Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin(4)

By: Sandra Marton


“Send him a check,” Rafe said with deliberate cruelty. What did all this have to do with him? His father’s soul was his father’s business.

“It is not enough.”

“Make it a big check. Or, hell, make him an offer he can’t refuse.” Rafe’s lips thinned. “That’s you, isn’t it? The man who can buy or intimidate his way into anything?”

“Raffaele. As a man, as your father, I am pleading for your help.”

The plea was astounding. Rafe despised his father for who he was, what he was…but, unbidden, other memories rushed in. Cesare, pushing him on a swing at a playground. Cesare, soothing him when the clown hired for his fourth birthday party had scared him half to death.

His father’s eyes burned with guilt. What would it take to hand-deliver a check and offer a long-overdue apology? Like it or not, this man had given life to him, his brothers and his sisters. He had, in his own manner, loved them and taken care of them. In some twisted way, he had even helped make them what they were. If he’d developed a conscience, even at this late date, wasn’t that a good thing?

“Raffaele?”

Rafe took a deep breath. “Yeah. Okay.” He spoke briskly because he knew how easy it would be to change his mind. “What do you want me to do?”

“I have your word that you will do it?”

“Yes.”

Cesare nodded. “You will not regret this, I promise.”

Ten minutes later, after a long, complex and yet oddly incomplete story, Rafe leaped to his feet.

“Are you insane?” he shouted.

“It is a simple request, Raffaele.”

“Simple?” Rafe laughed. “That’s a hell of a way to describe asking me to go to a godforsaken village in Sicily and marry some—some nameless, uneducated peasant girl!”

“She has a name. Chiara. Chiara Cordiano. And she is not a peasant. Her father, Freddo Cordiano, owns a vineyard. He owns olive groves. He is an important man in San Giuseppe.”

Rafe leaned across his father’s desk, slapped his hands on the brilliantly polished mahogany surface and glared.

“I am not marrying this girl. I am not marrying anyone. Is that clear?”

His father’s gaze was steady. “What is clear is the value of the word of my firstborn son.”

Rafe grabbed a handful of his father’s shirt and hauled him to his feet. “Watch what you say to me,” he snarled.

Cesare smiled. “Such a hot temper, my son. Much as you try to deny it, the Orsini blood beats in your veins.”

Slowly Rafe let go of the shirt. He stood upright, drew a deep, steadying breath.

“I live by my word, Father. But you extracted it with a lie. You said you needed my help.”

“And I do. You said you would give it to me. Now you say you will not.” His father raised his eyebrows. “Which of us told the lie?”

Rafe stepped back. He counted silently to ten. Twice. Finally he nodded.

“I gave my word, so I’ll go to Sicily and meet with this Freddo Cordiano. I’ll tell him you regret whatever it was you did to him decades ago. But I will not marry his daughter. Are we clear about that?”

Cesare shrugged. “Whatever you say, Raffaele. I cannot force your compliance.”

“No,” Rafe said grimly. “You cannot.”

He strode from the room, using the French doors that opened into the garden. He had no wish to see his mother or Dante or anyone.

Marriage? No way, especially not by command, especially not to suit his father—especially not to a girl born and raised in a place forgotten by time.

He was a lot of things, but he wasn’t crazy.

More than four thousand miles away, in the rocky fortress that her father called his home and she called her prison, Chiara Cordiano shot to her feet in disbelief.

“You did what?” she said in perfect Florentine Italian. “You did what?”

Freddo Cordiano folded his arms over his chest. “When you speak to me, do so in the language of our people.”

“Answer the question, Papa,” Chiara said, in the rough dialect her father preferred.

“I said, I found you a husband.”

“That’s insane. You cannot marry me to a man I’ve never even seen.”

“You forget yourself,” her father growled. “That is what comes of all the foolish ideas put in your head by those fancy governesses your mother demanded I employ. I am your father. I can marry you to whomever I wish.”

Chiara slapped her hands on her hips. “The son of one of your cronies? An American gangster?

No. I will not do it, and you cannot make me.”

Freddo smiled thinly. “Would you prefer that I lock you in your room and keep you there until you grow so old and ugly that no man wants you?”

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