The Boss's Christmas Seduction: Unlocking her Innocence / Million Dollar Christmas Proposal / Not Just the Boss's Plaything - Линн Грэхем - CHAPTER FIVE Читать онлайн любовный роман

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The Boss's Christmas Seduction: Unlocking her Innocence / Million Dollar Christmas Proposal / Not Just the Boss's Plaything

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VITO settled a hand on the shallow indentation at the base of Ava’s spine and tilted her forward into potent contact with his lean, powerful body. The heat and the ferociously physical feel of him against her shrivelled her defences, even before the hungry urgency of his mouth on hers blew them away completely. Locked to him, she swayed, knowing she had never dreamt that a kiss could make her feel so much. His pure passion called out to her and awakened a desperate craving for more.

She kissed him back eagerly, too worked up even to worry that her kissing might be of the amateur variety, too afraid that he might back off again as he had done twice before. As that subconscious fear penetrated she closed her arms round him, inviting, encouraging, no rational thought involved in the action. The piercing invasion of his tongue inside her mouth sent the blood racing like crazy through her veins and accelerated her heartbeat. Nothing had ever felt that necessary to her, nothing had ever felt that right.

‘Per l’amor di Dio, Ava,’ Vito growled against her mouth. ‘You drive me crazy.’

‘Is that bad?’ Ava queried, stretching up on legs that suddenly felt too short to plant a kiss against the unsmiling corner of his handsome mouth.

Vito twisted his head to capture her lips again with a deep groan that vibrated inside his powerful chest, big hands cupping her hips to force her closer so that she was sensually aware of his arousal. Involuntarily she rejoiced in his affirmation of her feminine power. The musky designer scent of him flared her nostrils and she shivered as he suckled her lower lip and the moist sweep of his tongue tangled with her own, other sensations that were yet more seductive taking charge of her as she pressed the tingling heaviness of her breasts into the hard wall of his chest.

She didn’t feel the zip of her skirt going down, only registered its fall round her ankles a split second before he lifted her clear of its folds and brought her down on the bed. Boy, was that a smooth move, she thought helplessly, just a little unnerved by such active proof of his experience and the fact that she was already on the bed without having decided to let him take her there. So, stop this now, stop acting like you can’t control this, a dry little voice pronounced inside her confused head. A few kisses were one thing, more than that something else entirely. And although when she was younger she had often fantasised about occupying a bed with Vito in it, reality was a great deal more daunting. She could not forget Olly calling his big brother a predator with women. As Vito flipped off her shoes she sat up against the pillows and drew her knees up in a nervous gesture. Discarding his shirt, he came down on the foot of the bed and that fast, her troubled eyes drawn to his gleaming honey-coloured torso, she was lost to all common sense.

Her fingers spread across his warm flesh but he had his own ideas. He smoothed her slim legs flat and embarked on her shirt buttons, kissing her every time he released one. Air rushed in and out of her lungs and caught in her throat. She braced her hands on his satin-smooth shoulders. Her shirt vanished and with it her sensible cotton bra. He caressed the soft ripe swell of her breasts with appreciative hands, long fingers expertly teasing the throbbing peaks until a little moan escaped low in her throat. He took that as an invitation to dip his dark head and continue the delicious torment with his tongue. As he caressed her the tide of sensations rippled down her body and she felt an urgent heat building between her thighs.

‘Don’t stop touching me, gioia mia,’ Vito urged, golden eyes smouldering with hungry appreciation as he looked down at her.

Colour flushed her cheeks and her fingers slid down over the tense muscles of his stomach and over the smooth cotton of his trousers to the hard bulge below. With a roughened exclamation, Vito released the button on his chinos and ran the zip down, his eagerness exciting her. Skimming the briefs out of her way with an unsteady hand, she ran an exploratory fingertip over his erection. He was velvet on steel, smooth and hard. While he lifted his hips every time she touched him it did not seem the right moment to consider the fact that there was a good deal more of him in that department than she had dimly expected. Ignorance pushed aside, because she was ready to learn from discovery, she bent her coppery head to take him in her mouth.

‘No, I want you now,’ Vito protested, drawing her up to his level again to crush her generous mouth under his with erotic force. ‘Is this what you want?’

Ava blinked, languorous blue eyes momentarily bemused. What she wanted? No problem answering that question and no hesitation for she suffered not a shade of doubt: him, absolutely only him. ‘Yes …’

His fingers drifted down the long line of her slim thigh and she trembled, wanting, needing almost more than she could bear, wondering wildly if everyone felt every tiny caress so strongly and craved as much as she did. Or had the years she had spent shut away from the world made her rather more desperate? The thought shamed her, somehow forcing her to think of the caution she was abandoning. But then just once she wanted to go with the flow, experience rather than pre-plan. She gazed up at him, outwardly tranquil until she collided with the hot glitter of desire in his eyes. He was gorgeous. He was everything she wanted. How could she fight or deny what she was feeling?

