Honeymoon with a prince (royal scandals) (page 8)

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Once Massimo made the final turn that brought them to the edge of town, where Kelly’s villa occupied a coveted spot between the main road and the beach, she pointed to a narrow driveway under an arched branch of wisteria vines. “It’s just there. You can pull in.”

He slid a her sideways glance before signaling the turn. “Dare I ask if I’m invited in, or is this goodbye? If it’s goodbye, there may be an argument over who gets the leftover wine.”

Laughter spilled from her. “You’re forward, aren’t you?”

“Not usually.” Not when it came to women. They were forward enough with him he had no need.

“Well…I don’t usually ask men into my home on a first date.”

“Usually,” he repeated as he guided the Jeep to a stop and put the gearshift into park. “Though you have to admit, this has been an unusual day.”

“That it has.”

He studied the villa, taking in the whitewashed exterior and tiled steps leading to the front door. It appeared to have been recently renovated, likely due to the income its location generated. The lights were off inside, preventing him from seeing if anyone was about. For all he knew, she had a house full of roommates sitting on the back deck, lingering over drinks while they waited for her to come home. 

He wasn’t ready to send her in to them and say goodbye. Not yet.

Taking a chance, he turned and looped his arm over the back of Kelly’s seat. “What about tonight?”

Chapter Five

The man was unbelievably direct. He also smelled unbelievably good.

The soft fabric of his shirt tickled the bare skin of Kelly’s back in the sensitive spot just below the tie of her sundress. As if linked by a direct connection, the skin on her arms pricked to gooseflesh.

She imagined he didn’t suffer rejection often.

“I’m not sure it’d be wise,” she said, using the excuse in order to gauge his intentions. She had no idea if asking a man into one’s home after a date carried the same implication in Sarcaccia it sometimes had in the States. It was obvious he wanted to carry on their flirtation; how much further he wanted to carry it was the question. Let alone how much furthershewanted to carry it. “Is it safe?”

“Safe as you were on the patio at Giulia’s.”

“We weren’t exactly alone on the patio.”

“We won’t be alone now, either. Gaspare is here.” 

“He is a good chaperone.” She flicked a look at the dog, whose ears perked up at the mention of his name though he didn’t stir from his sprawl across the back seat. “Of course, you realize that I don’t know the most basic things about you. For instance, what’s your last name?”

His eyes crinkled at the corners, as if the question intrigued him. “Barrali.”

“Massimo Barrali. I like it. It’s strong.” Just like the man. Forceful, yet somehow elegant. Hearing the name from her own lips pricked a memory. “Is Barrali a common name here? Isn’t that the name of the royal family?”

“It is, and it’s common enough. Lots of Barralis in Sarcaccia. But no one with the last name Chase, I don’t believe.” When she smiled at that, he continued, “What else do you want to know?”

“Hmmm…” She took a moment, enjoying their banter. “What color would you call your eyes?”

His look of amusement made her stomach do a flip-flop. “My sister calls them mud. But I’d say brown.”

“Some sister. There’s green there, too. A lot of green.” 

“If you say so. I don’t make it a habit to stare at my own eyes in the mirror.” His fingers grazed her shoulder, the touch warming places far more intimate. He appeared ignorant of the chain reaction he set off within her, which made her all the more certain he knew very well what he was doing. “Anything else?”

Oh, how she loved this game. It felt daring. Liberating. “How tall are you?”

“I’m 192 centimeters.” At her blink of surprise, he added, “I think that’s six-two or six-three.” 

“Six-three. Almost six-four.” 

This time, he was the one to look incredulous.

“I do closets, remember? Or at least I did. I’m quick with conversion.” She’d guessed him to be well over six feet, but given the assurance with which he carried himself, she was afraid she might be overestimating his height. Apparently not.

“So it’s my height that has you worried about your safety?”

“That’s exactly it,” she teased. She loved that he was able to poke fun at himself. He looked, smelled, and sounded so different from Ted. Ted had always been so serious, so careful about every word he uttered and move he made. Being wealthy and in the public eye did that to a person. She’d sworn the day she left him never to date a rich man again. Money mangled one’s sense of self. At least, it had in the case of Ted and his friends.

“Does that mean I’ve addressed your concerns?”

Oh, he knew he was coming inside. She could see it in his eyes, read it in the relaxed manner in which he lounged against his seat. 

“One last question. Do you end all your first dates by asking to be invited inside?”

“No.” His lower lip thinned and his eyes widened fractionally before he added, “In fact, I believe this is a first.”

The note of realization in his tone made her believe him, which sent another wave of arousal rippling through her.

An unusual night, indeed.

