Castiglione's Pregnant Princess(9)

By: Lynne Graham


On the other hand he had never wanted so badly to touch a woman’s hair and that weird prompting unnerved him into springing upright again and striding across the room. The dulled throb of awakening desire at his groin inspired him with another stab of incredulity because since adulthood he had always been fully in control of that particular bodily affliction.

‘I can’t think why,’ Jazz said, dry-mouthed, unbearably conscious of him looming over her for that split second before he moved away because he stood well over six feet tall and she barely made a couple of inches over five foot.

‘I assure you that the exchange will work out very much to your advantage,’ Vitale husked, deciding that his uncharacteristic interest had simply been stimulated by the challenge that he now saw lay ahead of him: the transformation of Jazz. Number one on the agenda would be persuading her to stop biting her nails. Number two would be ditching the giant fake gold hoop earrings. Number three would be avoiding any shoe that looked as if a stripper might wear it.

Jazz let slip a very rude startled word in response to that unlikely statement.

And number four would be cleaning up her vocabulary, Vitale reflected, glad to so clearly see her flaws so that he could concentrate on the practicalities of his challenge, rather than dwell on any aspect that could be deemed personal.

‘Don’t swear,’ Vitale told her.

Jazz reddened as high as her hairline because she could remember him saying the same thing to her when she was about twelve years old while warning her that once she became accustomed to using such words, using them would become an embarrassing habit. And being Vitale, he had been infuriatingly bang on target with that advice. Using curse words had made her seem a little cooler at school back then...well, as cool as you could be with bright red hair and a flat chest, puberty having passed her by for far longer than she cared to recall, making her an anomaly amongst her peers.

‘You need financial help,’ Vitale pointed out with undiplomatic bluntness, keen to get right to the heart of the matter and remind her of her situation. If he neglected to remind her of her boundaries, Jazz would be a stubborn, defiant baggage and hard to handle.

Living up to that assessment, Jazz flew upright, earrings swinging wildly in the torrent of her burnished hair, colour marking her cheekbones, highlighting eyes bright with angry defensiveness. ‘I did not ask for money from your father!’ she snapped back at him.

‘Employment, a home, the settlement of outstanding loans?’ Vitale reminded her with cruel precision. ‘How could any of those aspirations be achieved without someone laying out a considerable amount of money on your behalf?’

The angry colour drained from her disconcerted face, perspiration breaking out on her short upper lip as he threw her crash-bang up against hard reality, refusing to allow her to deny the obvious. She stared back at him, trapped like a rabbit in headlights and hating him for it. Mortification claimed her along with a healthy dose of shame that she should have put herself in such a position and with Vitale of all people. Vitale, who had never treated her like an equal as Angel had done, Vitale who had never for one moment forgotten that she was essentially a servant’s child, thrown into the brothers’ company only by proximity.

Vitale watched Jazz crash down from fury to bitter, embarrassed acceptance. Sì...yes, he told himself with satisfaction, that had been the right note to sound. She dropped back into the chair, sunset heat warming her cheeks and bowing her head on her slender neck.

‘And the good news is that I’m willing to provide that money if...in return, you are willing to do something for me.’

‘I can’t imagine anything that I could do for you,’ Jazz told him truthfully.

‘Then listen and learn,’ Vitale advised, poised by the window with the light glimmering over his luxuriant blue-black hair, the suave olive planes of his cheekbones taut. ‘At the end of next month my mother is throwing a ball at the palace. Her objective is to match me up with a future bride and the guest list will be awash with young women who have what the Queen deems to be the right pedigree and background.’

Jazz was staring at him now in wide-eyed wonderment. ‘Are you kidding me?’

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