Authors: Chantelle Shaw
He cradled Emma’s head between his hands and stared into her eyes. ‘Stop blaming yourself—you are the most devoted mother
have ever met. We’ll find Holly,
The following forty minutes were the worst of Emma’s life. Not even when she had been told of Jack’s death, or learned from his mistress how he had betrayed her, had she felt such raw anguish. Waiting for news was sheer torture. But all she could do was stay on the beach, in case Holly wandered back to the place where they had been sitting.
Meanwhile, Rocco had called the staff from the Villa Lucia to join the search as they would easily recognise the little girl.
Every tragic story she had read in the newspapers about missing children circled in Emma’s mind. The idea that she might never see her daughter again was too unbearable to contemplate, and she dropped her head in her hands and gave a keening moan.
Rocco’s voice sounded from some distance away. But something in his tone … She lowered her hands—and felt as though her heart had exploded in her chest when she saw him striding along the esplanade, holding Holly in his arms.
!’ Tears blinded her and her legs would barely support her, but she forced them to move as she stumbled up the beach.
That evening, Rocco knocked on the door of Emma’s room. ‘Is she asleep?’ he murmured as she emerged from Holly’s bedroom and quietly closed the interconnecting door.
‘Yes. I’m not surprised she’s worn out after chasing Bobbo round the garden all afternoon,’ she replied, forcing a bright tone. ‘And she’s excited about seeing her grandparents tomorrow.’
She could not bring herself to refer to what had happened at the beach. Holly had eventually been found down by the harbour, where she had fallen asleep on a pile of fishing nets. Emma went cold at the thought that her daughter might have fallen into the deep water of the port and drowned. Thankfully, the little girl seemed unaffected by the drama of the morning, but they had cut short their beach trip and returned to the villa, where Emma had determinedly
hidden the after-effects of her own shock and kept to Holly’s normal routine.
‘Are you still going to allow her to go to Nice with your in-laws?’
She nodded. ‘I’d prefer not to let her out of my sight ever again, but it wouldn’t be fair to disappoint her by cancelling the trip, and I’ve no doubt that Jack’s parents will take great care of her.’
Without warning, her eyes filled with tears. All afternoon she had pushed thoughts of Holly’s disappearance firmly to the back of her mind, but now agonising memories returned of the crippling fear and desperation she had felt. Earlier, a long soak in the bath had eased some of her tension, but the horror of losing her daughter was something she would never forget, and she sank down onto the bed, her shoulders shaking as sobs racked her.
Rocco’s deep voice sounded close to her ear. She felt his arms around her, felt him lift her, and she had no strength—either physically or mentally—to fight him.
It was some while before she finally brought her emotions under control. Feeling horribly self-conscious, she scrubbed her eyes with the tissues Rocco had pushed into her hand and lifted her head—to discover that he had carried her along the hall to his suite of rooms. They were in his private sitting room, a spacious room decorated in modern shades of taupe and cream. A door standing ajar led to his bedroom, where Emma could see a vast bed draped in burgundy silk.
‘I thought you would not want to risk waking Holly,’ he explained, correctly interpreting her questioning look.
Colour stained her cheeks at the thought of how she had broken down in front of him. ‘I’m sorry,’ she muttered, only now realising how close he was sitting next to her on
the sofa. His arm was stretched along the back, and she had a horrible feeling that she had rested her head on his shoulder while she had been crying. She grimaced. ‘I’m sure you have better things to do than put up with me snivelling all over you.’
‘You’ve been through hell,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s better not to bottle up your emotions.’
Something in his voice drew her gaze to his face, and her heart turned over at the haunted expression in his eyes. ‘Is that what you did after your brother died?’ she asked softly. ‘Cordelia told me about Giovanni’s accident.’
‘Did my grandmother tell you that if I had looked after Gio properly there wouldn’t have been an accident?’ Rocco’s jaw clenched. ‘I can never escape the fact that my resentment at my mother leaving me to babysit yet again resulted in my brother’s death. I failed Gio,’ he said harshly. ‘He wasn’t an easy child, and he had a wild streak, but I loved him. He looked up to me and depended on me to look out for him. I will always live with the knowledge that I let him down.’
