He frowned and focused intently on the idea Stefan was proposing for a Knights of Columbia charity basketball game fund-raiser. “I think it fits perfectly with our mission statement,” he agreed. “And if you can get the players, we’re golden. When were you thinking?”
Stefan lifted a brow. “I just told you—late September so we can play outside.”
He closed his eyes briefly as Olivia’s inquisitive fingers investigated the contents of his pocket, then slid back out again. “Right. Sorry.”
“Can I help?” Olivia leaned forward, all halo-endowed innocence. “I’m in my element at a fund-raiser. I can cheer you on.”
Rocco watched his friend keep his eyes above her plunging neckline. Just. “By all means,” Stefan said wryly. “Half the men in New York would show up to see you.” He passed his palm over the heavy stubble on his chin. “Would you consider doing a promotional poster for us?”
“No, she wouldn’t,” Rocco inserted. “My fiancée is not a pinup model.”
“It’s true,” Olivia offered. “I don’t mind. Those were fun shoots.”
“No.” The word exploded out of his mouth as Olivia slid her finger up the zipper of his pants and traced the rigid length of him. He was on fire. Literally on fire. He reached down, picked up her hand and slapped it down on her thigh, then rose from the table.
“I need to make a call.” He directed the words at Stefan. “Entertain my fiancée, would you?”
“That won’t be difficult.” Stefan’s amused comment sidled through the air to him as he walked away.
He exited the front door of the restaurant and stood leaning against the facade of the building while he made his call, his only company on the street another diner in a designer suit smoking a cigarette. When he finished, he stayed there for a moment, breathing in the fresh air. Attempting to regain control over his tense, aroused body.
Stefan strolled out the front door and over to where he stood. “Cooling off? Where was her hand, by the way?”
Rocco gave him a dark look. “Where is she?”
“In the ladies’.” Stefan moved his gaze over him and shook his head. “She has your number, my friend. You have it bad. I feel as if I’m watching Rocco unplugged.”
He wanted badly to tell his friend it was a facade. That she, Olivia, was playing a necessary role. Trying to drive him mad while she was at it... But he couldn’t risk everything he’d put into this investment by being anything less than fully committed. Blood brothers or otherwise.
He pulled on the cloak of aloofness he did every bit as well as Stefan. “She is a handful. But honestly,” he challenged, quirking a brow at his friend, “would you want anything else?”
Stefan eyed him. “Perhaps not. I guess I’m wondering if the board’s POV on you has anything to do with this sudden engagement.”
His insides tensed. “You think I care what they think?”
Stefan leaned back against the wall beside him. “I’m just saying marriage is a big step. This is all very sudden.” He waved a hand at him. “So she’s beautiful. So she’s good in bed. Those are a dime a dozen for you, fratello. Enjoy her, but think hard about what you’re doing.”
Rocco turned to face him. Wondered why he felt the unusual urge to put his fist through his friend’s face. “She’s a good choice for me and for the brand.”
“Maybe. But you’re grieving over your grandfather. Give yourself some time before you do something stupid.”
“That’s why we’re planning a long engagement.” Rocco gave the Sicilian an assessing look. “When are you going to get over Serena? No one wants to say it, but it’s time.”
The guarded, impenetrable expression that seemed to be his friend’s de facto look of late descended over his square-jawed face. “I’ve been over Serena for a long time.”
“You think so?”
Stefan stared him down. “You think you’re in control of your little situation in there?”
No. He decidedly was not. But he was about to fix that.
* * *
The deliberate twist of the key in the lock of the apartment door echoed excessively loudly in Olivia’s ears after the loaded silence in the car coming home. The explosive look on Rocco’s face as they’d driven through the relatively quiet streets of Manhattan made her wonder if she’d taken her exercise in distraction a bit too far.
He stood back for her to enter, his long, lean body taut, his face so blank that adrenaline pounded through her in a disconcerting rush. Hadn’t she done her job? She’d really gotten into her role as fiancée. Even Stefan had seemed to enjoy himself... And she hadn’t thought about tomorrow’s press conference even once, which was an added bonus.
The door slammed shut. She winced and turned to face him.
“What the hell was that?” he growled, his stance open-legged and aggressive.
She touched her fingers to her throat. “I was having some fun. This really is a ridiculous situation, Rocco. Stefan wasn’t going to believe it was love at first sight for one second. I was trying to make it believable.”
His long strides carried him to her so quickly the room seemed to sway around her. He stopped mere inches from her, the heat pulsing from him so intensely she felt it singe her skin. “You weren’t trying to make it believable. You were trying to drive me nuts. Stefan thinks I’ve lost it.”
She bit her lip, her gaze skipping away from his. “I’m sorry. I might have taken it a bit too far.”
“A bit too far?” Incredulity dug a furrow across his brow. “You had your hand on my crotch.”
Heat rushed to her cheeks. “I said I went too far. I’ve apologized.”
His gaze bored into hers. “Sorry isn’t an effective response for what I’m feeling right now, tesoro. I am way past the line.”
Of what? Her throat went dry, her stomach clenching in a knot. “You lied to me. You told me you weren’t attracted to me that night in Navigli when you clearly were.”
“For a reason.”
Her hands clenched by her sides. “Because you think I was with Giovanni.”
“Because you were with Giovanni.”
She made a sound in the back of her throat. “Do you really know your grandfather so little you think he would have been having an affair with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter?”
“He was not in his right mind.” A muscle ticked in his jaw, a flare of fury firing in his eyes. “He was off in some...fairy-tale land of late. Doubtless you perpetuated that.”
Her head pounded with fury. “You are so wrong, you know that? So laughably wrong. And you know what else? You deserved that tonight, Rocco. And more, if I were to be honest. You can’t even admit the truth to yourself about how you feel.”
He stared at her, long and hard, his face contorting into an expression that made her want to head for the door and run. “Here I am, then, Olivia,” he rasped, his gaze impaling hers. “About ten showers away from finding your payback amusing. And that is the truth.” A muscle in his jaw ticked wildly. “You want to finish what you started? Put your hand back where it was, cara. In fact, put more than your hand there.” His voice softened to a low purr. “I dare you.”
The heat, the potent attraction that had been smoldering, building, between them all night wrapped itself around her like a shroud, seizing her lungs. Despite what he thought of her, despite what he’d done to her that night in Navigli, her body wanted him to finish what he’d started. Badly.
She raised her gaze to his. Dark color stained his high cheekbones, everything about him hard, masculine challenge. He would be spectacular in bed. All that intensity caged in an outrageously good body. She could almost taste how good he would be.
She nearly did it, too. Because numbing her brain as to what lay ahead just a little bit longer was high on her agenda. Then her rational brain kicked in. Short-term avoidance wasn’t going to help her in reality. She stepped back, removed herself from all that heat and called it a brush with insanity.
“No, thank you, Rocco. I’m finally starting to learn the rules of your game, and I decline. This year is going to be hard enough without introducing sex into the mix.”
She watched him process her response. The emotion that flickered through his volatile gaze. Watched him firmly slam a lid on it. “I tend to wholeheartedly agree. But push me again like that, Olivia, and I won’t be responsible for my actions, deal or not. Count on that.”
A shiver rocked through her. She turned and walked into the bedroom before the madness escalated. She should be focusing on the day ahead, figuring out how she was going to get through it rather than allowing herself to become hopelessly distracted with Rocco.