mute pain while he spun
and left her room. She walked to the bed, feeling like
woman, all the energy necessary to braid her hair
Rico’s cold rejection.
He saw the most beautiful experience of her life as a
duty…an unnecessary one at that. And unappealing.
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
then? The answer came in another blinding wave of
Because he didn’t love her or want her. She could
babies, but she would not be a constant reminder of
could not have. She didn’t know what would happen
Rico regained feeling in the lower half of his body.
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
scene like so many he had witnessed in the past.
Andre had always played together, being of almost
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
She had made it to his bedside after the accident
brother. And according to a scornful Chiara and
admiring Andre, Gianna had not left Rico’s side until
out of coma. Awareness of her devotion had buoyed
when so much had seemed hopeless. After making
her, he had been sure she had stronger feelings
friendship toward him. No woman responded with
speed and abandon without feeling something
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
do unhindered without the use of his legs. At dinner,
hadn’t seemed to care when the flight attendant
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
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
by the sight of that gorgeous hair streaming down
It had rippled like living silk and he had wanted to
with a hunger he had not been willing to analyze.
He’d done so. And it had only made him want more.
her soft skin. More of her. But when he’d gone to pull
him, she had backed away. She’d lost no time
clear she had no interest in sharing his bed.
The rejection still stung and watching his brother
her in a way he could not, was doing nothing to
Gianna approached the room set aside for Rico’s
therapy with some trepidation. She’d avoided him
morning, shared stilted conversation with him and
over lunch and had only ventured down here in
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
exercise mats, a set of parallel bars, a treatment
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
destabilizing effect on her nervous system. She had
concentrate on getting her breath to come more
before she greeted the two men.
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
“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.
excuse was the shock she’d experienced that the
wasn’t Italian. “I hope your temporary relocation
problem for you.”
Tim laughed. It was a warm, rich sound, reminding
her of her
father’s laughter when her mother had been alive.
would have killed me if I had turned down an
work in Milan, all expenses paid. She’s out shoe
Gianna felt her mouth crease upward in response to
man’s friendly manner. “You’ll have to bring her to
for dinner after Rico’s parents return from their trip.
they’ll want to meet her.”
“Thank you. I will.” The whole time they’d been
had not hesitated in his ministrations on Rico’s legs.
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
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
“You’ve got to be kidding! I was ecstatic when you
toes…that twitch you’re so nonchalant about is
“Is it really, tesoro?” And suddenly memories of what
happened when she had celebrated his first
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
have to wait, no?”
His mocking tone brought her back to the present
He didn’t want her. He found kissing her a duty, a
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
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
with a new wife, a pretty good incentive to recover
quickly as possible. We could see him using those in
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,
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
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
Tim smiled as he helped Rico move from the weight
machine back to his chair. “You’re doing great. You’ll
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
Rico, but she couldn’t. Tim promised to be in early
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
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
function normally. Do not spout these happy
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
“If your business is running itself then why do you
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,
been very convincing.
She wasn’t surprised.
“I notice you ignore the reality of separate beds.”
The blush intensified and she turned away, wanting
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
“And why is our marriage not real?” The molten
metal of his
gaze burned into her. “You agreed to have my baby,
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.
sound like she cared, which she did, but she didn’t
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
but that you have changed yours.”
She shook her head. “No. | feel the same way I did
agreed to marry you,” she answered honestly.
He held her gaze captive with his own, his eyes
her with ruthless determination. What was he
For her part, she was becoming increasingly aware
His scent tantalized her, made her think of things
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
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
too sorry for me to reject me. You hoped I would let
but I have not done this.” She stared at him,
“Pity?” she squeaked. Who could pity Rico? He was
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
parents will share in your pity when they realize my
not share my bed?”
“I didn’t refuse to share your bed,” she practically
“Then you will not be bothered to learn I have
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
not hide behind a false concern for my wants. You
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
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
Pain coursed through her so she could barely
the second time, she was being told to leave Rico’s
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
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
her heart aching from a choice that had been no
all. Share a bed with a man who saw touching her
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
the edge of the huge bed, half dressed. He’d taken
immaculate suit he’d worn at dinner. His tie was
his shirt hung open on his torso. Short black hair
across his chest and down to the navy—blue silk
rode low on his hips. He was just so gorgeous, it
criminal. No one man should be allowed to have so
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
She was already on sensory overload and he still
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
credit it, not after his mood earlier.
