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She was halfway through brushing her teeth when she heard a noise from the living-room monitor, followed by a gentle whimper from the adjoining bedroom.

‘I think Mattio has woken up again!’ Samuele called.

‘I’ll be right there!’ she replied, hastily rinsing her mouth and remembering wryly not taking seriously Beatrice’s claim during the early sleep-deprived days of motherhood that she’d struggled to get dressed before midday.

She erupted into the living room like someone reaching the finishing line of a sprint. ‘What...why are you looking at me like that?’

He shook his head and crossed the room in a couple of fluid strides. Holding her gaze, he reached out and, before she could react, gently touched the corner of her mouth.

For a breathless moment their eyes clung as she tried desperately to hide the shuddering skin-tingling awareness that his touch had awoken.

If that was only a touch, imagine what a kiss would do to you, said the wicked voice in her head.

She already knew...the memory of the whisper of an almost-kiss surfaced from the place she had consigned it to and an uncontrollable shiver traced its way down her spine.

‘Toothpaste,’ he explained, sliding a tissue back into his pocket.

Her hand went to her mouth. Wearing clothes was meant to make her feel more confident and in control but they offered no protection whatsoever from his penetrating stare. ‘Oh...right, thank you.’ She shook herself and said briskly, ‘I need to go and sort out Mattio.’

Samuele watched as she left the room. He could hear the gentle murmurs of her talking to the baby through the monitor and a moment later she returned carrying his nephew.

‘Could you put that on the floor?’ She nodded to the brightly coloured plastic mat beside the nappy stack. ‘Yep, just unfold it for me, thanks.’

He continued to observe as she dropped to her knees and laid the baby on the padded plastic surface and jiggled with one of his feet before she unfastened the all-in-one affair he was wearing. The entire time she chatted unselfconsciously to Mattio, discussing what she was doing with the baby boy, who seemed to be listening to everything she was saying.

The change of nappy and clothes completed, she settled back on her heels and gave a little grunt of satisfaction.

‘You are really good at that,’ he remarked thoughtfully. He knew he was not, and it was not exactly a short trip back to Italy.

‘Beginners’ luck,’ she admitted. ‘I do have a niece, although she is a few months older than Mattio. Beatrice, my sister, is already expecting another.’

‘So were you both adopted?’

She shook her head as she got to her feet. ‘No, Beatrice came along when I was one, a kind of miracle baby. Mum and Dad had been told they couldn’t have children.’

‘That must have put your nose out of joint.’

She smiled, clearly unoffended by the suggestion, which, he realised, had probably been made to her numerous times. ‘No, our parents made absolutely sure we both knew we were special. Beatrice is my best friend.’

A muscle in his jaw clenched. ‘Tell her that often,’ he heard himself say.

Maya’s liquid eyes held the beginning of understanding.

Although one of his rules in life was that he didn’t explain himself, he inexplicably felt impelled to add abruptly, ‘Because now I can’t ever tell my brother that he was my best friend.’

‘I should think he knew that, don’t you? Sometimes you don’t have to say anything.’

The gentle way she was looking at him, as though he was no longer the enemy, unsettled him—or was it the fact that he liked the feeling that they might be coming to a better understanding of each other? No, that was far too dangerous. He didn’t appreciate the way his thoughts were going. ‘Could be. After all, he knew his wife cheated on him, but we never discussed that.’ The closest they’d come was when they’d overheard a group of women in an adjoining restaurant booth discussing the latest rumour concerning Violetta, but Cristiano had cut him off before he could say a word. Subject closed—for ever.

I know you don’t understand, but it’s my life and I love her.

Her expression immediately froze over at his dig about Violetta. ‘You just never give up, do you?’

‘I have that reputation,’ he responded coolly, accompanying his words with a lethal smile.

Lips tight, she glanced down at the baby, who was happily kicking his legs and blowing bubbles. ‘Can you watch him while I go and get his feed?’

She didn’t hang around long enough to see his nod of assent.

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