A Scandal in the Headlines(5)

By: Caitlin Crews



This is not about you, she snapped at herself then, reminding herself how much more she had to lose this time. And it’s certainly not about him.

“Of course,” she said with an air of surprise, as if he really might believe that Niccolo Falco’s fiancée was acting as a stewardess on a yacht simply to broaden her horizons before her marriage. As if she did. “I think that’s the whole point.”

“I’ve witnessed more than my share of terrible marriages,” he said then, a bleakness beneath his voice and moving in his too-dark eyes as he regarded her. It made her shiver, though she tried to hide it. “I was only yesterday jilted at the start of one myself, as a matter of fact. My blushing bride was halfway down the aisle when she thought better of it.” His mouth curved, cynical and hard. “And yet yours, I guarantee you, will be worse. Much worse.”

She didn’t want to think about Alessandro’s wedding, jilted groom or not. Much less her own. Once again, she fought back the strangest urge to explain, to tell him the truth about Niccolo, about her broken engagement. But he was not her friend. He was not a safe harbor. If anything, he was worse than Niccolo. Why was that so hard to keep in mind?

“I’m sorry about your wedding.” It was the best she could do, and she was painfully aware that it wasn’t even true.

“I’m not,” he said, and she understood the tone he used then, at last, because she recognized it. Self-loathing. She blinked in surprise. “Not as sorry as I should be, and certainly not for the right reasons.”

Alessandro straightened then, pushing away from the bar. He moved toward her—stalked toward her, if she was precise—and she turned all the way around to face him fully. As if that might dull the sheer force of him. Or her wild, helpless reaction to him that seemed to intensify the longer she was in his presence.

It did neither.

He stopped when he was much too close, that marvelous chest of his near enough that if she’d dared—if she’d taken leave of her senses entirely, if she’d lost what small grip she had left on what remained of her life—she could have tipped her head forward and pressed her mouth against that hard, beautiful expanse that she shouldn’t have let herself notice in the first place.

“Tell me why you’re here,” he said in a deceptively quiet voice that made her knees feel like water. “And spare me the lies about gap-year adventures. I know exactly what kind of woman you are, Elena. Don’t forget that. I never have.”

There was no reason why that comment should have felt like he’d slapped her, when she already knew what he thought of her. When she was banking on it.

“You’re hardly one to talk, are you? Remember that I know who you are, too.”

“Wrong answer.”

Elena sighed. “You were never meant to know I was here. Let me off when we reach port—any port—and it will be like I was never on this boat at all.”

And for a moment, she almost believed he would do it.

That he would simply let it drop, this destructive awareness that hummed between them and the fact she’d turned up on his property. That he would shrug it off. But Alessandro’s mouth curved again, slightly swollen and still so cynical, his eyes flashed cold, and she knew better.

“I don’t think so,” he said, his gaze moving from hers to trace her lips.

“Alessandro—” she began, but cut herself off when his gaze slammed back into hers. She jumped slightly, as if he’d touched her. She felt burned straight through to the core, as if he really had.

“I’ve never had someone try to spy on me so ineptly before,” he told her in a whisper that still managed to convey all of that wild heat, all of that lush want, that she felt crackling between them and that would, she knew, be the end of her if she let it. The end of everything. “Congratulations, Elena. It’s another first.”

“Spy?” She made herself laugh. “Why would I spy on you?”

“Why would you want to marry an animal like Niccolo Falco?” He shrugged expansively, every inch an Italian male, but Elena wasn’t fooled. She could see the steel in his gaze, that ruthlessness she knew was so much a part of him. Something else that reminded her of that dance. “You are a woman of mystery, made entirely of unknowables and impossibilities. But you can rest easy. I have no intention of letting you out of my sight.”

He smiled then, not at all nicely, and Elena’s heart plummeted straight down to her feet and crashed into the floor.

She was in serious trouble.

With Alessandro Corretti.

Again.

It was not until he propped himself up in the decadent outdoor shower off his vast master suite that Alessandro allowed himself to relax. To breathe.

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