A Scandal in the Headlines(9)

By: Caitlin Crews

You will lose everything that matters to you if you don’t snap out of this, she reminded herself harshly. Everything that matters to the people you love. Is that what you want?

He stopped when he stood next to her at the finely wrought rail that separated them from the cliff and the sea below. He was much too close. He smelled crisp and clean, and powerfully male. Elena could feel the connection between them, magnetic and insistent, surrounding them in its taut, mesmerizing pull.

And she had no doubt that Alessandro would use it against her if he could, this raging attraction. That was the kind of thing men like him did without blinking, and she needed to do the same. It didn’t matter who she really was, how insane and unlike her this reaction to him had been from the start. It didn’t matter what he would think of her—what he already did think of her. What so many others thought of her, too, in fact, or what she thought of herself. And while all of that was like a deep, black hole inside of her, yawning wider even now, she had to find a way to do this, anyway. All that mattered was saving her village, preserving forever what she’d put at risk in the first place.

What was her self-respect next to that? She’d given up her right to it when she’d been silly and flattered and vain enough to believe Niccolo’s lies. There were consequences to bad choices, and this was hers.

“I should tell you,” he said casually, as if he was commenting on the weather. The temperature. “I have no intention of letting you go this time. Not without a taste.”

That was not anticipation that flooded through her then. And certainly not a knife-edge excitement that made her pulse flutter wildly in response. She wouldn’t allow it.

“Is that an order?” she asked, her voice cool, as if he didn’t get to her at all.

“If you like.” He laughed. So arrogant, she thought. So sure of her. Of this. “If that’s what gets you off.”

“Because most people consider a boss ordering his employee to ‘give him a taste’ a bit unprofessional.” She smiled pure ice at him. She did not think about what got her off. “There are other terms for it, of course. Legal ones.”

He angled himself so he was leaning one hip against the rail, looking down at her. A faintly mocking curve to his mouth. Bruised and bad, head to foot. And yet still so terribly compelling. Why couldn’t what she knew rid her of what she felt?

“Are we still maintaining that little bit of fiction?” He shrugged carelessly, though his gaze was hot. “Then consider yourself fired. Someone will find another stewardess for my yacht. You, however.” His smile then made her blood heat, her traitorous body flush. “You, I think, have a different purpose here altogether.”

Elena had to fight herself to focus, to remember. Alessandro Corretti was one of the notorious Sicilian Correttis. More than that, he was the oldest son of his generation, the heir to the legend, no matter how they’d split up the family fortune or the interfamily wars the press reported on so breathlessly. He was who Niccolo aspired to become—the real, genuine article. Corrupt and wicked to the marrow of his bones, by virtue of his blood alone.

He should have disgusted her to the core. He should have terrified her. It appalled her that he didn’t. That nothing could break this hold he had on her. That she still felt this odd sense of safety when she was near him, despite all evidence to the contrary.

“Oh, right,” she said now. “I forgot.” She sighed, though her mind raced as she tried to think of what she would do if she really was the woman he thought she was. If she was that conniving, that amoral. “You think I’m a spy.”

“I do.”

No man, she thought unsteadily, should look that much like a wolf, or have dark green eyes that blazed when he looked at her that way. It turned her molten, all the way through.

“And what do you think spying on you would get me?”

“I know it will get you nothing. But I doubt you know that. And I’m sure your lover doesn’t.”

That he called Niccolo her lover made her skin crawl. That she’d had every intention of marrying Niccolo—and probably would have, had fate and this man and Niccolo’s own temper not intervened—made her want to curl up into a ball and wail. Or tear off her own skin. But she tacked on a little smile instead, and pretended.

She got better at it all the time.

“You’ve caught me,” she said. “You’ve unveiled my cunning master plan.” She lifted her eyes heavenward. “I’m a spy. And I let myself be caught in the act of … stewardessing. Also part of my devious mission! What could I possibly want next?”

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