The Sicilian's Surprise Wife

By: Tara Pammi

CHAPTER ONE

SHE FELT LIKE GLASS, stretched so tightly that a gentle tap could shatter her forever.

Clutching her wrap tight in her fingers, Clio Norwood looked around for her fiancé, Jackson.

Ashley, his secretary, who had arrived unannounced and interrupted their meeting with a client Jackson was determined to add to his cap, was nowhere to be seen either. Something distasteful hovered in the back of Clio’s mind, as if waiting to strike.

With the small get-together of the ultrarich in full swing atop the Empire State Building, Manhattan glittered around them.

Usually, the vibrant, unrelenting pulse of the city that had become home to Clio over the past decade filled her with unending spirit for life. It had kept her going even when she had been struggling after graduation from Columbia University. And had helped her swallow her failures and her naive, broken expectations of making it by herself in the city that never slept.

But tonight, even New York couldn’t puncture the bubble of dread that had begun to pervade her of late.

Jackson had returned last night after three weeks from an overseas trip and had been in a stinker of a mood as he liked to call it, because he had missed out on some real estate deal.

They had barely exchanged a word all day today as she had been at work. When she had returned to the posh flat they had been living in for the past year, he had commanded her to get ready for this party tonight.

Commanded and not asked, much less requested. A pattern that was becoming more and more obvious to Clio. Still, she knew the stress of his business, understood the driving need to make one’s mark in the world, so she had given in.

Even if she was still bone tired from the out-of-season flu she had had a week ago.

Tonight, Jackson needed her help to convince Mrs. Alcott, an old friend of her parents’, to hire him as her personal investment banker. With her estates in Britain and substantial family business, Jane Alcott would be a coup for Jackson’s already flourishing career.

But they hadn’t even greeted Jane properly before Ashley had approached Jackson with a desperate glint in her eye.

Loath to create a scene, Clio had clenched her teeth and smiled serenely even as she saw the curious looks and stifled whispers among Jackson’s clients’ wives and girlfriends. Even the utter kindness of Jane’s question if everything was all right between Jackson and her had been unbearable.

What was going on with him? What was going on between them?

Because Clio knew with a nauseating clarity that Ashley was just the tip of the iceberg for what was going on between her and Jackson.

Suddenly, it felt blatantly scandalous of Ashley to drag him away with a barely disguised proprietary claim on him.

Squaring her shoulders, Clio let her long stride eat up the space. She hated creating a scene, hated the pitying and speculative glances that had been coming her way far too frequently the past few months, but she had endured it all silently.

Tonight, she had had enough. She stilled as a tall, commanding figure came into her focus.

Clio blinked, the impact of those jade green eyes and generous but scornful mouth instantaneous.

Stefan Bianco.

Her first instinct was to head for the elevator before he could see her, leave the party. Even her parents, with their disapprovingly stifling silence, would have been welcome. She didn’t want the man she had known a long time ago, one of her oldest friends, to see her tonight.

Stefan, Christian, Rocco and Zayed made up the Columbia Four—the four young men she had known when they had all been at university together, who had turned into supersuccessful, ultrawealthy, sought-after bachelors for whom the world was a playground and its most beautiful women were playthings.

But before they had all become successful in their own right, she had known them, had seen them every day for four years, and had shared her deepest fears and hopes with them.

And the fact that she wanted to run away from one of the few people who had genuinely known her, had understood her, left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Was she that much of a failure, then? Was she running away from Stefan or was she running away from what she had become?

* * *

Stefan Bianco looked around at the glittering cityscape of Manhattan and gritted his jaw tight.

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