The chance to settle into our accommodation wasn't given us as no sooner had we explored the condo and taken in the ocean view from the massive rooftop balcony than we received a phone call from the reception desk saying that our car was ready. I shot Alessandro a curious look but he was in the process of stripping out of the shirt and suit pants he wore to greet the hotel staff and donning his weekend clothes. And of course being the total perve I was, I watched on, unable to take my eyes off of him and the way the muscles on his back rippled with his every movement. His legs were Roman pillars, his arms and torso firm as marble. Suddenly all I could think about was running my mouth over his exquisite body and making hot, intense love to him over and over again. How my jeans hadn't caught fire by the time he'd finished dressing I had no idea.
"Are you ready?" I snapped from my daze only to realise he was watching me, looking Italian as ever in his designer jeans, polo and loafers.
"I..." I swallowed, top brain cranking into gear. "Yes. I was just going to wear what I have on now."
He indicated his approval with an appraising smile. Then slipping his hand around my shoulders, he directed me to the door.
"Where are we going, exactly?" I asked.
"Lunch," he purred. "Then shopping. I have it under good authority that you haven't brought many clothes so I intend to rectify this."
Any hope of argument was lost as the door to our condo closed behind us and Alessandro ushered me into the lift.
"I thought guys hated clothes shopping," I said.
"A sacrifice I am willing to make," he drawled with a grin. There was a gleam in his eyes that had my breath hitching in my throat.
Our hire car was waiting for us at the front of the hotel in the form of a flashy red Ferrari. Alessandro accepted the key from the valet and held open the passenger door for me while I settled into the soft, leather seat. I stifled a sigh. I could get used to this.
"I thought you Italian men were either Team Lamborghini or Team Ferrari," I said as Alessandro slid into the driver's side.
He shrugged and pushed the starter button. The car started in a low growl. "Why not both? It is a beautiful car. But if you prefer a Lamborghini..."
"No no," I said quickly. "This is fine. In fact..." I chuckled. "This is more than fine."
"Thought so," Alessandro smirked, cool as a cucumber. He slipped the car into gear and pulled out onto the main road.
For the second time in less than a week Alessandro relished in the idea of spoiling me rotten, which I admittedly resisted at first. Mainly because spending his money didn't really sit well with me. But then I had to realise, as he had stubbornly pointed out, it was his pleasure to do so. I let him have his way after that. There was no point in arguing with a determined Italian, I knew that much. It wasn't until later in the afternoon when we were driving back to the hotel that I became aware of the deep throbbing low in my belly. And not in the anticipation-for-spending-the-week-with-Alessandro sense either. A dull ache was forming at the base of my spine and I felt like the energy was draining from me by the second. I actually even nodded off in the car, only coming to when I felt the touch of Alessandro's fingers on my cheek.
"Lizzie, you should get some rest."
I heaved a yawn and let him help me from the car. He handed the keys back to the valet while a porter unloaded our shopping haul.
"I think you're right," I said. "Must be all of this ocean air." Though even as I said it, the sneaking suspicion was creeping over me like a sinister, black shadow.
Back in the condo, I made straight for the en suite bathroom after convincing Alessandro that a soak in the bath was all I needed. Then a quick check of my underwear and I had the awful confirmation. I'd just gotten my period.
"Fudge balls, crap, damn it!" I hissed before the rolling sob made its way up my throat. I managed to squeeze it out without making a sound. The last thing I needed was to have to explain to Alessandro why I was crying. Though, I realised, he was going to have to find out sooner or later. I swallowed, all too aware of the way he had looked at me throughout the day. Even while driving, Alessandro's hand was on my thigh, his subtle touch a sure indicator of what he had in mind for the evening, but all I could think about was curling up in a ball and eating ice cream while crying at sappy movies. Well it did explain why I had been feeling so weepy and bloated all day.
But damn it why now?!
