The Boss's Christmas Seduction: Unlocking her Innocence / Million Dollar Christmas Proposal / Not Just the Boss's Plaything - Линн Грэхем - CHAPTER EIGHT 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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AT Vito’s request they were shown into a room with seating and the concerned team assisting them promised to rustle up a cup of tea.

His hands on her slim shoulders, Vito settled Ava down into an armchair as if she were a sleepwalker. He lifted a handful of tissues from a box on the table and pushed them down into her tautly clenched hands. ‘Per l’amor di Dio … what has happened?’ he demanded, gazing down at her.

Ava pressed a tissue to her face to dab it dry and wiped her eyes. ‘Nothing,’ she said gruffly. ‘I’m sorry—’

‘No, I’m sorry I dragged you out when there’s obviously something very wrong. I should have seen that you were acting strangely,’ he ground out rawly. ‘This was supposed to be a treat, not an endurance test that distresses you, bella mia—’

Ava stared woodenly down at her knotted hands. ‘I’m really sorry … how embarrassing for you to have me behaving like that in public. I’m surprised you didn’t walk off and leave me.’

Vito crouched down in front of her and tilted up her chin so that he could better see her reddened blue eyes and the pink tip of her nose. ‘Am I that much of a bastard? I will admit to a split second of very masculine panic but that’s all.’

Ava encountered beautiful dark golden eyes fever bright with frustration. He hated being out of the loop: she knew that much about him. ‘It’s not something I can talk about, I’m afraid. I’m all right now, though. The pressure inside me just built up too high and I didn’t even realise I was crying.’

‘Are you pregnant?’ Vito demanded with staggering abruptness.

Ara was taken aback by the question, an involuntary laugh was dredged from her tight throat. Evidently that was his biggest fear. ‘Of course I’m not and as we’ve only been together a week, how could I possibly be pregnant?’ she whispered just as a knock sounded on the door. ‘Or even know that I was?’

‘It happens,’ Vito said darkly, thinking of Olly, whom his father had sworn had been conceived after a single night. He vaulted upright to open the door and accept the cup of tea that had arrived, settling it down on the table by her side.

‘We’ve been too careful. That’s not the problem,’ Ava told him dully as she sipped gratefully at the refreshing brew.

‘But what is the problem?’ Vito growled.

‘It’s nothing to do with you or our relationship and I’m getting over it already,’ Ava insisted staunchly, wiping her eyes with determination and blowing her nose, still wincing at the embarrassment of having lost control to such an extent in front of him. ‘You see? I’m absolutely fine.’

‘You’re anything but fine,’ Vito contradicted without hesitation. ‘You’re not yourself at all. Let’s finish up and get out of here, but don’t think you’ve heard the last of this. I need to know what’s wrong.’

Her face tightened. ‘We don’t have that kind of relationship.’

‘What kind of a relationship do we have?’ Vito shot back as she set down the tea and stood up, composed again.

‘Fun, casual,’ she declared.

Dark colour highlighted his strong cheekbones. ‘I can handle problems.’

‘You couldn’t handle this one and why would you want to anyway?’ Ava asked frankly. ‘It’s not like this is the romance of the century or serious or anything!’

Vito went rigid, his hard jawline clenching, his wide sensual mouth compressing into a surprisingly thin line.

‘And now you’re offended because I’m not supposed to be that blunt, and maybe you’d just like to say goodbye to me here right this minute!’ Ava completed on a rising note of anger.

At that invitation, Vito’s eyes flamed burning gold. ‘Che cosa hai? What’s the matter with you?’

‘I’m giving you an escape route.’

‘Shut up,’ Vito told her in a seethingly forceful undertone.

Ava drew herself up to her full five feet four inches. ‘What did you just say to me?’ she demanded.

‘Zip it!’ Vito bit out with unmistakable savagery. ‘Let me tell you what we are going to do. We will complete the shopping trip and leave.’

