The hook slid into the clasp. He uttered a silent prayer of thanks. “Finito.”
She turned around, a tiny smile playing about her lips. “Grazie. I may need help taking it off again later, though.”
He would be conveniently getting ice for a nightcap at that moment. He grabbed the tie he wanted to wear, did it up with swift precision while Olivia did her hair, then ushered her out into the warm night air and to the car.
Stefan Bianco met them at the back entrance of the fusion restaurant he was part owner of in Chelsea. His friend’s mouth curved into one of his signature lazy smiles when he saw them, the one that camouflaged one of the most ruthless, hard-edged businessmen Rocco had ever met.
He and Rocco embraced.
“Welcome to Tempesta Di Fuoco.”
“Impressive, my friend.” Rocco stood back and drew Olivia forward. “Olivia, meet Stefan. Not nearly as intimidating as he’s made out to be.”
Stefan carried the hand Olivia offered to his lips. “You are even more beautiful in person. I can see why Rocco lost his head.”
A hint of color washed his fiancée’s cheeks. “And you are even more...charismatic...than Rocco painted you.”
Amusement gleamed in Stefan’s eyes. “You will have to enlighten me on his description. I’m sure it would be entertaining.”
Rocco curved an arm around Olivia’s waist and pulled her into his side. “Nothing you haven’t heard before, fratello.”
They were seated at a quiet table in one of the alcoves of the exceedingly modern restaurant, done in chrome and steel and muted colors. Rocco and Olivia sat on one side of the table for four, while Stefan sat on the other, his hand lifting to summon the sommelier to bring them a very old, very fine bottle of cabernet.
“I trust that’s fine?” he asked Olivia. “I can’t tolerate champagne. Such a woman’s drink. And French,” he added caustically.
“I’m not a fan of champagne myself,” Olivia observed, bestowing that high-wattage smile of hers on his friend. “And I do love a good Cab, thank you.”
Stefan did a double take. There wasn’t a man on this earth who would be immune to Olivia Fitzgerald when she used that smile on him, and Rocco would bet his stock portfolio by the end of this meal she would have his incorrigible friend eating out of her hand.
Stefan sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. “So how did you manage to work your way past my friend’s considerable defenses? He has enough to man an army.”
A smile curved Olivia’s lips. “He picked me up in a café after scaring my girlfriends away... It was more...lust than love at first sight.”
Humor darkened his friend’s eyes. “That sounds more like him. What isn’t like him is to fall flat on his face like this. He’s usually much more careful. I always said if he’d ever marry, he would choose a blue-blooded Italian to carry on the Mondelli line and live a very premeditated life.”
Olivia blinked at the backhanded compliment. Rocco put up his hand. “I’m still here, fratello, in case you’d forgotten.”
His friend shrugged. “You have to admit, this is knee-jerk behavior for you. If we were in my wine cellar, you’d spend half an hour choosing the vintage, then decide perhaps it needed more thinking on.”
Olivia put her water down with a deliberate movement, those amazing blue eyes of hers glittering as she recovered. Rocco almost jumped out of his seat when she curved her palm around his thigh underneath the table and squeezed. “Apparently we are compatible on other levels. Although Rocco attempted to deny it at first.”
A muscle jumped in his jaw at the twin sensations of Olivia’s hand burning into his thigh like a brand and the anger emanating from her like a physical, living entity despite the smile plastered across her face.
“There was a slight miscommunication between us at first,” he managed. “We moved past it.”
Olivia’s fingers splayed wider on his thigh, caressing muscles far too alert from that close encounter in the dressing room.
Stefan’s gaze sharpened on his fiancée. “That was you at Giovanni’s funeral.”
Olivia nodded. “Rocco and I had had a lover’s quarrel. Not the most appropriate place, I admit, but he was green with jealousy over my former relationship with Guillermo Villanueva. I managed to convince him there’s simply nothing left there.”
“There’s a first.” Stefan’s mouth quirked. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Rocco care enough about a female to go running after her.”
