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In a Storm of Scandal

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«In a Storm of Scandal» - Ким Лоренс

Imprisoned with the Italian!Poppy lost her heart – and her reputation – to the dangerously suave Luca Ranieri. Only to be crushed by a whirlwind of scandal when aristocratic Luca chose duty over desire. Now Poppy finds herself stranded in her grandmother’s castle by a violent storm – captive with none other than the deliciously dishevelled Luca.For three days the tempest rages, and Poppy loses her heart to Luca all over again. But with reality comes the media frenzy. And this time the price of scandal means Luca can’t just walk away…
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About the Author

‘Are you flirting with me?’

‘Was I not meant to?’

Ever since he’d appeared her emotions had been see-sawing dramatically as she struggled against a determination to keep him at arm’s length—physically and emotionally—and an equally strong inclination to pull him close in every way.

‘I don’t want you!’

Before she knew it he was beside her. Without saying a word he planted one hand in the small of her back, the other on the curve of her hip, and with negligent ease dragged her to him.

She was too startled by his actions to resist. That was her story and she was sticking to it!

He arched an expressive brow and lowered his mouth to hers. His dark eyes glittered with insolent challenge. ‘No …?’

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!

Recent titles by the same author:



In a Storm

of Scandal

Kim Lawrence


June 2004 Rome, Villa Palladio.

‘YOU’RE a lucky man.’

‘Yes I am, Uncle Dino.’

He was a lucky man.

Tell yourself that often enough, Luca, and it just might start to sound true.

Arranged marriages worked. The Ranieris had been making arranged marriages work for generations.

His own grandparents’ marriage cementing two powerful Italian families had been arranged, maybe not such a good example … but his own parents had continued the custom and with some success.

But he had always considered himself the moderniser destined to drag his family into the twenty-first century.

However, a lot could change in six weeks.

It had been six weeks to the day when he had accepted his father’s seemingly innocent suggestion to join him for a brandy in his study.

After first pouring them both a generous measure of brandy Damiano Ranieri had extracted a box from the safe concealed behind a painting before ceremoniously presenting it to his son.

‘It was your great-grandmother’s, Luca.’

It seemed supremely ironic now to recall that when he had stared at the heirloom sitting in its bed of velvet his first thought had been: he knows … somehow he knows about us. He knows about Poppy!

He knows and he isn’t screaming or even threatening to disown me!

Touched by what he had seen—for about thirty seconds—as an unexpected parental display of approval, he had opened his mouth to tell his father how much he appreciated the gesture, but that would have been slightly premature.

He and Poppy had discussed the future and envisaged spending it together but they had both agreed that they were too young to make that sort of commitment yet.

‘See how you feel after we’ve spent the next year together, Luca?’ Poppy had teased as they sat beside the loch, and planned the route of their gap-year expedition. ‘By then you might have gone off me totally.’

After he had demonstrated that he was never going to go off her—a task that took some time as her mouth was an invitation to sin—Luca had tugged the sides of his shirt together across his chest and growled. ‘And you’ll have moved on, basking in the attention of all those sex-crazed male students.’

The thought of those determined little hands sliding over another man’s skin, setting another man’s nerve endings on fire, had made his stomach muscles quiver in rejection.

‘Sex crazed sounds interesting …’ Poppy’s delicious husky laugh had stopped as she studied his face. ‘You’re jealous!’ The discovery had appeared to delight her.

‘Heartless little witch,’ he had condemned with a grin.

Your heartless little witch, Luca,’ she had reminded him quietly.

The undisguised love and confidence shining in the incredible eyes that had met his had made things tighten painfully in his chest. Poppy never tried to disguise anything. It had all been there on her face, in her voice, the expressive sweep of her slim hands—she was utterly and totally transparent.

Gianluca, the product of a calm home where voices were never raised in either anger or pleasure, where dignity and control were the order of the day, was less comfortable with spontaneous displays of emotion.

He was, to quote Poppy, ‘a work in progress’.

‘That makes a difference,’ he had admitted huskily.

‘Don’t worry, Luca, I will tell all the sex-crazed students that my heart is taken by a computer geek.’

