Dismissed & Discarded: can he deny the forgotten Corretti?

Zach Scott wakes from nightmares to the echo of gunfire. So when he stirs from a trance and finds himself not in his fighter jet but at a party, pressed up against the soft, womanly figure of Lia Corretti, he quickly rages against her sweet pity.

For years the forgotten Corretti has hidden her pain behind a façade. So Lia recognises the shadows in Zach’s eyes. But there’s nothing familiar about the hot heat of Zach as he traps her to him. Can she lower her guard long enough to let him see all of her?

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His head whipped around, his gaze clashing with the woman’s who’d moved through the crowd unseen and now stood before him. Shock coursed through him. It was as if he’d blinked and found himself whisked back to a different party. Almost against his will, his body responded to the stimulus of seeing her again. He wasn’t so inexperienced as to allow an unwanted erection, but a tingle of excitement buzzed in his veins nevertheless.

Lia Coretti gazed up at him, her blue-green eyes filled with some emotion he couldn’t place. Her dark red hair was twisted on her head, a few strands falling free to dangle over one shoulder. She was wearing a black dress with high heels and a simple pair of diamond earrings.

She wasn’t dripping in jewels like so many of the women in this room, yet she looked as if she belonged. The woman who’d been talking to him had thankfully melted away, her attention caught by someone else.

“Hello, Lia,” he said, covering his shock with a blandness that belied the turmoil raging inside him. He spoke as if it hadn’t been a month, as if they’d never spent two blissful nights together. As if he didn’t care that she was standing before him when what he really wanted to ask her was what the hell she was doing here.

But he was afraid he knew. It wouldn’t be the first time a woman he’d slept with had gotten the wrong idea. He was a Scott, and Scotts were accustomed to dealing with fortune hunters. She hadn’t seemed to be that type of woman, but clearly he’d been wrong.

He noticed that her golden skin somehow managed to look pale in the ballroom lights. Tight. There were lines around her lips, her eyes. She looked as if she’d been sick. And then she closed her eyes, her skin growing even paler. Instinctively, Zach reached for her arm.

He didn’t count on the electricity sizzling through him at that single touch, or at the way she jerked in response.

“I’m sorry,” she said in English, her accent sliding over the words. “I shouldn’t have come here. I should have found another way.”

“Why are you here?” he demanded, his voice more abrupt than he’d intended it to be.

She looked up at him, her eyes wide and earnest. Innocent. Why did he think of innocence when he thought of Lia? They’d had a one night—correction, two night—stand, but he couldn’t shake the idea that the woman he’d made love to had somehow been innocent before he’d corrupted her.

“I-I need to tell you something.”

“You could have called,” he said coolly.

She shook her head. “Even if you had given me your number…” She seemed to stiffen, her chin coming up defiantly. “It is not the kind of thing one can say over the phone.”

Zach took her by the elbow, firmly but gently, and steered her toward the nearest exit. She didn’t resist. They emerged from the crowded ballroom onto a terrace that overlooked the golf course. It was dark, but the putting green was lit and there were still players practicing their swings.

He let her go and moved out of her orbit, his entire body tight with anger and restlessness. “And what do you wish to say to me, Lia?”

He sounded cold and in control. Inhuman. It was precisely what he needed to be in order to deal with her. He’d let himself feel softer emotions when he’d been with her before, and look where that had gotten him. If he’d been more direct, she wouldn’t be here now. She would know that her chances of anything besides sex from him were non-existent.
He would not make that mistake again.

Lia blinked. Her tongue darted out over her lower lip, and a bolt of sensation shot through him at that singular movement. His body wanted to react, but he refused to let it. She was a woman like any other, he reminded himself. If sex was what he wanted, he had only to walk back in that ballroom and select a partner.

Her gaze flicked to the door. “Perhaps we should go somewhere more private.”

“No. Tell me what you came to say, and then go back to your hotel.”

She seemed taken aback at the intensity of his tone. She ran a hand down her dress nervously, and then lifted it to tuck one of the dangling locks of hair behind her ear. “You’ve changed,” she said.

He shook his head. “I’d think, rather, that you do not know me.” He spread his hands wide. “This is who I am, Lia. What I am.”

She looked hurt, and he felt an uncharacteristic pinch in his heart. But he knew how to handle this. He knew the words to say because he’d said a variation of them countless times before.

“Palermo was fun. But there can be nothing more between us. I’m sorry you came all this way.”

He’d expected her to crumple beneath the weight of his words. She didn’t. For a long moment, she only stared at him. And then she drew herself up, her eyes flashing. It was not the response he expected, and it surprised him. Intrigued him too, if he were willing to admit it.

“There can be more,” she said firmly. “There must be more.”

Zach cursed himself. Why, of all the possible women in the world, had he chosen this one to break his long sexual fast with? He’d known there was something innocent about her, something naïve. He should have sent her back to her room. Unfortunately, his brain had short-circuited the instant all the blood that should have powered it started flowing south.

And it had kept short-circuiting for two long nights and an ill-advised day spent walking around Palermo like a happy couple.

“I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea, sugar,” he began.

She didn’t let him finish. Her brows drew down angrily as she closed the distance between them and poked him hard in the chest with a manicured finger. He was too stunned to react. “The wrong idea?” she demanded.

She swore in Italian, curses that somehow sounded so pretty but were actually quite rude if translated. Zach was bemused in spite of himself.

“There were consequences to those two days,” she flashed. “For both of us, bello.”

Ice shot down his spine, sobering him right up again.

“What are you talking about?” he snapped.

Her lips tightened. And then she said the words that sliced through him like a sword thrust to the heart.

“I’m pregnant, Zach. With your baby.”