Rocco gritted his teeth, unable to remove Olivia’s disturbing hand because his right hand was covering hers on the table. He squeezed it hard. “I did not run after you.”
“Of course you did, sweetheart.” She gave him a saccharine-sweet smile and closed her fingers over his thigh in another firm squeeze. “You showed up on my doorstep with flowers and poetry.” She angled a look at Stefan. “Can you imagine big bad Rocco writing poetry? It was outrageously cute. Anyway,” she said, looking adoringly back at her fiancé, “he really had nothing to worry about. He knows I only have eyes for him.”
A hot flush spread its way across his cheeks. His brain was catching up with his groin now, and it hit him what was happening. Olivia had read his attraction in that dressing room, had figured out he was lying. And this was payback.
He released her hand and captured the one on his thigh, bringing it to his lips. “I do know that, amore mio. Now stop spilling our secrets. I’ll never be able to live them down.”
“On the contrary,” Stefan demurred, “I am highly entertained.”
Rocco kept a firm grip on his fiancée’s hand. “Olivia is enough to inspire any man to poetry.” He couldn’t mask the sarcasm in his voice. “I’m sure you can see how that is.”
Stefan’s green eyes danced. “I certainly can. Maybe you should read the poem at the wedding. I’m sure we’ll all be wiping the tears away.”
Rocco gave his friend a dangerous look. He was saved by the arrival of the sommelier, who presented the wine to Stefan. The Sicilian glanced at the label, nodded and indicated for it to be served.
“So when and where is this star-studded marriage expected to happen?” he asked. “Are you giving yourselves some time to enjoy your newfound compatibility, or should we expect an invitation?”
Olivia tucked in closer to Rocco’s side and returned her hand to his thigh. “We haven’t set a date. It’s going to be an extremely busy year for both of us. Maybe the summer of next year.”
Stefan nodded. “Nothing wrong with restraint. Bambini can come later.”
Rocco almost choked on his mouthful of water. “I haven’t totally gone off the deep end, Bianco. There’s been no talk of bambini yet.”
Olivia’s fingers settled in a red-light zone between his thighs. His erection throbbed in his pants, begging for more. “Oh, but we don’t plan to wait too long, do we, cara? I am twenty-six. These eggs of mine aren’t getting any younger.”
Rocco gave her a meaningful smile laced with warning. “They’ve plenty of life left in them, bella. You are only twenty-six. And believe me, I do want you to myself for a while.”
Tonight. To strangle her. To find out what had happened to the nerve-racked woman he’d arrived in New York with.
Olivia stared innocently back at him, using her big doe eyes to full effect. “Oh, I want that, too. I know what we’ve agreed upon, sweetheart... It’s just that when I think of little Roccos with dark curly hair and big brown eyes, I find it hard to resist.”
“Who could?” Stefan drawled facetiously. “If we populated the world with millions of little Roccos, it would be a better place.”
“And the hands...” Olivia picked one of his up and showed it off. “Rocco has great hands, but they’ll be chubby little amazing ones to begin with.”
Stefan nodded. “No doubt about it. Mondelli has great hands. Many a woman would attest to that, but now that he’s taken, too bad for them, hmm?”
Rocco bit down on the inside of his mouth. Counted to three. “I am famished,” he asserted in a blatant change of subject. “Should we look at the menu?”
“The chef has prepared a special celebratory meal.” Stefan eliminated that distraction with a wave of his hand and a glimmer of laughter in his dark eyes. “Sit back and enjoy.”
Rocco attempted to. The vibe in Stefan’s new restaurant was high energy, the food as they tasted their appetizers superb, the easy familiarity of the conversation with his longtime friend enjoyable. It was Olivia who was the problem. If she’d been sitting any closer to him she’d be in his lap. Her spicy perfume, which he found he enjoyed a bit too much, kept invading his thinking processes. And her hands were everywhere... Caressing his fingers on the table, massaging his thigh. And now she’d slipped her shoe off and was—what did the Americans call it? Playing footsie with him!