The Boss's Christmas Seduction: Unlocking her Innocence / Million Dollar Christmas Proposal / Not Just the Boss's Plaything - Линн Грэхем - CHAPTER SIX 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 was an intimidating sight. Still clad in a dark business suit teamed with a gold silk tie, he strode forward, his big broad shoulders blocking out the wall lights behind him. Ava had never quite appreciated how much taller he was than her until he stood in front of her, towering over her by a good nine inches, his face racked with condemnation.

Her breath rattled in her dry throat, a flush highlighting her pale complexion because it was the first time she had seen him since they had parted in his bedroom the previous evening and at that moment she was more conscious of that earlier intimacy than of her apparent offence. As she clashed with his hard gaze an utterly inappropriate tingle of erotic awareness spread through her body like poison. Vito grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the library, where he shut the door behind them.

‘Per meraviglia! What were you thinking of?’ he demanded a second time, his Italian accent giving every word with a growling edge. ‘I came home, noticed the door was open … saw the room stripped. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Who, I wondered, could possibly have the colossal nerve and insensitivity to go against my wishes in my own home?’

While he spoke, his breath fracturing audibly with the force of his wrath, his eyes hot and bright with outrage, Ava hastily thought of, and discarded, several possible responses in favour of simple honesty. ‘I thought it was for the best—’

‘You thought?’ Vito erupted with incredulous bite. ‘What the hell has it got to do with you?’

‘Obviously I should have asked you about what you wanted done first,’ Ava declared shakily, for she had never dreamt that her intervention might rouse such a reaction.

‘It was none of your business!’ Vito glowered at her in a tempestuous fury she had not known he was capable of experiencing. He was in such a rage that he could hardly get the words out and she knew that he was finding it a struggle to voice his feelings in English rather than Italian.

‘I thought I understood how you felt. Obviously I was mistaken but I honestly believed that clearing the room would make you feel better,’ Ava protested tautly.

‘How the hell could a bare room make me feel better? It’s simply another reminder that Olly’s gone!’ Vito ground out bitterly while treating her to a burning look of fierce rage.

Was that rage directed at her as the driver of the car that awful night? As she couldn’t blame him if that was the underlying source powering him, her shoulders slumped. ‘I didn’t get rid of the personal stuff. His collections and photos and books and letters were all boxed up and kept,’ Ava told him eagerly.

Vito snatched in a ragged breath, his mouth settled into a tough, contemptuous line. ‘I want it all put back … exactly as it was!’

Ava straightened her slim shoulders, her bright blue eyes deeply troubled by that instruction. ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea—’

‘You don’t think?’ Vito’s deep drawl scissored over the words like a slashing knife. ‘What has it got to do with you? Did seeing that room empty of Olly make you feel guilty? Is that what your invasion of my privacy is really all about?’

‘Yes, seeing his room again made me feel guilty and very sad. But then even being in this house makes me feel guilty. But I’m used to feeling like that and it didn’t influence my decision.’

‘Your decision?’ Vito derided with positive savagery, his voice raw with aggrieved bitterness. ‘You killed my brother. Was that not enough for you? What gave you the insane idea that desecrating his room and my memory of him would make me feel better?’

At that lethal reminder, spoken to her by him for the first time, Ava flinched as though he had struck her. The blood slid away from below her skin, leaving only sick pallor in its wake. He had the right to hate and revile her: who could deny him that outlet when he had never before confronted her on that score? Her tummy filled with nausea and an appalling sense of shame and guilt that she knew she could do nothing to assuage.

‘I was unforgivably high-handed … I can see that now,’ Ava admitted jerkily, pained regret slicing through her that she could have been that thoughtless and inconsiderate. Unfortunately she had always been quick to act on a gut reaction and think about consequences later and this time it had gone badly wrong for her. ‘But I honestly wasn’t thinking about how I felt when I cleared the room. I was thinking about you.’

