Why else? Darcy repeated inwardly as Nina stalked off again. What a huge laugh Margo and Nina would have were they ever to discover that Luca was no more than a somewhat unusual paid employee, prepared to act out a masquerade for six months. And every word her stepsister had spoken was painfully true. In the normal way of things a male of Luca's ilk would not have looked at her twice.
'Darcy...' Luca was poised several feet away, a slanting smile for show on his beautiful mouth and exasperation glittering in his deep-set dark eyes. 'I wondered where you had got to.'
He could act. Dear heaven, but he could act, Darcy found herself acknowledging over the next few hours. He kept her beside him, dragged her into the conversation and paid her every possible attention. Yet increasingly Darcy became more occupied in watching and listening to him.
In vain did she strive to recapture the image of the far from chatty male in motorbike leathers. For Luca Raffacani appeared to be a chameleon. With the donning of that dinner jacket, he appeared to have slid effortlessly into a new persona.
Now she saw a male possessed of a startling degree of sophistication and supremely at his ease in social company. He was adroit at sidestepping too personal enquiries. He was cool as ice, extremely witty and, she began to think, almost frighteningly clever. And other people were equally impressed. He gathered a crowd. Far from blending in, Luca commanded attention.
At one in the morning, he walked her into the conservatory, where several couples were dancing, and complained, 'You've been incredibly quiet.'
'And you're surprised?' Darcy stared up at him and stepped back. In the dim light, his lean, dark face had a saturnine quality. Brilliant eyes raked over her as keen and sharp as laser beams. 'You're like Jekyll and Hyde. I feel like I don't know you at all—'
'You don't,' Luca agreed.
'And yet you don't quite fit in here either,' she murmured uncertainly, speaking her thoughts out loud and yet unable to properly put them together. 'You stand out too much somehow.'
'That's your imagination talking,' Luca asserted with a smoky laugh as he encircled her with his arms.
He curved his palm to the base of her spine and drew her close. Her breasts rubbed against his shirt-front. A current of heat darted through her and she felt her nipples spring into murderously tight and prominent buds. She went rigid with discomfiture. 'Relax,' he urged from above her head. 'Margo is watching. We're supposed to be lovers, not strangers...'
The indefinable scent of him engulfed her. Clean and warm and very male. She quivered, struggling to loosen her taut muscles and shamefully aware of every slight movement of his big, powerful body. She wanted to sink in to the hard masculinity of him, but she held herself back, and in so doing missed a step. To compensate, he had to bring her even closer.
'I'm not a great dancer,' she muttered in a mortified apology.
'Dio mio... you move like air in my arms,' he countered.
And in his arms, amazingly, she did, absorbed as one into the animal grace and natural rhythm with which he whirled her round the floor. It was like flying, she thought dreamily, and the reflection could only rekindle a fairy tale memory of dancing on a balcony high above the Grand Canal in Venice. No wrong steps, no awkwardness, no need even for conversation—just the sheer joy of moving in perfect synchronisation with the music.
'You dance like a dream,' she whispered breathlessly in the split second after the music stopped, and she found herself as someone unwilling to awake from that dream, plastered as surely as melted cheese on toast to every abrasive angle of his lean, hard body.
Somehow her arms had crept up round his neck, and her fingers were flirting deliciously with his thick silky black hair. Unnaturally still now, she gazed up at him, green eyes huge pools of growing confusion. Dear heaven, those eyes of his. Even semi-screened with luxuriant black lashes, their impact was animal direct and splinteringly sensual.
As his arrogant dark head lowered, her breath feathered in her throat. But she was still stunned when he actually kissed her. He parted her lips with his and took her soft mouth with a driving, hungry assurance that blistered through every shocked atom of her being with the efficiency of a lightning bolt. In the very act of detaching her fingers from his hair she clung instead, clung to stay upright, vaguely attached to planet earth even though she was no longer aware of its existence.
Heat engulfed her sensation-starved body, swelling her breasts, pinching her nipples into distended prominence and sending a flash-flood of fire cascading down between her quivering thighs.
As his tongue searched out the yielding tender sensitivity of her mouth, raw excitement scorched to such heights inside her she was convinced she was burning alive.
Luca lifted his hips from hers, surveyed her blitzed expression and dealt her a curiously hard but amused look. 'Time to leave,' he informed her lazily. 'I believe we've played our part well enough to satisfy.'
As Luca spun her under the shelter of one seemingly possessive arm and walked her off the floor, Darcy was in shock. Her legs no longer felt as if they belonged to the rest of her, and she was still struggling to breath at a normal rate. In the aftermath of that passionate kiss she was a prey to conflicting and powerful reactions, the craziest of which was the momentary insane conviction that Luca and Zia's father could only be one and the same man!
Oh, dear heaven, how could she have forgotten herself to that extent? And the answer came back. He kissed like Zia's father. Earthquake-force seduction. Smooth as glass. Going for the kill like a hitman, faster on his feet than a jump-jet. She was devastated by the completeness of her own surrender, and utterly dumbfounded by that weird sense of the familiar which afflicted her, that crazy paranoiac sense of deja vu...
For her Venetian lover had known nothing about her and could never have discovered her identity. Her secrecy that night had been more than a game she'd played to tantalise. She had been honestly afraid that reality would destroy the magic. After all, he had been attracted by a woman who didn't really exist. And his uninterest in further contact had been more than adequately proven when he'd left her standing on the Ponte della Guerra the following day!
Yet only he and Luca had ever had such an effect on her, awakening a shameless brand of instant overpowering lust that sent every nerve-ending and hormone into Overdrive and paid not the slightest heed to self-control or moral restraint. She breathed in deep to steady herself.
Maybe all Italian men learned to kiss like that in their teens, she told herself grimly. Maybe she was just a complete push-over for Italian men—at least those of the tall, dark, well-built and sensationally desirable variety. Maybe living like a nun and refusing to recognise that she might have physical needs had made her a degradingly easy mark for any male with the right sensual technique.
But what was technique without chemistry? she asked herself doggedly. It was pathetic for her to try and deny one minute longer that she was wildly, dangerously attracted to Luca Raffacani. For what pride had refused to face head-on, her own body had just proved with mortifying eagerness.
As Luca thanked her stepmother for the party, Margo gave Darcy's hot cheeks a frozen look while Nina surveyed her stepsister as if she had just witnessed a poor, defenceless man being brutally attacked by a sexually starved woman. Darcy's farewells were incoherent and brief.
The night air hit her like a rejuvenating bucket of cold water. 'We've played our part well enough to satisfy,' Luca had said, only minutes earlier. At that recollection Darcy now paled and stiffened, as if she had been slapped in the face.
Naturally that kiss had simply been part of the masquerade. He had been acting. Acting as if he was attracted to her, in love with her, on the very brink of marrying her. Oh, dear heaven, had he guessed? Did he for one moment suspect that she hadn't been acting? How much could a man tell from one kiss? As kisses went, her response had been downright encouraging. Her self-respect cowered at that acknowledgement.
'That went off OK,' Luca drawled with distinct satisfaction.
'Yes, you were marvellous,' Darcy agreed, struggling to sound breezy, approving and grateful, and instead sounding as if each individual word had been wrenched from her at gun-point. 'The kiss was a real bull's-eye clincher too. Strikes me you could make a fortune as a gigolo!'
With a forced laugh, she trod ahead of him, valiantly fighting to control her growing sense of writhing mortification.