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With a wolf-cold gaze, Constantine Atraeus scanned the mourners attending Roberto Ambrosi's funeral, restlessly seeking and finding.
With her long blond hair and dark eyes, elegantly curved body and rich-list style, Roberto's daughter Sienna stood out like an exotic bird among ravens.
His jaw compressing at the unmistakable evidence of her tears, Constantine shook off an unwilling surge of compassion. And memories. No matter how innocent Sienna looked, he couldn't allow himself to forget that his ex-fiancée was the new CEO of her family's failing pearl empire. She was first and foremost an Ambrosi. Descended from a once wealthy family, the Ambrosis were noted for two things: their luminous good looks and their focus on the bottom line.
In this case, his bottom line.
"Tell me you're not going after her now."
Constantine's brother Lucas, still jet-lagged from a long-haul flight from Rome to Sydney, levered himself out of the Audi Constantine had used to pick up both of his brothers from the airport.
In the Sydney office for two days of meetings, Lucas was dressed for business, although he'd long since abandoned the jacket and tie. Zane, who was already out of the car and examining the funeral crowd, was dressed in black jeans and a black shirt, a pair of dark glasses making him look even more remote.
Lucas was edgily good-looking, so much so that the media dogged him unmercifully. Zane, who was technically their half brother, and who had spent time on the streets of L.A. as a teenager before their father had found him, simply looked dangerous. The outer packaging aside, Constantine was confident that when it came to protecting his family's assets both of his brothers were sharks.
Constantine shrugged into the jacket he'd draped over the back of the driver's seat as he watched Sienna accept condolences, his frustration edged by a surge of emotion that had nothing to do with temper.
Grimly, he considered that the physical attraction that had drawn him away from The Atraeus Group's head office on Medinos, when his legal counsel could have handled the formalities, was clouding his judgment.
No, that wasn't it. Two years ago Constantine had finally learned to separate sexual desire from business. He was no longer desperate.
This time if and when Sienna Ambrosi came to his bed, it would be on his terms, not hers.
"I'm not here to put flowers on Roberto's grave."
"Or allow her to grieve. Ever heard of tomorrow?" Lucas shrugged into his jacket and slammed the door of the Audi.
Constantine winced at Lucas's treatment of the expensive car. Lucas hadn't been old enough to remember the bad old days when the Atraeus family had been so poor they hadn't been able to afford a car, but Constantine could. His father's discovery of a rich gold mine on the Mediterranean island of Medinos hadn't altered any of his childhood memories. He would never forget what it had felt like to have nothing. "When it comes to the Ambrosi family, tomorrow will be too late." Resignation laced his tone as he eyed the press gathering like vultures at a feast. "Besides, it looks like the story has already been leaked. Bad timing or not, I want answers."
And to take back the money Roberto Ambrosi had conned out of their dying father while Constantine had been out of the country.
Funeral or not, he would unravel the scam he had discovered just over a week ago. After days of unreturned calls and hours of staking out the apparently empty residences of the Ambrosi family, his patience was gone, as was the desire to finish this business discreetly.
Lucas fell into step beside Constantine as he started toward the dispersing mourners. Grimly, Constantine noted that Lucas's attention was fixed on the younger Am-brosi daughter, Carla.
"Are you certain Sienna's involved?"
Constantine didn't bother to hide his incredulity.
Just what were the odds that the woman who had agreed to marry him two years ago, knowing that her father was leveraging an under-the-table deal with his, hadn't known about Roberto's latest scam? "She knows."
"You know what Roberto was like"
"More than willing to exploit a dying man."
Constantine made brief eye contact with the two bodyguards who had accompanied them in a separate vehicle. The protection wasn't his choice, but as the CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation, he'd had to deal with more than his share of threats.
As they neared the graveside, Constantine noted the absence of male family members or escorts. The wealthy and powerful Ambrosi family, who had employed his grandfather as a gardener, now only consisted of Margaret Roberto's widowthe two daughters, Sienna and Carla, and a collection of elderly aunts and distant cousins.
As he halted at the edge of the mounded grave, the heavy cloud, which had been steadily building overhead, slid across the face of the midday sun and Sienna's dark gaze finally locked with his. In that fractured moment, something close to joy flared, as if she had forgotten that two years ago, when it had come down to a choice between him or the money, she had gone for the cash.
For a long, drawn out moment, Constantine was held immobile by a shifting sense of deja vu, a powerful moment of connection he had been certain he would never again feel.
Something kicked in his chest, an errant pulse of emotion, and instead of dragging his gaze away he allowed himself to be caught, entangled
A split second later a humid gust of wind sent leaves flying. In the few moments it took Sienna to anchor the honeyed fall of her hair behind one ear, the dreamy incandescence that had ensnared himfooled himso completely two years ago was gone, replaced by stunned disbelief.
A kick of annoyance that, evidently, despite all of his unreturned calls, Sienna had failed to register his presence in Sydney, was edged by relief. For a moment there, he had almost lost it, but now they were both back on the same, familiar page.
Constantine terminated the eye contact and transferred his attention to the freshly mounded soil, now covered by lavish floral tributes. Reasserting his purpose, reminding himself.
Roberto Ambrosi had been a liar, a thief and a con man, but Constantine would give him his due: he had known when to make his exit.
Sienna, however, had no such avenue of escape.
Sienna's heart slammed hard as Constantine closed the distance between them. Just for a few moments, exhausted by sadness and worn-out from fighting the overwhelming relief that she no longer had to cope with her father's gambling addiction, she had let the grimness of the cemetery fade.
