‘Daisy...?’ he called.
She held her breath and turned puce with mortification. Things like this did not happen to other people; why did they continually happen to her? Especially around Alessio, who would greet a hurricane in the middle of the night with a stopwatch. He checked the bathroom, the dressing room, muttered something in Italian.
Daisy couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. She cleared her throat. ‘I’m under the bed. For heaven’s sake, go away!’ she hissed in furious conclusion.
‘So... you are hiding under the bed,’ Alessio drawled after a lengthy pause, a slight tremor disturbing his diction.
‘I thought you were the maid.’
‘I know you used to feel a little self-conscious around the staff, piccola mia...but don’t you think this is rather excessive?’
‘If you must know, I haven’t got any clothes on!’ Daisy blitzed back.
‘Oh, I’m well aware of that,’ Alessio assured her huskily. ‘I was standing below the trees earlier when you hauled open the curtains and stood there in all your unclothed glory for an entire ten minutes.’
‘You timed me?’ Daisy could barely frame the scandalised demand.
‘I may not wax lyrical about sunrises or spout romantic speeches under balconies but I was deeply appreciative of that particular view. I also congratulated myself on my foresight that the domestic staff come in at only discreet hours of the day. We are presently the only people in the house—and isn’t it fortunate that I included the gardeners in that embargo? I don’t think I’m narrow-minded but I’m remarkably selfish. If you had even unwittingly flashed your attractions for anyone else, I would have wrung your neck!’
‘Get out of here, Alessio!’ Daisy exploded, fit to be tied.
‘But I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in years,’ Alessio said with intense appreciation. ‘Why? I have learnt to cherish and value eccentricity and I am rejoicing in the sure knowledge that my wife is unique. I am certain that I am the only man in Italy who had to force-feed his bride on their wedding night, put her to bed alone and then hold a conversation with her while she hid naked under the bed the next day.’
‘Push off!’ Daisy screeched, unimpressed. ‘I’m not coming out until you go away!’
Alessio set down a tray on the carpet. ‘Look,’ he invited in a lazily seductive undertone. ‘Your favourite hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. Disgustingly rich and sweet. Every undiscriminating taste bud you possess has to be watering...’
‘I don’t want it!’ Daisy hauled wildly at the sheet hanging over the bed. It still wouldn’t budge. Her teeth ground together. Then she espied something cotton lying in a heap on the floor on the other side of the bed and rolled over to stretch out her hand and retrieve it.
‘Even when you are concentrating sufficiently to know what’s happening around you...which admittedly isn’t all that often...you still fascinate me,’ Alessio mused reflectively, stretching out long, denim-clad legs as he sank down in an armchair. ‘Any other woman would have got into the bed to conceal herself but you crawled under it.’
Feverishly engaged in trying to button the shirt, Daisy’s fingers slowed to a clumsy fumble as she focused on those legs. She emerged from below the bed, silver hair wildly mussed, her violet eyes as bright as jewels in her triangular face. Treating her to a shimmering smile of blinding brilliance, Alessio sprang fluidly upright, a disturbing distraction in faded tight jeans and a white polo shirt.
Transfixed by that heart-stopping smile, her mind a dizzy blank, Daisy was now wholly absorbed by the jeans. Her mouth ran dry. She moistened her lips, her breath catching in her throat. Denim faithfully followed every superbly virile line of his lean hips and long, powerful thighs. Her magnetised attention strayed to the distinctively masculine bulge at his crotch and something almost painful twisted low in her stomach, colour slowly creeping up her slender throat in a burning wave.
‘Do the jeans still make your socks sizzle even when you’re not wearing any?’ Alessio enquired with purring emphasis as he reached down a strong hand and tugged her upright. ‘Dio, I should have ransacked my wardrobe in London. To bell with sartorial elegance! Clearly I missed out on a critical coup.’