The hunter: Darcy Fielding, a single mom, decides she must ADVERTISE for a husband!
But the consequences of one night of unforgettable passion are about to return to haunt her. The husband? Gianluca Raffacani has finally traced the mysterious beauty who disappeared from his bed. She is advertising for a husband – his perfect opportunity for revenge…Only, Luca finds he’s married the mother of his secret child!
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A SLENDER fragile beauty in a silvery green gown. Translucent skin, a mane of vibrant Titian hair and spellbinding eyes as green as peridots behind her flirtatious little mask. A hoarse, sexy little voice, sharp enough to strip paint and then sweet enough to make honey taste bitter…
‘No names…no pack drill,’ she had said.
‘I don’t want to know,’ she had said, when he had tried to identify himself. ‘After tonight, I’ll never see you again. What would be the point?’
No woman had ever said that to Gianluca Raffacani before. No woman had ever looked on him as a one-night stand. The shock of such treatment had been profound. But her eagerness in his bed had seemed to disprove the dismissive words on her lips…until he’d wakened in the early hours and found his mystery lover gone and the Adorata ring gone with her. And then Luca had simply not been able to credit that some unscrupulous little tart had contrived to rip him off with such insulting ease.
His memory of that disastrous night in Venice almost three years earlier still biting like salt in an open wound, Luca surveyed the closed file labelled ‘Darcy Fielding’ on his library desk, his chiselled features chillingly cast. With the cool of a self-discipline renowned in the world of international finance, he resisted the temptation to rip open the file like an impatient boy. He had waited a long time for this moment. He could wait a little longer. ‘It is her this time…you’re sure?’ he prompted softly.
Even swollen with pride as Benito was at finally succeeding in his search, even convinced by the facts that he had to have the right woman, Benito still found himself stiffening with uncertainty. Although the woman he had identified matched every slender clue he had started out with, by no stretch of his imagination could he see his famously fastidious and highly sophisticated employer choosing to spend a wild night of passion with the female in that photograph…
‘I will only be sure when you have recognised her, sir,’ Benito admitted tautly.
‘You’re backtracking, Benito.’ With a rueful sigh that signified no great hope of satisfaction, Luca Raffacani reached out a deceptively indolent brown hand and flipped open the file to study the picture of the woman on the title page.
As Luca tensed and a frown grew on his strong dark face, setting his pure bone structure to the cold consistency of granite, Benito paled, suddenly convinced that he had made a complete ass of himself. That bedraggled female image sported worn jeans, wellington boots, a battered rain-hat and a muddy jacket with a long rip in one sleeve. More bag lady than gorgeous seductress. ‘I’ve been too hasty—’
‘She’s cut off her hair…’ his employer interrupted in a low-pitched growl.
After a convulsive swallow, Benito breathed tautly, ‘Are you saying that…it is the same woman?’
‘Was she got up like this for a fancy dress party?’
‘Signorina Fielding was feeding hens when that was taken,’ Benito supplied apologetically. ‘It was the best the photographer could manage. She doesn’t go out much.’
‘Hens…?’ Bemusement pleating his aristocratic ebony brows, Luca continued to scan the photo with hard, dark deepset eyes. ‘Yet it is her. Without a doubt, it is her…the devious little thief who turned me over like a professional!’
Darcy Fielding had stolen a medieval ring, a museum piece, an irreplaceable heirloom. The Raffacani family had been princes since the Middle Ages. To mark the occasion of the birth of his son, the very first principe had given his wife, Adorata, the magnificent ruby ring. Yet in spite of that rich family heritage, and the considerable value of the jewel, the police had not been informed of the theft. Initially stunned by such an omission, Benito had since become less surprised…
According to popular report within the Raffacani empire, some very strange things had happened the night of the annual masked ball at the Palazzo d’Oro. The host had vanished, for one thing. And if it was actually true that Gianluca Raffacani had vanished in order to romance the thief with something as deeply uncool for a native Venetian as a moonlit gondola tour of the city, Benito could perfectly understand why the police had been excluded from the distinctly embarrassing repercussions of that evening. No male would wish to confess to such a cardinal error of judgement.
In spite of the substantial reward which had been dangled like bait in the relevant quarters, the ring had not been seen since. Most probably it had been disposed of in England—secretly acquired by some rich collector content not to question its provenance. Benito had been extremely disappointed when the investigator failed to turn up the slightest evidence of Darcy Fielding having a previous criminal record.