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The Italian's Suitable Wife
By Lucy Monroe
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHIS lips hovered above hers.
Would they make contact? They never had before, no matter how much she ached for it. He started to lower his head and her heart kicked up its pace. Yes. Oh, yes. This would be the time. But even as she strained toward him, he began to back away. His image dissolved completely as the discordant note of a ringing telephone tugged her toward consciousness.
Gianna Lakewood picked up the cordless handset still half immersed in dreamland, a land where Enrico DiRinaldo was not engaged to supermodel, Chiara Fabrizio.
Her voice still husky from sleep and the emotions elicited by her dream, she said, "Hello?"
"Gianna, there's been an accident." The sound of Andre DiRinaldo's voice brought her eyes wide-open as tension immediately tightened her grip on the phone.
"An accident?" she asked, sitting bolt upright and flipping on the bedside light almost in the same motion.
"Porco miseria. How do I say this?" He hesitated while she waited with a premonition of dread for what was to come. "It is Enrico. He is in a coma."
"Where is he?" she demanded, jumping out of bed and clutching the phone to her ear, her green eyes wild with the fear coursing through her. She didn't ask what happened. She could find that out later. She needed to know where Rico was and how soon she could get there. She started shucking out of her pajamas.
"He is in a hospital in New York."
New York? She hadn't even known Rico was in the States, but then she'd avoided news of him since his engagement to Chiara had been announced two months ago.
She hopped over to the nightstand, one leg still encased in cotton pajama bottoms, and grabbed a notepad and pen from the drawer. "Which one?" She wrote it down. "I'll be there as soon as I can!"
She hung up before Andre could say another word. He would understand. He had thought to call her even though it was the middle of the night whereas Rico's parents would have waited until morning in misguided courtesy. Because Rico's brother knew that Gianna had loved Enrico DiRinaldo since she was fifteen years old.
Eight years of unnoticed and unrequited love, even his recent engagement to another woman had not been able to dampen those feelings.
She rushed around her tiny apartment, throwing together the necessary items for her trip to New York. She considered checking into flights, but discarded the idea. It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive, but it would take longer to get to the airport, book a flight and make the plane trip to New York. She wasn't like the DiRinaldos. She couldn't command first class attention, or even hope to get on the next available flight unless an economy seat was vacant.
She didn't bother to take a brush to her chestnut-brown, waist-length hair, leaving it in the braid she slept in. Nor did she take time to throw on makeup.
She barely dressed, leaving off her bra and slipping into a worn pair of jeans, lightweight sweater and tennis shoes, no socks.
A scant two hours later she walked into the hospital and asked to see Rico.
The woman behind the information desk looked up and asked, "Are you family?"
"Yes." She lied without compunction. The DiRinaldos had always said she was family. The only family she had left. The fact she could claim no blood relation was irrelevant at the moment.
The woman nodded. "I'll call an orderly to take you up."
Five minutes that felt like five hours later, a young man dressed in green scrubs came to lead her to ICU. "I'm glad you're here. We called his family in Italy three hours ago," so just before Andre had called her, "and they won't be here for another five to six hours. In cases like this having loved ones around in the first hours can make all the difference."
Well she wasn't a loved one, but she loved and she supposed that had to count for something. "What do you mean, cases like this?"
"You know Mr. DiRinaldo is in a coma?"
"Comas are very mysterious things, even with all the medical knowledge we have today. There's a case to be made for the presence of important people in the patient's life bringing him out of the coma." The orderly said this with a certain acidic bite she didn't understand.
They stopped at the nurse's station and she was given instructions for her visit with Rico. She also learned why the orderly had seemed so knowledgeable about Rico's condition. He was actually the intern working with the ICU doctor on call.
She walked into the ICU unit, her eyes not taking in the medical paraphernalia surrounding Rico. All she could see was the man in the bed. Six feet four inches of vitality as lifeless as a waxwork doll. Eyelids covered the compelling silver eyes she loved so much. His face was badly bruised and one shoulder was splotched with purple as well.
He didn't appear to be wearing anything but the sheet and blanket, which covered most of his torso. His breathing was so shallow, her heart literally stopped in her chest at first because she thought he wasn't breathing at all.
She moved forward until she stood beside the bed, her lower body pressed against the metal bedrail. Her hand reached out of its own volition to touch him. She desperately needed to feel the life force beating beneath his skin. Seeing no bandages, she laid her hand very lightly over the left side of his chest. Her knees almost buckled with emotion.
The steady beat of his heart under her barely touching fingers was proof that as still as he was, as pale as he looked, Rico was still alive. "I love you, Rico. You can't die. Please. Don't stop fighting."
She didn't realize she was crying until the intern handed her a tissue to wipe at the tears sliding silently down her cheeks. She took it and mopped up without once taking her focus off the man in the bed.
"What happened?" she asked.
"They didn't tell you?"
"I hung up before his brother had the chance.
Getting here seemed more important than getting details," she admitted.
"He was shot saving a woman from a mugging."
"He was shot?" The only bandages she saw were on his head.
"It was just a crease -" the orderly pointed at the white gauze strips "- along his cranium, but he fell into oncoming traffic and was hit by a car."
"Were from the car."
"Is there any lasting damage?"
"The doctors don't think so, but we won't know until he wakes up."
There was something in his voice and her head snapped around. "Tell me."
"The nature of some of his injuries could result in temporary or permanent paralysis, but there's no way of knowing for sure until he comes out of the coma."
Excerpted from The Italian's Suitable Wife by Lucy Monroe Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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