His Final Bargain(4)

By: Melanie Milburne


Meeting Leo Valente had been so bittersweet. She had known all along their fling couldn’t go anywhere, but she had lived each day as if it could and would. She had been swept up in the romantic excitement of it, pretending to herself that it wasn’t doing anyone any harm if she had those few precious weeks pretending she was free. She had not intended to fall in love with him. But she had seriously underestimated Leo Valente. He wasn’t just charming, but ruthlessly, stubbornly and irresistibly determined with it. She had found herself enraptured by his intellectually stimulating company and by his intensely passionate lovemaking.

As each day passed she had fallen more and more in love with him. The clock had been ticking on their time together but she hadn’t been able to stop herself from seeing him. She had been like a starving person encountering their first feast. She had gobbled up every moment she could with him and to hell with the consequences.

‘In hindsight I agree with you,’ Eliza said. ‘I probably should’ve said something. But I thought it was just a holiday fling. I didn’t expect to ever see you again. I certainly didn’t expect you to propose to me. We’d only known each other less than a month.’

His expression pulsed again with bitterness. ‘Did you have a good laugh about it with your friends when you came home? Is that why you let me make a fool of myself, just so you could dine out on it ever since?’

Eliza got to her feet and wrapped her arms around her body as if she were cold, even though the flat was stuffy from being closed up all day. She went over to the window and looked at the solitary rose bush in the front garden. It had a single bloom on it but the rain and the wind had assaulted its velvet petals until only three were left clinging precariously to the craggy, thorny stem. ‘I didn’t tell anyone about it,’ she said. ‘When I came back home it felt like it had all been a dream.’

‘Did you tell your fiancé about us?’

‘No.’

‘Why not?’

She grasped her elbows a bit tighter and turned to face him. ‘He wouldn’t have understood.’

‘I bet he wouldn’t.’ He gave a little sound of disdain. ‘His fiancée opens her legs for the first man she meets in a bar while on holiday. Yes, I would imagine he would find that rather hard to understand.’

Eliza gave him a glacial look. ‘I think it might be time for you to leave. Your five minutes is up.’

He closed the distance between them in one stride. He towered over her, making her breath stall again in her chest. She saw his nostrils flare as if he was taking in her scent. She could smell his: a complex mix of wood and citrus and spice that tantalised her senses and stirred up a host of memories she had tried for so long to suppress. She felt her blood start to thunder through the network of her veins. She felt her skin tighten and tingle with awareness. She felt her insides coil and flex with a powerful stirring of lust. Her body recognised the intimate chemistry of his. It was as if she was finely tuned to his radar. No other man made her so aware of her body, so acutely aware of her primal reaction to him.

‘I have another proposal for you,’ he said.

Eliza swallowed tightly and hoped he hadn’t seen it. ‘Not marriage, I hope.’

He laughed but it wasn’t a nice sound. ‘Not marriage, no,’ he said. ‘A business proposal—a very lucrative one.’

Eliza tried to read his expression. There was something in his dark brown eyes that was slightly menacing. Her heart beat a little bit faster as fear climbed up her spine with icy-cold fingers. ‘I don’t want or need your money,’ she said with a flash of stubborn pride.

His top lip gave a sardonic curl. ‘Perhaps not, but your cash-strapped community school does.’

She desperately tried to conceal her shock. How on earth did he know? The press article hadn’t even gone to press. The journalist and photographer had only just left the school a couple of hours ago. How had he found out about it so quickly? Had he done his own research? What else had he uncovered about her? She gave him a wary look. ‘What are you offering?’

‘Five hundred thousand pounds.’

Her eyes widened. ‘On what condition?’

His eyes glinted dangerously. ‘On the condition you spend the next month with me in Italy.’

Eliza felt her heart drop like an anchor. She moistened her lips, struggling to maintain her outwardly calm composure when everything inside her was in a frenzied turmoil. ‘In…in what capacity?’

‘I need a nanny.’

A pain sliced through the middle of her heart like the slash of a scimitar. ‘You’re…married?’