“Are you going to sleep that way?”
“What way?” He was tormenting her and loving it.
a deep breath and let it out.
“Without your shorts?” She was proud of the ability
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
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
“Uh—where is it?”
“In there.” He indicated the walk-in closet on the
of the room. She almost tripped over her feet in her
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
sleeves. It was unseasonably warm for late
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
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
sensual dreams that had plagued her since the night
York? The dreams in which he played center stage.
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.”
“I thought we also established you liked my touch,
She thought about denying it. Her pride begged her
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
eyes with pained remembrance. His look sliced into
“A man may say many things after his woman
“I didn’t reject you.” How could he believe that? She
him. Desperately. It had to be obvious.
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
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,
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
seemed to her, she had hurt him. “I’m sorry.”
“Are you really, tesoro?” Her heartjust melted every
called her that. It was so much more intimate than
endearment reserved for her alone…or that is how
She’d never heard him use it with Chiara, or anyone
“Yes,” she replied, a little breathless. Who wouldn’t
tiny feet from a man as sexy as Rico?
GIANNA didn’t move, unable to believe what Rico
said. Show him? How?
He reached across the width dividing them and
“Venuto a me.” His huskily growled command to
him sparked an instant ache deep in her core while
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
throat as dry as the sand in the Sahara. The tug on
“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
touch since New York. She felt more alive right now
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
resistance she might have considered putting up. At
that is what she told herself as she docilely allowed
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
without a murmur. She knelt beside him, her knees
centimeters from his powerful thigh. She could now
left on the silk boxers. ln deference to her feelings?
“Unbraid your hair, tesoro.” She didn’t know why, but
com pelled to obey the enthrallingly sexy voice of her
husband. She carefully undid her braid, finger-
long chestnut strands into a curtain down her back
He watched her with deep concentration that made
hands tremble. When she was done, he reached out
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
expelling. She didn’t think she could do it. She
wasn’t one of
his experienced lovers, used to undressing for a
had never been nude with any man but Rico. She
“Do you want me to stop touching you?”
How could he ask such a stupid question? He’d
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
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
thought. Her sane mind demanded she give it
her body throbbed for what it knew Rico could
give…pleasure beyond comprehension. Did it really
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
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
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.
could see him as well as feel him. And what a sight it
His eyes were lambent with desire, his chest rippled
moved to pull her into the circle of his arms. She
against the short curling hair of his chest and
reaction to the feel of her body against his without
barrier of clothing, except those barely there silk
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
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
passion. He nipped her onto her back and loomed
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
were over hers.
She gasped in a mixture of shock and bliss.
He immediately deepened the kiss, taking command
mouth in a way that left her breathless and aching
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
out abandoned response was a good thing. Maybe
he liked a
more composed partner. Judging by Chiara, Gianna
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.
did something she found very odd. He carefully
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
paint brush, began to “paint” her body, paying
attention to her breasts and nipples. He was so
his efforts, she felt unsettled by his attention. He
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.
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
“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
one nipple. But her relief soon turned to wanton
remained unfulfilled. He suckled her until she was
with desire. She begged him to stop. He moved to
breast. By the time he was done with that one, she
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
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
last time, gently circling her bud of feminine pleasure
then rubbing it in alternative movements until she
an ecstatic scream that reverberated in her
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
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
could feel the build of yet another explosion in her
places. He probed further and suddenly she felt
tried to back away from it, but he wouldn’t let her
“Trust me.” She met his silver gaze and stopped
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
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
possibly describe her body’s reaction to her
lovemaking. She shuddered every time he moved
experiencing aftershocks course through her time
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
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,
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
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.
