Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

Once seen, never forgotten. Cristiano was so insanely good-looking that wherever he went, women stared. And it had driven her mad even though he’d done nothing to attract that attention except be himself.

Her need proved stronger than her willpower and she glanced sideways.

Even dressed casually in black jeans and an open-necked polo shirt he looked spectacular and her body responded instantly to the raw male power that was so much a part of who he was. He would no more have apologised for his masculinity than would his caveman ancestors. His masculinity was his pride. And she’d dealt that pride a lethal blow.

‘Why didn’t Dani come with you to meet me?’

‘My sister believes in happy endings.’

What was that supposed to mean? That Daniela thought by allowing them to be alone together they’d fall into each other’s arms and heal a rift wider than the Grand Canyon?

Laurel thought about all Dani’s clumsy matchmaking attempts at college. ‘She always did believe in fairy tales.’ A long forgotten memory appeared through the haze of misery. A child’s room, complete with a canopy bed and pretty fairy lights. Shelves of books, all portraying life as a joyful adventure. A fantasy room. Annoyed with herself for thinking of that now, she shook her head slightly, dislodging the image from her mind. ‘Dani is an incurable romantic. I guess that’s why she’s getting married despite—’ She broke off but he finished her sentence.

‘—despite witnessing the wreckage of our marital car crash? Given your relaxed attitude to marriage vows, I’m staggered that you agreed to act as maid of honour. A decision bordering on the hypocritical, don’t you think?’

He shifted the blame onto her, absolving himself of all responsibility, and Laurel didn’t bother arguing because she didn’t want to change the outcome. If he hated her, fine. If anything, his animosity helped because it poisoned those dangerous feelings that still lurked deep inside.

As for being Dani’s maid of honour—

Laurel had thought of a million reasons to say no but none of them had come out of her mouth when talking to her friend. Mistake number four, she thought. How had she made so many? ‘I’m a loyal friend.’

‘Loyal?’ Slowly and deliberately, he removed his sunglasses and looked at her, those thickly lashed dark eyes revealing the depth of his own struggle. ‘You dare speak of loyalty? Perhaps this is a language thing because we definitely don’t have the same definition of that word.’ Unlike her, he didn’t hide his emotions. Instead he spilled them over her and the more honest he was, the more she withdrew. She was struggling to handle her own feelings. She certainly couldn’t handle his.

Drowning under the full force of his contempt, she pressed herself back against the seat, trying to calm her breathing. She could have hurled her own accusations but that would have taken them back to the past and all she wanted to do was move forwards. Her limbs were trembling and the tips of her fingers were suddenly ice-cold.

Knowing how important it was to control her stress levels, she forced herself to breathe slowly. ‘If you’re going to go for one of your volatile Sicilian Mount Etna-like explosions, at least wait until we’re behind closed doors. It’s just a wedding. We can get through this without killing each other.’

‘Just a wedding? So weddings are no big deal, is that right, Laurel?’

‘Let’s not do this, Cristiano.’ He was incapable of seeing that he might have been wrong. Incapable of apologising. She knew that the absence of the word sorry from his vocabulary had nothing to do with his linguistic ability and everything to do with his ego.

‘Why? Because emotion frightens you? Admit it. You’re terrified of what you feel when you’re with me. You’ve always been terrified.’

‘Oh, please—’

‘It burns you up, doesn’t it?’ His voice was silky-smooth and dangerous. ‘It frightens you so badly you have to push it away. That’s why you left.’

‘You think I left because I was afraid of how much I loved you?’ Outrage lit the fires of her own response. ‘You are so unbelievably arrogant you need a whole island just to house your ego. Are you sure Sicily is big enough? Maybe you should buy Sardinia, too!’

‘I’m working on it.’ His laconic reply was delivered without a hint of irony. ‘If you’re so indifferent, then why haven’t you been back?’

‘There was nothing to come back for.’ And every reason to stay away. Laurel stared straight forward, trying to control her thoughts, feeling his gaze on her.

‘You look good. Relieving all that stress with exercise?’

‘Fitness is my job. It’s how I earn my living. And I’m back because of your sister, not because of u—’ the word jammed itself on all the barriers she’d erected between them ‘—you or me.’

‘You can’t even say it, can you? Us, tesoro. The word you struggle with is us. But the concept of being part of an us has always been your biggest challenge.’ Cristiano lounged back in his seat, relaxed and maddeningly sure of himself. ‘Probably best not to use the word loyal again in reference to yourself, either. That one really presses my buttons. I’m sure you understand.’