Why couldn't I be on the pill or something, and have been able to skip my period this month? Why, why, why? I tapped my head against the cool wall tile, letting my silent tears fall and pool around my toes. I knew it was a stupid reason to be crying, but I just couldn't stop. If a puppy had looked at me sideways I would've burst into tears. Then the pain hit. The searing cramp in my abdomen that felt like my uterus was being twisted into the biggest most violent knot. I actually groaned out loud, feeling the sudden, uncontrollable urge to puke up the expensive lunch I'd eaten only hours before. I needed drugs. Something... Anything to make this wretched curse stop. But my pain killers were in my purse, and that was... I gulped... On the foyer table by the front door.
Okay. Breathe. Just. Breathe. Tackle one thing at a time. I needed to wash up. A shower would suffice. I made sure it was searing hot and stepped out resembling some sort of a bloated, wobbly lobster. Then digging through my toiletries bag I found my menstrual cup and breathed a sigh. At least I wouldn't need to ask Alessandro to do a tampon run for me. I slipped on a hotel robe and a fresh set of undies. Then, breathing a silent prayer for strength, stepped from the bathroom. Alessandro was standing on the balcony outside the bedroom, ocean breeze ruffling through his raven black hair as he watched the water. I padded toward the walk-in-closet where our clothes had been put away but he caught my movement from the corner of his eye and spun to look at me. Then his face dropped.
"What is the matter, cara?"
Before I knew it he was leaping the distance between us, his face awash with concern. Did I really look that bad? I took one look at him and burst into tears.
"Oh Lizzie, what is it?" He scooped me up into his arms and carried me to the bed, then cuddling me on his lap, planted kisses all over my face. "What is the matter, bella?"
I sobbed and hiccupped. "I just got my period." There. It was out. And judging by the look on his face, the news was about as welcome as a bullet to the head. His eyes dulled a little, only causing me to cry even more. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
"Oh Lizzie." My name sounded like a groan against my cheek. "Why are you apologising for something that happens to a woman naturally?"
"Because." I wiped my nose with my sleeve and he tucked my head under his chin so that my ear pressed against his chest. "I wanted this trip to be special."
"It is special."
"No, listen to me, it is special because we get to spend time together and celebrate your cousin's wedding. We are together now. Two adults in a relationship, not some sort of a fling. We have a whole future of special memories to make together."
Oh God, how did he do that?
"Do you understand me, Lizzie?"
I nodded my head against his chest, my fingers toying with the button hole of his polo. My eyes were riveted to the curve of his throat and his Adam's apple that dipped and rose as he talked. I hiccupped and then started to giggle.
"Alessandro, why is it even when I feel like my insides are playing twister with a knife, I still think this is the sexiest throat I have ever seen?"
I felt his chuckle vibrate through his chest. "You flatter me, bella."
"No! I insist! I don't care what opinion you seem to have about yourself. You are an incredible specimen of male." I lifted my head to look him in the eye, pressing my hand against his heart for emphasis. "Both inside and out."
He simply smirked, the dullness in his eyes from a moment ago flaring back into warmth. He planted a gentle kiss on my lips. "Get some rest, my Lizzie. Perhaps you will feel a little better after a sleep."
I woke a second time that day to Alessandro's gentle ministrations.
His whisper brought me from the dream I was having and I felt his hand brush a strand of hair from my cheek. My eyes slid open and I found myself staring into his sideways smile as he lay on the bed beside me.
"There you are," he said, pressing a kiss on my nose. "I was wondering if you were going to wake up."
I smiled at his beautiful face that watched me with the warmth of a man in love and I felt my heart leap. "What time is it?" I croaked.
"Seven?!" My eyes snapped fully open at that. I glanced about the room behind him that was already full of long shadows. I'd been asleep for three hours! I moaned and buried my head into the pillow. What must he be thinking of me right now? "I never nap that long."
But he seemed unfazed. The bronze skin on his face held that sun-kissed look and he smelled marginally like salt. While I had been here snoring my head off, he'd obviously gone for a walk on the beach.