Her eyes flew open to warm ltalian sunshine and the
form of the man beside her. Neither of them was
stitch of clothes. The sheet covered the lower half of
body, but both their upper bodies were cast in stark
the bright morning light. His dark hand over the pale
her breast sent a shiver of alarm through her. What
She’d let Rico make love to her. That’s what. A very
ache between her legs attested to it. She hadn’t
man could do what he had done to her with his
Thinking of how intimately he had touched her
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
not even unconsciousness could dispel the arrogant
his mouth. His dark hair was mussed and stubble
Seeing him like this felt infinitely special, as private
they had shared the night before. But they hadn’t
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
purpose. Of course he had, but she couldn’t be
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
her he was waking for real this time. He opened his
silver light caught her gaze as inexorably as a high-
magnet trapping a paper clip.
“Buona mattina.” His voice was husky from sleep.
now very aware of his hand against her breast.
“Good morning,” she croaked with something less
“Is it?” His eyes probed hers. He needed her
She didn’t mind giving it to him.
“Yes.” Feeling embarrassed by their new intimacy,
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
postmortem on the night before. He might want to
married to her, but he didn’t love her and that
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
look into his eyes.
“I regret I had to hurt you.” She could read the
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,
am your husband.”
Remembering a similar statement he had made after
goading her into admitting her virginity, she said,
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
“No, tesoro. Not any longer. Now, you belong to
“For better or worse.” A tinge of unexpected
her voice. What was wrong with her? He frowned.
“You are not happy to be married to me? I do not
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
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.
“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
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
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Knowing something
hearing it were two very different animals she
She’d known Rico didn’t love her, but secretly she’d
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
hope ignite. He did not want to let her go. That had
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,
He gave up on words at that point and kissed her.
The kiss turned carnal in less than five seconds and
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
They were late for Rico’s physical therapy, but Tim
laughed, ribbing them about being newly-weds. He
could understand how a woman like her could make
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
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
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
a possibility the night before. His sex had become
when he started touching her, but it hadn’t lasted
hated the feeling of sexual helplessness that
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
when he hadn’t said he loved her, but didn’t she
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
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
that afternoon to the news of both their son’s
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
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.
unexpectedly, Renata had gotten emotional at the
her son in a wheelchair. Gianna had mentioned
achievement in an effort to focus Renata’s attention
strides he was making, not the results of the
Gianna shifted in the chair she had taken upon
drawing room twenty minutes earlier and met his
“It is proof positive that you will be walking again
Renata smiled mistily toward Gianna, “Of course
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
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
taste like his papa.”
Renata blushed, her still beautiful skin taking on a
She slapped Tito’s arm playfully. Andre’s low
laugh brought Gianna’s gaze around to him. He
“I’d say Rico’s taste has certainly improved over six
Tito nodded, his expressive face showing his
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
take his family’s ribbing in stride.
Andre shrugged. “You showed better taste in
wife, in my opinion.”
“We can thank the good God he came to his senses
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
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
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
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
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
make such a comment about your sister-in-law.”
moved shoulders encased in a well-cut gray Italian
suit in a
“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
embarrassed her, but it hadn’t made her angry.
She could hardly mind when his expressed
so good for her feminine ego. Besides, she knew he
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
What was Andre trying to accomplish? She couldn’t
he really wanted to bait Rico into losing his temper
that event was fast approaching.
“But I did not marry Chiara, did I?” Rico asked, his
“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
spent bringing Rico’s parents up to date about what
happened while they had been on vacation was a
for Gianna. She couldn’t forget Rico’s defense of
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
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
Renata stood up and laid the mantilla over Gianna’s
settled it around her shoulders, then stood back to
“Si. This is how you should have looked on your
“Rico didn’t want to expose himself to the curious
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
Gianna said nothing.
“We will have to plan a proper blessing on the
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
formal church blessing would replace it. She shooed
out of the room, saying she had lists to make and
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
Her worry was justified later as she and Rico
dinner. She had gone into the bathroom to change
out wearing a demure sheath dress in chocolate-
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
gold clip she fastened on the back of her head.
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
the endearment sounded like an insult.
She looked down at her dress. It wasn’t so different
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
into the soft flesh.
“Chiara complained about how you and Andre made
unwelcome at the hospital and l dismissed it at the
after the visit with my parents and Andre earlier I
wonder if she saw things more truthfully than I did.”
