Scandal at the Balfour BallAfter barely a year of marriage, Alessandro and Meredith Ferrera’s relationship is already strained by careers that force them to live in different countries for weeks at a time. So it doesn’t take much to raise Alessandro’s suspicions about what his bride is up to when he’s not around!
by Michelle Reid
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“It was not what you’re thinking!” Meredith rushed into urgent speech.
The sneer that arrived on Alessandro’s wide sensual lips made her shudder. He looked so dangerous her heart leapt to her throat. And he wasn’t even looking at her—had not looked at her once since he’d arrived out of the darkness.
His full attention was fixed on Marco as he uttered a curse in Italian.
He didn’t even growl it; the ice in his voice was a chilling threat in itself.
Marco, who was wisely staying put on the ground gingerly feeling his jaw, said nothing. Meredith was clutching at Alessandro’s jacket lapels now, and she was trembling so badly he had this vague concern that she might just faint.
The noxious words in the poisoned letters were swimming in front of him. Meredith with Marco…his wife and his best friend. With a gut-sinking burn filled with the kind of emotion he could not even put a name to, Alessandro turned his arm into a clamp around his wife’s tiny waist and swung them both back towards the house.
“Will you stop tugging me about!” Meredith protested.
He barely heard her.
“It was not what you think!”
He damn well heard that! “Shut up,” he bit out.
“No, I will not!”
Meredith pulled to a stop at the top of the shallow steps, which led up onto the terrace. With a tug she managed to wrench herself free from his iron-hard grasp.
“I am not your possession! You do not have the right to body manhandle me as if I am! And if you dare to tell me to shut up one more time I will—I will—”
She ran out of words.
Twisting round to face her, Alessandro felt as if he had punched himself. She was so beautiful it hurt to look at her.
He watched her tense fingers clench and unclench. He noticed the sparkling ball gown for the first time, with its crystal-crusted bodice clinging to the creamy slopes of her heaving breasts. Her pearly pale skin shone in the moonlight. Her fabulous, flowing hair shimmered like fire. Her soft mouth was trembling uncontrollably, her beautiful eyes glistening with tears.
A roar of something primitive rose up inside him. He wanted to gather her up into his arms and show her who it was she belonged to, but he did not dare let himself go that far because he just couldn’t predict what else would take hold of him if he did!
And there was no way he was going to let himself fall apart here on this terrace with her lover looking on.
As if she caught what he was thinking, he watched her angle a helpless glance back across the lawn.
Something else grabbed hold of him.
Fear. He recognized the stark chilling sensation. He was scared she was going to walk away from him and back to Marco.
Still functioning on pure instinct, he reached out and captured one of her hands and tugged her back into movement.
Meredith stared helplessly up at his hard grim face. “Alessandro, for goodness sake,” she begged. “We can’t go back in there like this!”
“We are going back in there,” he determined grimly. “And you are going to play the adoring wife to me to the hilt.”
“Y-you misunderstood what you—”
“I did not misunderstand anything.” He stopped walking long enough to swing around on her. “You were kissing him in full view of anyone who cared to watch you!”
“No!” she denied. “I w-wasn’t kissing him. He—”
“Pull yourself together.” He started walking again. He just did not want to hear her excuses.
As if on cue, the moment they stepped into the ballroom the band struck up another waltz tune and Alessandro swung her into his arms.
“Smile.” He gritted as he swept her into the dance.
Meredith had to cling to him just to keep herself upright. Her legs had turned to jelly and her head was filled with—
“He was just being—”
He swung a glinting look down at her. “Do you really want to do this right now?”
“I…no.” She didn’t. For everyone was looking at them.
“Then just dance,” Alessandro said roughly, drawing her closer to his hard-packed angry body. “Pretend you still love me.”
“I do love you,” Meredith choked.
“When you feel like it.”
She drew in a strained breath of air as his hard cynicism cut through her like a knife. “I was surprised as you were when Marco—did that.”
He said nothing.
“Y-you had stood m-me up and I was upset, and I had only just heard about the horrible rumors—”
“Poor neglected Merry.”
“I am not neglected,” she flared up with a hot whisper. “But you didn’t bother to come to London so I thought—”
“So you thought you would get your lover to bring you here, instead.”
“He did not bring me and he is not my lover!” Tossing back her head, Meredith fired him a furious look. “How dare you say that? When have I ever given you cause to even think it?”
How dare I say that?
Alessandro locked the brooding dark glow of his eyes with her angry sparkling eyes and it was like instant mortal combat. He’d never felt so dangerous in his life. There wasn’t a bone or muscle in his body that wasn’t hard and honed to the kind of primitive instincts he never knew he possessed.
He loved this woman to distraction. She made him dangerous.
And Meredith felt the danger in him. It throbbed from him like an electric storm, and the shocking thing about it was that her senses were responding to it like fizzing fireworks charging up towards the moment when it all blew up. His eyes were as black as midnight, the lean symmetry of his face washed of its beautiful bronze lustre and taut, like the molded line of his mouth.
He was beautiful and gorgeous and—she tugged in a frail kind of breath in the hopes it would help calm her ravaging senses. The tips of her breasts touched the hard contours of his body lurking beneath his dress shirt, and the frail breath turned into a terribly stifling gasp.
The fire of knowledge put flames in his eyes, and she quivered.
Alessandro swung them deftly around a threatened collision and wished he could ease the tension gripping them both. He had thrown them into this dance because he’d thought it was the easiest way to get them across the ballroom to the great hall without needing to stop and talk to people. Now he wished he’d just hauled her over his shoulders and carried her caveman-style around the outside of the house!
Dio, and she looked so beautiful, even in her distress. The dress was fabulous, as she’d told him it was, the kingfisher colour sparkling with crystal water drops, which matched the tears sparkling in her eyes. He looked at her mouth, her wide soft trembling mouth and something inside him just shattered.
That something was another man’s kiss glossing its passionate pink surface. His nostrils flared as he attempted to take in a calming breath. The tension in them vibrated. He could feel her heart fluttering wildly in her breast, and his own heart was hammering so loudly he could hear it pounding in his head.
“I love you, Alessandro. What you saw out there was just a silly sympathy kiss!”
He just stopped dancing. Right there in the middle of the Balfour ballroom he pulled them to a dress-swirling halt, then lowered his dark head and covered that lying, cheating, beautiful mouth with his own hard, hot, passionate mouth.
It was like taking a ride on the crest of a fiery wave of helpless fervor and burning anger. It was all Meredith could do to hang on in there and ride along with it—because she really could not help herself. Her fingers clutched at his muscled shoulders, his arms held her crushed against his full taut length. And the burning heat of his passion just drowned her in Alessandro—the only man ever to make her feel like this.
He lifted his dark head and looked down at her—at her sultry eyes turned exotic and deep. Then he looked at her softly parted and trembling lips, which were wearing the bloom that he had put there.
“That—” he said roughly “—was a kiss, mia moglie.”
Lifting up a set of smooth gentle fingers, Meredith laid them against his lips. “Exactly,” she whispered back.
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