A Scandal in the Headlines(2)

By: Caitlin Crews

And if some intuitive, purely feminine part of her had whispered otherwise, she’d ignored it.

“I’m not trespassing,” she said with a calm she wished she felt. “I work here.”

“Like hell you do.”

“And yet here I am.” With a wave of her hand she indicated the smart tan-colored skirt she wore, the pristine black T-shirt tucked in at the waist, the sensible boat shoes. “Uniform and all.”

His dark eyes were trained on her, hard and cold. She remembered the fire in them that night six months ago, the impossible longing, and felt the lack of both as a loss.

“You are … what, exactly? A maid?” His voice managed to be both incredulous and fierce at once, and she ordered herself not to react as he began to walk toward her, all impeccable male lines and sheer masculine poetry despite the beating he’d obviously taken.

Damn him. How could he still affect her like this? It disgusted her. She told herself what she felt now was disgust.

“I’m a stewardess. Cleaning is only one of my duties.”

“Of course. And when you found yourself possessed of the urge to trade in designer gowns and luxury cars for actual labor, I imagine it was pure coincidence that made you choose this particular yacht—my yacht—on which to begin your social experiment?”

“I didn’t know it was yours.” Not when she’d answered the original advert, when she’d decided waitressing at the tourist restaurants along the stunning Sicilian coast was too risky for someone who didn’t want to be found. And now she wished she’d heeded her impulse to keep running when she’d discovered the truth. Why hadn’t she? “When I found out, I’d already been working here a week. I was told you rarely, if ever, used it.”

If she was honest, she’d also thought he owed her, somehow. She’d liked the idea that Alessandro had been paying her, however indirectly. That he was affected in some way by what that dance had put into motion, no matter if he never knew it. It had felt like a kind of power, and she needed every hint of that she could find.

“What a curious risk to take for so menial a position,” he murmured.

He was even closer now, right there on the other side of the bar, and Elena swallowed hard when he put his hands down on the gleaming surface with the faintest hint of a sensual menace she didn’t want to acknowledge. If she’d been on the same side he was, he would have been caging her between them. She couldn’t seem to shake the image—or perhaps it was that the barrier seemed flimsy indeed when the way he was looking at her made something coil inside of her and pull taut.

“It’s an honest job.”

“Yes.” His dark green gaze was laced through with something she might have called grief, were he anyone else. “But you are not an honest woman, are you?”

Elena couldn’t hide the way she flinched at that, and she wasn’t sure what she hated more—that he saw it, or that she obviously cared what this man thought about her. When he didn’t know anything about her. When all he’d ever known about her was that shocking, overwhelming explosion of awareness between them at that long-ago charity ball.

He couldn’t know how bitterly she regretted her own complicity in what had happened that night, how her reaction to him still shamed her. He couldn’t know what Niccolo had planned, what she’d very nearly helped him do. He knew how blind she’d been, sadly, but he couldn’t know the truth….

But Alessandro was just like Niccolo, she reminded herself harshly then, no matter her physical reaction to him. Same kind of man, same kind of “family business,” same kind of brutal exploitation of whoever and whatever he could use. She’d had a lot of time to read about Alessandro Corretti and the infamous Corretti family in her six months on the run. There was no telling what he might know about his rival Niccolo Falco’s broken engagement and missing fiancée, or how he might use that information.

She had to be careful.

“I already know what you think of me,” she said, keeping her voice cool. Unbothered. “And anyway, people change.”

“Circumstances change.” There was no denying the bitterness in his voice then, or stamped all over that battered, arrogant face. She told herself it didn’t move her at all, that she didn’t feel the insane, hastily checked urge to reach over and cover his hand with hers. “People never do.”

Sadly, she knew he was right. Because if she’d changed at all—if she’d learned anything from these months of running and hiding—she wouldn’t have found this man compelling in the least. She would have run screaming in the opposite direction, flung herself from the side of the boat and swum for the Palermo shoreline they’d left more than ninety minutes ago.

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