In the meantime, he would give Miss Sylk—if that really was her name—all the silk rope she needed to hang her own pretty little neck. Then he would spool her in for the bloody takedown.
* * *
Nia stepped off the elevator and into the lobby of the hotel in time to see the concierge hand Massimo a piece of paper she assumed was her bill.
I belong to him now, she thought as she watched him scrawl his signature on the receipt. He had bought her, just as he bought companies, yachts, jets, or whatever his avaricious heart desired. There was no turning back now, just as there had been no turning back six years ago when he reneged on the business agreement between their fathers.
Memories assailed Nia as she strolled ahead of the bellboy who carried her bags. She remembered how relieved her father had been the day he signed the contract with Luciano Andretti. She also remembered how worried he’d been in the months leading up to that day. By the time Luciano had agreed to help, her father had already mortgaged their family home and had cashed in his retirement and his children’s college funds to keep the mill open.
According to Luciano, a paper mill—one of the remaining few in New England—was an asset to Andretti Industries. There had been plans to expand beyond paper production, plans that would be financially beneficial to both parties. But Massimo apparently thought differently, and after being told that the new CEO of Andretti Industries was no longer interested in honoring the contract with West Gate Paper Mills, her father had turned to a loan shark for help. When that money evaporated, the bank foreclosed on the mill, putting her father and a hundred and fifty other employees out of work. The final blow came when the bank foreclosed on their house, leaving her family homeless.
It hadn’t eased Nia’s pain when she’d learned that the new owner had renovated the mill, rehired most of the former employees, and turned it into the most prosperous in the area. Her father was already dead and she and Aaron had been forced to leave the only home they’d ever known.
And now to fulfill her father’s request to take care of Aaron, she’d offered to become of all things—Massimo Andretti’s whore. His property. His eagerness to shell out four million dollars—well, two, since she wouldn’t be around to collect the other two million—just for the pleasure of bedding her gave her pause. Did he find her that irresistible? And should she trust him to adhere to the terms of their agreement?
As Nia joined Massimo at the concierge’s desk, he turned and smiled down at her. “Have everything, cara?”
Nia nodded, the warmth in his voice and eyes making her tremble inside. Half an hour ago, he’d insisted on following her up to her room when a man with a French accent had approached him in the lobby.
When he stepped aside to converse with the man in French, Nia had taken the opportunity to bolt. She was thankful he’d been otherwise engaged, and that he hadn’t bothered to come up after his conversation with the man was over. She didn’t think it would have been wise to be alone with Massimo and a huge bed in a hotel room. She was honest enough to admit that it probably wouldn’t take much for Massimo to persuade her to change her mind about waiting a week to make love.
She was after all a healthy young woman with hot blood running through her veins. And he was a hunk.
She forced a smile as Massimo folded his copy of the receipt and slipped it into the pocket of his parka. Stepping closer to her, he placed his hand on the small of her back and steered her toward the revolving doors, ahead of the bellboy who followed with her luggage.
They drove in silence through downtown Granite Falls—away from Crystal Lake that bordered one side of Hotel Andreas. Nia shifted uneasily on the seat when she realized he was taking her to the Andretti mansion on Mount Reservoir—a fortress that would be most difficult to escape from. She’d hoped that when he’d said he was taking her home, he’d meant the lakeside villa his succession of mistresses occupied during his affairs with them.
No such luck for her. To calm her anxiety, Nia took in her surroundings as they drove along. The streets, that a few days ago were crowded with weekend ski bunnies from the south, were now all but deserted. It was a lovely little town, a sort of unexpected mecca hidden at the foothills of the White Mountains, Nia thought as Massimo steered around a traffic circle surrounded by small businesses, local boutiques, cafés, restaurants, and other touristy shops, housed in beautifully renovated old mill buildings. The Aiken River that had powered the mills—many of which had been owned by the Andretti family for decades—now flowed unhindered behind the buildings.
