'Here you are, cara.' Suddenly Renzo was beside her and Sonia was torn between competing desires. To ignore everyone else but him, and to keep herself safe by pretending to be unaffected.

Then she looked up to find his eyes on hers and pretence flew out the window.

There it was again. The heat. The simmer of awareness that, as she watched, burned bright enough to arc between them till she felt the sizzle deep within. Conversation around them was obliterated by the whump of ignition, that physical judder inside. The sound of her body exploding into life.

His lips curled at the corners and that deep groove slashed down one lean cheek. He looked like a pirate with his dark hair and hungry eyes, spying some treasure he'd decided to plunder.

Far from being dismayed or outraged, Sonia felt a shiver of anticipation.

'I thought you might want this.'

Something touched her fingers and Sonia looked down to the tall glass he pressed into her hand.

'Prosecco. To wet your throat.'

How did he know she felt as dry as the Simpson Desert? She hadn't a moment ago. But then she'd been trying hard to concentrate on the conversation around her, and not wonder where Renzo had gone.

Stupid, stupid, stupid to feel that gush of relief when he appeared beside her. To know he hadn't taken up the invitation from the sloe-eyed beauty in red who'd been trying to monopolise him, or the blonde, parading in a nude-toned dress, designed to remind men of the body beneath the thin fabric.

'Thank you.' She lifted the glass to her lips and gulped a mouthful of fizzing white wine, feeling the sparkles on her tongue and the back of her throat. But they were nothing to the bursts of light detonating through her insides as Renzo's gaze slid down to linger on her lips, then dropped to her throat, as if fascinated by the simple act of swallowing.

Not that it was simple anymore. Each movement felt exaggerated when he scrutinised her with that heavy-lidded stare. The thud of her heart grew ponderous. She was conscious of the way her throat worked, the growing tightness banding her chest and her nipples beading against green silk.

Why had she worn a dress that made a bra impossible?

Because you want Renzo's attention.

You want him to look at you and want, the way you've been wanting him all week.

And he did. It was there in his searing stare. In the brutally hard line of his mouth and clench of his sculpted jaw.

'The wine's delicious, thank you.'

He raised a glass to his own lips and sipped, his eyes still locked on hers. That simple act felt so intimate, the heat in her belly unfurled and spread up past her breasts and down, arrowing to the juncture of her thighs.

Did he know? Was that why he smiled?

Around them she heard a babble of conversation but she couldn't grapple with it. Not when Renzo looked at her like she was the only woman in the packed party and he wanted to eat her all up.

She slicked her tongue along her bottom lip and he zeroed in on the movement. He leaned in, one wide shoulder cutting off the journalist who'd been telling her about Italian politics, when someone jostled her from behind.

'Scusi, scusi.'

Sonia turned, watching a couple stumble away towards the front door. They were wrapped so tightly against each other it was hard to see where one ended and the other began. Clearly they wanted to be alone together.

In that moment Sonia knew she wanted that too. To be alone with Renzo.

'And then the President of the Council said—'

'Sorry?' Sonia swung her head around, realising her new acquaintance, Paolo, was in mid-flow, telling some rambling anecdote about the current government.

It seemed like ages since she'd looked up to find Renzo beside her, wanting her, inviting her. It must only have been a matter of moments.

Paolo launched back into his monologue. To her left the lawyer, whose name she'd forgotten, clicked his tongue and nodded, muttering something about corruption.

At her right Renzo stood tall and unmoving. Not sipping his drink, not speaking. Just waiting.

She sensed it in the prickle of awareness skittering through her, knowing he was as attuned to her as she was to him. She looked down to see his long fingers curled around the delicate stem of his wine glass. The knuckles were white and the surface of his wine quivered the tiniest bit, as if he held the glass too tight. It was the first intimation she'd ever had that Renzo wasn't totally relaxed. Even naked, accosted by a stranger in his apartment, he'd taken her intrusion, and her stares, in his stride.

Sonia tilted her head up and again their eyes locked. It felt inevitable. So expected that she felt a smile tug her stiff lips.

'Do you come here often?' she murmured.

His answering ghost of a smile made something somersault in her chest. 'Occasionally. Flavia and Rocco throw a good party. Lots of interesting people.'

Sonia nodded. 'I agree.' She'd met at least a dozen engaging, fascinating people tonight. But right now they were a blurred background to the reality that was Renzo, watching her as if he couldn't look away.

She sucked in air through her mouth and wondered if she were about to make a fool of herself. But what was the worst that could happen? Her past wasn't perfect but it had made her strong, strong enough to handle rejection.

She leaned towards him, lowering her voice. 'But I've had enough. I want to go home. With you.'

Renzo's smile was tight, his eyes alight with approval as he took the wine from her hand and put it down. 'Good.' His voice dipped to a low note that resonated right through her. 'I was just contemplating kidnapping you.'

So her charming, urbane housemate was a pirate at heart after all!

Sonia knew a moment's regret that he was too civilised to haul her up into his embrace and abduct her from the party.

But then Renzo slid an arm around her waist, pulling her close and clamping his broad palm on her hip. A flurry of sensation spilled out from the spot, and more flurries from where she fitted tight against his hard, hot frame.

He was speaking now, in Italian. Something that made the other men frown before smiling and wishing them 'buona notte'.

Moments later he'd urged her through the crowd to their hostess, who took one look at them together and grinned, waving away what must have been an apology for leaving early.

Then they were outside, a sturdy door between them and the noisy throng.

Renzo stared down at her and Sonia felt the weight of that stare like a hand, moving across her flesh. Her breathing was loud in the quiet and so was his. Sonia realised his chest was rising and falling hard as if he too had trouble catching his breath.

'I want to kiss you. Now. But if I do I won't stop.'

His words made her sway closer, tilting her jaw up. She wanted him to kiss her so badly the longing gnawed within her, making her ache.

'Maybe I won't want you to stop.'

He shook his head and changed his hold, grabbing her hips and tugging her hard against him.

'Don't tempt me, Sonia.' He breathed so deep his chest pushed against her. His smile was grim as he turned, shackled her wrist with one large hand and lunged towards the stairwell that would take them to street level. 'Not till we're somewhere private. Then you can tempt me as much as you like.'

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