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

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BRYN MELTED AS Gabriel first sipped, tasted and then devoured her as he crushed her lips beneath his, hearing the low groan in his throat as her fingers became entwined in the dark hair at his nape. Her breasts were heavy and aroused as they pressed against the hardness of his chest, Gabriel having pulled her in as tightly against him as was possible in the confines of the car as he continued to kiss her with an ever-deepening hunger.

A hunger that Bryn couldn’t help but feel in return, groaning low in her throat as she felt the brush of Gabriel’s tongue against her bottom lip, light, questing, possessing as her lips parted and his tongue surged inside, licking and tasting, learning every nuance, every dip and curve, his hands a restless caress along the length of her spine.

Bryn broke their kiss, her slender neck arching as she felt Gabriel’s hand push her blouse up, his fingers lightly caressing the bareness of her spine, her abdomen, before his hand cupped beneath the bared fullness of her breast.

The soft pad of his thumb was a light, sweeping torture across her aroused nipple, his lips a hot caress against Bryn’s throat as pleasure coursed hotly through her body, heating, dampening between her thighs, as he captured her aching nipple between thumb and finger, squeezing lightly.

His ragged breath burned against her throat as his other hand moved to unfasten the buttons of her blouse, allowing his questing lips to move lower, his tongue a sweeping, hungry caress against the tops of her breasts before dipping lower as he sucked her aching, straining nipple into the moist heat of his mouth.

Bryn’s head fell back against the headrest behind her, her fingers becoming entwined in the dark thickness of Gabriel’s hair as she held him against her, the intense pleasure of the dual assault of Gabriel’s lips and fingers against her breasts almost too much to bear.

Almost.

The pleasure was just too good, too exquisite, as it built higher, and then higher still, as Gabriel continued to draw deeply on her nipple, his tongue a moist and rasping caress against that burgeoning heat, rising higher, deeper, until she felt as if she would explode into a million pieces that could surely never be completely put back together again.

Never.

‘Gabriel, you have to stop!’

Gabriel was so aroused by the taste of Bryn and the desire that had raged so deeply, so out of control between them, that it took him several moments to realise that her hands were now pushing against his chest, her face turned away from him as she struggled to free herself from his arms.

He backed off the instant he realised what she was doing; he had never forced himself on a woman in his life before and he certainly wasn’t about to start now. He desired Bryn too much to ever want to do anything that she didn’t want, ache for, as much as he did.

Gabriel’s breathing sounded harsh in the confines of the car. ‘Hell, I totally forgot where we were.’ He gave a wince as he realised they were still sitting in his car parked outside the building where Bryn lived, and that although the side windows of the car were darkened glass, the windscreen certainly wasn’t. ‘I’m sorry, Bryn.’ He ran an agitated hand restlessly through the dark thickness of his hair.

She avoided so much as looking at him as she straightened and refastened her blouse with hands that shook slightly, her face pale in the moonlight.

‘Bryn?’

‘Not now, Gabriel. In fact, not ever!’ she insisted shakily. ‘I have to go.’ She turned to look out of the side window. ‘I— Thank you for dinner. I enjoyed Antonio’s.’

‘Just not what followed?’ Gabriel murmured knowingly.

Bryn gave a pained grimace. ‘I’m sure you’ll agree it wasn’t the most sensible thing either of us has ever done—’

‘Bryn, will you, for the love of God, look at me?’ he rasped his frustration with the situation. ‘Talk to me, damn it!’

She turned slowly, eyes huge and shadowed, her cheeks as pale as ivory in the moonlight. ‘I don’t know what you want me to say.’

‘Don’t you?’

She looked away from the intensity of his gaze. ‘How about, this should never have happened?’ She gave a shake of her head. ‘We both know that already.’

‘Do we?’

‘Yes.’ Bryn looked at him searchingly. ‘Unless— Is this standard procedure? Did you think, expect, that I would be so grateful to be included in the exhibition at Archangel I would—?’ She broke off abruptly as she obviously saw, and recognised, the tightening of Gabriel’s jaw and the anger now glittering in the darkness of his eyes.

