Never Say No to a Caffarelli(7)

By: Melanie Milburne

She sent him an icy glare and tugged against his hold, hissing at him like a cornered wild cat. ‘Get your hands off me.’

Rafe kept her tethered to him with his fingers while he moved the pad of his thumb over the underside of her wrist in a stroking motion. ‘You touched me first.’

Her eyes narrowed even further and she tugged again. ‘Only because you wouldn’t take your stupid money off me.’

He released her hand and watched as she rubbed at it furiously, as if trying to remove the sensation of his touch. ‘It was a gift. That’s what a tip is—a gesture of appreciation for outstanding service.’

She stopped rubbing at her wrist to glare at him again. ‘You’re making fun of me.’

‘Why would I do that?’ He gave her a guileless half-smile. ‘It was a great cup of coffee.’

‘You won’t win this, you know.’ She drilled him with her glittering gaze. ‘I know you probably think I’m just an unworldly, unsophisticated country girl, but you have no idea how determined I can be.’

Rafe felt his skin prickle all over with delight at the challenge she was laying before him. It was like a shot of a powerful drug. It galvanised him. And as for unsophisticated and unworldly... Well, he would never admit it to his two younger brothers, but he was getting a little bored with the worldly women he associated with. Just lately he had started to feel a little restless. The casual affairs were satisfying on a physical level, but recently he’d walked away from each of them with an empty feeling that had lodged in a place deep inside him.

But, even more unsettling, a niggling little question had started keeping him awake until the early hours of the morning: is this all there is?

Maybe it was time to broaden his horizons. It would certainly be entertaining to bring Miss Poppy Silverton to heel. She was like a wild filly who hadn’t met the right trainer. What would it take to have her eating out of his hand? His body gave another shudder of delight.

He could hardly wait.

‘I think I should probably warn you at this point, Miss Silverton, that I’m no pushover. I play by the rules, but they’re my rules.’

Her chin came up at that. ‘I detest men like you. You think you’re above everyone else with your flash cars and luxury villas in every country and yet another vacuous model or starlet hanging off your arm, simpering over every word that comes out of your silver-spooned mouth. But I bet there are times when you lie awake at night wondering if anyone loves you just for who you are as a person or whether it’s just for your money.’

He curled his lip mockingly. ‘You really have a thing about well-heeled men, don’t you? Why is success such a big turn-off for you?’

She gave him a scoffing look. ‘Success? Don’t make me laugh. You inherited all your wealth. It’s not your success, it’s your family’s. You’re just riding on the wave of it, just like your party-boy, time-wasting brothers.’

Rafe thought of all the hard work he and his brothers had had to do to keep their family’s wealth secure. Some unwise business dealings his grandfather had made a few years ago had jeopardised everything. Rafe had marshalled his brothers and as a team they had rebuilt their late father’s empire. It had taken eighteen-hour days, working seven days a week for close to two and a half years to bring things back around, but they had done it. Thankfully, none of Vittorio’s foolhardiness had ever been leaked to the press, but hardly a day went by without Rafe remembering how terrifyingly close they had been to losing everything. He, perhaps a little more than Raoul and Remy, felt the ongoing burden of responsibility, to the extent that he had earned the reputation in the corporate world of a being a rather ruthless, single-minded workaholic.

‘You are very keen to express an opinion on matters of which you know nothing,’ he said. ‘Have you met either of my brothers?’

‘No, and I don’t want to. I’m sure they’re just as detestable and loathsome as you.’

‘Actually, they’re vastly nicer than me.’

‘Oh really?’ She raised her brows in a cynical arc.

Rafe leaned indolently against the sandstone pillar, his arms folded loosely across his chest, one of his legs crossed over the other at the ankle. ‘For instance, they would never leave a young lady standing out here on the steps without inviting her in for a drink.’

Her eyes narrowed in warning. ‘Well, if you’re thinking of asking me in, then don’t bother wasting your breath.’

‘I wasn’t.’

Her expression faltered for a nanosecond but then she quickly recovered her pertness. ‘I’m quite sure I’d be a novel change from the women you usually invite in for drinks.’