Captivating king of the racing circuit Sandro Roselli might send Charlotte Warrington's pulse into overdrive, but he's hiding something about her brother's death. Sandro has offered her a job, and Charlotte will make sure she's in the driving seat to uncover his secret.
Yet life in the fast lane with Sandro is dangerous, and as Charlotte's craving for his touch intensifies she begins to lose herself in his intoxicating world. The irresistible Italian is driving her senses crazy - but can their heady affair survive the dark truth he hides?
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I've always loved reading romance and am thrilled to now be a Presents author. I live and work on a farm in Wales, a far cry from the glamour of a Presents story, but that makes slipping into my characters' world all the more appealing. When I'm not writing or working on the farm I enjoy photography and visiting historic castles and grand houses. Visit me at www.rachaelthomas.co.ukExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The purr of a sports car broke the quietness of the afternoon, taking Charlie's mind hurtling back to the past. To events she'd been hiding from for the last year.
She had grown up in the glamour of the racing world, but her brother's death had sent her retreating to the country and the sanctuary of her cottage garden. It was a place that was safe, but instinct warned her that this safety was now under threat.
Unable to help herself, she listened to the unmistakable sound of the V8 engine as it slowed in the lane beyond her garden, appreciative of its throaty restraint. All thoughts of planting bulbs for next spring disappeared as memories were unleashed. Images of happier times filled her mind, colliding with those of the moment her world had fallen apart.
Kneeling on the grass in the corner of her garden, she couldn't see the car on the other side of the hedge, but she knew it was powerful and expensive—and that it had stopped in the lane outside her cottage.
The engine fell silent and only birdsong disturbed the peace of the English countryside. She closed her eyes against the dread which rushed over her. She didn't need visits from the past, however well meaning. This unexpected visitor had to be her father's doing; he'd been pushing her to move on for weeks now.
The heavy clunk of the car door shutting was followed by purposeful footsteps on the road. A few seconds later they crunched on the gravel of her pathway and she knew that whoever it was would see her at any second.
'Scusi.' The deep male voice startled her more than the Italian he spoke and she jumped up as though she were a child with her hand caught in the sweet jar.
The six foot plus of dark Italian male which stood in her garden robbed her of the ability to think, let alone speak, and all she could do was look at him. Dressed in casual but very much designer jeans which hugged his thighs to perfection, he appeared totally out of place and yet vaguely familiar. Over a dark shirt he wore a leather jacket and was everything she'd expect an Italian man to be. Self-assured and confident, oozing undeniable sex appeal.
His dark collar-length hair was thick and gleamed in the sunshine, his tanned face showed a light growth of stubble, which only enhanced his handsome features. But it was the intense blackness of his eyes as they pierced into her which made breathing almost impossible.
'I am looking for Charlotte Warrington.' His accent was heavy and incredibly sexy, as was the way he said her name, caressing it until it sounded like a melody. She fought hard against the urge to allow it to wrap itself around her. She had to. She was out of practice in dealing with such men.
Slowly pulling off her gardening gloves, she became acutely aware she was wearing her oldest jeans and T-shirt and that her hair was scraped back in something which almost resembled a ponytail. Could she get away with not admitting who she was? But the arrogance in those dark eyes as they watched her made her want to shock him.
He was undoubtedly her brother's business partner, the man who had whisked him deeper into the world of performance cars, so far that he'd almost forgotten his family's existence. Indignation surfaced rapidly.
'What can I do for you, Mr...?' The question of his name hung in the warm air around them, testing and challenging him. She stood tall as his astonished gaze travelled down her body, taking in her dishevelled appearance. Her skin tingled as those eyes all but caressed every part of her, making her breath catch as if he'd actually touched her.
'You are Sebastian's sister?' Accusation and disbelief laced through every word, but it was lost on her as the grief she'd thought she'd finally begun to get over hit her once more as he said her brother's name.
The urge to defend herself rose up, but she had no idea where it came from. 'Yes,' she said curtly, hearing the irritation in her own voice. 'And you are?'
She asked the question although she knew the answer and it was not one she wanted to hear. She curled her fingers into her palms, knowing that the one man she'd never wanted to meet, the man she held responsible, first for taking Seb away from her, then for his death, stood impudently in her garden. Looking for her.
If that wasn't bad enough, there had been a spark of attraction in that first second she'd seen him. Already she hated herself for it. How could she feel anything other than contempt for the man who'd deprived her of her brother?
'Roselli,' he said and stepped off the path and onto her newly cut lawn, confirming her worst suspicions.