A little over two weeks ago she’d been certain she’d spend the rest of her life with Ted. Now she felt as if she’d tossed off shackles and stepped into the light. The fact she could experience such desire for a man she’d only known for a few hours cemented her confidence in calling off the wedding. Screw what her friends said. Screw what her parents said. The decision was hers and hers alone, just as taking this trip was her decision. Both had been the right call.

“So what do you think, Kelly Chase of Dallas?” He reached into the space between them and raised the corked wine bottle. “If nothing else, it would be a tragedy not to finish this. Giulia would be disappointed if she discovered it went to waste.”

“First off, Giulia wouldn’t know unless you told her.”

“She’ll ask—”

“And second, I’m sure it won’t go to waste. But there’s still half a bottle and eventually you have to drive home, so it might not be wise to drink it—”

One side of his mouth hitched up on the wordeventually. She knew in that moment she’d been caught. He leaned forward, ever so slightly closing the gap between them. “I’m not in a rush. Are you?”

The wash of his breath against her cheek sent adrenaline pumping through her body. She shook her head just before his lips met hers. His kiss was gentle, soft, testing. He tasted of wine and Mediterranean sunshine. Warmth spread through her as his arm slipped from the back of the seat to her shoulders. Though the easy spread of his fingers over her bare skin and the dim lights of the driveway made the moment romantic, his kiss left no doubt in her mind what would happen if she invited him inside. They’d share far more than a bottle of wine if she decided it was what she wanted.

He tilted his head, deepening their kiss as his hand came up to cradle the back of her head. The rough scrape of his chin against hers sent her reeling. There was no denying the attraction between them. She’d felt it the moment he’d stood at the foot of her lounger inquiring about his dog in that commanding tone, but checking out her bikini-clad body with his eyes.

She could get drunk on this feeling far faster than on the wine.

A sigh bubbled up inside her, threatening to escape and embarrass her to no end, but at that very moment he pulled back. It was all she could do to keep her breathing steady as he captured her chin in his hand. 

“I see two options here. First, I kiss you goodnight now and let you go. Second, we go inside, share the wine and kiss goodnight afterward. Either way, it ensures that kiss” —his mouth curved into a devious smile— “wasn’t the last.”

He eased back a few more inches, his fingers still cradling her chin but giving her the space and ability to call it a night without awkwardness. Yet she sensed he was playing with her, too, enjoying their flirtation as much—maybe more—than she was. He’d ended the kiss deliberately, leaving her wanting more.

She took a slow, deep breath, weighing his words. She hadn’t made the best choices lately, not until she’d made the ultimate decision to dump Ted. Those errors in judgment made a mess of both her personal life and her professional life. On the other hand, what harm could come from having a night of adventure with such a devastatingly handsome man? If his kiss was any indication, it’d be mind-blowing enough to wipe away her recent history and give her a mental clean slate.

She pulled away from him and opened the car door, but not before she caught the look of surprise on his face.

“There’s always option three, where I simply walk inside,” she said as she climbed out of the Jeep. She hesitated, allowing his disappointment to sink in before she turned back. She doubted her smile was as wickedly sensuous as his, but she hoped so. “But I prefer option two, so don’t forget the wine.”

 

* * *

 

“You have this whole place to yourself?”

He shouldn’t have said it. Massimo realized his error immediately from the defensive flash in Kelly’s eyes, despite her attempt to cover her initial reaction with a shrug of indifference. But when she flipped the switch inside the villa’s front door, illuminating the open living area with its view to the sea, he’d been surprised to see no evidence of other occupants. No shoes near the front door, no other sets of keys on the counter of the small kitchen, no notes from roommates about where they’d gone for the evening. When he’d put his sister’s ravioli in the fridge and saw it was empty, he was certain. He’d turned and asked the question without thinking about it first.

Now he’d likely made her feel a pariah. If there was anything he should’ve learned from years of etiquette training, it was to think before speaking. You never knew when you might hit upon a sensitive topic, as he’d obviously done.

She leaned one shoulder against the wall near the kitchen entry, the action pushing up the bodice of her sundress in a rather tantalizing fashion. “I know Sarcaccia is a rather traditional country, but surely you don’t believe it’s taboo for a woman to vacation alone?”

He pounced on the opportunity to save himself. “Not at all. If anything, traveling alone is a sign of being comfortable in one’s own skin. I’d simply assumed that you’d come with friends.” Though most who rented on this strip of beach were lovers, and with good reason. The idyllic surroundings, unobstructed sea views, and the easy access to the cobblestoned section of Cateri’s old town made it a wonderful hideaway. 

“Nope. This was a reward to myself.”

For selling her business, he supposed. Well, Kelly’s reward was to his benefit. No roommates who might recognize him, no one to intrude upon their conversation…or anything else, should he get so lucky. 

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