So she made a clumsy job of sidestepping outside his magnetic force field.
Out came his arm, to snake around her waist, and she dodged like the netball champion she’d once been and shook her head. ‘Oh, no, you don’t. I know full well what you’re up to, Romeo, and you can forget it. Talk.’
Growling, he turned away. ‘Fine.’
Then, just as she breathed a sigh of relief, he came at her from another angle, as if he’d played her with misdirection and now…pounce…stole a tummy-flipping, bone-liquefying kiss from her mouth. Only to grin with acute smugness and walk away.
Her hand shot out and she found Galileo, to steady herself, even as she bit her lip to stifle a gurgle of laughter. He was incorrigible. Couldn’t stand being told no. Losing in any way. And, seriously, she shouldn’t laugh—because the man was dangerous with it. Kidnapping, stealing kisses… He was off-the-charts unpredictable, and that scared her more than anything.
And it thrills you just as much.
Thane grabbed the lunch bag and Luciana rolled a blanket across the grass beneath the leafy trellised ceiling, where it was blissfully cooler. Then she sat cross-legged and unpacked a tapas feast of cold cut meats, cheeses and rosemary-scented bread.
Throat dry, she drank greedily from a bottle of sparkling water, trying not to splutter or drool as Thane dropped to the red chequered blanket and lounged back on his elbows in an insolent pose, crossing one ankle over the other. She had the shameless urge to climb over his lap, sit on those muscular thighs and feel all that latent erotic power beneath her. And—just her rotten luck—he caught her staring and fired her the most indecently hedonistic smile she’d ever seen.
Luciana deflected his corruption tactics with a haughty sniff. ‘I’m waiting. So talk.’
‘I have the strangest urge to take you over my knee.’
She harnessed the shiver that threatened to rattle her spine. ‘And I have the strangest urge to get back on that horse and leave you to eat lunch by yourself.’
The brute actually grinned at that, then popped an olive in his mouth. Though when his humour faded, to be replaced by an aching torment, she almost let him off the hook, hating to see him in the throes of anguish. Oh, he banked it soon enough—but it was too late.
‘When my father knew he was dying I had only just turned seventeen…’ He paused, as if figuring out his next words. ‘He ordered me to do a job, and at the very last moment I defied him. I thought I’d seen and felt his fury before then. I had seen nothing.’ He shrugged blithely. ‘I deserved every blow for going against him, and I could have lived with that, or anything else he doled out to me personally. What I hadn’t expected was the depth of his wrath and the price my people would pay.’
Abruptly, he jerked upright and rested his forearm on one bended knee.
‘When I failed him he decided I was too cocky, too young…too free-thinking to rule. Too liberal. I had shown my true colours. My father and my uncle are of the same ilk. Dictators. Born and bred militia. So my punishment was a stipulation that said I couldn’t take power until I was thirty years old. Until I had learned my lesson.’
Outrage and the fiercest taste of bitter acrimony roiled in her stomach. To give his uncle time to work him over, no doubt. As if anyone could reshape Thane’s mind. The very idea was ludicrous.
‘I deserved every blow…’
The man didn’t even flinch or care that he’d been beaten. No, all he cared about was that he’d failed his people.
‘What made you break from the pack?’ she asked, awed. ‘Being of the same ilk and all.’
Luciana couldn’t begin to comprehend the strength it would have taken to set himself apart from such men. The stories she’d heard—the ones she had nightmares about, imagining Natanael embroiled in them—brought her out in a cold sweat.
In one graceful movement he was up on his feet, leaning against an iron post, focused on the rolling hills.
‘My mother, I think. It was her dream, and she used to talk about how her family would pray morning, noon and night for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow when the people could speak for themselves, have a say in how they lived. A day when they owned their own lands and could reap the benefits of what they sowed. When people’s lives would be that much richer and more fulfilling if they were given the chance to aspire.’
Heaviness encroached on her chest at the grief painting his words blue. ‘She sounds like she was a wonderful woman, Thane.’