Gianna remembered the accusations. She’d been
the time that Rico hadn’t taken the blatant lies
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
“Your brother may not be fond of her, but that does
mean he treated her with anything other than
she was your fiancee. He respects you too much to
“You think so?” Rico had moved until they faced
with less than a foot separating them. She
nervous by his proximity and the brooding anger
“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,
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
woman’s manipulative games.
“I didn’t dispossess anyone because she wasn’t
begin with. When I arrived at the hospital, your
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
side could make all the difference in your recovering
She yanked her hair from his hand, bringing stinging
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.”
“Is it? My brother has made no secret of his
She looked into his eyes and read anger and
“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
“Did you think I should have been offended?”
She didn’t know why she bothered to ask. The
“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
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
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
plopped down on his lap and clasped her hands
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
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
having her sit in his lap voluntarily had meant to him.
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,
he could not walk. And things he had always taken
granted were impossible tasks to perform. Like right
wanted to pull Gianna across the bed and into his
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
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
Her small hand rested against his chest, while one
insinuated itself over his thigh. He could feel the
her weight, but had to touch her with his hand to
the softness of her skin. It was maddening. When
be whole again? He let one hand rest possessively
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
mobility? The metallic taste of fear accompanied the
possibility that it would not. No man wanted to be
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
body in a way he had never wanted Chiara, or any
woman’s touch. One thing was certain. Half a man
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
vague impression of being held through the night.
been, or was itjust wishful thinking on her part?
Rico was the only person at the breakfast table
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.
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
as an excuse to have all the trappings of a wedding.”
Rico’s smile made her melt inside like milk chocolate
“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
“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
“Si. With the fertility specialist,” he elucidated.
“But why?” He was weeks, if not days from walking.
through IVF if they didn’t have to?
“So we can begin the process of making you
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.
to begin on a family right away.”
And a baby would be another bond between them,
something else to build emotional connections
SHE was still trying to comprehend Rico’s desire to
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
way. She hated the thought of him tormented by
but she knew too little about such matters to
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
sperm, “a fairly painless, outpatient procedure.” Rico
nodded, his expression bland. The doctor turned to
will have to go through intra-uterine insemination,
DiRinaIdo.” Gianna found the ensuing conversation
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.
third stammering answer, Rico sighed. “Would you
left while you discuss such details with the doctor?”
her face heat with an even stronger blush. “Yes.”
pleaded with him to understand. His half smile told
he had. He turned and left the room, closing the
him. The doctor laughed. “I’m surprised he offered to
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
control, she thought with a warm gratitude. In that,
relationship had grown, at least. He might believe
not be embarrassed discussing anything with him,
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
She nodded, encouraging him to continue. The
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
“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
she wanted his baby. Very much. “I’m not worried
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.
called back in and the doctor loaded her down with a
paraphernalia that was supposed to let her know
optimum time for the procedure would occur. She
askance. “I’m supposed to take my temperature
“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
the room where he had his physical therapy
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
shopping with Renata and hadn’t found out about
progress until Tim and his wife came for dinner.
been seeing them out, the rest of the family still in
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
“You are right, cara. I should not snap at you. Tell
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
“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
him into working on his rehabilitation rather than his
company. But since their arrival in Italy, he had
than enough attention to walking again. She
come to his sessions to spend time with him
rest of the day his business kept him occupied. She
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
enjoyed sleeping in his arms, but an underlying
insecurity accompanied his rejection of her attempts
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
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
get lost, but it was obvious he wanted to. Had
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
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
“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.
He could figure out for himself what that meant.
“I’ll be going in for the procedure in less than three
my body follows the normal cycle.”
She didn’t wait around to hear his reaction. She
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
her eyes, she convinced herself she meant
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
less of a man. Added to that, having her witness his
struggles to return to mobility was becoming 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
husband was when he made love to her at night.
made no difference he had less control over his legs
two-year-old. She responded to him with such
soon became addicted to the sounds of pleasure
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
only gratification Rico would ever know again.
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
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
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
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
Rico seemed just as intent on avoiding her, coming
long after she’d gone to sleep each night.