‘I’m getting a little tired of that accusation, Bryn.’ He spoke softly, dangerously so. ‘And no, kissing me isn’t the price you’re expected to pay for inclusion in the exhibition!’

She winced. ‘I didn’t exactly say that—’

‘You didn’t exactly have to!’ Gabriel bit out harshly, wondering if he had ever been this angry in his life before. ‘What the hell sort of man do you think I am? Don’t answer that,’ he immediately amended. He already knew what sort of man Bryn thought he was.

Gabriel had thought, believed, that after a rocky start they had managed to spend a relaxed evening together, that Bryn was starting to see beyond what happened in the past—starting to see him beyond that—and instead she now thought him capable of using his position as one of the owners of the gallery to— What an idiot, what a fool he was, to think that Bryn could ever see him as anything more than the man who had helped to put her father in prison....

‘You’re right, Bryn. You should go inside now,’ he growled coldly. ‘Before you think of something else to say to insult me.’

Bryn hesitated, continuing to look at Gabriel searchingly, unable to read anything from his suddenly closed expression. ‘It wasn’t my intention to insult you—’

‘Then heaven help me if you ever do mean it,’ he muttered disgustedly.

She moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. ‘I was— I just— Our going out to dinner earlier, what happened just now, it was a mistake.’

‘Mine or yours?’

‘For both of us,’ she insisted firmly. ‘And I think it would be better, for the sake of the exhibition, if it didn’t happen again. If we keep things on a purely business footing between the two of us from now on,’ she added.

‘As opposed to?’

‘Anything less than a business footing,’ she maintained determinedly.

Gabriel gave a grim smile. ‘Do you really think that’s possible after what just happened?’

Bryn wasn’t sure a business footing had ever been a possibility between herself and Gabriel—and she was utterly convinced of it after her response to him just now. Gabriel had only needed to kiss her, to touch her, to caress her and she had forgotten everything but him and the moment. Nothing else had mattered at that moment. Nothing.

And it had to. It must. Because she wasn’t about to allow herself to suffer the heartache of falling in love with Gabriel D’Angelo.

Not again.

Gabriel took in the stubborn lifting of Bryn’s chin, the determined glitter in her eyes, and knew that she meant it when she said she wanted the two of them to go back to having a business relationship only.

If not for the reason she stated.

He was thirty-three years old, had been sexually active for almost seventeen of those years, and he was experienced enough to know when a woman desired him. And, whether she liked it or not, Bryn had been looking at him all evening as if she desired him as much as he desired her, and what had happened just now had been a direct result of that mutual desire. Bryn might wish it weren’t so, might believe it was insanity on her part to be attracted to Gabriel while still carrying the pain of the past, but none of that changed the fact that she did want him.

Whether or not she actually liked him was something else entirely.

And that mattered to Gabriel.

Because he not only desired Bryn, he liked her. He had liked her five years ago too, even before he had seen her unshakeable loyalty to her father, and the quiet strength she had offered her mother as the two of them had sat together in the courtroom day after day.

Just as he admired Bryn’s determination since meeting her again, her tenacity to succeed so intense that she had even been willing to become involved with the Archangel Gallery, to meet with at least one of the detested D’Angelo brothers, in order to achieve the success she so desired.

Kissing and embracing Bryn while knowing she didn’t return that liking was not an option for Gabriel. Not with this particular woman. ‘Okay, Bryn—’ he nodded tersely ‘—if that’s how you want it, then that’s how it will be from now on,’ he bit out abruptly.

She blinked. ‘You’re saying you agree to—to just a business relationship between the two of us?’

His jaw tightened. ‘I believe I just said so, yes. Do you not believe me?’ he rasped as she continued to look at him warily.

Of course Bryn believed Gabriel; why shouldn’t she, when he had never done anything, five years ago or now, to give her cause not to believe he always did and meant what he said?

It was just— She didn’t— Damn it! Part of her was actually irritated and hurt that Gabriel had agreed so easily to the two of them resuming a business relationship. Even if it had been her suggestion.