‘I don’t want you thinking about me!’ Vito roared as he strode across to the decanter set on the sofa table and poured himself a shot of whiskey. ‘My thoughts and feelings about my brother’s death are entirely my affair and not something I intend to discuss.’

‘Yes, I have got that message but that locked-up untouched room didn’t strike me as a healthy approach to grief,’ Ava dared to argue, her attention resting on the rigid angles and hollows of his strong face and the force of control he was clearly utilising to hide his feelings. He was as locked up inside as that blasted room, she thought in sudden frustration, but it was a revelation to her that he possessed the depth that fostered such powerful emotions.

‘What would you know about it?’ Vito slashed back at her rudely, for once making no attempt to hide how upset he was, which she found oddly touching.

‘I’ve been through something similar and talking about it or even writing about it for purely your own benefit helps,’ she murmured ruefully. ‘Grief can devour you alive if you get stuck in it.’

He skimmed her with cutting emphasis. ‘Spare me the platitudes! And don’t ever interfere in my life again!’

‘I won’t, but remember that it was you who told me that you can’t live in the past for ever and that life has to go on,’ Ava reminded him wretchedly. ‘I’m sorry if I misinterpreted what you meant by that. I thought I was helping.’

‘I don’t need or want your help!’ Vito slammed at her in a wrathful fury as he wrenched open the library door again. ‘Tell Eleanor I’m eating out tonight!’

And Ava was left standing there in the pool of light by the desk. She gritted her teeth. She was hurting, Vito was hurting but he didn’t want anyone, least of all her, to recognise the fact. That wounded her but she had no right to feel wounded because she had been insensitive not to broach the topic of clearing Olly’s room with him personally.

A soft knock sounded on the door and Ava moved forward to open it.

‘Vito said—’

‘Don’t worry, I heard him,’ Eleanor confided with a grimace and she winced as the sound of a powerful car tearing down the drive carried indoors. ‘I hope you told the boss that clearing that room was my idea.’

‘I encouraged you and I got stuck in first. I thought it was the right thing to do as well. Forget about it,’ Ava advised.

Eleanor frowned. ‘I’ve never seen Mr Barbieri lose his temper like that. Should I start putting the room back the way it was?’

‘I would wait and see how he feels about it tomorrow … but maybe listening to my opinion isn’t the right way to go,’ Ava pointed out heavily, reaching down to fondle Harvey’s ears as he bumped against her knee.

‘Harvey’s got a lovely nature,’ the housekeeper remarked in the awkward silence. ‘I’ll spread the word about him needing a home but, if you ask me, he’s already happy to have found a home with you.’

‘But pets aren’t allowed where I live in London,’ Ava muttered, struggling to concentrate when all she could hear, over and over again in her buzzing head, was Vito saying, ‘You killed my brother.’ And she had, not deliberately but through recklessness and bad judgement. That was a truth she had to live with, but just then acknowledging it wounded her as much as it had the day in hospital when she had first learned that Olly had died in the crash.

Ava had no appetite for the delicious evening meal brought to her in the solitary splendour of the dining room. After rooting through Vito’s library to find a Jane Austen novel she hadn’t read in several years, she went for a swim in the basement, desperate to escape her unhappy thoughts. Afterwards, the warmth and privacy in her bedroom along with Harvey’s relaxing presence enclosed her. Momentarily she remembered how noisy prison had been and how comfortless, with metal furniture fixed to the wall and a tiny floor space with only a view of another prison block out of the small window. Bells had rung sounding out meal times and exercise periods, barred gates had clanged and sometimes alarms had gone off as well. Pounding music had been an almost constant backdrop while other inmates shouted from cell to cell, bored silly at being locked up for so many hours a day. She shivered. The first two years she had had to struggle to get through every day but she had eventually settled into a routine. She had found work helping others to read and write and had learned to appreciate tiny things like the right to buy a hot chocolate drink or a snack with her meagre earnings. She had also learned very fast to stop feeling sorry for herself because there were so many others dealing with much worse stuff than she had on her plate.