Her smile, never far away, had peeked out again like sun from behind a cloud as she had added, ‘You do know I suppose that computer geeks are not meant to have muscles or look so hot? Though actually I think you’d look pretty good with glasses, sort of sexy intellectual …?’ She had traced the shape of spectacles on his face with her finger and squinted at the imaginary outline. ‘Yes, very Clark Kent.’

‘You think I am a geek?’

‘A hot geek.

Oh, don’t worry, there’s no need to play it down, and don’t deny it because I know you do. You don’t have to be embarrassed or anything. I love it that you’re super brainy. By the time I finish my degree you’ll have created the most successful computer webdesign company in the world,’ she had predicted with a happy sigh. ‘It’s actually perfect timing.’

‘How do you manage to be upbeat all the time?’ And be so damned perceptive.

‘It’s all part of my charm and anyhow how could I not be upbeat? Everything is perfect except …’ Tongue caught between her teeth, she had directed a stare of smouldering challenge at his face. ‘You do know that this is the exact spot where we first kissed?’

‘I have not forgotten. Stop that, Poppy,’ he had warned, unable to take his eyes off her luscious mouth.

‘Stop what, Luca?’ Poppy had produced a look of mock innocence and patted the grass. ‘Don’t you think it would be kind of … appropriate if it was the same spot we …?’

Feeling noble and in extreme pain, he had clamped his hand over the slim dextrous fingers that were slipping the buttons on her blouse and, breathing hard through the fog of lust clouding his vision, dragged her to her feet, but not before it had become clear that Poppy was not wearing a bra.

Nobility was definitely overrated!

It was very hard to shield someone from your baser instincts when they didn’t want to be protected. Promises to his godmother or not, had there not been an ice-cold loch for him to walk into fully clothed things might have turned out differently.

‘I appreciate this, Dad, I really do, but actually it’s a bit early.’ And he had always seen Poppy wearing an emerald to match her eyes on her finger. ‘And she’s very young.’

And very impatient with his own reservations when it came to taking their relationship to the next level. The five-year age gap between them did not bother Poppy.

But it bothered him, and in deference to her inexperience from the beginning he had gone slow, keeping his lust under fierce control, not wanting to take advantage or scare her.

‘The first time should be special,’ he had shouted, standing waist deep in the water as he shook the water from his hair before slicking it back with a not quite steady hand.

‘It won’t be special if I die of old age waiting.’

‘I promised your grandmother I wouldn’t—’

‘Break my heart, I know, but you’re not going to and I’m eighteen, Luca, and I’m not going to change my mind. This isn’t a crush—if it was I’d think you’re perfect and I don’t, but I love you despite your faults.’

Laughing, he had waded from the water. ‘Please don’t enumerate them … again—you’re bad for my ego.’

‘Your ego, Luca Ranieri, is bomb and bullet proof,’ Poppy had contended lovingly.

‘There’s a beach in Southern Thailand.’

‘Who did you see the beach with?’

‘I was alone.’

Her furrowed brow had smoothed. ‘Good.’

‘You can only get to it by boat, the sand is white and the air is warm and when the moon is shining and the waves are lapping on the shore—’

‘Stop!’ Poppy had begged with a sigh. ‘You had me at “there’s”. You could make a dictionary sound seductive when you use that voice, Luca Ranieri. Look,’ she had instructed, rolling up her sleeve and extending a bare forearm towards him. ‘I’ve got goose bumps … all over.’ A wicked gleam had appeared in her eyes. ‘Want to see?’

Luca had groaned. ‘You know I do.’

‘Except your old-fashioned sense of honour and a fear of Gran is stopping you,’ she had completed fondly. ‘Fine, have it your way. I’ll let you woo me slowly, but don’t expect me to stop trying,’ she had warned him.

‘Aurelia loves rubies.’

‘Aurelia …’ Luca closed the box with a click. ‘I’m not marrying Aurelia.’

Both families had never made a secret of the wish that their two dynasties should be united by a marriage. As children he and Aurelia had frequently joked about their parents’ old-fashioned, ambitious and ultimately unrealistic plans.

In recent years Aurelia who had gone the finishing-school route rather than university, had been around less to enjoy the joke on the rare occasions when the subject had been mentioned—less a plan now and more a wistful aspiration, or so it had seemed to Luca.

