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Relief that Violetta had realised she couldn’t desert her baby washed over Maya in a heart-steadying wave. She gave the stiff door an enthusiastic tug, stepping forward as it swung open to reveal, not her half-sister, but a shockingly familiar imposing figure. The welcoming smile of relief vanished from her eyes as reality collided with her dreams.

Her voice shook with the sheer impact of recognition that nailed her to the spot, leaving her feeling as though she had just run full pelt into a wall.

The seconds ticked away as two sets of eyes locked. It was Maya who finally broke the tableau, her chest heaving as she gasped for air before giving voice to her unedited reaction at being faced with the person who had unlocked something inside her so many months ago that she still refused to acknowledge.

‘Oh, no...You!’

No matter how many times you skydived, there was always that moment of shock in the split second when you actually launched yourself into space. This was the first time Samuele had experienced that same sensation with both his feet still on the ground.

His hooded gaze moved in a slow sweep upwards from her bare feet to the top of her glossy head, taking in everything in between. He clenched his teeth, the twist of lust in his belly that crossed the border into pain all too familiar.

His reaction to this woman was just as visceral as it had been the first time, when her liquid dark eyes had flashed fire at him for being rude to that artist. The same eyes now were glazed with shock. His glance lingered on the soft full outline of her mouth... He had thought about that mouth a lot since that day, wished he had followed through with his instinct and actually kissed her, so he’d know what she tasted like.

A muscle clenched in his jaw. ‘Youare thesister?’ And presumably a part of Violetta’s plan to extort money from him.

Not ready to admit to anything just yet, Maya countered this accusation with her own question.

‘You’rethebrother-in-law?’ The man in her dreams, the man she had met for only moments eighteen months ago, and yet who had imprinted himself indelibly inside her head, was Violetta’s persecutor!

One dark brow arched upwards as with a contemptuous curl of his lips he announced, ‘I am Samuele Agosti, and, as I’m sure you know, I am here to return my nephew home to Italy.’

He had lost none of the arrogance she remembered from Zurich, and, unfortunately for her, none of his rampant maleness. She folded her arms protectively across her chest.

‘Well, you’ve had a wasted journey.’

‘Where is she?’

The question was not directed at her but past her, unlike the fleeting scornful glance that she was definitely the intended recipient of.

Her chin went up. ‘I’d like you to leave now.’ The door only moved a couple of inches before it met the immovable obstacle of his size-twelve foot shod in handmade leather. ‘Home for a child is where his mother is—’ Maya stopped, unable to prevent the self-conscious dismay from spreading across her face as she realised that even if this were true, Mattio’s mother wasn’t here.

She was the only thing standing between this man and her baby nephew.

‘You don’t sound too sure about that,’ he remarked.

‘You know what Iamsure of—that I’m going to call the police if you don’t leave in the next ten seconds.’

‘The thing about threats is that you have to be willing to follow through with them, or at least convince the person they’re directed at that you are.’

Maya found her eyes following the motion of his long fingers as they moved from the open-necked collar of his white linen shirt and the vee of olive skin at the base of his throat, up his neck and across the dusting of dark stubble on his firm, square jaw.

There was a challenge in his smile, and the male aura he radiated—hispresence—could fill an entire arena. This was not an arena, it was a very small, unglamorous hallway, and it made her feel very small and insignificant.

The recognition of the feeling made her square her shoulders. She didn’t care who he was, this washerspace! She drew herself up to her full diminutive height, managing to project a sense of confidence, which was a miracle in itself, considering she was not dressed for dignity—a fact that was just hitting home to her.

Without taking her eyes off his face, she casually reached for the tie on her robe and knotted it around her middle before smoothing down her hair, but it was a pointless exercise, she knew, so she gave it up. Dignity was more than skin-deep.

‘I don’t bluff.’ She tightened her belt another vicious notch and pushed out abruptly, ‘Just go away.’



The question flustered her and put her on the defensive.

‘She who?’

This drawn-out innocent act tried his temper, but not as much as the unwelcome recognition of his own initial shock reaction to the sight of the woman barring his way. God alone knew how long he had stood there literally in the grip of a hormonal rush worthy of a teenager.

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