Recalling that stark reality, Ava decided to run a bath in the opulent turret room en suite and luxuriate in the selection of bathing products available. Staying at the castle was very much like staying at a five-star hotel. It was a luxury holiday and she ought to make the most of it because reality would soon be back loudly knocking at her door again, she reminded herself impatiently. But she felt so horribly guilty about having wounded Vito by forcing him to face up to his half-brother’s death all over again. She had trod in hobnail boots all over his sensibilities by foolishly underestimating his attachment to the picture of the past that could still flourish in that locked room. He was right. Who was she to say it was healthy or otherwise to leave that room as though time had stopped dead?

Ava wasted a lot of time lounging in the decadent bath, topping up the water to warm it when she got cold, fighting with all her might to escape her unhappy thoughts. She had screwed up again and she clenched her teeth hard and tried again to blank her mind. She donned her pyjamas, blew dry her hair and set her mobile phone alarm to wake her up early. But not early enough to run into Vito as she was convinced that he wouldn’t want to share the breakfast table with her. She took Harvey out for a last run before clambering into her comfortable bed to read until she got sleepy.

When the door opened rather abruptly, Harvey leapt up and barked and Ava sat up with a start. Just about the very last person she was expecting walked in, leaning back against the door to close it. Harvey barked again, tense with suspicion at the interruption. Ava leant out of bed to soothe him into silence and he subsided and slunk back to his favourite spot by the dying fire.

‘I saw the light from outside and realised you were still awake,’ Vito informed her as she glanced at her watch to note that it was after eleven. ‘Damien gave me a lift home from the village pub.’

Absolutely flummoxed by his appearance in her bedroom wearing nothing more than his boxer shorts—his towelling robe was, after all, still lying in a heap on her floor—with his hair still tousled and damp from the shower, Ava was as tense as a bowstring but trying against all the odds to act normally. ‘Oh, yes, I met Damien when I was out walking today and he introduced himself. He’s very friendly.’

His face tensed, his eyes narrowing with laser precision. ‘Was he flirting with you?’

‘Possibly,’ Ava responded tactfully, because Damien had been flirting like mad with her during their brief conversation, even confessing to her that young single women were scarcer than hens’ teeth in the neighbourhood and that he had started attending the church services in the hope of meeting more people, only to discover that the greater part of the congregation was as old as the hills.

‘I’ll warn him off … I don’t share,’ Vito delivered darkly.

Ava blinked. ‘You really don’t need to warn him off.’

‘I don’t do one-night stands either,’ Vito continued with lashings of assurance.

In the act of dragging her eyes from his truly magnificent physique, Ava blushed like a tongue-tied adolescent and could think of absolutely nothing to say to that when he was clearly, in spite of their earlier difference of opinion, planning to spend the night with her.

‘But I think, right now, I could be very much into fun, bella mia,’ he confided raggedly, the tough front lurching slightly.

‘I don’t know how to do casual,’ Ava told him jerkily, her nerves getting the better of her vocal cords but the sting of his reproof about casual sex unforgotten.

‘I don’t either,’ Vito murmured silkily, tossing something down on the bedside cabinet and throwing the duvet back and climbing into the bed beside her as though he slept with her every night and it were the most normal thing he could do.

‘Vito …’ Ava began in a troubled voice.

Vito ran a finger caressingly down the length of her slender throat to rest where a tiny pulse was beating out her tension below her collarbone. Hot golden eyes looked levelly into hers. ‘I don’t want to sleep alone tonight.’

‘Oh,’ Ava said stupidly, but in truth she was transfixed by the admission from such a source. Vito, who needed no one, listened to no one and who never confessed to human weakness was telling her something she had never expected to hear from him. He wanted—no, needed—to be with her and he could not have said anything more calculated to appeal to her.