‘I’m in love with someone else.’ The truth seemed to him the simplest way to draw a line under the subject once and for all.

‘Of course you’re in love with someone else, Luca, you’re twenty-three and I’m sure she’s impossibly unsuitable.

The patronising note in his father’s voice set his teeth on edge.

‘Do you realise how few women understand the responsibility that marrying into a family like ours brings?’ Damiano said, warming to his theme. ‘It’s all about breeding. Girls today want their own careers—obviously your wife can never work.’

Despite the situation he had walked unwittingly into, the thought of Poppy’s reaction if he told her he was about to chain her to the kitchen sink almost made Gianluca smile.

‘They do not understand the concept of duty … the question is do you?’ Damiano fired a fierce look at his son. ‘And if we are talking love, what about Aurelia? She is in love with you and she has been waiting patiently.’

‘That’s rubbish!’ Luca was horrified by the suggestion.

Seeing the flash of doubt in his son’s eyes, Damiano arched a bushy brow. ‘Is it? You have trained for your future career and she has trained for hers. Where is the problem—you like her …?’

‘Liking is not enough.’

‘Love again …’ his father drawled impatiently. ‘Do you think I was in love with your mother?’

‘Yes.’ Everyone knew his parents had made good of their marriage.

His father had the grace to look sheepish. ‘Yes, well, that’s not the point.’

‘It isn’t?’

‘The point is you were always going to marry the girl, Luca, eventually. So why not now?’

Rather than dispute the false claim, Gianluca, sure he was missing something, addressed the question that puzzled him most. ‘Why now? Why the sudden urgency?’

His father ducked the question.

‘Oh, I know you had plans to travel or whatever.’

‘When I agreed to the post-grad year at Harvard you knew I intended to take a gap year once I graduated with an MBA.’

‘Like your friends … but you are not like your friends. You have already seen the world several times.’

‘From the window of five-star hotels.’

‘Yes, you have really suffered, Luca.’

‘I know I have been fortunate.’

‘You have been given everything and now it is time to give something back. It’s time you remembered your duty to your family … your name … it’s time you settled down, my boy.’

‘The moral blackmail is not going to work this time.’

His father ignored the interruption. ‘When you take over the company—’

‘I am not going to take over the company.’ Gianluca could still recall the relief he had felt having made the confession—it had been short-lived.

The anger died from his voice as his father sank heavily into a chair. ‘If you don’t marry Aurelia there will be no company for you to take over.’

‘What are you talking about?’

Returning to the safe, his father came back with a file. ‘You know the name Jason Stone?’

‘Of course I do.’ Everyone knew the name of the American who had given a new meaning to the word con.

Luca had always been mystified how the man who had nothing but charm to sell had had to fight off wealthy clients convinced by all his wild promises and eager to put their fortunes in his unscrupulous hands.

The man was now behind bars; of the missing billions there was no sign.

‘Read it, Luca,’ his father instructed.

As he scanned the pages he realised why his father was looking older … he suddenly felt older himself.

‘How much?’ he asked finally.

His father mentioned a figure that drew a groan from Gianluca.

‘I thought it was safe and I thought I would be able to pay it back before anyone—’

‘You used money from the …?’ Gianluca, seeing his father’s expression, bit back his reproach. ‘Who knows?’ Even the suggestion of embezzlement, when added to the disgrace of financial ruin on this scale, would be impossible to hide. ‘Mother …?’ Emotionally vulnerable, she worshipped her husband. The shame of such a scandal, Gianluca realised, would be hard if not impossible for her to bear.

‘The bank, obviously, though not all, and Alessandro … he warned me at the time, but too late now.’

Mention of Aurelia’s father made Gianluca stiffen, he knew what was coming.

‘You know you are the son Alessandro never had and after his last heart attack he feels he needs to hand over the reins. He has run a deal past me … a form of merger. His offer is very generous, Luca, and it will all be kept within the family.’

And now they were family, Gianluca had stepped up to the mark and done what was expected of him—did that make him a hero or a coward?

Aware that such speculation was futile, he pushed away the question. His future was mapped out and he had no regrets, he told himself. He had done the right thing … the only thing.

