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Beautiful distraction, p.34
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.34

           J. C. Reed
 

  I finished my water, and then got another cup of coffee before heading for Jett’s private office.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  The Lucazzone estate started from just beyond Jett’s huge property. I couldn’t help but think that even though Jett had the most stunning scenery I had ever seen, he didn’t buy his holiday home because of its view. I figured being close to the old man to follow his every move might just be the reason why he vacationed here in the first place. It was the way the big league played. They watched their market and competitors but, most importantly, they kept a hawk eye on the properties they wanted until the owners were ready to sell, and they all were eventually.

  Sitting in the passenger seat of his Ferrari with the roof down and a warm breeze caressing my skin, I bit my lip hard so I wouldn’t ask the question that burned a hole in my brain. Jett’s motives weren’t really my business, and yet I had to know. It was two days since we signed the contract and Jett hadn’t made any sort of attempt to touch me. He continued to remain a mystery. I figured finding out why he bought his mansion might reveal more about his personality.

  “When did you buy your house?” Moistening my lips, I focused my gaze onto the winding road so he wouldn’t pick up on just how much I hoped to find out more about the real man behind his cool façade.

  “A while back.”

  A vague answer, of course. I expected nothing less from him. Why did he have to be so equivocal about everything?

  I nodded slowly. “What drew you to Italy, or this part of the country in particular?”

  “The weather?” He shot me a sideways glance, and for a moment the bright sun reflected in his stunning eyes, making them shimmer in a million green facets. Dressed in blue jeans and a snug short-sleeved shirt, and with the wind blowing through his disheveled hair, he looked more magnificent than ever. His left hand was resting on the steering wheel and the right on the armrest, inches away from mine. I fought the urge to run my fingertips over the defined muscles.

  “Could you possibly be more vague?” I asked.

  He laughed that deep, brief laughter of his that always made my stomach flutter a little bit. “We used to vacation here a lot when I was a child. I wanted to preserve the memory by buying my own house here. Unfortunately, I don’t come as often as I’d like to.”

  No hidden motives then. Just a rich man returning to the one place he adored as a child. I folded my hands in my lap and started to play with the hem of my shirt, not quite buying into it.

  “So it wasn’t because of Alessandro Lucazzone,” I remarked dryly.

  His head snapped in my direction, and for a moment our eyes connected. There was something in his gaze—a hint of determination, maybe even fear, I couldn’t really tell—and then it disappeared and his gorgeous lips curled up into a lazy smile.

  “I can see why you would think that, but I assure you it wasn’t the case. We only recognized the estate’s potential a few years ago. It was during my first year in college.” He hesitated, as though considering whether to reveal more. I waited for him to continue, and when he didn’t I wondered whether there was more to this freshman year story than he let on.

  We drove in silence for a minute or two. It was a late Wednesday morning. Apart from the odd passing car, the street remained mostly deserted. Jett maneuvered expertly, barely slowing down at the sharper bends, which led me to believe he knew the way well. Either that, or he was the most reckless driver I had ever seen. Several times my heart jumped in my throat, and I clutched the armrest for support as he kept cutting corners, taking us dangerously close to the steep mountain wall rising to my right.

  “You okay?” Jett asked, laughing.

  “You drive like a maniac,” I said through clenched teeth.

  “That’s not the only thing I do like a maniac, Brooke.” His hand moved away from the steering wheel and settled on my thigh.

  Heat flushed my cheeks. I was mortified, but not from shame or shyness. Frowning, I lifted his hand off my thigh and placed it back on the steering wheel, noticing how warm and calloused his palm was. Those bumps didn’t come from sitting around in an office.

  “Just keep a tight grip on that, will you?” I said dryly. “While I think Italy’s beautiful, I’m not keen on having my brain splattered all over this place.”

  “You’re the careful kind then?” His question sounded more like a statement.

  I shrugged. “Not more careful than most people out there but definitely more careful than you.”

