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Gianni's Pride

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«Gianni's Pride» - Ким Лоренс

Who’s been sleeping in my bed? Smouldering, rich, and lethally attractive, Gianni Fitzgerald is the master of any situation. But a seven-hour journey with his small son is evidence that even he has his limitations! Exhausted, he falls into bed… When Miranda wakes to find a strange – utterly gorgeous – man in her bed she thinks she must be dreaming!But Gianni’s the real, red-hot Italian deal – and one look at Miranda sets his pulse racing! The rewards of letting her close are huge – but so are the risks… Can Gianni conquer his pride and admit that he might have met his match?
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About the Author

The initial stabbing jolt of fear lasted a half-beat before she relaxed and smiled. Obviously this was a dream—because no man had a face like that.

It was a master class in perfection, Miranda decided as she studied the shade and shadow of the dark fallen angel before her. Sharp angles and strong curves made this a face that went beyond mere symmetrical prettiness.

She stared, feeling an almost physical tug as she looked into velvety dark heavy-lidded eyes fringed by long, spiky lashes.

It was some moments later when, with a small sigh, she let her gaze stray to the fantasy mouth, its sculpted lips somehow managing to be stern and overtly sensual at the same time. The small crescent-shaped scar a few centimetres from the right corner of that extraordinary mouth was startlingly white against the uniform toasty gold of his skin, somehow emphasising how perfect everything else was.

‘Good morning.’

Her eyelashes fluttered against her sleep-flushed cheek. Like the face, the voice belonged in a dream. Deep and throaty, it even had the tantalising hint of an accent. The man with broad, taut, heavily muscled shoulders, a dark shadow on his square jaw, was the sort of man many women’s dreams were made of … though he seemed awfully real for a dream … and wasn’t she awake …?

About the Author

KIM LAWRENCE lives on a farm in rural Anglesey. She runs two miles daily, and finds this an excellent opportunity to unwind and seek inspiration for her writing! It also helps her keep up with her husband, two active sons, and the various stray animals which have adopted them. Always a fanatical consumer of fiction, she is now equally enthusiastic about writing. She loves a happy ending!

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Gianni’s Pride

Kim Lawrence


IT WAS eleven, a good two hours later than he had anticipated arriving, when Gianni eventually pulled up in the beat-up borrowed four-wheel drive. All things considered, he had decided with regret that the low-slung, sleek, powerful sports model that he enjoyed driving was not really a man-plus-child sort of vehicle—not only did young children not travel light, they were poor respecters of cream leather upholstery—and the rather more upmarket version he used to ferry his son around town was in for a service.

Besides, this was meant to be a low-profile trip; he was dropping off the radar for—if Sam was true to her word—a few days. It could not have come at a worse time from a business and personal perspective.

It was considered something of an honour to be asked to give the keynote lecture at the prestigious international literary festival—the previous year the honour had gone to an ex head of state. After pulling out at the last minute as a mere head of a publishing house, no matter how globally successful a brand it had become, Gianni doubted this accolade would be coming his way any time again soon! He had hopes that the lovely young model he had had to cancel on would be more forgiving but if not … there were other models.

He glanced into the back seat. His son had been asleep five whole minutes—five minutes of blissful silence apart from the worrying knocking noise in the ancient engine. No crying, no howling, no pathetic whimpers and, most importantly, no throwing up! A self-derisive half-smile twisted the sculpted contours of his hard mouth as Gianni reflected on the distinctly patronising note in his response when Clare, Liam’s nanny, had expressed doubts about undertaking the journey without her.

‘It’s late, he’s tired—he’ll probably sleep most of the way. While I accept you’re indispensable, Clare, I think I can muddle through. Enjoy your holiday.’

Humouring her, he had accepted the proffered travel bands and even half listened to her lengthy explanation of how they should be applied to the pressure points on Liam’s wrists to lessen nausea, and then he’d tuned out a great deal of the rest of the advice she gave while privately thinking, How hard can it be to strap a sleeping four-year-old child into the back seat of a car and drive a hundred miles?

He shook his dark head. He was just glad now he hadn’t expressed these views out loud or he would be feeling more of a fool than he already did. He also wished he had not left those travel bands on the table in the hall or given in to Liam’s requests for a burger and fries at the first rest stop. It had been all downhill from there.

Gianni winced now to recall his flippant parting shot.