He brushed his lips very gently across hers, his breath fanning her cheek. ‘Do you want me to leave?’

Ava froze at the offer. ‘Er, no—’

‘But hopefully you don’t want me to stay because you wanted me at eighteen and couldn’t have me?’ he pressed, evidently concerned that that might be the case.

He was asking her to divorce the past from the present and she wasn’t sure she could do that. ‘I just want you,’ Ava said gruffly, shorn of her usual cool. ‘But I assure you that I got over my obsession with you at eighteen.’

‘I don’t like the idea that I’m taking advantage of you,’ Vito admitted grimly. ‘Here I am, I’m not drunk but I’m not sober either, and I’m not even thinking about what I’m doing.’

‘That’s OK, no big deal,’ Ava soothed softly, patently unaware of how rare it was for Vito to do anything without thinking it through first. ‘It’s not important.’

‘I’m not about to fall in love with you and marry you or anything like that!’ Vito warned her, derision at the idea giving his mouth a sardonic twist. ‘This is an affair, nothing more complex. Don’t overthink it.’

‘I never thought I would say it but you talk too much,’ Ava told him with sudden amusement. ‘I’m not that daft dreaming teenager you remember—I grew up and I’m not even twenty-two yet. I don’t want to get married for years and years and years!’

‘I don’t ever want to get married,’ Vito traded, throwing himself back against the pillows while wondering how he could possibly be irritated by her total lack of interest in marrying him. Naturally that was good news and she was blessedly free of the carefully presented hypocrisies with which his more usual style of lover sought to set him at his ease. Of course she was ten years younger than he was and that was a fair gap, he acknowledged, tension filtering through his momentary relaxation. In fact it was almost cradle-snatching.

Ava leant over him, her hair brushing a big shoulder while she marvelled at the conversation they were having. ‘I don’t want to marry you. I want to play the field and have fun first.’

‘If Damien Skeel comes on to you, you tell me,’ Vito spelt out rawly in a knee-jerk reaction that shook him because it seemed to come from some strange place inside him he didn’t recognise. ‘And you’re not going to be playing the field and having fun with anyone but me until we’re over. Is that understood?’

A pang pierced Ava. She didn’t like to hear him talk of their affair being over before it had even really begun. It hurt, just as breaking up would hurt, she reminded herself impatiently. She wasn’t a kid any more. She didn’t cherish a little soap bubble fantasy of Vito falling madly in love with her and sweeping her down the aisle to an altar. Even as a teenager she had not been that naïve.

‘Do you always lay down the law in bed like you’re in the boardroom?’ Ava teased.

‘I need to with you. You’re a new and very original box of tricks, cara mia,’ Vito contended, pushing her playfully flat against the pillows to extract a long, drugging kiss that sent her heartbeat into overdrive.

She felt tiny beneath him, crushed by his broad chest and the hair-roughened thigh that had slid between hers. She was madly aware of her nipples tightening into tingling buds and of the hard press of his arousal against her. He wanted her. For a split second she simply luxuriated in that sweet wonderful knowledge. She wanted him and he wanted her. Finally, the time was right. And then in dismay she recalled the rather childish tattoo on her hip and resolved to buy some large plasters as soon as she could to conceal that revealing marking before he could see it. He wouldn’t think of her as an adult for long if he caught a glimpse of that.

Vito sat up and tossed back the duvet. ‘What on earth are you wearing?’ he demanded.

‘My PJs.’

‘Gingham just isn’t sexy,’ Vito pronounced with authority and embarked on the buttons.

Ava lay there stiff with embarrassment while he stripped off her pyjamas and reminded herself that he had seen it all before and that it was silly to feel so self-conscious. ‘Put the light out,’ she still urged him.

‘No … you’re a work of art and I want to savour you,’ Vito countered without hesitation, studying the long svelte line of her pale body. ‘I was in far too much of a hurry yesterday.’

