Redemption of the Untamed Italian
The playboy’s shocking proposal: ‘Two weeks. In my bed.’
If Cesare’s wild past has taught him anything, it’s that relationships never work. He’s sure one sinful encounter with enchanting aristocrat Jemima will be enough. It’s not! Nothing less than claiming her for a red-hot fling will do…
Yet Jemima is a breath of fresh air in his billion-dollar world. For the first time, Cesare longs to use his infamous charm for more than seduction. But to unravel Jemima’s secrets, this ruthless Italian must first prove himself worthy of her…
Seduction, glamour and sinfully seductive heroes await you in luxurious international locations.
HE WASN’T SURE WHY, but Cesare paused outside the restaurant a moment, looking through the deep-glass windows at the elegant scene inside. The room was warmly lit, the crowd painfully fashionable.
He stood on the outside looking in and couldn’t fail to appreciate the irony. As a child, he’d often been like this: standing outside rooms of wealth and privilege, kept physically distinct, sepa-rate from and unwanted by that world. Even as a teenager with a scholarship placement at the best school in England he’d felt outside the norm. He’d been different and everyone had known it. Unlike the sons of ancient, wealthy families who’d formed the student ranks, he’d been only the son of a poor single mother, a woman who’d served as a nanny to that kind of family.
Now, though, as he looked into the restaurant, he knew places like this existed for the likes of him. He would walk in and people would part as a wave, making way for him, admiring him, wanting his attention. He knew because it was what always happened these days.
He scanned the trendy ‘it’ spot until his eyes landed on his table. He recognised Laurence im-mediately, the man who was so desperate for Ce-sare to invest in his hedge fund he was practically at begging point. A dark smile tinted Cesare’s lips. When he’d been a young boy thrown into the world of the British aristocracy, and seen as lesser than it in every way, he’d sworn he would make men of this ilk pay. He’d sworn he would be bet-ter, bigger, more successful always. He swore he would make his fortune and he swore he would make them pay.
His eyes slid unconsciously to Laurence’s com-panion. Not his companion, his cousin, Cesare re-membered, his smile turning mocking now. It was an obvious ploy to win Cesare’s favour, or perhaps distract him from matters of business. His repu-tation as a womaniser was well-established and he was unapologetic for that. He liked women, different women and often. If Laurence thought having her at this dinner meeting would make an ounce of difference to Cesare’s investment plans, he didn’t understand the kind of fortitude and in-tention Cesare brought to his business life.
Jemima Woodcroft was every bit as beautiful in the flesh as all the billboards would have you believe, though. The supermodel leaned across to her cousin, speaking close to his ear, and Lau-rence nodded, laughing. She in turn smiled, and her eyes flashed with something that sparked a light of curiosity inside Cesare.
Something else, too. Desire.
She was just the kind of woman Cesare usu-ally chose to take to bed: beautiful, sophisticated and, if the media reports were to be believed, as happy to employ a revolving door with her bed as he was with his. Her hand pulled her hair over one shoulder, and manicured fingers toyed with its length distractedly, so two vivid images leaped into his mind unbidden: her nails running down his body, pale fingers against tanned flesh and her hair forming a curtain around her face as she straddled him, looking down at him, her face tortured by passion.
Suddenly, the night was looking up.
He pushed into the restaurant with a sense of anticipation. Like the steady beating of a drum, it filled his chest. The world was at Cesare’s feet—he’d worked hard to make sure of that—and he doubted he’d ever grow tired of reaping the rewards.
‘I STILL FIND it hard to see what’s in it for me.’
Cesare Durante spoke with a voice that was naturally husky and deep, his accent ever so slightly Italian but also cultured and British. Jemima observed him from beneath shuttered lashes, wishing he hadn’t so completely lived up to her expectations. Everything she’d read about the self-made billionaire had told her what he’d be like: intelligent but charming, with the kind of looks that would make almost anyone weak at the knees.
But there was an arrogance about him too, an arrogance that communicated itself with every curve of his lips, every flash of his sharp, per-ceptive eyes.
When he’d introduced himself even his name had dispelled any idea that there might be a linger-ing softness buried in his broadly muscled chest. ‘Cesare,’ he’d said, almost as a command, the pro-nunciation faithful to the Italian, so it sounded like ‘Che-zar-eh’. From his lips it emerged as a rumble, a deep, rolling wave that crashed over Jemima and momentarily robbed her of breath.
‘The fund’s versatility is the main selling point,’ Laurence interjected with a confidence she knew he didn’t feel.
‘If my investors find out I’ve tanked a third of the fund’s value, I’m screwed, Jem. That’s like a hundred million quid. I need to get Durante on side—it’s the only way I can keep things afloat. Please help. Please.’
Even as a child she’d have done anything Lau-rence asked of her, but after her brother’s death Laurence and Jemima had been bonded in that unique way grief conspired to bring about. Lau-rence was the only person who could understand the void in her life and, at the same time, he was the only person who could go halfway to filling it. They were family, they were friends, they were two souls who’d known intense loss and guilt, and she’d do anything he asked of her.