‘Yes, Gianni, definitely a piece of cake,’ he muttered under his breath as he unclipped the harness of his son’s booster seat, trying hard not to inhale—the wet wipes supplied by a sympathetic woman in the last motorway services had not removed all the smell. Gianni scooped the sleeping child into his arms and nudged the car door closed with his knee, wincing as it banged loud in the still night.

‘Don’t worry, kiddo, it’s bedtime,’ he murmured as the whiffy bundle in his arms gave a cranky protest.

The picture-postcard thatched-roofed house, a white blur against the copse of trees behind, was in darkness. Presumably Lucy, who habitually rose at some unearthly hour to feed the variety of livestock and strays she had accumulated during the past two years, was already in bed. Seeing no point in waking her, and anyway in no mood to hear her inevitable amused critique of his parenting skills—his aunt never had a problem when it came to calling a spade a spade—he made as little noise as possible as he walked across the gravel. Then, balancing Liam on one arm, he reached for the key Lucy kept on the ledge above the door.

The moonlight appeared from behind a cloud as the red-painted door swung inwards, the silvery light illuminating the hallway enough to enable Gianni to make his way upstairs without switching on the lights. After depositing Liam on the bed in the small single room in the eaves of the house, he headed back to the car to grab the bag of essentials that Clare had packed for her charge, before hurrying back.

Liam had not moved an inch.

Holding his breath and crossing everything crossable, he gingerly peeled off his son’s soiled clothes. To his relief the boy remained flat out, his breathing soft and even as Gianni replaced them with a pair of fresh pyjamas—a bath would have to wait for the morning. Smoothing the strands of dark hair back from a hot, sticky brow—the poor kid was utterly exhausted—a frazzled Gianni paused, the hard lines of his handsome face softening as he stared down at the cherubic sleeping features of his son, feeling the familiar rush of pride and fierce parental protectiveness.

That he had had any part in producing something so damned perfect still filled him with a sense of astonishment and awe. It might not have been planned, but fatherhood was the best thing he had ever done and from the moment of his birth his son had become the centre of his universe.

Carefully folding down the heavy top cover—it was a warm night—he opened the leaded window a crack, pulled the curtains and cast a last glance at the sleeping child, stifling a yawn as he finally headed for the adjoining room and his own bed. Halfway there he paused. If Lucy woke before him an explanation for the unknown vehicle parked in her yard might be a good idea. Lucy, who had once been the most trusting person on the planet, had reason to be suspicious of strangers. A note, he decided, should do the trick.

The dogs asleep in the kitchen rose to greet him halfheartedly as he went in, rubbing against his legs as he propped a suitable missive up against the cereal box on the big kitchen table. Neat freak Lucy, it seemed, had relaxed a little if the general clutter on the normally pristine work surfaces was any indication. He patted the dogs and made his way back to bed, checking on the sleeping child on his way there.

Ten seconds after Gianni’s head hit the feather pillow he was asleep. It was the sunlight shining through the window that awoke him.

Where am I?

The feeling of disorientation lasted only a moment; it was then followed by another—not so momentary.

This was a first.

He was thirty-two and though there had been some moments in his life he would prefer to forget, none up to this point had involved waking up with a total stranger in his bed.

And she was a stranger because that hair would not be easily forgotten, he decided, momentarily distracted by the remarkable shade of the thick mesh of curls, Titian interwoven with copper threads, spread out on the pillow beside him.

Raising himself on one elbow, he studied the slender back of the sleeping woman, who lay with one arm curled under her head, the other draped over the patchwork quilt. His glance travelled from the unvarnished neat nails up the curve of her arm. She had a redhead’s skin, pale and milky, lightly dusted with freckles along the curve of her shoulder and the nape of her neck where there had been sun exposure.

As far as he could tell she was naked. If anyone had walked in now they would assume … Was that what this was about—some sort of elaborate scam …?

The cynical furrow between his dark brows smoothed as he rejected the half-formed theory. Getting paranoid, Gianni, he told himself.

His eyes narrowed in effort as he kick-started his brain into sluggish life. Think, Gianni … focus … first, ditch conspiracy. This couldn’t be a set-up—nobody knew where he was. This he had made damned sure of. Gianni had tracked down enough people who had wanted to disappear to know that a secret stopped being a secret the moment you shared it.

That left …?

That left a big fat zero. Who was the naked woman with the silky-looking skin? His dark gaze caressed the smooth curve of her shoulder. Really silky … focus, Gianni! More important than identity was why was she here and in his bed?

Except it wasn’t his bed, was it? And it wasn’t his house.