"Jetlag. How are you feeling? Are you hungry?"
I took a moment to contemplate. I still felt like death, which was to be expected given the time of the month, but at least the pain killers had finally kicked in.
"To be honest, all I feel like right now is a greasy burger and a giant tub of chocolate fudge ice cream."
He smirked at this. "Then that is what you shall have." He planted another kiss on me and hopped off the bed, grabbing a leather jacket from the closet. "I'll be back soon."
I heard the condo door close and rolled onto my back, choosing to just lie there for a bit and listen to the low rumble of ocean crashing up against the beach. I really couldn't have asked for a better man in my life. Truly. I mean he could be a total, arrogant ass when he wanted to, but I guess that came with his upbringing. He was a bit like his dad in that sense. But at least his intentions were always genuine. Alessandro was a man who abhorred dishonesty or deception. In his words, dishonestly in a system meant results could not be predicted or trusted, so letting anyone get this close to him was a big deal. He was serious about us. I had no doubts about that. But until now I had never actually thought about anything outside of the immediate future. In a couple of months when Alessandro was set to return to Italy, what then? Did he expect me to go with him? Would I be able to just pick up my stuff and move on to somewhere new again? Leave my job? My family? Friends? The wry smile crossed my face. My family lived spread out across the country so it wasn't like I saw much of them as it was. In fact Daniela's wedding would be the first time I'd seen my parents in almost a year. More than a year for any other extended family. And I did love him enough to want to take that step with him. Hell I would have been crazy not to.
Even though I had the advantage of having Italian ancestry (which I was sure proved to be an added bonus in Giuseppe's mind when he made it his mission to not-so-subtly set us up), it was still a whole other world. Not only this, but it was the Italian elite I'd be stepping into, where things like status, fashion and beauty were of paramount importance. God, I wished Angelina was still alive so I could talk to her. Get some tips on how to navigate this world.
Feeling far too balmy in my robe and doona, I kicked them off so that I lay there naked except for my lace undies (because I'd stupidly left all of my period undies at home). The ocean breeze felt so nice on my skin that I almost fell asleep again. But then the idea hit me.
Maybe I should hire an etiquette coach.
I quirked an eyebrow at my own thought. That wasn't a bad idea. In fact, it was pure genius! I rolled onto my stomach and military-crawled to the edge of the bed where I reached for my ipad on the bedside table. I'd just opened up Google when Alessandro stepped through the bedroom door and heaved a throaty moan.
Gasping, I quickly grabbed the nearest pillow. Then hugging it to my naked chest, I rolled over and sat up. My hair spilled out all over the place but right then there really was nothing I could do about it. His pulse was suddenly visible in his neck and his pants now seemed a tad tight around the crotch.
"Sorry. I got hot." I gave him a sheepish smile. I hadn't even heard the front door.
"You look like a pinup model," he rasped when he'd caught his breath. In all honestly, it was probably one of the most flattering things he could have said right then and I found myself blushing. He took a step toward the bed and then stopped himself, as though to try and gauge the appropriateness of his actions, then muttered something in Italian before running his hand through his thick hair. "I came in to let you know that dinner is here."
I couldn't resist the smile. God, he was adorable. "Thank you, I'll be right out. I just have to..." I kicked out a foot and barely managed to snag my robe with my toe. "Put some clothes on."
I wasn't sure how much he heard if anything at all as he was in the process of eyeing the pillow I clutched with the intensity of a jealous husband who had just caught his wife in bed with another man. I wanted to say it was nothing he hadn't seen before, but then realised he actually had never seen my naked chest. He'd only, you know... touched me there in the dark... with his mouth. Suddenly my nipples were responding to the memory with a vengeance and I all but groaned as I felt them tighten against the pillow. They were already sore enough as it was, without memories of him stimulating them. Oh lord what was wrong with me? Why was my body betraying me like this? Did it really hate me that much?
