Ravelli's Defiant Bride(11)

By: Lynne Graham

‘Who are you?’ Belle demanded nervously.

‘Rafe is one of my two bodyguards,’ Cristo interposed, strolling up onto the landing. ‘Rafe and John are staying here with me.’

‘John and I need bedding. We can take care of ourselves though,’ Rafe declared, stepping past her to peruse the tidy, labelled shelves just as she emerged clutching the linen she required for the master bedroom. Conscious of Cristo Ravelli’s stare, and feeling somewhat harassed, Belle walked stiffly down the corridor. Damn the man! Why was he watching her like that? Did she have two heads all of a sudden? And why hadn’t he told her he had companions? She hadn’t bought enough food and that thought reminded her that she had to get him to settle up with her for the shopping she had done on his behalf. Dropping the linen on the bed, she dug into her pocket for the till receipt and turned to offer it to him.

‘This is what you owe me,’ she told him.

Cristo dug out his wallet and extended a banknote while still engaged in frowning at the gilded furniture and mirrors and the fantastically draped red king-size bed. ‘Is this my father’s room?’


‘I’ll sleep somewhere else. The Victorian brothel design doesn’t appeal to me,’ he informed her curtly.

The décor was dark, fussy and horrible, Belle was willing to concede. She lifted the linen again and trudged across the corridor to one of the few guest rooms that enjoyed an en suite. Mayhill was badly in need of updating.

‘When I said that about the decoration, I didn’t intend to insult you,’ Cristo remarked, standing poised by the window, thinking that at this early stage it would be most unwise to offend her. He swore to himself that he would make no cheap cracks about her role as his father’s mistress, not least because it was becoming clear that it had not been a profitable position, he reflected wryly, which was hardly surprising when Gaetano had been renowned for his stinginess. Indeed in every one of his three divorces Gaetano had made money off his ex-wives in spite of the fact that in each case the women had been the injured parties. That Gaetano’s secret mistress had still been working as his housekeeper and wore cheap off-the-peg clothing should really not come as a surprise. For that reason he found it hard to believe that Gaetano had stumped up for plastic surgery to keep his mistress looking young but, of course, he reminded himself, it was perfectly possible that there had been no cosmetic enhancement. Mary Brophy could simply be, and probably was, a very lucky woman who looked much younger than her years.

‘I’m not offended. I wasn’t involved in choosing the furnishings here. About ten years ago, Gaetano hired an interior decorator,’ Belle explained, recalling how very hurt her mother had been not to be trusted with that responsibility by her lover. But then good taste had not been her mother’s strong point either. The Lodge rejoiced in every shade of pink known to man, pink having been Mary’s favourite colour.

Cristo watched Belle crush the pillows into pillow slips, her slender figure twisting this way and that, allowing him to notice her ripe, pouting curves at breast and hip from every angle. His wide sensual mouth slowly settled into a harder and harder line as he studied her delicate flushed profile, scanning her fine brows, her subtle little nose and full pink mouth. And his body reacted accordingly, stirring with forbidden interest until he angrily turned his back on her, castigating himself for viewing his father’s mistress as if she were some kind of sex object. But then he reminded himself that she was dressed to attract in an outfit and shoes that accentuated her long legs and shapely figure, and, when all was said and done, he was still a man with all that entailed and almost guaranteed to look.

Belle shot a sidewise glance at Cristo from below her lashes. His detachment, his air of command and superiority reminded her of his father, who had barely acknowledged Belle’s existence on the rare occasions when he had seen her. Suddenly she regretted agreeing to play housekeeper because no doubt as intended it made her feel inferior. Her soft mouth tightened as she shook out the duvet with unnecessary violence and then carried the towels into the bathroom. Unfortunately she carried the image of Cristo Ravelli with her, those penetrating eyes dark as sin, that sleek bred-in-the-bone sexiness that lent him such charismatic appeal. She could feel her nipples pushing hard against the scratchy surface of her lace bra, a tightening, sliding sensation of warmth between her thighs and she was deeply disturbed by her reaction. But there was no denying it: he appealed to her; he attracted her on the most basic level. Did that mean that at heart she was as foolish as her mother had once been about Gaetano?

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