The Secret She Can't Hide

By: India Grey

Prologue



A HAZE of heat hung over the tarmac. The air was thick, acrid with the smell of hot rubber and high-octane fuel. The starting grid was thronged with reporters brandishing microphones and news crews shouldering cameras, as well as pit crews wearing overalls in their team colours and promotions girls carrying flags and wearing hardly anything at all.



Cristiano picked up his helmet and gloves and stepped out of the shade of the garages into the blazing Côte D‘ Azur sunlight. The noise of the crowd instantly doubled and reporters swooped, holding out their microphones to him. He kept his head down.



His body felt loose and heavy with the memory of last night‘s pleasure. It wasn‘t unusual for him to work off the residual adrenaline and testosterone from the qualifying session in the willing arms of one of the paddock club hostesses or pit lane beauties the night before a big race; sex was a good way of easing both the mental and physical tension of a Grand Prix weekend.



But last night hadn‘t just been sex.



   Ciao, Cristiano. Good of you to join us.‘



Silvio Girardi, Campano team boss, came forward, perspiring heavily beneath his baseball cap as he slapped Cristiano‘s shoulder. A stocky, grey-haired Neapolitan, rapid-fire sarcasm was his default setting. Right now the dial was turned to maximum.   Why you not take an extra half-hour in bed, huh? Make sure you were really rested for the race?‘



Cristiano took a mouthful of water and grimaced.   If I‘d had an extra half-hour in bed the last thing I would have been doing is resting.‘



Silvio rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air in a gesture of elaborate exasperation.   I hope that whichever cocktail waitress it was last night knows better than to kiss and tell. Our new sponsors were most particular that they don‘t want any scandal. Clearspring—it‘s water, Cristiano, not bourbon. Clean living, wholesome, for kids— comprendo? Did you see the guy from their marketing department yesterday?‘



  It wasn‘t a guy.‘



  Huh?‘ Silvio frowned.   They said they were sending their head of marketing—a Dominic someone. You‘re telling me Dominic isn‘t a guy‘s name in England?‘



  His wife went into labour unexpectedly. They sent his as sistant.‘



  A girl?‘



A ghost of a smile touched Cristiano‘s lips as he pulled on his gloves.   A girl.‘





Oh, yes. Kate Edwards was very definitely a girl.



Nervously repositioning his baseball cap, Silvio gave a snort of contempt.

  Well, I hope you were nice to her—no funny business. I need the money. You get paid millions just for showing up and sitting in a car it costs me millions to build for you. Think about it—how is this fair?‘ He was pacing around the low emerald-green car with its Clearspring banners.   Now—time for you to do some work and show what this beauty can do. You‘re in pole position. You can‘t lose.‘



With another slap on the back, he moved off to talk to the mechanics and engineers. Cristiano turned round, combing the crowd for a honey-coloured head amongst the peroxide blondes and polished brunettes.



Slim, brown arms twined around his neck, and he was enveloped in a familiar musky perfume.



  Good luck,‘ his PA whispered huskily in his ear.



Fighting irritation, he pulled away and looked over her shoulder.   Thanks, Suki.‘



Where was Kate?



  How was the interview yesterday evening with the girl from Clearspring? I hope it didn‘t drag on too long. She looked a little bit…‘ Suki‘s glossy lips twitched into a smirk   …serious.‘



  It was fine.‘ As far as he was concerned, it hadn‘t dragged on nearly long enough.   Have you seen her?‘



Suki raised one dark, perfectly arched brow.   This morning? Why would I have? Is she here?‘



‘Si.’ Cristiano‘s gaze moved restlessly over the PR girls, posing and pouting for the cameras in their team colours, and the journalists jostling for last-minute interviews. The excitement of the crowds of people packed into the grandstands and on every balcony and rooftop overlooking the street circuit was reaching fever-pitch, and the yachts sounded their horns plaintively out in Monaco harbour.



Suki shrugged her narrow shoulders in the tight-fitting Campano T-shirt.

