‘It’s been my pleasure.’

 And it had been.

 He didn’t want the evening to end.

 What was there to stop him leaning in for a kiss?

 Nothing.

 Except he’d given his word that nothing physical would happen between them again until they were legally married and he would keep that promise even if his testicles exploded with frustration.

 ‘Are you working tomorrow?’ She rubbed a hand up her arm, the movement pushing her breasts together. The image of dusky pink nipples immediately floated into his mind and with it came the thickening of his blood he was fast associating to feeling when with her.

 He had to assume it was a simple case of forbidden fruit tasting sweeter. Like the child in the sweet shop who had no money and salivated over every piece of delicious confectionery on offer.

 ‘Yes. Some of our guests are arriving in the evening. I should be back to greet them with you.’

 ‘I guess this will be the first public display of our love and unity,’ she said, an ironic smile whispering across her face.

 He palmed her cheek and rubbed his thumb over the soft skin. He could do that much without breaking his vow. ‘Can you handle it?’

 ‘Can you?’

 ‘For the sake of our child, yes, I can.’

 Her eyes held his. She raised a hand and pressed it to his fingers still resting against her cheek. ‘Then I can too.’

 Alessandra was certain he was going to kiss her. She recognised the look in his eyes, the desire in them that darkened the blue. She’d seen that look before, right before she’d pressed her lips to his in her apartment...

 He stepped away before either of them had the chance to act on it, dragging his thumb down her cheek one last time.

 ‘Sleep well, agapi mou,’ he said, bowing his head, then turning on his heel and striding down the corridor to his own suite.

 She didn’t know if the breath she expelled was one of relief or disappointment.

 * * *

 After yet another unsettled night, Alessandra got out of bed early, not long after the sun had begun to rise.

 Showering quickly, she shrugged on a short, lime-green sundress and slid her feet into a pair of wedged espadrilles, then grabbed her camera and headed out of her suite. As she made her way up the corridor, she passed Christian’s room.

 Was he still sleeping?

 He’d been as good as his word yesterday, arriving back from his busy day twenty minutes before their first guests had arrived. They’d spent the evening glued to each other’s side, laughing and joking. At one point he had leaned in to whisper into her ear.

 ‘I think we’re convincing them,’ he’d said. At least, that was what she thought he’d said, the feel of his hot breath against her skin turning her brain to mush in less than a second.

 Dio, what was he doing to her?

 Was it any wonder she couldn’t sleep?

 She’d spent years believing marriage and babies would never be in her future. Sexual relationships had been consigned to the same void: not for her. No messy emotions to contend with, no lies for her ears to disbelieve, no truths for her eyes to avoid. Once the dust had settled with the fall-out over Javier’s lies, she’d come to the conclusion that living a life of solitude was the best for her.

 Other than her brother, she’d effectively been alone since birth. Her grandfather had controlled every aspect of her life, from the food she ate to the clothes she wore to the friends she was allowed—but always remotely, Alessandra another tick on his daily to-do list, his directives adhered to by the many members of the Villa Mondelli staff. She’d longed for someone to want to be with her for her, not because they were paid to be or because she’d passed some kind of wealth and social standing test, but for her. She’d truly believed Javier had seen beyond the surface but it had been a lie that had shattered her.

 All the protections she’d placed around herself since those awful, lonely days were crumbling at the edges.

 In three days she would be pledging her life, her future, to Christian Markos. How could she keep her emotions in a box if she had to share the bed with him occasionally?

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