Once a Ferrara Wife...

By: Sarah Morgan

Suddenly Cristiano wished he hadn’t dropped the glass. God only knew he needed something to get him through the next few hours. The gold necklace glinted in the sunshine, taunting him. Following an impulse he didn’t want to examine too closely, he grabbed her left hand and lifted it. She made a sound in her throat and tugged but he simply tightened his grip, shocked by the emotion that tore through him when he saw her bare finger.

‘Where is your wedding ring?’

‘I don’t wear it. We’re no longer married.’

‘We’re married until we’re divorced and in Sicily that takes three years—’ Teeth gritted, tone thickened, he held tightly to her hand as she twisted her fingers and tried to free herself.

‘It’s a bit late to be possessive. Marriage is about more than a ring, Cristiano, and more than a piece of paper.’

‘You are telling me what constitutes marriage? You, who treated our marriage as something disposable?’ Outrage and fury mingled in a lethal cocktail. ‘Why remove your ring? Is there someone else?’

‘This weekend isn’t about us, it’s about your sister.’

He’d wanted a denial.

He’d wanted her to laugh and say, Of course there isn’t anyone else—how could there be?

He’d wanted her to admit that what they’d shared had been rare and special. Instead she was dismissing it. She’d consigned it to the dustbin of past mistakes.

Driven by an emotion he didn’t understand, he grabbed her shoulders and yanked her against him. If he’d been more controlled he might have asked himself why he was trying to goad her, but he didn’t feel controlled. The fact that she seemed indifferent simply intensified his urge to draw a response from her.

Caught off balance, she swayed against him. That brief whisper of contact was all it took. Thin blue silk proved an ineffectual barrier and the heat spread from him to her. He heard her breathing quicken and felt the powerful surge of desire as his body acknowledged her response. It confirmed what he already knew—that the chemistry between them was as powerful as ever. Not indifferent, he thought with grim satisfaction. It was the one emotion she couldn’t mask. In a moment he’d be kissing her and he knew from bitter experience that once they kissed that was it. There was no turning back from it and it seemed that even after her betrayal that hadn’t changed.

‘There is no one else.’ Her voice reflected all those painful emotions right back at him. ‘One lousy relationship in a lifetime is enough.’

The words acted like a bucket of cold water over the flickering flames.

Cristiano released her as suddenly as he’d grabbed her. If he’d felt like laughing he would have laughed at himself. All his life women had thrown themselves at him. He’d taken it as a right that he could win any woman he wanted. And then he’d met Laurel and been slapped in the face with his own arrogance.

He stepped back from her, needing the distance. ‘We’re expected to attend this dinner. Let’s get it over with.’

For once, the mask slipped. ‘I’m going to call Dani and explain that I’m tired. She’ll understand.’

It was true that her face was pale and her eyes huge but he knew that her reluctance to socialise had nothing to do with fatigue.

Cristiano wondered how far he could push her before she stopped guarding her every word. The ridiculous thing was, they had yet to talk about what had happened. She’d refused to have that conversation. ‘Why would your conscience bother you now when it didn’t bother you two years ago? Or is it just cowardice because you’re embarrassed to meet my family? You came because of your loyalty to my sister so let’s see that loyalty in action.’ He’d never seen anyone so pale but before he could say anything she turned and walked quickly past him up the narrow path that snaked through the pretty gardens and led to the main part of the hotel. Apparently accepting her fate, she kept walking, her high heels tapping on the stones, her hair twisted into a severe knot that exposed her slender neck.

His gaze slid lower, to the dip of her waist and the curve of her bottom.

Squats, he thought savagely. She’d sculpted that bottom from squats and squat thrusts. So what?

His mood turbulent, Cristiano strode after her, resisting the temptation to flatten her against the nearest tree and demand to know what had been going through her crazy, mixed up mind when she’d smashed everything they’d created together. He wanted to force the issue she was avoiding out into the open. But most of all he wanted to rip that delicate gold chain from her throat and replace it with one of the jewels he’d given her when they’d been together. Something that announced to the world that she was his.

Unsettled by the depths to which his thoughts had sunk, it took him a moment to register that Laurel had stopped dead in the entrance to the terrace.

‘Laurel.’ Santo stood there. Santiago, his younger brother, hot-headed and overprotective, who felt responsible for the current mess because he was the one who had appointed Laurel as his personal trainer when he’d committed to run the New York City Marathon. Without that introduction, Cristiano never would have met her.