She’d never experimented with drugs, because addiction hadn’t been part of her plan for success. But now she suddenly understood the concept of mindless addiction at a profound level.
He was lethal.
No. He was just a professional. He knew what he was doing. That was all. He was good at his job. This was what he got paid for. Everything was under control. He wouldn’t do anything unless she decided to hire him. He was after money. Billable hours. Like Bobby. That she understood. Too well.
It wasn’t as if he felt what she felt. She was in no danger. She was in control.
She felt hot, and the cool breezes gusting up from the sparkling gulf did little to cool her.
“I’m Nico. NicoRomano,” he whispered against her ear, stroking her hand with that seductive fingertip.
The way he said his name warmed her blood almost as much as his touch.
But was it his real name? Did gigolos have stage names as actors did or pseudonyms as writers did?
“But then you probably know who I am…or at least what I am,” he said, his expression almost apologetic.
So she was right—he was a gigolo.
She blushed, liking his discretion about avoiding the G-word.
“Yes.” She glanced away.
“There’s no reason to let it bother you. I’m a man, just an ordinary man.”
“If you say so.” She felt shy, unsure, out of her depth.
“And you are?” he continued.
“Carina,” she said in a rush, choosing her middle name for protection, to put distance between them. “My mother calls me Cara. Everybody else calls me—” She stopped, realizing she was about to start babbling, something she did when she was nervous.
“Cara,” he breathed. “In our country your name means beloved. It suits you.”
The air between them seemed to grow even hotter, if that were possible. Or maybe it was only she who was ablaze.
He was good. But how much did someone of his caliber cost? Not in the mood to ask and discover his price excessive, she put the all-important question off.
“Are you hungry?” he murmured. “Or would you prefer to go straight to your hotel?”
Did having dinner with him cost more? And what would the staff of her palazzo think when they saw her with him in the restaurant? Did he go there often?
“I ate a late lunch,” she said.
“So did I,” he murmured.
He leaned closer. He slid one hand around her waist. His other hand lifted her fingertips to his sensually curved mouth, and he kissed each long nail and fingertip, lingering a little on the tips of her nails. Then he stared into her eyes. Everything he did was infinitely gentle. Somehow, nothing he did seemed faked or practiced, and long after he’d let her fingers go, the pit of her stomach felt hollow.
When she lowered her hand to the ceramic table again, she sighed. Good. She wasn’t ready for the serious kissing to start. Not in public, anyway.
He leaned closer and traced her mouth with his fingertip, flooding her with more erotic heat. His eyes followed the path of his finger. He swallowed hard. So did she. The girls, who were watching, giggled again.
“Che bella,” he whispered, scooting his chair back a little.
He wasn’t subtle. But what had she expected? He was a gigolo. Not to mention Italian. This was a business relationship. She should applaud his talent and his professionalism. Instead, she was so caught up in what he was doing it was hard to remember this wasn’t real.
He held up his hand for the check. Before she could rummage in her purse, he threw a wad of euros on the table, cupped her elbow and escorted her out of the bar. She was acutely aware that, when he’d stood up, everybody stopped talking. Even the music stopped. When he turned at the door to wave to the bartender, a final burst of girlish giggles saluted them.
He’d paid, no doubt, for appearances’ sake.
He was one classy gigolo.
Remembering the Maserati, and the Ferrari and the yacht, Simonetta, where he’d spent the night, she began to wonder if she had enough cash in her purse.
If she didn’t, would he take a credit card or at least escort her to the nearest ATM if they finished at a late hour?
Then she remembered he was one classy gigolo.
Of course, he would!
R egina stepped out of the shower, dried herself with a warm towel and put on the hotel’s thick, white fluffy robe as Nico had suggested. Her damp hair felt heavy and soft about her shoulders as she left the bathroom. Picking up her cell phone, she padded through the bedroom and then out onto her private belvedere to wait for Nico, who had left her suite to take a phone call.
Nico. She gulped in a breath of warm humid air. Trying not to think about him and what they were about to do, she looked down at the quaint town and its lush gardens. Nevertheless, her hands were shaking as she punched in her friend Lucy’s number back in Austin.