When she’d acted as his hostess the previous night she had barely had time to consider the paintings, because etiquette had demanded she give her full attention to Luca’s guests. But now, narrowing her intrigued gaze at a portrait that took pride of place, she caught her breath as she realised this was no faithfully reproduced print or copy but the real thing. The artist was a Renaissance painter that Kate had studied for her final-year art exam at school, and she’d seen the painting before only in a book. That was why it had immediately commanded her interest. Its monetary worth must be in the region of millions of pounds!
A frisson of shock ran up her spine. Having visited Luca’s mansion in Milan, she was well acquainted with the fact that the man must be in an elite bracket of extremely wealthy individuals. But to see a priceless painting in his living room was almost surreal!
‘Ah…you are enjoying viewing my little gallery of Italian art, I see.’
So enraptured by the artwork, Kate hadn’t even heard Luca enter the room, let alone practically reach her side before she registered he was there. On their arrival at the stunning Mayfair townhouse, he had dismissed his housekeeper for the evening, brought Kate the fruit juice she had asked for, and very soon after had gone down to the wine cellar to select a bottle to go with the meal that had been left for them to eat when they were ready. Now he had reappeared and, withdrawing her attention from the painting, Kate was momentarily silenced by the sight of him.
He had changed into casual chinos and a loose white shirt, and his tanned feet were bare. The breathtaking profile of sculpted, masculine beauty that was hers to savour and appreciate was in serious competition with the arresting woman in the portrait. So much so that Kate’s womb contracted with an almost shocking sense of violent sensual awareness in response.
‘How could I not?’ Answering his question, Kate clutched the glass in her hand as if to anchor herself in some sort of reality. ‘I studied this painting at school, so I know it well. Learning about the artist and how he worked was fascinating! If things had been different I would have loved to have studied art properly, perhaps even made a career of it.’
‘What stopped you?’
‘I simply couldn’t afford to spend time in further education. I come from a single parent family and I needed to work to help bring in some money.’
‘What a pity,’ Luca remarked. ‘But commendable too. I can tell by the tone of your voice that you are clearly passionate about the subject. It must have been quite a sacrifice to give it up!’
‘Not really. I’ve learned that life doesn’t always work out the way we’d like it to…but that’s okay. I don’t consider myself deprived in any way. I was able to help my mum when she needed me, and that’s all that matters. Hopefully, there’ll be other opportunities as time goes on.’
‘I do not doubt it.’
‘This painting…aren’t you afraid somebody will break in and steal it?’
‘I am impressed, Katherine, that you have detected it is the real thing and not merely a copy.’ As he smiled at her, Luca’s arresting blue eyes glimmered like priceless sapphires. ‘But do not be concerned about anyone breaking in to try and steal it. There is a state-of-the-art security system installed that is probably even more secure than the one protecting the Crown Jewels! I have the painting on display because great art should be on view, not hidden away in some vault! This way my friends can enjoy her beauty as well as myself.’
‘I’m glad you feel that way. She’s completely compelling!’ Kate breathed, a genuine rush of true appreciation flowing through her veins as she turned back to the portrait of the sultry brunette.
‘Hair the stunning black of a clear winter’s night, eyes the colour of the world’s most luxurious bitter chocolate…and lips—lips that were made for amore… An altogether sensual and stirring combination that is quite irresistible! She reminds me of someone I know.’
Luca’s voice had turned warm as the amber gold of cognac heated over a flame, and all Kate’s senses leapt into vivid life as though his words had physically caressed her. ‘Really?’ Quickly she took a sip of the sharp chilled pomegranate juice to ease her suddenly parched throat.
‘You know I am talking about you, Katherine? You are easily as lovely as the beautiful Margherita.’
‘Now you’re mocking me!’ Embarrassed heat washed over her that Luca would praise her looks so lavishly. Many years ago, when she’d first seen a print of it, Kate had been mesmerised by the portrait—and to suggest that she in any way resembled the lovely creature depicted was nothing but pure unbelievable fantasy, in her opinion! But the man beside her was regarding her as though genuinely perplexed.