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It just doesn’t feel like the right decision for me. I can’t have sex with a man who doesn’t want me... me, Riley Tremaine, with all of my nuances and quirks. And I’m okay with that.

Which is why I can’t understand why I feel so strange, so disappointed, as I make my way down the massive, ornately decorated hallway in search of the front door.

After two wrongs turns I at last find the stairs, which thankfully lead right into the front entryway.

As my feet descend the last step, I pause, sucking in a big mouthful of air. This is it, then. I’m leaving this opportunity behind. Leaving five hundred thousand dollars and a fling with an Italian stallion for a night in a hostel and, please God, a job of some sort. Surely I can scrounge up a job as a waitress. Or hell, even Italy has McDonald’s.

And I can always set up on a street corner and try to sell one of the many paintings that I’ve done this year, though it hurts my heart a bit to lose a piece of my year of freedom. But I know that that’s my best shot at quick cash.

“Shit.” That’s when I realize that the last I saw of my luggage was on a conveyor belt at the airport. Matteo strikes me as the kind who would know that and would order someone to retrieve it, but still, I can’t leave until I have my suitcase and my portfolio in hand. Which means that I can’t sneak out like I’d planned. Damn it.

“Going somewhere?” The voice is smooth and dark, one that I think might be seared into my brain for all time. Still, I jump—he’s standing in an open archway that leads to what looks like a sitting room, looking dark and dangerous and altogether delicious.

I wonder how long he’s been standing there, watching me. Hopefully not for long, because then he’ll know how easily I could be persuaded... I’ve always been atrocious at keeping my thoughts from playing across my face like a movie.

Just seeing him sets my pulse fluttering, and I wonder briefly if I’ve made the wrong choice. As he has so succinctly pointed out, there are thousands of women who would kill to be in my shoes right now.

He knows it. I know it.

And yet...

“I’m leaving.” I blurt this out like a seventh grader at her first school dance. But then, I’ve never claimed to be smooth... I haven’t had enough experience with the opposite sex to have perfected my flirtations.

I looked down at my feet as I spoke, nervous about upsetting him, the man who has shown me unnecessary kindness, even if he is a jackass. Now I look up, force myself to look right into his eyes. Something dark passes through them, something that I can’t put a label on. And then it’s gone, and his eyes are narrowed with contemplation.

“I see.” He nods thoughtfully, pushing off from where he is leaning against the wall. The movement makes the muscles of his arms, visible beneath the short sleeves of his black T-shirt, ripple in a way that ahs saliva pooling in my mouth.

Slowly he stalks toward me, and find my mouth drying up with both nerves and excitement. What is it about him? He’s a jerk. He’s not sorry for it, either.

But there’s that hint of something more... that part of him that was revealed when he took care of me after the incident at the airport.

He didn’t have to. He could have just left me there. But he didn’t, and that’s what has led me to believe that there’s more to Matteo Benenati than meets the eyes... more, even, than I think he himself knows.

He moves until he’s just inside my personal space, just like he did last night. I’m sure that it’s intentional—I somehow don’t think that there’s much in his life that isn’t meticulously planned. Except, of course, for this demand that he marry.

This softens my heart. It’s an incredibly difficult situation for me... for it’s even harder for him. I can walk away.... He can’t.

He stands there, just looking at me, that half smirk that is already so familiar playing over the corners of his lips. He hasn’t asked me why, but I find myself blurting the words out regardless.

“I’m so sorry. I know you need a wife to secure your company. But there are so many women who would say yes. I’m sure there are. Better choices than me. I just... I just can’t.”

He leans toward me, just a breath, and as the masculine scent of his soap, his skin, and what is surely some very expensive cologne hits my senses, I start to think that I absolutely can.

“I see.” He’s close enough to kiss me—it’s an assault on all of my senses. But he does nothing of the sort, instead regarding me with that mildly curious expression on his face. “Is it the money? Is it not enough?”

“What?” I blurt, horrified. Does he think I’m some kind of gold digging whore? “Of course not. That’s an insane amount of money! I just... I can’t.”

I won’t. I won’t be like my mother.

Though if my mother felt even half of these emotions toward any of her johns, I might be able to forgive her, at least some.

“All right, then.” Matteo stands straight, putting an extra sliver of space in between us. I sigh with relief as he gives me room to breathe.

It’s a fake out. The second the tension in my muscles eases, he slides one hand into the long tangle of my hair, the other around my waist, and pulls my body flush against his. I gasp as that big hand pulls my hair, just a bit, just enough to get my attention, seconds before his lips come crashing down on my own.

While his kiss the night before had been a taunt, this one is a possession. He’s marking me when his lips slide over my own, when his tongue teases over the line that divides my lips. When he sinks his teeth into my lower lip.

Against my better judgment, I moan and melt against him. He’s long and hard, radiating heat. I can feel his arousal, pressing against the softness of my belly.

Teasing me. Making me wants things that I’ve only dreamt about to this point.

I gasp when he abruptly pulls away. My lips feel swollen, and I know that I must look a little wild as I stare, not entirely sure of anything but the fact that I want more.

“Why?” He demands, the hand still fisted in my hair tugging until I have no choice but to look him right in the eyes. “You want me as much as I want you. So why not take the money that you need, and explore this?”

I’m mortified to feel a tremble working its way over my skin.

Why is a good question. We may know next to nothing about each other, but still, something in me recognizes something in him.

And yet...

“What is it, exactly, that you want to explore?” I have seen that there’s more to this man that the veneer he shows to the world, but he’s still a man, and thanks to my mother’s... profession... I have a healthy distrust of the creatures.

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