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This night, Emma. That's all it can ever be."
But Larenzo Cavelli lied. One blissful wintery night in his bed changed Emma Leighton's life forever. By dawn she knew two things: Larenzo would spend the rest of his life behind bars, and he would never see the baby their union had made.
Two years later, Larenzo's name is cleared and he will get his life back...starting with Emma. It was deception that imprisoned the self-made Sicilian, so what will he do when he discovers Emma has a Christmas secret he might never be able to forgive?
A passionate read for Christmas nights!
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Kate Hewitt has worked a variety of different jobs, from drama teacher to editorial assistant to youth worker, but writing romance is the best one yet. She also writes women's fiction and all her stories celebrate the healing and redemptive power of love. Kate lives in a tiny village in the English Cotswolds with her husband, five children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The sound of the car door slamming echoed through the still night. Emma Leighton looked up from the book she'd been reading in surprise; as housekeeper of Larenzo Cavelli's isolated retreat in the mountains of Sicily, she hadn't been expecting anyone. Larenzo was in Rome on business, and no one came to the villa perched high above Sicily's dusty hill towns and villages. Her employer liked his privacy.
She heard brisk footsteps on the stone path that led to the villa's front door, an enormous thing of solid oak banded with iron. She tensed, waiting for a knock; the villa had an elaborate security system with a numbered code that was only known by her and Larenzo, and the door was locked, as Larenzo always insisted.
She held her breath as she heard the creak of the door opening and then the beep of buttons being pressed, followed by a longer beeping indicating the security system had been deactivated. As her heart did a queasy little flip, Emma tossed her book aside and rose from her chair. Larenzo never came back early or unexpectedly. He always texted her, to make sure she had everything ready for his arrival: his bed made with freshly ironed sheets, the fridge stocked, the pool heated. But if it wasn't him...who was it?
She heard footsteps coming closer, a heavy, deliberate tread, and then a figure, tall and rangy, appeared in the doorway.
'Larenzo—' Emma pressed one hand to her chest as she let out a shaky laugh of relief. 'You scared me. I wasn't expecting you.'
'I wasn't expecting to come here.' He stepped into the spacious sitting room of the villa, and as the lamplight washed over his face Emma sucked in a shocked breath. Larenzo's skin looked grey, and there were deep shadows under his eyes. His hair was rumpled, as if he'd driven his hand through the ink-dark strands.
'Are you—are you all right?'
His mouth twisted in a grim smile. 'Why, do I not look all right?'
'No, not really.' She tried to lighten her words with a smile, but she really was alarmed. In the nine months she'd been Larenzo's housekeeper, she'd never seen him look like this, not just tired or haggard, but as if the life force that was so much a part of who he was, that restless, rangy energy and charisma, had drained away.
'Are you ill?' she asked. 'I can get you something...'
'No. Not ill.' He let out a hollow laugh. 'But clearly I must look terrible.'
'Well, as a matter of fact, yes, you do.'
'Thank you for your honesty.'
'Don't be. I can't bear lies.' A sudden, savage note had entered his voice, making Emma blink. Larenzo crossed the room to the liquor cabinet in the corner. 'I need a drink.'
She watched as he poured himself a large measure of whisky and then tossed it back in one burning swallow. His back was to her, the silk of his suit jacket straining against his shoulders and sinewy back. He was an attractive man, a beautiful man even, with his blue-black hair and piercing grey eyes, his tall, powerful body always encased in three-thousand-euro suits.
Emma had admired his form the way you admired Michelangelo's David, as a work of art. She had decided when she'd taken this job that she wasn't going to make the mistake of developing some schoolgirl crush on her boss. Larenzo Cavelli was out of her league. Way, way out of her league. And, if the tabloids were true, he had a different woman on his arm and in his bed every week.
'I wasn't expecting you until the end of the month,' she said.
'I had a change of plans.' He took out the stopper in the crystal decanter of whisky and poured himself another healthy measure. 'Obviously.'
She didn't press the point, because, while they'd developed a fairly amicable working relationship over the last nine months, he was still her boss. She couldn't actually say she knew Larenzo Cavelli. Since she'd taken the job as housekeeper he'd come to the villa only three times, never more than for a couple of days. He mostly lived in Rome, where he kept an apartment, or travelled for work as CEO of Cavelli Enterprises.
'Very well,' she finally said. 'Will you be staying long?'
He drained his glass for a second time. 'Probably not.'
'Well, the night at least,' she answered briskly. She didn't know what was going on with Larenzo, whether it was a business deal gone bust or a love affair gone bad, or something else entirely, but she could still do her job. 'The sheets on your bed are clean. I'll go switch the heating on for the pool.'