His deep-set almond-shaped eyes framed by long thick black lashes widened as an explanation occurred to him. Was it possible the girl had been in the bed when he had climbed in too tired to register the warm body lying beside him?

Not only possible, you idiot—probable!

Presumably waking and finding a stranger in her bed would not be a good way for her to meet Lucy’s house guest. Gianni felt a stab of irritation. Obviously he was glad that Lucy had decided to take his advice and stop being a total recluse—he just wished that she hadn’t got sociable just yet.

He reached carefully for the quilt, curling his long brown fingers around the edge as he kept a cautious eye on the sleeping woman. Removing himself from the bed before she woke up was definitely desirable. His narrowed gaze left her briefly to make an impatient sweep of the room. Where had he left his clothes last night …?

Caught half naked in a woman’s bed. Gianni could see the tabloid headlines now and none of them said innocent mistake!

He spotted his clothes, but too late—at the same moment the sleeping figure yawned and stretched luxuriously, the sinuous catlike movement sending the sheet slithering lower to reveal the dip of her slender waist and feminine flare of her hips below.

Gianni winced, then, about to slide out from under the quilt, paused, fatally distracted as his eyes were drawn against his better judgement to the smooth, slender, womanly curves, lingering on the suggestion of a dimple above the swell of taut, peachy buttocks. Then the moment was gone—she murmured something and began to roll over, tugging the quilt up to her chin and snuggling down.

Gianni inhaled and prepared himself for the worst. Always, in his opinion, a good idea—a man could always be pleasantly surprised.

Let’s just hope she has a sense of humour!

In the event she didn’t scream. After blinking like a sleepy kitten, she smiled in warm, sleepy invitation—or maybe she was just short-sighted. Either way, lust bypassed the logic channels in his brain and Gianni caught his breath and lost his sense of urgency.

She was beautiful.

As usual Miranda woke sixty seconds before the alarm was set to go off. This morning it had been set to go off early. Her house-sitting duties involved more than the feeding of the family pets she had imagined and, having a strongly developed work ethic, she was determined to fulfil every task that her new employer had outlined so meticulously in one of her lists—there were a lot of lists.

The menagerie all had names that were not quite sorted in Miranda’s head yet: the ancient horse, the Shetland pony and the donkey, even the ducks and hens. Her employer had jotted down the list in her own neat hand. She had jotted a lot down, including a cleaning schedule that to Miranda, who didn’t mind a bit of clutter, seemed a little excessive, but she was being paid, and paid quite well, for having what her dad had called a holiday. That was before she had admitted that actually she wasn’t going back at the start of the new term; she had handed in her notice. Her paid holiday had then become a demeaning job for someone with her skills and qualifications.

Miranda sighed and wriggled a little deeper into the soft mattress, refusing to replay the argument in her head. She was escaping, not running away. The distinction was important and her actions long overdue … Think positive.

Although she hadn’t welcomed it at the time … Oh, all right, she had pretty much felt as though the sky had fallen in on her head and she still couldn’t bring herself to say it was a good thing, but if it hadn’t been for her sister Tam sweeping the man Miranda had wanted to grow old with off his feet things could have gone on as they were indefinitely, with her cutting a pathetic figure hoping that one day Oliver would notice she was something other than a dependable teacher of domestic science.

No, not dependable, exceptional, Miranda silently corrected in line with her new philosophy of ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. If she’d flaunted her not at all bad figure in the sort of designer clothes that Tam wore it was possible that Oliver would have noticed more than her raspberry muffins.

Heartbreak aside, Miranda realised she actually felt good. She normally had a problem sleeping in a strange bed but last night she had gone out like a light and, apart from some strangely realistic dreams that were already slipping away, she had slept through the night. Perhaps it was a good omen.

Eyes still closed, she rolled over towards the window set in the uneven wall where the age-blackened exposed oak beams stood out dark against the bright blue paint. There were a lot of bright colours in the cottage. It had been a combination of the view across the rolling countryside from the window and those beams that had made Miranda select this room when Lucy Fitzgerald had said she could choose any one she liked—that and the enormous, hedonistically soft bed with the carved wooden headboard.

‘Lush,’ she murmured sleepily under her breath as she snuggled into the layers of feather mattress. Her right hand brushed the headboard, her left touched warmth and hardness … Still half asleep, she slowly turned her head.

The initial stabbing jolt of fear lasted a half beat before she relaxed and smiled. Obviously this was a dream because no man had a face like that.

