Seduced by the Italian Online - Diana Fraser

CHAPTER ONE

He was late.

Isabella, Contessa Di Sorano, fixed her gaze on the coffin as it was lowered into the waiting grave, all the while acutely aware of the man who’d arrived only minutes earlier and now stood beside her.

Not just late, but too late.

She focused on her breathing, determined to control the anger that simmered inside her, as hot as the Tuscan sun. Why had he come now, when his grandmother was dead, when he was no longer wanted?

From beneath her broad-brimmed black hat and sunglasses she could see only his immaculately pressed black trousers and highly polished shoes that reflected back the harsh sunlight as if it had no effect on him, as if nothing could touch him.

She turned her gaze back to the coffin. Once, everything had touched him but it seemed he’d hardened over the years. She wondered briefly if his eyes—which had always been so warm and passionate—reflected the change, but she refused to shift, to look at him, to acknowledge him.

Heat enveloped her, making it hard to breathe. She felt trapped by her sleek black dress and the stiletto shoes that were as unyielding as the sun-hardened soil upon which she stood.

Sadness and anger formed a lump in her throat and a throbbing in her head that surged and retreated like the pulsing rhythm of the cicadas. She tightened her grip around the flowers she’d picked that morning, trying to distract her mind by pressing their woody, rough stems into the palms of her hands. It didn’t work.

She’d wondered how she’d feel when he returned. And now she knew—exactly the same. It was as if the seven years hadn’t passed. But there was one difference. She’d learned how to hide her feelings.

She closed her eyes so she could see nothing of him. But the tiniest shift of air brought a thread of his expensive aftershave drifting across to her. Her nostrils flared in response, her heart quickened and she swallowed. He’d never worn that before. It would have been too expensive. But now, apparently nothing was too expensive, too out of his reach, apart from spending the last few days with his grandmother.

She drew in another deep breath of air—a complex mix of his aftershave, wild oregano and the scent of the disturbed earth—and glanced at the priest who had fallen silent.

He nodded and she stepped forward and scattered a bunch of white wildflowers—beloved by her old nurse for their tenacity—on top of the casket. She looked down as if the coffin lid were not there; as if the lined and resigned face with the all-seeing eyes looked straight back up at her. Her breath caught in her throat and she gasped and stepped back abruptly, stumbling on the uneven ground.

A hand reached around her to steady her. She closed her eyes against the power of the fingers that pressed into her waist, against their warmth on her already heated body, and against the slide of his fingers across her back as he withdrew his hand, as if aware his support wasn’t wanted.

She didn’t turn around; she didn’t acknowledge his touch, simply stood looking down at the grave, trying to hold back the tide of feeling that surged inside her.

Dust hung in the air as people filed by and dropped handfuls of soil onto the coffin before walking away. When it was her turn she scooped up a handful of the dry lumpy earth that looked too hard, too rough, to drop onto her old friend. She rubbed it between her fingers, the soil working under her manicured nails, until it grew soft. Only then did she let it rain gently onto the coffin.

It was time to move on. The old lady would have understood. She’d have insisted. Isabella stepped back, hesitating for one last look at the flowers that were already bruised and wilting and then turned and walked to where her friends stood.

She felt his eyes on her. She knew only he remained behind. Let him. She had nothing to say to him.

Isabella sighed, kicked off her shoes and curled up on the window seat of the western tower of the Castello Romitorio. It had been a long day. The party continued downstairs but she couldn’t face it—nor him. Here, in this empty room, she was safe. For today, at least, because tomorrow it would be her home no longer. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift.

It was the draft of cooler evening air that first alerted her to his presence. A