His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, jaw finally unhinging enough for him to speak. "I'll just be out on the balcony." His voice was so coarse it was like he'd eaten sandpaper. Then pivoting on his feet, he exited the room and closed the door behind him.
I sat there for a moment, dazedly blinking at the door before the loud cackle escaped my mouth (it was either that or burst into tears again which was what I really felt like doing).
"Alessandro!" I gasped between laughs. I threw the pillow aside and pulling myself from the bed, yanked my robe over my shoulders as I made a lunge for the bedroom door.
Still blushing scarlet, Alessandro was pacing around the lounge area. He stopped when he saw me and straightened, and I recall wondering briefly what in the world had happened to my super cool and confident man whose smoulder alone was powerful enough to take my breath away and leave me swooning?
"Lizzie," he blurted. "My apologies, I hadn't meant to walk in on you like that."
"It's quite alright," I said, trying desperately not to look at his pants and failing miserably. The poor guy had a boner the size of the Tower of Pisa.
But then my eyes caught onto the fact that the lounge area was missing one very expensive couch and coffee table. In fact, they were now sitting on the balcony and were set up to look out over the ocean. Dinner candles had been placed on the coffee table along with a delivery bag of fast food and a ginormous tub of dairy free chocolate fudge ice cream. A bottle of champagne chilled in an ice bucket next to the couch.
"Oh my god," I gasped.
"I thought we could eat in comfort tonight."
I burst into tears.
"Lizzie?" His previous embarrassment forgotten, I suddenly felt his strong arms wrap around me. "Oh cara, please don't cry. If this is too much..."
"No." Pressing my hands on his chest, I lifted my head to look into his worried eyes. "This is perfect. You're perfect."
"Truth or dare?"
Full up on junk food and ice-cream, we stretched out across the expensive Versace couch to enjoy the remainder of the evening. The night was still quite warm, even with the ocean breeze blowing on us. Occasionally the breeze picked up and licked at the candles, causing the flames to dance about, but for the most part it was calm. Perfect. The lazy moon drifted overhead, its reflection rippling across a black ocean that crashed upon the beach a mere stone's throw away.
I sat back against the arm rest and eyed Alessandro over the rim of my champagne glass. So far Truth was the only thing he'd picked and I was running out of safe questions. I stretched my legs across his lap, curling my toes and making them click. Alessandro pulled a face. He wasn't a fan of the sound of cracking knuckles so he hated it when I did it with my toes, which only made me want to do it more.
"How many lovers have you had?" I finally said.
He exhaled a pent up breath and flopped his head back on the rest. "I've been waiting for this one."
"Really?" I said with perhaps more enthusiasm than was warranted. I sat up and pulled my legs off his lap, then tucked them underneath me so that I sat cross-legged on the couch beside him, giving him my undivided attention. "Do tell."
Alessandro glowered at me through lowered lashes then dragged it out by taking a slow sip of champagne. "If by lovers you mean women I have entertained and taken out on dates, then several. But if its women I've taken to bed then..." he counted on his hand before running out of fingers. "Zero."
It took several seconds for that to sink in. "Zero?" I repeated. "As in none?"
He nodded once. "The last I heard, zero means the same in English as it does in Italian."
"As in you... you're..."
"A virgin. Si." Even in the limited light I could see there was a sure flush on his cheeks when he said it.
He was a unicorn.
"What in the hell, Alessandro?" There was no way of stopping it. I just blurted it right out. "How is that even possible?!" I drew back, my eyes making another scan of that perfect, muscular body and those chiselled good looks. There was no way in heck he didn't have every woman and her mother falling at his feet. He could have his pick of women. "No. I don't believe that for a minute. You're too... good a kisser!"
But he simply shrugged and put his hands behind his head, sticking his feet up on the coffee table all nonchalant-like, though I could tell by the flush that persisted in his cheeks that this wasn't his proudest confession. "It is a conscious decision, cara."
