Chapter Six

Sabrina spent two hours packing and repacking the night before her trip and was now pacing the floors, wondering what the hell she was doing. She was engaged and yet she was running off with a man from her past. Okay, maybe running off wasn’t quite the right terminology, she assured herself. But she was going home to see her family for the first time in over a year, with a man who had once been her lover.

“You look great, stop fussing,” Marie said stepping up behind her.

Sabrina was standing in front of the mirror - again - comb in hand and a lipstick tube ready to meet her well-painted mouth for the third time.

“I’m not fussing,” she lied, tucking everything back into her purse. “I’m just excited to see my family.

“Liar,” Marie said as Sabrina’s cellphone began ringing.

Cautiously she picked it up, seeing Andre’s name displayed on the caller ID. With a deep breath, she steered herself into the excuse she had formulated over the course of a long, restless night, and answered the phone.

“Hello, Andre,” she said briskly.

“Hello, Darling,” he cooed from the opposite end. “I’m finally finished with this horrid family photo shoot and was just washing up. I’ll be over in half an hour, and we can go to supper. How about Roberto’s? I know you’ve been anxious to have pasta for some time now, so I suppose we can splurge one last time before the wedding.

“Actually, I’m going to be working late,” she told him, glancing at the woman next to her who was smiling like a Cheshire cat. “I received a big order this morning and I have to get it finished by Sunday, so I’ll be here most of the weekend.

“Very well,” he sighed. “At least I can bring in some dinner.

“That won’t be necessary,” she answered quickly. “Marie has already ordered supper and we’ll be working well into the early hours of the morning. She and Babette are helping me, so between the three of us, we should be fine.

“You’re not working with those two, are you? Honestly Sabrina, why did you ever hire them? They spend more time gossiping then they do working.

“They are my friends and they are very good at what they do. But I have to go now,” she said as she spotted Giovanni standing by the front door. “Way too much to do. I’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

She pushed the button on her phone and disconnected the call so quickly she didn’t hear his remark about no I love you? leaving the man hanging on her abrupt end.

“You look great,” Giovanni told her as she stepped into the main room.

His eyes roamed over her slender five-foot nine-inch body, accented in a short forest green skirt. Her firm arms were bare beneath a satin tank top of snow-white, and a black belt acted as a visual line, dividing her upper and lower body and showed off her tiny waist. Her long legs were bare of nylons and her feet were hidden in a pair of black high heels that brought her three inches closer to his own height of six foot three inches.

“Thank you,” she answered, silently cursing herself for the blush she knew was painting her face.

“You two go ahead,” Marie said with a wide smile. “I’ll hold down the fort until you get back.

“Thank you for everything,” Sabrina told her assistant as she gave her a hug.

“Don’t worry about anything,” Marie said with a knowing grin. “You just have fun.

Giovanni held the door open as Sabrina raised the handle to her suitcase and wheeled it out to the street. He took the black case from her and opened the back of his rented Escalade, stowing it securely next to his own bags.

Sabrina stood by anxiously wondering if she should open the door for herself or wait, but before she could decide he was pulling it open and smiling as she climbed in. Her nerves were playing a wicked game of cat and mouse as he sat down in the driver’s seat, and she felt as if she was losing. She had never had this problem with him before, even the first time they met as children and she nearly broke his nose kicking a football in his face. So, why was it so different now? Why was he making her head spin and her heart race?

“Your brother sent his plane,” Giovanni told her as he pulled the large black vehicle away from the curb. “He wanted to make sure you didn’t have any reason to back out of your promise.

“That’s Creighton,” she mumbled.

“I don’t mind,” he chuckled. “I really hate airline peanuts.

Sabrina laughed as he turned and smiled at her, the nerves were gone and a sense of calm took over.

“So, tell me about your daughter?” Sabrina asked. “Where is she?

“Anna is bringing her to the airport. I had some errands to run this morning and didn’t feel like dragging her into the stores with me.

“Who is Anna?” Sabrina asked, wondering if his wife had decided to come back to them.

