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The Italian's One-Night Baby

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«The Italian's One-Night Baby» - Линн Грэхем

With this ring…Beautiful doctor Ellie Dixon once rejected Rio Benedetti’s passionate advances – and the fiery Italian hasn’t forgotten the insult! Ellie’s arrival in Italy, bearing an antique sapphire ring and claiming to be the daughter of Rio’s godfather, reawakens his rage…and a devastating longing!I thee claim!Rio won’t stop until he uncovers Ellie’s captivating curves – her heated surrender can’t come quickly enough! Facing the consequences of their abandon, Rio realises Ellie’s pregnancy will break his godfather’s heart. There’s one solution: Rio will have to seduce her all the way to the altar…
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With this ring...

Beautiful doctor Ellie Dixon once rejected Rio Benedetti’s passionate advances—and the fiery Italian hasn’t forgotten the insult! Ellie arrives in Italy bearing an antique sapphire ring and claiming to be the daughter of Rio’s godfather, which reawakens his rage...and a devastating longing!

I thee claim!

Rio won’t stop until he uncovers Ellie’s captivating curves—her heated surrender can’t come quickly enough! Facing the consequences of their abandon, Rio realizes Ellie’s pregnancy will break his godfather’s heart. There’s one solution: Rio will have to seduce her all the way to the altar...

‘Don’t look at me like that when it’s a lie,’ Rio urged with staggering abruptness, fiery sparks illuminating his stunning eyes to smouldering gold.

The sudden apparent change of subject disconcerted Ellie. ‘What’s a lie?’

‘You looking at me with dislike when you would really much prefer to rip my clothes off me!’ Rio contended, without an ounce of doubt in his dark, deep drawl. ‘I don’t do pretences, Principessa.’

Ellie stared back at him in genuine fascination. ‘Oh, my word, Rio—how did you get through the door with an ego that big?’

‘I hate the way you beat around the bush,’ Rio told her, lounging back against the bedroom door, his sudden slumbrous relaxation screaming sex and the kind of bad-boy attitude that set Ellie on fire with fury. ‘I was talking about us having angry sex.’

Ellie reddened again, her green eyes luminous with disbelief. ‘You did not just say that to me!’

Rio laughed with unholy amusement. ‘I did. Why wrap it up like a dirty secret? We may not like each other but, per meraviglia, with the chemistry we’ve got we would set the bed on fire.’

With this ring...

At their mother’s deathbed Polly and Ellie Dixon are given a name, a ring and the news of a half-sister they’ve never met!

The search for their heritage leads these three sisters into the paths of three incredible alpha males…and it’s not long before they’re walking down the aisle!

Don’t miss this fabulous trilogy,

starting with Polly’s story...

The Desert King’s Blackmailed Bride

February 2017

Continuing with Ellie’s story...

The Italian’s One-Night Baby

April 2017

Finishing with Lucy’s story...

Sold for the Greek’s Heir

June 2017

The Italian’s One-Night Baby

Lynne Graham

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen romance reader since her teens. She is very happily married to an understanding husband, who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog who knocks everything over, a very small terrier who barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Books by Lynne Graham

Mills & Boon Modern Romance

Bought for the Greek’s Revenge

The Sicilian’s Stolen Son

Leonetti’s Housekeeper Bride

The Secret His Mistress Carried

The Dimitrakos Proposition

Brides for the Taking

The Desert King’s Blackmailed Bride

Christmas with a Tycoon

The Italian’s Christmas Child

The Greek’s Christmas Bride

The Notorious Greeks

The Greek Demands His Heir

The Greek Commands His Mistress

Bound by Gold

The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain

The Sheikh’s Secret Babies

The Legacies of Powerful Men

Ravelli’s Defiant Bride

Christakis’s Rebellious Wife

Zarif’s Convenient Queen

Visit the Author Profile page at for more titles.

My husband, Michael,

for his constant support and kindness over the years.


html#u699ee4f3-e62f-54d4-afc6-60aac7fc07bc" id="back_u699ee4f3-e62f-54d4-afc6-60aac7fc07bc">Cover

Back Cover Text


Brides for the Taking

Title Page

About the Author
















RIO BENEDETTI SET his even, white teeth together hard and suppressed a very rude word as his godfather cheerfully chatted on about his plans to entertain his unexpected guest. Beppe Sorrentino was a naïve man, trusting and generous to a fault, not at all the sort of man to suspect his self-invited guest of a hidden agenda. Luckily he had a godson like Rio, determined to shield the older man from anyone trying to take him for a ride.

