She didn’t get dressed. Following the advice she’d read online, she left off her clothes entirely, for maximum visual impact. Not even lingerie. Not even panties. She just covered her naked body with only an old-fashioned pinafore apron.

Then Scarlett waited, terrified and breathless, for Vin to come home from work.

Tonight, she would tell him she loved him.

And then he’d tell her he loved her, too, and their lifetime of happiness would begin.

Either that, or...

She shuddered, caught between longing and terror as she waited for the door to open.

* * *

As Vin stepped out of his chauffeured Bentley into the frosted darkness of his street, he felt bone-weary.

It was late on Christmas Eve night, almost ten o’clock. He gave a low curse as he looked at his expensive watch. “I’m sorry, Leonardo,” he told his driver in Italian. “I’ve kept you from your family. Thank you for staying.”

“No problem, Mr. Borgia.” His driver beamed at him. “The Christmas bonus you sent is sending our whole family on vacation to the Caribbean next month. My wife also appreciated the delicious homemade panettone from Mrs. Borgia.” He kissed his fingertips expressively. “Delizioso.”

Vin stared at him blankly.

“I need to thank you, too, boss,” Beppe, his bodyguard on duty, interrupted. The hulking man actually blushed. “I used the bonus to buy an engagement ring for my girlfriend. I’m giving it to her tomorrow morning. And Mrs. Borgia’s panettone was delicious. I ate the whole cake watching last night’s game.”

Vin was shocked. Scarlett had learned how to bake? She’d arranged Christmas gifts for his staff? And not just the practical gift of money, but a personal gift of homemade Christmas cake? “Oh. Yes.” He cleared his throat. “I’m glad you liked it.”

He hadn’t even known. Hadn’t realized.

But then, he’d been distracted lately. As his bodyguard raced ahead to enter the security code, Vin trudged to the door. He’d really thought he’d be able to convince Salvatore Calabrese to sell him Mediterranean Airlines. But the man still wouldn’t talk to him. Through his skinny assistant, he’d sent Vin a single cold message: “I’m interested in selling to sharks, not minnows.” And no amount of corporate diplomacy could now convince him Vin was a shark. Not since he’d put his family’s needs over a business deal.

Vin felt like he was failing. At his company. At home. Working such long hours, he barely saw his baby son an hour a day. As for his wife...

Vin shivered.

He wanted to see more of her.

Much more.

They hadn’t made love since Nico’s birth, and at this point, all Vin could think about when he was around her was that he wanted to throw her against the wall and take her.

But he couldn’t.

After what he’d seen Scarlett go through in the hospital, he didn’t know when—or even if—she’d ever want him to touch her again. He didn’t even know how to broach the subject. He’d never had to struggle with this before. So rather than constantly feel sexually on edge around her, like a mindless beast with only the barest thread of self-control, it was almost easier to avoid her entirely.

Looking up at the four-story elegant villa that had become a palace beneath her magical touch, and his wife the untouchable princess living inside it, Vin felt weary.

“Go home,” he told his bodyguard. “We’ll be fine tonight.”

Beppe looked doubtful. “That’s not protocol. Especially when there’s the danger of—”

“It’s Christmas Eve,” Vin cut him off. He didn’t want to think about Blaise Falkner tonight, or the fact that the man had disappeared from New York two weeks ago and couldn’t be found. Another arena in which things hadn’t gone to plan. “Go home. We have the security alarm. I saw Larson in the gatehouse. He’ll call you if he needs you.”

“If you’re sure...”

“Go home to your girlfriend.”

Beppe’s eyes lit up. “Thank you, Signor Borgia. Buon Natale!”

“Merry Christmas,” Vin replied dully. Alone, he pushed open the tall oak door of the villa. He went into the foyer.