The Hidden Heart of Rico Rossi

Available in stores

Mills & Boon Modern

Aug 2012

ISBN: 9780263893199


Also released as:

  • Australian paperback (date tbc, ISBN: tbc).


Behind the Book

Rome. A city I'd always wanted to visit. And so had my heroine. So it just had to be the setting for my 50th Mills & Boon, and I really, really enjoyed our research trip.

My favourite buildings in Rome (the Colosseum - so much that I actually bought a Colosseum-shaped bead for my Pandora bracelet - and the Pantheon) make an appearance. As does the riscio ride my research team insisted on in the Borghese Park!

Rico had a tough time growing up, so he doesn't trust anyone and keeps his heart firmly under wraps. But then he meets Ella - who has real issues about liars since she caught her ex with one of his students and also from her family background.

But Ella has won the lottery - and she's about to fulfil a few dreams, such as visiting Rome and starting up her own business. And when she has a fling with Rico and discovers that he, too, has lied to her, how can Rico overcome her barriers as well as his own?

I've dedicated the books to my research team (who were very patient about, ahem, walking past the Colosseum every single day in our week in Rome).

The book's recipe just has to be cupcakes, given Ella's business!

The book's soundtrack

Def Leppard all the way. Worse still, only two tracks, so my playlist drove everyone crazy!

  • Tonight - the acoustic version, and the two bits that so fit the book are when Joe asks for "love with no disguise" and sings that "if it pleases you, it pleases me". Oh, yes.
  • Love (piano version) - pretty much sums up Rico.

Read a Bit


'Um, mi scusi?' Ella dredged up the little Italian she'd learned from the phrasebook as she stood at the hotel's reception desk. 'I think I have a sightseeing tour booked this morning?'

', Signora Chandler. With me.'

Ella's jaw almost dropped as she turned round to see who'd spoken. This couldn't be her tour guide, surely? The man looked more a model for a perfume ad. He was tall, with slightly dishevelled dark hair held back from his eyes by a pair of sunglasses, dark eyes with unfairly long lashes, and the most sinful mouth she'd ever seen.

He spoke perfect English, with the slightest, sexiest hint of an accent. And she was going to have to keep her libido on an extremely tight leash. No doubt the man was used to English tourists who were too full of hormones melting at his feet and he knew how to deal with them kindly; all the same, Ella didn't want to make a fool of herself. She'd already done that quite enough, this past year.

'I, um, buongiorno.' She held out her hand.

When he took it, it felt as if her temperature had just gone up five degrees.

This was crazy. How could she possibly react like this to a complete stranger – a man she'd only just met and knew nothing about, other than that he was an employee of the hotel where she was staying?

Not that he was wearing a uniform like the other staff. He was wearing a crisp white shirt, the neck unbuttoned far enough to show that there was a light sprinkling of hair on his chest and the sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows, teamed with stone-coloured chinos and boat shoes that would be comfortable for a long day's walking tour of the city. Casual, and yet utterly, utterly stylish, as only the Italians could be.

Ella's best friend Julia would immediately dub him sex on legs. And she'd be right on the money. He was gorgeous.

'Are you ready, Signora Chandler?' he asked politely.

No, not in a million years. 'Of course,' she fibbed, forcing herself to sound as professional as she would to one of her clients.

'I'm Rico,' he said.

Why did her tongue feel as if someone had glued it to the roof of her mouth? 'Uh – Ella,' she responded, hating the fact that she sounded so pathetic and gauche.

'Ella.' Her name sounded like a caress, the way he said it.

Help. She really needed to remind herself that she was twenty-eight, not seventeen. And she knew only too well that charm like his was all surface and no substance. Been there, done that and worn the T-shirt to shreds.

'Shall we go?'

'Sure.' She gave him her best attempt at a sensible smile.

'So this is your first time in Rome, and you want a tour of the major sights, ?'

'Ancient Rome, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain,' she confirmed.

'Bene. Then we'll start with the Colosseum. Apart from the fact that it's the nearest site to the hotel, the queues are relatively short at this time of day.'

She followed him out of the hotel and resisted the urge to pinch herself. She, Ella Chandler, was actually in Rome - The Eternal City. The place she'd wanted to visit for years, though they'd never been able to afford a holiday when she was small; by the time she was earning enough to pay her way, her friends had talked her into going somewhere else with them. This time, she was pleasing herself. Visiting the place that had captured her imagination as a child, far more than tales of princesses and castles.

'I've always wanted to come to Rome, ever since I saw a picture of the Colosseum in a book as a little girl,' she said to Rico. 'I mean, I know it's not one of the official Seven Wonders of the World, but to me it was.'

'It's the largest surviving ancient Roman building,' he said. 'It's not quite as well preserved as somewhere else I'll take you to see today, but it's still pretty spectacular.'

He told her about the history of the place as they walked down the street, and Ella found herself relaxing with him. Then, as they reached the bottom of the street, she stopped dead and just stared.

'Wow. I can't believe we were just walking down a modern street with modern shops and houses – and here it is. Right in the middle of things.' The ruin was huge and just… awesome. There was no other word for it. Up close, the Colosseum was exactly what she'd always thought it would be like, really living up to her dream.

'That's one of the things about Rome,' he said with a shrug. 'A building might look modern, but beneath it there's likely to be the foundations of something like this.'