Rio, the billionaire veteran of many triumphant wins in the business world and a man cynically unimpressed by women, knew he had to proceed with discretion because Ellie Dixon had powerful, wealthy friends, and most important, she was the sister of Polly, the current queen of Dharia—a country which rejoiced in oil wealth. Even worse, on paper at least, Ellie was impressive. Nobody knew that better than Rio, who had met her at his friend Rashad’s wedding to her sister Polly. She was a beautiful, intelligent and hard-working doctor. But saintly Dr Ellie’s profile took a fast nosedive if you had her past history exhaustively checked. At best Rio knew her to be a thief and a gold-digger, at worst she could be the kind of doctor who befriended the elderly to persuade them to change their wills in her favour.

Ellie had had a disciplinary action brought against her at work after an elderly patient had died endowing Ellie with all her worldly goods. Not surprisingly, the old lady’s nephew had filed a complaint. But then there had been indications that Ellie might have an unseemly lust for money earlier than that, Rio acknowledged, thinking of the section in the investigative report relating to her grandmother’s diamond brooch. The valuable brooch should’ve gone to Ellie’s uncle but Ellie had somehow acquired it instead, causing much family bitterness.

No, nothing about Ellie Dixon was straightforward, not least her surprising approach to his godfather in a letter in which she had asked to visit because Beppe had apparently once known her late mother.

Of course, it was equally possible that Rio himself was the actual target in Dr Ellie’s sights, he conceded with a certain amount of cynical satisfaction at that idea. Perhaps Ellie hadn’t realised just how very rich he was at the wedding and, knowing where he lived, had come up with this vague connection as an excuse to visit his godfather, Beppe. Women, after all, had often gone to quite extraordinary lengths to try to reel him in, and he was as slick as an eel when it came to avoiding commitment.

He refused to think about what had happened with Ellie at Rashad’s wedding because Rio did not believe in reconstructing unpleasant past events. With women he was very much a ‘hit it and quit it’ kind of guy. He didn’t do serious and he didn’t do long-term. Why would he? He was thirty years old, rich as sin and very good-looking and his female options were so many and varied that, had he wanted to and without effort, he could have slept with a different woman every night of the year. So, if he was Dr Ellie’s target she was in for a severe disillusionment. In any case, the woman was an absolute shrew with a streak of violence, he recalled sardonically.

‘You’re very quiet, Rio...’ Beppe remarked. ‘You don’t approve of Annabel’s daughter visiting, do you?’

‘Why would you think that?’ Rio parried, surprised that the older man had seen through his tolerant front.

Beppe simply grinned. He was a small man with greying hair and rather round in shape.

Perched in his favourite armchair, he had the cheerful air of a playful gnome and Rio’s shrewd dark eyes softened the instant they settled on him because Beppe Sorrentino was as dear to Rio as any father could have been.

‘I saw you wince when I mentioned how disappointed I was that Ellie wouldn’t agree to stay here in my home as my guest. She’s a very frank young lady. She said she wouldn’t be comfortable because she doesn’t know me and would prefer to stay at the hotel.’

‘It wouldn’t be comfortable for you either to have her here. You’re not used to having guests,’ Rio pointed out, for Beppe had been a childless widower for almost twenty years and lived a very quiet and peaceful life in his family palazzo a few miles outside Florence.

‘I know but I get bored,’ Beppe admitted abruptly. ‘Bored and lonely. No, don’t look at me like that, Rio. You visit plenty. But, Ellie’s visit will be stimulating. A fresh face, different company.’

‘Dio mio...’ Rio rhymed thoughtfully. ‘Why are you so reluctant to tell me anything about Ellie’s mother and yet so excited about her daughter coming here?’

Beppe’s rounded face locked down so fast it was like a vault sliding shut and his dark eyes evaded his godson’s. ‘It’s not something I can discuss with you, Rio. Please don’t take that the wrong way.’

Rio’s even, white teeth gritted again. He had even considered the idea that in some way Ellie could be engaged in an attempt to blackmail his godfather about some dark secret, but even optimistic Beppe would hardly look forward so happily to the visit of a blackmailer. Furthermore Rio couldn’t imagine that Beppe had any dark secrets because he was the most open, transparent personality Rio had ever known. Yet Beppe had known great unhappiness and loss in his private life. His delightful wife, Amalia, had given birth to a stillborn son and had then suffered a severe stroke. From then on right up until her death, Beppe’s wife had endured precarious health and the confinement of a wheelchair. Beppe, however, had remained utterly devoted to his beloved Amalia and, although now pushing sixty, had evinced not the smallest desire to meet another woman.