Duty had been drummed into him since birth. He had made his choice and he would live with it. He would make his marriage work.

Next year Alessandro Cosimo would retire, his own father had already stepped down from his position as CEO, and Gianluca would take charge of the merged business empires.

He had hurt Poppy. It didn’t matter how often he told himself she was young, she would get over it, move on, be happy with someone else … someone who wasn’t him … the knowledge she was hurting because of him ate away at him like corrosive acid.

The thought of her being with someone else—this pain he locked away waiting until it would pass, because it would.

It had to!

She had come today. That he hadn’t expected—why?

He’d never seen Poppy in heels before. The ones she wore today were high and spiky, the bare skin of her shapely calves a toasty pale gold. Attired in a silk shift a shade paler than her green eyes, she looked poised, effortlessly elegant and supremely desirable.

The service in the cathedral with a strategically placed marble column to hide behind had been the place to shed tears, or even during the speeches, but not out in the sunlit gardens while a lady in a very large hat was waiting for her to respond to a question.

Not now, thought Poppy as she took a deep breath and, ignoring her aching cheek muscles, produced an utterly fake smile of brilliant proportions as she snatched a glass from the tray of a passing waiter.

It was a struggle to swallow the fizzing liquid past the emotional lump that lay like a lead weight lodged behind her breastbone. She tossed it back in one deep swallow before excusing herself from large-hat lady in her halting Italian.

Luca had been teaching her, and, though each summer she had increased her vocabulary, her grammar was still shaky. He was a good teacher. Poppy had always planned that he teach her other things. Eyes scrunched closed, she shook her head, causing the dangling beatengold discs suspended from her ears to ring like bells as they brushed her neck.

God, she hated him!

She heard her grandmother call her name and pretended not to hear as she wound a hasty path between the guests who had spilled out onto the manicured lawns overlooking the hillsides covered in olive groves and topped with the darker green of pines.

She held back the tears until she reached the relative seclusion of a small gazebo hidden behind a hedge of tall fragrant lavender.

How had this happened? Life had been perfect and now … had Luca fallen out of love with her? In her head she could hear his voice telling her that it had been a mistake.

Had he ever loved her?

Did he love the perfect Aurelia?

What was not to love? she thought darkly, seeing the tall raven-haired beauty standing at his side and feeling the familiar knife thrust of jealousy. Aurelia didn’t have a mother who made the cover of every European scandal sheet on a monthly basis!

Shaking her head to stem the constant flow of tortured thoughts, Poppy reached into her bag for the wad of tissues inside.

‘Damn!’ She sniffed as they fell to the floor. Bending to pick them up, she froze.

And then he was there, she could feel him.

Poppy lifted her head and he just stood there. Even though he was twenty feet away she could feel the emotion coming off him in waves as he walked towards her.

‘You’re crying.’

Poppy scrunched the tissues in her hand and got to her feet. ‘No—hay fever,’ she lied.

‘Why did you come, Poppy?’

‘I didn’t believe you’d really do it … but you did. Wow, you really did … Did you mean any of it, Luca? Or was it just some sort of sick game?’

His hand extended then dropped to his side. ‘You feel bad now, Poppy, but you’ll forget—’

‘I don’t want to forget.’ She gave a sniff and managed a watery smile. ‘I hope you’ll both be very happy.’

His jaw clenched as his eyes fell from hers.

‘I meant it. I meant everything.’ The words seemed wrenched from his throat against his will.

Seeing the pain in his eyes, Poppy told herself she was glad he was suffering. He deserved to suffer—this was his doing. So why did she want to run to his side and hug him?

‘And that makes it better how?’ Poppy tried to make her voice cold but it quivered pathetically.

She watched his expression grow blank until the muscle clenching in his jaw was the only visible evidence of emotion.

‘Why, Luca? Why have you done this?’

‘Things …’ He dragged a hand through his dark hair. ‘It is complicated.’

‘Do you love her …?’ She let out a soft wail and, teeth gritted, covered her ears with her hands. ‘No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know and don’t you dare feel sorry for me,’ she hissed fiercely.

Luca took her face between his hands and looked down into her tragic tear-stained face. ‘Have a great life, Poppy,’ he said, kissing her lips gently before he turned and walked away.


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