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The Salvatore Marriage
By Michelle Reid
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE storm raging outside was killing the signal. Shannon uttered a soft, tense little curse as trembling fingers reset her cell-phone then hit 'redial' before pushing the phone back to her ear.
Fear was crawling over her skin like a swarm of invading spiders. She couldn't stop shivering - or was she trembling? She didn't know, didn't care, she just needed - needed to make this connection.
'Come on ...' she prayed with teeth-gritting tension when still nothing happened.
Five minutes ago she had been dashing from a taxi to her apartment block with no other concern than to get out of the driving rain. She'd had a hell of a day from the moment she'd overslept that morning. In her haste to catch her flight to Paris, she'd rushed out of her flat forgetting to pick up her cell-phone as she left and had felt lost without it all day.
On top of that, her meeting had not been worth the time she had wasted on it. Temperamental supermodels and gifted graphic designers just did not mix, she'd discovered, especially when the supermodel in question took one look at the graphic designer's slender, long-legged figure and regarded her as an instant threat. Why the heck the idiot had conjured up the idea that a five-foot-eight redhead could compete with a six-foot-tall sylph-slim blonde with cheekbones to die for was anyone's guess. But all hope that the model was going to let Shannon design her self-promoting website went out of the window then and there.
Since then Shannon had flown back to London through the worst weather imaginable, struggled to get a taxi, then had got soaked getting from it to here. The first thing she saw on stepping through her front door was her cell-phone lying on the hall table, innocently telling her that she'd received a dozen missed calls - most of which were from her business partner Joshua demanding to know why the hell she wasn't answering her phone.
But it was another message awaiting her that had sent her mind into a complete meltdown. 'Shannon,' it said. 'Call me back on this number as soon as you can. There has been an - accident.'
An accident - Her throat closed on her effort to swallow. The relater of the message had not left his name but through the static his deep, smooth, accented voice had been familiar enough to put her into this state of raw panic. She guessed that the call was from her sister's husband Angelo - and if Angelo had left such a message then it could only be because the accident involved Keira.
'Damn,' she muttered when still nothing happened, and was hitting redial again when the doorbell gave a short, sharp ring.
Distracted, she turned to walk down the hallway, barely noticing that she had to step over the bag she'd left dumped in the middle of the floor as she made her way to the front door. A set of harried fingers made a wild scrape through the silk straight weight of her rain-dampened hair before continuing on to grasp the door latch. The phone still wasn't connecting. She tugged the door open, too preoccupied to wonder who might be standing on the other side of it so it came as a shock - a cold, hard, breath catching shock to find the last person on earth she ever expected to see standing there.
He stood over six feet two inches tall and was wearing a long black overcoat. The width of his shoulders almost spanned the doorway. For a few awful moments Shannon actually felt dizzy enough to clutch at the door while he stood there filling the opening like some dark, chilling force.
'Luca.' Dear God, she thought as her lips framed his name on a stunned whisper.
He didn't utter a single word but just reached out with a hand to ease the phone from her numbed fingers, then began ushering her backwards by the economical means of taking a step forwards.
Her breath feathered against her ribcage, the fact that she wasn't yelling at him to get the hell away from her said a lot about her state of near complete shutdown - though she did manage to register that both of them moved without touching anywhere. Like a dance between two opposing magnets, they made the manoeuvre into her hall without breaching each other's defensive space until she was standing with her back pressed against a wall, eyes wide and fixed unblinkingly on him as he turned his back on her and in grim, grim silence closed the door.
The size of her hall suddenly shrank to nothing, she felt strange suddenly, as if she too were shrinking into herself in an effort to get away from what she was being faced with here.
This man, this larger-than-life figurehead of the vast Salvatore empire. Luca Salvatore, of Florence, a man of power and of unrivalled passion. Ex-lover to Shannon Gilbraith, woman of sin and sister to his brother's wife.
He was also the man she had been going to marry. The man she had lived with like a wife for six wonderful months before it had all come crashing in. She'd loved him passionately; now she could barely have him look at her without feeling her heart wither in his presence.
He turned slowly to face her, shedding raindrops from his wide shoulders as he did so and filling the confined space with the smell of cold air and rain on wool. His long lashed gaze flicked her a glance then slid away to take in the bag dumped on the floor.
'You've been away,' he murmured levelly. His English was perfect, smooth and deep with the kind of accent that played across her senses like the brush of a lover's -
Don't go there, she told herself. 'P-Paris,' she said.
He nodded his dark head as if she'd just confirmed something for him, though for the life of her she couldn't work out what. She was shaking all over, racked by too many confusing conflicts, aware that she should be thinking about her sister but able to think only about him.
Keira ... Her throat convulsed on a wave of anguish, the flat of her palms pressed into the wall. Lifting anxious blue eyes to the hard, tight lines of his profile, she parted her lips to demand he tell her what had happened to Keira, but Luca spoke first.
'Are we alone here?' he questioned, and when she just gaped at him, unable to believe he had dared to ask that question, he decided to find out for himself. Stepping over her bag, he began opening doors.
Shock was replaced by burning dismay when she realised what he was doing. Two years ago Luca had arrived at his apartment in Florence to find her making a hurried attempt to cover up the evidence of what she had been doing while he'd been out of the way. What followed had been a gruesome demonstration of what came to pass when you played a Salvatore for a fool.
That time he had dragged her from room to room with him as he'd checked all the places in which she could have hidden a lover. This time he was prepared to make the search on his own - not that he had any right to do so.
'You bastard,' she breathed, and found the strength to push herself away from the wall and walk on trembling legs into her sitting room.
She hadn't had a chance to come in here, she realised, staring blankly into the room's chilly darkness that was softened only by the halogen glow from an outside street lamp filtering in through the window. It was automatic to reach for the nearest switch and flood the room with proper light - automatic to cross to the window to tug the cream curtains over the rain-soaked glass.
When she turned she found him standing in the doorway staring at her through narrowed dark brown, gold-flecked eyes set in a face that wore the proud stamp of his Florentine lineage. He was handsome but hard; handsome but cold; forge a statue in his image and you would have yourself a reflection of a modern-day god.
Excerpted from The Salvatore Marriage by Michelle Reid Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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