Rio, in strong comparison, had never been open or trusting with other human beings. He was naturally suspicious and naturally complex. He had been abandoned in a dumpster at birth, born to a heroin-addicted mother and an unknown father and he had spent his formative years in an orphanage until Amalia Sorrentino took an interest in him. Through Amalia he had met her kindly husband, his benefactor. He knew very well that he owed almost everything he had become and everything he had achieved to the man seated by the fireside who had first recognised his intelligence and there was little he would not have done to protect Beppe from any potential harm. And Rio was absolutely convinced that in some way Ellie Dixon was a harmful threat.

Evil temptress? Gold-digging harpy? Hard-nosed feminist? Thief? Scam artist with the elderly? At Rashad’s wedding, he had been treated to giggly, amusing Ellie and enraged Ellie. He had also been led down the garden path right to the door of his hotel room and then assaulted. He hadn’t forgotten the experience. He hadn’t forgiven it either. Insults lingered with Rio. For too many years of his life he had been a nameless orphan, bullied and abused and dismissed as unimportant. And Ellie Dixon had cut him down to size as effectively as the most terrifying nun at the orphanage, Sister Teresa, who had struggled to overcome Rio’s stormy and essentially vengeful temperament.

No, Rio wasn’t the forgiving and forgetting sort. He still occasionally dreamt about Ellie twirling on the dance floor in her diaphanous green dress, her glorious mane of red curls tumbling round her animated face, and he would remember how he had felt and it stung him like salt in an open wound. He had felt that night that he would die if he didn’t have her. Lust multiplied by wine and wedding fervour, he dismissed now with still-gritted teeth. Now all he had to do was sit back and wait for Ellie and her character of many divergent colours to emerge into the unforgiving glare of daylight...

So, would she be the temptress, the prim doctor, the clever academic or the friendly, casual tourist? And just how long would it take for Rio to find out what her game was?

Whatever, it was still game on...

* * *

Ellie surveyed the vast cache of clothing in sheer wonderment.

‘Yes, your pressie has arrived,’ she confirmed to her sister Polly, with the phone tucked in her nape. ‘What on earth were you thinking of?’

‘I know you don’t do shopping, so I did it for you,’ Polly responded cheerfully. ‘You need a holiday wardrobe for Italy and I bet you haven’t had the time to buy anything... Am I right?’

On that score, Polly was right but Ellie, picking up a floaty white sundress with a designer label, was gobsmacked by her sister’s generosity. Correction, her sister’s embarrassingly endless generosity. ‘Well, I’m really more of a “jeans and tee” sort of girl,’ she reminded her sibling. ‘In fact, I think the last time I put on a sundress was when I was visiting you. You know I’m very, very grateful, Polly, but I wish you wouldn’t spend so much money on me. I’m a junior doctor, I’m not living on the breadline—’

‘I’m your big sister and it gives me a lot of pleasure to buy you things,’ Polly told her unanswerably. ‘Come on, Ellie... Don’t be stiff and stuffy about this. We never got much in the way of pressies and treats growing up and I want to share my good fortune with you. It’s only money. Don’t make it change things between us—’

But it was changing things, Ellie thought, suppressing a sigh. She might always have been the kid sister in their duo but she had also always been the leader and she couldn’t help missing that familiarity and her sister, who now lived half the world away in Dharia. Polly didn’t turn to her for advice any more. Polly no longer needed her in the same way. Polly had Rashad now, and a gorgeous little son, and unless Ellie was very much mistaken there would soon be another little royal prince or princess on the horizon. Her sister also had a pair of adoring grandparents in Dharia, who had welcomed her into her late father’s side of the family with loving enthusiasm.

And that was why Ellie was travelling out to Italy clutching the emerald ring gifted to their by her late mother, Annabel, whom she had never known. Annabel had died in a hospice after a long illness while her daughters were raised by their grandmother. Ellie’s mother had left behind three rings in separate envelopes for her daughters.

That there were three envelopes had been the first shock because until that moment Ellie and Polly had not realised that they had another sister, younger than they were, raised apart from them and most probably in council care. A sister, Lucy, completely unknown to them. In each envelope their mother had written the name of each girl’s father.

