Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

Maybe it was because his own marriage was such a total disaster that he hated weddings so much.

Part of him wished his sister had just eloped quietly, but that had never been on the cards. She was marrying a Sicilian man in true Sicilian style and he, as her older brother and the head of the family, was expected to play a major part in the celebrations. The family honour was at stake. The image of the Ferrara dynasty. He was expected to celebrate.

‘I’m ready.’ Her voice came from behind him and this time he made sure that he had himself fully under control before he turned.

Even prepared, the connection was immediate and powerful.

It was like being trapped in an electrical storm. The air around him crackled and buzzed with a tension that hadn’t been there before she’d stepped over the threshold.

Ready? He almost laughed. Neither of them would ever be ready for what they were about to face. Their estrangement had attracted almost as much attention as their wedding. There would be no cameras tonight, but that didn’t mean the guests wouldn’t be interested. With that macabre fascination that drew people to stare at the wreckage of car accidents, everyone was waiting to see how he was going to treat his scandalous estranged wife.

Looking at her, he felt the attraction punch through his gut. Her body was slim and supremely fit and wrapped in a dress of fine blue silk. On most women the dress would have been monumentally unforgiving. Laurel had nothing that needed forgiving. Her body was her brand and she dressed to showcase it and drive her business. It wouldn’t have surprised him to see her web address stamped on her hemline. Ferrara Fitness. He’d been the one who had spotted her potential and persuaded her to expand—to broaden what she offered from the personal to the corporate.

She wasn’t beautiful in a classical sense, but her guts and drive had proved a greater aphrodisiac than sleek blonde hair or a perfect D cup. Only he knew that her restrained appearance and tiger-like personality hid monumental insecurities.

From the outside no one would ever have guessed that on the inside she was such a mess, he mused, but he’d never met anyone more screwed up than Laurel. It had taken months for her to open up to him even a little and, when she had, the cold reality of her childhood had shocked him. It was a story of care homes and neglect, and just a brief glimpse into what her life had been was enough for him to begin to understand why she was so different from most of the women he met.

Had it been arrogance, he wondered, that had made him so sure that he could break down those defensive barriers? He’d demanded trust from someone who had never had reason to give it and, in the end, it had backfired badly.

Any residual guilt he might have felt about his own behaviour at that time had long been erased by his anger that she hadn’t even given him a chance to fix his mistake. She’d ended their marriage with the finality of an executioner, refusing both rational conversation and the diamonds he’d bought her by way of apology.

Dark emotions swirled inside him and he studied her face for signs that she was regretting her decision. Her features were blank, but that didn’t surprise him. She’d trained herself to reveal nothing. To rely on no one. Extracting anything from her had been a challenge.

Even now she chose to keep the conversation neutral. ‘You changed the room overlooking the garden from a gym to a cinema.’

She would have noticed, of course, because that was her job. And Laurel was one hundred per cent committed to her job. Which was why they’d wanted her involved in the business. From the moment her success with one very overweight actress had been blazoned over the press, Laurel Hampton had become the personal trainer that everyone wanted. The fact that she’d agreed to advise the hotel had been a coup for both of them. He had her name on his brand and she had his. It had been a winning combination.

Hampton had become Ferrara.

And that was when the combination had exploded.

‘I watch sport. I don’t need a gym when I’m here.’ Cristiano felt a flicker of exasperation. Their marriage was writhing in its death throes and they were discussing gym equipment?

Something glinted around her neck and he frowned at the thin gold chain. The fact that she was wearing jewellery he didn’t recognise racked his tension levels up a few more notches and drove all thoughts from his brain. He hadn’t given her the chain, so where the hell had it come from?

He pictured a pair of male hands fastening the necklace around her slender throat. Someone else touching her. Someone else persuading her to part with her secrets—

It was something that hadn’t occurred to him before now.

Only when he heard the splintering sound of glass on ceramic tiles did he realise he’d dropped the glass he was holding.

Eyeing him as she would an escaped tiger, Laurel backed away. ‘I’ll get a brush—’ ‘Leave it.’ ‘But—’

‘I said, leave it. The staff will sort it out. We need to go.

I’m the host.’

‘Everyone will be speculating.’

‘They wouldn’t dare. At least, not publicly.’

She gave a bitter laugh. ‘Sorry. I forgot you even manage to control people’s thoughts.’