Dear Reader,

Outside my window, the Gloucestershire countryside is hiding beneath a thick blanket of snow. The winter wind is shivering through the trees. My little son has a ‘snow day’ today, so with luck there will be time for some fooling around outdoors later on. If I manage to fathom out how the camera works there might even be some photos on my website, later on in the week. Drop in – I’d love to hear from you, and I’m running a competition throughout February with some great prizes on offer.

It’s fun to go out frolicking in the white stuff, but there comes a time when even the most excitable little ones start to flag. Then we’ll straggle back indoors for hot chocolate and marshmallows. While the children wind down by drawing some pictures of their exploits, I’m going to curl up in front of the fire with my notebooks. I’m trying to get some work done on my latest Modern Romance for Harlequin Mills and Boon, but it’s hard to settle with the excitement of a Harlequin Presents release this month.

Her Ruthless Italian Boss is the story of Beth and Luca’s tense reunion years after a bitter rift. In the intervening time their positions in life have completely changed. He has made a fortune, she has lost one. In Her Ruthless Italian Boss they meet in a torrid showdown in the romantic Italian setting of Venice. Here’s an extract from their story...

Excerpt from HER RUTHLESS ITALIAN BOSS by CHRISTINA HOLLIS

Published by Harlequin Presents, February 2009


All he did was look at her, silently and steadily. It was a tigerish expression, daring her to get within his danger zone. There would be no open invitation any more. Beth had to risk making contact on instinct alone. Nervously, she raised her hand until her fingertips could no longer resist the magnetic attraction of his proud, carved cheekbones. His skin felt exactly as she remembered. As her index finger traced the slope of his jaw she felt where the smooth flawless surface of his cheek became roughened at his beard line.

As inflexible as Sansovino’s statue of Mars, Luca allowed her caress to move slowly to his hair. Hardly daring to breathe, she continued to stroke him. Her touch drifted down around his neck to the front of the plain white fabric of his shirt. All the time his unblinking stare challenged her to continue, to tempt him beyond endurance. But there was not any direct response. Finally, Beth closed her eyes. She could not carry on laying her emotions bare like this without any encouragement. Her hand faltered and fell away. She was unable to go any further, in case he rejected her.

Then she sensed a sudden darkening of the world outside. Opening her eyes again, she saw Luca had moved his hand and let the curtain fall. Now they were both completely surrounded by shadows. He stood before her in his magnificence, a coiled spring perfectly contained by his tall, lean body. The challenge of his eyes was replaced by the defiance of his stance.

‘How does it feel to be denied the one thing you desire, tesoro?’ His native language whispered into the growing darkness but the endearment could not help her. Hs tone had been too painful.

‘Oh, Luca…it’s unbearable, especially when you speak to me like that.’

Her voice was hardly strong enough to tremble the nearest candle flame, but there was no doubt Luca heard it. In response, he moved toward her until barely a dream could slip between them. Beth dropped her head, unable to stand the pain of feeling him so close, and yet so far away. And it was then that he placed a finger under her chin and lifted her head so her gaze connected with his.

He met no resistance as he took possession of her as easily as he had always done. Beth should have known what was coming next, but she was still surprised when his mouth closed over hers. His tongue penetrated her with all the fierce passion she craved. For a few moments it was as though they had never been apart. Beth could fool herself she had never said goodbye to him, on that last terrible night in Balacha.

Luca’s thrusting urgency fired Beth’s desperate need for him. She clung to him with urgent hands. For five years she had quashed every emotion he inspired in her. Now her feelings rushed out in a torrent of release. She fretted over his body with her lips and tongue and fingers, but as quickly as he had embraced her he stood back.

He was breathing fast; his expression was masked. Beth felt herself crumble – Luca hadn’t changed at all! Despite everything, he was, and always would be, in control. He might allow her to touch his body, but she would never reach his heart and soul. This was no bitter-sweet reconciliation between friends. All her fierce desire and need were useless in the face of his iron will. He was rejecting her as easily as he had snatched her up.

‘Don’t you want me after all?’ she asked, wide eyed with realisation.

His eyes narrowed. ‘Want, certainly. But you answer your own question with those two little words “after all”, Beth. After all that has happened over the past few years I don’t need you,’ he said, his voice dangerous and dark.

Beth felt his scorn like a blow. She tried to take a deep, steadying breath. Seconds before, the perfume of lavender and candles had seemed so romantic. Now it seared her lungs like acid.

Luca smiled, but while his mouth might have softened, his eyes did not. He was watching her like a cat watching a mouse.

‘What is the saying – “Once bitten, twice shy?” I’m surprised a clever girl like you didn’t remember that, tesoro.’

Her hands reached out to him, but dropped to her sides before they made contact. Passion was still burning within her, but he had discarded her.

‘Luca…you were enjoying yourself…The feeling wasn’t only on my side, was it?’

He gave an eloquent shrug. For a few glorious seconds, they had been pressed together so tightly, the smallest movement of his body had rubbed against hers with wicked intent.

Beth lost every shred of self-respect. She had come so far she could not give up on him now.

‘Luca…look at me, please! Then tell me you didn’t enjoy what we were doing just then.’

Candlelight flickered in the black pools of his eyes. It was a long time before he spoke.

‘I enjoyed it very much.’

He could hardly deny it. Beth had felt the unmistakeable, insistent pressure of him crushing against her. But now the look on his face mocked the flames of light dancing around the room.

‘If I wanted to, I could take you right here and now, Beth. But as it would mean nothing to either of us, there would be no point.’

‘You don’t know that.’ She looked up at him with the hopeful ghost of a smile.

‘I know enough. Self knowledge is a wonderful thing, Beth. I could have you any time I wanted, but it won’t be today.’

She took a step back and stared at him, confused.

‘What?’

He checked the Rolex on his wrist. ‘It’s getting late, Beth. My pilot will take you home, before your new neighbourhood comes alive – if you know what I mean.’

Beth groaned. The fear of what might be waiting for her back at that horrible apartment squashed all her deepest physical needs in an instant.

‘Don’t worry. I shall tell my pilot to see you right to your door,’ Luca added quickly. ‘He will have instructions not to leave until you are safely inside. And remember – don’t open that door to anyone overnight. Not even me.’

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