The empathy shining from her eyes had been too much.

 He’d never introduced his mother to any of his friends or lovers before. His mother had her own special compartment in his life. He’d long ago accepted that she wouldn’t change, that no matter how he succeeded in life it would never be enough for her. Even the news of being a grandmother had failed to elicit a smile. She would never love him.

 Far from repelling Alessandra, his mother’s behaviour had elicited her sympathy, her empathy: towards him.

 He didn’t want her pity.

 She was getting too close; he could feel it.

 Any closer and she’d be able to see the gutter rat who lived in the blackness of his heart.

 * * *

 Christian’s driver dropped Alessandra back at the hotel before taking Christian to his offices.

 A dozen more guests had arrived while they’d been at his mother’s house. It amazed her that so many super-wealthy and famous people were able to drop their commitments for what was essentially a free holiday, but surprisingly their presence worked in her favour, distracting her thoughts from their visit to Christian’s mother.

 Every time she closed her eyes she saw the laser glare of Elena Markos’s eyes and she wondered how Christian had endured living with such coldness.

 That he had dragged himself out, turned it around and made something of himself only added to what had been a slowly growing admiration towards him. That admiration had now accelerated.

 Although she was suffering a large dose of guilt for forcing the issue, she was glad they’d gone. Her understanding of the man she was going to marry was growing by the day.

 She spent the rest of the day mingling with their guests, some of whom she actually knew, lazing by the pool, playing cards, drinking non-alcoholic cocktails. It was fun, but she wished Christian could be there to enjoy it too. He worked so hard, just like her brother.

 Maybe he would kick back and relax when they went on their short honeymoon. She hoped so. He deserved it.

 She headed back to her suite late afternoon and had a long soak in the sunken bath, already looking forward to the evening meal which Christian had said he’d be back for.

 As she slipped into a red tunic dress, she realised that there hadn’t been a single minute when she hadn’t thought of him. The thought was like a jolt, enough to make her hands tremble, making it hard for her to apply her make-up.

 She’d just regained her equilibrium when there was a knock on her door.

 And there he stood, wearing the same suit she’d seen him change into that morning in his suite but with the tie removed and the top three buttons of his shirt undone, exposing the top of his bronzed chest.

 Finding him there sent a huge surge through her, making her heart pump and her pulses race. Dio, the man was divine. In all ways.

 ‘I thought I should let you know I’m going to New York,’ he said as he stepped into her suite.

 ‘Okay. When’s that?’

 ‘I’ll be leaving for the airport in a few minutes.’

 His words had the effect of making her heart sink to her knees. ‘Are you kidding with me? You’re leaving now?’

 Dio l’aiuti, was he getting cold feet?

 ‘It’s only for a couple of nights—I’ll be back Friday evening.’

 She forced her voice to remain calm. ‘We’re getting married on Saturday.’

 ‘I’ll be back in plenty of time.’

 A little distance was all Christian needed. Distance away from Alessandra, time to clear the coldness on his chest that still hadn’t shifted. Time to track her brother down and force him to listen.

 ‘I thought we were supposed to be putting on a united front?’

 ‘We have been. Our guests will understand.’

 ‘But these are our guests. I’ve completely rearranged my schedule to be here this week so we can entertain them together and convince them that we’re the real deal.’ The brightness of her welcome had cooled considerably.

 ‘This is my life, Alessandra. I warn you now, there will be plenty of occasions when I have to fly off at a moment’s notice.’

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