“She’s the Nanny I’ve had since Olivia was born. You’ll like her, she’s a lot like your mum.

“Oh,” she said, unsure what else to say.

The hour trip to the private airstrip passed by with little conversation, though the air between them seemed electrified. Sabrina tried to appear calm as he asked about members of her family and exchanged polite conversation about their lives and his traveling through Africa and Asia.

By the time they reached the airfield, Sabrina felt the need for a very strong drink. She may not have been nervous, but something was definitely going on in her stomach that was making her feel tense and anxious all at once.

“There’s your daddy,” the grey-haired woman said as she turned to see Giovanni, and Sabrina passed through the sliding glass doors.

Sabrina smiled, noticing the resemblance between Giovanni and his daughter. Her hair was as dark as his and her skin the same soft olive complexion. She had big brown eyes and little pink cheeks and she called out to her father the moment she spotted him.

Giovanni’s face instantly lit up as he set the bags down next to the boarding counter and reached out to the child, as she ran to him. He kissed her cheek and rubbed noses with her before turning to Sabrina.

“Sweetheart, this is my friend. Sabrina this is my daughter Olivia.

The child smiled instantly and reached out to Sabrina, nearly jumping out of her father’s embrace.

“Mummy,” she said as Sabrina braced herself from tipping backward on her high heels.

“This isn’t Mummy,” Giovanni said sternly. “Sabrina. Olivia, say Sabrina.

“Mummy,” Olivia replied hugging Sabrina’s neck.

“It’s alright,” Sabrina said awkwardly, returning the child’s hug. “It’s normal for children to substitute Mummy and Daddy with adults. My nieces and nephews did it for a long time.

“She’s never done it before,” Giovanni said in a tense voice.

Sabrina watched as he turned and spoke with the woman behind the counter then picked up the bags and motioned to the door.

“The plane is ready to go,” he said.

Sabrina moved Olivia to her hip, and walked beside the man, glancing behind them and noticing Anna was nowhere to be seen.

“She’s not coming,” he said in answer to her look. “She is going to Aryana’s to help with the twins, while Daniel is in New York on business.

“Can you manage without her?” Sabrina teased, trying to break the tension between them.

“I’ll try,” he said sternly, then smiled as Olivia reached out for him. “Fortunately, she’s not a baby anymore, so I won’t have to worry about nappies or bottles.

“I’ll bet you were great with nappies,” Sabrina said, taking note of Creighton’s blue and white GV 2504, The Kansas Kandy, sitting near the hanger, and Captain Davies standing by the open door.

He nodded to them as they climbed up the ladder, stepping aside for them to enter. Sabrina was always amazed at the luxury of the private jet with its cream-colored furniture and private kitchen.

“We’ll be leaving in a few minutes,” the Captain said as he secured the doors. “Please buckle in and make yourselves comfortable.

Sabrina glanced around with a frown. Every time she flew on Creighton’s plane before, there was always an attractive stewardess to serve them, but there didn’t seem to be anyone else on board.

“Where is everyone?” she asked the pilot.

“Cooper is in the cockpit getting things ready to go, but other than that we’re on our own,” he answered with a smile. “Mrs. Ashford doesn’t like the idea of attractive women waiting on her husband hand and foot, so unless it’s necessary, we don’t have a flight attendant.

“Sounds good to me,” Giovanni said as he buckled Olivia into the seat. “This one is in need of a nap, and the more people there are, the less likely she is to take one.

Sabrina sat down across from the small family and slipped the belt around her waist. She snugged it down as the engines began to roar to life, fighting the excitement jumping in her stomach.

“She doesn’t look at all nervous,” she observed of the child as they began to taxi out of the hanger.

“She’s not,” he answered. “She’s been on a lot of planes over the short course of her life. My job has kept me moving from one place to another. She’s used to the commotion and the excitement of air travel.

“She seems like a very good child,” Sabrina said a few minutes later as she watched Olivia play with her princess doll.

“She is,” he answered, leaning closer and kissing the top of her dark head.

“There’s no denying she’s your child. She looks just like you.

