Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin(7)

By: Sandra Marton


“Look,” he said reasonably, “let’s sort this out. Gramps, put down that stick. And you, boy, I’m gonna let go of you and—”

Bad move. The kid aimed his knee again. This time, he caught Rafe where he lived with devastating accuracy. Rafe grunted with pain, drew back his fist and managed a right cross to the kid’s jaw.

It must have been a good one because the boy went down in a heap.

Still struggling for air, Rafe started to turn toward the old man. “Listen to me,” he gasped….

The tree limb whacked him in the back of his head.

And Rafe went down beside the kid.

He came around slowly.

Ah, God, his head hurt. Methuselah had crowned him, the kid had kneed him. He had been totally and completely humiliated.

Could the day get any worse?

The old guy was sitting in the road, holding the kid in his arms, rocking him, talking to him in rapid and seemingly anguished Sicilian. He didn’t even look up as Rafe rose painfully to his feet.

“Okay,” he said gruffly, “okay, old man. Stand up. You hear me? Let go of the kid and get up.”

The old man ignored him. Rafe reached down and grabbed a spindly arm. “I said, stand up!”

“Hugoahway!” the old guy shouted, and suddenly the words made sense. What he was saying was, You go away. Well, hell, he’d definitely oblige, but first he had to make sure the boy was okay. Stopping this unlikely duo from robbing him was one thing; killing them was another.

Rafe shoved the bandit aside, reached for the unconscious boy, lifted him into the crook of his arm. The kid moaned, his hat fell off, and…

And the boy wasn’t a boy at all.

He was—she was a girl. No. Not a girl. A woman with a pale oval face and a silky mass of long, dark hair. He’d KO’d a woman. So much for wondering if the day could get any worse.

Carefully he scooped her up, ignored the old guy pulling at his sleeve and carried her to the side of the road that abutted the sloping mountain. Her head lolled back. He could see the pulse beating hard in the delicate hollow of her throat. The angle of her body made her breasts thrust against the rough wool of her jacket.

He set her down against the grassy rise. She was still unconscious.

She was also incredibly beautiful.

Only an SOB would notice such a thing at a moment like this, but only a fool would not. Her hair wasn’t just dark, it was the color of a cloudless night. Her brows were delicate wings above her closed eyes; her lashes were dark shadows against razor-sharp cheekbones. Her nose was straight and narrow above a rosy-pink mouth.

Rafe felt a stir of lust low in his belly. And wasn’t that terrific? Lust for a woman who’d tried to turn him into a eunuch, who’d played back-up to an old man with a pistol…

Who now lay helpless before him.

Damn it, he thought, and he caught the woman by the shoulders and shook her.

“Wake up,” he said sharply. “Come on. Open your eyes.”

Her lashes trembled, then slowly lifted, and he saw that her eyes were more than a match for the rest of her face, the irises not blue but the color of spring violets. Her lips parted; the tip of her tongue, delicate and pink, slicked across her mouth.

This time, the hunger that rolled through his belly made him sit back on his heels. Was this all it took? Was being on Sicilian soil enough to make him revert to the barbarian instincts of his ancestors?

Clarity was returning to her eyes. She put her hand to her jaw, winced, then shot him a look filled with hatred.

Those soft-looking pink lips drew back from small, perfect white teeth. “Stronzo,” she snarled.

It was a word any kid who’d grown up in a household where the adults often spoke in Italian would surely understand, and it made him laugh. Big mistake. She sat up, said it again and swung a fist at his jaw. He ducked it without effort and when she swung again, he caught her hand in his.

“That’s a bad idea, baby.”

She hissed through her teeth and shot a look over his shoulder at the old man.

Rafe shook his head.

“Another bad idea. You tell him to come at me, he’ll get hurt.” Disdain shone in her eyes. “Yeah, I know. You figure he got me the first time but, see, here’s the thing. I don’t get taken twice. You got that?”

A string of words flew from her lips. Rafe understood a couple of them but you didn’t need a degree in Italian to get their meaning. The look in her eyes told him everything he needed to know.

“Yeah, well, I’m not a fan of yours, either. Is this how you and Gramps welcome visitors? You rob them? Hijack their cars? Maybe send them tumbling down into the valley?”

Her mouth curled, almost as if she’d understood him, but of course she hadn’t. Not that it mattered. The question was, what did he do with this pair? Leave them here was his first instinct—but shouldn’t he notify the authorities? Yes, but he’d heard stories about Sicily and the cops. For all he knew, this pair were the Italian equivalent of Robin Hood and Little John—except, Little John had turned out to be Maid Marian.

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