The Sicilian's Marriage Arrangement(3)

By: Lucy Monroe


She blanched and sat back in her chair as if trying to put distance between them. “I didn’t say that. I’m not looking for a…a lover.” Then in a whirl of purple chiffon, she jumped up. “I’ll just get back to the party.” She eased around him toward the door as if he were an angry animal threatening to pounce.

He cursed himself in his native tongue as she opened the door and fled. There had been tears in her lavender eyes. What the gossiping duo had not been able to do with their nasty commentary, he had managed with one sentence.

He had made her cry.



Two now familiar hands grabbed her shoulders from behind. “Please, piccola, you must allow me to once again apologize.”

She said nothing, but she didn’t try to get away. How could she? The moment he touched her, she lost all sense of self-will. And he did not have a clue, but then why should he? Sicilian business tycoons did not look to hopelessly average, twenty-three-year-old virgins for an alliance…of any sort.

She blinked furiously at the wetness that had already trickled down to her cheeks. Wasn’t it enough that she had been forced to overhear her shortcomings cataloged by two of her grandfather’s guests? That Luciano of all people should have heard as well had increased the hurt exponentially. Then to have him accuse her of wanting her grandfather to buy her a lover! As if the idea that any man would desire her for herself was too impossible to contemplate.

“Let me go,” she whispered. “I need to check on Grandfather.”

“Joshua has an entire household of servants to see to his needs. I have only you.”

“You don’t need me.”

He turned her to face him. Then keeping one restraining hand on her shoulder, he tipped her chin up with his forefinger. His eyes were dark with remorse. “I did not mean it, piccola.”

She just shook her head, not wanting to speak and betray how much his careless words had hurt. She was not blasé enough to take the type of sophisticated joking he had been indulging in with equanimity.

He said something low in Italian and wiped at her cheeks with a black silk handkerchief he had pulled from his pocket. “Do not distress yourself so. It was nothing more than a poorly worded jest. Not something for which you should upset yourself.”

“I’m sorry. I’m being stupidly emotional.”

His gorgeous brown eyes narrowed. “You are not stupid, piccola, merely easily hurt. You must learn to control this or others will take advantage of your weakness.”

“I—”

“Consider…The words of that gossiping pair distressed you and yet you know them to be false. Your grandfather has no need to buy you either a husband or a lover.” He accentuated his words with a small squeeze of her shoulder. “You are lovely and gentle, a woman any man would be lucky to claim.”

Now she’d forced him to fabrication to get out of the sticky situation.

She made herself smile. “Thank you.”

The stunning angles of his face relaxed in relief and he returned the smile.

Good. If she could convince him she was fine, he would let her leave and she could find someplace to lick her wounds in private.

No one else would notice if she disappeared from the party. Well, perhaps Edward, her colleague from the women’s shelter would notice. Only she had left him thoroughly engrossed in a debate over archeological method with one of her grandfather’s colleagues and doubted he would surface before the party ended.

She stepped back from Luciano’s touch, as much out of self-preservation as her need to get away completely. His proximity affected her to a frightening degree.

“I’m sure there are other guests you would like to talk to.” Again the small polite smile. “If you’re anything like Grandfather, you see every social occasion as an opportunity to advance your business interests. Most of the guests are his business contacts.”

“You are a poor prevaricator, Hope.” He stepped toward her, invading her space with his presence and the scent of his expensive cologne. She wondered if he had it mixed especially for him because she’d never smelled anything as wonderful on another man.

“P-prevaricator?” she asked, stumbling over the word because he was so close.

“It means one who deviates from the truth.” His mouth firmed with grim resolve that warned her she would not get away so easily. “Rather than discuss business with men I can see any day of the week, I would prefer you to show me to the buffet table. I came late and did not eat dinner tonight.”

She’d already known he had come late. Actually, she had thought he was not coming at all. The first she had known of his arrival had been the debacle by the banana tree. “Then, by all means, allow me to show you to the food table.”