“Have you eaten?” He lifted an inquiring brow as she glanced up at him.
“I was going to eat when I got home.”
He picked up the menu and scanned it. Ordered a selection of appetizers without consulting her. Surprisingly, for a woman who valued her independence above all else, she found it a huge turn-on. Found everything about him a huge turn-on. And it only seemed to get worse as they chatted about everything from French and American politics to books and music. He was clearly way above average intelligence, sophisticated and seemed to have vast amounts of knowledge housed under that compelling facade.
“Why Columbia?” she asked as she snared the last piece of bruschetta. “Did you have family in America?”
He shook his head. “I wanted a change of pace like you did. To spread my wings. New York as the epicenter of it all made sense.”
“So are you a financial genius, then? Million-dollar deals and all that?”
A glitter entered his eyes. “The genius part is debatable, but yes, sometimes there are big deals.”
She found herself staring at his mouth again. It really was lush. Spectacular. What would it be like to kiss him? What would it be like for him to kiss her? Oh, God. She pushed her empty wineglass away with an abrupt movement. Enough of that.
He inclined his head toward the glass. “Another?”
She shook her head. “I should get home. I have a lot I want to accomplish tomorrow.”
“I’ll drive you, then.” He lifted his hand to signal the waitress.
She wanted to say yes. Wanted him to drive her home so he could kiss her good-night. But that was utter madness. She didn’t know him. He could be a criminal. A high-end one with a Rolex and great shoes.
He looked up at their server as she took his credit card and ran it through the machine. “I would like to drive this young woman home, Cecilia. Can you offer me a reference?”
The brunette let out a husky chuckle, her gaze moving to Olivia. “He is perfectly respectable. If uncatchable.”
Olivia had no doubts about that. She got to her feet, gathered her gym bag and purse and allowed Tony to guide her through the crowded little trattoria, his hand on the small of her back electrifying. They walked a short distance down a side street to where his insanely expensive-looking yellow monster of a car was parked at the curb.
He tucked her inside with a sure hand. She felt her heart rev to life as the engine rumbled beneath them, snarling like the beast it was. Pressing a palm to her throat, she gave him the directions to her apartment and tried to remember the last time she’d felt this alive. Like herself... The past year had been about finding herself again, stopping the nightmares, ending the pain.
Who was she now? She didn’t even know.
Tony was quiet in the car, his elegant, eminently capable hands guiding the powerful vehicle through the streets to the aristocratic neighborhood that bounded Corso Venezia and Via Palestro, her home for the past year. Her chest pulsed with a funny ache as they passed the stunning examples of baroque and neoclassical architecture that lined the streets, the elegant exclusive avenues of Milan’s fashion district. The beautiful palazzo that lay only a stone’s throw from her window. Every day she sat there drinking coffee, dreaming up designs and feeding the voraciously hungry birds that knew her now. It was hers, this neighborhood. She’d finally found a sense of belonging and she didn’t want to give it up.
Tony turned into the driveway of her modern building located in one of the neighborhoods tucked in behind Corso Venezia. When Giovanni had shown it to her, she’d instantly fallen in love with its wrought iron balconies and wall-size liberty windows. With its feeling of lightness after the prison New York had become...
Tony brought the car to a halt in the rounded driveway. “Do you have a parking spot? I’ll see you to your door.”
Her already agitated heartbeat sped up. She knew exactly where this was leading if he accompanied her up to her apartment, and for a woman who had never done this, never invited a man back to her apartment on a first date, it was like someone had dropped her onto one of those death-defying loop-the-loop roller coasters that promised equal amounts of terror and exhilaration.
She shook her head, dry mouthed, realizing he was waiting for a response. “It’s underground,” she told him huskily, pointing to the entrance at the end of the driveway.
He guided the car into the garage, parked in her spot and followed her to the elevators. They rode the glass-enclosed lift up to her tenth-floor apartment.