"Oh." Well that made a lot more sense. I recalled what he'd told me in the car the day we'd shared our first kiss. He was waiting for his queen. He was waiting for love. "Well there is nothing to be ashamed of in that, Alessandro. In fact, it shows great strength of character." And an iron will.
I wondered what had happened to him in the past to bring on such a stance. It wasn't for lack of opportunity so it had to run deeper than confidence or body issues. Was he paranoid about getting a woman pregnant? Was it a matter of faith and personal belief? Or did he just so happen to be the only man on the planet who couldn't separate sex from love? Regardless of what it was, I actually found I couldn't help but respect him a whole lot more for sticking to his guns even despite the insane amount of social pressure he no doubt faced on a daily basis. Not all well-endowed, good-looking men were interested in merely adding notches to bedposts.
"Thank you," he nodded. "And just because I haven't slept with a woman yet doesn't mean I'm ignorant to other ways a woman can be pleasured."
My mind skittered back to the way he'd touched me that night in my flat and again by the pool, my body responding instantly by sending shivers of heat surging straight to my undies. He did most definitely have a point.
"And what about you?" he asked. "How many lovers have you had, Lizzie?"
My gaping mouth snapped shut. I really did not want to answer that. I knew how the mind of a guy worked. Answering that would invariably mean asking for more details.
"You didn't ask Truth or Dare," I retorted.
"Okay then. Truth or Dare?"
He gave me a sideways glance. He wasn't an idiot. He knew I was being evasive. "I dare you to tell me how many lovers you've had."
I felt like hyperventilating. I mean it wasn't that my number was much higher, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was definitely slightly more complicated than zero. Eventually I flopped back into the couch arm again, resigning myself to the fact that I was going to have to tell him sooner or later.
"Is that including or excluding my gay ex-husband?"
"What?" His eyes nearly popped from his head. Suddenly he wasn't relaxing back with his feet on the coffee table. Suddenly he was sitting up so straight it looked like someone had gone and stuffed a giant pole down the back of his polo. "You were married?"
"For about two months," I said quickly. "We were both young and stupid."
"How did you find out?" Then he cringed. "I'm not sure I want to hear."
"Found him in bed with his best friend."
Alessandro groaned like he had indigestion. "Dio, I'm so sorry, Lizzie."
I shrugged. It was ancient history now. Water under the bridge. "Well it could have been worse. I mean, I could have caught him with another woman." I smirked. "Besides the last I heard he's happy and that's all that matters right?"
I gave Alessandro a moment to process everything. Eventually he relaxed back into his seat. "So gay ex-husband was one. How many came after?"
Alessandro's lips pressed together and he offered me the raise of an eyebrow. "Not including your Paperback Romance men."
"Ah," I said. "Well that narrows things down considerably." I copied Alessandro and took a long sip of my champagne. "There was this one time I kissed an Italian guy and we almost hooked up in my flat but he forgot the condoms." I narrowed my eyes at Alessandro and he burst out laughing.
"An oversight on my part." He leant over on the couch and tugged me into a hug. I found myself wedged up against his chest and he grabbed my face and planted a fat, sloppy kiss on my lips. "But it won't happen again, I can promise you this, bella."
The smell of the beach mixed in with his own unique scent put my skin into instant simmer. His body was solid against mine, his heart racing into my fingertips that I pressed into his chest. He kissed me again, this time his tongue slipping between my lips, deep and possessive. I melted in his arms.
"Two peas in a pod we are," he whispered against me when we finally came up for air.
I was lying part sprawled across the couch and part in his arms like a helpless maiden in love, my body burning up from the inside out. I wanted him so desperately it hurt.
"Truth or dare?" I husked.
I saw the hunger flare in his eyes, the slow grin forming on his lips that were so close to mine I could feel his breath. "Dare."
Like my writing? Buy me a $3 Ko-fi and help towards getting it getting it professionally edited! :)
Swing by my Ko-fi account username: Lizzie Indigo
The completed manuscript of Paperback Romance is also available for download on Kindle, ibooks and lulu.