Polly had flown out to Dharia to research her background in the hope of finding her father, only to discover that he had died before she was even born, but she had been compensated for that loss by the existence of welcoming, loving grandparents. In the midst of that family reunion, Polly had married Rashad, the king of Dharia, and become a queen. As soon as she had married she and Rashad had hired a private detective to try to locate Lucy but the search had been hampered by officialdom’s rules of confidentiality.

Ellie had received an emerald ring along with two male names on a scrap of writing paper... Beppe and Vincenzo Sorrentino. She assumed that one of those men was her father and she already knew that one of them was dead. She knew absolutely nothing else and wasn’t even sure she really wanted to know what kind of entanglement her mother had contrived to have with two men, who were brothers. If that made her a prude, too bad, she thought ruefully. She couldn’t help her own nature, could she? And she didn’t have unrealistic expectations about what she might discover about her paternity in Italy. Neither man might have been her father, in which case she would simply have to accept living with her ignorance. But the discovery of any kind of relative would be welcome, she conceded sadly, because since Polly’s marriage she had missed having a family within reach.

At the same time she asked herself why she still cherished that idealistic image of ‘family,’ because the grandmother who had raised her and Polly had not been a warm or loving person and her mother’s brother, her uncle Jim, had been downright horrible even when they were children. In fact, recalling how the older man had treated her in the aftermath of his own mother’s death made Ellie flame up with angry resentment, which made her wonder if she would ever share that sad story with Polly. Probably not, because Polly preferred only to see the good in people.

In the same way Polly had blithely declared that her marriage would change nothing between the sisters but, in fact, it had changed everything. Ellie didn’t even like to phone her sister too often because she was very aware that Polly had far more pressing and important commitments as a wife, a mother and a queen. Ellie loved to visit Dharia, as well, but the long flights would eat up a weekend off and she often spent her leave simply catching up on sleep because junior doctors routinely had to work very long hours. At her most recent training rotation she had been working at a hospice and her duties and her patients had drained her both mentally and emotionally.

Indeed as she packed the new wardrobe Polly had had delivered to her into a pair of suitcases Ellie was too weary even to examine the garments and belatedly very grateful that her sister had saved her from an exhaustive shopping trip. No doubt she would look a lot fancier and more feminine in clothing Polly had picked than she would in anything she would have chosen for herself, she thought ruefully, because she had never been interested in fashion.

Far more importantly, Ellie was much more excited about even the slight prospect that she might find her father in Italy. Even Polly, with whom Ellie had played it very cool and cynical on that topic, had no real idea how much Ellie longed to find a father at the end of the Italian trail.

* * *

Two days later, Ellie walked down the stairs of the small rural hotel she had chosen and was shown out to a delightful three-sided patio, which was festooned with flowers and overlooked a rolling section of the green, vine-covered Tuscan landscape. She breathed in the fresh air with a smile of pure pleasure and relaxed for the first time in many weeks.

Tomorrow she had an appointment to meet Beppe Sorrentino at his home, but today she was free to explore her surroundings and that lack of an actual to-do list was an unadulterated luxury. She settled down at her solo table, smoothing down the light cotton skirt and top she wore in mint green, only momentarily thinking that the uneven handkerchief hems Polly loved were very impractical. Fashion isn’t about practicality, she could hear her sister telling her squarely, and she smiled fondly as a brimming cup of cappuccino coffee arrived along with a basket of pastries.

Ellie powered through her usual work schedule on snatched coffee pick-me-ups and the fresh cappuccino was glorious, as was the croissant, which melted in her appreciative mouth. Indeed it was as she was brushing tiny flakes of pastry from her lips that a tall, dark silhouette blotted out her wonderful view. She blinked behind her sunglasses, supposing it was too much to have hoped that she would be allowed to have the patio and the view all to herself. After all, it was a very small hotel but still a hotel and naturally there would be other guests.

A liquid burst of Italian greeted the new arrival, whom Ellie could not yet see because of the sunlight. The waiter seemed to be falling over himself in his eagerness to greet the man, which probably meant he was a regular or a local, she thought idly. He responded in equally fast and fluent Italian and there was something about that voice, that dark chocolate honeyed drawl, that struck a dauntingly familiar note with Ellie and she paled, dismissing that jolt of familiarity with brisk common sense. After all, it couldn’t be the same man, simply couldn’t be! He lived in the city of Florence and she was miles outside the city, staying in a village hotel convenient to Beppe Sorrentino’s home. No, it absolutely couldn’t be the male who had totally destroyed her enjoyment of her sister’s wedding festivities and left her filled with self-loathing and regret. Even fate couldn’t be cruel enough to sentence her to a second meeting with Rio Benedetti, her worst nightmare cloaked in male flesh.

