And my reasons aren’t selfless. I like the decadence of my life—I like the money, and even more, the women. I have no intention of changing it. Bringing a wife into it, a wife who will surely suffer as my mother did—I do not want to feel the guilt.
My eyes meet Rossi’s. His lips are pinched in a thin line.
“If you do not comply with the terms that your father has set forth,” he starts carefully, holding his breath—the calm before the storm.
“Then Emilia inherits the company in full. You will get nothing.”
“The mother fucking bastard!” I am on my feet, the chair crashing to the floor behind me, before I know that I have moved. I can feel my face draining of color as I turn, lock stares with Emilia.
Though she demonstrates the same shock that I do, it is also easy to see the glint in her eyes. I know that I have just gained a formidable enemy—after all, she stands to gain so much more than she ever hoped for.
“Rossi. Is this kind of term even legal?” Ignoring the buzzing of the other stunned board members around the rest of the room, I cross to the lawyer, plant myself in front of him so that he has no choice but to look directly at me.
I need him to change this. I will not do it. Carmine is barely cold in his grave, which means that I have only just tasted freedom. Hard, perhaps, but when you spend your childhood watching your father beat your mother within an inch of her life, only to heal and then repeat the cycle, you might rejoice to be free of the tyrant, as well.
But it seems that he will not relinquish his hold on my life, not even from hell.
“Your father was free to attach whatever terms he wanted in regards to the collection of his estate, Matteo.” Rossi’s mousy face is resigned, but also set in steel, and this sends ice water running through my veins. “And—ah—there is one addition to the term.”
I close my eyes as a massive headache begins to build behind my eyes. The years that I put into this company, ever since I was a teen—the shit and abuse that I took from Carmine while doing it—it was all done with eyes on the prize, knowing that it would all be worth it in the end.
Now I don’t even know what to think. Do I take a wife in name only? Can the wedding be annulled once I have control of the company? How can I maneuver this to my advantage?
My mind whirling, I barely hear Rossi as he starts to talk again, my brain occupied with finding a loophole, some way to both follow my father’s order and get the company that I feel I deserve.
Then I make out what he is saying, and the world that hasn’t already crumpled beneath my feet falls away.
“As I have said, you must take a wife in the next thirty days. You must remain married to her for a minimum of one month. And you must remain faithful to her for that time frame, or you forfeit everything to your sister.”
Wordlessly, I let my stare swing to where Emilia stands, her hands not planted on the glossy wood of the conference room table. The hunger that I see in her eyes chills me to the bone, as does the small smile that curves her lips.
But it is only a moment before I feel my own competitive nature rise—one predator ready to battle another for supremacy.
I know Emilia, and I know that she is about to throw every dirty trick in the book at me to trip me up.
But I am a Benenati. I have survived my father’s hand for too many years to give up now.
I will win. And my legacy will be mine.
I WAKE WITH A START from a fitful sleep, my heart pounding. Even before I open my eyes, I know that I’m not alone.
The scent teasing my nostrils tells me that it’s Matteo. When I turn to see, I find him slouched in the chair that he pulled up beside the bed that afternoon. The pale blueberry hues slanting in through the window tell me that twilight has fallen, and yet he is dressed in a suit—well, part of it, anyway. He has removed the jacket, which is slung over the back of his chair, and his tie, which is nowhere to be seen.
The sleeves of his once crisp white dress shirt are rolled up to his elbows, offering me a view of well muscled forearms tanned the color of gold. The top two buttons at his neck are undone as well, revealing the hollow of his throat. When I squint, I think I can make out the flutter of his pulse under that skin, an unexpectedly soft spot in the middle of all of this masculinity, and all I can think about is pressing a kiss there.
Rein in those hormones, Tremaine. A man like this is only going to be interested in a girl like me for one thing. And while, over the course of the afternoon, I’ve grudgingly decided that I’m grateful that he insisted on getting me stitched up, I have no intention of paying for the favor that way.
It rides a little too close to home. And whether I might enjoy it or not won’t change that.
“Did you sleep well?” He leans back in his chair, and I hear the clink of ice against glass. He lifts a small snifter of golden liquid to his lips, regarding me over the edge of his drink.
I note that the bruise around his eye looks worse than it did earlier, the purple tones having darkened over the course of the day. There are matching semi circles beneath his eyes, and he smells ever so faintly of cigar smoke.
Despite his generally dishevelled appearance, as he sits there, regarding me steadily as he sips at his scotch, I feel my long dormant libido roar to life.
Hours ago I unearthed a men’s shirt in one of the bureau drawers, and am now wearing that. It falls to mid-thigh, and I’ve rolled the sleeves up to my elbows. But when he looks at me like that I’m ridiculously aware of the fact that the buttons strain across my rather ample chest.
And also of the fact that my bottom half is completely bare. It’s covered by that thin silk sheet, but I’m not even close to worldly enough to be comfortable with that scrap of comfort.
Belatedly I realize that he has asked me a question. Clearing my throat, I nod, running my tongue over suddenly dry lips, not at all sure what to do when his stare follows the movement.
“I—the medication—it makes me drowsy.” Which is yet another reason I wish I’d been conscious to refuse it. My shoulder is starting to hurt like a beast with fangs has sunk its teeth into it, but I don’t even take aspirin if I can help it.
I spent my formative years watching my mother slump around in a drug induced haze. It didn’t endear me to those substances, not even when they’re medicinal.
“I brought you some food.” He gestures to a platter of fruit, crackers and cheese that is sitting on the bedside table. The sight of the plump purple grapes, of the juicy figs and soft cheese makes my stomach growl, and I reach out a hand, only to snatch it back.