Just as he’d do anything for her. She knew that was why he’d made such irresponsible, reckless investments: to save Almer Hall. He knew the extent of debt her parents were in and that even her income wasn’t equal to it. He was working himself into the ground, taking lavish risks, be-cause he knew what the Hall meant to them and she loved him to bits for that.c
‘Most funds have a range of assets.’ Cesare Durante’s expression showed displeasure. ‘I didn’t fly in from Rome for a middling sales pitch. Tell me what else you’ve got.’
She felt Laurence’s tension and her own stom-ach swirled. She hated seeing him like this, and she understood his anxiety. She knew what this meant to him. More importantly, she knew what would happen if Cesare Durante didn’t invest in Laurence’s hedge fund—financial ruin, certainly, and likely criminal charges for the reckless way he’d invested other people’s money without ad-vising them of his activities. He’d be ruined, ab-solutely, and by extension so would her parents, because Laurence would no longer be in a posi-tion to offer any financial help to them. They’d already lost so much and couldn’t cope with an-other hurdle.
Reaching for her champagne, she held it just a few inches from her lips, her large green eyes re-garding Cesare thoughtfully. Her eyes were one of Jemima’s most recognisable features. The first international campaign she’d landed had been for a cosmetic giant and promoting mascara had launched her career globally. She trained the full force of those eyes on the Italian now, leaning forward slightly.
‘Did you just fly in today?’ She kept her tone light intentionally.
Laurence had been clear: ‘With you there, it’ll eel social. Fun. Keep the heat off me, distract him from how much cash I’m asking him to kick in.’
Keeping the heat off with Cesare Durante at the table was apparently a physical impossibility. As he slowly turned to face her, her pulse kicked up a gear and her blood begin to boil in her veins. It took all her discipline to maintain a muted ex-pression on her face.
‘This evening.’ His gaze shifted over her face in that same appraising way, as though he was studying her piece by piece.
It was impossible to be one of the world’s most sought-after models without knowing yourself to be beautiful. Jemima accepted that there was something in the physical construction of her face and body that was widely regarded to be attrac-tive, but she was very pragmatic about it. She knew that she couldn’t take credit for any of these things—looks and beauty were almost entirely a question of chance, and as such the fact she was objectively beautiful gave her very little satisfac-tion. It was far easier to be proud of goals you worked hard to achieve rather than windfalls you were handed. She generally didn’t think about her looks much at all, except in relation to her work, to trends she might need to emulate or embrace.
But as Cesare swept his thickly lashed eyes over her face and his wide lips—set in a perfectly square jaw—quirked a little, she felt an unwelcome rush of warmth and feminine satisfaction fill her chest. His gaze travelled to her lips, lin-gering there for so long they began to tingle, and a flash of something with which she had very lit-tle personal experience but still recognised burst through her—desire, unmistakable, overtook her body, warming her insides, making her breath burn in her lungs.
‘And you?’ He matched her body language, leaning forward a little so she was acutely con-scious of his frame. There wasn’t an ounce of spare flesh on him and yet somehow he seemed huge, as if he took up more than his allotment of physical space in the fashionable restaurant. He had to be six and a half feet, but it wasn’t his size alone that was formidable. It was as though he’d been cast from stone, or sculpted from bronzed marble. His body was broad, his shoul-ders squared and strong, his waist slim where his shirt met the leather belt, his legs long and con-fident. He’d discarded his jacket some time after their main course plates had been cleared and the cotton shirt he wore underneath, though un-doubtedly the very best quality, and likely hand-stitched specifically for his body, strained just a little at the tops of his arms, so she could see that his biceps were pronounced.
But it was his face that had fascinated her all evening. It too had the appearance of having been deliberately sculpted, but by a hand of exceptional talent. It was a symmetrical face, with an aqui-line nose, a firm, chiselled jaw, thick dark lashes above intensely watchful eyes and lips that were wide and deliberate. And when he smiled—which he hadn’t done much—two deep dimples scored his cheeks. His hair was thick and dark, cut close to his face, in contrast to a stubbled chin that she imagined would feel quite coarse beneath her fin-gertips.
Jemima was used to physical beauty. It didn’t generally impress her. She spent much of her time surrounded by models and, if anything, she’d begun to crave interesting, unusual features: skin that was marked with lines or tattoos, faces that told stories and invited questions.
He was purely beautiful, and yet she was fas-cinated by him, intrigued by him. She sensed something within him that made her want to ask questions, that inflamed her curiosity.
‘Jemima lives around the corner.’ Laurence spoke for her at the same time he lifted a hand to call a waiter’s attention. Neither Cesare nor Jemima looked away. It was as though they were the only people in the room.
‘I have a flat,’ she supplied after a beat. One single brow lifted, changing his face alto-gether, so now she felt scepticism emanating from him. ‘You grew up in London?’
‘No.’ She shook her head. ‘My family has an estate outside of Yorkshire. Almer Hall.’ She and Laurence shared a brief look at the mention of the family property that meant so much to them, the family property that would be lost if the hedge fund went down the drain.
Cynicism briefly converted to insolent mock-ery and then his expression was blank of anything except banal, idle curiosity.
