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Italian Bachelors: Devilish D'angelos: A Bargain with the Enemy / A Prize Beyond Jewels

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GABRIEL WAS STILL having second, third—and fourth!—thoughts as to the wisdom of meeting up with Bryn Jones again this evening as he sat in his parked car waiting for her to emerge from the coffee shop.

It didn’t take too much intelligence to know what Bryn had been thinking earlier. Or to know why she had thought it. Gabriel’s behaviour earlier hadn’t exactly been businesslike, most especially that remark about her not wearing a bra. Especially considering the fact that he had been down on his knees in front of her, staring at her breasts, when he’d made it!

Which was, Gabriel had reasoned with himself, all the more reason for him to meet with her again this evening, if only to reassure her that the two of them were to have a business relationship in future and nothing more.

Gabriel’s senses all went on full alert—making a complete nonsense of that last sentiment—as he looked through the smoked glass of the window beside him and saw Bryn step out of the coffee shop at last, a short denim jacket over top of the gauzy blouse she had worn earlier today, a frown darkening her creamy brow as she looked for him amongst the crush of people still milling about on the busy pavement.

No doubt she was adding tardiness, or standing her up completely, to Gabriel’s already long list of sins.

* * *

‘Bryn.’

She turned in the direction of Gabriel’s voice, giving a rueful grimace as she saw he had emerged from the sleek black sports car parked illegally outside the coffee shop. The smoky black windows had prevented her from seeing him seated inside. ‘Mr D’Angelo,’ she greeted as she hurried over to where he stood. ‘I hope I haven’t kept you waiting long?’ she murmured politely.

‘Not in the least.’ He just as politely opened the passenger door of the car before standing back to allow her to get inside. ‘And it’s Gabriel,’ he reminded her gently.

Bryn didn’t move, or respond to his comment. ‘Er—there’s a pizza place just round the corner.’

He grimaced. ‘I saw it. And trust me, Bryn, what they serve isn’t real Italian pizza.’

‘But—’

‘The name is D’Angelo, Bryn.’ He quirked dark, pointed brows.

It hadn’t been part of Bryn’s plans for this evening to go off somewhere in Gabriel’s car with him. She had envisaged them getting a quick slice at the place round the corner, an hour or so of—hopefully—pleasant conversation, before they each went their separate ways. But, considering this was supposed to be a conciliatory meeting, it would look petty for her to refuse him now—besides which, with his Italian ancestry he probably did know more about pizza than she did!

‘Fine.’ She gave a bright, unconcerned smile as she moved forward to slide into the black-leather passenger seat, determined that this evening was going to go better than their previous two meetings had. Determined that she was going to act more like the fledgling-artist-grateful-to-the-art-gallery-owner-for-this-opportunity that she was supposed to be.

She had to push firmly to the back of her mind that the sleek sports car, the interior smelling richly of leather, along with a spicy, totally male smell that was pure Gabriel, was so reminiscent of that evening he had kissed her.

Gabriel closed the passenger door once Bryn had settled into the seat, before moving back to the other side of the car and resuming his seat behind the wheel. ‘You didn’t have any trouble after I left earlier?’ he prompted as he fastened his seat belt and turned on the ignition.

‘No, it was fine,’ she dismissed; there was no need to tell him of the lecture she had received from Sally earlier about not spending her time talking to one of the customers, no matter how hot he was, and how there were plenty of other people who would like her job if she didn’t want it. ‘Where are we going exactly?’ Bryn prompted interestedly as Gabriel manoeuvred the vehicle out into the evening flow of traffic.

‘It’s a little family-run place I know in a back street in the East End— Trust me on this, Bryn,’ he drawled as he noticed her surprise.

‘I’m sure it’s fine. I was just— It doesn’t sound like your sort of place,’ she amended awkwardly.

‘My sort of place being...?’

Bryn realised she was once again on shaky ground as she heard the hard challenge in Gabriel’s tone; it hadn’t taken long for the tension to return between them, despite her earlier promise with herself to keep the conversation light and pleasant. ‘I have absolutely no idea,’ she answered honestly.