‘You were a teenager—just a boy.’ Her heart aching at his undisguised pain, Emma acted instinctively, leaning towards him and clasping his hand. ‘Cordelia said that your parents should have taken more responsibility for Gio. You almost lost your life trying to save him all those years ago. And as for today …’ Her voice broke. ‘When I realised Holly was missing, I was so scared. I couldn’t think. I didn’t know what to do. But you took charge and organised the search. While I was stupidly panicking, you did everything you could to find her, and I …’ She swallowed the lump in her throat and gave him a wobbly smile. ‘I’m so glad you were there.’
Emotions were hell, she thought ruefully as tears once again blurred her vision. The terror of losing Holly had
stripped away her protective shell, leaving her feeling painfully vulnerable. For the past three years she had brought up her daughter on her own, and even though it had been hard sometimes she felt proud that she had not needed help from anyone. But today she had needed Rocco. He had been her rock, she acknowledged, her heart swelling with the intensity of her feelings.
‘What happened to your brother was a tragic accident,’ she told him softly. ‘You didn’t fail him, and today you didn’t fail Holly or me.’
Her words were like healing balm on a wound that was still raw so many years after Gio’s death. For the first time since he was fifteen Rocco felt a sense of release from the guilt that had weighed heavily on him. Since the day he had cradled his brother’s lifeless body in his arms he had felt frozen inside. He had avoided relationships where his emotions might be involved. It was easier that way—safer not to care.
But with Emma it was different. She had crept under his guard, and without knowing how or when it had happened he found that he was concerned for her well-being. When her daughter had gone missing he had felt her agony, and he would have moved heaven and earth to reunite her with Holly.
Emma caught her breath when Rocco curled his fingers around hers and lifted her hand to his mouth, to graze his lips across her knuckles. His golden tiger’s eyes burned into hers and she became conscious of the subtle shift in the atmosphere between them. Moments before he had provided comfort and a sense of security, but now the tiny hairs on her body stood on end as she felt the tangible quiver of their mutual sexual awareness.
He moved his hand from the back of the sofa to her shoulder and gently propelled her towards him. In the thick
silence she was sure he would hear her thudding heart, just as she heard the sudden quickening of his breath as he slanted his mouth over hers.
There was no thought in her head to deny him, and her lips trembled a little with the intensity of emotions unfurling inside her. Trust—something she had been certain she could never feel again—enfolded her as Rocco tightened his arms around her. His kiss was tender, evocative and it tugged on her heart. She felt safe with him—confident to relax her guard and allow him to discover the innately sensual nature that she had tried so hard to hide.
What was it about this woman that drove him to the brink with a single kiss? Rocco asked himself. He slid his fingers into the silky bell of hair that framed her face and accepted that the answer did not matter. The moist softness of her lips beneath his, the feel of her parting them to welcome the bold sweep of his tongue blew his mind and his hunger for her overwhelmed him.
Her skin felt like satin as he pressed his mouth to her throat and found the pulse beating erratically at its base. He pushed her peach-coloured silk robe aside and bared her shoulder to trace the fragile line of her collarbone.
, in his past he had had more women than he could count, and his reputation as a playboy was well deserved, but at this moment he felt like a youth again—barely able to control his surging hormones or prevent his hands from shaking as he undressed a woman for the first time.
Slowly, he drew the narrow strap of her negligee down her arm, revealing inch by delicious inch the creamy slope of her breast, and his breath hissed between his teeth when at last he cupped her naked flesh in his palm. Shaking with the strength of his desire, he lowered his head and flicked his tongue across her rosy-pink nipple, back and forth,
until it hardened and he took the engorged peak fully into his mouth.
Emma could not restrain a soft cry of pleasure when Rocco suckled her breast. Sensation arced down her body and pooled between her legs. The slow build of passion changed to a feverish need that demanded appeasement, and a tremor of fierce hunger shot through her as he removed her robe and tugged her negligee down to her waist, baring both her breasts to his heated gaze.
