He swore his heart laughed at his folly in thinking he would still go through with his plan to marry Dafne after the explosive desire that had seized him when he’d kissed Nia.
She was addictive. He reached out and trailed a finger along her cheek. Her skin was so soft and smooth. “Como sei graziosa bella e molto dolce.” Very beautiful and sweet. Indeed.
Nia had no idea what Massimo had said, but the magic in his touch and the husky tremor in his voice told her it was something passionate. Feeling the power in his fingertips tugging on her insides, she pulled away and stood up.
Massimo Andretti took great pride in his ability to seduce women. His kind would say and do anything to encourage a woman to take off her clothes. He’d told her that he enjoyed the chase. And from his multiple short-lived relationships, it seemed as if that’s all he enjoyed.
She stepped back as Massimo stood up and spoke to Jabari. The cat leaped up, stretched like a lazy feline, and strolled to the back of the cage where he disappeared into a gargantuan kitty door.
“Is that Italian you were speaking to him?” Nia asked.
“Yes. He also understands English and Swahili.”
“Where did you learn to speak Swahili?”
“In a Masai village in Kenya.”
“Oh yeah, you did say you visit Kenya often to see Jabari, but what’s an Italian-American boy doing at a Masai village?”
Laughing, he raked his fingers through his hair. ‘You’re a curious little kitten, aren’t you? I promise to tell you all about Kenya one day. And I’ll teach you Italian and Swahili, or any of the other three languages I speak, if you so desire.”
Teach her foreign languages? Was he hoping she’d stick around that long? “That might prove to be a most difficult feat. I have enough trouble with English as it is.”
“There is a language that requires no words although the mouth and tongue are fully engaged. I’m most anxious to teach you that language, Nia.”
Massimo’s husky voice hummed with titillating promises causing Nia’s heart to race so fast, her temples throbbed from the pulsation. Her mouth filled up with saliva as she glanced at an unopened door that led to the inner quarters of the master suit—the place where she would sleep next to Massimo for two long torturous nights until she made her escape.
She hoped she made it out unscathed.
* * *
Massimo savored his last spoonful of lobster bisque as he watched Nia finish off her second helping. He understood the enthusiasm with which she’d approached her dinner—rich, creamy, and loaded with calories as it was. Azi’s culinary skills were some of the best in the world. Ever since he was a little boy, he was always happy to come home to Azi’s kitchen. There really was no cooking like home cooking.
Yet Massimo felt Nia would have displayed the same amount of zeal if she’d been served a less appetizing dish. It was a welcome change to watch a woman enjoy her food without giving a thought to the width of her waistline or her thighs.
He, on the other hand, was giving them a lot of thought. So much thought that while Nia was dressing for dinner, he’d put a call through to his friend, Paul Dawson, an FBI special agent in New York, and asked him to run a check on her.
He’d called Dafne to let her know that her move to the States was on hold. He’d simply told her that something had come up. Boy, had something come up, he thought as his growing erection pulsed against his thigh. Dafne’s nonchalant response had reminded him that it might be three long years before he would enjoy the silky feel of a woman’s skin beneath his palm again.
That possibility didn’t sit well with Massimo. Not at all, he thought as Nia finally put her spoon down and gave him a smile that deepened his ache for her. She was so damned beautiful. He wondered if her appetite for sex would match the one she had for food. “You have a very healthy appetite,” he remarked over the rim of his wine glass.
Nia eyed Massimo through lowered lashes. The light of desire that illuminated his mellow blue eyes told her that he wasn’t just talking about her appetite for food. She’d felt him watching her as she finished off her second bowl of lobster bisque. She’d been tempted to stop halfway through it for etiquette’s sake, but God the bisque was the most delicious dish she’d ever tasted. And seeing that she wouldn’t be around to enjoy this kind of cooking for long, she’d taken her time enjoying it. She couldn’t care less if Massimo thought she was a pig.