Ava parted her lips, ready to let loose another volley of the angry aggression that had come out of nowhere to power her mood.

Without warning, a rush of screaming anxiety engulfed her next, when she belatedly appreciated that she was actually trying to talk herself out of staying with him for what remained of the week. To her horror, she couldn’t accept that prospect, couldn’t face the idea of saying goodbye there and then. That acknowledgement shocked her sufficiently into clamping her mouth shut on her dangerously provocative tongue. What the heck was wrong with her? What difference this week or next week? But the threat of separation from Vito managed to flood her with such appalling fear that she couldn’t answer her own question.

‘I’ll take you straight back to the castle when we’re finished,’ Vito pronounced.

She caught a glimpse of them together in a tall mirror and reddened, thinking that she looked more like a messy teenager than a grown woman in her jeans and jacket. He had to be mortified to be seen out and about with a female that badly dressed and all of a sudden, in spite of the emotions still bubbling inside her like a witch’s cauldron, she was ready to make concessions. Her birthday treat? She had thrown his generosity back in his face and wrecked the outing.

Concealing his surprise, Vito watched from a discreet distance as Ava selected lingerie, unwilling to give her an excuse to lose her temper again. What the hell was going on with her? He wondered if he would ever understand her, wondered why he should even want to when he was usually up and out at the first sign of complications in an affair. But she had never been moody with him before. She vanished into a changing room with a bundle of garments.

Ava stripped, glanced in dismay at a couple of tags marked with eye-watering prices and wondered if he was insane to be spending so much money on her when they only had another week together. But it could be a good week just like the first if she could only stop thinking about the ending that would come with it. Her mouth down curved at the lowering thought that she was certainly in the mood to please as she put on a dress: he liked dresses, dropped hints like bricks around her about feminine clothes, loved her legs. And her bottom and her breasts. Just not her! Her eyes prickled. She couldn’t even blame him. His brother was dead because of what she had done. What she had now with Vito was the most she could ever have because he would never be able to surmount that barrier between them.

Vito’s was not the only male head to turn in the vicinity when Ava reappeared, a slim chic beauty in a form-fitting dress, jacket and high heels.

‘Am I allowed to jump you in the limo?’ Vito growled, hot golden eyes pinned to her face.

Ava laughed. She knew she looked good, hadn’t frankly known she could look that good in a new outfit and was very aware that she had him and the helpful saleswomen to thank for it because she had virtually no experience of either choosing or wearing more decorative formal clothes.

‘No,’ she told him, suppressing the memories of Thomas Fitzgerald, her late mother and her wretched childhood. She would get over it, adapt to the new knowledge about herself, much as she had adapted to other things.

Having emerged from the shop, a procession of bags and boxes already piled into the limousine awaiting them, Vito closed an arm round her spine. Suddenly a man called out Vito’s name and he halted in surprise. A blinding flash lit them up and a man with a camera shot them a cheeky smile before taking off into the depths of the milling crowds on the pavement.

‘My word, why did he want to take a picture of us?’ Ava asked as Vito tucked her into the car.

‘He’s probably paparazzi.’ But the incident sent a vague sense of unease filtering through Vito because he was not accustomed to that kind of press intrusion in his life. ‘I can’t imagine why he wanted a photo of us.’

‘He knew your name. You must get a lot of that sort of attention,’ Ava assumed.

‘Usually only in the business papers and if I have a celebrity on my arm, which is rare these days,’ Vito confided, a frown drawing his fine ebony brows together. ‘I’m a very private person. I don’t know what the source of his interest might have been.’

‘I hardly think it was me.’

‘You do look stunning,’ Vito countered reflectively.

Self-conscious colour lit her fair complexion. In her fancy feathers, she felt ridiculously vulnerable. ‘Where are we going now?’

‘You look stunning. I shall keep on saying it until you acknowledge it, bella mia.’

