Dante's Honour-bound Husband(4)

By: Day Leclaire

“It’s good to see you, Constantine,” she said with polite formality.

He froze. “Good to see me?” he repeated softly.

She flinched at the dangerous tone, one infused with the warmth of his Tuscan home, yet chilled with the ice of his displeasure. This was going to be far more difficult than she’d anticipated. “Are you here on business? I hope you’ll take a few minutes to drop by my grandparents before you return to Italy.” She offered a friendly smile to cover up her nervous chatter. “They were asking after you the other day.”

“Don’t you understand? I’ve relocated to San Francisco.”

No. No, no, no! It wasn’t fair. Not now, after all this time. Praying that none of her thoughts were echoed in her expression, she kept her smile pinned in place, a careless, nonchalant one that made it clear that his news didn’t make the least difference to her. “Congratulations.”

He caught her chin in the palm of his hand and tipped her face up to his. “Is that all you have to say to me? Congratulations?”

Her smile faded along with all attempts at concealing her emotions. Pain and anger ripped through her and she jerked back from his touch, her impetuous nature decimating her common sense. “What do you want from me, Constantine?” she demanded, the question escaping in a low, fierce undertone. “It’s been nearly two years. I’ve moved on. I suggest you do the same.”

His head jerked back as though she’d slapped him. “Moved on?” His accent thickened, deepened. “What does this mean…moved on?”

She dismissed the question with a sweep of her hand. “Don’t give me that. You understand idiomatic English just fine. It means precisely what you think it means.”

“There is someone else?”

“Yes, Constantine. There is someone else.” For the first time, Gianna realized they were the center of all eyes and warmth swept across her cheekbones. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do if I’m going to get this place ready for tomorrow’s gala.”

She’d never seen him look so hard or distant. He inclined his head in a regal manner. “Please. Do not let me get in your way.”

Gathering up her emotions and stuffing them behind an equally regal manner, she spun on her heel and crossed to the nearest display case. She stared blindly at the contents. She wasn’t the one who cut ties or ended their relationship prematurely, she reminded herself. He’d given her a handful of amazing days when they first met and then walked away from what might have been. The fact that he’d been able to do that solidified her suspicions about The Inferno. Her family didn’t know the entire truth about the family “blessing.” But she did. She’d been thirteen years old when she’d overheard how it really worked.

As for Constantine… If he’d experienced the depth of desire she had, he managed to control it well all this time. To dismiss it while he took care of more important business. Until they’d met she’d thought it impossible to fall in love so completely. She thought Constantine had fallen in love with her, as well. Foolish of her, Gianna now realized. She’d spent all these endless months overwhelmed by a cascade of passionate emotions. Emotions that—had he shared them—should have made him incapable of leaving her. Clearly he didn’t share a damn thing.

She’d suffered while he’d walked away.

That left her with a single, logical and thoroughly devastating conclusion. He didn’t love her. Not really. And that forced her to face an agonizing realization. If she surrendered to him now, he’d own her body and soul. But what would she possess? A man capable of picking her up and setting her aside whenever he wished. She couldn’t live like that. She refused to live like that.

For her, for whatever reason, the burn of The Inferno only went one way. Otherwise, Constantine wouldn’t have left her. Otherwise, he couldn’t have stayed away for so long or curtailed all communication. Well, if he could turn off The Inferno, so could she, though she’d never learned that portion of the secret. Somehow. Someway. Even if it killed her, she’d put an end to it. She closed her eyes against the tears pressing for release.

God, she loved him.

Figlio di puttana! Constantine watched Gianna walk away. Bitter frustration ate at him. Nineteen damn months. For nineteen months, five days, eight hours and a handful of minutes he’d fought and clawed to get his fledgling business, Romano Restoration, off the ground and soaring so that he could emigrate to the United States and establish a stronghold in San Francisco. All to provide Gianna with more than a name when he asked her to marry him. And now that his company had taken off and he was in a position to support a wife, the only woman he wanted was walking away with a hip-swinging stride that knocked every last brain cell off-line.

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