Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

Santo glowered at her, his expression uncensored.

Laurel met that threatening stare without flinching. Despite his heightened emotions, Cristiano felt a flicker of reluctant admiration. Here she was, surrounded by people who felt nothing but animosity for her and she faced them head on. She barely reached his shoulder and yet it didn’t occur to her to back down. Laurel was a fighter.

And that was part of the problem, he thought wearily. She was so used to defending herself that persuading her to lower her guard was virtually impossible.

Knowing that if they were to stand any chance of getting through the evening without an explosion he had to be the one to keep things calm, Cristiano stepped forward and took control. ‘Is Daniela here?’

‘She’s waiting to make an entrance.’ Santo’s icy gaze was fixed on Laurel, who stared right back, almost willing him to come at her.

Eyeing the stubborn lift of her chin, Cristiano felt a flash of exasperation. ‘You’re neglecting our guests, Santo.’ Deciding that a show of solidarity would calm the situation, he forced himself to take Laurel’s hand and was shocked to find it ice-cold. Her fingers shook slightly in his. Surprised by that outward manifestation of emotion, he glanced at her face but she wasn’t looking at him. Instead she tugged at her hand but he held her fast. Perhaps if he’d done that two years ago she wouldn’t have flown, he thought grimly. Her crazy, disastrous childhood had left her with insecurities deeper than the ocean. On the surface she was a bright, competent businesswoman. Underneath she was emotional quicksand. He’d thought he could cope with that. He’d thought he was sane and well adjusted enough for both of them. He’d been wrong.

As Santo turned away to greet some guests, Laurel turned to Cristiano with a fierce stare. ‘You don’t need to protect me.’

Cristiano released her. ‘I wasn’t protecting you. I was protecting my family. This is Dani’s night and we don’t need a scene.’

‘I had no intention of creating a scene. You’re the ones who can’t hang onto your emotions. I’m perfectly in control.’

And that was the problem. It had always been the problem.

Cristiano bit back the comment he wanted to make. ‘We’re not going to do this, Laurel. Not here. Not now.’

‘I don’t want to do it at all.’

‘Laurie?’ Daniela’s voice came from behind them and then there was a flash of vivid green and a soft swish of silk as she pushed past Santo and flung her arms around Laurel. ‘You’re here! I have so much to tell you. I need to sneak you away for just five minutes so that I can show you something.’ Without giving Laurel the chance to respond, she took her hand and drew her away from Cristiano and towards the villa.

And Cristiano watched her go, wondering how his sister had managed to penetrate that protective shell while he’d been locked out.

Having dispatched the latest arrivals to the terrace with a glass of champagne, Santo joined him, his face like a storm cloud.

‘Why did you agree to this?’ ‘It was what Dani wanted.’

‘But the last thing you need. Tell me that you’re not, even for a moment, thinking of taking her back.’

Cristiano watched Laurel from the terrace, arm in arm with his sister. She moved with the grace of a dancer and the strength of an athlete, the subtle sway of her hips unconsciously sensual. Her knowledge of sports physiology was encyclopaedic and as for how she was in bed—

He clenched his jaw. ‘I’m not thinking of taking her back.’

‘No?’ Santo’s eyes followed a pretty blonde as she walked past and waved at him. ‘Some men wouldn’t blame you if you did. Laurel is undeniably hot.’

‘If you don’t want to give our sister away with a black eye,’ Cristiano growled, ‘don’t describe my wife as “hot”.’

‘She isn’t your wife. She’s your soon-to-be ex-wife. The sooner the better.’

‘I thought you liked Laurel?’

‘That was before she left you.’ Santo was still looking at the blonde. ‘My advice? She isn’t worth the effort. Let some other man have her.’

A red mist rose up from nowhere and the next minute Cristiano had smashed his fist into his brother’s jaw and had him pinned against the wall.

It took Santo a moment to recover from the shock and then he hurled his weight against his brother and switched positions. This time it was Cristiano who found himself slammed against the wall. Hard stone pressed through the thin silk of his shirt and he felt the iron strength in his brother’s hands holding him trapped. Trapped, along with all that anger.

‘Basta! Stop, the pair of you.’ It was Carlo, a lifelong friend of Cristiano’s who was also the family lawyer handling the divorce. He wrenched the two men apart and stood between them as Santo touched his fingers to his bruised jaw, his eyes on Cristiano.

Slowly, Carlo released his grip on Santo’s shoulder. ‘Calma.

Calm down. I haven’t seen the two of you fight since you were sixteen. What is going on here?’

Santo’s eyes were fixed on his brother. ‘I suggested he should let another man have Laurel.’