Ava ignored him. She had earned very few compliments in her life and never knew how to handle them. Deep down inside she thought he only said such things because he believed all women expected it and she despised insincerity.

‘I originally planned for us to spend the night in my city apartment.’

‘Didn’t know you had one.’

‘It’s handy when I’m flying in late from abroad or working through the night.

But you’re not in the mood for dining and clubbing, are you?’ Vito murmured lazily.

‘I’m in full party-pooper mode,’ Ava admitted with a grimace. ‘Sorry. I’d just like to go—’

‘Home,’ Vito slotted in. ‘When situations change, I adapt quickly.’

Her fingernails curled in silent protest into the wool jacket on her lap. His home, not hers. The locality had nothing to offer her now. She no longer had a home base. So what had changed? she asked herself irritably, angry that she still felt so bruised and alone. The people she had believed were her family until earlier that day had long since made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with her anyway, consequently it was over-sensitive to still be feeling so gutted about it. Suck it up, she told herself irritably.

Studying the tension etched in her delicate profile, Vito wanted to shake Ava like a money box the way you do to extract the last stubborn coin. What was wrong with the rational approach of telling him what the problem was so that he could sort it out? That would settle things and she would return to normal and stop being so polite and silent. Maybe he should have let her dump him. He had never been dumped. Was that why he was still with her even though she was being an absolute pain? She was screwing with his head. He knew she was doing it but had yet to work out how.

Dusk was falling by the time Ava mounted the steps to the entrance of Bolderwood Castle. She walked in the big front door and was instantly enfolded in a ridiculously soothing sense of security. A log fire was crackling in the huge hall grate, flickering warm inviting shadows over the ornamented garlands and the tall ivy-draped glass candle vases on the mantelpiece. It looked beautiful and painfully familiar at one and the same time. She could remember roasting chestnuts by the fire with Olly, laughing when he sang a Christmas song off-key. While she was thinking, Harvey hurtled past her and bounced up to greet Vito first with fawning enthusiasm. Ava looked on without comment, having already accepted that Harvey was, at heart it seemed, a man’s dog, for as soon as Vito had become a regular fixture in Harvey’s life Harvey had firmly attached himself to him.

‘Don’t put hair on me,’ Vito warned the dog, patting his head to make him go away again, but Harvey was a needy dog and he kept on pushing for more.

‘He doesn’t shed hair—we think it’s the poodle in him.’

‘Poodle?’ Vito repeated in disbelief, surveying Harvey, who was a large animal by any standards and very disreputable in appearance with his floppy ears and messy curly coat. ‘Aren’t poodles little and fluffy?’

‘There are big ones too but … Harvey is a mongrel.’

Harvey looked up at Vito with round brown pleading eyes and nudged his thigh again. Vito sighed heavily. ‘All right. He can stay.’

Shaken, Ava stared up at him. ‘For good … here? Are you serious?’

‘I wouldn’t have said it if I wasn’t,’ Vito imparted wryly.

Ava gave a yelp of delight, hurled herself at Vito and locked her arms round his neck in a display of natural exuberance. ‘You won’t regret it, Vito. He’s very loyal and loving and he’ll protect you if anyone ever threatens you.’

Vito stared down at the animated triangle of her face, transfixed by the complete transformation that had taken place. ‘Nobody has ever threatened me.’

‘He’ll want to sleep beside your bed.’

‘That’s an undesirable trait, Ava.’ But he locked his arms round her slim supple body and drew her up to his level to extract a passionate kiss, noting that her bright blue eyes were almost laughably disconcerted by his sudden unexpected assault. ‘Of course you can sleep beside my bed any time you like … but I’d prefer you in it, gioia mia.

In that instant being wanted felt unbelievably wonderful to Ava’s battered emotions and in response her own hunger consumed her in a great greedy flood. As Vito toyed with her soft full lower lip, teasing, stroking the delicate interior, she angled her head back, shamelessly inviting more. With an appreciative growl, he curved his strong hands round her bottom and hoisted her up against him, making her violently aware of the fullness of his erection.