“Actually, she looks like my mother, what little I remember of her. At least I have photos of her and Olivia looks just like her at this age.

“Why did you name her Olivia?” Sabrina asked, glancing down at her hands.

“Because I loved the name.

“It was one we chose all those years ago, in case we ever had children.

“I remember.

“So, what happened to her mother?” Sabrina asked after a moment’s silence.

“She left us right after Olivia was born. Being a wife and mother interfered with her social life.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

“I’m not. Her leaving was the best thing for both of us. She cleaned out our joint account and left without ever laying eyes on her daughter.

“She had to have seen her when she gave birth,” Sabrina said with a frown.

“She refused to look at her and wouldn’t even hold her when the nurses asked her if she wanted to. The next morning, when I arrived to take them home, she was gone. All that was left was my daughter and an envelope with signed divorce papers giving me full and uncontested custody.

“How horrible. The poor baby.

“Trust me, we’re fine. Olivia has Anna, who is an amazing woman by the way, and me. She will never need or lack of anything.

“What about a mother? A girl needs a mother, not a Nanny.

“Perhaps one day,” Giovanni said, smiling at his daughter who laid her head in his lap and yawned. “I hope to find someone to love us both, who will give Olivia many siblings.

Sabrina looked out the window watching the clouds drift past the plane as it sped through the sky. Giovanni didn’t miss the awkwardness of her attitude or the way she shifted in her seat as if the subject was uncomfortable. After seeing the way Andre treated her at supper the other night, he could understand why her family had such harsh things to say about him. He wasn’t the type of man he would have expected to find her engaged to.

When he met Andre coming out of Creighton’s office building the day before, he had the chance to speak with him and understood more about the feelings the Ashfords’ had toward the man. Andre was in a fit about Sabrina’s career and told him that once they were married, she would be quitting the whole idea of playing dress-up for a living. As his wife, she would be expected to behave a certain way and his mother would teach her how to be a lady of social acceptance. He was determined to get the country girl washed out of the woman he planned on marrying by the end of the month.

The idea, not to mention the conversation, didn’t sit well with Giovanni. When he came to France to see his sister, and to look into the woman claiming to be the mother of Silvano’s child, he never expected to find Sabrina. He saw her picture on the front page of the fashion section of the newspaper and he had never been prouder of her or felt more alone.

He wanted to be with her, he always had, but then he learned she was engaged. After meeting her fiancée, he decided he wanted her back more than ever. He knew he was limited on time, but he would do whatever it took to break up this relationship before she walked down the aisle.

“What about you?” he asked a few minutes later, realizing unwanted images of a more intimate time were slowly winding their way through his conscience. “Are you planning on having children soon?

“Andre only wants one child, but I’m not sure how soon,” she answered. “There are still a lot of details to work out before that happens.

“Details? You mean the wedding?

“No. Yes. I mean…it’s complicated.

“I always thought marriage was supposed to be a time of joy and happiness. The only details were supposed to be what flowers to have and where to spend the honeymoon.

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” she said uncomfortably. “Was it that simple when you got married?

“I couldn’t tell you,” he answered honestly. “I went on a drinking spree and when I sobered up a week later, I was married. A few weeks after that she was pregnant with Olivia. I barely knew her name, much less remembered the vows.

“Did she marry you out of love?

“No, she married me for my money. Once she realized I didn’t have as much as she thought, she wanted out. By then she was six months pregnant. She wanted to party and have fun, and I refused to allow her the chance to harm my child.

“How much money did she think you had?” Sabrina asked with a frown.

She knew he had a large trust fund, as well as a very comfortable bank account, enough to satisfy most women for many years.

“I left my trust fund in the bank in Italy and went to Africa with only a few thousand euros. She blew through half of that by the time Olivia was born and took the rest when she left. Fortunately, I was able to have my father wire me enough money to pay the hospital and lawyer who filed the papers, and to live on while I found work.

“She sounds like a nightmare,” Sabrina said in a hushed voice, as she looked down to see the child asleep on her father’s lap.

