CHAPTER SEVEN

 ‘HAVE YOU EVER tried to find your father?’ Alessandra asked a short while later, her eyes filled with curiosity.

 ‘What for?’ he dismissed. ‘Why would I want to involve myself with a man who abandoned his wife and child?’

 ‘I get that,’ she said, pulling a face.

 He closed his eyes. ‘Your father is an alcoholic and a gambler. He was incapable of looking after you. He didn’t abandon you. He’s always been a fixture in your life. There’s a difference.’

 She laughed contemptuously. ‘I thought you knew my background. My father dumped me on his father before I was a year old. Rocco took care of me from the moment I left hospital. My father wanted nothing to do with me—he still doesn’t. He’s never been there, not for any of the significant events in my life. My first Holy Communion    , my Confirmation, the time I represented Milan in the under tens’ gymnastics,’ she said, ticking the events off on her fingers. ‘He wasn’t at any of them. The few times he’s bothered to join us as a family, he won’t speak to me. He’s never looked at me. I was there, I was present and still he didn’t want me. So don’t try and make out I can’t understand what it was like for you, growing up without a father, because my father abandoned me too, and, worst of all, he abandoned Rocco.’

 He and Alessandra were like two peas but from pods grown in very different gardens, Christian realised. They’d both been abandoned by the people who should have been there for them. For good or ill, it had shaped them both. The distrust and avoidance of love and relationships.

 They were more alike than he’d ever suspected.

 Colour had heightened across Alessandra’s high cheekbones, her eyes ablaze with furious passion, the honey-brown a darkened swirl. He’d seen that swirl before, when she’d been pressed against the wall of her apartment.

 Theos, she had felt unbelievably good in his arms, as if her contours had been shaped especially for him.

 He regarded her carefully, pushing away thoughts of her naked: the way she had wrapped those lithe legs around him and clung to him, as if trying to burrow under his skin. Those same legs were pressed against his at that very moment...

 The V of her dress had dipped, exposing the top of her golden cleavage, below which lay breasts that had become plumper since their time together.

 What did they look like now? Did they still taste so sweet...?

 This had to stop. Right now. Imagining them in bed together was what had got him into all this trouble in the first place, sitting in that Milanese restaurant, fascinated by her plump lips, imagining them over his...

 He would not touch her again until they were legally man and wife. He’d given her his word. He might have screwed things up but he was determined to do the right thing from here on in. On paper, his track record with women was less than complimentary. Given that and her own history, he could understand why Alessandra would be untrusting. It was down to him to prove himself to her.

 Theoretically, it should be easy. Christian loved sex—what red-blooded man didn’t?—but he’d never allowed his libido to run his life. With Alessandra... The longer she kept those gorgeous doe eyes fixed on him, the more his blood swirled with the need to consume her again. Everything about her spelled temptation, from the glossy chestnut hair that begged to have his fingers run through it to the toned golden arms his hands itched to trace. Every time she opened her mouth to speak, drink or eat, he would watch those beautiful lips and ache to press his own to them, to feel the heat of her breath merge with his.

 Soon. Soon she would be his again.

 ‘At least you had Rocco,’ he said softly, thinking he would have given anything for a sibling when he’d been a child. It hadn’t been until he’d met his fellow Columbia Four that he’d realised what had been missing in his life: true friendship.

 ‘Emotionally, I had Rocco,’ she conceded. ‘But he’s seven years older than me. By the time I was eleven he was at university, thousands of miles away. My grandfather loved me but he had no experience of raising girls and preferred to leave me in the hands of the household staff.’

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