When he laved first one nipple and then its twin she arched her back in mute supplication. Her body had never felt more alive than it did at that moment, every nerve-ending acutely sensitive as she trembled beneath the erotic onslaught wrought by his hands and mouth.
He covered her lips with his own once again, and this time the kiss was hot and urgent, their tongues locked in a sensual duel. Their breathing was ragged when at last he lifted his head and stared down at her, with feral hunger blazing in his eyes.
—I want you,’ he said, his voice rough with need.
Rocco had never felt like this before—never felt such an intensity of desire that filled every cell in his body and drove everything from his mind but his desperate longing to make love to Emma. From the very beginning he had felt a connection with her that even now he did not fully understand. She was his woman. He felt it in his blood, in his bones, deep down in the centre of his soul. She belonged to him and he
‘Yes.’ The single word whispered from Emma’s lips, as fragile as gossamer yet strong with certainty. She knew beyond doubt that she wanted Rocco to make love to her. The past, and the pain Jack had caused her, no longer mattered, and the future was tomorrow. She could only focus
on the present and seize this moment with this man, who had edged stealthily into her heart.
She met his gaze steadily when he stood up and drew her to her feet. He tugged her negligee over her hips so that the slip of silk slithered to the floor, and then with heart-stopping deliberation hooked his fingers into the edge of her panties and pulled them slowly down. She watched the convulsive movement of his throat as he swallowed, saw the predatory hunger blazing in his eyes, and caught her breath when he slid his fingers into the triangle of red-gold curls between her legs.
, Emma,’ he growled as he swept her up into his arms and strode into his bedroom. ‘I have to have you now. Feel how much I want you,’ he demanded raggedly, setting her on the edge of the bed and pressing her hand against the rock-hard bulge beneath his trousers.
Her eyes widened; excitement and a faint flutter of trepidation filling her as she stroked the burgeoning proof of his arousal. It had been a long time since she had had sex. Jack had been dead for over three years, and in the months prior to his death he had seemed to be put off by her changing shape due to pregnancy.
Memories of how hurt she had felt pierced her, but she refused to live in the past any more. She was no longer the naive girl who had been so overwhelmed by her handsome, charming husband that she had overlooked his many faults. At twenty-eight, she was a strong, independent woman, capable of making her own choices, and right now she chose to be with Rocco.
The fierce desire burning in his eyes restored her confidence in her body. Emboldened in a way she had never felt before, she gave him a demure smile. But her eyes gleamed wickedly as she undid his zip.
‘You seem to be experiencing massive pressure,
. As a nurse, I feel it is my duty to relieve your symptoms.’
‘Witch.’ He gave a hoarse laugh, driven to the edge by her teasing tone. Now was not a good time to discover she was a sex kitten, he thought self-derisively. He wanted this first time with her to be a long, sensual seduction, but he was so turned on that he feared he was about to explode, and his need to possess her took on a new urgency.
Barely able to control his impatience, he ripped off his shirt and dropped his trousers. He pulled his boxers down and shuddered as he imagined sheathing himself in the silken embrace of Emma’s body. But the slight shadow of wariness in her eyes forced him to exert control over his rampant libido. He was sure she hadn’t been with a man since her husband, and he knew he must slow the pace and ensure she was fully aroused before he possessed her.
With a flick of his wrist he pulled back the bedspread and lifted her into his arms, to settle her on the pillows before stretching out next to her and drawing her to him. The contrast of her pale limbs with his darkly tanned body was intensely erotic. Her skin was velvet-soft, where he was all hard muscle and sinew, and he delighted in the feel of her firm, rounded breasts pressing against his chest. He caught her faint sigh with his lips and initiated a slow, languorous kiss that became a sensual feast as he took it to another level that was unashamedly erotic.
Lost in the mastery of Rocco’s kiss, Emma gave a little shiver of anticipation when he skimmed his hand over her stomach and continued a tantalising path down her body to slip between her thighs. She offered no resistance when he gently pushed her legs apart. Sexual excitement flooded her, and she caught her breath as she felt him delicately stroke the swollen lips of her vagina before he parted her and slid a finger into her.