House of Sin, Book Four
I felt like shit. No, worse than shit. I felt like dry, stale, week-old horse shit.
Unable to lie still any longer, I shoved the throw from my legs and pushed off the couch where I’d crashed sometime around four a.m. I’d dozed maybe an hour, but I hadn’t been able to fall asleep thanks to the stress churning inside me over the day that lay ahead.
Growing grouchier by the second, I shuffled into the kitchen in my wrinkled clothes and filled the coffee pot with fresh water. I wasn’t going to be able to relax until Natalie was out of this damn country. Yeah, I was confident she was safe here on Marco’s property, but I wasn’t at all confident she’d stay put behind the estate’s walls.
Natalie James—correction, Natalie Salvatici—had an unpredictable independent streak that made me crazy, and just contemplating all the wild ways she might defy me while we were here…
I flipped the water off and drew a deep breath as I stood over the sink, fighting back an insatiable arousal I had no right to feel and a blistering heat that crossed the fucking wires in my brain.
Last night, it had taken every ounce of willpower I possessed not to toss her on that king-sized bed and ravish her. If she’d made any snarky comment when I’d left the room, I’m not sure I’d have been able to resist the urge. But she’d kept her tempting mouth closed. And she hadn’t come looking for me when I didn’t later join her in the one bedroom in this damn tiny cottage. As far as I knew, she didn’t even wonder where I’d gone.
I told myself not to be disappointed by that fact as I shifted my bare feet against the cold tile floor and moved to the coffeemaker. It was better for both of us if we didn’t get distracted by anything emotional or sexual the next few days. Safer too. The last time I’d let myself be distracted by her…
My throat closed as I snapped the lid shut on the coffee machine and hit the start button. Yeah, the last time I’d been distracted by that kind of shit, I’d nearly gotten Natalie killed.
For the next twenty minutes, I focused on making breakfast, a mundane task that took my mind off Natalie and my miserable family. Marco and Fee had stocked the kitchen with everything we’d need for a month—fresh meats from the local butcher, vegetables, and fruits I was sure they’d grown on the property, and pastries and breads I knew their family cook Lucilla had prepared.
Shuffling sounded at my back just as I was finishing the first omelet, followed by a gasp and muttered, “Wow.”
My blood ran hot at the sound of Natalie’s soft voice, but I willed myself to stay in control. As I should have stayed in control from the first moment I’d met her.
“Pretty sure that wow is for the view and not my cooking. Sit down. Breakfast is ready.”
She pulled out the chair with a squeak of the legs against the slate floor. As I shifted the omelet to her plate and added some of the breakfast potatoes I’d made earlier, I caught her wide-eyed stare from the corner of my vision as she looked out at the crystal blue lake framed by towering trees and rolling green hills.
“I thought I saw water last night,” she said, “but I had no idea. It’s gorgeous. Where are we again? This doesn’t look like the mountainous region where your parents live.”
“It’s not.” I set the plate and utensils in front of her. “We’re about forty-five minutes south of them, outside Siena.”
I couldn’t quite tell if that “oh” was “oh good,” or “oh bad,” and I didn’t feel like asking. Moving to the counter, I poured a fresh cup of coffee, stirred in cream and sugar, and brought it to the table for her.
She glanced from the steaming cup up to my face and said, “Thanks.” And for a split second, I saw what I’d missed earlier because I hadn’t been able to look fully at her.
Her eyes were bloodshot and slightly puffy around the outer edges. And dark crescents marred the soft skin beneath her lower lashes, telling me she hadn’t gotten much more sleep than me.
Guilt stabbed right through the center of my chest. Guilt not just for bringing her here, but because I was the reason for her lack of sleep and red-rimmed eyes.
I averted my gaze and quickly moved back to the stove, focusing on making another omelet so I wouldn’t do or say anything to make the situation worse. With a sigh, she picked up her fork and began eating.
Silence filled the kitchen, punctuated only by the sound of the frying pan moving against the stovetop or her utensil scraping her plate.
Tension crackled between us as I flipped off the stove, slid my food to a second plate, and took it and my nearly cold coffee to the other side of the table. A tension I knew she felt too by the way she stiffened and watched me with wary eyes.
I focused on eating, hoping the food would help ease the knot of stress in my gut. By the time I finished, that knot wasn’t any better, especially when I noticed Natalie had barely touched her food.
Shit. I needed more caffeine for this.
Pushing up from the table, I glanced at her cup. “You want more coffee?”
She looked down at the half-empty mug and shrugged. “I guess.”
I guess. Man, we were well on our way to convincing everyone we were madly in love.
I took both mugs to the counter and refilled them, the whole time pondering what the hell I could say to break the tension. Everything churning in my head sounded stupid as fuck. Moving back to the table, I set her mug in front of her, sat back in my chair, and wrapped both hands around my cup, deciding enough was enough.