Bought with the Italian's Ring

By: Tara Pammi

CHAPTER ONE

HER SKIN PRICKLED. Her body, even though overheated from two hours of dancing, suddenly tingled.

Pia Vito could almost pinpoint the moment the piercing awareness claimed her, the moment a sudden chill replaced the warm breeze coming in through the wide doors of the vast ballroom on her grandfather’s estate.

It was the moment he walked in.

Raphael Mastrantino.

Her grandfather Giovanni’s godson and protégé.

CEO of Vito Automobiles.

The man Milanese society seems to be in awe of.

The women around her went into a quiet frenzy, sending longing looks his way, detailing his finer points to each other.

From the moment she had discovered her long-lost grandfather Gio, and he had accepted her as his granddaughter at the beginning of the summer, all Pia had heard from him was stories about Raphael Mastrantino.

And her drama-prone grandfather hadn’t exaggerated for once.

No other man could have prowled inside the ballroom with such arrogant confidence, as if he owned the estate and all the people in it.

No other man would look that striking in a plain white shirt while making the rest of the tuxedo-clad men look overdressed.

No other man could have commanded the attention of an entire ballroom by his mere presence.

Piercing eyes met hers across the ballroom, held hers, as if determined to see through to her soul.

It was as if an electric arc had built up between them—the very concept she’d been explaining to her fifth grade students back home.

No adjective she knew could describe the sheer masculinity of him. Broad shoulders tapered to a lean waist, long legs. The ruthless planes of his face, the stark angles were those one only saw in sculptures.

It took every ounce of energy she possessed to keep her smile in place.

Not even a facsimile of a greeting appeared in his hard face. With his cynical and appraising expression, even from a distance Pia felt his derision to the tips of her toes.

Any warmth she’d felt amidst the dancing crowd dissipated as realization struck.

Her grandfather’s godson didn’t approve of her? Why?

Which was why she had felt his gaze on her back like a concentrated laser beam.

Ignoring his presence—which was like the earth trying to ignore the sun—her movements awkward and stilted, she adjusted her path exiting the dance floor and kept moving, head down.

She ran straight into something so solidly male her breath jumped into her throat. Cursing herself, she looked up. And was caught in the darkest eyes she had ever seen, draped by the lushest lashes no mascara could ever reproduce.

When had he moved so close?

His fingers had landed on the patch of bare skin that her dress and gloves left on her arms. The pads of his fingers pressed into her flesh, not quite hard but not gently either. As if he knew of her intention to escape him.

The scent of him, warmed by his skin, drifted up toward her nostrils and she breathed in deeply. A furious flush began to work its way from her chest to her neck and upward at his continued scrutiny.

She had never been comfortable with men, had no idea of that subtle, sophisticated flirting language all her fellow teachers, at least the young ones, seemed to know. Even with Frank, it had taken her two months to put a sentence together.

But this felt as if she were naked, as if her worst fears—her loneliness after her grandmother’s death, her overwhelming need to belong somewhere, anywhere—as if it were all on display for his eyes.

“You are not running away from me, are you, cara mia?” came a taunt in the deep, silky voice that let loose butterflies in her stomach.

When she’d banged into him, she had braced herself with her hands and there they rested now. On him. His abdomen, to be precise. He was a granite wall under her hands. She fluttered her fingers over him, curious to see if there would be softness, if she could find more give…

The pressure of his fingers increased over her wrists, arresting her explorations. “Do you not speak then?” This time, he sounded coldly angry. “You communicate instead by touching men?”

Pia pulled back as if burned.

This was ridiculous. She managed twenty eleven-year-olds every day in the classroom! How dare he give voice to something so embarrassing, something she’d only done as a reaction to stress?

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