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The letter lay exactly where he had left it last night, right in the centre of his desk. The single sheet of paper was aligned carefully square in the centre of the piece of polished oak, straight in front of his chair where it could not possibly be missed. All it needed was his signature and it would be folded neatly, placed in the already-addressed envelope and sent on its way.
After that there would be no turning back.
But until he made the final move, added the swift, determined scrawl of his signaturethe work of just a couple of secondsnothing at all would happen. It would just lie there, untouched, until he was ready.
Of course it would, Pietro told himself, his mouth twisting wryly at the corners. He hadn't spent almost half his lifetime building up the sort of retinue of employees that any man would envy not to have things that way: staff who would not only obey his every command but anticipate it perfectly, knowing exactly what he wanted and when. They would remain poised, waiting, until he gave the word to act. Thenand only thenwould they carry out his instructions to the peak of perfection. It was something he had come to expect so much that he no longer even noticed it, only coming up against the system that created it when something went wrongwhich happened so rarely that he couldn't actually recall the last time it had ever ruffled the controlled surface of his world.
He would never allow it to happen: lack of control, wildness of emotion, brought confusion and chaos with it. Confusion and chaos of the sort that he never, ever wanted to experience again.
The curse was torn from him, the flat of his hand slamming down on the polished surface of his desk so that the letter lifted slightly in the air current it created, fluttered, shifted and landed back down again an inch or two to the left before lying still again.
He had known the sort of chaos that could be created by lack of control. Once, just once, he had been fool enough to let that sort of wildness invade his life and take with it the organisation and rule of rational thought he valued so deeply. He had loosened his grip on the reins and lost control. And he had hated the results.
Just once had been enough.
Just oncenever againand it had all been because of this woman.
His dark, brooding look fixed on the letter-heading once again and his fingers clenched, itching to grab the sheet of paper and crush it in his grip, giving in to the heavy pounding of dark anger through the blood in his veins.
Dear Ms Emerson
That wasn't her true name, of course, but he'd be damned if he'd let his secretary put 'Dear Principessa D'Inzeo', or worse, 'Dear Marina'. Never mind the fact that she was entitled to both names, or that they would stick in his throat if he tried to say them. He hated the thought that his family name was attached to a woman who had given up on their marriage after less than a year and walked out without so much as a backward glance.
Just the thought of her name triggered a rush of images of the voluptuous, red-headed spitfire he'd met when her car had dealt his a glancing blow on an icy London street. The impact of her curvaceous body, green, slightly slanting cat-like eyes and that glorious mane of hair had been immediate. He'd lingered over exchanging insurance details until she had agreed to have a drink with him to finalise things. The drink had turned into dinner and she had never moved out of his life again.
Until after they were married.
Their short-lived marriage had been a total, wretched failure, an ugly spot on his conscience for too long. The searing heat of their hunger for each other had had to burn itself out, but he had never expected it to crash and burn quite so badlyor that the new life he had thought he was going to welcome into the world would in fact be the death of everything he had imagined would be in his future.
It was also appallingly messy, some unfinished business that needed sorting out with everything signed, sealed and made official. Which was the point of the letter.
Pietro paused, raking both hands through his black hair as his blue eyes stared down at the neatly typed letter on the desk surface so intently that the words blurred, becoming totally indistinct. This was what he wanted: freedom from the woman who had turned his life upside down but had never loved him. The chance to slam the door closed on a bitter part of his past, to turn his back on it and walk firmly away, heading out into the future. So what the hell was he doing hesitating, considering even debating? Why didn't he just sign and send the letter on its way?
He didn't even give himself time to consider the thought. He wanted this over. Done. Finished with, once and for all.
Reaching out, he snatched up the silver pen that had been lying beside the paper ready for this moment and clicked it open with a firm, decisive movement. This ended now; he was taking his freedom back.
It was the work of just a few seconds to scrawl his signature at the bottom of the page, underlining it with a fierce, hard slash that almost ripped through the page.
It was doneand not before time.
Then in an abrupt change of mood he picked up the letter and folded it carefully, matching the corners with cool precision before sliding it into the envelope that his PA had prepared. The ordinary post wouldn't do.
'Maria!' He lifted his voice so that it carried into the other room, the clear tones strong with conviction. 'Arrange to have this couriered to the address on the envelope, please. I want to make sure it gets there as quickly as possible.'
He wanted to make sure it was put right into Marina's hands so that there was no mistake. He would know that she had received it and that he could finally start to move forward with his life.
His soon-to-be ex-wife would have the freedom to get on with hers toosomething he was sure that she wanted every bit as much as he did.
The letter lay exactly where she had left it last night, right in the centre of the kitchen table. The single sheet of paper was aligned carefully square, in the centre of the scarred and worn pine, straight in front of her chair where it could not possibly be missed.
Marina knew that she should read it again, read and absorb it this time. Not skim through the neatly typed paragraphs in a shaken rush, unable to take in exactly what it actually said, only getting a rough and very shocked impression of just what Pietro had written.
When the courier had brought the letter to her door last night, she had been so stunned to see her estranged husband's name on any communication that she had found it impossible to actually focus on the letter. The words had danced before her eyes, blurring into one dark shadow as she struggled to take in their meaning. And it had been little better when she had gone back to try to re-read it later in the day. She had absorbed just what Pietro was demanding, but she hadn't been able to work out how she felt about it. She had told herself that she would sleep on it and hope that the morning would bring clearer thoughts and guidance on a decision. 'Sleep? Hah!'
