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Tall, Dark & Handsome: The Infamous Italian's Secret Baby / Pregnant by the Millionaire / Liam's Secret Son

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CHAPTER TWO

‘I REALLY have no idea what the two of us could possibly have to talk about, Mr Danti,’ Bella told him stiltedly as he sat perfectly relaxed in the armchair across from hers in the quiet of the otherwise deserted small reception-room just down the hallway from where the family party was being held.

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed on the paleness of her face as she sat stiffly upright in her own chair. ‘Considering our—past acquaintance, shall we say?—I believe refraining from addressing me as “Mr Danti” in that superior tone would be a good way to begin.’

She raised her brows in what she hoped was a querying manner. ‘Our past acquaintance…?’

Gabriel’s mouth thinned. ‘Do not play games with me, Bella!’

She shot him another glance before looking sharply away again. ‘I wasn’t sure you had remembered we’d met before…’

‘Oh, I remember,’ he growled.

She swallowed hard before speaking. ‘As do I—Gabriel,’ she conceded tightly.

He gave a humourless smile. ‘You had absolutely no idea I would be here tonight, did you?’

Those eyes flashed deeply purple at his mocking tone. ‘Why should I have done? Dahlia’s name is Fabrizzi.’

‘Her mother, my aunt Teresa, is my father’s younger sister,’ Gabriel supplied evenly.

Bella’s mouth twisted. ‘How sweet that you flew all the way from Italy to attend your cousin’s wedding!’

Gabriel’s mouth thinned at her obvious mockery. ‘I no longer live in Italy, Bella.’

She looked startled. ‘You don’t?’

Gabriel shook his head. ‘I spend most of my time at the Danti vineyards about an hour’s drive away from here, but I also have a house right here in San Francisco.’

Bella could easily guess exactly where in San Francisco that house was!

She and the rest of her family had gone for a tour of the city earlier today, and part of that tour had been through an area known as Pacific Heights, where the houses were grand and gracious—and worth millions of dollars!

‘Do you like living in America?’ she asked curiously.

Gabriel shrugged. ‘It has its—advantages.’

Bella just bet that it did! She also couldn’t help wondering if Gabriel’s move to America didn’t have something to do with the fact that Janine Childe, the woman Gabriel had once been in love with—perhaps was still in love with?—now lived in California, too…

‘Have you now finished with the polite exchange of information?’ Gabriel asked.

Bella forced her gaze to remain level on his. ‘What do you want from me, Gabriel?’

What did he want from her? That was an interesting question, Gabriel acknowledged grimly. Until he had arrived at the party earlier, and seen Bella across the room as she chatted with the young woman he now knew to be her sister, Gabriel would have liked to believe he had cast Bella from his mind after that single night together. But having recognised her instantly, he knew he could no longer claim that to be the case…

If anything, Isabella Scott was even more strikingly lovely than she had been five years ago, maturity having added self-assurance to a beauty that had already been breathtaking. Her violet eyes were still as stunning as ever, her hair was still long and the colour of ebony, but styled now in heavy layers so that it swung silkily against her cheeks and her throat, before cascading wildly down the length of her back. And the close fit of her violet gown revealed that her waist was still delicately slender beneath the full thrust of those perfect breasts…

What did he want from her?

He wanted not to have noticed any of those things!

His mouth set in a grim, uncompromising line. ‘What do you have to give, Bella?’

Her gaze was searching as she eyed him warily, and Gabriel knew that Bella would see that he, at least, was visibly much changed from their last meeting.

The darkness of his hair was styled several inches shorter than it had once been, but the scar that ran the length of his left cheek—a constant reminder, when Gabriel looked in the mirror to shave each morning, of the guilt he carried inside—was a much more visible reminder of how much he had changed in the last five years.

Was Bella repulsed, as Gabriel was himself, by the livid ugliness of that scar?

‘What do I have to give to you, in particular?’ Bella repeated incredulously. ‘Absolutely nothing!’ she scornfully answered her own question.

Gabriel’s hand moved instinctively to the jagged wound that marred his cheek. ‘That, at least, has not changed,’ he rasped coldly.

Bella eyed him frowningly. Why was he looking at her so contemptuously? He was the one who had seduced her only because the woman he had really wanted—the beautiful supermodel, Janine Childe—had told him their relationship was over, and that she was involved with one his fellow Formula One drivers.

That Formula One driver had been Paulo Descari. Killed in the crash that had occurred only hours after Gabriel had left Bella in his bed.

Janine Childe had tearfully claimed at the time that Gabriel had deliberately caused the accident out of jealousy, because of Paulo Descari’s relationship with her.

While not convinced Gabriel would have deliberately caused that crash, five years later Bella still cringed whenever she thought that being on the rebound had been Gabriel’s only reason for spending the night with her.

