You. Heaven help me…you.
The man being worshipped by the sun before her. She wanted him to be real. Wanted the portentous voice inside her to be quiet, cease whispering that she was sitting in an audience watching a play—a performance being acted to perfection just for her—while she was blind to the true intent of the show.
‘What do you want, Luciana?’ he asked huskily.
A proper family. A wonderful daddy for Natanael. Love.
But all she said was, ‘All of the above.’
IN HINDSIGHT, A HORSE-RIDE probably wasn’t the greatest of ideas, considering he’d almost choked on his own tongue when Luciana had poured that luscious body into some lightweight fawn jodhpurs and a figure-hugging cerise pink T-shirt—the outfit borrowed from one of Pietro’s rake-thin girls. Talk about an exercise in torture.
He’d just put in the longest twenty-minute car-ride of his life. And now he cursed the idiota who had secreted the royal stables so far inland. He would fire the man if he didn’t suspect it had been himself.
Arms folded across his wide chest, his foul temper exacerbated further still when every stable boy tripped over himself to attend her, but eventually she chose a deep chestnut thoroughbred named Galileo and Thane took his favourite black stallion, Malvado. The twinkle in Luciana’s eyes told him she thought ‘wicked’ a very apt name for his beast of a mount. He didn’t bother arguing. It was true that only Thane could dominate him.
Unsurprisingly, she rode like a pro and lured him into a race up into the vineyards, with the rich earth spraying in their wake, the fresh breeze whipping her bronze hair behind her and slapping her cheeks with colour.
Never had she looked more bewitching or more free. More real and more like his Ana.
Gradually she slowed to a trot, then an easy walk, and Thane pulled at the reins and drew up beside her.
‘Good?’ he asked.
Those pink-smothered breasts rose and fell with her every soft pant and a huge smile curved her lips. Lips he wanted to make love to until her breath was ragged for him.
‘I didn’t expect it to be so gorgeous here. Warmer than home for December.’
Thane felt the muscle in his jaw spasm as he ground his teeth hard. Galancia would soon be her home, and the sooner she accepted that the better for his state of mind.
‘Then again, you are closer to Africa here,’ she went on. ‘The air is hot and sultry. Everything just feels…’
‘Exactly. Maybe too calm—like the calm before a storm.’
A pensive crease lined her brow and she threaded the leather reins in between her long fingers, staring far into the distance as if she were a million miles away. Much as she’d done at breakfast. It vexed him because he was blind to the reason. He wanted her here. With him.
‘Penny for them?’
She fobbed him off with a rueful smile. ‘I doubt they’re worth that much.’
Thane didn’t believe her for a second, but let it go when she lifted in her saddle to twist and take in their surroundings. The endless rows of vines were heavy with juicy red grapes and lush dark green foliage.
‘So these are your famous vineyards? Never tried the wine myself.’
‘You should. In fact tonight I’ll pour you a glass of one of the best wines in the world.’
She arched one brow at the vainglory lacing his words but he gave a nonchalant shrug. Why shouldn’t he be proud of what they’d achieved? And moreover…
‘The northern terrain is home to our much-lauded olive groves too. Far better than yours.’
‘Now, now, Thane. Your head is getting a little too big over there.’
He grinned, amazed that they were joking about what had once been a life-threatening issue.
‘Once upon a time we grew the best oranges too. Arunthian oranges are tasteless in comparison.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘Of course they are.’
‘I’m serious. Our crops were said to be the best in Europe. But your great-grandfather didn’t like it that overseas trade demand was greater for ours, or that we made more money than he did. So he sent in men to disease our crops. Not one survived.’
Her head reared as if he’d slapped her. ‘That’s a lie! Nothing more than propaganda!’
‘It is not. I swear it. In many ways we continue to suffer from that loss now.’