Once, he woke her when he came to bed and she
him she was too tired. She hadn’t wanted to deal
pain and pleasure mixture that accompanied his
He hadn’t tried again. But there were nights she
sworn she slept in his arms. He was always gone
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
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
“Yes!” she shouted and threw herself across the bed
him in exuberantjoy. His arms locked around her
found herself sitting across his lap, her hands locked
“You’re walking,” she whispered with awe. “I knew
“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
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
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
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
She arched into the touch, joy coursing through her
from his achievement and this new, more
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
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
of his chest. It was her turn to shudder. She had
for so long. The freedom to touch him. She could
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
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
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.
Touch. Him. The refrain went round and round in her
until it drowned out even the nerve centers
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
release, when you are aching for my touch?” He
his point by gently pinching her nipple, causing her
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
not want her presented themselves to her
of them were good. It was all about control. His over
renewed his male ego to have a woman so blatantly
his sensual thrall. Then there was pity. He felt sorry
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
pitied her. Maybe there was even some element of
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,
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
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
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
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
the frame. His expression was almost as tortured as
and a white line of stress outlined his firm lips.
“I am not a rapist.”
She stared at him, appalled chagrin adding to her
“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
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
of his rejection. He eventually made it to the bed and
into place next to her. She reached over and turned
“I don’t want to talk,” she slotted in before he could
“I need to tell you—”
“No! There’s nothing to say. Please. Just let me go
She started crying again and he pulled her into his
cursing under his breath. She struggled feebly
but he just tightened his hold.
He stroked her hair and whispered words of comfort
mixture of Italian and English. Her tears finally
he tried to talk to her again, but she begged him to
be. She would do anything to stave off his
why she wasn’t woman enough for a complete
relationship with him. Even if he was afraid of an
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
throughout the night.
The next morning, Gianna woke up before Rico. Her
histrionics of the night before brought a wave of
had wanted to talk to her and she had refused.
stupid, stupid. But even after her refusal, he had
and comforted her throughout the night. She loved
much, but she certainly hadn’t let love guide her
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
turned to face him, her hand gripping the lapels of
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
the color of stainless steel surveyed her with intense
“We need to talk, cara.”
She nodded and swallowed. Yes, they did, but right
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
“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
“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
affirmative movement. She called the doctor from
beside the bed.
Turning to Rico after she hung up, she felt a faint
“He wants me to come in right away. It’s better if I
“I’ll be ready to leave in fifteen minutes.” She stared
“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
She chewed on her bottom lip and nervously pleated
velour of her robe.
“They’re going to put something inside me,” she
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
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
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
ideas and intended to follow through on them. The
embarrassment aside, the thought of having him
“You can come. I want you to come.”
SHE realized halfway to the clinic that she’d
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
her husband’s baby, but then she’d never
pregnant in the sterile environment of an outpatient
procedure room, either.
It did not matter, though. She wanted Rico’s
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
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
dose of the meds I take for period cramping on the
The nurse, a middle aged brunette with a kind smile,
“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
“It’s just a precaution. Nothing to worry about. The
and I discussed this.”
He looked unconvinced. “Are you sure? Perhaps we
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
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
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
sign of her pain, but she had refused. He’d stood by
willing his own strength onto her. It was a small
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
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
wimp for making such a big deal about the
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
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
presence comforting and wasn’t about to give it up.
“Is it getting any better?” Rico asked as he helped
her clothes like a parent with a small child. She let
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
but everything went fuzzy and her head felt like
on a spinning ride at the county fair. She reached
Rico, her hand colliding with his torso as she felt her
She woke on the bed to the sound of Rico shouting.
chewing the doctor out for everything from her
the state of the world economy. Or at least, that was
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
“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.
you a glass ofjuice to bring your blood sugar level
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
“Si. It was doubtful for a moment if I could keep us
but you are such a tiny thing, cara mia. l was able to
onto the bed.”
A nurse arrived with a glass of apple juice, which
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
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
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
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.”
“How would you like being bored and cooped up in a
He raised his brows and she felt like shouting. Last
being a rare exception, she never shouted. She
“I know you were in the hospital, but you worked.