It was a masterclass in perfection, Miranda decided as she studied the shade and shadow of dark fallen-angel features, fascinated by the sharp angles and strong curves that made this a face that went beyond mere symmetrical prettiness. This face represented a perfect combination of planes and hollows, the masterful nose aquiline, the razor-sharp cheekbones high and slanting, the forehead broad and intelligent. Miranda stared, feeling an almost physical tug as she looked into velvety dark heavy-lidded eyes fringed by long spiky lashes and set beneath strongly delineated ebony brows.

It was some moments later when with a small sigh she let her gaze stray to the fantasy mouth, the sculpted lips somehow managing to be stern and overtly sensual at the same time. The small crescent-shaped scar a few centimetres from the right corner of that extraordinary mouth, startlingly white against the uniform toasty gold of his skin, somehow emphasised how perfect everything else was.

‘Good morning.’

Her eyelashes fluttered against her sleep-flushed cheek. Like the face, the voice belonged in a dream. Deep, throaty—it even had the tantalising hint of an accent. The man with broad, taut, heavily muscled shoulders, the dark shadow on his square jaw, was the sort of man many women’s dreams were made of … Though he seemed awfully real for a dream and wasn’t she awake …?

Miranda blew away a curl that was tickling her nose, smelling the musky, spicy scent of warm male and a hint of some sort of male fragrance…. Expensive, she decided. He was an expensive dream man. Her eyes brushed the stubble on his square jaw, following the curve of his sensual mouth. He was also raw and raunchy. Personally she was more into subtle and sensitive when it came to dream men.

Or one dream man. A smiling image of Oliver drifted through her head, a billion miles from raw or raunchy. Her lips parted to release a wistful sigh. Miranda had met her dream man, worked with him on a daily basis and accepted that he just didn’t think of her that way … Then oddly it turned out he did see her sister—identical twin sister, how was that for irony?—that way.

Miranda prided herself on the fact that she had been grown-up about the situation, concealing her pain so well that Tam had remained oblivious to her heartbreak, and avoiding the dreaded knowing looks and sympathy. Even when, on the day before the wedding, her sister had confided that she was pregnant Miranda had somehow said the right thing, though she still had no idea what. She had actually begun to wonder if she had not gone into the wrong profession—she should have been an actor, not a teacher. But there were limits and Miranda knew she’d had to make a break—working in a school where Oliver, now her sister’s husband, was the headmaster was a non-starter.

While she and Tam had never shared the sort of empathic link that Miranda had read some identical twins enjoyed, there was no way even her twin, who was never that interested in things that did not directly involve her, would not catch on soon.

She directed her masochistically inclined thoughts from the imagined idyll Tam was enjoying on a Greek island with her bridegroom and concentrated on the man lying beside her. Now he was definitely raw—actually raw hardly covered the smouldering, in-your-face sexuality he exuded from every pore … The man she was looking at?

There’s a man in my bed!

Her horrified gasp was drowned out by the alarm clock that began to shrill. It stopped when she lobbed it at the strange man’s head and in a seamless motion, her sleepy contentment a dim memory, produced a stumbling exit from the bed modestly wrapped, in the best tradition of old movies, in most of the bedding.

Eyes like saucers, clutching the quilt to her heaving bosom, she stared at the man lying there, trying not to think about the draught that was cooling her exposed bottom. The adrenalin in her veins was telling her to run, but to get to the door she had to get past the bed. Thoughts racing, hyperventilating dramatically, she glanced longingly towards the open door that connected with the next room, but her feet remained nailed to the spot as she was submerged by a massive wave of visceral, paralysing fear.

Attack, they always said, was the best form of defence … Act like a victim, she had read somewhere, and you became a victim.

‘Don’t move an inch!’ Or what, Miranda? Her chin lifted, the defiance in her attitude an attempt to mask her fear as she played for time, waiting for her legs to move. ‘Or y-you’ll r-regret it!’

He had to have heard the quiver of fear in her voice … but on the plus side he hadn’t made any attempt to move. If he had … Miranda’s glance slid down the long, lean length of the stranger. Even in his present recumbent position his physical superiority was pretty apparent. His lean body was heavily muscled, not an ounce of spare flesh masking the power and vitality of a man at the peak of physical fitness.

He looked like the sort of fitness fanatic who could run marathons back to back without breaking sweat. He could swat her like a fly if he wanted to … Swatting was actually the least of her worries at that moment … Refusing to speculate on his intentions, she tried to breathe past the frantic pounding of her heart as, not taking her eyes off him, she surreptitiously reached out behind her for her phone. She could remember leaving it on the bureau the night before … Hadn’t she?


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