‘I love your body, cara mia,’ he told her huskily. ‘You’re beautiful.’

In that moment he truly made her feel beautiful and she smiled dreamily, not believing but willing to credit that in the heat of passion she had magically acquired a special lustre in his eyes. As she watched him wrench off his chinos her heart began to beat very fast again. She didn’t want to think and she tuned out her anxious thoughts but they broke through to the surface of her mind regardless, insisting on being heard.

This was sex, nothing more to Vito, she reasoned reluctantly. She knew that, had to accept it. It never was anything more to him and she wasn’t naïve enough to think that anything more than intimacy might come from it. The exhilarating spark of attraction that had always leapt between them was finally finding expression and it felt inevitable, something that would have happened no matter what she did.

Her panties seemed to melt away during another bout of heated kissing. She loved the taste and fire and strength of him. He stroked her soft, needy flesh below and she trembled as he slid a finger into her, while his thumb rubbed the madly sensitive little bead of her clitoris, making her tremble with delight.

‘You’re so wet …’ he told her fiercely.

Shame engulfed Ava but she quivered as sensation drowned out everything in sweet waves she could hardly withstand in silence. Little whimpers escaped her throat in spite of her attempt to hold them back. She twisted as if she were in a fever, all control wrenched from her by the pleasure and the tormenting anticipation. He shifted away from her, leaving her body throbbing and pulsing with need and impatience. She heard the sound of foil tearing, knew he was donning protection and then he returned to her, rearranging her limbs with indisputable expertise. In one sure deep thrust he entered her and a choked cry of pain parted her lips, the sharp jab of discomfort unexpected and unwelcome.

Vito froze above her in shock, shaken dark golden eyes clinging to her hectically flushed face. ‘I am the first?’ he demanded in disbelief.

‘Don’t make a production out of it,’ Ava urged, so embarrassed that she could not even meet his eyes. It hadn’t occurred to her that it might hurt the first time. She hadn’t thought about that aspect, had just lain back and expected nature to take its course, but possibly he was a little too passionate and well endowed for so relaxed an approach.

‘How did you expect me to react?’ Vito bit out, wildly disconcerted by what he had just learned about her. Ava, the teenager he had once deemed to be a seasoned little sexual temptress, was actually a virgin? That prospect had never crossed his mind once and he was not a man who liked surprises. Indeed he had an engrained distrust of surprises that came in a feminine package, life having taught him far too much about their hidden agendas.

‘Well, it’s done now,’ Ava said baldly, refusing to cringe in mortification and mustering every ounce of her pride to her rescue. Evidently she wasn’t the veteran of the sheets that he had assumed that she was and if he was disappointed he would just have to live with it.

‘But why … me?’ Vito growled suspiciously.

Ava angled up her hips to distract him and his broad shoulders tautened as he attempted to withdraw from the hot, tight embrace of her body. A second such movement from her became his undoing. He sank back into her enticing honeyed heat with a splintering groan of tortured desire and rage burned like a banked-down fire in his accusing gaze.

Ava evaded that look and shut her eyes. She had signed up for the whole experience, hadn’t she? She wasn’t about to allow him to wreck everything. Although did she really have any influence over Vito? Given the chance, it seemed he would have stopped, rejected her. Was virginity such a turn-off? Or was he afraid that her inexperience would prompt her to demand more from him than he was prepared to give? She had heard the old cliché that suggested virgins were more likely to become too attached to their lovers, seeking ties that went beyond the physical. That, she immediately sensed, was most likely what he feared. Well, he would soon discover that she cherished no such illusions where he was concerned.

‘This isn’t what I wanted,’ Vito ground out.

‘We don’t always get what we want,’ Ava pronounced woodenly, shifting her hips as a wonderful little tremor of devouring hunger and excitement shimmied up from her pelvis again like a storm warning. ‘Don’t spoil this … ?.’

Torn between wanting to strangle her and wanting to keep her in bed for a week, Vito swore in his own language even as the natural promptings of his powerful libido took over. He had never wanted a woman as much as he wanted her at that moment but she felt like a guilty forbidden pleasure again. He didn’t screw virgins, he didn’t take advantage of inexperienced or vulnerable women.