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
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-
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
“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
ring for some food.”
She nodded and he spoke into the mouthpiece,
late breakfast for them both. When he hung up, he
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
brain down a path you cannot take at the moment,
She thought he was teasing, so she responded in
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
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
another physical rejection.
Even if maybe she was beginning to understand why
so, it still hurt. She pulled her head back and he
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
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
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
breakfast and the discussion was abandoned while
She yawned when she finished. “I can’t think why I’m
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
mind, then without a word, he stood up and took the
the door and left it in the hallway. He came back
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
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.
He spun around to face her and torment gave his
“Do you? How can you understand me when I do
not? I was
selfish, tesoro. I did not care for your happiness,
She shook her head, remembering his infinitely
introduction to lovemaking.
“I don’t believe that.”
“Perhaps you are right. I thought in my arrogance
married to me, sharing my bed, it would be enough
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
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
marriage proposal, when I took your virginity so you
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
me?” she asked painfully.
“Porco miseria! Where did you get this idea?”
“I said I did not know ifl could perform. I said
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
“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.
“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
Part of her wished he’d stop tossing the 1-word
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
and this worried me, but I thought when l regained
would regain this as well.”
She had assumed the same thing.
“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
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
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
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
them and I wanted your baby so much.”
“If I had faced my own cowardice, perhaps you
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
“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
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
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
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
tender look in his eyes, his willingness to risk
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
She didn’t want the gentle touch. She needed more.
him. All of his passion. “Shh…tesoro.” His tongue
the shell of her ear. “This will be perfect.”
His voice and sensual touch sent shivers of
delight cascading along her nerve endings.
Her lips parted on a breathless sound and he finally
lips settle over hers with firm possession and he took
of the warm recesses of her mouth. The evocative
her moaning and tightening her arms around his
she remembered. She could touch him. She broke
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
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
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
She loved it when he referred to her as his woman.
a chosen intimacy, not a marriage of convenience
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
watched, enthralled, while long, dark, masculine
loosened his tie and pulled it off. He let the patterned
to the carpet with a soft swish of sound.
The jet black buttons came next. First those at his
then the ones down the front of his shirt. One by
undid them, revealing the well-muscled contours of
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
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
stood before her.
Proudly male. Nude but for the black silk boxers
on his hips. He hooked his thumbs in the waistband
expelled her held breath as he pushed the shorts
thighs. An unintelligible sound came from her throat
watched the most intimate of his male flesh come
She swallowed. She opened her mouth. Nothing
She closed it.
She closed her eyes. She opened them again. She
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
wasn’t funny. How was she supposed to face that
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
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.
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
she was little. Over a foot shorter than him and built
delicate lines that made women like his ex-fiancée
Yet, he had no doubt they would fit together as il
“Your body was created to accommodate mine.”
She licked her lower lip, igniting more flames of
desire low in
“Are you sure? Maybe, I’m not made right.” She
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
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
shoulders as if preparing to face the firing squad.
He walked slowly to the bed, his bare feet
the carpet. His balance was improving all the time,
wasn’t about to risk falling. She seemed to shrink
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
If she caressed him and he remained only semi
worse, lost what hardness he did have, it would be
unspeakable blow to his pride. But watching her
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
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
reached out and pulled her to her knees on the high,
oversize bed. Then he guided her hands to his
her small palms over the already stimulated flesh of
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
her sharp little teeth. Then her hands began moving.
they had the night before, but this time he made no
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
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
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
her. She’d wanted to touch him, but now that the
had arrived, she was terrified. What if she did it
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
over the back of hers and meshing them together,
down his torso until they reached the mat of hair at
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
guided her hand to the rocklike hardness protruding
“Touch me, amore. Touch me, here.”
And she curled her fingers around him, awed by the
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
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
skin, the stiffness of his nipples, all bespeaking a
excitement she had never dreamed she could
“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
“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
with his hands and then with his mouth. When he
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
a way that sent her orbiting into space almost
She screamed his name as the cataclysm of
in her. She writhed under him, the pleasure so great
almost pain, but he didn’t stop and soon his clever
was sending her into an oblivion of bliss again.
