The Sicilian's Marriage Arrangement(6)

By: Lucy Monroe

She stared up at him, eyes darkened with passion and still unfocused. “Luciano?”

“Didn’t know you two knew each other so well.” A crafty expression entered Reynolds’ eyes that Luciano did not like.

“It is not a requirement to know someone well to share a New Year’s kiss,” he replied firmly, wanting to immediately squelch any ideas the old man might have regarding Luciano and Hope as anything other than passing acquaintances.

“Is that right?” Reynolds turned to Hope. “What do you say, little girl?”

Hope stared at her grandfather as if she did not recognize him. Then her eyes sought out Luciano once again, the question in them making him defensive.

He frowned at her. “She is your granddaughter. You know as well as anyone how little I have seen of her over the years.” His eyes willed Hope to snap out of her reverie and affirm his stand to her grandfather.

At first, she just looked confused, but then her expression seemed to transform with the speed of light. She went from dazed to hurt to horrified, but within a second she was doing her best to look unaffected.

It was not a completely successful effort with her generous lips swollen from the consuming kiss.

She forced a smile that hurt him to see because it was so obviously not the direction those lips wanted to go. “It wasn’t anything, Grandfather. Less than nothing.” She spun on her heel without looking back at Luciano. “I’ve got to check on the champagne.” And she was gone.

He watched her go, feeling he should have handled that situation better and wishing he’d never come to the party in the first place.

“It didn’t look like less than nothing to me, but I’m an old man. What do I know?”

The speculative tone of Joshua Reynolds’ voice sent an arrow of wariness arcing through Luciano. He remembered the gossip he had overheard earlier. Rumors often started from a kernel of truth. The old man could forget trying to buy him as a husband for his shy granddaughter.

She might kiss with more passion than many women made love, but Luciano Ignazio di Valerio was not for sale.

He had no intention of marrying for years yet and when he did, it wouldn’t be to an American woman with her culture’s typically overinflated views on personal independence. He wanted a nice traditional Sicilian wife.

His family expected it.

Even if kissing Hope Bishop was as close to making love with his clothes on as he’d ever come.

Hope slammed the door of her bedroom behind her and then spun around to lock it for good measure.

It was after three o’clock and the last guest had finally departed. She’d made herself stay downstairs for the remainder of the party because she was guiltily aware her grandfather had arranged it for her benefit rather than business. He’d said as much when he told her he planned to have a New Year’s Eve bash at the Boston mansion.

She wished he had not bothered. At least part of her did. The other part, the sensual woman that lurked inside her was reveling in her first taste of passion.

Luciano had kissed her. Like he meant it. She was fairly certain the whole thing had started as a pity kiss, but somewhere along the way, he’d actually gotten involved. So had she, but that was not so surprising.

She’d wanted to kiss the Sicilian tycoon for the better part of five years. It had been an impossible fantasy…until tonight. Then a combination of events had led to a kiss so devastating, it would haunt her dreams for years to come.

She plopped down onto the side of her bed and grabbed a throw pillow, hugging it to herself.

He had tasted wonderful.

Had felt hard and infinitely masculine against her.

Had smelled like the lover she desired above all others.

And then he had thrust her from him like a disease ridden rodent. She punched the cushion in her lap. He had been enjoying the kiss. She was sure of it, but then her grandfather had interrupted and Luciano had acted embarrassed to be caught kissing her.

Okay, maybe it did nothing for his sophisticated image to be caught taking pleasure in the kiss of an awkward twenty-three-year-old virgin who never dated. But surely it wasn’t such a tragedy either. Not so bad that he had to shove her away like something he’d found under his shoe in a cow pasture.

The tears that had seemed to plague her for one reason or another all evening once again welled hot and stinging in her eyes. He’d made her look like a complete fool. She’d been forced to smile while cringing inside at the teasing and downright ribald comments tossed her way for the last three hours.

People were saying that she’d thrown herself at him. That he’d had to practically manhandle her to get her off of him. That as desperate spinsters went, she had won the golden cup.