Larenzo's Christmas Baby

By: Kate Hewitt

CHAPTER ONE

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.’

‘Sorry—’

‘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?’

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