‘Buongiorno, Ellie...’ Rio murmured silkily as he yanked out the vacant chair at her table and sat down.

Shock, mortification and anger seized Ellie all at once. ‘What the heck are you doing here?’ she demanded baldly before she could think better of such revealing aggression.

Rio Benedetti angled his handsome dark head back, his dazzling dark golden eyes veiled by his ridiculously long black lashes. He had blue-black hair that he wore cropped short but the strands still revealed a striking tendency to curl, which gave him a tousled, sexy aspect. He had beautiful eyes, a lean straight nose and bone structure that belonged in an oil painting of a dark angel. He smiled back at her in complete silence.

That fast, Ellie wanted to slap Rio all over again and tell him what she thought of him even though she had already done that two years earlier. He was gorgeous and he knew it, a hanging offence in her list of the attributes of a decent man. In reality she had never met such a stunningly good-looking male as Rio and when she had, she had caved as fast as a brick shed built on sand foundations, she recalled with an inner shudder of revulsion.

Why? she still asked herself occasionally, because that kind of impulsive recklessness was not Ellie, not her way with men, not her style, nor even how she was prepared to behave. Unfortunately she hadn’t counted on meeting a Rio Benedetti blessed with such extreme magnetism, intelligence and charm. At least that was how she had excused herself for having very nearly succumbed to a one-night stand that had no prospect of any future but she was still ashamed of her misjudgement, still unable to forget that awful moment when that hotel bedroom door opened and she saw what was already waiting on his bed for him...

Rio didn’t want to smile. He didn’t want to fake it, he wanted to glower at her, and he hadn’t planned to sit down either. No, standing over her, intimidating her with his much greater height had been his intention. But then he had seen her and all bets were suddenly off. Watching the tip of that little pink tongue chase stray flakes of pastry from her full pink lips had been more than his libido could bear. And his libido rode him like a runaway express train around Ellie Dixon, his arousal enforcing the necessity of sitting down to conceal his condition. What was he? An uncontrollably horny fifteen-year-old again? Dark colour lined his hard cheekbones. Regardless of the fact that he disliked and distrusted Ellie, she was a real beauty with skin as translucent as creamy porcelain, luminous eyes as green as any emerald and a wealth of tumbling Titian curls. Although smaller than average height, she had stupendous sexy curves matched with a tiny waist. Her proportions were truly breathtaking.

Rio had been sexually entranced with Ellie Dixon from the instant he’d laid eyes on her and when he had been rejected for the first time in his adult life the bite of that experience had stayed with him. Ellie had returned to his hotel with him the night of her sister’s wedding but, on the very brink of intimacy, it had all gone wrong. In departing, Ellie had slapped him and insulted him. Rio gritted his teeth at the recollection of that experience. Far too many people had treated Rio with contempt when he was younger for him to easily overlook that kind of slur.

‘What do you think I’m doing here?’ Rio enquired smoothly, turning her own question back on her.

Ellie shrugged a shoulder and concentrated on her cappuccino. She didn’t even want to speak to him but could she be that rude? After all, he was her brother-in-law’s best friend and she liked Polly’s husband. ‘Did Rashad tell you I was going to be here and ask you to check up on me?’ she asked abruptly, thinking that that was just the sort of protective thing Rashad would do, believing that he was doing her a favour when she was staying in an unfamiliar place.

‘No. I don’t think Rashad knows you’re in Italy,’ Rio admitted.

‘So, I don’t need to be polite, then,’ Ellie assumed with satisfaction, reaching out for another pastry.

A sizzling smile slashed Rio’s wide, sensual mouth. ‘No, neither of us need be polite.’

That smile of his engulfed Ellie like a blast of sun on a wintry day and she wanted to turn into it and smile back in reward. Suppressing that reaction took the exercising of several seconds of strained self-control. But Rio had still won in one sense because although she didn’t return the smile her whole body was reacting to him in the most unnerving manner. Her teeth gritted as she recognised the stinging tightness of her nipples and the warm liquid feeling between her thighs. He could tempt her wretched hormones with just a glance and she hated him for having that much power over her treacherous body. Had she no pride? And after what he had done to her, had he not a single honourable streak in his character?

