Ravelli's Defiant Bride(9)

By: Lynne Graham

Sadly accustomed to the effect her full bosom tended to have on the male sex, Belle studied Cristo Ravelli at her leisure. By any estimate, he was drop-dead gorgeous. He had luxuriant black hair closely cropped to his arrogant head, spectacular bone structure and quite stunning dark-as-charcoal eyes enhanced by absurdly long sooty lashes. A light shadow of stubble roughened his olive-skinned jaw line, adding to an already overpoweringly masculine presence.

Her pupils dilated, her heart began hammering an upbeat tempo and her tummy performed acrobatics. It was nerves, she told herself, nerves and adrenalin reacting to the challenge of the deception she was embarking on. It didn’t help that Cristo was also extremely tall, actually tall enough to make her feel small even though she was an easy five feet eight inches in height and stood even higher in heels. His shoulders were broad below the tailored jacket of his no doubt expensive business suit, his chest wide, his lean hips tapering down to legs that were very long and powerful.

‘I’ll take these down to the kitchen and start cooking,’ Belle told him, raising her arms to display the bulging carrier bags.

Her rounded breasts shimmied below the fine jersey top and Cristo’s mouth ran dry. ‘You’re my father’s housekeeper?’ he prompted because she was not at all what he had expected, having dimly imagined some feisty but sensible countrywoman of indeterminate age.

Abandoning her attempt to walk right by him, Belle set the bags on the floor at her feet and lifted her head high. ‘I’m Mary Brophy,’ she announced, thrusting up her chin in challenge.

Both disconcertion and disbelief assailed Cristo and his dark deep-set eyes narrowed to increase their searching intensity as he scrutinised her. ‘You were my father’s...mistress?’ he asked.

Nausea stirred in her tummy at that label but she could think of no more accurate description for the compromising position her late mother had occupied in Gaetano’s life and colour fired her cheeks. ‘Yes.’

A split second earlier, Cristo had been mentally undressing her and that awareness now revolted him as the ultimate in inappropriate activities now that he knew who she was. This was the woman who had occupied his father’s bed for at least fifteen years, earning a longevity that no other women had contrived to match in Gaetano’s easily bored existence. And looking at her, suddenly Cristo was not surprised by that fact because self-evidently this woman worked at her appearance. Even after giving birth to five children she still had the slender waist of a young girl and, below the make-up she seemed to trowel on as thick as paste, her fine pale skin was unlined and still taut. She was too young, way too young-looking though to match the woman he had expected to meet, he decided, his ebony brows pleating in perplexity.

‘You were also Gaetano’s housekeeper?’ Cristo questioned.

‘Yes.’ With determination, Belle bent down to lift the bags again. ‘Omelette and salad all right for you?’ she asked, heading for the kitchen at speed.

A very decorative housekeeper, Cristo thought numbly, still quite unable to picture her as the mother of five children. Five!

‘You must have been very young when you met my father,’ Cristo commented from the kitchen doorway.

Belle stiffened as she piled the perishable food into the fridge. ‘Not that young,’ she fielded, wanting to tell him to mind his own business but reluctant to cause offence. After all, she needed his support to secure a decent future for her siblings. Although what realistic chance did she have of gaining it? At worst, Cristo Ravelli might despise and resent his father’s illegitimate children, and at best, he might be simply indifferent to them. Adoption, for goodness’ sake, she reflected in lingering disbelief. How many people would even dare to suggest such an option?

‘I assumed you would be living here in the house,’ Cristo remarked, his attention clinging of its own volition to the amount of slender thigh on view as she crouched down to pack the fridge.

‘I only...er...lived in when Gaetano was here,’ Belle said awkwardly.

‘And the rest of the time?’ Cristo enquired, because as far as he knew his father had only come to Ireland three or four times a year and had never stayed for longer than a couple of weeks at most.

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