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Marco Moretti, by anyone's standards, was a man who had it all. His win today was part of his plan to become the most decorated Moretti driver of all time. His grandfather Lorenzo had won three back-to-back Grand Prix championshipssomething that Marco had done, as well, but this year he intended to surpass that record.
Both Moretti drivers were tied with three other drivers for the most Grand Prix championship wins, but this year Marco would win a fourth, something he had craved from the time he was a rookie driver.
He had no doubt that he would do it. He'd never failed at anything he put his mind to, and this would be no different. Why, then, did he feel bored and restless?
His teammate, Keke Heckler, was sitting at the banquette next to him, drinking and talking to Elena Hamilton, a Sports Illustrated cover model. Keke looked as if he had the world in his hands. All Marco could think was that there should be more to life than racing, winning and partying.
Oh, hell, maybe he was getting sick, coming down with a cold or something.
Or perhaps it was the family curse. Supposedly no Moretti male could succeed in both business and love.
"Marco?" Keke asked in his heavy German accent.
"Elena asked if Allie was meeting you here later," Keke said.
"No. We're not together anymore."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Elena said.
A few minutes later, Keke and Elena left the table to go dance and Marco sat back against the leather seat and watched the crowd. This party was as much for him as it was for the jet set that followed the Formula One races. He saw other drivers mixed in with the sea of beautiful women, but he made no move to join anyone.
Allie and he haddrifted apart during the offseason. It was as if she wanted him only when he was in the spotlight. A part of him craved the quiet life. He couldn't give up the glamour that came with racing, but sometimes when he was alone he wanted someone with whom he could share the quiet times of his life. A companion at the villa in Naples where he retreated to be an average man.
He glanced around the room. None of the gorgeous women stood outthey all were too beautiful for words, but he'd never find a woman here who wanted that type of lifestyle.
What was wrong with him?
He was poised to usher in a new era for Moretti Motors. He and his brothers had grown up in an odd world of wealth and privilege, all the while knowing that they had no riches of their own. Something that he, Dominic and Antonio had changed as soon as they were old enough.
The three of them were now men who commanded respect in the cutthroat business world of automotive design. Under their guidance, Moretti Motors had returned as the leader of the pack for exotic cars. The power of the Moretti engine and the state-of-the-art body design combined to make their cars the fastest in the world, something that Marco was aware of each time he got behind the wheel of his Formula One race car. What more could he want?
His breath caught as he noticed a woman across the room. She was tallprobably almost five-nine, and had hair the color of ebony. Her skin was pale, like moonlight on the Mediterranean. Her eyes well, it was too far for him to be certain, but they seemed deep and limitless as he gazed at her across the room.
She wore a subtly sexy dress, in the same sky-blue color as his racing uniform. Her hair was caught up and a few curls hung down, framing her face.
Marco slid around the booth to stand up. He was used to letting women come to him, but he needed to meet this woman. Had to find out who she was and claim her as his own.
As he stood up and took two steps toward her, she turned away, disappearing into the crowd. His heart raced as he started after her. But a hand on his arm stopped him.
He turned to see his older brother, Dominic. They were of a height, and both had the same classic Roman featuresat least, according to Capital, an Italian business magazine. Something that Antonio, their middle brother, liked to tease them about.
"Not now," Marco said, intent on finding the mystery woman.
"Yes, now. It's urgent. Antonio has just arrived and we have to talk." Dominic was very much the leader of their fraternity. Not just because he was the head of the company, but also because he was the engineer of this new wave of prosperity for Moretti Motors.
"Can't it wait? I just won the first race of the season, Dom. I think I'm entitled to one night's celebration."
"You can celebrate later. This won't take long."
Marco glanced back to where the woman had been, but there was no trace of her. She was gone. Maybe he'd imagined her.
"What's up, and where is Antonio?"
"On his way. Let's go to the VIP section to talk. I don't trust this crowd."
Marco wasn't surprised. Dom took no chances when it came to Moretti Motors. He'd been the one to realize that the curse put on their grandfather, Lorenzo, when he was a young man was responsible for their parents losing their wealth. Marco didn't put much stock in curses made by old Italian witches, but his father believed the curse was responsible for their family's change in fortune.
When they were teenagers, he and his brothers had taken a blood oath never to fall in love. They vowed to restore the glory and power of the Moretti name.
Marco and Dom made their way through the crowd to the velvet-rope section of the room. Marco was stopped many times by well-wishers congratulating him on his victory, but he kept looking for that dark-haired woman. He didn't find her. They reached the VIP section and found a quiet area toward the back of the room. It was walled in on three sides and had a curtain for privacy.
Antonio was waiting there for them. "Took you long enough."
"Marco is the champion. Everyone wants a piece of him tonight," Dom said.
"What is the problem?" Marco asked, not interested in having one of their brotherly discussions that led nowhere.
"The problem is the Vallerio family is adamant that we can't use their name on the new production car."
The Vallerio was Moretti Motors' signature car and had been out of production since the sixties. Bringing the model back was Dominic's plan to firmly reestablish their dominance in the marketplace.