‘So, if we don’t need to be polite...’ Ellie hesitated only for a second before giving him a very honest response. ‘Go away, Rio.’

A very faint stab of bewilderment penetrated Rio’s sharp-as-a-tack brain. He had decided in the absence of any other evidence that Ellie had most probably dreamt up some vague link between her late mother and his godfather purely to gain fresh access to him. And either she was now playing ridiculously hard to get in the hope of stoking his interest...or, he was actually nothing whatsoever to do with her reasons for visiting Tuscany.

‘I don’t believe in coincidences,’ Rio asserted, his sculpted lips compressing as his coffee arrived along with the hotel owner, who lingered to exchange greetings both with Rio and Ellie.

‘I don’t believe in coincidences either,’ Ellie told Rio with a freezing smile once they were alone again. ‘I mean, it was bad enough meeting you at Polly’s wedding...but this—this is overkill of the worst kind—’

‘Is it really?’ Rio was fearful of getting frostbite from that smile, marvelling that Ellie could dare to treat him with such disdain, and his strong and aggressive jawline clenched hard.

‘Yes, I do appreciate that this is your home country but I can’t believe we’re running into each other again...accidentally,’ she admitted.

‘And you would be correct. My presence here is no accident,’ Rio confirmed softly as he sipped his espresso, contriving to look relaxed.

But Ellie knew he wasn’t relaxed. Rio had certain tells. She had picked up on them at Polly’s wedding. His eyes were veiled, his jawline tight, his fingers too braced round the tiny cup he held. Rio was tense, very tense, and she wondered why and then she wondered why she would even care. He was the man whore she had almost slept with, and she was very grateful that she had found him out for what he was before she shared a bed with him. Having carefully ensured that she’d never visited Dharia when he was also visiting, there was no reason for her to waste further words or time on him.

‘So, why are you calling on me? And how did you know where I was staying?’

‘I want to know what you’re doing here in Tuscany,’ Rio informed her flatly without answering her questions.

‘I’m on holiday,’ Ellie told him with a roll of her fine eyes.

‘I don’t think that is the complete truth, Ellie,’ Rio scoffed with a sardonic smile.

‘Well, it’s the only truth you’re likely to get out of me,’ Ellie responded as she stood up, her fine-boned features stiff with restraint and annoyance. ‘It’s not as though we’re friends.’

Rio sprang upright with fluid grace. At her sister’s wedding, his grace of movement had been one of the first things she’d noticed about him: he stalked like an animal on the hunt, all power and strength and purpose. ‘Would you like to be friends?’ he asked lethally.

Ellie stiffened where she stood, quick to pick up on the husky erotic note edging his enquiry. ‘No. I’m very choosy about the men I call friends,’ she declared with deliberate cool, not caring whether Rio assumed that she meant friends with benefits or not.

Heat flared like a storm warning in Rio’s dark golden eyes. ‘You chose me in Dharia,’ he reminded her with satisfaction.

Ellie’s hand tingled as she remembered slapping him hard that night. It occurred to her that a fist would have been better and less forgettable on his terms. She was outraged that he could remind her of that night when in her opinion, had he had any morals at all, he should’ve been thoroughly ashamed of how their short-lived flirtation had ended. But then Rio Benedetti was a shameless sort of guy, arrogant and selfish and promiscuous. That he should also be as hot as hellfire enraged her sense of justice.

‘But I wouldn’t touch you even with gloves on now,’ Ellie traded without skipping a beat and, turning on her heel, she walked back into the hotel.

‘Ellie... We will have this conversation whether you like it or not,’ Rio ground out with a low-pitched derision that nonetheless cut through the sunlit silence like a knife. ‘Walking away won’t save you from it.’

‘And you coming over all caveman and beating your chest won’t get you anywhere,’ Ellie murmured cuttingly over a slim shoulder. ‘I’ve never been one of those women whose heart beats a little faster when a man turns domineering.’

‘But then you hadn’t met me,’ Rio imparted in a raw undertone.

‘And once met, never forgotten,’ Ellie traded, saccharine sweet laced with acid. ‘I live and learn, Rio... Don’t you?’