‘Bed … now,’ Vito husked against her lush mouth as he carried her upstairs. ‘I can’t wait …’

And secure in his arms, Ava wondered when the attraction between them had become so powerful that her body simply reacted without her awareness, the peaks of her breasts straining full and tight with arousal, the secret place at the heart of her intensely hot. She could no longer control the desperate urgency and need eating her alive from inside out. He set her down on the bed, where she peeled off her jacket, kicked off her high heels and shimmied out of her dress like a shameless hussy eager to meet her fate. He stood in front of her, stripping, and he didn’t stop until he was naked, a lithe bronzed vision of muscular male perfection, uninhibited in his urgent arousal. He leant over her, crushing and tasting her luscious mouth, his tongue dallying, delving deep to ramp up her yearning. And throughout that exercise he was undressing her with deft hands, peeling away her new and delicate floral underwear. Long fingers playing with the protruding pink buds of her breasts, he made her gasp and part her slender thighs, hips digging into the mattress beneath her.

‘You’re so sexy,’ he groaned against her swollen mouth when he lifted her up against him, the long thick column of his erection hot against her stomach. ‘I’ve never wanted a woman like this … I’m burning up.’

He brought her down on her knees on the bed in front of him, reaching down to stimulate the tiny, unbearably sensitive nub at her core. An almost anguished whimper of sound was wrenched from her tight throat. Her breath was coming in shallow pants, her whole body poised on the edge of an anticipation so intense it hurt. He stroked her and she flinched, aching and hypersensitive to the caress.

‘You’re so ready for me, bella mia. That really fires me up,’ Vito growled in her ear as he nudged her thighs further apart, his hands running up and down her slender spine and dropping lower to touch the swollen buds of her breasts.

‘Please …’ she moaned, wild with impatience, twisting her head round, catching a glimpse of the smouldering dark golden eyes fixed to her.

His hands firm on her hips Vito thrust into her hard and deep and groaned with earthy satisfaction. Her inner muscles gripped him as a shockwave of amazing sensation engulfed her. She threw back her head and moaned. As he sank into her raw excitement made her heartbeat race. She quivered, insanely receptive to his dominance, and then sobbed as the melting waves of delirious pleasure engulfing her swept her up higher and higher until she reached the ultimate peak. While Vito thrust into her with a final forceful twist of his hips and a savage shout of release, Ava was shattered by the power of her own climax. An ecstatic cry tore from her lips and she slid forward onto her stomach, all strength drained from her satiated limbs.

‘Your passion is the perfect match for mine,’ Vito breathed with satisfaction, kissing the nape of her neck with lingering appreciation and slowly pulling back to release her from his weight. Just as suddenly he fell still again.

Recognising the change in the atmosphere, Ava turned over to stare up into his stunned dark eyes. ‘What?’ she pressed with a frown.

In answer, Vito used his strong hands to turn her back over onto her stomach again. ‘You finally took the plaster off … I had no idea it was hiding a tattoo.’ A wondering forefinger traced the pattern of the ink marking on her left hip. It was a heart pierced by an arrow with a name in the centre. His name.

Aghast at the news that she had lost the plaster, guessing it must have come off in the shower that morning, Ava turned over again so fast that she was breathless. ‘You saw it?’ she gasped strickenly, swift hot colour washing up beneath her fair skin as extreme mortification gripped her.

Vito nodded slowly, thoughtfully. ‘As a rule I’m not into tattoos but I think I can live with you having my name branded on one hip,’ he breathed tautly, wicked amusement fighting to pull at the corners of his firmly controlled mouth. ‘When did you get that done?’

