Now a night at La Scala, dear God, she thought heavily. But instead she had to shimmy into this dress, Lizzy told herself, puffing back an unruly curl when it flopped across one eye as she settled the straps onto her shoulders then turned to the mirror to check out the finished effect. What she saw reflected back at her sent instant horror pouring into her expressive face. The dress was way too clingy in all the wrong places and the silver-grey colour looked awful against her pale skin! And it was not for the first time in her twenty-two years that she wished with all her heart that she were a delicate and sweet fine-boned brunette like Bianca. She was a long curvy redhead with an unruly long mop of glossy chestnut curls that just refused to stay confined no matter how much torture she put herself through in an effort to pin them up.
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Now a night at La Scala, dear God, she thought heavily. But instead she had to shimmy into this dress, Lizzy told herself, puffing back an unruly curl when it flopped across one eye as she settled the straps onto her shoulders then turned to the mirror to check out the finished effect.
What she saw reflected back at her sent instant horror pouring into her expressive face. The dress was way too clingy in all the wrong places and the silver-grey colour looked awful against her pale skin! And it was not for the first time in her twenty-two years that she wished with all her heart that she were a delicate and sweet fine-boned brunette like Bianca.
She was a long curvy redhead with an unruly long mop of glossy chestnut curls that just refused to stay confined no matter how much torture she put herself through in an effort to pin them up. Add skin so startlingly white it looked dreadful against the silver-threaded grey silk and it was like looking at a ghost! I hate the colour. La Scala waited for no man, not even the higher echelons of Italian society she was about to mingle with, she mocked as she slid her feet into a pair of high slender heeled silver mules, then turned to apply a coating of clear gloss to her lips.
She refused point-blank to use the seduction red colour Bianca had supplied along with the dress. Standing back to give her reflection the final once-over, she suddenly found the humour in standing here in her ill-fitting borrowed feathers and laughed for the first time in weeks.
Bianca Moreno had been her closest friend since the day they had both found themselves stuck in the same strict English boarding-school feeling like a pair of aliens dropped in there from outer space. Whereas Lizzy, well, she had been sent to the same school after her mother had caused a terrible scandal by having an affair with their local, very married MP. She had been so mercilessly teased and bullied at her old school about the affair that her father had decided to remove her from the situation by placing her in a school hundreds of miles away from the fuss.
Did she tell her father that? So Bianca had become her close friend and confidante. They looked out for each other. From the age of twelve to their present twenty-two, she and Bianca had rarely done anything without the other one knowing about it.
And she was grateful to them—she was, because she could not have afforded to come otherwise, no matter what her father had said. He was strange—a truly intimidating mix of smoothly polished cool sophistication and lean, dark, sexy good looks.
Bianca purred around him like a sleek kitten, which seemed to amuse him, but then Bianca was Italian and as a race of people they were like that, open and warm and more touchy-feely than the British—her, Lizzy thought, making the rueful distinction. He was too much of everything. Too big and tall, too lean and dark, too sexy and handsome—too crushingly cool and terrifyingly enigmatic, she decided as she hooked up her little silver beaded evening bag and headed for the door.
Luc had come as such a shock to Lizzy that she had not been able to stop her eyes from constantly drifting in his direction because he was so far away from her idea of the kind of man her friend liked.
Happy—in love again—high as a kite. Yet she still had not been able to stop the next quiver from making its strike. It had been the moment when his hand arrived at the base of her spine to politely usher her out of the lift that the next quiver had struck, shooting down her front like a flaming arrow and making her jerk away from him like a scalded cat, only to feel really foolish for doing it.
Now here she was waiting to ride the same lift down to the mezzanine floor of the hotel where they were all gathering for drinks before they left. The party was too small, the reserved boxes at La Scala too intimate. Her only hope was to manage to wangle it so she sat in a different box from him. There was a mirror hanging on the wall by the lift and she diverted her attention to it to push the stray curl off her brow.
It flopped back down again like a renegade. But giving in and letting her hair hang down around her shoulders in a tumble of loose glossy corkscrews had only made her face look paler and her grey-green eyes look too big.
Like a frightened rabbit, she likened, wrinkling her nose as she gave the errant curl a teasing tug and watched it spring back into place again.
It had to be that precise moment that the lift doors slid open to reveal none other than the great man himself. Their eyes clashed for a startled second. And the idea of stepping into a lift with him again did strange things to the nerves in her legs as she made them move.
Finding a tense smile to flick his way, she then turned her back on him to watch as the doors closed them in. Silence hummed as they waited. She could feel his eyes on her. Tension made her bite into the soft tissue of her inner lip. Lizzy had to fight down an inner wince. She knew what she looked like and she knew what he was seeing—the poor best friend decked out in the dress his betrothed had worn a couple of months ago at the party in London.
As she went to step out that hand arrived at the base of her spine again and this time she froze where she stood. Why did she always do something like this around him?
Lizzy made herself walk forward, stingingly aware how his hand remained exactly where it was this time—as if he was taunting her silly reaction to him. Sofia Moreno went pale. Vito Moreno was about her own age and blessed with the Moreno dark good looks and a pair of laughing blue eyes. A long fluted glass of fizzing champagne appeared in front of Lizzy and she glanced up as she accepted it to find Luc standing over her like some dark towering giant.
