Challenging Dante(9)

By: Lynne Graham

Dante vaulted out of the car, Topsy falling in step behind him, gazing up at the sheer height and width of him, shaken afresh by the total size of him and the utter impossibility of ignoring him. They had barely walked into the hall when Gaetano Massaro, whose building company was in charge of renovating the house, descended the stairs to greet them. ‘Topsy...’ He inclined his curly dark head and grinned in his usual friendly fashion before addressing Dante and offering to show him round.

Of course the two men knew each other, not least because Gaetano was also involved in the fund-raising for the local child’s leukaemia treatment. In the airy kitchen Topsy dug her phone from her bag so that she could take photos to show Sofia. The tiles had been redone in a different shade and design at Sofia’s request. Her employer was very particular about details and Topsy fully understood why. Not only married but also a mother at the tender age of seventeen, Sofia had moved into her husband’s ancestral castle and had not been allowed to change anything to suit her own taste. By all accounts, Dante’s father had been something of a domestic tyrant and a control freak. The Casa di Fortuna, therefore, was very much the contessa’s first real home.

The decorator joined Topsy and took her into the cloakroom to inspect the illuminated mirror that had been installed. Playing safe, Topsy took a photo of it as well and then lingered in the doorway, watching Dante and Gaetano chat. Beside Dante, Gaetano looked small, slight and boyish and yet it was only three days since she had decided that Gaetano was attractive enough to date and she had agreed to have dinner with him in his family’s restaurant that very evening. Gaetano was good company, she reminded herself impatiently, which was all she required in a man. He didn’t need to send her temperature rocketing as well.

Dante crossed the hall. ‘Show me the downstairs reception area,’ he instructed, dismissing Gaetano with an almost invisible nod of his handsome dark head.

Behind Dante’s back, the builder rolled his eyes in mock amusement at the manner in which Dante had virtually ignored his offer to be his guide and Topsy coloured, narrow shoulders lifting back as if she was bracing herself while she led the way into the very large open-plan area that several rooms had been sacrificed to create. Floor-to-ceiling glass doors led out onto a terrace at the back of the house.

‘It’s much more contemporary than I was expecting,’ Dante admitted lazily, his deep accented voice fingering a trail of awareness down her taut spine. ‘For some reason I thought the two of them would recreate the Eighties here.’

‘I think your mother’s tired of living with the past and looking to the future for inspiration.’ Topsy pressed a wall button and the glass doors whirred smoothly back. ‘All this took an enormous amount of planning.’

‘How much input did Vittore have?’ Dante asked.

‘Very little...’ Strolling outside into the shade cast by the roof above, Topsy laughed softly. ‘He doesn’t have much interest in house interiors but I think he was also aware from the outset that this was very much your mother’s dream and he didn’t want to spoil it for her by imposing his views.’

‘You appear to have a high opinion of Vittore,’ he commented with a derogatory edge to his tone that suggested he didn’t share her outlook.

‘I speak as I find. I’ve yet to see or hear him do anything to detract from that opinion,’ Topsy responded easily, trying not to resent his judgemental attitude towards the older man, telling herself that was none of her business and refusing to let Dante make her feel uncomfortable.

And yet he managed that feat without even trying, she acknowledged in dismay as she looked up at him, striving to be fearless and frank rather than nervous and wary of her every word. His stunning green eyes glittered with high-voltage energy in the sunlight in which he stood, for he was much more at home in the heat of midday than she was. He looked hostile and intimidating and she was in the act of stepping back from him when his hands came out and closed round her slender forearms, halting her into a startled retreat.

The instant he made physical contact, another kind of energy hummed into being inside Topsy, taking her body out of control and into a dangerous state of extreme awareness. For a split second she couldn’t breathe. Her brea**sts swelled beneath her clothing, the tender tips straining into tight buds while a sensation of heat pulsed almost unbearably at her feminine core. ‘What are you doing?’ she said breathlessly, struggling to pull air into her depleted lungs as his hands trailed down her arms to close round her wrists instead.

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