A Scandal in the Headlines(3)

By: Caitlin Crews

“If you don’t want me here—”

“I don’t.”

She swallowed, fighting to remain calm. She couldn’t afford to lose her temper, not when he could ruin everything with a single telephone call. It would take no more than that to summon Niccolo from that villa of his she’d nearly moved into outside of Naples. Alessandro would probably even enjoy throwing her back into that particular fire. Why not? The Correttis had been at bitter odds with Niccolo’s family for generations. What was one more bit of collateral damage?

Especially when Alessandro already thought she was the sort of woman who aspired to be a pawn in the kind of games men like him played.

Think, she ordered herself. Stop reacting to him and think about how best to play this!

“Then I’ll go, of course.” Given what she knew he believed about her, he must imagine she’d be impervious to threats. Which meant she had to be exactly that. She smiled coolly. “But we’re out at sea.”

He shifted then, only slightly, and yet a new kind of danger seemed to shimmer in the air of the lounge, making Elena’s pulse heat up and beat thick and wild beneath her skin. His dark green eyes gleamed.

“Then I certainly hope you can swim.”

“I never learned,” she lied. She tilted her head, let her smile flirt with him. “Are you offering me a lesson?”

“I suppose I can spare a lifeboat,” he mused, that gleam in his eyes intensifying. “You’ll wash up somewhere soon enough, I’m sure. The Mediterranean is a small sea.” One corner of his battered mouth quirked up. “Relatively speaking.”

She didn’t understand how she could still find this man so beautiful, like one of the old gods sent down to earth again. Savage and seductive, even as he threatened to set her adrift. But she knew better than to believe her eyes, her traitorous body, that awful yearning that moved in her like white noise, louder by the second…. She knew what and who he was.

She shouldn’t have had to keep reminding herself of that. But then, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t afraid of him the way she’d come to be afraid of Niccolo, when she also knew Alessandro was far more dangerous than Niccolo could ever be.

“You’re not going to toss me overboard,” she said with quiet certainty.

A different kind of awareness tightened the air between them, reminding her again of that fateful dance. The way he’d held her so close, the things she’d simply known when she’d looked at him. That curve in his hard mouth deepened, as if he felt it, too. She knew he did, the way she’d known it then.

“Of course not,” he said, those dark eyes much too hot, something far more alarming than temper in them now. Memories. That old longing. She had to be careful. “I have staff for that.”

“Alternatively,” she said, summoning up that smile again, forcing herself to stand there so calmly, so carelessly, “though less dramatically, I admit—you could simply let me go when we arrive at the next port.”

He laughed then, and rubbed his hands over his bruised face. He winced slightly, as if he’d forgotten he was hurt.

“Maybe I’m not making myself clear.” When he lowered his hands his gaze burned fierce and hot. She remembered that, too. And it swept through her in exactly the same way it had before, consuming her. Scalding her. “Niccolo Falco’s woman is not welcome here. Not on this boat, not on my island, not anywhere near me. So you swim or you float. Your choice.”

“I understand,” she said after a moment, making it sound as if he bored her. She should have been racked with panic. She should have been terrified. Instead, she shrugged. “You must have your little revenge. I rejected you, therefore you have to overreact and throw me off the side of a yacht.” She rolled her eyes. “I understand that’s how it works for men like you.”

“Men like me,” he repeated quietly, as if she’d cursed at him. He sounded tired when he spoke again, and it made something turn over inside of her. But she kept on.

“You’re a Corretti,” she said. “We both know what that means.”

“Petty acts of revenge and the possibility of swimming lessons?” he asked dryly, but there were shadows in that dark gaze, shadows she couldn’t let herself worry about, no matter that strange sensation inside of her.

“It also means you are well known to be as cruel and occasionally vicious as the rest of the crime syndicate you call your family.” Her smile was brittle. “How lucky for me that I’ve encountered you on two such occasions.”

“Ah, yes,” he said, his dark gaze hard as his cynical mouth curved again, and something about that made her legs feel weak beneath her. “I remember this part. The personal attacks, the insulting comments about my family. You need a new topic of conversation, Elena.”

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