Proof of Their Sin(4)

By: Dani Collins

His mother rarely left home in winter these days, but Paolo strove to do her credit by continuing the tradition abroad. In his hypercritical opinion, he’d pulled off one of the most successful events to date. If there was a flaw, it was the lack of a proper wife to be his hostess, not that anyone would dare say so. If his cousin Vittorio had an opinion on the subject, he wisely kept it to himself. And Paolo was working on repairing that deficiency. Isabella Nutini was his companion tonight and she was nothing if not proper.

He nodded an acknowledgment when Isabella excused herself to the powder room, thinking she could easily repair more than one blemish in his life. She was Italian, not one of these mixed-breed Americans as his first wife had been. Isabella had been raised Catholic and so treated marriage with the respect it deserved. She seemed to have a grasp on concepts such as loyalty and duty to family—something he saw in very few people these days, man or woman.

Best of all, aside from the requisite level of physical attraction and a modicum of intellectual interest, he felt little for her. He was a man of very deep emotions and controlling them was a daily struggle. Best to have a wife who wouldn’t put him through an emotional wringer. As long as she provided him the children he required and did not shame him before his family, Isabella was ideal.

“Your date left you and now so will I,” Vittorio said with cheerful insolence. “Excuse me, cousin, while I seduce my future wife.”

Italian heritage and male curiosity demanded Paolo catch a glimpse of the female that had drawn another man’s interest. He turned his head and—

A pendulum of suppressed sexual need that he’d pushed far into his subconscious swung through him and exploded, nearly bringing him to his knees in a rush of heat and primitive hunger. Paolo slapped his hand onto the ruffled front of Vittorio’s shirt, freezing him in place. Iron hardened in his arm while his gaze swept like a raptor, ensuring no one else dared approach her before he locked onto her again and took in the vision of her.

She’d gained back a few pounds, but her cheekbones still stood out under eyes that were wide and overwhelmed as she searched the crowd. Despite her height, she projected an intrinsic vulnerability that struck him the way it had when he’d entered the house of Ryan Bradley’s family in Charleston. His protective instincts rose like hackles, but she wasn’t nearly as helpless as she appeared. Lauren Bradley knew how to take care of herself. Like most women, she turned on the damsel-in-distress act to get what she wanted.

Ryan has disappeared, Paolo. No one will tell me anything. Please help me.

She had known how to get right at his heart, plucking at his deep allegiance to his friend despite playing them off against each other for years. With one phone message, she’d invited him onto an emotional roller coaster that had taken him weeks to recover from. A man in his position couldn’t afford inner turmoil. She ought to understand and respect that, but she was too self-involved.

Dio! She was beautiful, though. He vaguely took in a dress of white silk swirled with pearlescent design. A slash of dark purple was tangled over creamy shoulders and pale arms, but his gaze ate up the other details: the swell of her pale breasts, the hourglass shape nipped at the waist and flared to wide hips that had cradled his like they’d been made to lock together the way they had. Her neck had been a slender arch under his rapacious mouth, her ears so sensitive his breath on them had made her quiver. And those lips, those plump, edible lips had roamed his chest and abdomen and—

“Are you forgetting you brought a date, Paolo?” Vittorio’s voice held the same amused mockery Paolo had heard all too often from family after his marriage had fallen apart. How could you not have suspected it wasn’t yours?

Lauren Bradley had the ability to make him miss certain things and overlook the rest. Shame rose to burn his cheeks, mixed with embarrassment and anger. She’d seduced him into another dishonorable position and he would never forgive her for it.

“That’s Mrs. Bradley. Off-limits. To everyone,” he ground out, finally dropping the hand that had warded off his cousin. “Scusa,” he added from between clenched teeth, loathe to approach her, but what choice did he have?

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