‘Good answer, Bryn.’ Gabriel chuckled wryly, his seat all the way back to accommodate his long legs, and appearing very relaxed as his hands moved lightly on the steering wheel of the powerful sports car.

He had nice hands, Bryn noted abstractedly. Long and artistic, and yet gracefully powerful at the same time. ‘How did you become such an art expert?’ she prompted interestedly. ‘Do you paint yourself? Or did you inherit the galleries?’

It was clear to Gabriel that Bryn had decided to make a concerted effort to be more polite to him and to keep their conversation impersonal rather than personal, if possible. Unfortunately she had chosen the wrong subject if that was her intention.

‘I wanted to paint,’ he answered abruptly. ‘I even took a degree in art with that intention, only to very quickly realise that I’m someone who can appreciate art rather than be good enough to participate.’

‘That’s..

.unfortunate.’

‘Very.’ One of the biggest disappointments of Gabriel’s life was realising that his real artistic talent was for the visual rather than painting itself.

Bryn was frowning slightly as she turned sideways in her seat to look at him. ‘I can’t imagine not being able to express myself through my painting.’

‘The art world would be all the poorer for it too,’ he assured gruffly. Knowing it was true, that Bryn showed an insight in her paintings, a sense, a knowing, for what was inside her subject, even a dying rose, rather than what was only visible with the naked eye; it was the quality that made her paintings so unique.

‘The art world hasn’t exactly been beating a path to my door before now,’ she said with a shrug.

Gabriel gave her a sideways glance. ‘That’s probably because the galleries you’ve approached with your work before now have all been looking for chocolate-box paintings, stuff they can sell to the tourists to hang in their sitting rooms when they get back home to remind them of their visit to London. Your paintings are too good for that. Archangel would have no interest in showing them if they weren’t.’

Bryn had stilled beside him. ‘I don’t remember mentioning what galleries I’ve approached in the past.’

‘You didn’t need to,’ Gabriel dismissed lightly, having no intention of reigniting the tension between them by confiding that he now had a file on her at Archangel—another file on her. Michael apparently had one too, a security file, although Gabriel hadn’t seen that one. To be fair, they now had a professional file on all seven of the finalists of the competition, which listed previous sales, of which Bryn had three. But Gabriel had good reason to know that Bryn was more sensitive than most—quite rightly so—about sharing the personal details of her life.

‘But—’

‘We’re here,’ Gabriel announced as he saw they had reached Antonio’s; just in the nick of time too, as Bryn seemed intent on pursuing a subject he would rather not continue. ‘Don’t be misled by the exterior. Or the interior either, for that matter,’ he added dryly as he parked the car in front of the small bistro before getting out and moving around to open Bryn’s door for her. ‘Antonio makes the best Italian food in London, and none of his customers gives a damn about the decor.’

Bryn was glad of the warning as they walked into the brightly lit interior. There was a strong smell of garlic in the air, crowded tables covered with plastic red-and-white-checked tablecloths, artificial plants dangling from every conceivable nook and cranny and an overly enthusiastic Italian tenor playing over the audio system.

‘Toni sings and records all his own songs,’ Gabriel explained as he saw Bryn wince at a particularly off-key moment.

‘Something else I’m going to have to trust you on, hmm?’ she came back teasingly. Only to stiffen as she realised what she had just said. And Gabriel D’Angelo was the very last man she should ever trust. For any reason.

‘Gabrielo!’ A round-faced and portly man rushed across the room to greet them, standing at least a foot shorter than Gabriel as he shook the younger man’s hand enthusiastically. ‘We ’ave not seen you ’ere for some time.’

‘That’s because I’ve been in Paris—’

‘Aha, I see what has kept you away from us, Gabrielo.’ Warm brown eyes had settled knowingly on Bryn. ‘You ’ave brought your young lady to meet Mamma and me, yes?’

‘No—’ Bryn started to interrupt.

‘I promised Bryn one of your famous pizzas with everything on, and a bottle of your best Chianti, Toni,’ Gabriel interjected, cutting lightly across Bryn’s denial as he took a firm hold of her elbow and squeezed warningly.

‘No problem.’ The older man beamed. ‘You will find somewhere for you and your young lady to sit, and I will ’ave Mamma bring the wine to you.’ He waddled off in the direction of the door at the back of the room marked Kitchen, stopping often to chat with one or other of his many customers.

