October 4, 2002
December 1, 2003
The Doctor’s Runaway Bride
Tia knows she can’t marry Dr.Luca Zattoni. She’s pregnant as a result of their whirlwind romance, but she’s made a shocking discovery about Luca. So she leaves Venice — and the man she loves.
Luca is determined to find Tia, and soon he’s living and working alongside her again! This passionate Italian fully intends to claim his bride, and their unborn child, but first he must prove his feelings for Tia go deeper than intense physical desire….
"...a dynamic and intense read." - Romantic Times
‘I CAN’T marry him.’
Pale and shaking, Tia Franklin struggled with the zip of her sleek white wedding dress, sobbing with frustration when it stubbornly refused to budge.
‘Tia, wait – you’ll tear it -‘ Sharon, her best friend and bridesmaid, tried frantically to calm her down but Tia wasn’t taking any notice.
‘I don’t care.’ As if to prove her point, Tia jerked at the zip again, her sobs increasing as it jammed and the material ripped. ‘What does it matter? I’m not getting married now, so I certainly don’t need a dress.’
Sharon stood still, frozen with horror. ‘Tia, the wedding starts in half an hour and there are one hundred and forty guests waiting in the church -‘
‘I don’t care about that, either.’ Tia finally managed to wriggle out of the dress and stumbled across the hotel room to her suitcase, which was already packed for her honeymoon.
She released the catch and grabbed the first outfit that came to hand, tears falling steadily down her cheeks as she struggled into a pair of silk trousers and matching jacket.
Sharon was still staring at her, open-mouthed with disbelief. ‘What’s happened? You were so happy – and no wonder. Luca Zattoni is every woman’s fantasy. Rich, coolheaded, Italian, body to die for …’
Despite her tears, Tia lifted an eyebrow. ‘I thought you were a happily married woman?’
‘I am.’ Sharon looked unrepentant. ‘But there isn’t a woman alive who wouldn’t look twice at Luca. He’s sex on legs, Tia.’
Sex on legs.
Tia felt her heart beat faster. And that was the reason for the current mess. She hadn’t been able to resist the man.
Sharon sighed. ‘Tia, the entire female population is green with envy. You’re the one that he’s marrying.’
Tia lifted her chin. ‘Not any more.’
Thoroughly alarmed, Sharon bustled across to her friend and took her by the shoulders. ‘OK, calm down. Take a deep breath. Copy me …’ She breathed slowly, trying to set an example. ‘Right. That’s better. Now, then, tell me slowly, has something happened or is this just bridal nerves? I was nervous before I married Richard, you know. It’s normal to be nervous. Especially for someone with your background.’
‘It’s not nerves.’ Tia pulled away from her friend and rammed her feet into the first pair of shoes that came to hand.
Totally at a loss, Sharon backed away and turned towards the door. ‘I’ll fetch Luca.’
Dear God, no! That was the last thing she wanted.
‘I don’t want to see Luca!’ Tia’s head jerked up and the desperation in her voice stopped Sharon in her tracks. ‘I can’t. I just want to get out of here as fast as possible.’
‘Tia …’ Sharon let go of the doorhandle and tried to reason with her, her voice soothing. ‘Just because things didn’t work out for your parents, it doesn’t mean -‘
‘What?’ Tia slammed the suitcase shut and stared at her, tendrils of blonde hair escaping from what had once been an elegant chignon. ‘What doesn’t it mean? That it will all go wrong for me, too? My mother drank herself into the grave because she discovered that the man she loved – the man she trusted – had betrayed her. Kept secrets from her. Do you really think I intend to put myself in the same position?’
Clamping her teeth onto her lower lip, Tia walked back across the room and swept her make-up off the dressingtable into her handbag.
‘I don’t understand.’ Sharon looked blank. ‘I know that your father had affairs, but -‘ She broke off, her eyes widening as she registered what Tia had just said. ‘Are you saying that you think Luca is having an affair?’
Tia felt the pain, hot and fluid, pour along her veins.
‘I don’t know,’ she said honestly. ‘I think so. Maybe. He’s certainly having a serious relationship with another woman.’
‘No.’ Sharon shook her head and gave an incredulous laugh. ‘No! I don’t believe it. I never saw a man more in love with a woman than Luca is with you. He’s crazy about you.’
Tia closed her eyes and took steadying breaths.
If only …
‘Trust me on this one, Sharon,’ she said finally. ‘Luca is not in love with me.’
‘So, if he doesn’t love you, why are there one hundred and forty people waiting for you to marry him, and why am I dressed like a green blancmange?’
There was a long silence and when Tia finally spoke her voice was little more than a hoarse croak.
‘Because I’m pregnant.’
The room was suddenly deadly quiet. ‘Tia?’
‘That’s the reason he’s marrying me.’ Tia gave a wobbly smile and blushed deeply. ‘And before you say it, yes, I’m a midwife and I should know the facts of life, but somehow I forgot them when I met Luca.’
In fact, she’d forgotten pretty much everything the moment she’d set eyes on Luca.
Fundamental things like how to walk away from a man before things became serious.
The truth was that Luca Zattoni was the most overwhelmingly attractive male she’d ever met. Cool and confident and stunningly good-looking, the chemistry between them had stopped her brain from functioning from the moment they’d met.
And that moment was etched in her memory for ever.
She’d been backpacking around Europe and she’d arrived in Venice late at night. As she’d left the bus station, a group of young lads had started to bother her and she’d felt a rush of relief when a car had suddenly pulled up.
Luca had stepped out of the driver’s seat, broadshouldered and menacing as he’d strode towards the youths who had surrounded her, his glossy hair shining blue-black under the streetlamps. He was clearly a man who could handle himself in any situation and her tormenters had melted rapidly into the darkness, leaving the two of them alone.
So she’d been left standing next to an empty bus station, awkwardly muttering her thanks to this handsome Italian stranger whose dark-eyed scrutiny had made her feel decidedly light headed.
‘It’s late to be wandering the streets of Venice,’ he observed, his gaze flickering over her backpack and resting on her sturdy walking boots. ‘Can I give you a lift somewhere?’
He spoke in English and he had the sexiest voice she’d ever heard. Smooth, masculine tones tinged with enough of an Italian accent to make the blood heat in her veins.
Tia’s heart was thumping so hard she thought it might burst through her ribcage. ‘H-how did you guess that I’m English?’
‘Not difficult.’ His eyes rested briefly on her silver blonde hair and he gave her a smile that made her breathing stop. ‘Hair the colour of yours is very unusual in Italy. As you will discover if you continue to walk the streets at this time of night.’
She was still staring at him like an idiot. ‘I haven’t found anywhere to stay yet …’
‘Venice is generally a very safe city,’ he told her, ‘but a woman like you shouldn’t be walking around on her own this late.’
A woman like her …
Her eyes locked with his and something passed between them. A feeling so powerful that her knees weakened alarmingly.
His eyes held hers captive, drawing her in. ‘I would be happy to show you around and help you find somewhere to stay …’
She knew that getting into a car with a stranger was foolish in the extreme, but this man didn’t seem like a stranger and their relationship progressed so fast she barely had time to reason.
And then Tia discovered that she was pregnant.
She dragged herself back to the present, aware that Sharon was still staring at her, clearly taken aback by her announcement.