I came out of that lunch starving and feeling on edge. I felt like I'd just gone and walked through a mine field and, while I wasn't dead, I'd come out of it minus a couple of limbs. Phil held the car door open for me after double parking in front of a line-up of vespas (apparently double parking was the thing to do in Rome), and I slipped into the car seat with the meekness of a lamb.
"Is everything ok, Miss?" he asked once we were on the road again.
I blinked from my daze, only just realizing he was watching me through the rear view mirror.
I gave him a smirk. "Do I look that bad?"
"You seem a little shaken," he said. "Your wellbeing is my priority, so if there's anything I can do?"
"That's very kind. I'll be ok."
That would have ended the conversation except right then my stomach growled so loud that even Phil heard it in the front seat. Well it was nice to know my anxieties hadn't affected my digestive system. Seriously though, that was probably the most expensive bowl of lettuce I'd eaten in my life.
"I don't suppose we could pick up a pizza or something?" I asked.
I watched the smile form in Phil's eyes. He navigated the crazy traffic with such ease it was like he was born to it. "I know a place nearby."
Several minutes later and we were double-parking outside a tiny pizzeria that was so busy people spilled from it onto the street. Suits and pencil skirts seemed to be the main uniform here. Considering the semi-modern buildings that surrounded us, I would've wagered we were in the heart of Rome's main business district. The moment I stepped from the car I found myself assaulted by the smell of food, coffee and cigarettes. Italians yelled at each other in Italian and sat around drinking coffee and eating their cafe lunches before they were due to head back to their office cubicles. It was the glorious chaos Rome was famous for, secular edition.
Phil stuck to me like my shadow and just when I thought navigating the tight crowd with a giant bodyguard practically attached to me was impossible, the sea suddenly parted. Conversations dropped an octave and people stopped to look at me, a mix of curiosity and confusion crossing their faces. What was a woman, dressed in an outfit expensive enough to cover their wages for several months, doing here? Men straightened and women looked on with caution. Was I a CEO or something? Seeking out an errant employee perhaps? The speculation carried on through their whispers but too hungry to care, I edged my way up to the counter and with my limited Italian ordered a slice of carciofo sott'olio e rucola - pickled artichoke and rocket - pizza topped off with a generous drizzle of olive oil. This was more like it.
"Want a slice?" I threw a glance over my shoulder at Phil.
"I don't eat on the job, Miss," he said.
I handed over a wad of change and, opting out of finding a table to eat, we made our way back to the car only to stop when I spotted the small park across the road. The day was sunny and perfect and people lounged about on the crisp grass or made use of the many park benches scattered about, enjoying the final precious minutes of riposo before heading back to their workday. I found a recently vacated bench on which to enjoy my pizza slice while Phil hovered around me like a lion protecting its cub.
"So how long have you been working for the Zingaro family?" I asked, taking a bite and almost dying from the simple but fresh flavours assaulting my mouth. God this was incredible.
"About five years, Miss," he said without taking his eyes off the scenery.
"And you don't miss home?"
He shrugged his massive shoulders, a trait he'd obviously picked up from the locals. If shrugging was a sport then Italians were Olympic champions. "I don't mind it here."
Even while he talked, he couldn't take his mind off the job. His eyes scanned the park's perimeter, taking stock of every person and pigeon in our vicinity. Ears alert to every sound - from the roaring laughter coming from a group of suits who were slowly making their way back to their building, to the sounds of honking car horns on the main street. I followed his glance to a building that faced the park. Much the same as every other building in the business part of Rome it was all glass, concrete and steel. It was the logo sitting atop it that grabbed my attention however.
"That's a Zingaro building," I said, more so out of surprise than anything else. With its modern design and uniform structure, it resembled nothing of the places Alessandro traditionally owned.
"That's Mr. Zingaro's head office," said Phil. "If he's not travelling to one of his hotels around about, then that's where he'll be."
"Do you think he'll be there now?" I asked.
"I can enquire, if you like."
I shook my head and got to my feet, disposing of my napkin in the nearest bin. I couldn't believe I'd managed to get through the entire pizza slice but it was too good not to finish. "I'm sure he won't mind if I paid him a surprise visit. Since we're in the area."
The security at the front desk knew we were coming before we even arrived. We stepped through the glass doors into a foyer that felt too huge and empty to be reasonable. Discounting the wall of windows, Italian marble covered practically every surface, bathing the space in the warm glow of cream and gold. Three suited men shot up from the security desk in the centre of the foyer.
"Mrs. Zingaro," said the oldest of the three. "A pleasure to have you. You're hoping to see your husband I assume?"
"If he's in and not too busy," I said, ignoring the way the other two security guards shot each other sideways glances.
He picked up a phone and ordered someone around on the other end. Then with a nod he signalled me to the glass-walled lift behind him. "You can go right up."
