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If someone is too good to be true, it’s usually because they’re trying to keep the doors shut on a closet straining with skeletons. That has always rung true with Francesca Abbey, even though she doesn’t want to be a sceptic. It doesn’t help that she’s in the wrong profession, her past relationships have been disastrous and her mother? Hardly a cuddly TV show personality. But there’s something about Luca, a gentle giant who enters her life stage left, as if he was just waiting for the right time. He’s ridiculously gorgeous with questionable taste in shirts but impeccable taste in food. Every woman’s walking fantasy. He makes her want to believe life can be the Disney Channel every day with all the sensual, explicit and downright dirty parts of HBO thrown in.
Gianluca Caristo likes to think he’s a practical man. It comes with the territory of his current profession and certainly helped with his former. He isn’t given to flights of fancy or madcap ideas, but he would never forget the vivid dream he had after being locked up on the lies of his ex-girlfriend. When he comes face to face with his dream girl two years later, he’s sold on fate, karma, serendipity—all of it. Francesca is his future. His reward in exchange for his solemn vow to never do violence again. It’s a shame that everyone is testing the limits of that promise.
As everything pre-Luca and Francesca does its best to derail their fledgling relationship, a future they’ve only imaged happens a lot faster than either of them intended.
The fourth in the Italian Knights series is a front-row seat to fools rushing in, enjoying it far too much, ignoring all advice and knowing you’d do it all over again if you had the chance.
Francesca,” he called, and the whole restaurant went quiet. A flush stained Francesca’s cheeks when she saw him. He held out a hand to her, and she surprisingly took it. Not allowing any of the waiting staff to help her sit, he eased her into the chair opposite him and then took his own seat.
“Scrub up well, don’t I?” she mocked. Luca winced, realising that he’d probably been just staring at her again.
“No scrubbing needed,” he insisted, catching her eyes again. “Thank you.”
“Coming here.” The whole evening smacked of déjà vu. The familiarity of Francesca’s dress, the restaurant, and his strange certainty that she was going to tease him any minute, all scattered over him. A glance at his arms saw the gold hairs were raised.
“I’ll try anything once, Gianluca.” She shrugged, picking up her menu. Over the top he could see the smile in her eyes. “I’m guessing the same is true for you, judging by that shirt.”
He glanced down. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s got more work going on than my desk.”
He rubbed his fingers over his forehead, where the razor had caught skin rather than hair. Sometimes he could still feel the cold sting of metal. “I don’t like shopping.”
“You know you can hire people to help you.”
“You obviously have excellent taste. You can help me,” he suggested, in all seriousness.
She put her menu down. “Is that where you think you know me from? A bad shopping experience?”
He laughed. “No. Not at all. And you should call me Luca.”
“Okay, fine. Luca. So?” She circled her hand in an encouraging motion.
Like he was going to play his best card before they’d even had a drink! He leaned back and called for a waiter. “Would you like a cocktail?”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I’d have a cocktail first, if I were you.”
With a sigh, she picked something that looked fruity and was probably more lethal than anything else. As soon as their order was taken, Francesca started again.
“Was it on a bus? Did I fall over in a gym? Did you fall over in a gym? Was I roasted at a comedy gig? Did I throw popcorn at you in the cinema?”
“You do that? On a regular basis? That’s how you generally meet people?”
She shrugged. “More sociable that way.” Her eyes suddenly narrowed on him with a thought. “Are you a police officer?”
Luca wondered if he’d visibly paled. “No. Why?”
“Then maybe you saw it in the paper.”
Francesca accepted her tall pink-coloured glass and stirred it aimlessly with her straw. “My ex-boyfriend tried to have me convicted for smashing a glass bowl over his head...”
Of course I’m in love with a woman who has a violent temper. Why wouldn’t history repeat itself?
“...only seven stitches and in my defence, he was going to hit me again, so...” She paused and took her bottom lip into her mouth. “It’s best you know now.”
“You defended yourself and you think I’m going to leave?” he asked. “Did any of that glass hit you in the head?”
She gawped at him for a moment before bursting out laughing. It was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard. “It, er,” she swallowed a giggle, “it tends to send normal men running screaming into the night. They think I’m going to emasculate them.”
“With a glass bowl,” he added. “What makes you think I’m not normal?”
“You’re still here, aren’t you?”
“I am. That would be because I have no intention of laying a finger on you in anger.”
He felt her gaze on him. “I’m not into BDSM. Not like that anyway. I don’t like blood. Just in case you thought the hitting with the glass bowl was a regular thing. I used to own some pretty dodgy things, but before professionals started digging around, it was best I got rid. Jesus, lord, what the hell is in this drink?”
“Truth serum apparently,” Luca drawled, taking the cocktail from her, placing his lips exactly where her lipstick had left an earthy rose stain to take a drink. For a moment, he had the briefest vision of her leaving the same rosy stain on his cock. He sipped a little faster than intended to calm himself. It was a girly drink. Too much fruit and sugar…oh, and the alcohol punched him in the back of the throat. “Vodka. And a lot of it.”
“Unintentional drunk,” Francesca said brightly. “You can add that to your list when you name this as the disastrous date of all disastrous dates.”
“Francesca, I’m going to ask you this only one time. Stop it. You know exactly what I’m talking about,” he talked over her when she parted her lips to protest. “I think you are beautiful and sharp and your sense of humour is more than fucked up. If no one else finds that attractive, that’s all the better for me. It’s saving lives.”
She shook her head. “I’m serious—where did you come from? Where have you been hiding? I could’ve done with that pep talk last year.”
Her little outburst gave him free reign to take her hand in his and squeeze gently. “Hiding in a kitchen. Perfecting cooking sud vide.” Trying not to go mad. “Can we eat now? I’m starving. I feel food is a good idea.”
“I tend to be more sensible after food,” she replied, rubbing her thumb over his fingers.
“I doubt that, nice try though.” The smile she sent him was a reward that could never be given any financial value.
“Do you want to talk about normal stuff then?”
“How will we talk about you then?”
“Oh ho, comedian in the house! You won’t find it so funny when we’re talking about what TV show you’re most likely to end up on.”
“Easy, BBC News.”
She nodded. “Same.”
He lifted her hand and gave it a lingering kiss. “Best date ever.”