  Well, if I see her I‘ll tell her you said hi,‘ she said coolly.   But it‘s pretty much time for you to get in the car.‘



For a second he looked at her blankly, as if what she was saying meant nothing to him. Then he shook his head curtly.   I know.‘



He turned away, thrusting his hands into his hair, gritting his teeth against a sudden urge to walk away, tear off his overalls and keep walking until he found her.



The television crew who had been talking to the team next to him on the grid finished their interview and began to head in his direction. Cristiano felt black despair pulling at him. The seconds were ticking away, and he could hear the crowd chanting his name. It was too late.





And then he saw her.



She was standing in the middle of the milling hordes of people in the pit lane, looking around. Her head was turned away from him, her face obscured for a moment by the curtain of her dark-blonde hair, but there was no mistaking the length of her legs in the faded jeans she wore, the swell of those breasts beneath the navy T-shirt she‘d picked up that morning from his bedroom floor.



He was smiling as he walked towards her, wondering how he could have missed her. Amidst all the painted pedigree grid-girls, she looked like an abandoned golden retriever puppy. He‘d noticed her as soon as he had pulled into the pit lane after qualifying yesterday, because she was so different from the standard Grand Prix girl groupies. In her businesslike grey suit, with her hair pulled back, she‘d reminded him of the clever girls at school. The ones who‘d always had clean, neat uniforms and who had done their homework on time and been held up as a shining example by the nuns.



Instead of being a waster. A no-hoper. Like him.



  Oh…‘



She turned then, her full lips parting in a gasp of surprise and relief as he took her hand and dragged her into the shadow of the pit lane garages.



Kate felt heat explode inside her, spreading upwards to her cheeks and downwards to her knickers.   I couldn‘t find you,‘ she said a little breathlessly, ducking her head and leaning it against his chest as he pulled her into his body, hiding her fiery blush.



  I‘m here.‘



  I was beginning to think that I‘d imagined it all.‘ Oh, God—did that make her sound needy? Desperate? She laughed, but there was a slight break in it.   Or that it had all been a dream.‘



  Which bit of it would you like me to reassure you was real…?‘ He lowered his head and spoke lazily into her hair, his husky voice with its outrageously sensual Italian accent sending shivers of bliss down her spine as his hands gripped her waist.   The bit in the swimming pool…or the bit in the bedroom? The kitchen floor this morning…?‘



  Shh…‘ She was laughing, gripping the edges of his racing overalls with their Clearspring logos, her face buried in his chest.   Someone might hear.‘



  Would that be so bad?‘



The laughter died and her smile faded.   It‘s not my usual style.‘ That had to be a strong contender in the   Understatement of the Year‘ competition.   We only met yesterday—I came to interview you…‘



  And to think I‘ve always hated interviews,‘ he drawled softly.   I‘d have agreed to do more if I knew they could be so much fun.‘



Kate frowned.   I hardly know you.‘





He took her chin between his fingers and tilted her head up so she had no choice but to look into those dark, bitter-chocolate coloured eyes. Famous eyes, familiar to her from television and magazines, from the countless photographs they had of him in the office, the poster on her younger brother‘s bedroom wall…



  After last night you know me better than anyone.‘



His tone was ironic, but his swarthy pirate‘s face with its high, hard cheekbones and finely shaped mouth was suddenly bleak. He shook his head slowly, thrusting a hand through his dark, deliciously untidy hair.    Gesu, Kate, I‘ve never…bared my soul like that before.‘



  Me neither.‘



Kate‘s voice was just a whisper as her mind flickered back over the last twelve extraordinary hours. There had been the sex, of course, and that had been… magical. But they had also talked. Her heart contracted painfully and her breath hitched in her throat as she remembered how he‘d lain in her arms, his voice oddly toneless as he told her about his past, the difficulties he had experienced in school that had driven him to seek success at all costs. And he had seen past the professional veneer she‘d so painstakingly constructed to the secret void of grief and terror beneath. He‘d told her that a life lived in fear was no life at all. And he‘d shown her how to shut off the anxiety and live for the moment…

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