Passion and the Prince(5)

By: Penny Jordan

Was she? Was she really? Or was that just what she wanted—no, needed to believe?

Her mobile beeped to warn her of an incoming text.

Automatically she pressed to read it, scrolling down its length with a jerky uncoordinated touch that betrayed the effect he had had on her nervous system.

It was from Rick, telling her that he’d got wind of a terrific opportunity and was flying out to New York to follow up on it.

PS, he’d texted, bkd studio in yr name. Can u pay the bill for me?

Lily straightened her body, pushing her hair back off her face. This was reality—the reality of her life and her relationships. What had just happened was nothing—and meant nothing. It should be forgotten—treated as though it had never happened.

It didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. For some reason a gap had opened up in the protection she had woven around herself and she had slipped into it. Slipped into it—that was all. Not fallen through it, not become lost for ever in it, spellbound by the dark magic of an unknown man’s touch.

She had work to do, she reminded herself. Proper work—not stepping in to do Rick’s work for him. Her real purpose in being here in Milan had nothing to do with models, or fashion, or anything that belonged to the world that had been her father’s. She had her own world and her own place in it. Her world. Her safe, protected and protective world—and that world would never admit into it a man who could bewilder her senses to the point where he might take them prisoner.

Marco nodded to his PA, handing over to him the documents he had just signed, his mind on the rather trying and over-emotional phone call he’d just had from his sister. She was hoping, he knew, that he would take her son Pietro onto his personal staff once he had completed his university education, with a view to Pietro eventually being appointed to the board of the family business, which comprised a vast empire of various interests built up by successive generations of Lombardy nobles and merchants.

Marco’s own contribution to those assets had been the acquisition of a merchant bank which had turned him into a billionaire by the time he was thirty.

Now, at thirty-three, he had turned his attention and his razor-sharp intellect away from the future to focus it instead on the past, and in particular on the artistic legacy originally created by members of his own family and those like it in financing and sponsoring artists as their protégés.

Marco had never been able to understand quite where his older sister got her emotional intensity from. Their now dead parents had after all been rather distant figures to them, aristocratic and stiffly formal in the way they’d lived their lives. The upbringing of their two children had been left in the hands of nannies and then good schools. Their mother hadn’t been the type to fuss over her children in any way, but especially not physically. She had been the opposite of the normal conception of Italian mothers—proud of them both, Marco knew, but never one to hug or kiss them. Not that Marco looked back on his childhood with any sense of deprivation. His personal space, his personal distance from other people, was important to him.

However, he could and did understand the concern his sister had about Pietro—even if his keenly logical brain was not able to accept her defence of her son’s reasons for accepting money in return for a so-called ‘modelling’ assignment. Her poor son needed a more generous allowance, she had told him, adding that it was Marco’s fault that Pietro had felt the need to take such a risk, because Marco insisted on Pietro managing on a ridiculously small amount of money. Of course his sister has been quick to assure him that she was grateful to Marco for intervening and going to see the wicked person who had approached her precious son. After all, they both knew what could happen to young innocents who found themselves caught up in the sordid side of modelling.

Marco’s gaze fell on the silver-framed photograph on his desk. Olivia, the girl in it, looked very young. The photograph had been taken just after her sixteenth birthday. Her pretty face was wreathed in a shy smile, her dark hair curling down onto her shoulders. She looked innocent and malleable, incapable of deceiving or betraying anyone. Her beauty was the beauty of a still unopened rose—there to be seen, but not yet fully mature. Olivia had never reached that maturity. Anger burned inside him—an anger that grew in intensity as out of nowhere he felt an unwanted echo of the electrical jolt of sexual awareness that had shocked through him earlier in the day, for a woman who should have been the last kind of woman on earth who could affect him like that. It had been a momentary failing, that was all, he assured himself. A consequence, no doubt, of the fact that his bed had been empty for the best part of a year, following his refusal to give in to his mistress’s pleas for commitment.