Ava gave herself up to the pleasure, arching up in welcome to the enthralling glide of his body into hers. The ravenous excitement grew and grew as he thrust with simmering heat and strength and her body clenched and tightened round him, sending waves of exquisite sensation rolling through her body. His insistent rhythm quickened and her heart slammed inside her chest, the driving force of desire controlling her until at last she reached a quivering peak of spellbinding joy that spilled through her like an injection of happiness. Spasms of ecstasy were still rocking her when he shuddered over her in his own climax and she held him close, knowing she never wanted to let him go again but that she had to hide the fact.

‘That was … different, mia bella,’ Vito pronounced raggedly, pressing a slow measured kiss to her brow and then vaulting out of the bed to stride into the bathroom.

Ava breathed in slow and deep. She had revelled in that brief moment of togetherness but he had instantly shied away from that cosiness and she was not surprised; she was forewarned. Different? Not exactly a compliment she would queue up to receive, she acknowledged unhappily. As Vito reappeared she sat up, the sheet tucked beneath her arms, and said with deliberate carelessness, ‘Different? It was just a bit of fun.’

An arrested expression froze his features, drawing her attention to the black shadow of stubble outlining his chiselled jaw and strong sensual lips.

His eyes were as hard and bright as black diamonds between his screening lashes. ‘Come ha detto? … I beg your pardon?’ he said levelly.

‘The sex,’ Ava murmured glibly. ‘It was just a bit of fun, nothing you need to get worked up about.’

‘You were a virgin!’ Vito slammed back at her censoriously.

‘And next week I’ll be twenty-two-years old,’ Ava informed him. ‘How many twenty-two-year-old virgins do you know? It was past time I took the plunge.’

Already struggling with the turbulence of his emotions and a savage sense of guilt, Vito was inflamed by her reckless defiant attitude. Had he really believed her to be vulnerable? She talked as though she were coated in armour and she made it sound as though she had deliberately chosen him to deflower her. Furthermore she had reduced what they had shared to a basic meeting of bodies and, although on one level he accepted that that was what it had been, he could not subdue his angry sense of resentment. He had not meant to injure her in any way but he had made the crucial mistake of letting his high-voltage sex drive override his intelligence.

‘I didn’t look for the honour of becoming your first lover,’ Vito spelt out with grim forbearance. ‘In fact if I’d known I would never have touched you. I assumed you were experienced.’

Ava propped her chin on the heel of her hand, bright blue eyes misleadingly wide and calm, all anxiety and despondency suppressed for she refused to parade her true feelings in his presence. ‘I am now,’ she pointed out, high colour blooming over her delicate cheekbones as she made that claim.

‘Casual sex is definitely not what you need right now,’ Vito informed her with harsh biting conviction.

Her eyes veiled while she wondered how anything she did with him could be considered casual. Certainly not on her terms but on his? That was a very different matter. For Vito, sex could never have been anything else but casual with her. ‘You don’t know what I need—how could you? Look, give me something to wear so that I can return to my own room …’

Vito strode into the bathroom and emerged again to toss a black towelling robe on the bed. Her generous mouth arranged in a tight line of restraint, Ava dug her arms into the over-large garment and pulled it carefully round her to conceal her body before sliding out of the bed and knotting the sash at her waist. With fast-shredding dignity she stooped to pick up her discarded clothes and shoes, her heart like a crushed rock inside her weighing her down intolerably.

Ava shed the robe and stepped straight into the shower in her room. She was shell-shocked by what had happened between her and Vito Barbieri. Somehow, heaven knew how, her teenaged self had taken over her all-grown-up self and triumphed. Feeling the ache at the heart of her body, she grimaced and washed her body as roughly as someone trying to scrub their sins away with soap and water. When she was dry she pulled on jeans and a tee, fed the dwindling fire with a log and sat down beside it with Harvey. So, she had finally had sex and he had made it amazing but her emotions were in total turmoil. Idiot, she castigated herself as she smoothed Harvey’s shaggy head and he rested back against her, brown eyes lovingly pinned to her tearstained face. I will not cry over Vito Barbieri, Ava told herself furiously. I made a mistake but he made a mistake as well.

She would act as if it had never happened, she decided in desperation. That was the only way to behave: as if it had been an inconsequential and meaningless episode she was keen to forget. She should never have gone to his bedroom, never have stood there shouting at him, challenging and provoking him. Just then the question of which room she occupied seemed unutterably trivial and not worth the fuss she had kicked up over it. Vito wasn’t used to being challenged, she reminded herself ruefully. Vito dug in like a rock bedding down when you crossed him.

The knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. It was a maid with a tray.