So how dared Gabriel now look at her with such contempt?

‘I’ve changed, Gabriel,’ she told him pointedly.

‘For the better?’

Bella frowned. ‘What the—’

‘Did you ever marry, Bella?’ Gabriel cut icily across her protest, his mouth twisting derisively as his dark gaze moved over the bareness of her left hand. ‘I see not. Perhaps that is as well,’ he added insultingly.

Bella took an outraged breath. ‘Perhaps it’s as well that you have never married either!’ She came back in just as cutting a tone.

He gave a humourless smile. ‘Perhaps.’

‘I don’t think the two of us sitting here exchanging insults is in the least harmonious to Brian and Dahlia’s wedding tomorrow, do you?’ she challenged.

Bella’s heart sank every time she thought of attending that wedding.

She had been looking forward for weeks to this trip to San Francisco. But meeting Gabriel again, knowing he was going to be at the wedding tomorrow, too, now made it an ordeal Bella didn’t even want to attempt to get through.

But she had no idea how to get out of it, either…

Gabriel watched the emotions as they flickered across Bella’s beautiful and expressive face, taking a guess at the reason for her look of trepidation. ‘Your parents and brother are here for the wedding also?’

‘Yes,’ she confirmed quietly.

He gave a ruthless smile. ‘And they, like your sister just now, have no idea that the two of us have ever met before.’ It was a statement, not a question.

‘No,’ she sighed.

Gabriel gave a mocking inclination of his head. ‘And you would prefer that it remain that way?’

Bella sent him a narrow-eyed glance. ‘Yes!’

‘They would not understand our having spent the night together five years ago?’

I don’t understand it, so why should they!’ Bella exclaimed. ‘That night was totally out of character for me. Totally,’ she added vehemently as she remembered just how eager, how gullible she had been.

Gabriel almost felt a hint of sympathy for Bella as he noticed that her hands were trembling slightly as she wrapped her fingers about her fluted glass sitting on the table in front of her. Almost. The fact it was champagne that bubbled inside the glass, the same wine that Gabriel had once dribbled all over this woman’s body, before slowly licking it from the sensuous softness of her skin, precluded him feeling in the least sorry for Bella’s obvious discomfort with this unexpected encounter.

He shrugged unsympathetically. ‘I am sure that we all have things in our past that we wish had not happened.’

Bella wondered briefly if he could possibly be talking about that horrific car crash and Janine Childe’s accusations, but then she saw the hard glitter in Gabriel’s eyes as he looked at her, and the contemptuous curl of his top lip, and Bella realised he had been referring to her, that she was something he wished had not happened in his life, either.

She swallowed before speaking. ‘Then we’re both agreed that it would be better for everyone if we both just forgot our—past acquaintance?’ She deliberately used his own description of that night five years ago.

The grimness of his smile lacked any genuine humour. ‘If only it were that simple, Bella…’

If only.

But it wasn’t. Bella, more than anyone, knew that it wasn’t.

Much as she hated meeting Gabriel again like this, let alone having to sit through this insulting conversation, she also thanked God that this initial meeting had taken place this evening. It could have been so much more disastrous if it had happened at the wedding tomorrow instead…

She straightened, pushing her wine glass away from her so that she didn’t risk knocking it over. ‘Let’s make it that simple, Gabriel,’ she offered. ‘We’ll both just agree to stay well away from each other for the rest of my stay in San Francisco.’ Which was only three more days, thank goodness; her father hadn’t been able to take any longer than a week away from his medical practice.

Gabriel’s gaze narrowed as he took in the smooth creaminess of Bella’s skin as she flicked her hair back over her shoulders. Deliberately drawing attention to the full swell of her breasts above the fitted purple gown? Somehow, going on their previous conversation, Gabriel didn’t think so.

‘One dance together, Bella, and then perhaps I will consider your suggestion,’ he murmured huskily.

Her eyes widened. ‘One dance?’

‘They have begun dancing at the party now that all of the guests have arrived,’ he pointed out dryly, the earlier soft strains of background music having given way to louder dance music.

Bella looked confused. ‘You want to dance with me?’

‘Why not?’ Gabriel wanted to know.

Her cheeks were very pale. ‘Because—well, because—Can you dance? I mean—’

‘You mean considering I am so obviously disadvantaged?’ Gabriel rasped harshly, his expression grim as he acknowledged that she had obviously noticed that, as well as the scar on his face, he also favoured his left leg when he walked.

Not that the disability was anywhere near as bad as it had been five years ago. Gabriel had spent several months in a wheelchair after the accident, several more painful months after that learning to walk again. That he now had the scar and a slight limp as the only visible sign of the car crash, even if unsightly, was a miracle.

