Raffaele: Taming His Tempestuous Virgin(5)

By: Sandra Marton


She knew his threat was empty. He would not lock her in her room. Instead he would keep her a prisoner in this horrible little town, in these narrow, ancient streets she’d spent most of her twenty-four years praying to leave. She had tried leaving before. His men, polite but relentless, brought her back. They would do so again; she would never be free of a life she hated.

And he would surely not permit her to avoid marriage forever. She was a bargaining chip, a means of expanding or securing his vile empire.

Marriage.

Chiara suppressed a shudder.

She knew what that would be like, how men like her father treated their women, how he had treated her mother. This man, though American, would be no different. He would be cold. Cruel.

He would smell of garlic and cigars and sweat. She would be little more than his servant, and at night he would demand things of her in his bed…

Tears of anger glittered in Chiara’s violet eyes. “Why are you doing this?”

“I know what is best for you. That is why.”

That was a laugh. He never thought of her. This marriage was for his own purposes. But it wasn’t going to take place. She was desperate, but she wasn’t crazy.

“Well? Have you come to your senses? Are you prepared to be a dutiful daughter and do as you are told?”

“I’d sooner die,” she said, and though she wanted to run, she forced herself to make a cool, stiffbacked exit. But once she’d reached the safety of her own room and locked the door behind her, she screamed in rage, picked up a vase and flung it at the wall.

Twenty minutes later, calmer, cooler, she splashed her face with water and went looking for the one man she loved. The man who loved her. The one man she could turn to.

“Bella mia,” Enzo said, when she found him, “what is wrong?”

Chiara told him. His dark eyes grew even darker.

“I will save you, cara,” he said.

Chiara threw herself into his arms and prayed that he would.





CHAPTER TWO




RAFE decided not to tell anyone where he was going.

His brothers would have laughed or groaned, and there were certainly no friends with whom he’d discuss the Machiavellian intrigues of the Orsini don and his interpretation of Sicilian honor.

Honor among thieves, Rafe thought grimly as his plane touched down at Palermo International Airport. He’d had to take a commercial flight; Falco had taken the Orsini plane to Athens. But even without the benefit of coming in via private jet, he moved swiftly through Passport Control.

Rafe’s mood was dark. The only thing that kept him from snarling was knowing he’d have this ridiculous errand behind him in a day.

Maybe, he thought as he stepped out of the terminal into the heat of a Sicilian early autumn, just maybe he’d buy his brothers a round of drinks in a couple of weeks and when they were all laughing and relaxed he’d say, “You’ll never guess where I was last month.”

He’d tell them the story. All of it, starting with his meeting with Cesare. And they’d nod with approval when he described how gently he’d told Chiara Cordiano he was sorry but he wasn’t about to marry her and, yes, he would be gentle because, after all, it wasn’t the girl’s fault.

A weight seemed to lift from his shoulders.

Okay. This might not be as bad as he’d figured. What the hell, this was a nice day for a drive.

He’d have lunch at some picturesque little trattoria on the way to San Giuseppe, phone Freddo Cordiano and tell him he was en route. Once he arrived, he’d shake the old guy’s gnarled hand, say something polite to the daughter and be back in Palermo by evening. His travel agent had booked him into a hotel that had once been a palace; she’d said it was elegant. He’d have a drink, then dinner on the balcony of his suite. Or maybe he’d stop at the bar. Italian women were among the most beautiful in the world. Well, not the one he was on his way to see, but she’d be history by evening.

By the time he reached the car rental counter, Rafe was smiling…

But not for long.

He’d reserved an SUV, or the Italian equivalent. Generally, he disliked SUVs—he preferred low, fast cars like the ’Vette he had back home, but he’d checked a map and San Giuseppe was high in the mountains. The road to it looked as if it might be more a goat track than anything else, so he’d opted for the traction of an SUV.

What waited at the curb was not an SUV. It was the one kind of car he actually despised, a big, black American thing, a model long favored by his father and his pals.

A Mobster Special.

The clerk shrugged and said there must have been a communications error but, scusi, this was all she had.

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