She'd trained herself to be a relentlessly positive thinker, but even for her, the wispy daydream had been unusually creative: a reinvention of the past, where love came first, instead of somewhere down a complex list of assets and agendas. Then she had turned and for a disorienting moment, the future she had once thought was hersand which she had needed with a fierceness that still haunted herhad taken on dazzling life. Constantine.
The reality of his clean, powerful featurescoal-black hair brushing broad shoulders and the faintly resinous male scent that never failed to make her heart poundhad shocked her back to reality.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded curtly. Since the embarrassing debacle two years ago, the Ambrosis and the Atraeuses had preserved an icy distance. Constantine was the last person she expected to see at her father's funeral, and the least welcome.
Constantine's fingers closed around hers. The warm, slightly rough, skin-on-skin contact sent a hot, tingling shock through her. She inhaled sharply and a hint of the cologne that had sent her spiraling into the past just seconds ago made her stomach clench.
Constantine was undeniably formidable and gorgeous. Once he had fascinated her to the point that she had broken her cardinal rule. She had stopped thinking in favor of feeling. Big mistake.
Constantine had been out of her league, period. He was too rich, too powerful and, as she had found out to her detriment, utterly focused on protecting his family's business empire.
Bitterly, she reflected that the tabloids had it right. Ruthless in business, ditto in bed. The CEO of The Atraeus Group was a catch. Just don't "bank" on a wedding.
He leaned forward, close enough that his cleanly shaven jaw almost brushed her cheek. For an electrifying moment she thought he was actually going to kiss her, then the remoteness of his expression wiped that thought from her mind.
"We need to talk." His voice was deep and curta cosmopolitan mix of accents that revealed that, his Mediterranean heritage aside, he had been educated in the States. "Five minutes. In the parking lot." Jerking her fingers free, Sienna stepped back, her high heels sinking into the soft ground.
Meet with the man who had proposed one week, then discarded her the next because he believed she was a calculating gold digger?
That would be when hell froze over.
"We don't have anything to discuss."
"Five minutes. Be there."
Stomach tight, she stared at the long line of his back as he strolled away through the ranks of marble headstones. Peripherally she noticed Lucas and Zane, Constantine's two brothers, flanking him. Two security guards kept onlookers and the reporters who inevitably hounded the Atraeus family at bay.
Tension hummed through her at the presence of both brothers and the security. The bodyguards were a reality check, underlining the huge gulf between her life and his.
She registered a brief touch on her arm. Her sister, Carla. With an effort of will, Sienna shook off the shock of Constantine's presence and her own unsettling reactions. Her father's sudden death and the messy financial fallout that followed had consumed every waking moment for the past few days. Despite that, all it had taken had been one fractured moment looking into Constantine's gaze and she had forgotten where she was and why.
Carla frowned. "You look as white as a sheet. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Desperate to regain her equilibrium, Sienna dug in her purse, found her compact and checked her makeup. After the tears in church and the humid heat, any trace of the light makeup she had applied that morning was gone. Her hair was tousled and her eyes were red-rimmedthe exact opposite of her usual cool, sophisticated facade.
Carlawho was far more typically Medinian than Sienna in appearance with glossy dark hair and stunning light blue eyes that stopped people in their trackswatched the Atraeus brothers, an odd expression in her eyes. "What are they doing here? Please don't tell me you're seeing Constantine again."
Sienna snapped the compact closed and dropped it into her purse. "Don't worry, I'm not crazy."
"Then what did they want?"
Carla's clipped demand echoed Sienna's question, although she couldn't afford the luxury of either anger or passion. For the sake of her family and their company, she had to be controlled and unruffled, no matter how worried she felt. "Nothing."
Constantine's series of commands replayed itself in her mind. Another gust, this one laced with fat droplets of rain, snapped her numbed brain back into high gear. Suddenly she formed a connection that made her pulse pound and her stomach hollow out.
Oh, damn. She needed to think, and quickly.
Over the past three days, she had spent long hours sifting through her father's private papers and financial records. She had found several mystifyingly large deposits she couldn't match to any of the business figures. Money had come in over a two-month period. A very large amount. The money had been used to prop up Ambrosi Pearls' flagging finances and cover her father's ongoing gambling debts, but she had no idea of its source. At first she thought the money had to be winnings, but the similar amounts had confused her. Roberto Ambrosi had won large sums of money in the past, but the amounts had differed wildly.
Now Constantine wanted a conversation.
Desperate to deny the conclusion that was forming, and to distract Carla, who was still locked on the Atraeus brothers like a heat-seeking missile, she craned around, searching for their mother. "Mom needs help."
Carla had also spotted the reporter chatting to Margaret Ambrosi, who was exhausted and still a little shaky from the sedatives the doctor had prescribed so she could sleep. "Oh, heck. I'll get her. It's time we left anyway. We were supposed to be at Aunt Via's for lunch ten minutes ago."
A private family lunch at the apartment of their father's sister, Octavia, not a wake, which Sienna had decreed was an unnecessary luxury.
The last four days since her father had collapsed and died from a heart attack had been a roller-coaster ride, but that didn't change the reality. The glory days of Ambrosi Pearls, when her grandfather had transferred the company from the disaster zone Medinos had become during World War II to Sydney, were long gone. She had to balance the need to bolster business confidence by giving the impression of wealth and stability against the fact that they were operating on a shoestring budget. Luckily, her father had had a small insurance policy, enough to cover basic funeral expenses, and she'd had the excuse of Margaret Ambrosi's poor health to veto any socializing.
Her gaze narrowed. "Tell Via I'm not going to be able to make it for lunch. I'll see you at home later on."
After she had gotten rid of Constantine.