Which was utterly ridiculous. The exhibition wasn’t until next month, and she knew from the things Gabriel had told her earlier—she had heard at least some of what he had to say—that she would be expected to go to Archangel often during the next few weeks, sit for photographs and provide the contents for the blurb for the catalogue, and to oversee and approve the framing of her paintings. And it would be far better, for everyone involved, if she and Gabriel could manage to maintain at least a semblance of politeness between the two of them during that time.

Bryn knew all that.

Logically, she accepted all of that.

Illogically, she knew that the attraction she had felt towards Gabriel five years ago might have been buried, might have remained dormant for those same five years, but that it was still very much alive inside her, and had only needed for her to see him again, to be with him again, for it to be rekindled.

To rage out of control.

As she had been out of control a few minutes ago, so much so that she had been balanced on the edge of orgasm just from the touch of Gabriel’s lips and hands on her body.

What made it all so much worse, so much harder to fight that desire the second time around, was knowing that Gabriel obviously returned the attraction.

An attraction he felt for Bryn Jones. A desire he felt for Bryn Jones.

Because he wouldn’t have allowed Sabryna Harper within ten feet of him!

Which was why the two of them couldn’t do this again, why they had to set down the rules right now for any future meetings between them. ‘That’s good.’ She nodded as she bent to collect her shoulder bag from the floor of the car before turning to open the door.

‘Wait there,’ Gabriel instructed tersely as he turned, climbed out of the car and came round to open her door for her. ‘My mother taught me it’s polite, and safer, to always walk a lady to her door,’ he explained as Bryn looked up at him questioningly.

A courtesy that Bryn wasn’t sure, with her own lack of politeness to Gabriel just now, that she deserved. ‘Once again, thank you for dinner and introducing me to Antonio’s. It’s definitely the place for pizza,’ she murmured as she searched for her keys in her bag once they were standing outside her door.

He nodded tersely. ‘I’m going away on business for a few days, so I probably won’t see you on Monday.’ He shrugged. ‘But you’ve already met and like Eric?’

‘Yes.’ Was that sudden, heavy feeling in her chest disappointment because she now knew there wasn’t even a possibility of her seeing Gabriel again on Monday? If so, then she was in more emotional trouble than she had thought she was. ‘Are you going anywhere interesting?’ she prompted conversationally.

‘Rome,’ he replied.

Bryn’s eyes widened as she remembered Gabriel telling her earlier that he only went to Rome for ‘pleasure’.

And, having stated that she was only interested in a business relationship with him, she had absolutely no right to show the least curiosity—let alone feel that curl of jealousy in the pit of her stomach—about the reason for his going there now.

And yet she knew she did.

‘Bryn?’

She forced herself to look up and smile unconcernedly as she unlocked the front door of the house before stepping inside and turning back to face him. ‘Enjoy Rome.’

‘I usually do,’ Gabriel accepted distractedly as he looked down at her searchingly for several long seconds, before accepting there was nothing else for them to say. He turned and returned to his car, part of him wondering if he had imagined the way Bryn had gone suddenly quiet after he had mentioned going away on business, and the slight edge to her tone when she did speak. And if he hadn’t imagined it, what did it mean?

Not what he hoped it did, he answered himself derisively. No, all it indicated was that Bryn was relieved, because even the possibility of the two of them meeting again on Monday had now been removed. If he thought it had been for any other reason then he was only fooling himself; Bryn had made it more than clear what she thought of him a few minutes ago. What she believed had been his reason for kissing her.

When his real reason had been because he just hadn’t been able to resist any longer. Hadn’t been able to fight the fact that she was the last woman on earth he should get involved with because the need, the hunger he felt to taste her was too great. And she had tasted so damned good. She might try to deny it to herself, but she had responded to those kisses and made no protest when Gabriel had touched her breasts.

He now needed this time away from her, to put some distance—literally—between himself and Bryn. And hopefully, by the time he saw her again, he would have his desire for her back under his control.