‘Mr Barbieri thought you might be hungry,’ she explained, setting the tray down on an occasional table by the window and whisking the insulated cover off the plate.

‘I could have come downstairs for it,’ Ava said guiltily, looking down at the beautifully cooked chicken meal, her taste buds watering in spite of herself. As a teenager she had been downright uncomfortable at being served by the staff while she stayed at Bolderwood but now she was rather more practical in her outlook. Jobs at the castle were highly sought after because Vito paid well and offered good working conditions as well as apprenticeships in the key country skills still in demand on the estate.

‘No need with a big staff and only two people to look after.’ The girl laughed, clearly unfamiliar with Ava’s past history with the Barbieri family.

Ava ate because she was indeed hungry and then she dug out a notebook and began to draw up a to-do list. Obviously calling the caterers came first and she would have to visit the garden centre that usually supplied the wreaths and garlands for the house. For the first time she wondered how she would get around because she had been banned from driving for the foreseeable future. Deeming that a problem better dealt with in daylight, she unpacked her holdall, which took all of five minutes. She took Harvey downstairs and, as directed by the housekeeper, she fed the dog in a rear hall before clipping on his lead and setting off through the solar-lit wintry gardens to take him for a brisk walk. The dim light was eerie, casting flickering shadows in the breeze with only the sound of her own feet crunching on the gravel paths in her ears. The whole place was just crammed with memories for her, she acknowledged painfully, for she could still remember sunbathing on the lawn and larking about with Olly while they studied for their final exams … the exams her friend had never actually got to sit. Ava had sat hers because her case had taken months to come to court. For most of that period she had been away at school where she was shunned like a leper for the tragedy she had caused and when she had finally come home her welcome there had proved even colder.

That night she slept in her comfortable bed, too exhausted to be kept awake by her mental turmoil. When she rose she was shocked to discover that it was almost nine, that she still felt tender in a certain place and was in no mood to celebrate the loss of her virginity. Clad in her jeans, her trusty notebook in her back pocket, she clattered downstairs with Harvey to take care of his needs first. Eleanor Dobbs was waiting for her when she came back indoors to direct her into the dining room for breakfast.

‘Could I have a word with you after you’ve eaten?’ she asked.

‘Of course. Is Vito here?’ Ava enquired stiffly, guessing that Eleanor wanted to discuss arrangements for the party.

‘The helicopter picks him up at seven most mornings,’ the older woman explained.

So, Vito was still locked into very early morning starts, Ava reflected without surprise while she tucked into cereal, fruit and coffee for breakfast. Work motivated him as nothing else could and he didn’t work because he needed more money either. Fabulously wealthy though he was, Vito still worked virtually every day of the week because he had once been the child of a spendthrift bankrupt and had lived through periods of great insecurity. He had only put down permanent roots at Bolderwood for Olly’s benefit, recognising that the little boy had needed a place he could call home.

Digging out her notebook before she even left the dining room, Ava called the local caterers, who had provided the food and refreshments at the last party. She arranged a meeting for the following day and was heading up the stairs when the housekeeper appeared again.

‘There’s something I want to show you,’ Eleanor told her uncomfortably. ‘I thought maybe you could help.’

Ava lifted a fine brow. ‘In any way I can,’ she said evenly, wondering why the other woman was so tense.

Ava’s tension mounted, however, when Eleanor Dobbs took her upstairs to what had once been Olly’s room. She unlocked the door and spread it wide. Ava stood on the threshold in shock, for the room was untouched and looked as though it was just waiting for Olly to walk back in and occupy it. ‘Why hasn’t it been cleared?’

‘I offered to do that soon after the funeral but Mr Barbieri said no. He used to come in here then but as far as I’m aware it’s a couple of years since he did that.’ The older woman grimaced. ‘After all this time it just doesn’t seem right to leave the room like this …’

Ava breathed in deep and straightened her shoulders. ‘I’ll sort it out,’ she announced. ‘Just bring me some boxes and bags and I’ll go through all this stuff and decide what should be kept and stored. Then you can clear the room.’

‘I’m very grateful,’ Eleanor said ruefully. ‘I didn’t like to approach Mr Barbieri about it again. It’s a sensitive subject.’

Alone again, Ava touched one of Olly’s fossil specimens and tears swam in her eyes. Time had stood still within these walls, transforming the room into Vito’s version of a shrine. That wasn’t healthy, she thought painfully, recalling his speech to her about life going on.