"How can I help?" Marco asked. "Keke or I can take the stock car to Le Mans and win the Twenty-Four Hours with it."
"Impossible. Their lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to us."
"We need to get to the Vallerio family and convince them to let us use the name," Dominic said.
"What do we know about them?" Marco asked, his interest in the dark-haired woman momentarily abated. He knew how important it was that Moretti Motors go ahead with their plans.
"That Pierre Henri Vallerio hated Nonno and is probably jumping for joy in the afterworld at the thought that his descendants have something we need," Antonio said.
"So a family feud "
"Of a sort. I think they'd say no just to prove they can," Dom said.
"Well, then, I will have to offer them something they can't refuse," Antonio said.
"Like what?" Marco asked. His middle brother was used to winning. Hell, they all were.
"I'll figure it out," Antonio said. "Leave this one to me."
"We can't let this derail us," Dom said.
"We won't," Antonio said.
And Marco knew it wouldn't be a problem for long. The Vallerio's lawyer would be surprised when he had to deal with Antonio.
Virginia Festa had had a moment's panic when Marco left his seat and started walking toward her. She knew enough about him to realize that he liked his women interested, but not obvious. So she turned away hoping oh, hell, she had turned away due to panic.
Melbourne, Australia, was steamy in March something that she had anticipated before she'd left her home on Long Island. In fact, she'd planned every detail of this trip with excruciating precision, knowing that timing was everything. But she hadn't anticipated the human element. A mistake she was sure her grandmother had made, as well, when she'd placed the curse on the Moretti men.
She suspected that her grandmotherwho had only a rudimentary knowledge of the ancient strega witchcrafthadn't realized that when she'd cursed her lover, Lorenzo Moretti, and his family she was also cursing the Festa women. Virginia had spent a lifetime studying the curse her grandmother had used, trying to unravel the words so she could break it. There was no way to just take the curse back, since her grandmother had been the one who'd spoken the words and she was now deceased.
It totally ticked her off that she had panicked after coming this far. She was putting into action the plan she'd been thinking about since she was sixteen, since the moment she'd discovered the curse her grandmother had placed on the Moretti men and, by accident, the Festa women.
She wiped her damp hands on her classic Chanel gown. She was going to have to try to find Marco againfind him and charm him without giving away her plan. The key was to be vague. She had spent hours studying books on the strega spell her grandmother had used to curse the Morettis and looking for a way to break it. She'd determined through her research that to put the plan in action, she had to be anonymous.
She had only her grandmother's memory of the words she'd spokenwords that Cassia had written in her journal and that Virginia had studied. Her grandmother had demanded retribution for her own broken heart, and in doing so, she'd doomed the Festa women to always have broken hearts.
There could be no joining of Festa and Moretti hearts. They had to stay forever apart. But their blood As she'd studied curses, Virginia found a loophole. Separately, both families were doomed forever. But a child of Festa and Moretti blood could break the curse. A child given to her freely from a Moretti would repay the broken heart her grandmother had received from Lorenzo Moretti two generations ago and lift the curse on the Morettis and the Festas.
Now that the moment was here, she was really nervous. It was one thing to sit in her condo and make plans to seduce a man. It was something else entirely to actually fly around the world and put the plan into action.
She stepped out of the crowded room and onto the terrace that overlooked downtown Melbourne. Until now, the places she'd seen had been only the small town in Italy where her grandmother had grown up and her own home on Long Island.
Tonight, standing on this terrace looking out at the black sky dotted with stars, she felt like she was on the edge of starting something new. All the strega magic that her mother and grandmother had taught her had its basis in being outside. She looked up at the moon shining brightly down on her and took strength from it.
"It is a beautiful night, is it not?"
The deep, masculine voice sent a tingle down her spine and she wasn't surprised when she turned around and saw Marco Moretti standing there.
The panic she'd felt inside the party didn't return. Instead, as she looked over her shoulder at him, she felt a sense of power come over her.
"Yes it is," she said.
"May I join you?"
"I'm Marco Moretti."
"I know," she said. "Congratulations on winning today."
"That's what I do, mi'angela" he said, grinning at her.
"I'm not your angel," she said, though she loved the sound of him speaking in his native language.
"Tell me your name and I shall call you by it."
"Virginia," she said, very aware that her last name would give her away. So she kept it to herself.
"Virginia very pretty. What are you doing here in Melbourne?"
"Watching you win," she said.
He laughed out loud, the sound washing over her senses like the warm breeze that stirred around them.
"Will you join me for a drink?"
"Only if we can stay out here," she said. She didn't want to go back into the craziness of the party. Out here, she felt in control and better able to concentrate. Plus, she needed all the strega magic she could summon. The night sky filled with stars and the bright moon would help her.
"Certainly," he said. He signaled one of the uniformed waiters and they placed their drink orders.
Once their drinks came, Marco took her elbow and led her farther away from the people lingering on the terrace. The terrace spanned the entire side of the building, and as they walked along, she became very aware of his hand on her arm, of the subtle brush of his fingers over her flesh.