‘I’m cold,’ she told him, hauling up the duvet at speed again.

‘No, you’re shy and I never realised that before. Ava Fitzgerald … shy,’ Vito commented with rich amusement. ‘Wow … you’ve turned as pink as a lobster.’

‘If you refer to lobsters and me in the same sentence again you can go back to your own room!’ Ava hissed vitriolically, blue eyes sparkling like sapphires in her elfin face.

‘It’s not happening.’ With a sudden laugh, Vito crushed her mouth beneath his again, his tongue delving deep in a devouring kiss that sent erotic thrills coursing through her all too ready body. When he discarded his rigid self-discipline and reserve, there was so much passion pent-up inside him, Ava thought, thrilled by his approach.

His mouth closed over the swollen peak of her breast and she shivered as he tasted and teased her with his tongue. The glide of his teeth followed and she moaned, startled and aroused, the heat at the heart of her beginning to build. Her hips arched and he stilled her.

‘We’re going to do this right this time, bella mia,’ Vito informed her, his exotically handsome features taut with determination.

‘Right?’ Ava repeated in disbelief. ‘Keep the control freakiness for the office.’

‘I am not a control freak,’ Vito growled.

He so was. Ava cupped his face and connected with smouldering golden eyes that made her heartbeat hammer. He was beautiful. She just loved looking at him, and then he kissed her again with that sensual full mouth and the ability to think fell away. As he began to lick and kiss his way down over her body her hands dug into his shoulders and suddenly it was a challenge to breathe. She thought he might be going to do … that, not something she could imagine doing with anyone, not even him. She tried to urge him back up again but either he failed to take the hint or he deliberately put himself out of reach.

‘Vito … I don’t think I want that,’ Ava muttered tightly.

‘Give me a one-minute trial,’ Vito purred, settling hot, hungry eyes on her. ‘While you think about it.’

Already pink, Ava could feel herself turn hot red and she just closed her eyes, not wanting to be inhibited and a turn-off. His hands smoothed over her thighs and eased them apart. I’m not going to like this but I’ll put up with it, she decided, and then he touched her with his tongue on the most super-sensitive part of her body and she almost leapt in the air at the sensation. He made a soothing sound deep in his throat that she found incredibly sexy. Slow-burning pleasure turned to raw ecstasy incredibly fast and she went wild, gasping and rising off the bed as an explosive climax engulfed her. Dazed by it, she felt limp as he shifted over her and sank into her hard and fast. Nothing had ever felt as intense. Her body had discovered a new level of sensitivity and in its already heightened state, his rapid powerful movements swiftly awakened the throbbing heat and hunger of need again.

‘Porca miseria! You make me wild!’ Vito panted.

Her every sense was on hyper alert and excitement as she had never known was clawing at her. She didn’t have the breath to respond. Her fingers raked down his back over his flexing muscles as she reacted to sensations as close to pleasure as torment, wanting more, wanting, her entire body reaching as her back arched and the glorious splintering high peak of blinding pleasure engulfed her again as a shrill cry was wrenched from her.

‘On a scale of one to ten that was a twenty, Vito husked in her ear. ‘I’m sorry, I was rough—’

‘I liked it,’ Ava mumbled in a forgiving mood, both arms wrapped round him, happiness dancing and leaping through her limp, satiated body like sunlight on a dull wintry day.

‘You’re miraculous, gioia mia,’ Vito said thickly, an almost bemused look in his stunning dark eyes as he bent down awkwardly and dropped a kiss on her nose. But he then freed her from his weight and proximity so fast that her hands literally trailed off him and she half sat up in surprise as he strode into the bathroom. He had used contraception, she reminded herself dizzily. Miraculous? Was that good? Her mind was full of words like, ‘astonishing, magnificent, unbelievable’. Even so, she wished he hadn’t left her so suddenly. As that thought occurred to her Vito reappeared and swept up his robe to put it on. Ava blinked. He wasn’t coming back to bed? Perhaps he was hungry.

