A Gift for a Lion

A Gift for a Lion by Sara Craven Read Free Book Online

Book: A Gift for a Lion by Sara Craven Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sara Craven
desperately that the only thing to do was brazen it out.
    'If that is the case, then I'm sorry,' she said. 'I—I didn't realise this was private property. I can assure you I won't make the same mistake again.'
    'But you will make different mistakes,' he said slowly. 'The mistake of lying to me, for example.'
    'I haven't lied to you,' she protested, aware of the telltale pounding of her pulses.
    'No? Then it was not you who danced in a bar at Calista last night? It was not you who quarrelled with your friends when you were all warned quite clearly to keep away from this place? The warning seemed definite enough to your friends. You are the only one who has chosen to disregard it. The only thing that need concern us now is your reason for doing so.'
    Joanna was silent. She realised she would rather die than admit to this haughty Italian—bandit—that she had come to Saracina out of sheer wilful perversity, precisely because she had been told not to.
    'My reasons are private and need concern no one but myself.' she said eventually. 'It's true I was warned against coming here and equally true that I'm sorry I ever set foot on the place. Is that enough for you?'
    'Alas, no.' If the words were regretful, the tone was not. 'You came, and for the present you must stay.'
    'Indeed?' Joanna's nails bit into the palms of her clenched hands. 'You may change your mind when you hear who I am. My father is not entirely without influence, and when he hears about this—outrage…'
    The only outrage has been committed by yourself. You have trespassed where you had no right.' He sounded almost bored. 'And your identity is no mystery, Signorina Leighton.'
    He opened a drawer in the desk and removed a folder which he tossed across the polished surface to her. Joanna opened it almost mechanically, numbly registering that her name was neatly printed on the manilla cover. Inside there was a photograph of herself, blown up from a newsprint of some mouths before, she noticed, as well as every press cutting in which she had ever been mentioned, all neatly tabulated.
    'Where did you get hold of this?' she demanded huskily, throwing it down on the desk so that some of the contents spilled out.
    'That need not concern you,' he said. 'But it may help to convince you of my sincerity when I say that your identity makes no difference to me at all. You are a very well known young woman.'
    'And my father is a very well known man,' she completed for him, savagely. 'So you're going to hold me for ransom?'
    He sighed elaborately. 'No,
signorina
, I am not.' He opened the file again and looked at some of the cuttings, his brows raised. 'But if I did, what price would you put upon yourself, I wonder? Not very high, perhaps, if these are anything to go by.'
    She felt her cheeks grow warm. 'Are you sure they tell the whole story?' she asked, wondering why she should attempt to justify herself to this man.
    'Young, spoiled, headstrong—the pattern doesn't seem to have altered greatly.' He closed the folder and tossed it back into the drawer.
    'You seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble.'
    'It is one way to become acquainted with a prospective guest.'
    Joanna's legs were shaking under her. Frowning a little, he waved her towards a highbacked chair with a leather seat, similar to the one he was already occupying. 'Sit down,
signorina
, before you fall down. My floor is hard and it would be a pity to bruise a second time such exquisite and utterly pampered skin.'
    She sat frozen as the implication of what he had said sank in.
    'Whose dressing gown is this?' she asked unsteadily.
    'It's one of mine.' He spread his hands in a mockery of an apology. 'It is not worthy of you,
signorina
, but with no women in the
palazzo
, suitable garments were difficult to come by in an emergency.'
    'Emergency?' This wasn't—couldn't be happening to her. It was a nightmare, and oh God, let her waken from it soon.
    His voice went on. 'Your clothing—such as it was— was soaked

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