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
hoarse shouts that would have mortified her if she
lost to the feelings he gave her. She was shaking
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
began moving his body.
He slid almost all the way out of her, making her
him with her hands, desperate for a return of the
intimate connection. But he did not withdraw; he
back into her and began a rhythm that quickly
something pounding hard and fast.
The ecstasy built inside her, making her shout his
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,
fierceness with her own sensual aggression. Then
exploded around her, going black around the edges
came close to losing consciousness for the second
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
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.
wonderful lover, caro.”
His bodyjolted. With a growl, he started raining
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.
her head on his heart and listened to the rapid beat
sense of the miraculous.
“Grazie, mi amore bella.” She smiled against his
“Thank you, my love.” His arms tightened around
have restored to me wholeness.”
Was that anything like the gift he had just given her?
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
intent on letting her share more equally in the loving
last coherent thought as he taught her to set a pace
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
She reached up to wrap her arms around his neck
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
perfectly groomed hair and the smooth skin on his
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
in the past twenty-four hours.
He brushed her cheek, letting his fingers twine into
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
shocked. She’d never pouted in her life. He gave a
male appreciation and nipped at her protruding lip.
She caught his mouth for a lingering kiss and then
“All right. If you promise.”
His gorgeous face creased in a smile of sexy
He kissed her briefly again, as if he couldn’t quite
“I will cut the meeting short if I can. Take a long, hot
“Will it help?” she asked with projected innocence.
He stood up, a serious expression passing across
“We will talk when | return.”
They hadn’t done much talking last night. She
smiled. He moved toward her as if he would kiss her
but then stopped, a look of grim determination
sculpted features and left. She watched him walk
room, a sense of foreboding that overshadowed her
their lovemaking coming out of nowhere. What did
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
her marriage, she chided herself. With that thought
mind, she followed Rico’s instruction and had a long
bath, the water softened and scented with expensive
had been a gift from her mother-in-law on one of
shopping expeditions. The hot, swirling water
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
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
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.
stay with you now that he is a man again.” How
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
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
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? 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
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
man I needed him to be. He let me go for my sake.
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
would not walk again, had been laid to rest only the
before. “You don’t love him.” Chiara’s laugh was
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
There are still things I want to say to you and then I
wait around for Rico to show up. I need to
on his walking.” Gianna could not believe the
audacity of the
other woman. “If you want to see my husband, you’ll
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
me out. You haven’t got the guts.” Chiara sounded
and just the tiniest bit unsure of herself as if
had been completely unexpected.
Gianna opened her mouth to answer when she was
interrupted by the sound of Rico’s voice. “I didn’t
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
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
married to you. She wants me out of your life
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
had threatened her marriage just now and Gianna
certain would do anything in her power to seduce
into her bed. She was not a person Gianna was
embrace in her circle of friends. Rico nodded, as if
“I don’t think an appointment will be necessary,
He looked down at Chiara, so he missed the spasm
that tightened her features that Gianna could not
“We can talk now, no?”
Chiara practically purred.” Yes, Rico. Please. ljust
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
for wanting to keep track of your progress, not after
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-
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
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
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
wheel of the first car she found with a key in the
was a Mercedes sedan. It was bigger than she was
but she didn’t care. She just had to get away. The
guard was waving wildly at her to stop when she
of the driveway after pushing the automatic gate
Rico and his father had been adamant she and
leave the villa with a security escort, but Gianna
the mood for company. Any company. She drove
city mindlessly until she found herself in the vicinity
Duomo. Memories of Rico bringing her here after her
mother’s death guided her in bringing the car to a
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
just as awe-inspiring to her now as it had been when
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
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
but he hadn’t seen her for dirt. Not until the accident
beautiful, but excruciatingly selfish fiancee had
Gianna leaned against a column, letting her body
sense of peace hundreds of years of pilgrims had
her. Rico was hers, but for how long?
After almost twenty-four hours in his bed, she
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.