He smiled at her as he walked closer, but it didn't reach his eyes. 'Alessandro Roselli.'
She glared at him and he stopped a few paces away from her. Had he felt the heat of her anger? She certainly hoped so. He deserved every bit of it and so much more.
'I have nothing to say to you, Mr Roselli.' She stood firm, looked him in the eye and tried not to be affected by the way his met and held hers, shamelessly, without any trace of guilt. 'Now, please leave.'
She walked across the lawn, past him and towards her cottage, sure that he would go, that her cold dismissal would be enough. As she neared him the breeze carried his scent. Pure, unadulterated male. Her head became light, her breath hard to catch. In disgust at the way he distracted her thoughts, she marched off.
'No.' That one word, deep and accented, froze her to the spot as if a winter frost had descended, coating everything in white crystals.
A tremor of fear slipped down her spine. Not just fear of the man standing so close to her, but fear of all he represented. Slowly she turned her face to look directly at him. 'We have nothing to say. I made that clear in my response to your letter after Sebastian's death.'
It was hard to say those words aloud. Hard to admit her brother was gone, that she'd never see him again. But, worse, the man responsible had the nerve to ignore her early grief-laden requests and then invade the cottage, her one place of sanctuary.
'You may not, but I do.' He stepped closer to her, too close. She held his gaze, noticing the bronze sparks in his eyes and the firm set of his mouth. This was a man who did exactly what he wanted, without regard for anyone else. Even without knowing his reputation she'd be left in no doubt of that as he all but towered over her.
'I don't want to hear what you've got to say.' She didn't even want to talk to him. He had as good as killed her brother. She didn't want to look at him, to acknowledge him, but something, some undeniable primal instinct, made her and she fought hard to keep the heady mix of anger and grief under control. An emotional meltdown was not something she wanted to display, especially in front of the man she'd steadfastly refused to meet.
'I'm going to say it anyway.' His voice lowered, resembling a growl, and she wondered which of them was fighting the hardest to hold onto their composure.
She lifted a brow in haughty question at him and watched his lips press firmly together as he clenched his jaw. Good, she was getting to him. With that satisfaction racing through her, she walked away, desperate for the safety of her cottage. She didn't want to hear anything he had to say.
'I am here because Sebastian asked me to come.' His words, staccato and deeply accented, made another step impossible.
'How dare you?' She whirled round to face him, all thought of restraint abandoned. 'You are here because of your guilt.'
'My guilt?' He stepped towards her, quickly closing that final bit of space between them, his eyes glittering and hard.
Her heart thumped frantically in her chest and her knees weakened, but she couldn't let him know that. 'It's your fault. You are the one responsible for Sebastian's death.'
Her words hung accusingly between them, and the sun slipped behind a cloud as if sensing trouble. She watched his handsome face turn to stone and even thought she saw the veil of guilt shadow it, but it was brief, swiftly followed by cold anger, making his eyes sharper than flint.
He was so close, so tall, and she wished she was wearing the heels she used to favour before her life had been shaken up into total turmoil. She kept her gaze focused on him, determined to match his aggressive stance.
'If, as you say, it was my fault I would not have waited a year to come here.' His voice was cool and level, his eyes, changing to gleaming bronze, fixed her accusingly to the spot.
He took one final step towards her, so close now he could have kissed her. That thought shocked her and she resisted the need to step back away from him, as far as she could. She hadn't done anything wrong. He was the guilty one. He was the one who'd intruded on her life.
'It was your car that crashed, Mr Roselli.' She forced each word out, his proximity making it almost impossible.
'Your brother and I designed that car. We built it together.' His voice, deep and accented, hinted at pain. Or was she just imagining it, reflecting her grief onto him?
'But it was Sebastian who test drove it.' She fought the memories he was dragging up. Demons she'd thought she'd finally shut the door on.
He didn't say anything and she held her ground, looking up into his eyes as they searched her face. Her heart pounded wildly and deep down she knew it wasn't just the memories of Sebastian. It was as much to do with this man. Instinctively she knew his potent maleness had disturbed the slumbering woman hidden within her—and she hated him for that.
'It couldn't have done your company's reputation any good when an up-and-coming racing driver was killed at the wheel of your prototype.' She injected a jaunty edge to her words, issuing a challenge. At the same time she wished she could run and hide—from the memories he stirred as much as from the way her body reacted to each glance from his devilishly dark eyes.
He didn't move. He didn't flinch at all. He was in complete control as his eyes glittered, sharp sparks like diamonds spiking her soul.