Finding somewhere to sit wasn’t as easy as it sounded; Gabriel was right, the place was heaving, despite the decor and the music. Luckily a young couple with a baby were just preparing to leave, and Bryn and Gabriel were able to grab their table before someone else did.

‘This is wonderfully mad,’ Bryn murmured a few minutes later, feeling slightly bemused by all the people around them talking in loud voices, most of them in Italian, and gesticulating with their hands to emphasise a point.

Gabriel grinned. ‘My mother always refers to Antonio’s as “picturesque”.’

Bryn looked across the table at him. ‘Your mother comes here too?’

He nodded. ‘My father insists on coming to eat here at least once a week whenever my parents are back in London.’

Bryn slipped off her jacket as she settled more comfortably on her chair. Talking about Gabriel’s parents might not be ideal but it was certainly a safer subject than her own family.

‘Where do your parents live?’

‘They moved to Florida ten years ago when my father retired, and left the running of the original Archangel Gallery, which was all we had at the time, to myself and my two brothers.’ Gabriel shrugged, surprising Bryn by appearing totally relaxed in his surroundings.

She smiled slightly. ‘That would be Raphael and Michael.’

He grimaced. ‘My mother’s romantic choice of names rather than my father’s.’

‘And you’ve opened two more galleries since then, one in New York and one in Paris. With the Italian connection, why not Rome?’

‘The D’Angelos have always visited Italy for pleasure, not work.’ He gave one of those totally disarming smiles that made him appear several years younger and which made it all too easy for Bryn to guess exactly what sort of ‘pleasure’ the three D’Angelo brothers enjoyed when in Italy.

‘Have you—?’

‘Gabrielo!’ A tall, voluptuous, dark-haired woman—no doubt Toni’s wife—descended on them, placing a raffia-bottomed bottle of Chianti and two glasses down on the table before pulling a now-standing Gabriel in tightly against her overabundant bosom as she burst into a flourish of Italian.

‘English, please, Maria.’ Gabriel chuckled.

‘You are as ’andsome as ever, I see!’ She leant back to beam up at him. ‘Ah, if I were only twenty years younger!’ she added wistfully.

‘Even if you were you would never leave Antonio.’ Gabriel smiled at her warmly.

Bryn felt a bit disconcerted, both by the friendly way that Toni and Maria had greeted Gabriel, and his warm response to them in return. It was much easier for her to keep her own distance from Gabriel when she could continue to think of him as that cold and ruthless man who had sealed her father’s fate. The warmth shown to him by Toni and Maria, and his own obvious and long-standing affection for both of them, revealed a completely different side to the arrogantly ruthless Gabriel D’Angelo than the one Bryn had come to expect. Especially following so quickly on the heels of those moments of intimacy between them in his office.

‘Toni tells me you ’ave brought your young lady with you?’ Maria eyed Bryn speculatively as she stepped away from Gabriel.

‘No embarrassing Bryn, please, Maria!’ Gabriel warned quickly as he slipped off his jacket and hung it on the back of his chair, wondering if it had been a wise move on his part to bring Bryn to Antonio’s. The Italian couple were always asking when he intended settling down and having bambinos, and Bryn was the first woman he had ever brought here.

In his defence, bringing Bryn to Antonio’s had been a knee-jerk reaction to her obvious belief that he was a man who thought himself far above frequenting high-street coffee shops, or little Italian bistros, instead favouring exclusive restaurants and bars. Gabriel had just forgotten to factor in the consequences of bringing a woman to Antonio’s for the first time; in the past he had only ever come to the bistro with members of his family, knowing the women he usually dated wouldn’t give a damn how good the food was—this little bistro simply wasn’t fashionable enough or exclusive enough for their ‘sophisticated’ tastes.

Not that he thought Bryn unsophisticated. His sole reason for bringing her here had been to show her that he wasn’t the arrogant sophisticate she so obviously believed him to be.

Nor should he think of this as being a date—

Oh, to hell with this; whatever his reason for bringing Bryn here, she was here now, and it was his own fault if he had to suffer Toni and Maria’s teasing speculation. ‘Maria, Bryn. Bryn, Toni’s wife, Maria,’ he introduced stiffly.