“A lot of people are like that, unfortunately. She thought a child would keep me from divorcing her, where other people think a child is an heir or a means of securing their family’s name and inheritance. I know she got pregnant deliberately in hopes of earning a large fortune, but luckily for both of us, she decided she liked her freedom more than the money.

Sabrina looked at him with wide eyes, but he wasn’t looking at her as he spoke. There was no way he could have known how Andre acted toward children, so she was certain he wasn’t speaking personally, more figuratively.

“Are you glad to be going back to Italy?” she asked a little while later after the pilot turned off the seatbelt sign.

“I am for the most part,” he answered watching her unfasten her belt and move into the small kitchen. “It is a good place to raise Olivia, but I will miss France. I love the culture and the beauty.

“You can always visit. Italy isn’t that far away.

“I know, but it isn’t the same thing,” he told her as he adjusted Olivia so she was lying on a pillow, then unfastened his belt and followed Sabrina into the kitchen.

“May I ask you a question?” he began, leaning against the counter.

“What’s that?

“Why don’t you wear a ring? I mean you’re engaged. Shouldn’t you have a diamond on your finger to show the world you belong to another man?

“Andre doesn’t believe in them,” she said with a feeling of embarrassment.

“It wouldn’t be that way with me,” he assured her. “I’d have a ring on that hand before another man could try and lay claim to you.

He watched as she poured two glasses of orange juice before reaching for the bottle of vodka in the cupboard.

“None for me,” he said. “I don’t drink anymore. Waking up to find a strange woman in the bed next to me, claiming to be my wife, was enough to sober me up for life.

“I’m sure,” she said as she continued to fix the drink for herself.

“Is life so bad that you need to drink?” he asked her, watching her turn a stunned eye toward him.

“I don’t drink very often,” she defended herself.

“You had two glasses of wine the other night at the restaurant, and there was an open bottle on the desk at your office yesterday when I came to visit. That’s more than an occasional drink.

“Are you monitoring me?” she asked with a frown. “I am an adult. I can drink as much or as little as I wish.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said boldly, taking the drink out of her hand and pinning her against the stove behind her. “That was the last thing I wanted to do.

“Then what were your intentions?” she asked, but before she could think, Giovanni had her in his tight embrace, his mouth covering hers. Immediately, his tongue found the path past her lips to slowly caress the tip of her tongue.

Sabrina tried to gasp but couldn’t find the strength. His hands were holding her against the strong wall of his chest, tenderly caressing her spine as his tongue did a wicked dance in her mouth. She couldn’t help it. Without thought of consequences, her arms moved to circle his neck, refusing to let him go.

Several long moments passed by before Captain Davies’ voice came over the speaker, causing them to pull apart, but only a little.

“We’ll be landing at Heathrow in a few minutes,” the voice said. “Please buckle your seatbelts and prepare for landing.

“I guess that’s our cue to sit down,” Sabrina said in a shaky voice.

“I wouldn’t care if the plane dropped out of the sky right now, so long as I didn’t have to let you go.

“I suppose we do have a few minutes,” she whispered, then gasped when he lifted her in his arms and carried her to the sofa she had been sitting on.

Olivia was still sleeping soundly as Giovanni laid the woman on the cushions, pinning her against them with his weight. Sabrina was amazed at how familiar, and how comfortable, it felt to be in his arms again. All thoughts of marriage and fiancées flew from her mind as his lips trailed a heated path down her neck to her collarbone, his hand slipping beneath her tank top.

Her heart was pounding, and her stomach was twisted in knots, as he found the front latch to her bra and flipped it open. Her gasp was a fleeting thought when his hands moved her shirt up and his mouth claimed her erect nipple, sucking and nipping at it until she moaned.

“Please fasten your seatbelt, we are coming in for a landing,” Davies’ voice said over the intercom.

“I don’t want to let you go,” Giovanni moaned.

“We have to get buckled,” she whispered, feeling the heat of his hand cupping her buttocks beneath her skirt.

“I’ll let you up if you promise we’ll pick up where we left off once we’ve landed.

“We can’t,” she giggled. “I’m going home and…and…oh my God, what am I doing?