Chiara stay. The memory of something he had said
before intruded with ominous significance. He had
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
that. She knew he wasn’t. So, why was she
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
“I didn’t run away.” She straightened against the
did not take a bodyguard. You drove yourself off the
property, though my security men tried to wave you
stop.” He made it sound like she’d committed
number nineteen. “I wanted to be alone, all right?”
his head, his hair looking black in the muted light of
Duomo, his expression bleak. “No, it is not okay.”
at him. “You can’t dictate my every movement.” “I do
desire this.” Right. “Then why are you here?”
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
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
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
“We shared our souls and that, mi moglie, is
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
turned from him, but she found no peace in her
surroundings. There was too much pain slicing
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
face him. Pain easily equal to the hurt she was
glittered in his eyes. “Does not forgiveness come
Forgiveness for what? Did he expect her to forgive
not loving her? It wasn’t that easy, nor was it a
forgiveness but learning to accept. “I don’t know if I
she said, speaking to herself rather than him. 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
their own volition, in a painfilled whisper. “Then what
do not touch me?” “I hurt,” she admitted. “Turning
will not make it better.” Her lower lip trembled and
another sob well up. He cursed and stepped
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
asked, thinking of Chiara’s smirking face when
left the sala. “Where I am.” His voice vibrated with
and his mouth came down over hers in a bruising
responded with a passion released by her anguish.
didn’t know how long they stood there, his lips
on her, but eventually the sound of a child asking his
what the man and his girlfriend were doing
conscious mind. She pulled her mouth away and it
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?
your legs. It’s too much, too soon.” What if he fell
himself? “You are worried about my well-being?” he
his ire fading slightly. “Yes.” “You are not trying to
away again?” She sighed, linking her arms around
and letting her head fall onto his shoulder. “I can’t.”
nodded, the anger completely gone now. She could
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
“She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife.” The child
“Okay,” with the ageless wisdom reserved for the
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
meant it so literally.” “lf holding you in my arms is
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
through. She said nothing else as he carried her out
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
his lap. “What about the car?” They couldn’tjust
“Tell Pietro where it is and he will collect it.” So, she
young security man where she’d parked and handed
keys, all the while aware of Rico’s hard body
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
did.” “But…” “She came to our home and dared to
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
“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
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
twinge of guilt niggled at her. “I didn’t.” “You did.”
bother reminding him she had wanted to be alone, to
time to think. The excuse had carried no weight with
all. “Where do we go from here?” “Home, mi moglie.
bed maybe…” She was tempted to give into the
his voice, but she wanted more than a physical
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
happiest of men.” “You did not love me when we got
married.” “You were with me when I came out of
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
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.”
be guessing. He smiled. “You do not believe me, but
true. I heard and I woke.” “I could not stand the
a world without you in it.” She laid her hand over his
even now needing affirmation of the life pulsing in
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
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
head, terrified of believing. “I did not realize it at first.
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.
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
your wedding vows seriously, but my reasoning was
amore. I wanted you, but was unwilling to admit I
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,
result of any real fear. “Si.” “But I never even flirted
him.” “He flirted with you.” And from the
in her husband’s eyes, he had liked it even less than
thought at the time. “But you said you didn’t love
reminded him, hurting a little less, but still not sure
believe. “I broke it off with Chiara in New York.”
told her | no longer wanted to marry her. I told her
because my dreams were filled with a tiny green-
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 convinced herself I had done it for her and
when I started walking again, I would want her back.
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
heart. My life. Without you, nothing matters. I did not
of my love because I was afraid. Afraid I would not
again. Afraid ifl did, I would not be able to perform
—” “Even if you were paralyzed from the neck down
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
could not match it.” “But now you can?” she asked,
desperately hoping the answer would be yes. “I
could yesterday morning during the lUl. You were
and I knew that no matter the sacrifice, I would
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
his bambini. His hands cupped her face and his
suspiciously bright. “I love you, tesoro, with all that I
ever will be. You are the other half of my soul and I
buon Dio for that mugger and the driver of the car
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
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
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
the accident was a good thing. It had hurt him too
she would not deny the joy his words placed in her
love you.” “Si. You can never say this too often, mi
So she said it again, and again, and again,
kisses until they reached their home and continued
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
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
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. |
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
for her that both the lUl procedure and their making
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?
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