* * *

‘None of this is what you expected, is it...?’

Bryn took a sip of the Chianti that Gabriel had poured into the two glasses, Maria having hurried off to the kitchen shortly after the introductions to see if their pizza was ready. Introductions where, Bryn had noted, Gabriel had made no effort to correct Maria’s assumption as to who Bryn was—or wasn’t!

And no, this disorganised and noisy bistro wasn’t the sort of place Bryn would ever have imagined seeing the Gabriel D’Angelo she had met earlier at Archangel, when he had looked every inch a wealthy and arrogant D’Angelo brother in his designer-label suit and silk shirt and tie.

‘I have every reason to hope the pizza will be as delicious as this Chianti,’ she murmured noncommittally.

‘Oh, it will be.’ Gabriel nodded, dark eyes hooded as he looked across the table at her. ‘But I probably should have taken you somewhere a little more...upmarket, to celebrate your inclusion in the New Artists Exhibition.’

Her brows rose. ‘Then shouldn’t the other five finalists, and the reserve, have been invited too?’

He gave a hard smile. ‘No.’

‘Oh.’ Bryn could feel her cheeks warm, but wisely said nothing; she had already made one wrong assumption about Gabriel this evening, an assumption he had taken exception to, and she wasn’t inclined to make another. ‘Well, this is absolutely fine for me,’ she continued quickly. ‘I would probably have felt out of my depth somewhere overly sophisticated anyway. Dining out hasn’t exactly been something I’ve done a lot of since— This is fine,’ she repeated flatly, lowering her eyes to avoid meeting his suddenly piercing and probing gaze. She had almost—almost—said ‘since my father went to prison’. A slip that could have been extremely costly to her inclusion in the exhibition.

Bryn had no doubts that it was the very informality of their surroundings that was responsible for her feeling so relaxed she had almost spoken without thinking, rather than the man seated opposite her. There was nothing about Gabriel that caused her to feel in the least relaxed—not his dangerous good looks, or her own unwelcome response to them.

‘To you, Bryn.’ Gabriel held up his glass in a toast, seeming unaware of her inner turmoil. ‘Let’s hope that the Archangel exhibition is not only a successful one but also the first of many for you.’

‘I’ll drink to that!’ Bryn took a grateful sip of her own wine. ‘Do you—? Oh, wow!’ Her eyes widened as she saw Maria winding her way deftly through the other diners towards their table, holding aloft the biggest pizza Bryn had ever seen in her life. Maria placed the hot plate down in the centre of their table with the beaming instruction to ‘Enjoy!’ before she hurried off again.

Bryn’s mouth watered as she stared down at the laden pizza, seeing pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, spinach, ham and aubergines.

‘I hope you don’t mind that there are no anchovies?’ Gabriel shrugged ruefully. ‘Toni knows that I don’t like them.’

‘Are you kidding? Who would ever miss them with all these other toppings?’ Bryn laughed delightedly as she continued to look at the pizza.

Gabriel felt his mouth go dry as he drank in the sight of Bryn relaxed and smiling; those dove-grey eyes warm and glowing, her creamy cheeks slightly flushed, her full and sensual lips—that had no need of the lip gloss so many women wore and which Gabriel, for one, found such a turn-off—delectably plump and rosy.

And watching those tempting lips as Bryn ate the pizza was going to be nothing short of physical torture for him!

‘Tuck in before it gets cold,’ he encouraged gruffly. ‘There are no knives and forks,’ he added dryly as Bryn frowned slightly at the obvious omission of utensils from the table. ‘The only way to eat pizza is with your fingers,’ he explained as she looked up at him questioningly.

‘Is that another Gabrielism?’ she teased as she helped herself to a slice of the pizza.

‘Trust me,’ Gabriel murmured softly.

She stilled before raising suddenly guarded eyes. ‘You keep saying that....’

Yes, he did. Because, after meeting Bryn again, after spending time with her this evening knowing that she believed he had no idea who she was, and knowing how much he still wanted her, Gabriel did want Bryn to trust him.

