Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

Laurel felt like a matador trapped with a very angry bull with nothing for protection but her own anger. And that anger burned slow and dangerous because he was behaving as if he’d played no part in the demise of their relationship.

He just couldn’t see it, she thought numbly. He just didn’t see what he’d done wrong.

And that made it a thousand times worse.

One sorry might have healed it, but to say sorry Cristiano would first have had to admit fault.

Reminding herself of her determination not to discuss the past, she changed the subject. ‘How is Dani?’

‘Looking forward to officially becoming an us. Unlike you, she has no fear of intimacy.’

She remembered thinking once that their relationship was too perfect and time had proved her right. Perfection had proved as fragile as spun sugar.

‘If you are going to carry on taking bites out of me perhaps I’d better just get on the next flight home.’

‘And make things easy for you? I don’t think so. You are our guest of honour, after all.’

His tone made her flinch more than the words themselves, because it was tinged with a bitterness and regret that stung her wounds like the juice of the Sicilian lemon.

Occasionally, when the pain grew almost too much to bear, she asked herself if her life would have been better if she’d never met him. She’d always known that life was hard, which was why meeting Cristiano Ferrara had been like falling straight into a starring role in her own fairy tale. What she hadn’t known was how much harder life would be once she’d given him up.

‘It’s obvious that coming here wasn’t one of my better ideas.’

‘If this was anything other than Dani’s wedding you wouldn’t be allowed to set foot on the island.’

She didn’t state the obvious. That if this was anything other than his sister’s wedding, she wouldn’t have been here.

The divorce could have been handled at a distance. And Laurel preferred distance in everything.

They’d been driving for fifteen minutes, through chaotic Palermo with its jumble of streets littered with Gothic and baroque churches and ancient palaces. Somewhere in the centre was the Palazzo Ferrara, Cristiano’s city residence, now occasionally used as an exclusive venue for weddings and concerts, its wonderful mosaics and baroque ceiling frescos drawing academics and tourists from around the world. It was one of many homes that Cristiano owned around the island but he rarely used it as a base.

Laurel had fallen in love with it and tried not to think about the tiny private chapel that had been the setting for their wedding.

She knew that, despite his aristocratic lineage and his encyclopaedic knowledge of Sicilian art and architecture, he preferred living in modern surroundings with state-of-the-art technology at his fingertips. Cristiano without Internet access would be like Michelangelo without a paintbrush.

Glancing out of the window, she saw that they’d emerged from the choked Palermo traffic and were speeding along the coast road that led to the Ferrara Spa Resort, the ultimate destination for the discerning traveller and one of the top hotels in the world.

It was a hideaway for the glitterati, for that stratosphere of international society that craved privacy and seclusion. Here it was guaranteed, both by the legendary Ferrara security but also by the geography of the coastline. The Ferrara brothers had built the exclusive hotel on a spit of land surrounded on three sides by private beach and spread across lush gardens, dotted with luxury villas. It was a Mediterranean paradise, each individual villa offering the ultimate in pampered seclusion.

The pain of being back here was intensified by the memories that were carved in every glimpse of the place because it had been here, in the exclusive villa on a rocky promontory at the far end of the private beach, that they’d spent the first nights of their honeymoon. It was the villa that Cristiano had built for his own use. The ultimate bachelor pad.

Laurel stiffened. Surely they hadn’t booked her a room in the hotel? ‘I booked a hotel outside the resort.’

‘I know exactly where you were staying. My staff cancelled the booking. You’ll stay where I put you and be grateful for Sicilian hospitality that makes it impossible for us to turn away a guest.’

Her stomach churned. ‘My plan was to stay elsewhere and arrive just for the wedding.’

‘Daniela wants you to be part of all of it. Tonight is a gathering of local people. Black tie. Drinks and dancing. As her maid of honour, you are expected to join in.’

Drinks and dancing?

Laurel felt cold and wished his driver would turn off the air conditioning. ‘Obviously I don’t expect to be part of the pre-wedding celebrations. I have my laptop so I can just get on with some work. I’m buried under a mountain of it at the moment.’

‘I don’t care. You’ll be there and you’ll smile. Our separation is amicable and civilized, remember?’ Civilized?

There was nothing civilized about the emotions spinning inside her and nothing civilized about the dangerous glint in his eyes. Their relationship had never been civilized, she thought numbly. The passion they’d shared had been scorching, crazy and out of control. Unfortunately all that heat had burned through her ability to think clearly.