Nia could only imagine how lovely the summers were here with the beaches teeming with the town’s residents, noisy children playing on the shores, and small yachts cruising along the beautiful Crystal Lake. Too bad she couldn’t stay long enough to enjoy some of it.
“Are you stopping at your office?” she asked as they traveled north on Industrial Drive and the glass tower that housed Andretti Industries headquarters loomed ahead of them. She could really use some time away from him. His nearness caused her mind to go into confusion and robbed her of her ability to think logically. And she needed to think and plot.
“No,” was his only response as he passed Andretti Way that led to his office, made a left turn on to Route 80, crossed the Aiken River Bridge, and headed west into the mountains.
Nia took a glance at him and noted his set face, clamped mouth, and fixed eyes. His mood had definitely changed since she’d left him to go up to her hotel room to pack. Nia wondered if it had something to do with his conversation with the French man who’d approached him in the lobby. During the first few minutes of that conversation, even though she’d had no idea what they were talking about, Nia had detected tenseness in Massimo as if he’d received unpleasant news.
Sensing he was in no mood to talk, Nia left him alone to his brooding.
Finally Massimo pulled off the highway and started a climb up a steep paved road. A thick white forest with branches bowing laboriously from the weight of snow encased them. After a few minutes, he made another turn and drove along a somewhat level road that took them further into the mountain. A wrought-iron gate opened automatically as they approached it then closed behind them.
A cold shiver raced up Nia’s spine. She felt like she’d just driven through the gates of hell with Satan at the helm. A flicker of real fear coursed through her veins as the gross enormity of what she had done took a heavy toll on her senses.
“Too late,” Massimo said as they rounded a corner and reached a small plateau that overlooked deep ravines and a labyrinth of lakes in the distance. He stopped the Mercedes, applied the parking brake, and unbuckled his seatbelt.
The sensual look in his eyes was unmistakable. As much as she resented him, Nia knew that if he touched her, she would instantly dissolve like a snowball on a hot tin roof.
“Come, Nia. I wish to taste you, now.”
“Massimo, we haven’t even had a date yet, and I don’t kiss on the first date.” Nia forced humor into her voice, but the quaking of her body belied the fear and desire she felt deep in her core.
With little effort, Massimo unfastened her seatbelt and pulled her halfway across the seat. “I’m a businessman, Nia. We made a deal. In business, it’s always wise to sample the goods before the final purchase. I will sample the goods you offered. The last thing I need is a scared little kitten in my bed.”
“I’m not scared of you,” she lied out loud, hoping he couldn’t hear the thumping of her heart against her chest.
He slid closer and Nia almost fainted from the heady smell of male flesh and the hungry glare in his electric blue eyes. Her gaze dropped to his sexy mouth and she knew he could very well swallow her whole right here, right now. She licked her lips. “Massimo, I don’t think—”
“Perfect. I don’t want you to think. Just feel… me.” He pulled her softly against him.
“Massimo, you promised—”
“Don’t fight me, Nia. Let your body relax and enjoy the call of desire. It’s good practice for next Monday when we seal our little agreement.” He held her chin in his hand, and his mouth came down upon hers, soft and fluttering like a feather. He brushed his lips against hers then slowly traced his tongue along the outline, causing tiny explosions to erupt from every pore of her body.
“Aprire la sua boca,” he whispered, clasping one hand at the back of her head and tangling his fingers in her hair. “Avvolgere le braccia intorno al nio collo.”
Nia didn’t speak a word of Italian, but somehow she understood him. Her lips parted, and as his hot tongue swept inside her mouth, Nia wrapped her arms around his neck as he’d ordered. She clung to him as an invisible fire threatened to consume her, bone, blood, and flesh. Her heart drummed loudly as she surrendered to the enemy, as lust devoured revenge, and desire robbed her of all logic.
Massimo pulled up her sweater. His warm hand crawled along her ribcage and his long fingers expertly pulled down the lacy cups of her bra, baring her achy breasts to his touch.