Bella gave an impatient shake of her head. ‘You’re about as disadvantaged as a stalking tiger!’

‘I am pleased that you realise that,’ he growled—and had the satisfaction of seeing the heated colour that instantly flooded her cheeks. ‘I am definitely able to dance, Bella. As long as the music is slow,’ he added challengingly.

Slow…! Bella inwardly groaned. What Gabriel really meant by that was he could dance to the sort of music where a man held the woman closely in his arms…Her mouth firmed. ‘I was actually thinking of excusing myself and going to bed—’

‘Was that an invitation for me to join you?’ he smoothly inserted.

‘No, it most certainly was not!’She flushed slightly as she almost screeched her indignation with the suggestion. Definitely an overreaction to that sort of temptation…

He shrugged. ‘Then I believe I will return to the party once you have left and ask that Brian introduce me to your parents.’

Bella glared across the table at him. ‘You rat! You absolute, unmitigated—’

‘I will tolerate the name calling once, Bella.’ Gabriel’s tone was steely. ‘But only once,’ he warned coldly. ‘It is your choice.’Then his tone softened almost to pleasantness as he relaxed back in his chair to once again look across at her with mocking eyes. ‘Consent to one dance with me or I will ask to meet your parents.’

‘Why?’ she groaned protestingly. ‘Why do you even want to dance with me?’

‘Curiosity, perhaps…?’

‘Curiosity about what?’She voiced her bewilderment.

His gaze roamed over her slowly, from the darkness of her hair, across her face, and then lower, to the swell of her breasts.

Bella could barely breathe as she suffered that slow perusal, rising abruptly to her feet when she could no longer bear the deliberate insult of that gaze. ‘One dance, Gabriel,’she said, abruptly giving in. ‘After which, I would prefer it if you didn’t so much as speak to me again!’

He smiled before rising more leisurely to his feet. ‘I will let you know how I feel about that after we have danced together.’

Bella shrugged off the hold Gabriel would have taken of her arm, instead walking several feet away from him as they returned down the hallway to the function room where the party was being held.

She was nevertheless aware of everything about him, from the mocking gleam in those dark eyes, the smile of satisfaction that curved those sculptured lips and that sexy cleft in the centre of his arrogant chin, to the lithe grace of his body as he easily compensated for the injury he had sustained in the crash five years ago.

According to the newspaper reports at the time, Gabriel’s injuries had been horrific. Both legs and his pelvis crushed. Burns over much of his torso. Numerous cuts on his body, the worst of them that terrible gash to his left cheek. But as far as Bella was concerned, those scars only added to the air of danger Gabriel had already possessed in such abundance!

‘Perfect,’ Gabriel murmured with satisfaction when a slow ballad began to play as they entered the crowded function room. The lights had been dimmed and several couples were already dancing in the space that had been cleared in the centre of the room, including Claudia Scott and his cousin Benito. ‘A pity there is not a song about a lady in purple,’ Gabriel mocked, taking hold of Bella’s hand as they stepped onto the dance floor.

‘I would prefer it if we danced formally,’ she told Gabriel stiffly as he deliberately placed his arms about her waist to draw her against him, her hands crushed against his chest.

‘Did no one ever tell you that life is full of disappointments?’ he murmured, a hand against her spine continuing to hold her body moulded against his as they began to move slowly in time to the music.

She pulled back slightly, her eyes glittering with anger. ‘Oh, yes,’ she snapped scathingly. ‘Someone taught me that only too well!’

Gabriel raised dark brows. ‘Then it will not surprise you to know that I prefer that we continue to dance exactly as we are.’

Bella was past being surprised by anything that happened this evening!

In fact, she was too busy fighting her complete awareness of the hardness of Gabriel’s body pressed so close to her own, his cheek resting lightly against her hair, the warmth of his hand against her spine, his other hand enveloping one of her own as he held it against his chest, to be able to concentrate on anything else.

Much as she wished it weren’t so, Bella was aware of everything about Gabriel as they danced. His heat. His smell. The warmth of his breath against her temple. The sensuality of his body against hers as he moved them both to the slow beat of the music.

And Bella was also supremely aware of her own response to all of those things, her breathing soft and uneven, her skin sensitised, her breasts swelling, the nipples hardening, and a deep hot ache pooling between her thighs.

This was torture. Absolute torture.

Nor was her discomfort helped by the fact that Claudia had spotted the two of them dancing so closely together, her encouraging nods and smiles showing Bella that one member of her family, at least, was totally fooled by Gabriel’s marked interest in her.

Bella pulled slightly away from him, releasing her hand from his as she deliberately put several inches between them. ‘I think we’ve danced quite long enough, don’t you?’ she said stiffly, her gaze fixed on the third button of his white evening shirt.