The housekeeper helped her sort through Olly’s possessions. Ava bagged his clothes for charity and put his Harry Potter first editions, the fossil collection and his photo albums into boxes. Leafing through the particular album that captured her two-year friendship with Vito’s brother, she laughed and smiled through her tears as warmer less painful memories flooded back to her. It was the first time she had allowed herself to recall the good times they had had together and afterwards, although she felt drained, she also felt curiously lighter of heart.

When the job was complete she took Harvey out to the garden where roses were still blooming in the mild winter temperature and as she looked at those beautiful blooms an idea came to her and she went back indoors to get scissors. She had never got to say an official goodbye to Olly, but she could now visit his grave and pay her last respects without fear of offending anyone as her appearance at his funeral would have done. Her battered fake leather jacket zipped up against the breeze, she left Harvey in Eleanor’s care and walked out onto the road, turning towards the small stone church little more than a hundred yards away. It had once been part of the Bolderwood estate, having been built and maintained by the original owners of the castle, but to maintain his privacy Vito had provided separate access for the church.

A blonde woman climbing out of a sporty car parked outside an elegant house opposite the church stared at Ava with a frown as she opened the gate of the cemetery, which was surrounded by a low wall. Ava laid her flowers down on Olly’s grave, noting with a quivering mouth that a stone angel presided over his final resting place: Olly had had great faith in angels.

‘It is you, isn’t it?’ a sharp female voice exclaimed abruptly.

Ava spun round and recognised the blonde she had seen at the house across the road. She was very attractive, beautifully dressed in the sort of garments that shrieked their designer labels, and Ava felt very much at a disadvantage with her wan face and shabby clothing. A faint spark of familiarity tugged at the back of Ava’s brain though and she surmised that she had seen the woman before. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know you.’

‘Why would you know me? I’m Katrina Orpington but we’ve never moved in the same social circles,’ the blonde informed her scornfully. ‘But I still know you—you’re that Fitzgerald girl, the one who killed Vito’s little brother! What on earth are you doing here at Oliver’s grave?’

Chalk white though she was, Ava stood her ground. Her picture had been in the local paper a lot at the time of the court case and evidently she had been recognised. ‘I just wanted to see where he was buried … It may be my fault that he died but he was my best friend,’ she pointed out unhappily.

The blonde’s lip curled with contempt. ‘Well, I think your presence here is in very bad taste. Crocodile tears won’t wipe out what you did. I’ll never forget Vito’s face that night—he was devastated!’

‘Yes … I’m sure he was.’ Ava’s voice had shrunk to a mere whisper. ‘But I can’t change that and I didn’t mean to offend anyone by coming here.’

‘You have a thick skin and a lot of nerve, I’ll give you that!’ the blonde pronounced, turning away to stalk back out of the cemetery.

Moisture stinging on her cheeks in the steadily cooling afternoon air, Ava went into the church and sat down on a rear pew, using the silence and sense of peace that churches always gave her to get a grip on her seesawing emotions. There was no escaping what she had done but she had to live with it, trust that she’d learned from it, hope that people would eventually stop seeing her as a killer and give her the opportunity to prove that she could be more than the sum total of her past sins. She thought of the previous night and cringed, deciding that she had sunk to slut level with Vito Barbieri, an unwelcome reading of the situation at a time when her spirits were already low. Feeling deeply vulnerable and alone, she said a prayer and then walked quickly back to the castle.

The afternoon flew by as Ava checked the rooms that would be used for the party and talked to the housekeeper about which pieces of furniture would need to be moved. Having made endless detailed lists and another couple of appointments, she was satisfied with her day’s work. Apprehensive about being around when Vito came home, she took Harvey out for a long walk on the estate. A muddy Land Rover stopped beside her on one of the lanes and a tall blond man in his early thirties climbed out to introduce himself as the estate manager, Damien Skeel. It was wonderful to give her name to someone and see no awareness of her past in their response. Damien kept right on smiling at her, told her that his staff were delighted that the Christmas party was going ahead and urged her to contact him if she needed assistance with anything.

By then it was getting dark and Ava hastened home. She used the castle’s rear entrance and straight away took care of feeding Harvey. She was about to head upstairs to freshen up when Eleanor Dobbs rushed through the green beige door that separated the main house from the kitchen wing, her face flushed and tense.

‘Mr Barbieri is very angry that his brother’s room was empty. It’s my fault that it was done … I mean, I asked you to help. I told him that but I don’t think he was listening,’ she explained unhappily.

Ava stiffened. ‘Oh, dear,’ she muttered regretfully, suddenly wishing that she had never got involved.

‘What the hell were you thinking of?’ Vito roared at her as she crossed the hall a minute later and looked up to see him framed in the doorway of the library.


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