He just nodded his dark head, sent an acknowledging nod towards Vito and drifted away again leaving Lizzy feeling—odd. Then Vito said something and with a mental shrug she pushed Luc De Santis to one side and wished to goodness he would stay there for good. The minutes wore on, the mezzanine bar slowly filled with guests and still there was no sign of Bianca. Eventually people began to get restless, checking the time on their watches.
He was standing apart from everyone else talking into his cell phone—and was not very happy by the stern look on his face. Was he talking to Bianca? Well, get used to it, she told him silently as she watched him snap shut his mobile and slide it into his jacket pocket.
He could count himself lucky if she managed to turn up on time at the church next week. As the minutes dragged on, though, even Lizzy found she had to fight the need to keep checking her watch, and Sofia Moreno was sending her pleading looks.
She was about to excuse herself to go and find out what Bianca was doing when there was a sudden stir by the lifts. Everyone turned to look as one.
The following silence held like a shaken heartbeat because there, at last, was Bianca, looking an absolute vision dressed in billowing gold silk. Her long dark hair was up in a dramatically simple style that showed off the sweet perfection of her face and the slender length of her creamy smooth neck.
Diamonds sparkled at her ears and her throat. Thread a tiara into her hair and she could be a princess, Lizzy thought fondly as eyes like huge pools of liquid dark chocolate scanned her audience, then her soft mouth took on an apologetic tilt. He loves her, Lizzy realised in that moment.
An odd little sensation clutched at her chest. Frowning slightly, she turned away from the two lovers and was relieved to feel the sensation fade. They were ferried to the opera in a fleet of sleek limousines. Vito Moreno was obviously meant to partner her tonight and he made her laugh, which made her relax more and more as the evening wore on.
Afterwards they moved on to have dinner in a beautiful sixteenth century palazzo on the outskirts of Milan. It was all very stylish, very much a glimpse of how the richer half lived. There was dancing as well as dining, and because Vito kept on filling her wineglass Lizzy was tipsy by the time Luc De Santis arrived by her chair to invite her to dance.
There was a hovering second while she hunted around for an excuse to refuse him, then his hand arrived beneath her elbow to propel her to her feet. The lights were low, the music a slow romantic ballad accompanied by a female singer with a stirringly deep and sensual voice.
She felt her heart begin to pump to a heavier beat as they moved together and she absorbed the full disturbing impact of his masculine warmth and his muscular hardness pressing against her tense, softer shape.
You are tense and defensive around me yet you can completely relax with a serial womaniser like Vito Moreno. Lizzy jerked her head back. He just laughed as he straightened up again, then drew her even closer so he could control her movements with a cool, casual strength.
He was taller than her by several impacting inches, which put her eyes on a level with his strong, chiselled chin. Even the smooth feel of his silk lapel beneath her fingers fascinated her, and the bright whiteness of his shirt against the natural olive tones of his throat.
He was gorgeous. There was just no use in trying to deny it. Everything about him was so perfectly presented from the neatly styled gloss of his satin black hair to the length of his very Italian nose and the truly beautiful shape to his mouth. And the singer droned on, low and soulful. Lizzy felt the sensual pull of the melody percolate her system as potently as the wine she had been drinking all evening and like a fool she closed her eyes and just let the sensation carry her away.
One set of his long golden fingers lightly clasped her pale slender fingers, the other set rested low in the arch of her back. She had no idea how her fingers were stroking the silk lapel of his jacket or that she had moved in so close to him that her breath was softly feathering his throat.
She just moved where he guided her, aware of the tingling tension affecting her body but unaware that it was affecting him too. His fingers moved slightly against her clasped fingers, the hand at her back glided upwards to the centre of her spine and gently urged her into even closer contact with him.
It was—nice. With a jerk of shock Lizzy flicked her eyes open and pulled back her head. Dismay instantly curled its way through her body accompanied by a wave of mortified embarrassment that flooded like fire into her face when she realised what she had done.
And he was looking down at her with one of those dreadful mocking smiles tugging at the corners of his mouth! Dropping her eyes to his throat, Lizzy wished with all her pounding heart that the ground would just open up and swallow her whole. Glancing dizzily around her, sure enough, Lizzy discovered that they were indeed standing on a shadowy terrace she had not even known was here!
Once again she took a shaky step backwards—right out of his reach this time—and thankfully managed to remain safely upright. The music still droned somewhere in the near distance.
Mortification riddled her blood. And he was so relaxed, his hips resting against a heavy stone balustrade, his arms lightly folded across his wide chest, and she had the sickly feeling he was thoroughly—thoroughly enjoying himself.
The De Santis Marriage
Her long dark hair was up in a dramatically simple style that showed off the sweet perfection of her face and the slender length of her creamy smooth neck. The De Santis Marriage Bianca purred around him like a sleek te, which seemed to amuse him, but then Bianca was Italian and as a race of people they were like that, open and warm and more touchy-feely than the British—her, Lizzy thought, making the rueful distinction. Lizzy swallowed thickly because she just had no defence to that. The loss of his mouth and the slick, lithe way he removed the scrap of silk over her head set her shivering and gasping, then the kiss was deep and yb again, the massaging hand gliding now, over her newly exposed flesh.
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