Just the sound of his voice made her heart beat faster. Opening her eyes, she looked at him, lounging beside her on the picnic blanket on the hillside. He’d abandoned his jacket on the way back to the villa. She’d intended to return with the rest of the guests, but he’d convinced her otherwise.
“You’re not going to make me go back alone, are you?” he’d asked. “And desert me for a bunch of people you don’t care about?”
She’d hesitated, and when she saw that Emma had already left the town in a luxury sedan with Just Married written in a sign on the back, she’d found it impossible to say no.
The truth was that she was starting to...like him. It didn’t mean anything, she told herself. After all, it was only natural that she’d find his company slightly more appealing than that of the rest of the wedding guests, none of whom she knew. Why wouldn’t she feel more relaxed around Sharif, especially now that he’d traded the formidable native dress of the Emir of Makhtar for a tailored European suit that made him look exactly like every other man?
Well. Maybe not exactly like every man. And maybe relaxed was not the precise word to describe her feelings around him.
Stretched beside her on the blanket, Sharif emanated sex appeal, looking impossibly handsome in a gray vest and tie and tailored gray trousers. She licked her lips as her eyes dropped to the sleeves of his white shirt, rolled up to reveal the dusting of dark hair over his tanned forearms.
Just seeing that much of his skin made a bead of sweat break between her breasts that had nothing to do with the warm Italian sun.
He lifted a dark eyebrow, and she realized she’d been staring. And cripes, had she just licked her lips?
“It’s...warm for November...isn’t it?” she said weakly.
His dark gaze looked amused. “Is it?”
“Haven’t you noticed?” She sat up abruptly on the blanket. She was relieved to see the rest of the wedding party and guests picnicking in the post-wedding luncheon farther down the hill. Golden sunlight danced across the field of autumn flowers, in the meadow on the Falconeri estate. Picnic lunches had been arranged for all of them by the picnic butler. Honest to God, a picnic butler. Shaking her head at the memory, Irene reached for the big wicker picnic basket. She licked her lips again, trying to act as if she’d been thinking about only food all the while. “You must be hungry. When I’m hungry, I can’t think about anything but cream cakes. You’re hungry, right?”
“Starving,” he said softly, his dark eyes tracing her. “And you’re right. When a man is hungry, everything else stops. Until his craving is satisfied.”
Irene had the sudden feeling he wasn’t talking about food. A tremble went over her body as she looked at him.
He gave her an innocent smile with his full, sensual lips.
No man should have lips like that, Irene thought. It shouldn’t be legal. She suddenly wondered what it would feel like to be kissed by those lips.
No! She couldn’t let herself be tempted, not even for a moment. Virginity, once lost, was lost forever. She couldn’t let herself be lured by desire, not when the cost for that momentary pleasure would be the life—the committed love—that she really wanted!
She forced herself to look down at the basket. She took out Italian sandwiches on fresh crusty bread, antipasto and fresh fruit salad, all of which she put on elegant china plates before handing one to him, along with a fine linen napkin and a fork she suspected was made of pure silver.
“Thank you,” he said gravely.
“Don’t mention it,” she said, looking away. She noticed the four bodyguards at a distance, in strategic locations on the edges of the meadow. “They really follow you everywhere, don’t they? I know you’re emir and all, but how can you stand it?”
Sharif used a solid-silver fork to take a bite of antipasto off his elegant china plate. “It is part of my position that I accept.”
She shook her head. “But the loss of privacy...I’m not sure it’s a great trade-off. Wealth, power, fame. But also four babysitters dogging your feet wherever you go.”
“Six.” The corners of his lips tilted upward. “The other two are keeping an eye on my room at the villa.”
Irene stared at him. “Right.” Her voice was heavy with irony. “Because you never know when there might be a sudden attack on Lake Como.”
“You never know what the world will bring to your door.”
“It’s obvious, even to me, that six guards is overkill in a place like—”
“My father was shot down in broad daylight, twenty years ago, while vacationing with my mother.” He took a bite of pasta salad. “Shot down by an ex-mistress. In a private, gated villa on the French Riviera.”