He didn’t have to ask what she was thanking him for. ‘I’m starting to understand why you’re so scared of the press. They never leave you alone.’ He was frowning as he weaved through the heavy Palermo traffic. ‘Has it always been like that?’
‘Yes. Right from the beginning. I had a mother who knew how to give them exactly what they wanted. She was the master at drawing media attention and using it.’
‘Just what you want when you’re an awkward adolescent.’
‘It’s got worse since then. I’ve come to accept I’ll never shake them off. My dream is to go out and for no one to recognise me. Once, just once, I’d love to live life like a normal person, not having to worry about who is pointing a camera and how what I do will be interpreted. Can you imagine that?’ She gave a short, desperate laugh because she knew it was never going to happen.
‘What would you do? If you could go out and not be recognised—what would you do?’
‘I don’t know. Just go to a concert or something and stand in the crowd. Blend in. But seeing as that isn’t going to happen, I choose to do things that give me some privacy. Do you even like opera? It seemed like a good idea but now I’m not sure.’
‘I’m Sicilian. I love opera.’
She relaxed slightly. Even the most persistent observer was unlikely to interrupt the opera to ask them questions about their relationship, and the bonus was that they wouldn’t be able to talk. He wouldn’t be able to make some sharp comment that showed how easily he saw through to the person she really was.
He already knew far too much about her.
An evening at the opera should be perfect.
Except that it didn’t turn out that way.
She’d thought that the dark would protect them from prying eyes, but it turned out she was wrong about that too.
Seated close together in the privacy of a box, his leg brushed against hers and she immediately ceased to focus on anything that was happening on the stage. She was aware of heads turning towards them in the darkness and felt a brief flicker of frustration that even here, in the protected atmosphere of the opera theatre, they couldn’t escape the scrutiny of the public.
But that irritation gave way to deeper, darker concerns. Like the fact that although their engagement might be fake there was nothing fake about the sexual tension simmering between them. It was raw, hot and real and becoming harder to ignore with each burning look they exchanged. And the intensity of the feeling confused her. He was insanely handsome, of course, but she’d met enough handsome men during the course of her career to be immune to the combination of perfectly proportioned features and a powerful physique. No, the connection came from something deeper. Something she saw beneath the surface layers of eye-catching masculinity. And whatever it was that drew her, drew her now as they sat close together, thigh pressed against thigh in the dark intimacy of the opera house.
As drama unfolded on the stage beneath them, so drama unfolded in the box.
She was aware of every beat of her heart. Aware of him and when Luca’s hand covered hers she knew she ought to pull hers way but she didn’t. Couldn’t. So instead of ending it there she laced Her fingers with his and he drew her hand onto his thigh. It was a subtle, sensual dance between man and woman. Her gaze was fixed on the stage but she saw nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing except the strength of his fingers on hers and the hard muscle of his thigh under her palm. Heat traced her skin, desire knotted low in her pelvis and she opened her eyes because closing them left the world to her imagination and that was a dangerous place to be right now.
She’d promised herself no more relationships. She’d trained herself to ignore that wild, passionate part of herself that had got her into trouble in the past. She’d decided there would be no more unguarded moments where she trusted a man only to wake up the next morning and discover the personal had become public.
But this—this was more temptation than she knew how to deal with.
She’d chosen to wear a floor-length dress but that proved to be no barrier because somehow his hand was on her bare thigh, his long skilled fingers tantalisingly close to that part of her. She clamped her thighs together but the movement didn’t dislodge his hand and she felt his fingers stroke inside her panties and her face burned in the darkness because she knew he’d find her already aroused. She turned her head and was scorched by the dark heat in his eyes. Her breathing was shallow and so was his and he held her gaze as his fingers slid deeper, exploring her with erotic precision and unapologetic intimacy until not moving took all her willpower. But she couldn’t move or make a sound because that would have risked drawing the attention of the audience away from the performance onstage and so she was forced to stay totally still and silent. And he took ruthless advantage, relentless in his delivery of pleasure as he explored the slick heat of her, creating sensation so wickedly good she was forced to clamp her jaws closed to hold back the sound.