‘You’re aristocracy.’ It wasn’t a question and yet she felt compelled to answer.
She lifted her shoulders. ‘There’s a title there somewhere. We don’t use it.’
‘It feels a bit outdated.’ She sipped her cham-pagne now, relishing the popping of bubbles as they raced down her throat. His watchful gaze was warming her up, so she was glad for the cool-ing effect of the drink.
‘Scotch, Cesare?’ Laurence offered. Cesare fi-nally took his attention from her and Jemima ex-pelled all her breath in a long, quiet whoosh. She blinked, as though waking from a dream, and leaned back in her seat a little.
What would it be like to have those steel-grey eyes turned on her with the full force of his atten-tion? No, she’d had his attention… With the full force of his desire? What would it be like to lean forward and brush her fingertips over his arm, to flirt with him a little, to smile and murmur an invitation in his ear?
Not for the first time, she felt the burden of her virginity with a burning sense of impatience. If she’d had some experience she’d be sorely tempted to act on those impulses. After all, the media had already hanged her for the crime of being a har-lot—she might as well enjoy some of the spoils. Yes, if she’d had even a hint of experience she may well have acted on her impulse despite what that might mean for Laurence, despite the fact it could complicate matters for him.
Cesare’s voice was deep as he said the name of a whisky she recognised only because it was one that a photographer friend favoured—it was outrageously overpriced. Laurence ordered the same but, before the waiter could be dispatched, Cesare turned back to Jemima; her pulse rushed.
‘You are happy with your champagne?’
Her heart shifted in her chest. Despite all the reasons to maintain her distance, desire pushed her forward a little, just a fraction, as though her body was on autopilot, seeking his.
It was madness. As a teen model, she’d come across more than her fair share of designers, pho-tographers, magazine editors and public relations guys, all of whom had thought she’d do whatever it took to advance her career, so by her fifteenth birthday she’d become adept at saying no without causing offence. In fact, she was very good at saying no without even having people realise that she was rejecting them. Sex, drugs, alcohol, orgies. Jemima had a knack for turning people down and still having them think well of her.
But there was danger in Cesare—a darkness that called to her, that made her certain he could be her weakness, and in that moment she wished more than anything that she was the kind of woman the world thought her to be. She wished she was sophisticated and experienced and that she knew exactly what to say to get a man like Cesare to have sex with her.
The thought alone had her standing abruptly, scraping her chair back so both sets of eyes lifted to her.
‘You okay?’ Laurence queried.
‘Perfectly fine.’ She pasted a smile to her face as she became aware more people were looking in her direction. Cursing her recognisability, and the fact Laurence had chosen this celebrity hotspot in an attempt to impress his would-be investor, she nodded jerkily. ‘I’ll be right back.’
She forced herself to walk sedately towards the facilities. Once inside, she lingered with her back against the cold, marble wall and her eyes swept shut.
She’d likely never see Cesare Durante again after this night. She was there for one reason and one reason only: to help Laurence secure him as an investor.
She had to help her cousin—there was too much at stake to risk ruining the evening because she couldn’t stop looking at Cesare and imagin-ing what those broad, capable hands would feel like running over her body… Heat flushed her cheeks because she knew they’d feel good. Bet-ter than good. But that was beside the point—nothing was going to happen between them. She needed to get a grip.
Sucking in a deep breath, she quickly checked her appearance in the mirror, pausing just long enough to reapply her soft coral lipstick and fin-ger-comb her generous, side-sweeping fringe so it artfully covered one eye. She sucked in a deep, fortifying breath and pulled the door inward, step-ping into the wallpapered, dimly lit corridor that led to the amenities. At one end, there was a side-board with a huge bunch of lilies sitting on top of it. A nostalgic smile briefly curved her lips.
As a child, Almer Hall had always had flow-ers. Huge arrangements, just like this, grand and fragrant. She paused in front of the vase, her fin-gertips lifting on autopilot to gently stroke the petals—like silk, dewy and tender. She inhaled the scent and swept her eyes shut, remembering the feeling of visiting her grandparents as a child, running down the marbled hallways. In summer, the fragrance had been almost overwhelming.
There were no flowers now. More than two-thirds of the house was shut down, doors closed, furniture—what remained of it—covered in sheets. The family quarters, whilst cheery, were modest and beginning to look tatty in parts. What she wouldn’t do to see the house as it used to be, tables in each room groaning under the weight of arrangements such as this.
Laurence had to pull this off. It was the only way they’d be able to save Almer Hall, to stave off the necessity of its sale. She couldn’t see it pass into other hands. It would be the final straw for her parents, who had already lost so much.
She pinged her eyes open with a swirling sense of discontent, but when her eyes naturally landed in the mirror above the flowers her gaze con-nected sharply with a pair of eyes that had been fascinating her all evening, and they were watch-ing her with undisguised speculation. Her breath began to clog in her throat, making her feel light-headed.
‘Did you get lost?’ A sardonic lift of one brow was accompanied by a smile that set off a sud-den round of fireworks in her belly. The desire she’d been trying so hard to fight lurched through her anew.