“An awfully exclusive apartment for a struggling artist,” Tony commented, leaning back against the wall.
Olivia pressed damp palms against her thighs as the cityscape came into view. “A friend was helping me out.”
His brow rose. “A friend?”
“A nonromantic friend,” she underscored, absorbing the aggressive, predatory male in him. It wasn’t helping the state of her insides.
His raised brows arced into a slashing V. “Men just don’t lend multimillion-euro apartments to a female unless they have other intentions, Liv.”
The insinuation in his words brought her chin up. “This one did,” she rasped. The elevator doors swung open. She stalked out of the car and headed down the hallway to her apartment, her head a muddled, attracted mess.
Tony caught up with her at her door. She turned to face him, confused, her stomach a slow burn. “I think you don’t know me at all.”
“My mistake,” he came back laconically, tall and daunting. “It’s a natural question for a man to ask.”
Was it? They’d only had a drink. She was so confused about the whole evening, about what was happening with this beautiful stranger, her head spun. She stood there, heart hammering in her chest. Tony put a hand to the wall beside her, keeping a good six or seven inches between them, his gaze pinned on her face. Her stomach dropped as if she was headed toward the steepest plunge on that scary roller coaster, the part where one had big, huge second thoughts.
Something glimmered in his gaze. “Aren’t you going to invite me in for an espresso to cap the evening off?”
“I don’t know,” she answered honestly, knees weak.
“Oh, come on, Liv,” he chided, that glimmer darkening into a challenge. “Men are territorial. Would you expect a man like me not to be?”
No. Yes. Her head swam.
He closed the gap between them until he was mere inches from her. His palm came up to cup her jaw, his gaze dropping to her lips. Her own clung shamelessly to that lush pout she’d been staring at all night, had been wanting to kiss all night. And he knew it.
He lowered his head and rocked his mouth over hers. Smooth, questing, he exerted just the right amount of pressure not to frighten her away, and that mouth, that mouth, was sensational. She anchored her palms against the solid planes of his chest, her bones sinking into the hard line of the wall as he explored the curves of her mouth. He kissed her so expertly she never had a chance. All she could do was helplessly follow his lead. When he delved deeper, demanded entrance to the heat of her mouth, she opened for him.
Their tongues slid along each other’s in an erotic duel that rendered her knees useless. She dug her fingertips harder into his chest, breathing him in, registering how delicious he smelled. He was a potent combination of heady male and tangy lime, and she was completely and irrevocably lost.
He pulled back, his gaze scouring her face. “Your key,” he prompted harshly.
Her brain struggled to process the command. Blood pumping, head full, she rummaged through her purse, found her keys and handed them to him.
* * *
The sane part of Rocco told him he didn’t need to carry the charade any further. It was obvious Olivia Fitzgerald was not above falling into the arms of a man with a beautiful watch and a nice car if it meant rescuing her from her precarious position. Whether she displayed an irresistible vulnerability along with it was inconsequential. It was likely a well-rehearsed act.
The less-than-rational part of his brain wanted to see how far she’d let him take it. How desperate she was.
He tossed her keys on the entryway table. Watched her sink her small white teeth into her perfectly shaped bottom lip.
“I’m not so interested in coffee,” he admitted harshly, watching her pupils dilate. “Do you mind if we skip it?”
She shook her head, eyes wide. Worried her lip with those perfect teeth. He closed the distance between them, the heat they created together rising up to tighten his chest. He swallowed hard at the swift kick of lust that rocketed through him as he brought his palms to rest on either side of her where she stood, back against the door. It was inconceivable to him that he could feel such desire for her given who she was, what she had been to his grandfather, even if this was a deliberate experiment to extract the truth. But she was undeniably exquisite.
Her cheeks, tanned to a light golden brown from the hot Milanese summer sun, were flushed with desire. Her chest under the worn purple T-shirt was rising and falling fast, her nipples erect against the soft fabric. Her hands lay limp at her sides, as if she had no idea what to do with them.