Marina mocked her own thoughts as she reached for the kettle and filled it ready to make a much-needed cup of coffee. Sleep was the last thing she had managed; she had tossed and turned, trying to erase or at least ignore the images and memories that had flooded her mind, keeping her from the much-needed oblivion. But, just as during the time when she had been married to him, ignoring Pietro had proved impossible to do. And in the scenes that had played over and over in her head the contents of the letter seemed to grow with every repetition, getting worse and worse until she had finally tumbled into a restless, nightmare-ridden doze.
As a result she needed a large mug of coffee before she could even bring herself to read Pietro's communication over again. She was nerving herself to reach for the letter when the telephone rang unexpectedly, making her start, so that some of the coffee slopped over the edge of the mug and splattered the elegant notepaper.
'Hi, it's me.'
Her eyes were still fixed on the letter, as were her thoughts, so it took her a moment or two to register just whose voice was in her ear. 'It's Stuart.'
Indignation rang in his tone, and she was not surprised. She had met Stuart in the local library where he was Reference Librarian and he had made it plain that he was attracted to her. His voice should have been easily recognised but, with images of Pietro uppermost in her thoughts, she had been expecting another, very different, masculine response.
The contrast between her estranged husband's sexy accent and Stuart's flat Yorkshire tones couldn't have been more pronounced but she still had to think twice before the truth registered.
'Sorry, Stuart. I'm not fully awake yet. What was it you wanted?'
'I was thinking that we could do something at the weekend?'
'That would be '
Another glance at the letter caught her up sharp. Stuart might be just what she needed: he was handsome, he was kind, he was nice But she couldn't accept any dates; she had no right to even show any interest in another man while she was still legally married to Pietro.
'Oh, sorryno. Ihave to go away for a while.'
'Nonot really,' Marina hedged.
How did you say, 'actually I'm going to see my estranged husband'? She and Stuart might just be starting out on the road towards a potential relationship but she hadn't yet managed to explain to him that Pietro was still in the pictureif only in the distant, soon-to-be ex picture.
Somehow she managed to ease herself away from Stuart's questioning, giving only the vaguest possible answers, her mind only half on the task. The rest of her focus was on the letter that she hadn't yet had a chance to take in.
At last Stuart put down the phone, though not without making it clear that he was annoyed. Thanks, Pietro, Marina silently addressed her absent husband. Not a trace of you in my life for almost two years, and now you make contact again immediately things start to go wrong.
Or was she exaggerating everything? Perhaps she had misread the letter.
But no; a second, more careful scrutiny of the typescript told her that, not only had she not been exaggerating, but every restless moment of her disturbed night had been fully justifiedand then some.
Not only was Pietro suddenly back in her life after having completely ignored her and refused all contact for nearly two years, but he was also back taking control in the way that only he could. She had been summoned; there was no other word for it. Summoned to Palermo. At Pietro's command.
Her husband had snapped his fingers and she was expected to jump. Once more her eyes dropped to the typed words:
We have been separated for almost two years. This situation has gone on quite long enough. It is time it was resolved.
'You'd better believe it,' Marina muttered. It was more than time that their separation was resolved.
Deep down she had known this was coming, that it was inevitable after her flight from her marriage, the way she had tried to conceal her real reasons for running, the misery of knowing that her husband had never loved her.
Really, she was surprised that it hadn't come sooner. But still she had held out a vain hope. A hope that this letter now dashed to pieces:
imperative you come to Sicily to discuss the terms of our divorce.
It was so like the first letter he had sent her just after she had returned home following her flight from the misery of their marriageonly then he had been ordering her to come home to take her place once more as his wife. To forget whatever childish nonsense had sent her running in the first place and continue with their marriage as if nothing had happened.
Two years ago and it could still hurthurt so badly that just for a moment she doubled up with the pain of it, folding her arms tightly around herself to hold in the distress that almost spilled out of her. She had thought that she had everything she had ever wanted: marriage to a husband she adored, a baby on the way. Then in a terrible twist of fate it had all been taken away. She had lost the baby, her husband and eventually had been unable to stay in the loveless desolation her marriage had become. And now he expected that all he had to do was whistle and she would come obediently to heel like a well-trained dog and do whatever he wanted.
Oh no, Principe D'Inzeo. Not this time! Two long, hard-fought years away from him had given her a strength she hadn't possessed when she had been Pietro's wife.
Rebellion seared through her and she scrabbled in her handbag, looking for her mobile phone. She had no way of knowing whether the number she had was still the right one for Pietro, but quite frankly she didn't care. Simply keying in the text as quickly as she could with swift, stabbing movements of her thumb was some sort of therapy, even if he would never realise the fury with which she'd formed the words.
Why Sicily? You want to talk, you come here. There!
A final push of the button sent her message winging its way to him and she smiled her satisfaction at the phone as she tossed it down on the table and reached for her coffee once more.
She barely had time to take a sip before the beeping sound announced a response. It was short and to the pointjust a single word.
Damn the man. Marina reached for the phone again.
Why not? Another beep. Another single word:
Gritting her teeth, she pressed more buttons.
And I'm not? Silence.
The screen of her phone remained blank and there was no further sound from it. Marina stared at it, pressed a button and frowned at the empty space that lit up. Surely Pietro hadn't given up? It just wasn't possible. Pietro never gave up.
Beep. Another message; longer this time. He hadn't given up. Of course he hadn't.
Jet is ready.
So he was actually prepared to send his private jet to get her there. That was something she hadn't expected.
Car for airport will pick you up in 1 hour. No.