Phil accompanied me to the top floor where Alessandro's office was located. The lift doors slid open to reveal another marbled reception area, this time with the added effect of a chandelier and an ornate desk occupied by a receptionist who had obviously just got back from lunch. She was in the process of reapplying her lipstick.
"Oh, Mrs. Zingaro." Like the security staff down stairs, she shot upright when she saw me. "Mr. Zingaro is currently... um... in a meeting. He should be out shortly. May I get you a drink while you wait?"
She moved toward a small wet bar but I stopped her mid-stride with the raise of my hand. "No, it's ok. I can come back later."
I'd barely finished speaking when suddenly the set of double doors beside her desk burst open and the sexiest man on the planet stormed out like he was on a mission. Alessandro's expression was so thunderous that he didn't even register me. Half a second later I realised why. The woman who stepped out behind him was practically stalking him like a panther. A gorgeous, slender panther with glossy black hair.
I felt my stomach clench, the pizza I'd just eaten suddenly not sitting very well. She was in the process of talking to him but I had no idea what she was saying because right then all I could think of was wrapping my hands around her swan-like neck. Alessandro held the door open for her, body rigid as he stared her down. He was missing his suit jacket. She fluttered her stupidly long eyelashes at him and when she leaned in for the customary cheek-kiss goodbye she made a point of brushing her hand along his chest. The purse clutch I'd been carrying with me all day slipped from my hand and hit the floor with a loud thunk and both sets of eyes snapped around to look at me.
"Lisabetta!" Lydia didn't miss a beat. She peeled herself away from my husband and in her six inch heels hurried across the reception area to meet me. She grabbed my hands and tugged me into a friendly kiss. "I was just congratulating Alessandro on his choice of lady. You make such an adorable match, cara."
Then releasing me from her talons, she blew a kiss at Alessandro and left me to face my brooding husband alone. He opted to stay in his spot at the door and with the nod of his head signalled me into his office. No apologies. No explanations as to why she was even here (because I hardly believed her excuse was anywhere near the truth). Just pure, calculating Alessandro.
"I hate her." I shot him a glare and stormed past him into the office. The place stank of her perfume. "I hate her. I hate her."
Then I stopped.
Alessandro's workspace could have easily seconded as an apartment it was that big, and unlike the gentle class and finesse at home, the space here screamed of executive authority. Even after having flown around the world in his private jet and stayed in classy hotels with him, it wasn't until this moment, when I stepped into his office at his company headquarters that I truly realised the scope of Alessandro's power. The furniture here was grey and sleek - from his desk to the leather lounge area he had set up to overlook the city skyline. The space felt powerful yet not intimidating because intimidating wasn't Alessandro's thing. There was an elegance here that stayed true to his tastes, but yet it also screamed of his right to be here as the company's CEO and head.
"You like my workspace, bella?"
"It's... very you," I breathed.
I turned to face him only to realise he was standing right behind me, and just like our very first meeting, I found myself staring right at his protruding Adam's apple and delicious lips. Lips that were pulled into a cool smirk. His aftershave smelled good. Good enough for me to want to just reach up to that exquisite jaw of his and touch it with my mouth...
"What was Lydia doing here?" I shook away my suddenly erotic train of thought and asked, desperate not to sound too hysterical but failing at it miserably.
Alessandro took it all in his stride, offering me nothing but a shrug. "As she said, she came to congratulate me on our new relationship."
"Really? Because it looked more to me like she was making one last ditch attempt at getting you back into bed, where I'm assuming she feels you two have unfinished business."
Alessandro chuckled at this. "Did she say that we were lovers?"
My eyebrows shot up at this. "But you said you had never-"
"I did not go all the way with her, cara. I promise." He pulled me into a hug and planted a kiss on my forehead and I found myself annoyed by the fact that he could get away with doing that so easily. "You are the only woman whose bed I will share. The only woman who will be on the receiving end of my love."
My bottom lip pouted. I wished I could just believe him and drop it but I couldn't get my mind past the fact that they had been actual lovers once. I fiddled with his cobalt-blue silk tie that matched the blue of his eyes, feeling the muscles of his chest under my knuckles. The same muscles that Lydia had been stroking only moments before. "How long did it last? Your relationship with Lydia?"
Alessandro sucked in a breath and threw his head back to think. "The longest stint was about three weeks."
"And never... Not once in the space of that three weeks did you... You know...?"
"Have sex with her?" he filled for me and I blushed. "No. We did come close however, but I was working for most of those three weeks. And believe me when I say, she does not turn me on like you do, Lizzie."
I balked at this. "Doesn't turn you on? Alessandro, the woman is a goddess!"
"But she is not my goddess, Lizbeth." Tilting my chin with a finger he placed a gentle kiss on my lips. "Lydia is fun but there is no substance. When we dated I barely thought of her when she wasn't around. However, with you I come to work and all I can think about is when I can have you in my arms next."