Her face still burning with the intensity of her embarrassment, Ava sat up, hugging her knees defensively, her eyes shielded by her lashes. ‘I was eighteen on a girlie holiday in Spain. It was a drunken dare and I went for it because some of the other girls were getting stuff done and it seemed like a good idea at the time … but it was very stupid.’

‘Eighteen?’ Vito grimaced. ‘No, it wasn’t a good idea to have a name put on your body at that age.’

‘I’ve regretted it ever since.’

Vito closed his arms round her small tense figure, a wolfish smile suddenly slashing his handsome mouth. ‘I like it. It appeals to something primitive in me, bella mia.’

‘I’ll probably save up and get it removed some day,’ Ava muttered, ignoring his comment.

‘You were so young in those days,’ Vito remarked ruefully.

‘But I’m all grown up now,’ Ava reminded him, keen to drop the subject, that place on her hip still burning as though she had been touched by a naked flame. As she turned to glance at the clock by the bed she froze and exclaimed, ‘Oh, no, I was supposed to meet Damien at lunchtime and I totally forgot about him!’

‘I’ll take you to choose a tree tomorrow.’

Ava’s mouth fell wide in shock. ‘You … will?’

A fine ebony brow elevated. ‘Why not me?’

‘Crashing about in the undergrowth looking at trees isn’t really your thing,’ Ava challenged.

Never having been a fan of the great outdoors, Vito didn’t argue with that assessment. He stretched out beside her in the tumbled sheets and folded her to him with determined hands. ‘I have no choice. Damien’s trying too hard to get with you.’

Her bright blue eyes sparkled with amusement. ‘I can handle Damien. You can be very possessive.’

‘I’m not the possessive type. Easy come, easy go, that’s me,’ Vito told her with unassailable assurance and then he frowned, his black brows pleating as he suddenly sat up again to stare down at her in consternation. ‘I didn’t use a condom!’

Ava winced, unable to hide her dismay or her surprise that he could have been so careless. ‘I wasn’t thinking either,’ she sighed in grudging acknowledgement of their mutual passion, already engaged in mentally working out where she was in her cycle. ‘We should be all right, though. It was the wrong time.’

‘Any time can be dangerous when it comes to conception,’ Vito countered, his face taut with disquiet. ‘Accidenti! I was so excited I forgot—that’s never happened to me before.’

‘There’s always a first time. I think we’ll get away with it,’ Ava reassured.

Too shaken by his oversight, Vito said nothing. He could not believe that even in the heat of passion he had overlooked the need for precautions. He had never made that mistake before. There was something about Ava that destroyed his usual innate caution. Unlike her, however, he wasn’t an eternal optimist and he was already thinking, What if she’s pregnant? If it happened, he would deal with it. After all, he was not a panic-stricken teenaged boy.

The next morning, Ava looked in growing wonderment at the vast collection of clothes that filled the boxes, garment bags and carriers in one corner of her bedroom. What on earth had come over Vito? She was only with him another week and he had bought her more clothes than she could wear out in several years of sustained use! While she stowed away the garments she selected a pair of jeans, woollen sweater and a quilted jacket to wear and quickly got dressed to go down for breakfast.

‘Happy birthday,’ Vito declared from his stance by the fireplace, where a crackling fire took the chill from the room. ‘Are you sure you want to choose the tree today? It’s exceptionally cold.’

‘The party schedule is tight. It has to be today so that I can dress the tree tomorrow.’ Ava tried very hard not to stare at him. After all, it was barely forty minutes since they had parted in her room to shower and dress. Now, just like her, Vito was casually clad, a powerfully masculine figure who dominated the room with his presence. The strong hard bones of his face allied to the deep-set brilliance of his spectacular dark eyes gave him a sizzling charismatic appeal that ignited every cell in her body. He lit her fire, he floated her boat, he turned her on, she acknowledged abstractedly, instinctively struggling to fight free of the sexual charge he put out, wishing she were less of a pushover in that category. She badly needed distance, rational thought and a cool head … but terrifyingly none of those necessities were at her disposal.