* * *

‘I had a really good time this evening, thank you,’ Bryn murmured as she and Gabriel sat together in the darkened interior of his sports car. He had parked outside the old Victorian building where she lived, only the moonlight from above illuminating the quiet residential street.

Apart from the fact that it wasn’t raining, it was an end to the evening so reminiscent of the one five years ago. A memory that had remained etched in Bryn’s mind.

She had been mooning about Gabriel for weeks by that time, totally infatuated with his dark good looks and confident air. After he had come to her parents’ house to talk with her father a couple times, she had taken to calling in to the Archangel Gallery several times a week on the off chance she might see him again.

That evening she had hung around outside at closing time, telling herself it was because she was waiting for the rain to ease off before making a dash for the bus stop, but in reality she had been hoping to catch a glimpse of Gabriel as he left the gallery.

Her breath had caught in her throat when she’d seen him coming out of the main doors, a fiery blush on her cheeks as he’d looked up and seen her, his face going blank for several seconds before recognition had widened those chocolate-brown eyes and he’d stopped to chat with her. It had been a blushingly stilted conversation on Bryn’s part, and she had been rendered completely speechless when Gabriel had asked if he could drive her home.

She had been so aware of Gabriel’s proximity once they were seated in the confines of his sleek sports car, the silence between them on the drive to her home seeming heavy with possibility and causing Bryn to tremble with nervous anticipation.

She had given him a shy glance from beneath dark lashes once he’d stopped the car outside her parents’ house. ‘Thank you for driving me home.’ She had groaned inwardly at her lack of sophistication.

‘You’re welcome.’ His voice had been husky as he’d turned in his seat to look at her. ‘Sabryna, I— Tomorrow there’s going to be—’ He had broken off, frowning darkly. ‘Oh, to hell with it, if I’m going to burn I may as well go down in a ball of flames!’ he had muttered fiercely before his head had swooped down and his lips had captured hers.

It had been the most exquisite kiss of Bryn’s young life, slow and searching, but at the same time so erotically charged she had felt as if she might drown in the feelings, emotions, coursing through her body.

She had been totally dazed by those emotions as Gabriel had suddenly wrenched his mouth from hers to look down at her briefly with hot, passionate eyes before moving back and turning away.

‘You should go in,’ he muttered darkly. ‘And try not to— Never mind,’ he had bitten out abruptly as he’d turned to look at her with tortured eyes. ‘I’m sorry, Sabryna.’

She had blinked. ‘For kissing me?’

‘No,’ he had rasped harshly. ‘I’ll never be sorry I did that. Just— Try not to hate me too much, okay?’

At the time Bryn had believed she could never hate Gabriel, that she loved him too much to ever hate him.

The following day, that ‘tomorrow’ Gabriel had referred to so obliquely, her world had blown up in her face, as her father had been arrested for forgery, with Gabriel lined up as the prosecution’s lead witness against him.

‘I’m glad,’ Gabriel murmured now in answer to her earlier comment.

Bryn came back to the present with a bump. ‘I’d ask you in for coffee, but...’ She trailed off with hard dismissal.

It had been a surprisingly enjoyable evening, Bryn acknowledged self-disgustedly, knowing that the past shouldn’t have allowed her to enjoy an evening with the hateful Gabriel D’Angelo.

But she had....

The food had been so excellent and the decor, the crowded room and loud conversation had all become part of that enjoyment. Two glasses of wine and she had even become fond of Toni’s off-key renditions of classical Italian arias!

As for the company... Gabriel had proved to be an amusing and entertaining dining companion, as they discussed their favourite artists as they ate, along with some of the funnier stories from Gabriel’s years of running the Archangel Galleries with his brothers.

Bryn had felt totally relaxed in his company by the time they left the bistro, from the good food, the wine and the good company, so much so that it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world to agree to Gabriel driving her home.

Enjoyable as the evening had been though, she admittedly inwardly that she found Gabriel even more disturbing now than she had five years ago.

As Gabriel D’Angelo he was unmistakably intelligent, sinfully handsome, as well as being equally sinfully rich and powerful.