It was several hours later—several hours and half a bottle of single-malt whisky later—as he relived the evening over and over in his mind, that Gabriel remembered he had told Bryn that he only ever went to Rome for ‘pleasure’.

He wondered—hoped—that might be the reason for that edge to her tone.

* * *

‘That looks amazing, Eric.’ Bryn’s face glowed as she looked admiringly at the silver gilt frame that had been put on the painting she always referred to in her mind as Death of a Rose. It represented so much more than the death of a single bloom, of course; it was symbolic of any death: love, hope, dreams. And, as they had hoped, the silver gilt frame was perfect against the misty background, the blood-red bloom weeping dew and petals onto the base of the canvas.

Bryn had spent most of her free time at Archangel the past four days, safe in the knowledge that Gabriel was still away in Rome. The highlight of each day had been the hours she spent in the cavernous basement of the gallery with Eric choosing the frames they thought suited to bring out the best in the ten paintings she was to exhibit at the gallery next month. This evening was no exception.

As far as Bryn was aware, Gabriel had spent those same four days—and nights—in Rome, no doubt indulging his every ‘pleasure’.

Bryn had kept busy while at the same time determinedly not thinking of Gabriel, the evening they had spent together, or the ways in which he might now be indulging his pleasure in Rome!

And she wasn’t going to think about him now either. ‘It’s perfect!’ Bryn enthused as she continued to gaze at the painting in the silver gilt frame.

Eric nodded. ‘Gabriel will have the final yay or nay, of course, but I think he’ll like what we’ve done so far. No doubt he’ll change it if not,’ he added ruefully.

Bryn’s smile faded at mention of Gabriel. ‘He will?’

‘He has a really good eye for this stuff.’ Eric shrugged.

‘Better than you?’

‘Much better,’ Eric confirmed without rancour. ‘All of the D’Angelo brothers do. They’re the reason I wanted to work for the Archangel Galleries.’

Eric took the painting down off the wall where they had hung it so as best to appreciate the effect of the framing. ‘Feel like going for a drink somewhere when we’ve finished here?’ he suggested lightly as he stored the painting away safely.

‘I—’

‘I believe you’ll find that Bryn doesn’t believe in mixing business with pleasure.’

Bryn’s heart stopped beating at the harsh sound of Gabriel’s voice behind her. She whipped round quickly to find him standing in the doorway just feet away. And looking—

Looking more lethally attractive than when she had last seen him—if that was possible—his dark brown bespoke suit obviously designer label, his cream shirt and tie of the finest silk, his ebony hair slightly tousled in that just-got-out-of-bed style, his face tanned a deeper gold, intensifying the colour of his warm, chocolate-brown eyes.

No, his eyes weren’t warm this evening. They were icy. Like a deep arctic chill.

An arctic chill that swept contemptuously over Bryn as the coldness of that gaze moved over her slowly from head to toe and then back again. Gabriel’s top lip curled back derisively as he took in her casual appearance in a black short-sleeved T-shirt and black low-rider denims and a face that was completely bare of make-up. At the very least Bryn felt she looked like the penniless student she had once been—still was?—compared to Gabriel’s expensive and sartorial elegance.

* * *

Bryn looked more stunningly beautiful than ever, Gabriel acknowledged irritably, her eyes glowing a warm dove-grey, her cheeks flushed with becoming colour.

At least, her eyes had been glowing a warm dove-grey, and there had been colour in her cheeks too, as she obviously enjoyed Eric’s company.

Until she turned to look at Gabriel, at which point her gaze had quickly become guarded and her cheeks had paled.

His mouth tightened as he glanced across at Eric. ‘If you’ve finished with Bryn for this evening, I need to speak with her for a few minutes.’ It was a statement rather than a question, Gabriel having no intention of taking no for an answer. From either Eric or Bryn.

‘Actually,’ Bryn began tentatively, ‘I—’

‘I think it’s best if we go upstairs to my office for this conversation, Bryn.’ Gabriel held the door open pointedly.

