Alessandra was draped over him, breathing deeply, her hair tickling his neck and chin. He smoothed it down, marvelling at its silkiness.

 He tried to doze but sleep refused to return.

 How could he sleep with so much racing through his mind? When there were so many emotions racing through his chest, it was a struggle to catch his breath.

 The first time he’d slept with her, in her apartment in Milan... He’d struggled for thoughts and breath then too.

 This was much worse.

 He’d felt her getting too close in Mikolaj’s restaurant, that feeling she could see through the veneer of his skin and through to the heart of him. That feeling had been compounded after the visit to his mother’s house. He’d retreated to New York partly to talk sense into Rocco but mostly for space to compose himself in preparation for his new life.

 Marriage wouldn’t change anything, he’d convinced himself. He would compartmentalise Alessandra’s presence in his life just as he did with his mother. They would live together but they wouldn’t be together.

 Making love to her again... Something had come alive inside him. He’d felt it uncoiling when they’d exchanged their vows but with everything going on that day had put it to one side. Now it, whatever it was, had uncoiled and bitten him, hard enough that it felt like a physical pain.

 Before he could hope to decipher it, she roused in his arms, pulling herself up enough to kiss him, deeply, passionately, awakening in an instant.

 He responded as if he’d been lying there waiting for her to wake, groaning when she slid onto his already hard length.

 Doing nothing but hold on to her waist to support her, he let her take the lead. The moonlight bathed her, letting him watch as she took her pleasure, watch the lips that parted, the eyes that glazed. Her soft moans deepened until she ground herself onto him. He felt her release as deeply as he felt his own, revelled in the pulsations that seemed to draw his own orgasm into unquantifiable realms.

 Afterwards, when he thought she was falling back into slumber, she pressed a kiss to his chest.

 ‘I could get used to this,’ she said, her voice sleepy but tinged with a smile.

 And tinged with something that sounded like hope.

 His eyes opened with a jerk.

 He remembered the look in her eyes when they’d exchanged their vows. Now he knew what it had been: hope.

 Alessandra had hopes for their future as a married couple.

 She was changing towards him—she had changed towards him.

 And with that change came the realisation that he could forget sharing a bed with her when they both wanted it.

 Unless he kept a proper distance from her, he would soon have the power to hurt her.

 Carefully he disentangled himself from her arms and got out of bed.

 ‘Where are you going?’ she mumbled.

 ‘To get a drink. Go to sleep. I’ll be back in a minute.’ But he knew his words were a lie even as he spoke them.

 He needed to protect her.

 He needed to protect her from himself.

 * * *

 Alessandra slipped into her robe and headed to the bathroom where she could hear the shower running.

 Her skin flushed to think of joining Christian in there, lathering his gorgeous body...

 She stretched for the third time, shaking the lingering sleepiness off, and turned the door handle. It was locked.

 She tried the handle again and still the door didn’t budge.

 She didn’t know why—what experience did she have of men in a sensual sense?—but it surprised her that he might want his privacy whilst he showered. After the things they’d done to each other...

 The flush on her skin deepened, penetrating through her flesh and down low, erotic memories of what they had done together, making her glow from the inside out.

 It had been even better than she remembered. The alcohol during their first time might have been enough to loosen her inhibitions but it must have dulled her senses a fraction too.

 Or maybe it was because this time there was something real between them that surpassed mere lust.

 All Alessandra knew was that she wanted nothing more than to spend the day in bed with him. The only thing to spoil her memories was awakening to find his side of the bed empty.

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