'It wasn't good for anyone.' His voice was icy cold and, despite the warmth of the September sun, she shivered, but still he remained, watching as if he could read every thought that raced through her mind.
She drew in a ragged tear-laden breath and swallowed hard. She couldn't cry, not now. Not again. She was done with crying. It was time to move on, time to forge a new path through life. She couldn't go back to what she'd been doing before. Her time in front of the cameras, representing Seb's team, was over. The memories would be too much, yet this man seemed hell-bent on bringing the past into the present.
'I think you should leave, Mr Roselli.' She stepped away from him, out of his shadow and into the sun as it crept out from behind the clouds. 'Neither is it doing me any good.'
With eyes narrowed by suspicion, he watched her as she took another step back and away from him. 'I am here because Sebastian asked me to come.'
She shook her head, the emotional meltdown she'd wanted to keep at bay threatening to erupt. 'I still want you to leave.'
She didn't care if he remained standing in her precious garden; she just wanted to escape him, escape the aura of a man obviously used to getting all he wanted, no matter what the cost to anyone else.
Alessandro closed his eyes and sighed as Charlie fled across the garden, heading for the open door of the cottage. Hysteria had not been on his agenda. He didn't need this now. For a moment he thought about turning and walking away, getting in his car and driving as fast and as far away as he could. He'd kept part of his promise to Sebastian, after all. But had he even achieved that?
'Maledizione!' he cursed aloud and strode after her, his legs brushing against the lavender which tumbled from the borders, raising the scent. Just being in the garden, with its proud display of flowers, made him remember the time he'd looked after his sister while she'd recovered from a car accident. It was a memory that wouldn't help at all right now.
As he neared the open back door he heard Charlie's frustrated growl. He didn't knock, didn't pause. He just walked straight in. He wasn't going to be dismissed so easily.
This woman had stubbornly refused her brother's requests to go to Italy and see the car they'd been working on and it had angered him. Then, after the accident, he'd offered his support, but he'd never expected her rejection or her cold and furious denial of his existence.
With her arms locked rigidly tight, she leant on the kitchen table, her head lowered in despair. She spun round to face him. 'How dare you?' Hot angry words hurtled across the small space to him, but he stood tall, despite the low beams of the old cottage, and took her anger.
'I dare because I promised Sebastian that I would.' He moved nearer to the small table, nearer to her, until only a pulled-out chair, left as if recently vacated, separated them.
'I'm sure Seb would not have made anyone promise to come and hassle me like this.' He watched as her full lips clamped shut on further words and he felt the strangest desire to kiss those lips, to taste her rage and frustration, to draw it from her and replace it with hot desire.
'Hassle?' He frowned at her and saw her green eyes widen, liking the swirling brown within their depths, reminding him of autumn.
'Yes, hassle. Hound. Harass. Call it what you like, but he wouldn't have wanted that.' Her words were short and sharp. Irritation made her breathing shallow and fast. Her breasts rose and fell rapidly beneath her T-shirt, snagging his attention as lustful hormones raced to places he just didn't need them going right now.
'He made me promise to bring you to Italy and involve you in the launch.' His words were sharper than he'd intended, but then he'd never expected to meet a woman who unleashed such a cocktail of fury and fire within him. She was not at all the sweet and happy girl Sebastian had told him about; she was sexy and passionately angry.
'He what?' She pushed the chair under the old pine table and moved closer to him.
Not a good idea, not when his body was reacting so wildly to her sexy curves. He wanted to drag the damn chair back out, keep the barrier between them. Maybe then he'd be able to think about the reason he'd come here instead of this long neglected need for a woman's body.
'The car is due to be launched. I want you there.' The words rushed out and he had the strangest sensation that she was depleting his control, weaving some kind of spell around him.
'You want me there?' Her voice raised an octave and he blinked hard, then realised how it had sounded to her. A little pang of conscience surged forwards but he pushed it back. Clearly she held him responsible for that night and he couldn't sully her memories with the truth. Not after the promise he'd made.
'Sebastian wanted you there.' What was the matter with him? This woman wasn't at all what he'd expected. She didn't look glamorous and the idea that she had, until recently, been living a luxury lifestyle didn't seem remotely possible.
Why did this ordinary and plain version of Charlotte Warrington, tousled and unkempt from the garden, arouse him so instantly? He couldn't process thought coherently, his body flooding with lust, demanding satisfaction.
She shook her head. 'No, he wouldn't have asked that. But then he wouldn't have been killed if it wasn't for you and your stupid car.'
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