Alicia felt anything but lucky now though as her head swirled with everything that had just happened and Dante D’Aquanni dropped his hands as though she was infectious.
‘Get inside. Now.’
Alicia opened her mouth. He made a move and she flinched backwards. She didn’t know this man, didn’t know his capacity or otherwise for violence and right now, he looked murderous.
‘Not a word lady. Inside. Now.’
Alicia walked into the villa on cotton wool legs. She saw a chair and went and sat down, seriously afraid that she might fall.
‘Get up. Did I say you could sit down?’
Alicia looked up, her face leached of all colour. ‘Please…I –‘ Dante strode forward and pulled her out of the chair. Two hands on her arms, holding her like a rag doll. And she felt like a rag doll.
‘How dare you. How dare you invade my private space, bring those miscreants onto my property, not to mention a photographer – ‘
Alicia looked up into the harsh features. No less handsome now because of his anger. Even more mesmerizing because of it. From some reserve she called up her own anger which had been in woefully short supply for the past few minutes. He might have turned the tables but she was still here. He hadn’t turfed her out on the road.
‘I dare Mr D’Aquanni because someone I love very much is lying in a hospital bed and she needs help. Help that I can’t give her. As much as it kills me to come here and have to deal with someone as amoral as you, I have no choice.’ Bitterness laced her words, ‘Believe me it’s not my idea of fun scrabbling around thorn bushes in the dark, I did try to talk to you last week if you recall but I might as well have been a leper.’
He delivered a scathing glance up and down. ‘A leper wouldn’t have come in shrieking such unfounded accusations.’
Alicia remembered the panic that had galvanized her actions, the fear that had been barely in check when she’d seen him. She’d had to stop him somehow and as much as she might have wanted to be civil she hadn’t been allowed. She strove for calm now.
‘I tried to make an appointment to see you in your office but it would have been easier to get an audience with the Pope.’ He snorted inelegantly and in the next second had moved so fast that Alicia was caught totally by surprise.
He had slipped her bag from her shoulders and upended it onto the floor in seconds. After a moment of shock she stepped forward, ‘How dare you –‘ But he held her back easily with one hand and the feel of that hand against her belly had her jump back like a scalded cat.
She watched as he flicked through her stuff. Her wallet had a shockingly small amount of money. The printout of her one way ticket to Milan – she hadn’t been able to get a return as the world and its wife was there that weekend for a football game. Her phone. A credit card.
Dante threw the paltry things back into her holdall and stood easily, towering over her as he inspected her drivers license. He quirked a brow and looked at her.
‘Alicia Parker…’ She nodded jerkily. Surely the name would register with him? It didn’t seem to. He advanced dangerously and she moved back, feeling more and more lightheaded.
‘So, what exactly are you up to coming here with a one way ticket? Were you hoping your little trip would be so successful that you’d score a lift back on my private jet…or score me? Is that your plan? To seduce me and really get pregnant so your bizarre claims are founded on truth?’
Alicia’s mouth opened but before she could say a word he was continuing, his words falling and stinging her flesh.
‘If that was what you’d planned then you’re doing a woeful job. I don’t go for dramatics and unkempt shrieking fishwives are not my type.’
Alicia stopped moving. She glared up at him, adrenalin surging through her quivering five foot two frame. Her voice shook with emotion.
‘Melanie. Melanie Parker is her name. Does that even ring a bell with you? Or do you categorize your lovers by their social standing, in which case I’d imagine Melanie came somewhere near the bottom of the heap –‘
‘What did you say?’ he asked sharply, stopping in his tracks.
Alicia was stymied for a second. He looked genuinely confused. And then she did see a flicker of something cross his face. Recognition. Anger surged all over again, apparently Melanie hadn’t made that much of an impression.
‘You are unbelievable. You can father a child with someone and not even recall their name unless pushed?’
He closed the distance and took her shoulders roughly. She bit back a gasp. As if he realized how delicate she was, he dropped his hands abruptly and she stumbled back. But kept standing even though everything swayed ominously for a second. She could not be weak. Not here, not now. She had to be strong for Melanie.