Her eyes widened, her creamy throat moving as she swallowed then wet the dryness of her lips with the tip of her tongue. ‘I— Yes, of course.’ Her hands were gripped tightly together in front of her, knuckles showing white. ‘A rain check on that drink, Eric?’

Eric gave a relaxed smile, obviously completely oblivious to the underlying tension between Gabriel and Bryn. ‘No problem,’ he agreed easily.

Which was perhaps as well; Gabriel had always had a healthy respect and liking for their London in-house art expert, and he would hate to ruin their working relationship by having to exert his executive power. ‘Bryn?’ he prompted tersely.

She grabbed her denim jacket and shoulder bag from a chair before hurrying across the room to join him, pressing her spine back against the door frame so as not to come into contact with him as she slipped out into the hallway, her expression apprehensive as she waited for Gabriel to join her.

An entirely appropriate apprehension, as it happened.

‘Whisky?’

Bryn stood awkwardly in the middle of Gabriel’s elegant office watching as he removed his jacket and draped it over a chair before moving to the bar in long, easy strides. They had travelled up in the lift together in complete silence. Bryn’s apprehensive. Gabriel’s grimly foreboding.

It didn’t help that Bryn was still uncomfortably aware of how young and gauche she must appear to him, in her casual clothes and wearing no make-up, only to then chastise herself for even caring what, if anything, he might think of her appearance. Gabriel D’Angelo was one of the owners of the gallery where her paintings were to be exhibited next month, nothing more. She couldn’t allow him to be any more than that.

‘It’s a little early in the evening for me, thanks,’ she refused lightly. ‘Unless you think I might need it?’ she added uncertainly as she saw the hard implacability of his expression.

A hard implacability that showed her just how relaxed Gabriel had been on the previous occasions the two of them had met and spent time together....

Gabriel made no comment as he poured an inch of whisky into two crystal glasses before crossing the room and holding one out to Bryn.

The past four days had been successful ones for him as far as business went, but far less so on a personal level, as Gabriel hadn’t been able to shake off thoughts and memories of Bryn. Of that last evening with her, when the desire the two of them felt for each other had raged so out of control.

As Gabriel had no doubt it would rage out of control again, despite the business-only arrangement Bryn had suggested and Gabriel had reluctantly agreed to. Gabriel had wanted this woman five years ago, and he wanted her still. A fact that had been brought painfully home to him after he had spent an evening with the beautiful Lucia while in Rome, and then politely walked her to the door of her apartment before leaving again, rather than spending the night with her as he would normally have done. He hadn’t felt a shred of desire to bed the raven-haired beauty because Bryn was the woman he wanted. In his arms. In his bed. In his possession! And that was never going to happen while the events of the past were allowed to continue to lurk in the shadows between them.

‘You’re going to need it,’ he confirmed gruffly. ‘We both are,’ he added with hard self-derision, taking a much-needed sip from his own whisky glass as Bryn’s perfume, that heady spice and desirable woman, invaded his senses.

Her hand moved up and her fingers curled around the proffered glass, a hand that shook as she made no effort to drink any of it. ‘How was Rome?’

‘Beautiful, as always.’ Gabriel stepped away from her to stand with his back to one of the floor-to-ceiling picture windows, needing to put space between himself and Bryn—between himself and that insidious perfume invading his senses. ‘It took some persuading but I finally managed to acquire the two magnificent frescoes for the gallery that I went to look at.’

‘Oh?’

His mouth twisted mockingly as he saw, and recognised, the surprise in her expression. ‘I did tell you I was going away on business.’

Yes, he had, but Bryn hadn’t believed him, after his previous comment. Not that it really mattered whether or not she believed him, then or now; it was none of her business what Gabriel had been doing in Rome for the past few days.

At the same time as she knew part of her wanted to know, had anguished over it during those days and nights, as to what woman, or women, Gabriel was spending his time with in Rome.

Nor did she feel in the least reassured about his mood now as she saw the grimness of his expression. ‘So what was it you wanted to talk to me about?’ she prompted with forced lightness.

‘Sabryna Harper.’

.

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