Matteo smiles, that seductive little half curve of his lips, then reaches over to brush his lips over mine once more. His fingers remain tangled in my hair, and I’m shocked to discover that I like the bite of pain.
His touch has ruined me for every other man, before I’ve even gotten started. Damn him.
“If you have to ask, then I’m clearly not doing it right.” Again, that smile, but this time it makes me feel a bit sick.
If I do this, even if it’s something that I think I want...
Won’t that make me just like her?
I can’t. I won’t.
“I’m sorry.” Jerking out of his grasp, I shake my head and step away. A chill seeps into my bones as I move away from his heat. “If you’ll show me where my bags are, I’ll just go.”
Matteo presses his lips together, clearly not pleased. But he nods calmly, places a hand at the small of my back, and guides me forward, toward the door. But underneath that calm...
I don’t know him well enough to say for certain, but I don’t think he’s taking this news quite as passively as he seems to be. I wonder at that, because Matteo Benenati does not strike me as the kind of man to take no for an answer.
I tense, wondering if he’s going to kiss me again in an attempt to change my mind. I can’t lie... part of me... okay most of me... is hoping for it.
“I will have your bags brought down. My driver will take you wherever you need to go.” I want to protest, but truthfully, I don’t have the cash for a cab.
“Thanks.” Our stares catch and hold, and a tangible wave of heat pulses between us. When he clenches his jaw I have to fight the urge to reach out and smooth my fingers over the hard planes of his cheek.
“Be well, Riley Tremaine.” Reaching around me, Matteo opens the heavy wooden door, and the bright sunlight of morning in Italy floods in.
I should be proud of myself, should march straight out into that sunshine with my head held high.
Instead it’s everything I can do to not shout that I’ve changed my mind, that for once in my life I want to be wild and free from the shadows that haunt me.
But that’s not who I am. Even if it’s hard to remember that with Matteo’s pricey cologne teasing my nostrils and his heat warming my skin. If it hurts to walk away, well, this is all my own damn fault.
Coming to Italy in the first place, going to art school—those are not things that a sensible young woman does. I should have known better.
Unbidden, depression washes over me, a grey sheet of rain. I push forward, desperate to be outside, for fresh air, but all of a sudden Matteo’s arm is in front of me, holding me back.
“May I help you?” His voice has lost all of the warmth that it held just moments ago, and I crane my neck to look at him, startled. What is he talking about?
But then I see that his attention is trained not on me, but on two large men that have appeared on the front steps of this mansion.
“Miss Riley Tremaine?” The two men are dressed in what are unmistakably uniforms of la policia—the police, even if they differ slightly from the ones I’m used to seeing back in the States. The navy uniforms, the gun belts, the narrow eyed look... I’ve seen it before, more often than I’d care to admit, always trained on my mother.
But this time their attention is focused on me, and though I know I haven’t done anything to warrant their attention, I can feel my pulse stutter.
“That’s me.” My voice sounds like it is coming from beneath a sheet of ice, and I would believe it, because my toes and fingers have suddenly gone numb. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“Miss Tremaine, may we come inside? We need to have a talk with you.”
I try to conjure up a smile—again, I know I have nothing to worry about—but when I feel those disapproving eyes roam over me, standing in the doorway of this monstrous home, dressed in my cheap Walmart yoga pants and T-shirt, I feel like I’m being instantly dragged back to the trailer that I’ve called home, the small, stinking hovel where my mother sells her body to anyone who’ll have it, just to earn her next hit.
I’m not her. But in that moment, I feel like I could be.
“That’s fine.” I smile as calmly as I can—what’s going on?—and step back to let them in. But Matteo’s arm, still in front of me—protecting me?—tenses, flexes. His free hand comes to rest protectively on the small of my back, anchoring me, and I’m instantly focused on the small square of heat.
“Whatever you have to say, can be said right here.” Matteo’s voice is calm, yet deadly, and I look up at him with surprise.
Why is he protecting me? He should be furious with me.
“Mr. Benenati, we’re sorry to have to bring this business into your home.” The one police officer, the younger one, nods at Matteo with something akin to respect on his face. The other one, who is older with a shock of wiry grey hair, barely manages to withhold a sneer of disgust. He pushes slightly in front of his partner, attention trained on me.
I feel like a rabbit, cornered in a yard. Feel like I did when I was a teenager and one of my mom’s johns would get a little too close for comfort.
“Then spit it out.”
I can barely reconcile the man that I’ve spent time with over the last two days with the one who stands behind me now. I’ve heard him be cruel, but the razor edge in his voice now takes it to an entirely new level.
“Very well, Signor Benenati.” The older cop smirks, and I wonder if he’s someone who once knew Matteo’s father, or if he just doesn’t like people younger than him in positions of power. But then his hawk-like gaze is trained on me, and unease trails ghostly fingers down my spine.
“Signorina Tremaine, would you care to elaborate on where you received the million dollars that appeared in your account last night?”
My front is pressed to Riley’s back, and I can feel that curvy little body of hers stiffen. Since most of the women in my life have been interested in two things—my money and my body, in that order—I could be cynical and suspicious and immediately suspect that she has somehow swindled me out of part of my empire.
But I just don’t think so. One, while she’s clearly a very smart woman, I’m not sure that this art student from Colorado is hiding ninja like hacking skills beneath her fresh faced exterior. And she clearly doesn’t have the money to hire someone else to do it.
Plus... a woman capable of stealing from me would be greedy. And greedy women don’t turn down six figure offers, no matter what form those offers come in.