The Mediterranean Billionaire's Blackmail Bargain

By: Abby Green

What was wrong with him? He didn’t normally regret anything he did, as each and every decision was made with full weighing up of pros and cons. Alessandra was exactly the type of woman he normally went for. Beautiful. Polished. Experienced. Not into commitment or, at least, he thought cynically, she professed not to be. So why had this whole evening been so wholly unspectacular? So…mechanical, unsatisfactory…

And when she’d wanted to come back here… He had to repress a shudder again at the thought. She hadn’t been happy to be left on the steps of the hotel but he could be ruthless when necessary and knew women like her…She’d survive.

Congratulating himself on his escape, he downed the rest of the liquid and strode back through the villa. He could hear raised voices and see his housekeeper at the door. She looked as if she was struggling with something—someone—trying to get in.

Every instinct jumped to high alert. His whole body tensed—something that hadn’t happened in a long time. It immediately brought back the memory of the constant dangers of living on the streets in Naples. Which was crazy. That was another world, a distant memory, another life. He was protected from that life now.

Alicia was trying to calm things down but the reporter and photographer that she’d brought with her were being aggressive. She was out of her depth, she was no con artist. The poor housekeeper was looking terrified as she tried to shut the door in their faces. Alicia had no Italian vocabulary to reassure her, to explain that all they wanted was to see Dante D’Aquanni. And she knew it would only be a matter of time before the guard at the gate found them.

Even though they had been able to get through the hole in the wall that she had found earlier and clamber through prickly bushes and trees, Alicia didn’t doubt for a second that security here was state of the art. The photographer made a lunge for the door again and knocked Alicia’s head, her hat sailed off and at that moment the door swung back and everyone stopped moving.

Dante D’Aquanni stood there, resplendent and devastating. Dark, dark eyes expertly assessing and taking in the small, bedraggled group. He issued a few curt words and the housekeeper disappeared behind him. He came out and shut the door.

Words were locked in Alicia’s throat. Like last week, she felt overwhelmed, ineffectual. Impotent. Would he recognize her?

He looked calm, yet Alicia could feel the barely leashed energy emanating from him in hypnotic waves. He folded his arms with an insouciance that said he’d summed them all up and found no threat. His gaze came to rest on her. And her heart stopped. She gulped.

The reporter’s voice came from behind her. ‘Signore D’Aquanni, do you know this woman?’

The first initial beat of danger that had surged through Dante was gone. He knew the local paparazzi. They were rabble. What he did feel now was anger that they were contaminating his property, and the reason they were here had to be this woman. His gaze slid up and down and a prickling sensation caught the back of his neck. An image crashed into his head.

Last week. At his offices in London. This woman had been there. She had emerged from behind a column, right in his path. He’d almost knocked her over, she was so tiny. The impression he’d formulated last week was the same as now and surprised him with its strength; he hadn’t realized that he’d even taken that much notice. His eyes ran up and down her form. Not an ounce of femininity. Her scraped back hair was like the rest of her—of indeterminate colour, texture and shape.

Yet, to his surprise, even as he formulated that thought, he noticed big, wide-spaced brown eyes, ringed with long lashes that looked at him like a startled fawn. No threat.

‘Yes,’ he drawled with a measure of surprise, ‘I believe I do.’

So he did recognize her.

Did he remember what she’d said? Alicia shook herself free of the overpowering intimidation that threatened to keep her silent. This was her moment, her chance. Even if he threw them all out and they didn’t get pictures, the reporter would have a story and Dante would be forced into the limelight to at least acknowledge it on some level. He would be forced to think of Melanie then. She thought of her sister. She thought of the way he’d dismissed her last week and his lover so recently. She opened her mouth but before she could say a word, the reporter jostled forward roughly. ‘Your little friend here tells us that she has a juicy story about you.’

Dante stiffened inside. He could see the woman’s mouth open to speak, the spark of rage in her eyes and in a flash he also remembered the words she’d hurled at him last week. His head had been full of the upcoming negotiations, which was how she’d caught him slightly off guard.

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