Andrew Rossiter was on the cusp of reformation. He could taste it, sweet as the wine Giulietta had passed him at dessert from their picnic basket, bold as the wind that whipped the sails of their little yacht, tempting as the green coast of England would be at this moment. Alas, he was cruising the Mediterranean, the city of Savona in the distance, still steeped in sin, and rather bored with it. The only saving grace was the sight of his little son drowsing on a velvet tufted cushion, his small fist curled under a distinctive Rossiter chin–square, dimpled and determined.
Of course Andrew could not claim the boy. He was Duca Alessandro di Maniero’s heir, the product of a carefully orchestrated plot to bring continued glory to the di Maniero name. It would not do for the duca’s true inclinations and shortcomings to be revealed to all the world. Andrew had been perfectly willing to assist the duca and the duchessa in their bedroom quest. The hardship was minimal. Giulietta was a lovely young woman, Alessandro bearable, and the price right, even absurdly generous. When they had invited him back to Italy to contribute further to their family, he had happily assented. The weather was perfect and there had been pressing reasons for him to escape England and his troubled past.
He doubted anyone could rival him for trouble. Or past. Perhaps he was being too maudlin what with all the wine he had drunk this afternoon, but it seemed his luck was bad. Cursed, even. Andrew was blessed with the looks of an angel, which had attracted an earthly devil to snatch him off the streets and use him without conscience from the age of seven onward. Andrew had never been innocent, even as a child, but even his ramshackle upbringing had not prepared him for Donal Stewart. Eventually it was easier to succumb to sin than fight it. If he were honest, Andrew eventually derived some succor from his sexual escapades, but they had long since lost their luster.
That was it–he’d lost his lust. He barked out a laugh and watched his child startle at the sound. The boy’s face was quite pink and damp despite the awning over the deck.
“Giulietta, let me bring Marco below. The sun is strong today.”
Giulietta looked up from her book, a wide-brimmed straw bonnet shading her face. Even in shadow, she was exquisite, a delicate blonde Venetian beauty who could have married anyone. It was her misfortune to choose a man who was entirely immune to her sex. “Si, Andrew. That is perhaps wise.”
Andrew laughed again, softer this time. No one called him wise, or at least not often. He’d taken some pains lately to buff the tarnish from his reputation, but he very much feared the black would not ever be completely eradicated. He gathered up the boy, pillow and all, and, ducking his golden head, stepped down into the little cabin. He laid the sleeping child on the bunk and plunked down on the soft chair opposite to watch over him. Marco’s favorite nursemaid had been left at the villa. Giulietta had confided that the woman became easily seasick, and wasn’t it nice to be just in famiglia?
As the duke and his duchess were the closest thing Andrew had to family now, he had readily agreed. Any opportunity to get to know his little son was welcome. The sail had been blissful so far on a perfect late summer day. The food, the wine, the amenities–Alessandro’s yacht had every comfort imaginable. Usually there was a small crew to sail the vessel through the turquoise and lapis waters—Italy’s Riviera—but today Alessandro had dismissed them and was alone at the helm, chest puffed, chubby cheeks red with exertion, his few tufts of black hair waving maniacally in the wind. Andrew had done his share earlier with lines and sails and was now pleasantly fatigued, especially after the heavy lunch that had been prepared. If he wasn’t careful, he’d wind up as fat as Alessandro and then requests for his particular skills would dry up.
And would that be such a bad thing? Andrew thought not. There was plenty of money at his bank. Sin paid well, and his investments had been remarkably successful—he was not unlucky there. He might do something useful with his life, though he could hardly think what.
A lassitude crept over him as the boat rocked through the gentle sea swells. He closed his eyes and tried to picture himself back in England. Better yet, Scotland, the place of his birth. It was safe to go back now. His ‘Uncle’ Donal was long dead, a victim of his own excessive appetites. Everyone Andrew had loved was dead, save for Caroline, and she was married and quite above his touch despite his every effort.
Bah. He’d come to Italy to run from his past. He closed his eyes and gave himself over to sleep, a sleep not as innocent as his son’s, but restful nonetheless.