She pushed at his shoulders so hard he stumbled to his knees beside the sofa, watching as she struggled to regain her composure.

“What’s wrong? I thought you were enjoying it?” he asked in a deep accented voice as she tried to straighten her clothes and refasten her bra.

“I did…but I can’t. I’m engaged to be married. I can’t be doing this.

“Why not?” he asked, his eyes flashing ebony. “You’re not in love with that guy and we both know it.

“Why does everyone keep telling me I’m not in love with him?” she snapped as she reached around for her seatbelt, feeling the sudden jolt of the plane as it began to descend.

“Maybe because we see something you don’t.

“Andre is a wonderful man. He’s brilliant and intelligent and very handsome. He’s everything a woman would want.

Giovanni moved to the opposite sofa and buckled in as Olivia stirred awake and sat up, leaning into his chest.

“You could have convinced me easier if the first thing you said was that you loved him,” he told her. “But those words were never spoken.

“Of course, I love him,” she said in an exaggerated attempt to remain calm.

“Too late, Angel,” he told her, using his nickname for her as the wheels to the plane touched down, jerking them gently in their seats. “I have always been able to see through the lies, and you know I’m the last person you can fool. You don’t love him and you’re not happy, but you’re scared of what your family and friends would say if you broke off the engagement.

“You don’t know anything,” she snapped. “I love…I love…”

“Andre,” he supplied as she stumbled to regain her thoughts.

“I know his name. I love Andre and we’re getting married.

“Then I don’t have much time.

“For what?” she asked with a frown.

“To convince you this whole thing is a mistake and make you fall in love with me again.

“That will never happen.

“Are you sure?” he asked with a wicked grin that had her heart flipping in her chest. “I can see it in your eyes. The passion, the longing, the desire. If you were in love with another man, why did you agree to come to England with me? Your brother sent his plane. It would have been very simple to turn down my invitation and fly home alone. Instead, you lied to your fiancée by telling him you were working late. Are you afraid of him or just tired of having him around?

“How did you know…”

“I was waiting at the door when he called, and you told him that story about working on a big order.

“You can’t tell him,” she said, looking horrified as she thought of her old lover contacting her future husband and informing him, they had gone to another country together.

“I’ll keep quiet on one condition. Have supper with me tonight. We can leave the party early and spend the rest of the evening together. Maybe you can convince me that you’re in love with that jerk.

“I can’t, it wouldn’t be right…”

“Have supper with me one last time before you become another man’s wife.

“Will you promise not to tell him about this weekend?” she pleaded.

“I promise.

“Then I’ll agree, but only supper. No hanky-panky and you stay on your own side of the table the entire meal.

“Agreed,” he smiled as the door to the cockpit opened, making them realize the plane was down and parked at the private lot. “I’ll make arrangements for ten o’clock.

“That’s a little late for your daughter, isn’t it?” she frowned, watching the mischievous grin spread across his face.

“I’ve made arrangements for her so we can be alone.

“How long have you been planning this?” she asked with a suspicious frown.

“About as long as you planned that story you told your boyfriend. I suppose that makes us two of a kind.

Giovanni picked up Olivia and her doll, before waving a hand toward the stairs, allowing Sabrina to leave the plane ahead of him. Creighton had arranged for his sleek black, hybrid limousine to pick them up, complete with Clark to drive them back to where his helicopter was housed, then on to Yorkshire. After getting settled in the back seat and making sure Olivia had her favorite cartoon on the big screen, Sabrina found her tongue again.

“Don’t think you’re going to get any further than supper,” she warned him quietly. “I’m not used to being bullied.

“Yes, you are. Look at that tyrant you’re engaged to. He’s the worse kind of bully there is. He abuses you verbally and makes you believe it’s for your own good. The part I can’t understand is why you allow it. When we were together you made damn sure everyone thought you were in charge. And I let you because I knew when we were alone I was the domineering one. I always had you begging for mercy.

“You’re a pig for bringing that up,” she snapped, making Giovanni laugh fully.

“Aw, this is going to be a delightful supper.

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