Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

Laurel tried to breathe normally, but the prospect of facing his family was impossibly daunting. They all hated her, of course. And part of her understood that. From their point of view she was the English girl who’d given up on the marriage and that was unforgivable in the circles in which he moved. In Sicily marriages endured. Affairs, if they happened, were overlooked.

She had no idea what the rule book said for handling what had happened to them. No idea what the rules were for coping with the shocking loss of a pregnancy and a monumentally selfish husband.

The only thing that comforted her in the whole disastrous episode had been that Dani, generous extrovert Dani, had refused to judge her. And the downside of that acceptance was that she was here now, putting herself through hell for the only true friend she’d ever had.

‘I’ll do whatever people want me to do.’ It was a performance, she thought. If she had to smile, she’d smile. If she were expected to dance, she’d dance. The outside didn’t have to reflect the inside. She’d learned that as a child. She’d learned to bury her feelings deep, so deep that few ever saw them.

Her confidence that she could cope with the situation lasted until they drove through the entrance gates and she realised the driver was taking the private road towards the Aphrodite Villa. The jewel in the crown. Cristiano’s beachside bolt-hole, his personal retreat from the demands placed on him by his thriving business empire.

When they’d built the Resort they’d used part of the land to relocate their corporate headquarters and Laurel had never ceased to drool over his office, which exploited the stunning coastal position. Cristiano had qualified as a structural engineer and his talents in that area were visible in the innovative design features incorporated into his headquarters.

As would be expected, the walls of his office were glass. What was unexpected was the floor, also glass and stretching out over the water so that a visitor to his office could find himself distracted by shoals of colourful Mediterranean fish darting beneath their feet.

It was typical of Cristiano to merge the aesthetic with the functional and there were similar touches throughout his hotels.

‘I don’t see why an office has to be a boring box in the centre of a smog-choked city,’ he’d said when she’d gasped at her first sight of his office. ‘I like the sea. This way, if I’m stuck behind my desk, I can still enjoy it.’

It was that same breadth of vision that had made the company so successful. That, and his sophistication and appreciation for luxury. Her first glimpse of the Aphrodite Villa had made her jaw drop, but going there now drew a very different response from her.

The shock of it tore a hole in her composure. ‘Why are we going this way? I’m not staying here.’ It was too reminiscent of their wedding night, when she’d been so happy and full of optimism for the future.

‘Why would you care where you sleep?’ His tone was hard and unsympathetic. ‘If what we shared was “just a wedding,” then presumably this was “just a honeymoon”, in which case the place holds no sentimental value. It’s just a bed.’

Laurel struggled to bring her breathing back to normal. She carried an asthma inhaler in her bag but there was no way she was going to use it in front of him unless she was half dead.

And now she was trapped. To admit how the place made her feel would be to reveal something she had no intention of ever revealing.

Not to admit it meant staying here.

‘It’s your premium property.’ Occasionally, she knew, he had been persuaded to loan it to honeymooning rock stars and actors. ‘Why waste it on me?’

‘It’s the only vacant bed in the place. Sleep in it and be grateful.’ His tone was so chilly and matter-of-fact that for a moment she truly believed that the villa held no significance for him whatsoever. For a man who owned five homes and spent his working life travelling the world, this was just another few hundred square metres of luxurious accommodation.

Or was it?

Was he doing this to punish her?

‘Well, at least it has a good internet connection.’ She kept her eyes ahead, refusing to let him access her secrets. She tried not to remember that gazing into his eyes had once been her favourite pastime. On more than one occasion she’d woken him just so that she could experience that incredible connection that happened whenever they looked at each other. With him, she’d discovered intimacy. But intimacy meant openness and openness meant vulnerability, as she’d learned to her cost.

He’d demanded that she trust him and gradually she’d yielded to that because he would accept nothing less. And then he had let her down so badly she doubted the bruises would ever heal.

‘You’re being treated as an honoured guest. We both know it’s more than you deserve. Let’s go.’ Without giving her the chance to argue further, he opened the door and sprang from the car with that same driven sense of purpose that characterised everything he did.

All he could focus on was the fact that she’d left him, Laurel thought numbly. It was all about his pride. Not about their relationship. He saw himself as the injured party.