“Do you always attack your food that way?” he asked, smiling as he twirled the long stem of his wine glass between his equally long fingers.
“They don’t serve food like this where I come from.” Nor where I’m going Nia thought of the island of Dulcina where Aaron was hiding out. It wouldn’t be a bad place to settle down once her business with Eddie and Massimo was behind her.
Her friend, Josie, a native of the island, had always tried to get her to visit, but the funds were never available for her to take a vacation. Josie had recently married her childhood sweetheart and moved back to Dulcina. Another friend, Amber, had found love on the island and moved there also.
Even Aaron seemed to have settled in and was enjoying himself in Paradise. During their Skype session last night, he’d talked about Josie’s father as if the man was some kind of super hero. It seemed that what Aaron needed all along was some bonding and masculine guidance—the one thing Nia could never give him.
Aaron had a bright future ahead of him, but he had to be alive and well in order to enjoy it. Massimo’s million would secure both his safety and his future. Massimo owed them. If he’d held up his end of the bargain between Andretti Industries and West Gate Mills, her father wouldn’t have had to borrow money from Eddie. If he hadn’t lost the mill, her father would be alive today, and neither Aaron’s nor her safety would be an issue.
“What?” Nia said as Massimo’s voice broke into her thoughts.
“They don’t serve food like this in Brooklyn you were saying?”
“Right.” She held out her glass for another refill of the wine Massimo had fished out of his underground wine cellar.
He picked up the bottle and filled up her glass. “You should go easy. This wine is very effective. It’s been maturing for years.”
“I can hold my liquor.” Ignoring his warning, Nia took a long swallow from her glass, welcoming the cool feel of the white fruity liquid splashing against her throat. Nia had no idea how many glasses she’d consumed. She’d stopped counting at three.
“So what do you do there?”
“What do you mean?” she asked licking her lips slowly.
His eyes narrowed and he grunted softly. “I assume you have a job, a career of some sort?”
“I teach math at a private school. I’m on winter break, just in case you’re wondering why I wasn’t in the classroom today,” she added.
“I suppose you’ve thought about resigning.”
“Why would I resign?” She planted her elbows on the table and, resting her chin in her hands, smiled sweetly at him.
“Well, you can’t very well be teaching in Brooklyn while you’re acting the role of my lover here in Granite Falls. Do the math.”
“I don’t plan on resigning, just taking a leave of absence.” An involuntary giggle spilled from her lips. “With your track record, I’ll probably be back at work in a week, anyway.”
His hearty laughter bounced off the walls of the dining room. “Well, I just assumed you’d resign seeing you’ll be a brand new multimillionaire once we consummate our agreement. I guess I’m a punda milia in that regard.”
Nia blinked several times and shifted uneasily on the chair. The wine was working its evil on her senses, affecting her ability to harness her tongue. If she weren’t careful, Massimo’s cleverly crafted questions would cause her to say something that would give her away.
She glanced at her half-empty glass on the table, then pushed it away, out of reach. “I love teaching,” she said, placing her hands on her lap. “I don’t see why I should give it up just because I’ll have money. I plan to save my millions for retirement.”
“Hmm. That’s a very good plan. Be sure to invest it wisely.”
“I will.” She picked up her water glass and took a big long gulp from it.
He sat back and folded his arms across his chest, his face breaking into a sinister grin. Or perhaps she should say a profusion of sinister grins, since he seemed to be leering at her in multiple layers. Nia felt the sides of her mouth tremble as an unwarranted smile parted her lips.
Oh yeah, she was drunk. She raised a hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh.
“The thought of you as a schoolteacher turns me on,” he remarked, watching her closely.
“Just about anything in a dress turns you on, Massimo. Even a slippery snake slithering along in a grass skirt would get a rise out of you.” She giggled at the image of Massimo stealing stealthily behind a snake through a field of tall grass. What would he do with it once he caught it?