'Don't bother,' Larenzo answered. He put his empty glass on the table with a clink. 'There's no need.'
'It's no trouble,' Emma protested, and Larenzo shrugged, his back to her.
'Fine. Maybe I'll have one last swim.'
His words replayed through her mind as she left him and walked through the spacious, silent rooms of the villa to the back door that led to a brick terrace overlooking the mountains, a teardrop-shaped pool as its impressive centrepiece. One last swim. Was he planning on leaving, on selling the villa?
Emma gazed out at the Nebrodi mountains and shivered slightly, for the air still held a pine-scented chill.
All was quiet save for the rustling of the wind high up in the trees. Larenzo's villa was remote, miles from the nearest market town, Troina; in the daylight Emma could see its terracotta-tiled houses and shops nestled in the valley below. She went there several times a week to shop and socialise; she had a couple of friends amidst the Sicilian shopkeepers and matrons.
If Larenzo was planning on selling the villa, she'd miss living here. She never stayed anywhere long, and she would have probably started feeling restless in a few months anyway, but... She glanced once more at the night-cloaked hills and valleys, the mellow stone of the villa perched on its hill gleaming in the moonlight. She liked living here. It was peaceful, with plenty of subjects to photograph. She'd be sad to leave, if it came to that.
But maybe Larenzo just meant a swim before he left for Rome again. She switched on the heating and then turned to go inside; as she turned a shadowy form loomed up in front of her and her breath came out in a short gasp. She must have swayed or stumbled a little, for Larenzo put his hands on her shoulders to steady her.
They stood like that for a moment in the doorway, his strong hands curling around her shoulders so she could feel the warmth of his palms through the thin cotton of her T-shirt, and how her heart pounded beneath it. She didn't think he'd ever actually touched her before.
She moved one way, and he moved another, so it was almost as if they were engaged in a struggle or an awkward dance. Then Larenzo dropped his hands from her shoulders and stepped back.
'My fault,' she murmured, her heart still thudding, and moved quickly through the kitchen to flick on the lights. Bathed in a bright electric glow, things felt more normal, even if she could still feel the imprint of his hands on her shoulders, so warm and strong. 'So.' She turned to him with a quick smile, a brisk look. 'Have you eaten? I can make you something.'
He looked as if he was about to refuse, and then he shrugged. 'Why not? I'll go change while you cook.'
'What would you like to eat?'
Another shrug as he turned away. 'Whatever you make will be fine.'
She watched him disappear down the hallway, her lips pursed in an uncertain frown. She'd never seen Larenzo like this. Not that they'd actually had that much conversation, beyond discussing pool maintenance and house repairs. But even when talking about such mundane matters, Larenzo Cavelli had exuded a compelling charisma and energy, a life force. He was a man who, when entering a room, made everyone turn and take notice. Men tried to suppress their envy, and women undressed him with their eyes. Emma counted herself as wilfully immune to the man's magnetic vitality, but its absence now made her uneasy.
Her frown deepening, Emma opened the fridge and stared at the few items inside. She always did a big shop right before Larenzo arrived; she bought all the ingredients for gourmet meals for one and made them for him to eat alone, usually out on the terrace overlooking the mountains.
Now she glanced askance at the half-dozen eggs, a few slices of pancetta and the end of a wedge of cheese that comprised the entire contents of the fridge. With a sigh she took it all out. A bacon and cheese omelette it was.
She was just sliding it onto a plate when Larenzo came downstairs, dressed now in faded jeans and a grey T-shirt, his hair damp and spiky from a shower. She'd seen him casually dressed before, many times, but for some reason now, perhaps because of how different Larenzo seemed, her heart gave a weird little flip and she felt awareness shiver over her skin. Clearly he still possessed some of that charisma and vitality, for she felt the force of it now.
'Sorry it's just an omelette,' she said. 'I'll do a big shop tomorrow.'
'That won't be necessary.'
"Aren't you going to join me?' He arched an eyebrow, nodding towards the single plate she'd laid out, a challenge simmering in his eyes.
In the handful of times he'd been at the villa, Larenzo had never asked her to eat with him. The two of them alone on the terrace would have been awkward, intimate, and Emma happily ate leftovers in the kitchen, one of her photography books propped against the salt and pepper shakers.
'Um...I've already eaten,' she said after a second's pause. It had to be past ten o'clock at night.
'Come have a glass of wine. I don't feel like being alone.'
Was that a command? Emma shrugged her assent; she wouldn't mind a glass of wine, and perhaps Larenzo would tell her what was going on.
'Okay,' she said, and she fetched two glasses while Larenzo selected a bottle of red wine from the rack above the sink.
