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‘What will you ever tell him about his mother?’Oh, God, I said that out loud!

Bracing herself for another one of his icy put-downs, she maintained a defiant stance as she slowly turned to face him.

‘I would write her out of his life if that was possible.’

No ice, just a cool statement of fact, and while she sympathised with his attitude, she still didn’t think it was the right one. But then it wasn’t her business, was it? she reminded herself.

‘Isn’t it possible? Isn’t she giving you custody of Mattio?’ Giving him away as if he were simply a piece of excess baggage. That was when she’d had to leave the room; if she’d stayed there another moment her feelings would have got the better of her and she’d have started yelling down the phone at her half-sister.

‘Nothing is ever that simple with Violetta. It suits her now to have me take Mattio back to Italy, but she won’t relinquish her maternal control willingly,’ he predicted. ‘And once she’s got Charlie to the altar... Let’s just say she can be very persuasive indeed,’ he finished grimly, no doubt thinking of the custody battle that lay ahead.

‘Oh...I’m sorry.’

He arched a sardonic brow.

‘Well, you’d be better for Mattio than she would be. Actually, anyone would,’ Maya said honestly.

‘Wow, faint praise indeed,’ he drawled, the smile in his voice warming his eyes and making her want to smile back.

She fought the urge and dived for the door. ‘I’ll start packing his things up.’

CHAPTER FOUR

MATTIOHADDOZEDoff in his little chair. Coming into the living room behind her, Samuele watched as Maya tenderly tucked a light blanket around him and began to pick up the baby items strewn around.

Feeling a stab of self-disgust that even in a time like this he could appreciate, actually more than appreciate, the tightness of her behind under the snugly fitting denim, he cleared his throat.

‘I have been thinking.’

One hand on her thigh, the other outstretched to scoop up a soft toy that had found its way under a side table, she lifted her head and looked up at him from under the frame of curling lashes. She was oblivious to the fact the action made her square-necked cobalt-blue sweater gape, giving him a tantalising glimpse of her lacy bra and the suggestive creamy swell of her smooth cleavage. The shadow of her nipples under the lace might have been his imagination which was, to his own annoyance, clearly working overtime.

‘Come with us.’ The offer was made not because of his recent testosterone rush butdespiteit—it was a purely practical suggestion, he told himself, devoid of any personal feelings.

Purely practical would have been putting an ocean or three between this woman and you, pointed out the voice in his head.

He ignored it and the insulting implication he was not totally in control. For someone who had been born with a hot temper and a tendency to act before his brain was in gear, he was conscious of the need to maintain control at all times. Allowing their emotions and appetites full rein had been the downfall of both his father and brother, so Samuele’s life was ruled by his determination to ruthlessly suppress any similar tendencies when and if they ever surfaced in himself.

Maya dropped the toy and came upright with a jerk that made her hair bounce angrily before settling in a silky tumble down her back. ‘Is that some sort of joke?’

‘No, it’s... Have you been crying?’ he asked, observing the dampness on her cheeks with a tightening in his chest.

Maya was always alert and very defensive about anyone assuming that, just because she looked delicate, shewasdelicate. There was something patronising in people thinking she needed to be given special treatment.

So she had zero qualms about lying.

‘No, I have not.’

It was crazy! This time yesterday she had not even known this baby boy existed. Maybe it was the fact they had both been abandoned that had brought out these painfully intense protective feelings in her?

‘Well, you look—’

‘I havenotbeen crying—though God knows the way this day is going, it would be small wonder if I had!’

He lifted his hands in an open-palmed pacific gesture. ‘Fine, you have not been crying.’ He shrugged. ‘I have a flight home arranged.’

She had been prepared to hear him out in stony silence, but her curiosity won that battle. ‘Where is home?’ Where would she imagine Samuele living? She wouldn’t be imagining him at all, she reminded herself, but who knew if his voice might continue to seep into her dreams...?

She gave a little shiver. On any measurement scale their first chance encounter had not exactly been a cosmic event and yet it had lingered in her mind. More than lingered, if she was honest, thinking of that voice in her dreams, the touch she woke up remembering, which was an invention of her subconscious, because he had never touched her. Did that merest whisper of a kiss even count?

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