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‘No, it’s not that. It’s just...you saved my life and I didn’t say thank you.’

He paused and looked back over his shoulder. ‘I think you said thank you very nicely indeed. In fact, it was one of the nicest thank-yous I have ever received,cara.’

He winked at her, then watched the angry colour stain her cheeks. He turned away thinking,Job done.Having her angry with him was no bad thing. He resolutely ignored the hollow feeling in his stomach.

CHAPTER NINE

ITWASTWOWEEKSand the bruise on her cheek had almost faded. She had woken the next day to find she had a black eye and her face had gone through some lurid colour changes since then; now a light touch of concealer and you wouldn’t know it was there.

If only other things that had happened that day had faded so easily...though a part of her didn’t actually want them to. Samuele had been right: her encounter with the wild boars had made her a bit of a local celebrity.

She had a lot of sympathy and was repeatedly told how lucky she was. It seemed everyone had a story of someone who hadn’t been as lucky: the hiker who had nearly lost an eye and had been massively disfigured; the farmhand who had fallen and been trampled coming out of his encounter with several broken ribs and a smashed leg...he still walked with a limp, she was told darkly.

Maya had made a point of going out to the gardens to search out the gardener and offer her thanks and apologies. She took Rosa with her to translate and showed Santino the app on her phone she would use to translate for herself in future.

She stayed and won a friend by asking about the gardens that he and his team kept so beautifully, and he was eager to tell her about the years when he had been the only one left to tend them and how it had simply broken his heart to see the historically important landscapes being taken over by Mother Nature.

‘Now,’ he proudly explained, ‘I have every resource I ask for and a team.’ He spoke at length about last summer and the massive party with famous people and the filmmaker who had wanted to make a documentary about the gardens. ‘The son,’ he finished, cryptically tapping his nose. ‘He is nothing like the father...’

It was the first time she’d heard this opinion actually voiced, but it was implied in so many other conversations she had had. Samuele was more than simply well regarded; he was flat-out adored by the people of the estate.

She wondered what the high-flying financiers in their smart suits—not that any of them filled out a suit like Samuele—would make of the man she had seen last week?

Her thoughts drifted back to her solo walk she’d fitted into her daily routine, which no longer involved intimate dinners with Samuele. Sometimes Rosa, who had become her official helper with Mattio, stayed to eat with her, which involved far less tension.

Maya’s walk that particular morning last week had taken her past the stables. She was a bit nervous of horses, or at least the height they were from the ground, so she had been far enough away to stay unseen, or at least that was what she had thought until that final moment when Samuele had turned and looked directly at her. To her eternal shame she had ducked down behind a hedge, a bit like a child who covered his eyes and thought no one could see him.

Only she wasn’t a child and she had sat there and sworn under her breath, waiting for her humiliation to be complete when he came over—but he hadn’t.

While it had lasted, the show she’d seen had been quite a masterclass in horsemanship; if anyone had filmed it on their phone it would have gone viral in hours!

How could it not? It had everything: a tall, gorgeously handsome man radiating authority standing there, seemingly oblivious to the slashing hooves of the young horse he was trying to tame.

Maya’s initial gut-chilling fear had given way to fascination as she’d watched him. It had been like a ballet really, the horse advancing and retreating and Samuele standing there completely unfazed, radiating the sort of confidence that you couldn’t learn or fake or buy, and gradually, almost by osmosis, it had seemed to infiltrate the animal’s panic.

She hadn’t been the only one watching the show, the fence had been lined with stable hands who had seemed as fascinated as she’d been.

Samuele hadn’t appeared todoanything except talk softly. Nothing had happened fast but by imperceptible inches he’d won the horse’s trust until he was able to stroke his silky face, after which he’d trotted around the exercise ring quite happily.

That was when he’d turned and looked at her; that was when she should have walked calmly over to him and said something bland, talked about the weather, anything but what she’d done.

She still cringed when she thought about what she must have looked like.

Would he comment on it this morning?she wondered, gathering up the folder containing the nannies’ CVs and sticking it into her shoulder bag. She assumed that that was why he had requested her presence this morning, via email, which had been the form of communication he had favoured since they’d had their...sexual collision. It was how she’d decided to think of it, like a traffic accident that had happened because you hadn’t been paying attention to the road, or because you’d allowed yourself to think about something else instead, like him, standing naked in front of you... Which wasn’t going to happen today, she told herself firmly.

It would be their first meeting that wasn’t accidental in two weeks. They’d occasionally passed one another in one or other of the maze of corridors and once she had been going into the magnificent leisure suite when he’d been coming out, his hair wet... She’d felt dizzy for quite a while after that. A few minutes earlier and she would have seen him sleek and semi-naked in the pool, maybe even joined him there...? Then who knew what might have happened? Her vivid imagination had supplied several possibilities in glorious Technicolor.

She had not ventured back there since.

Their paths had almost crossed a few times when he’d come to see Mattio, but each time he had she’d been taking her walk and Rosa had been in charge. The girl had given her chapter and verse of how good he was with the baby and how interested he was in Mattio’s progress.

Maya couldn’t decide what was worse: the possibility he was avoiding her, or he’d forgotten she existed and moved on.

Another one of his personal secretaries, the woman, appeared as Maya approached the office door. Maya suspected that being psychic was probably a required qualification for working closely for Samuele—that and an inbuilt immunity to his intellect-dampening aura of raw masculinity.

That disqualified her on both counts. She was almost as miscast as an employee as she was a lover, even though technically she wasn’t either. She’d just been a steamy one-afternoon stand for him, and, far from feeling as if she worked for him, she was actually treated more like a guest by everyone she encountered here. Everyone except the boss, who acted as though she were invisible. Yes, it suited her too, but she didn’t have to be happy about it, did she?

‘Just give him a minute and then go right in.’

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