Gabriel’s mouth tightened, his gaze becoming glacial as he inwardly acknowledged that he had definitely danced with Isabella Scott ‘quite long enough’. Long enough for him to confirm that his body still responded to the voluptuousness of Bella’s breasts and the warmth of her thighs pressed against his. Which was all he had wanted to know…

‘Perhaps you are right,’ he said and immediately stepped away from her in the middle of the dance floor.

Bella looked uncomfortable at his abrupt withdrawal, and she glanced about them self-consciously as several of the other people dancing gave them curious glances. ‘You’re deliberately trying to embarrass me,’ she muttered irritably before she turned and walked off the dance floor, her cheeks warm with colour.

‘You expressed a wish that we stop dancing.’ Gabriel followed at a more leisurely pace.

‘Go away, Gabriel. Just go away,’she repeated wearily.

Gabriel looked down at her searchingly, the glitter in those purple eyes no longer looking as if it was caused by anger. ‘Are you crying, Bella?’

‘Of course I’m not crying,’ she snapped, her chin once again rising in challenge as she now met his gaze defiantly. ‘It would take more than the misfortune of having met you again to make me cry!’ she said scathingly. ‘Now, if you will excuse me? I really would like to go to my room.’

He raised dark brows. ‘You are staying here at the hotel?’ It was a possibility that hadn’t occurred to him.

Her eyes narrowed. ‘And so what if I am?’

‘I was just curious, Bella,’ he pointed out.

‘Are you?’ She gave a mocking smile. ‘I don’t remember you being curious enough five years ago to be interested in anyone but yourself.’

Gabriel’s mouth thinned warningly. ‘Are you accusing me of having been a selfish lover?’He sounded outraged.

‘No, of course not!’ Bella’s cheeks blazed with colour. ‘This is a ridiculous conversation!’ she added resentfully. ‘It’s time I was leaving. I won’t say it’s been a pleasure meeting you again, Gabriel—because we both know that isn’t true!’ she added before turning and walking away, her head held high.

Gabriel watched Bella as she crossed the room to make her excuses to his aunt and uncle before leaving, her hair long and gloriously silky down the length of her spine, the movements of her hips provocative beneath the purple gown, her legs appearing slender and shapely above the high heels of her purple sandals.

No, Gabriel agreed, it had certainly not been a pleasure to meet Isabella Scott again.

But it had been something…

Bella forced herself to move slowly, calmly, as she made her excuses to her hosts, Teresa and Pablo Fabrizzi, before leaving the function room to walk down the hallway to the lift, refusing to give Gabriel Danti the satisfaction of seeing her hurrying down that hallway in order to escape being the focus of his intense gaze.

She breathed easier once inside the lift, leaning weakly against one of the mirrored walls as she pressed the button to descend to the sixth floor where her room was situated.

Could anything worse than Gabriel Danti being related to her cousin’s fiancée possibly have happened?

Bella couldn’t think of anything.

Nor had she yet been able to think of a way to avoid being at the wedding tomorrow. But she would have to come up with something. She had to.

‘You’re back early,’Angela, Dahlia’s younger sister, greeted warmly as Bella let herself into the sitting-room of the suite she was sharing with her siblings.

Bella put her evening bag down on the table just inside the door. ‘I have a bit of a headache,’ she dismissed.

‘That’s a pity.’ Angela stood up, as tall and lithely beautiful as her older sister.

‘I also thought that you’ve been babysitting long enough this evening and perhaps you might like to go up and join in the party for a while?’ Bella added warmly, Angela having very kindly offered to take the half a dozen younger members of the English contingent of the wedding party out to a pizza restaurant for the evening, before bringing them back to the hotel and ensuring they all settled down in bed for the night.

‘If you’re sure you don’t mind?’ Angela smiled.

‘Not at all,’ Bella assured her. ‘The dancing has only just started,’ she added encouragingly.

‘Take something for that headache, hmm?’ Angela encouraged lightly before letting herself out of the suite.

Bella heaved a shaky sigh, taking several minutes to calm herself before going into the adjoining bedroom where her young brother lay in bed, the bedside lamp still on as he read a book. ‘Everything okay, Liam?’ she enquired softly as she paused beside him.

Her twelve-year-old brother grinned up at her. ‘Fast asleep, as you can see.’

Bella turned, her expression softening as she looked down at the occupant of the second bed.

Her four-year-old son, Toby.

His curls were dark against the pillow, lashes of the same warm chocolate resting on his baby cheeks, his lips slightly parted as he breathed deeply, an endearing dimple in the centre of his chin.

A dimple that Bella knew would one day become a firm cleft.

Just like the one in his father’s chin.

.

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