While Larenzo took his plate of eggs out to the terrace, Emma retrieved her sweater from the sitting room, slipping her arms through the sleeves as she stepped outside. The moon was high and full above the pine-blanketed hills, the Nebrodi range's highest peak, Mount Soro, piercing the night sky. Larenzo was already seated at a table overlooking the pool, the water glimmering in the moonlight, but he rose as Emma came forward with the two glasses and proffered the bottle of wine. She nodded her assent and sat down while he poured.
'This is very civilised,' she said as she accepted the glass.
'Yes, isn't it?' Larenzo answered. 'Well, let's enjoy it while we can.' He raised his glass in a toast and Emma lifted hers as well before taking a sip. The wine was rich and velvety-smooth, clearly expensive, but she put her glass down after one sip and gave her boss as direct a look as she could.
'You're sure everything is all right?'
'As right as it can be,' Larenzo answered, taking a sip of wine.
'What does that mean?'
He set his glass down and stretched his legs out in front of him. 'Exactly that. But I don't want to talk about myself, not tonight. For a few hours I'd just like to forget.'
Forget what? Emma wondered, but clearly Larenzo didn't want her to ask.
'You've been my housekeeper for nearly a year and I don't really know the first thing about you,' he continued, and Emma stared at him in surprise.
'You want to talk about me?'
'Because...well, because you've never expressed an interest in knowing anything about me before. And actually, I'm quite a boring person.'
He smiled, his teeth gleaming in the darkness. 'Let me be the judge of that.'
Emma shook her head slowly. This evening was becoming almost surreal. 'What do you want to know?' 'Where did you grow up?'
An innocuous enough question, she supposed. 'Everywhere, really. I was a diplomat's kid.'
'I think I remember you mentioning that in your interview.' He'd interviewed her in Rome, where she'd been working as a chambermaid in a hotel, just one in a string of jobs she'd had as she moved from city to city, exploring the world and taking photographs.
'And you haven't minded being stuck up here in the hills of Sicily?' he asked, his wine glass raised to his lips.
'All by yourself?'
She shrugged. 'I'm used to being on my own.' And she preferred it that way. No ties, no obligations, no disappointments. The occasional bout of loneliness was not too high a price to pay for that kind of freedom.
'You obviously like it,' she pointed out. 'Since you own this place.'
'Yes, but I travel and spend time in cities. I'm not up here all the time.'
'Well, as I said, I like it.' For now, anyway. She never remained anywhere for too long, always preferring to move on, to find new experiences, and from the sceptical look on Larenzo's face he seemed to guess a bit of her natural wanderlust.
'Have you met anyone up here?' he asked. 'Made friends?' 'A few people down in Troina.' 'That's something, I suppose. What do you do for fun up here?'
Emma shrugged. 'Walk. Swim. Read. I'm easily entertained, fortunately.'
'Yes.' He gazed out at the mountains and Emma had the sense he was thinking about something else, something painful.
'But it's not the kind of job you'd stay in for ever,' he said at last.
'Are you trying to get rid of me?' she asked lightly. She'd meant it as a joke but Larenzo took the question seriously.
'No, definitely not. But if something were to happen...' He trailed off, his gaze still on the hills, and Emma set down her wine glass.
'Larenzo, are you thinking of selling this place?'
'Not selling it, no.'
'But something,' she pressed. 'What's going on, really? Do I need to start looking for another job?'
He let out a long, low breath and raked his hands through his hair. 'Whatever happens, I'll make sure to give you a good reference.'
'What are you talking about, whatever happens?' Emma shook her head. 'I don't understand you.'
'I know, and I don't want to explain it now. It will all become clear soon enough.' He nodded towards the pool. 'How about a swim?'
'A swim?' Emma glanced at the pool, the water glimmering in the moonlight. 'It's a bit cold for me.'
'Not for me,' he said, and she watched in amazement as he stripped off his shirt and jeans and, clad only in his boxer shorts, dived into the pool.
The splash echoed through the still air and Emma watched, shivering slightly, as Larenzo swam the length of the pool before surfacing and slicking back the wet hair from his face.
'Come in,' he called. 'The water's lovely.'
Emma shook her head. 'I only just turned the heating on. It's got to be freezing.'
'Even so.' He arched an eyebrow, his mouth curling in a smile that was pure temptation. Emma's gaze was inexorably drawn to his bare chest, all lean, rippling muscle, his bronzed skin beaded with water. 'Dare you.'
Emma hadn't thought this evening could get any more surreal. But swimming with her boss in a freezing pool?
'Come on, Emma.' He held out his hand. 'Just jump in.' Heat ...
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