Dante’s face felt rigid and stiff with rage and anger, he didn’t believe what she said for a second…but that name…it did ring a bell, a loud one. Not that he was going to admit that now, not until he had more independently trustworthy information. This woman was up to something and he felt very sure it would have to do with money.
He enunciated his words very slowly. ‘Be clear, I have very little patience left. What is it you want?’
Alicia tilted her chin up and she unconsciously confirmed his prediction. ‘What I want Mr D’Aquanni is money. I need money for my sister’s care. If you don’t give it to me, to us, then her unborn child is in serious danger of not coming to term.’ Her voice shook ominously, ‘Your baby. Or don’t you even care about that?’
Dante frowned, ‘What on earth are you talking about woman?’ She was talking in riddles, perhaps she was a little crazy?
She also looked as if a gust of wind would knock her down and he steeled himself to not give into the delicate image she was trying to project.
‘Care, what are you talking about?’
The harsh quality of his voice shocked Alicia out of the stupor that had rendered her momentarily speechless. Of course. How would he know that Melanie had been in the accident?
She spoke, but increasingly she was feeling more and more detached from her body. ‘Melanie…Melanie was in an accident. She was on her way to see you, and a lorry skidded on the motorway in front of her, it jacknifed right back –‘
At that moment everything seemed to hit Alicia at once. The magnitude of what she’d just done. What she’d been through in the past week since she’d arrived home from Africa. The fact that she was here. What had just happened out on the front steps.
Had he really kissed her?! And had she clung to him so helplessly?
The hall around her swayed and morphed, went into double vision and this time she couldn’t stop it.
When she came round, she was sitting on the chair with her head between her legs, a large hand clamped to the back of her neck. She was mortified and felt like protesting vociferously, she didn’t faint! She’d been through unspeakable horrors in the last year and had developed nerves of steel. And yet here, surrounded by luxury, she’d fainted within minutes.
Alicia saw the black clothed legs and shoes of Dante D’Aquanni beside her. She saw another pair of feet. She muttered something unintelligible and tried to move. The pressure of the hand eased. His hand. She looked up, the kindly matronly face of the housekeeper looked at her. She felt like crying. They spoke in Italian above her head.
With little ceremony she was pulled up again, her head swam and before she knew which way was up, she was over Dante D’Aquanni’s shoulder, dangling inelegantly against his back. He strode across the hall and started climbing stairs.
‘What the hell do you think you’re –‘
‘Be quiet. This will help the blood get to your head and restrain me from doing something I’ve never been tempted into before. When was the last time you ate or were you so consumed with gold-digging that you forgot?’
Alicia’s hands were balled into fists as she couldn’t look anywhere but at the man’s perfectly shaped behind, his back against which her breasts were crushed.
‘Gold-digging? Gold-digging? How dare you, have you even considered the havoc that you’ve caused in my sister’s –‘
And just as suddenly as she had been picked up, she was back on her feet, the rush of blood to her brain making her dizzy all over again. She put a hand to her head. She was barely aware of standing in a huge bedroom, discreetly designed with understated elegance and extreme luxury.
Dante was walking away from her. She ran after him. ‘Wait a minute. I’m not finished. What are you going to do about my sister? You can’t ignore me.’
He turned with his hand on the doorknob. His mouth was tight. ‘No. You’ve made that impossible. But what I can do for now, and what I am going to do is lock you in here.’ Alicia’s mouth opened and closed. ‘You…what…you’re not going to –‘
‘Oh yes I am.’
And then he walked out, the door shutting ominously behind him. Stupefied, Alicia heard a key turn. She ran to the door, jiggled the knob. He had done it. He had locked her in.
She beat on the heavy huge door with tiny fists. ‘Come back here! You can’t just lock me away, this is outrageous.’
Nothing. Not a sound. He was well gone. Alicia sank back against the door and slid to the ground in a heap. She didn’t have a thing. Not even her phone to try and get help. And who would she call? Her only family lay unconscious in a hospital bed in England. She didn’t need a friend to tell her what she already knew, she’d trespassed on the property of one of the most powerful men in the world. He had every right to go and call the police which is probably exactly where he had gone. Any accusation she could level at him regarding her sister was her word against his right now. Her brave, stupid mission had just gone up in flames. She should never have left England, never left her sister’s side.