Clearly he was used to it; didn't they say that familiarity bred contempt? He didn't seem anywhere near as impressed by it as Ella was. But she was entranced by the sheer majesty of the ruin; and she was glad that Rico was sensitive enough to let her absorb the atmosphere rather than breaking it up with chatter.


She was gorgeous, Rico thought as he looked at Ella. Very much an English rose with that pale skin, golden-brown hair tied back at the nape of her neck, and blue-grey eyes. An old quote floated into Rico's head: non Angli, sed angeli. Not English, but angels.

Ella Chandler was as beautiful as any Botticelli angel. Particularly as she didn't seem to be the slightest bit aware of how lovely she was. And she had a natural beauty – not like half the guests in his hotels, who were manicured and spray-tanned and coiffeured to within an inch of their lives.

Why was she on her own in Rome? He knew that she was booked in to the honeymoon suite, but he also knew that she'd signed in as Ms Chandler rather than Mrs. So had this trip to Rome originally been planned as a honeymoon? Maybe her fiancé had let her down at the last minute, and she'd decided not to waste the booking and had come to Rome on her own. Or was there some other reason?

Rico reminded himself that it was nothing to do with him. He was her tour guide today simply as part of his ongoing review of the Rossi hotel chain, checking that they were meeting their customers' needs with every single service they offered. Right now, that meant taking Ella Chandler through the fast-track queue to a place she'd wanted to visit for years and years and years, and making her dreams come alive.

'I never expected to see gladiators and emperors everywhere,' she said, smiling as she saw the characters wandering round.

'It's fun and adds to the atmosphere,' he agreed. 'But I'd say just enjoy the view, unless you want to pay through the nose for having your photograph taken with them.'

'Oh. So they're not official – not part of the Colosseum itself?' She looked disappointed, and then slightly wary.

'They're freelance. And sometimes they can be a bit pushy. But they won't be pushy with you, because you're with me.' He smiled. 'And I'm happy to take as many photographs for you as you wish. It's all part of the tour service.'

'Thank you.'

Once they were through the entrance and he'd paid for the tickets, Rico took Ella through into the building, showing her where the different classes of people would have sat to enjoy the shows. He took photographs of her with the iconic arches of the Colosseum behind her and a view over the arena and the basement; even though she was wearing sunglasses in the bright Roman sunlight, he could tell that her smile reached her eyes. And her pleasure in the place was infectious. He'd grown used to thinking of it as just one of the buildings near his hotel. But seeing Ella's reaction made him look at the building again. And he could see what she saw: a truly spectacular place, more than just the iconic symbol of the city. This was the epicentre, where emperors had held processions and entertained the entire city. Where ordinary people had seen lions and bears and elephants, creatures they would never see in their daily lives.

On the second floor, he took her through to the temporary exhibition. 'Apart from the written sources we have, the graffiti gives us a pretty good idea of the kind of spectacles people saw here.' He showed her a leaping wolf scratched into the stone, and a gladiator fighting with a net. Ella pushed her sunglasses up to rest on the top of her head so she could take a closer look, and the expression of sheer wonder in her eyes fascinated him. How long had it been since something had enthralled him like that?

Too many years to count.

At thirty, Rico was jaded way beyond his years – and he knew it.

Not that he was going to beat himself up about it. He didn't have time. He had an empire to run.

When they left the Colosseum, Rico took Ella past Constantine's triumphal arch. 'This is my favourite view of the building,' he said, stopping to give her time to turn round and look her fill.

'It's spectacular. Everything I thought it would be,' she said softly. 'Thank you so much.'

'Hey, it's my job,' he said. Mainly to remind himself that she was a client, and that made her off limits. And even if she wasn't off limits, she wasn't his type. He always dated tall, slender, sophisticated women who knew the rules and didn't make any emotional demands on him. In return, he gave them the lifestyle they wanted. Temporarily. Nobody had ever tempted him to make it permanent.

He forced his thoughts back to the job in hand. 'Let me show you through the Forum, next.'

'Is this the place where Marc Antony did the speech – well, according to Shakespeare?' she asked.

He laughed. 'Yes. Normally you can hear half the tour guides declaiming it.' He pointed to some columns in the distance. 'The spot where he gave the funeral oration is at the New Rostrum – over there by the Temple of Saturn.'

'Is that what you do, as a tour guide? Declaim the speech?'

She had dimples, he noticed. The cutest, cutest dimples.

And it took Rico a real effort to concentrate on her question instead of reaching over to touch her cheek, to find out if her skin was as soft as it looked. What on earth was wrong with him? He never got distracted like this. Ever. 'I can do. Unless you'd rather do it?'

'I know it's a bit touristy, but would you mind if I did?'

'Sure. Do you have a video setting on your camera? I could film it for the people back home, if you like.'

'That's so nice of you.'

No, he most definitely wasn't nice. His last girlfriend had said he was a machine, totally focused on his work – because he'd refused to change the rules for her. But he supposed that Rico the tour guide would be nice, at least on the surface.

From the book The Hidden Heart of Rico Rossi by Kate Hardy.

Harlequin Mills & Boon Modern Heat
Publication Date: August 2012
ISBN: 9780263893199
Copyright © 2012 by Pamela Brooks
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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