Pia Renfern's holiday planning is easy--relaxation and recuperation are the only things on her to-do list! And she can't imagine they'll be too difficult in the beautiful, exclusive Italian village of Positano....
But before she's even out of the airport Pia's heart is racing, her skin tingling and her mind filled with wild, uninhibited images of a holiday fling! The culprit? Valentino Silvestri--glorious Italian demigod and Pia's new next-door neighbor... With him on her doorstep each day, how is a girl ever meant to wind down?
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Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
July 01, 2012
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Excerpt from The Italian Next Door... by Anna Cleary
Passion was the last thing on Pia Renfern's mind when she approached the row of car-hire booths at Rome's Fiumicino airport preparing to take a massive risk and drive on the wrong side of the road. But sometimes, in a foreign land, things happened beyond the control of the most careful people.
Da Vinci Auto looked the most likely of the hire places. Parking her baggage trolley by the counter, Pia assumed a bright, breezy smile for the clerk. 'Mi scusi, signora, can you tell me the cost of hiring a car for the day?'
The woman's shrewd gaze appraised Pia right through to her tender Australian conscience, which had only known the left hand side of any road it had ever travelled.
'For one day, signorina?'
'Yes, I only need it for the one. Just to get me to Positano.' The clerk's eyebrows arched high, and Pia felt obliged to explain. 'You see, my flight was late and I've missed the bus I was booked on. I'd have caught a train, but with the train strike...' She made a rueful gesture. She tried a smile, but after the stresses of a twenty-four-hour flight, it was a little wobbly. 'I've tried taxis but none of the drivers will agree to take me that far.'
The woman examined all five feet four of Pia from her blonde short cut, down to her blue suede jacket, travel-weary jeans and ankle boots.
'May I see your passport, signorina? And your driving authority?'
Pia sensed a presence loom up behind her like a brooding shadow. As she handed over her documents she noticed the clerk's glance flit to somewhere above and beyond her head. For the first time the woman's face burst into beaming smiles. Ah, signore. Saro con Lei frapoco.'
Pia glanced behind. An Italian man was standing there, leaning negligently on the towing handle of his suitcase. He was at least six feet tall, probably seven, with thick brows and intelligent dark eyes that connected at once with hers and gleamed with a disturbing boldness that zinged through her like a chemical infusion.
Pia turned sharply back to the woman. She shouldn't have looked. If there was one thing she wasn't ready for, it was big, lean and hungry and packed with testosterone, however handsome it might appear.
Valentino Silvestri, on the other hand, just flown in from Tunis after coordinating Interpol's latest gruelling assault on the narcotics trade, felt a strange frisson prickle the nape of his neck and shiver down his spine.
He willed the pretty blonde to turn around again for another glimpse of her arresting blue eyes. Deprived of the face, he allowed his appreciative gaze to wander further.
Below the hem of her jacket, her blue jeans cupped a luscious little behind as sweetly rounded as an apricot. His mouth watered. Dio, how he yearned for a woman.
Pia held her breath while the clerk perused the passport with a frown while at the same time assaulting her keyboard with swift staccato fingers.
The woman glanced up. 'Were you hoping for a large car, signorina, or small?'
Relieved the woman was unconcerned about sides of roads, Pia ignored the dark eyes burning through the back of her neck. 'Oh, small. Small will be fine. Grazie.'
Her optimism rose. With a bit of luck she could reach her safe haven well before nightfall. Things were starting to look promising, though she had to admit to a few qualms about actually taking the car on the roads once she had it in her possession. Lucky she'd had the forethought to obtain an international licence before she left home just in case of emergencies like this, though her mother had pleaded with her never to use it.
But she was no longer the bundle of nerves she'd been a few months ago when she'd had the post-traumatic stress disorder. If there was one affliction Pia Renfern was now officially free and clear of, it was PTSD in all its insidious, debilitating, creepy manifestations. She was over it, and courage was now her middle name. Just let anyone try to contradict her.
Anyway, driving on the other side of the road couldn't be so hard. Other people did it. Lauren, her cousin, drove all over Italy without mishap. Pia was certain she could manage it if she avoided the super highways and used less popular byways.
Her driving record was pretty good, apart from a few minor parking violations. There was that time she'd had her licence suspended for frequent and incorrigible speeding, but that was ages ago when she'd just passed her test. Lucky the international licence showed nothing of her reckless past.
The woman looked up. 'Where are you wishing to return the car, Miss Renfern?'
'Do you have an office in Positano?'
'No, signorina.' The woman's face grew serious. 'Positano has very few spaces for cars. You may perhaps drive to our office in Sorrento then take the bus. Are you familiar with the area?'
'Not exactly. Won't the car have sat nav?' There was a sudden movement behind her. 'Scusi, signorina.'
Pia glanced around in surprise. 'Sorry?'
The man stepped forward, his dark eyes glinting with an intent light. Pia's throat dried and a fluttery sensation inhabited her chest. He really was handsome, with cheekbones and shadow on his firm, chiselled jaw. His eyebrows bristled with purpose. They were the most stirring she'd ever laid eyes on, while the casual elegance of his black leather jacket, white open-necked shirt and jeans did nothing to diminish the pleasing athleticism of his lean, powerful build.
He was at least a millimetre too close, bearing down on her and sending all her alarm sensors into total chaos. She took a step backwards from those compelling dark eyes and found herself pressed up against the counter.
'I couldn't help overhearing, signorina. You are travelling to Positano?' His voice was deep and appealingly accented, despite the seriousness of his tone.
'Are you aware that the roads near Sorrento are very narrow and built on the edges of cliffs?' His dark eyes scanned her face like a searchlight.
'Well, yes, I suppose. So...?' She could feel her resistance rising to this intrusion. So the roads were narrow. Was he suggesting she wasn't capable? She felt her neck grow hot, conscious of the car-hire woman listening to every word with close attention. A stillness seemed to fall on the neighbouring booths, as if their staff, their customers, the entire airport had all paused to listen.
In an effort to dampen the guy's damned cheek, Pia zapped him with a cool smile. 'What's your point, signore?'
'The traffic along those roads is heavy and dangerous. Even very experienced drivers from the locality find it so.' His intelligent dark eyes were serious, his hands eloquent. 'Permit me, signorina, but I notice that you speak like an Australian. Have you ever before driven a car in a right-hand-traffic situation?'