  The car slowed down a little but not enough. I heaved a big sigh and slumped deeper into the leather seats.

  “You’re not living a life in the fast lane?” Jett shot me a questioning glance. I sensed a deeper meaning in his words.

  “Are you?”

  His lips quirked up at the corners. “As you can see, I like it fast and dangerous. I’ll gladly teach you a thing or two about those two things, Ms. Stewart.”

  Whoa, when did the conversation take this particular turn? My cheeks flamed up, and I turned my head away from him so he wouldn’t catch just how much his words affected me. Oh, I wanted him to teach me all right. If only he’d make his threat real. Or was that a promise?

  The car slowed down and we came to an abrupt stop. I wet my lips nervously, unsure what followed next.

  “Why are we stopping?”

  He turned to face me. Dimples formed in his cheeks as his gaze lingered on me a tad too long, caressing my face, my breasts, my body. What the heck was he doing? And why couldn’t I think with him so close?

  “What?” I dared not take a breath under his electric eyes. His gaze narrowed on my lips and stayed glued to them. My blood rushed faster at the thought of him kissing me and making out in the middle of nowhere.

  He leaned forward, tenderly grazing my leg, then my neck. And then his hand moved to the glove department to retrieve a pair of shades.

  “Put them on,” he said gently. “The sun’s strong and we wouldn’t want you to get a headache.”

  They were just words, but his gentle tone conveyed so much more. Warmth. Caring. I didn’t know what to do or say. I didn’t know how to protect my heart from the sudden array of emotions filling it.

  “Thank you,” I said eventually, slightly choked. “What about you?”

  “I’ll be okay.” He hit the accelerator hard. “Faster’s always better, but you have to mind those curves. They’re wicked. They can kill a man in a heartbeat.” He flashed me a grin as the car picked up in speed again, and for a moment I could swear he had been looking at my chest.

  Our eyes connected in the mirror and I realized he had probably caught everything: the way my fingers seemed to want to rip a hole in my top’s hem, the way my eyes kept darting toward him, eager to soak up his every move, the way my knees pressed together tightly so the scent of dampness coming from my panties wouldn’t give away how much I wanted him to touch me there.

  “Blushing suits you. I should make you blush more often,” Jett said hoarsely.

  Swallowing hard, I put on the shades to hide at least part of my burning face, even though it probably was useless. I had never been good at pretending, and it sure had gotten worse around him. I knew I should say something—anything—but my words remained trapped at the back of my throat.

  “This is it,” he said, taking a sharp right onto bumpy terrain. The lane was narrow with a ditch on both sides, and barely any space for oncoming traffic. The trees with rich crowns of leaves gathered into a thick canopy that filtered the warm rays of sun.

  I removed Jett’s shades and craned my neck to figure out where the path might be taking us. I thought for a moment, and then the penny dropped.

  “This is Lucazzone’s estate, isn’t it?” I asked.

  “Yep.”

  For some reason, I expected it to be majestic with a cobblestone path, trimmed hedges, maybe even a glasshouse, and hunting grounds—and definitely lots of flowers. This looked more like the forested backyard of a haunted and neglected mansion.
It wasn’t less beautiful, just not what I expected.

  “What was your highest offer?” I asked Jett.

  “Twenty million.” He didn’t even blink saying the number. I almost choked on my breath.

  “US dollars?”

  “Euro.”

  “Oh.” That was big bucks for a bit of land and a few walls. I blinked rapidly as my brain began to do the math. Twenty million Euros divided by ten mansions equaled two million each. Given the skyrocketing lawyer costs and the paperwork involved, the labor costs to cut down the forest, prepare the building ground, and actually build the holiday homes, Mayfield Properties would have to invest another twenty million. So the actual asking price would have to be four million to break even, and even more to make a profit.

  Blazing hell, who in their right mind would actually pay that?

