The Italian's Blushing Gardener. Christina Hollis
‘To our new partnership,’ he said, his voice a sensual growl of anticipation which immediately created answering ripples in the pit of her stomach.
Determined to quell them, she snapped, ‘Are you always so openly provocative?’
He broke the tension with a sudden laugh. ‘I’ve never met another woman quite so woundingly honest! I can’t help it, I’m afraid. Some men are born to it, while others need to be coaxed out of their shell by a loving, sensitive hand.’
Kira felt colour riot in her cheeks. Before she could explode, Stefano turned his statement into a warning.
‘I am most definitely not one of those men.’
The Italian’s Blushing Gardener
About the Author
CHRISTINA HOLLIS was born in Somerset, and now lives in the idyllic Wye valley. She was born reading, and her childhood dream was to become a writer. This was realised when she became a successful journalist and lecturer in organic horticulture. Then she gave it all up to become a full-time mother of two and run half an acre of productive country garden.
Writing Mills & Boon® romances is another ambition realised. It fills most of her time, in between complicated rural school runs. The rest of her life is divided among garden and kitchen, either growing fruit and vegetables or cooking with them. Her daughter’s cat always closely supervises everything she does around the home, from typing to picking strawberries!
You can learn more about Christina and her writing at www.christinahollis.com
Recent titles by the same author:
THE FRENCH ARISTOCRAT’S BABY
THE COUNT OF CASTELFINO
THE TUSCAN TYCOON’S PREGNANT HOUSEKEEPER
THE RUTHLESS ITALIAN’S INEXPERIENCED WIFE
MILLS & BOON
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SHADOWS rippled over Kira’s slight form. She stood on the lookout of ancient pine trees guarding the Bella Terra estate, all her attention focused on the other side of the valley. Far away across the rolling grassland a white streak scarred the distant hillside. It was a road, and Kira was waiting. She was watching for the telltale cloud of white Tuscan dust that meant the end of her solitude.
Her little patch of paradise was about to be changed for ever. The land surrounding her house was up for sale. And according to Bella Terra’s estate agent, the most fantastic man in the world was interested in buying it.
Kira could not have cared less. She had moved to Italy to get away from all that. Everything she had heard so far about Signor Stefano Albani hadn’t done anything to improve her general opinion of men. He had been due to view the Bella Terra villa and estate earlier that afternoon, but he hadn’t shown up. The female estate agent had called in at Kira’s cottage, looking for him. She had been breathless with excitement and full of this charming billionaire’s flirty telephone manner, but Kira wasn’t impressed. She guessed this rogue Albani was probably more interested in women than he was in buying a big country estate.
As time went on and he still never showed up, the estate agent’s interest dwindled. She began to worry about missing her next appointment. Eventually, feeling sorry for her, Kira offered to take care of the villa’s keys and details. Dealing with strangers tied her in knots, but it didn’t look as though Signor Albani was coming, and her offer was only a ploy anyway. All she really wanted to do was get rid of the estate agent.
It worked. Her unwelcome visitor dashed off, leaving Kira alone once more.
That was exactly how she liked it.
And there were much worse ways of spending an afternoon than enjoying this view of the Bella Terra estate.
The scorching sun eventually slid behind a bank of clouds, heading for the wooded ridge on the western side of the valley. Kira began to relax. She felt more and more confident that Stefano the Seducer wouldn’t come. That was a relief to her, in more ways than one. The fewer people who viewed the estate, the longer it would take to sell. Kira didn’t care if the rambling old place stayed empty forever. Her small home was nicely isolated from the villa, although each building could see the other in the distance.
Bella Terra’s last owner, Sir Ivan, had been as reserved as Kira. They had waved to each other across the valley every day, and she had looked after the estate gardens, but that was pretty much the extent of their friendship. It had suited them both, but now Sir Ivan was dead. It was odd: in the two years since she had bought La Ritirata Kira had rarely spoken to the man except on business, yet she missed him. And now she was faced with the unknown. Whoever bought La Bella Terra was unlikely to be as peaceful and unobtrusive as the old man. She hated that thought.
She wondered if the future would seem quite so threatening if she had someone to talk to. A letter had arrived from England the previous day. Kira knew she should have sent a curt reply by return, but couldn’t bear to do it. The envelope lay where she had dropped it, unopened, on the kitchen table. She would have to release its tentacles of emotional blackmail sooner or later, but not just now.
With an effort, she tried to concentrate on the beautiful scene in front of her. The valley was a patchwork of flowery grassland and ancient woods. She strolled as far as the cool green shadows of the sweet chestnut wood. Thunderheads were forming over the hills. There would be a storm soon. That would cool everything down. She smiled. Rain would transform the single-track road leading to the Bella Terra villa into a quagmire. If Signor Albani was still on his way, that was almost guaranteed to put him off. The prospect of fighting a prestige sports car upstream like a salmon was sure to turn him back. Her little retreat would be safe for a while longer.
As Kira counted her blessings, she became aware of a subtle change in the air. All the birds fell silent. She looked around. The landscape was poised, waiting for something to happen. Then she felt a vibration. Faint at first, it rose from the ground beneath her feet like an earthquake. She started forward as a roe deer bounced through the trees behind her. With one bound it crossed the track and was gone. Still the shuddering increased, rising up through Kira’s ribcage until she looked around for somewhere to run. Instinctively, she headed out into the summer-rich pasture. The trees surrounding it had been still in the oppressive heat. Now they swayed and bucked like a wild green sea. It wasn’t an earthquake, but something even more alarming. A helicopter was sweeping in from above, and tearing Kira’s peaceful valley apart.
‘I’m going off-message for a couple of hours,’ Stefano Albani announced into his hands-free phone. ‘I’ve got the Milan project