Picture of Innocence(2)

By: Jacqueline Baird

‘Sorry for the delay, but it was unavoidable.’ She rose to her feet and he noted she had scarcely changed at all. Small—she barely reached his shoulder—with her hair scraped back in a knot on top of her head, her face free of make-up. The baggy sweater had been replaced with an equally voluminous black suit, with a long skirt that did her no favours at all. Slender ankles, he noted, and tiny feet, but the flat shoes she wore had definitely seen better days. She obviously cared little for her appearance—not a trait he admired in a woman.

Lucy Steadman looked up and up at the man standing in front of her. Antonio had told her once his brother was a lot older than him, and a staid, boring banker who did not know how to enjoy life, amongst other similarly harsh comments, and now she could see what he had meant …

Tall—well over six feet—he was dressed conservatively in a dark suit, a white shirt and plain dark tie. And expensively, she guessed. His broad shoulders were outlined superbly by the well-cut jacket, and she hastily lifted her gaze from where it had drifted down to his hips and thighs to fix on his face. The man was hard and unsmiling, but Antonio had missed one attribute that was immediately obvious to Lucy, even with her limited experience of men.

Lorenzo Zanelli was a truly arresting male, with a subtle aura of animal magnetism about him that any women past puberty could not fail to recognise. Given the severity of his clothes, surprisingly his thick black hair was longer than the current fashion and brushed the white collar of his shirt. The planes of his face were firmly etched, his heavy lidded eyes were brown, almost black, and deep-set beneath thick arched brows his nose large and definitely Roman and his mouth wide and tightly controlled.

‘You must be Lorenzo Zanelli,’ she said, and held out her hand.

‘Correct, Miss Steadman,’ he responded, and took her hand.

His clasp was firm and brief, but the sudden ripple of sensation that shot up the length of her arm affected Lucy well after he had dropped her hand, and she simply stared at him. She had the oddest notion he was familiar to her, yet she had no memory of ever having met him before, and he in no way resembled his brother.

He wasn’t handsome in the conventional sense, but his face was fascinating. There was strength in his bold features—a powerful character that was undeniable—and the subtle hint of sensuality about his mouth intrigued her. Her gaze lingered on the perfectly chiselled lips, the bottom fuller than the top, and she found herself imagining what his kiss would taste like … sensuous and beguiling. A tiny shudder vibrated through her body and, shocked by her physical response to an uncharacteristic flight of fantasy, she swiftly raised her eyes and ignored her strange reaction to a man she had every reason to dislike.

Lucy excused her totally unprecedented lapse with the wry thought that Lorenzo Zanelli was the sort of man to make anyone look twice. In fact she would like to paint a portrait of him, she mused, slipping back in to her professional comfort zone.

‘Miss Steadman, I know why you are here.’

His deep, slightly accented voice cut into her reverie, and she blinked just in time to see his dark eyes flick disdainfully over her. She felt the colour rise in her cheeks with embarrassment at having been caught staring. ‘You do?’ she murmured inanely. Of course he did—she had written to him.

Her original reason for this trip to Italy was to personally deliver a portrait she had painted of an Italian countess’s recently departed husband. The lady had commissioned the painting after walking into Lucy’s art and craft gallery with the friend she’d been visiting in England. Lucy had received via the post dozens of photographs of the man, and she had been thrilled that her work was finally going to get some recognition beyond the local scene.

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