  The street widened as we reached a crossroad. Jett took another sharp right and parked the car a few feet from a sign written in Italian. I didn’t understand the words, but the red outstretched palm didn’t need much interpretation. This was private property and we weren’t supposed to be here.

  I peered at Jett who opened the door and exited, then walked around the car to help me out.

  “Thanks,” I whispered, grabbing his hand. The moment our fingers connected, an electric jolt ran through me. I gazed up into his moss-green eyes to catch his reaction but, like before, he didn’t seem to feel it. “What are we doing here? Do we have an appointment?” It was a stupid question. No one with an appointment would park the car on a country lane and sneak up on the owner.

  “I want you to see this place so you feel its magic,” Jett said matter-of-factly.

  “It’s called trespassing.”

  “Lucazzone doesn’t mind.”

  “How would you know that?” Crossing my arm over my chest, I stared at him. He flat out ignored the invitation to elaborate.

  “Come on, Ms. Righteous. You’re not being paid for standing around and asking questions.” He winked and turned his back on me. What other choice did I have than to follow?

  ***

  It was so hot I felt as though my clothes were about to melt—and it wasn’t just because of the heat. I let Jett guide me beyond the path, through the trees and the thick bushes. Even though Jett led the way, pushing thick branches out of the way so I could step through unscathed, for once I was happy to have opted for flats rather than my usual kitten heels. Not least because my gaze kept wandering to Jett’s back and the defined muscles rippling beneath his thin shirt. Beads of sweat gathered at the nape of his dark hair, making my mouth water at the thought of making him sweat on top of me. His slacks strained with every step, emphasizing the hard muscles in his thighs. I felt like a teenager in lust who couldn’t stop daydreaming about the hot football captain.

  Eventually, we reached the highest point of the incline. Just beyond the trees and dense bushes stretched out a vast valley. Looking farther, I could make out the beautiful shoreline of a lake. The blue water caught the rays of the sun and shimmered in a million facets. Beyond it, on the other side of the lake, a Mediterranean-style house raised against the picturesque backdrop of a mountain, amidst yet more trees and bushes. In front of the house was what looked like a broad path leading to the lake’s shore. To reach it, anyone would have to cross the lake. I scanned the area, looking for any sign of a boat, but saw none.

  “Is that the Lucazzone mansion?”

  “Villa,” Jett corrected. “It’s not that big.”

  “But where’s the street?”

  “There is none. The Lucazzone family has always been keen on privacy, so they built the house on a secluded spot and never bothered to make it accessible,” Jett said.

  The word ‘secluded’ didn’t even do it justice. How did these people go grocery shopping? Did they even have electricity or Internet?

  “Do they grow their own crops?”

  Jett’s lips twitched. “They might have a few centuries ago, but currently they have discovered the benefits of the local grocery store’s home delivery service. Do you see that large oak?” He pointed beyond the lake to a thick tree with low hanging branches. I nodded and squinted to get a better glimpse, but couldn’t make out more than contours in the blinding rays of the sun. “There’s a boat hidden from view. It’s been there for years, and once a month the old man would row the boat over the lake, meet with the waiting grocery store owner, stock up on supplies, and then return to the villa. As kids, my brother and I would be hiding up here, waiting for the old man in his black cape-like coat to appear. Usually it was in the semi-darkness of dawn. The way the boat broke through the morning mist clinging to the water surface made it look like a scene from a gothic vampire movie. For a while, my brother and I were convinced the old man was a vampire.”

  His eyes focused on a point beyond the horizon, and I knew he wasn’t seeing the serene display of nature before our eyes, but the sweet memories of a childhood that would always live on in his mind and heart. I found myself smiling with him, seeing the past through his words, and for a moment I felt as though I was there with him, seeing the old man through the fanciful eyes of an innocent boy.

  “You must have loved it up here,” I said, gently squeezing his arm. His stunning eyes turned to me and a bright smile lit up his face, sending a jolt through my heart.