Vito had got halfway to the door before Ava spoke. ‘Where are you going?’

‘To bed.’ Vito half turned back to her, a brow slightly quirked as though he wondered why she was asking such an obvious question of him.

Such fury shot through Ava that she felt light-headed with it. ‘Oh, so that’s it for tonight, is it? Having got what you wanted, you just walk out on me?’

Vito swung all the way round and levelled stunned dark eyes on her. ‘I always sleep in my own bed … it is not meant as an insult or any kind of statement.’

‘You mean you never spend the night with anyone?’ Ava prompted, utterly disconcerted by the news.

‘I like my privacy,’ Vito admitted a shade curtly, unable to understand why she was complaining when no other woman ever had.

‘Well, you can have all the privacy you want from me,’ Ava snapped back at him. ‘But let me make one thing clear—if you walk through that door you don’t get back in again on any pretext!’

His eyes shimmered and narrowed, his face tensing with the surprise and considerable hauteur of a male unaccustomed to any form of rejection from a woman. ‘You can’t be serious.’

‘That’s the way it is, Vito. Take it or leave it. I thought the practice of droit de seigneur went out with the Crusades and you’re not going to treat me like a late-night snack and get away with it!’ Ava slung tempestuously as she punched a pillow, doused the light to leave him poised in darkness and lay down again.

Vito opened the door, hesitated—fatally, he later realised. He thought of waking up beside Ava. He shed his robe where he stood.

As Ava felt the mattress give beneath his weight she thought about the power of ‘miraculous’ sex over a male and it made her want to punch him more than ever. He was spoilt by too much money and too many eager-to-please women.

‘Am I expected to cuddle as well?’ Vito enquired with sardonic bite.

‘If you value your life, stay on your own side of the bed,’ Ava advised bluntly.

Silence fell, a silence laden with nerve-racking undertones. Ava grimaced in the darkness and wished she had kept quiet. You could lead a horse to water but you couldn’t make it drink, she reminded herself wryly, a situation not improved by the fact that he was stubborn as a mule. He didn’t do the cuddly sleeping-together stuff but she didn’t think she could do an affair without affection at the very least. Who are you kidding? she asked herself. She was only at the castle for another two weeks and the minute the party was done, she would be history. She needed to learn how to take each day as it came just the way she had done in prison, but there was no way on earth that she would live according to his rules alone.

‘I shouldn’t have lost my temper with you about Olly’s room,’ Vito mused very quietly.

‘I shouldn’t have gone ahead and touched it without speaking to you about it first,’ Ava traded, her stiffness receding a little.

‘I used to go in there and sit in the months after the funeral,’ Vito volunteered curtly. ‘Fortunately I managed to wean myself off that habit, so there was no reason to leave the room the way it was while he was alive.’

Ava gritted her teeth and bit back hasty words because Vito was a stiff-upper-lip kind of male. ‘Why should you have had to wean yourself off going in there?’ she finally asked. ‘There was no harm in it if it gave you comfort.’

‘It was a weird thing to do,’ Vito asserted in a tone that warned her that he expected her to agree with him on that score.

Ava suffered a truly appalling desire to hug him but she imagined him shaking her off and didn’t move a muscle in his direction. ‘No, it wasn’t weird. It was completely natural. He was on your mind. You didn’t need to fight off the urge as if it was wrong. You’re just terrified of feeling emotion, aren’t you? But all you did was make it harder for yourself.’

‘I am not terrified of feeling emotion!’ Vito grated in disbelief.

Ava begged to disagree in silence. Macho man had not been able to cope with the threatening desire to sit in his kid brother’s room occasionally and quite typically he had walled his grief up inside himself, convinced that that was the best way.

‘I’m not,’ Vito repeated doggedly, wondering why he had conversations with her that he never had with anyone else while trying to recall emotional moments without success.

Ava smiled and went to sleep.


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