As Gabriel he was obviously intelligent and handsome, but he was also relaxed and charming, plus he had a slightly wicked sense of humour, and a warmth that had allowed him to accept, without so much as a blink, the enthusiastic kiss Maria had planted on his lips, with the plea to ‘come back and see me soon’, before they left the bistro earlier.

All of those things, together with those dark and mesmerising good looks, that Bryn had become so increasingly aware of as the evening progressed made her very aware that she was in danger of falling under this man’s spell for the second time in her life.

‘But?’ Gabriel turned in his seat to prompt Bryn out of her continued silence.

She raised startled eyes. ‘Sorry?’

‘“I’d ask you in for coffee, but...”’ he reminded her.

She smiled ruefully. ‘That’s a woman’s polite way of saying thank you for the evening but now it’s over.’

‘You don’t have any coffee?’

‘I always have coffee.’

‘Then why not invite me in?’

She blinked long lashes. ‘I—well—it’s late.’

‘It’s only eleven o’clock.’ Although it was obvious to Gabriel that Bryn didn’t want to invite him into her home, and he knew she was right to feel that caution, he wanted so badly for her to change her mind.

He hadn’t thought it was possible, but his attraction to her had deepened in the past few hours and he was now desperate to taste and feel those plump lips that had been tormenting him all evening.

So desperate he moved to close the distance that separated them. ‘Bryn—’

‘Please don’t!’ She immediately held her hands up defensively, her eyes wide with alarm as she leaned back against the door behind her.

‘Why not?’ Gabriel prompted.

She ran the moistness of her tongue over her lips before answering him. ‘Why ruin a perfectly good evening?’

He frowned darkly. ‘My kissing you would ruin the evening?’

‘Please, Gabriel—’

‘But that’s what I want to do, Bryn— To please you!’ He closed the last of the distance between them as he pulled her gently forward into his arms before looking down at her hungrily.

‘I can’t!’ Her eyes glittered with unshed tears, her hands still held up defensively between them, not pushing Gabriel away, but desperately trying not to touch him either. ‘I can’t, Gabriel,’ she repeated achingly.

It was the despair in her voice, along with those unshed tears glistening in her beautiful eyes, that caused an icy chill down the length of Gabriel’s spine as he stilled. ‘Talk to me, Bryn,’ he encouraged gruffly. ‘For God’s sake, talk to me!’

‘I can’t.’ She gave another desperate shake of her head.

‘I have to kiss you, damn it,’ he said, wanting Bryn, but more than that wanting her to trust him.

With her body. With her emotions. With her past....

She looked up at him searchingly in the moonlight for several tense, timeless seconds, before she gave another slow and determined shake of her head. ‘I really can’t,’ she repeated flatly.

‘Not good enough, Bryn!’ he rasped. ‘Tell me you don’t want me to kiss you, that you don’t want that as much as I do, that you haven’t ached for it all evening, and I won’t ask you again,’ he encouraged gruffly.

Her throat moved as she swallowed convulsively. ‘I can’t do that either,’ she acknowledged achingly, her voice carrying a desperate sob.

‘You want me to make that decision for both of us, is that it?’ he bit out harshly.

Bryn was no longer sure what she wanted!

Well... She was, but what she wanted—to kiss and to be kissed by Gabriel—was what she shouldn’t want.

He was a D’Angelo, for goodness’ sake. And no matter how charming and entertaining he had been this evening, underneath all that charm he was still the cold and ruthless Gabriel D’Angelo from all those years ago. To allow— To want to kiss and be kissed by that man went against every instinct of loyalty she had, as well as every shred of self-preservation she possessed.

Except... She couldn’t escape the fact that the man she had met earlier today, the man she had just spent the evening with—the same man who made her pulse race and caused her body to be so achingly aware of everything about him—wasn’t in the least cold or ruthless, but was instead hot and seductive. That man she desperately wanted and longed to kiss.

Which was utter madness, when she knew exactly how Gabriel would react if he knew who she really was.

‘Please let me, Bryn.’

She couldn’t breathe as she looked up at Gabriel, unable to make a move to stop him as his hands moved up to cup her cheeks and lift her face to his, feeling herself drowning, becoming totally lost in the dark and enticingly warm depths of his piercing brown eyes as his mouth slowly descended towards hers.

.

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