The man’s eyes narrowed on her and Chiara saw they were a very dark brown—and totally unreadable. Something cool slid down her spine and she unconsciously felt for Spiro’s reassuring presence behind her, even though he was so old and blind he was totally ineffectual as a guard dog.
The man looked emotionless, but Chiara sensed something almost volcanic under the surface and it was very intimidating. Strangely, though, she didn’t fear for her safety. It was a much more ambiguous fear. A fear for something deep within her that was coming to life...desire.
‘I am here to see Chiara Caruso. Maybe you would be so kind as to fetch your mistress for me.’
His voice was deep and gravelly, tugging on Chiara’s senses. He hadn’t posed it as a question. She realised that he must think she was the housekeeper. They’d let the housekeeper go a long time ago. Hence the general air of decay and dishevelment in and around the castello. But, effectively, she was now the housekeeper, so it was silly to feel something shrivel up inside her that he might assume her to be menial staff.
She was very aware of her plain black mourning dress, make-up free face, and long unruly hair. She knew she was no great beauty, with her unfashionably full figure and average height.
She tipped up her chin. ‘I am Chiara Caruso.’
His eyes narrowed even more and a look of sheer incredulity crossed his face. ‘You?’
Tension and self-consciousness stiffened Chiara’s whole body. ‘I’m not sure exactly what you were expecting but, yes, I can assure you that I’m Chiara Caruso. Who, may I ask, are you?’
Those eyes seemed to get even colder, if that was possible. ‘I am Nicolo Santo Domenico.’
He seemed to be waiting for some kind of response—as if his name should mean something. But it didn’t.
Chiara prompted, ‘And...? How can I help you?’
Confirming her suspicion, he said, ‘You don’t know who I am?’
Chiara felt bewildered now. ‘Should I?’
The man emitted a sound like an incredulous laugh. ‘You’re seriously expecting me to believe you don’t know who I am?’
The man’s arrogance was astounding!
Chiara took her hand off the door and folded her arms across her chest. ‘No, I don’t know who you are. Now, if you have nothing better to do than interrogate me on my own doorstep then I’ll ask you to leave. We had a funeral here this week—it is not an appropriate time.’
His eyes gleamed. ‘To the contrary...now is the most appropriate time for this conversation. May I?’
He sidestepped her neatly and was walking into the vast stone hallway before she could stop him.
Spiro whined and Chiara whirled around. ‘Excuse me, what on earth do you think you’re doing? This is my property!’
Except it’s not really, reminded a little voice.
The man turned around to face her and Chiara got the full impact of him. It was almost too much. He made the majestic reception area seem small. He had to be well over six feet, and broad with it. He wore a dark suit that could only be custom-made as it clung to his well-honed physique like a second skin. His air of intense physicality made Chiara think of bare-knuckle fighters she’d seen in a documentary once. It was as if his suit was just a flimsy concession to urbanity.
His gaze slid down to beside Chiara and his lip curled. ‘What is that?’
Chiara glanced down to see Spiro, looking in the general direction of the man and emitting a low growl. She put her hand on his head and looked at her uninvited guest. ‘He’s my dog and you’re upsetting him. This is my home and I’d like you to leave.’
His gaze came back to rest on her and Chiara fought not to fidget under that exacting expression.
‘This is precisely what I’ve come here to discuss—the fact that this home is not actually yours at all.’
Chiara’s insides seized. Was this man from the bank? She forced herself to ask, ‘What are you talking about?’
He didn’t answer right away. Instead he put his hands in his pockets, drawing Chiara’s eye to his mid-section. Heat climbed up her neck and face and she diverted her gaze before he might notice. But he didn’t notice. He was looking up at the walls and turning around in a small circle.
He said, as if to himself, ‘I’ve waited a long time to be here...’
Then he started walking towards the reception room Chiara had just vacated. She went after him. ‘Excuse me, Signor Domenico...’
He turned to face her from the middle of the room and Chiara had the strangest sensation that she was the guest—and not a very welcome one.