The Italian's Deal for I Do(10)

By: Jennifer Hayward

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.