  “We did. That was right before—” His expression darkened, wiping the gorgeous smile off his lips. Something had happened. Instead of sharing it with me, he was bottling up again. It wasn’t surprising given that we barely knew each other, but I couldn’t help the sudden disappointment washing over me. As strange as it sounded, I wanted to know everything about him and his life.

  “Come on.” Jett gripped my hand a bit rougher than before and guided me expertly down the slippery slope toward the shoreline. The flat soles of my ballerinas slipped in the soft earth, but I didn’t argue in the hope he might still decide to resume our conversation and divulge what he wanted to say.

  Eventually, we reached the shore and stopped a few feet from the water. Jett pulled me down next to him onto the soft ground and propped his arm behind my back, the material of his shirt almost brushing my skin. His dark hair swayed in the light breeze. I closed my eyes and leaned back on my palms, my face soaking up the sun. We sat in silence for a moment or two. I only opened my eyes when I felt his gaze on me.

  Jett’s eyes were hooded, filled with something dark and dangerous. His beautiful lips glistened as though he had moistened them quite recently and the moisture hadn’t dried yet. I imagined the tip of his tongue brushing over them, then over every inch of my skin, meeting with mine in a tangled embrace. Would he find me intimidating if I just kissed him? Did our agreement involve only him getting close to me whenever he felt like it, or could I initiate sexual contact as well, maybe even during working hours? Such as now?

  Damn sex contracts and their blurred lines! I had never played this game, so I had yet to figure out the fine print. Smiling shyly, I ignored the sudden need in the pit of my stomach that was slowly but steadily venturing down south.

  “It must be pretty lonely over there,” I said in a feeble attempt to conceal my nervousness.

  “Probably, but I can also see the benefits of keeping away from civilization’s stress and hassles, and having one’s kids grow up in the serenity of nature.” Jett fell silent again, his gaze never leaving mine. The air charged with tension. I bit my lip and broke eye contact, only to redirect my gaze to him a moment later.

  He was sitting so close I could barely breathe. And while his proximity didn’t feel uncomfortable, it was almost too much to bear.

  “Tell me about your life,” Jett said eventually.

  I laughed. “What?” It was such a strange request. Men weren’t usually interested in my life, past, thoughts, and so forth.

  Jett grinned that lopsided smile of his that made my heart skip a beat. “We didn’t go through the usual interviewing process, so it’s about time to catch up.”
r />   “Well, we didn’t really go through the traditional hiring process either.”

  He shrugged and his grin intensified. “You have a point. I could fire and re-hire you, if it bothers you so much. Or—” he turned onto one side, propping up on one elbow “—you could just answer my question.” It wasn’t an invitation but a demand.

  I moistened my lips as I tried to push through years of memories in the hope I might find something that didn’t give away too much, yet still enough to satisfy his curiosity.

  “My dad died when I was a teen. I grew up with my mother who tried her best to fulfill the role of both. After finishing high school, I came to New York to study, and ended up working in real estate.” Those were the boring parts of my life; the harmless ones barely scratching the surface. Usually, they sufficed in sending a guy into a disinterested staring stupor, meaning they never bothered to ask further questions. I searched Jett’s gaze for any signs of disinterest, but what I found was an attentiveness that scared me. He seemed to really listen to me. While there was nothing wrong with it, the fact that this guy who hired me would be interested in me and in my life showed me he cared for me in some way. And that scared me even more.

  “You always wanted to work in real estate?” His question seemed polite and harmless enough.

  “I like houses. What about you?”

  He smiled but didn’t take the bait to change the object of focus. “It’s a strange career choice for a college graduate. Either you were pushed into it knowing you could make big bucks once you built your portfolio. Or you had a serious interest in buildings and the market. Which one is it?” My throat dried up. The guy knew what he was talking about. I wondered whether it was one of his usual interview questions, or whether he pulled it out of his repertoire for someone like me.

 
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