"So you're saying I'm bad for productivity?" I husked against his lips.
"If it means I can keep you by my side then I will manage."
His next kiss was considerably hotter than the last, laced with such pent up hunger that it managed to succeed in driving from my mind any lingering doubts I may have had regarding his fidelity. I was his and he was mine. Always. When we came up for air, I felt dazed and dizzy. He groaned against my cheek and I became aware of his erection that jutted into my stomach.
"Do you feel what you are doing to me, Lizzie?" he ground out between gritted teeth.
I gave him the impish bite of my lip. "Whatever are you talking about, caro?" I gave him a gentle stroke down there with a finger.
"Don't," hissed Alessandro with about as much control as a man who was in the process of losing it. "You are being a little witch."
"I'm staking my claim, that's what I'm doing, Alessandro," I said, playing with the zipper to his pants before snaking my fingers inside so that I could touch him. "You are my man and I don't like to share. How would you feel if I had an ex lover suddenly vying for my attention?"
Alessandro stopped cold at this before the angry streak of red raced across his cheeks. "I would destroy them." The way he said it left no room for doubt that he would. "Then I would chain you to my side and throw away the key."
I chuckled at this but his expression blazed. "You think I'm not being serious, Lizzie? Believe me when I say, you are never allowed to take on another lover. Ever."
The way he said it, with such fierce possessiveness, sent a shiver racing right through my body. I recalled the way he had reacted when he'd witnessed Mike's friendliness toward me that time in Hawaii, with a kiss laced with such territorial possession it had left my body in a state of paralysis in his arms. I smiled up at him and wrapping a hand around the back of his neck, I pulled him down to whisper against his lips. "Prove it."
Within the space of about two seconds, Alessandro's expression went from simmering to white hot. His hands that he rested on my waist tightened, fingers twitching with barely contained control. If I let him take me now, I knew there would be nothing sensual or gentle about it.
"You are treading dangerous ground, Lizzie," he hissed. "The way I'm feeling now... I don't want to hurt you."
But my breasts were already straining painfully against my dress and the heat was pooling down below, my body responding to his with such readiness that I found myself aching for him.
"Do it," I rasped. "Take me. Brand me as yours, Alessandro."
A curse spilled from his lips. "This is your final warning, Lizzie."
But even as he said it, I knew he was lost. Just to bring home the point, I stood on my toes and nipped him on his bottom lip.
"I'm not afraid of a little pain," I whispered.
That was it. The one thing that tipped him over the edge. Suddenly his long stride was making it to the door to lock it. When he turned back, his expression was so predatory it had me freezing in my spot. His eyes slid up and down my form-fitting dress, seeming to only register it when he realised it needed to come off. He looked so huge underneath his white shirt that clung to his broad shoulders. His silk tie arrowed down to the belt that sat on his narrow, masculine hips, black slacks tenting at the crotch that he made no effort to hide. Dressed, he looked devastatingly sharp and handsome. Undressed though... I stifled the groan, my mind recalling with crystal clear clarity every single peak and valley of his perfect, Roman-god-like body. The way he looked at me was enough to cause my knees to knock. My legs would have given out all together if it wasn't for Alessandro's long hands that curled around my waist, his fierce kiss crashing into my mouth with no other thoughts than his need to possess. His tongue pushed past my lips, one hand coming up to hold the back of my head as he ravished my mouth. His other hand was tugging at my dress, drawing it up so that he could slip between my legs. His fingers met the moist apex of my thighs and for a moment his head shot up.
"You're not wearing underwear," he rasped.
I heaved a moan against his chest, my body turning to lava wherever he touched me. "Best way to eliminate underwear lines in a pencil dress is to not wear any."
But right then he wasn't listening. His breathing had become harder, his kisses more savage as he attacked my mouth again. He led me with exceptional ease backwards across his office until I felt the cold kiss of the leather lounge on the back of my legs. Then, hoisting his knee between my legs he tumbled me onto the couch, his broad, muscular body landing over top of me.
"You are mine, Lizzie," his breath, hot on my ear, sent my pulse shooting through the roof. "You will always be mine."
He was tugging the dress up my thighs with such urgency that I was sure I heard it rip, then before I knew it he was releasing himself from his pants and without so much as a grunt he was plunging into my body with such force that for a moment I saw stars. The heat, the friction, the way he filled me until I was sure I would burst, it was all too much too soon. And still he pushed into me again and again, going deeper, getting harder, rougher with each thrust. His bruising grip on my hips... It was raw. Pure, ruthless lust. I felt the rolling climax like a wall of molten heat. My body arched against him, head thrown back against the couch arm, fingers digging into his shoulders as I came, crying out until my voice gave out all together. Alessandro came seconds after, his body arching as he spilled himself inside of me.
And it was only then that I registered he hadn't used a condom.
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