With that final scornful comment, Ellie vanished into the cool gloom of the hotel. Rio wanted to smash something, break something, shout. It reminded him that that was yet another trait he loathed in his quarry. She got under his skin, set his teeth on edge, made him feel violent. And that wasn’t him, had never been him around women, where he was usually the essence of complete cool and sophistication in his approach. At the same time Ellie sent disturbing cascades of sexual imagery tumbling through his brain. He would picture Ellie in his bed, all spread out and satisfied, Ellie on her knees, Ellie across the bonnet of his favourite sports car. Troppa fantasia...too much imagination, again a trait that only she awakened, and annoying. After all, he wasn’t sex-starved, anything but. Possibly he had become a little bored with easily available women, who clung and flattered and pawed him like a trophy to be shown off, he reasoned impatiently.

But he didn’t want Ellie Dixon except in the most basic male way and he had no intention of doing anything about the effect she had on him. And she might live and learn but she had still to learn that he didn’t let anyone walk away from him before he had finished speaking. Without further hesitation, Rio strode indoors.

Ellie closed the door of her room behind her and leant back against it in a panic that nobody who knew her would ever have credited. Her heart was racing and she was sweating. She straightened her slim shoulders and stomped into the en-suite to wash her hands and put herself back into her usual calm, collected state of mind. She did not allow men to rattle her. She had never allowed men to rattle her.

But two years back, Rio Benedetti had pierced her shell and hurt her, she acknowledged grudgingly. He had contrived what no man before him had contrived and she had almost made a fool of herself over him. Wouldn’t he just love to know that? Ellie grimaced. A man she had known for only a few hours had deprived her of her wits and defences and come close to ridding her of her virginity with her full collusion. And then he had unlocked his bedroom door and she had seen that his hotel bed was already occupied by not one, no, not one but two giggling naked women, twin sisters she had noticed at the wedding. Appalled, she had stepped back.

And Rio had smirked and laughed as if it was of no consequence that two other women were already waiting to entertain him. Even in retrospect she marvelled that she had slapped him instead of kicking him somewhere unforgivable because she had been devastated by that revealing glimpse of his lifestyle, his habits, his lack of scruple when it came to sex. The rose-tinted glasses had been cruelly wrenched off when she was least able to cope and vulnerable, forced to see with her own eyes how sleazy her chosen partner was. Awash with disgust, she had called him a man whore and stalked away with her head held high, concealing her agonised hurt. And it had been agonised, she conceded painfully. Rio Benedetti had knocked her for six and unravelled her emotionally for months after that night.

It had been too sordid a story to share with Polly, who would have been even more shocked to the extent that her sister might have discussed Ellie’s experience with Rashad, and Ellie had not been able to bear the prospect of her humiliation being more widely known. At least what had happened had happened more or less in private.

Someone rapped on her bedroom door and she opened it, expecting it to be the maid because she had said she was going out after breakfast and the room would be free. She didn’t use the peephole and was sharply disconcerted when she realised that Rio had followed her upstairs to her room.

Fixing her attention doggedly on his red silk tie, she said curtly, ‘I don’t want to speak to you... Leave me alone—’

‘No can do, principessa. If only this living and learning life were so simple,’ Rio intoned mockingly.

‘Don’t call me that!’ she snapped. ‘And you’re not coming in—’

A brown lean-fingered hand curved round the door in silent threat and he moved forward but Ellie stood her ground. She had faced drunks in A & E, dealt with drug addicts and violent people, and she wasn’t about to be intimidated by Rio Benedetti.

‘I don’t think you want me to say what I have to say out here where I could be overheard,’ Rio murmured sibilantly. ‘It won’t embarrass me—’

‘Nothing embarrasses you!’ Ellie snapped with very real loathing.

‘It’s about Beppe...Beppe Sorrentino,’ Rio extended, watching her face like a hawk.

And Ellie surprised herself by stepping back to let him into the room because she absolutely had to know what he had to say on that subject. She knew he didn’t know the mission she was on in Italy and that she wanted to try to establish her father’s identity. She was convinced that Rashad was far too reserved and protective of his own wife’s privacy to have shared anything but the sketchiest details about Ellie and Polly’s background. But that Rio should even know Beppe’s name disturbed her.

‘You can come in for five minutes...five minutes only,’ Ellie negotiated thinly. ‘And then I want you to go away and forget you ever knew me.’

Rio’s beautiful mouth curled, his whole carriage screaming that he wasn’t convinced by that claim.

‘And I warn you... If you smirk, I will slap you again.’


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