Vito tugged out a chair by the table for her in an effortless display of courtesy that made her tense. He treated her as though she required his care and protection and, although his attitude often jarred with her staunchly independent spirit, she was also aware that on some level he was satisfying a secret craving deep down inside her. ‘We’re having pancakes this morning—my housekeeper tells me they’re your favourite,’ he announced.

A wash of over-emotional tears momentarily stung Ava’s eyes. Nobody had ever made a fuss about her birthday before. Indeed on several occasions that special date had been entirely overlooked. Equipped as she now was with the true facts of her background, Ava could understand why her mother had sometimes found it easier to simply ignore her youngest daughter’s birthday. In many ways, Ava conceded ruefully, she had been a neglected child, who was neither properly fed nor clothed, while her teenaged sisters had often stayed at friends’ houses to avoid coming home, leaving Ava alone with her alcoholic and often insensible mother.

Wary of the surge of her unstable emotions and distressing memories, Ava tucked into the pancakes with determined appetite. A small, square jewellery box sat beside her plate and she rigorously ignored it, scared of what it might contain. My goodness, hadn’t he spent enough money on her during the shopping trip? What else might he have given her?

‘Aren’t you going to open it?’ Vito finally prompted.

‘It embarrasses me when you spend money on me.’

‘It didn’t cost me anything.’

Intrigued, Ava reached for it and opened it. Her heart jolted to a sudden halt and she swallowed with difficulty because the box contained Olly’s gold St Christopher medal. ‘You can’t give me this.’

In answer, Vito sprang upright, hooked the chain onto his fingers and nudged her hair out of the way to place it round her neck. ‘You should have something to remember him by, cara mia,’ he said flatly.

‘Thank you …’ Ava said shakily as the cool metal settled against her skin. She was painfully touched by the gift. It could surely only mean that Vito had moved beyond thinking of her solely as his brother’s killer to recall instead her once close and loving friendship with his sibling. For that piece of undeserved good fortune she was eternally grateful.

‘It once belonged to my father and Olly cherished it. Come on,’ Vito urged hurriedly as her mouth trembled. ‘It’s time to pick the tree …’

Ava hastily swallowed back the thickness of tears clogging her vocal cords and clattered down the steps in his wake with Harvey to climb into the waiting four-wheel drive. Vito drove down rutted tracks to the conifer plantation at the back of the estate and vaulted out to retrieve a paint tin and brush with which to mark the chosen tree. The icy breeze stung her damp cheeks. Her hand stole up to brush the St Christopher at her throat. St Christopher, the patron saint of safe journeys. Olly hadn’t been wearing it the night of the crash because the chain had broken.

She trudged into the great stand of trees, banishing recollections of long-gone Christmases with rigorous self-discipline. In the mood she was in the last thing she needed to be doing was wallowing in the past, she conceded humbly. She paused in front of a fifteen-foot-tall conifer with a model shape and dense branches that skirted it almost to the ground. ‘That’s definitely the one.’

Vito marked it with the paint and set down the tin to ram his chilled hands into the pockets of his jacket, standing tall and braced into the wind clawing his black hair back from his darkly handsome features. ‘That was quick.’

‘It’s a classic … oh my goodness, it’s snowing!’ Ava carolled, hurrying into the clearing open to the sky to raise her hands to the fat white flakes floating slowly down.

Vito watched her chase snowflakes, her bright blue eyes intent against her breeze-stung complexion, her vibrant copper hair anchored below a cream woollen hat. She had no thought of what she might look like, no concern that he might laugh at her. She was as uninhibited in her enjoyment as a child, her enchantment etched in her face with an innocence she had yet to lose. Seeing that vulnerability disturbed him, put him in mind of the fact that even her family had rejected her. It was the belated acknowledgement that her family lived only down the road that prompted him to say, ‘I think it’s time you visited your family.’


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