‘Alessandra...’ He took a breath and fisted his hands into balls. ‘Will you stop putting words into my mouth? You’re making assumptions.’

 Her shoulders hunched before she flopped her head back and took a long breath. ‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered. ‘I have an aversion to being told what to do.’

 ‘I had already gathered that.’

 She cast a sideways glance at him and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Her very pretty ear.

 ‘As well as my aversion to being bossed around, I also have a tendency to get grumpy when I’m worried about something,’ she admitted, her tone now rueful.

 ‘You’re worried about Rocco’s reaction to our news?’

 ‘Aren’t you?’

 He reached for her hand and squeezed it.

 ‘Whatever happens with your brother, nothing will change. You and I will still marry. If he gives his blessing, then that will be beneficial, but if he doesn’t then we will handle it together. Okay?’ he added when she didn’t answer, simply sank her teeth into her bottom lip and tugged her hand free from his clasp.

 She nodded slowly, and absently rubbed at the top of her hand where his fingers had rested. ‘Rocco is very protective of me. He always has been.’

 ‘You’re his sister; nothing will change that.’ Christian was doing his best to project a positive frame of mind for Alessandra’s benefit but was under no illusion about how hot-headed her brother could be. He knew that if the forthcoming meeting was badly handled, their friendship would be ruined.

 Alessandra’s lungs had closed up.

 The intimacy of the cab, the forced proximity...

 Worry about her brother’s reaction faded as Christian’s oaky cologne filled her senses, moisture filling her mouth and bubbling low in her most intimate area.

 She pressed her thighs together and dragged out a short breath. It wasn’t enough. She needed air.

 There was nowhere to hide.

 The traffic outside was atrocious. They were still a couple of streets away from the House of Mondelli, where her brother awaited her. If she were on her Vespa she would be there by now, able to weave in and out of the traffic while turning a deaf ear to the tooting horns.

 ‘Let’s walk the rest of the way,’ she said. She needed air. She needed to breathe. ‘It’ll be quicker.’

 Christian nodded and pressed the button to lower the partition, telling his driver to stop the car. As they were already stationary, this required no effort on the driver’s part.

 Alessandra immediately felt better out in the balmy spring air. She loved the sunshine; knew it was the reason her grandfather had left her the villa in St. Barts, so she had a bolt hole to escape to when the gloomy Milanese winter set in. She had no idea yet what she would do with the apartment in Paris he had also left her, but the villa would remain hers until she took her last breath. Which, if the Milanese drivers had anything to do with it, could be sooner rather than later.

 They made it to the entrance of the luxurious building without being squashed by any moving vehicles and stepped inside. She smiled at the glamorous receptionists and, with Christian by her side, strode past the large rooms homing all the creative minds that made the House of Mondelli such a success, and through to her brother’s office. His door was closed; Gabrielle, his PA, guarded it with her desk like a sentry. She stood to greet them.

 Alessandra cast a quick glance at Christian, experiencing the strangest compulsion to grab hold of his hand. He inclined his head and threw a small, encouraging smile. She couldn’t read his eyes.

 Taking a deep breath, she rapped on the door and pushed it open.

 Rocco was at his desk talking into his phone. A smile formed on his lips at seeing his sister, his eyes pulling into a question at seeing Christian follow her inside and shut the door behind him.

 He ended the call and got to his feet, sidling round his desk to pull her into an embrace. ‘You’re looking well, sorellina.’ Little sister.

 ‘And you’re looking tanned. Good honeymoon?’

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