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Andreas got the call from his younger sister Miette in the early hours of the morning. 'Papa is dead.'
Three words that under normal circumstances should have evoked a maelstrom of emotion, but to Andreas they meant nothing other than he was now free from having to play happy families on the extremely rare occasions his path crossed with his father. 'When is the funeral?' he asked.
'Thursday,' Miette said. 'Will you come?'
Andreas glanced at the sleeping woman lying beside him in the king-sized hotel bed. He rubbed at his stub-bled jaw and let out a frustrated sigh. It was just typical of his father to choose the most inconvenient time to die. This coming weekend in Washington DC was where he had planned to ask Portia Briscoe to marry him once his business here was complete. He even had the ring in his briefcase. Now he would have to wait for another opportunity to propose. There was no way he wanted his engagement and marriage to be forever associated with anything to do with his father, even his demise.
'Andreas?' Miette's voice pierced his reverie and his conscience. 'It would be good if you could be there, for me even if not for Papa. You know how much I hate funerals, especially after Mamma's.'
Andreas felt a claw of anger clench at his insides at the thought of their beautiful mother and how cruelly she had been betrayed. He was sure that had been what had finally killed her, not the cancer. The shame of finding out her husband was sleeping with the hired help while she was battling gruelling rounds of chemotherapy had broken her spirit and her heart.
And then, to add insult to injury, the brazenness of that witch Nell Baker and her trashy little sleep-around slut of a daughter Sienna had turned his mother's final farewell into a cheap and tawdry soap opera.
'I'll be there,' he said.
But that little hot-headed harlot Sienna Baker had better not.
The first person Sienna saw when she arrived at the funeral in Rome was Andreas Ferrante. At least her eyes registered it was him, but she had felt him seconds earlier in her body. As soon as she had stepped over the portal she had felt a shiver run up her spine and her heart had started a crazy little pitter-patter beat that was nothing like its normal, healthy, steady rhythm.
She hadn't seen him in years and yet she had known he was there.
He was sitting in one of the pews at the front of the cathedral. Even though he had his back towards her she could see he was as staggeringly gorgeous as ever. His aristocratic bearing was like an aura that surrounded him. He exuded wealth and power and status. His glossy raven-black head was several inches higher than any of the other black-suited men sitting nearby, his thick, slightly wavy hair neither long nor short, but cut and styled so it brushed against the collar of his shirt.
He turned his head and leaned down to say something to the young woman seated beside him. Just seeing the profile of his face made Sienna want to put a hand to her chest where her heart was flapping like a frantic fish suddenly flung out of its fish tank. For years she had dismissed his features from her mind. She had dared not think of him. He was a part of her past she was ashamed ofdeeply ashamed. She had been so young and foolish, so immature and insecure. She hadn't thought through the consequences of twisting the truth. But then, who did at the age of seventeen?
And then, as if Andreas sensed her looking at him, he twisted his head and locked gazes with her. It was like a lightning strike when those hazel eyes hit hers. They narrowed and glared, pinning her to the spot like a bug on a corkboard.
Sienna pasted an indifferent smile on her face and, giving her silver-blonde head a toss, sashayed up the aisle and shimmied her way into a pew on the left hand side a few rows back from his.
She felt his anger.
She felt his rage.
She felt his fury.
It made her skin shiver. It made her vertebrae rattle like ice cubes in a glass. It made her blood race. It made her knees feel weak, as if someone had removed all of her strong stabilising ligaments and put overcooked noodles in their place.
But she showed none of that. Instead, she affected a cool poise that her teenage self, eight years ago, would have sorely envied.
The woman seated beside him was his latest mistress, or so Sienna had gathered from a recent press article. Portia Briscoe had lasted longer than any of his other lovers, which made Sienna wonder if the faint whisper she had heard of an impending engagement had any truth to it.
Not that she had ever thought of Andreas Ferrante as the falling in love type. To her he had always been the playboy prince of prosperity and privilege. When the time came he would choose a bride to suit his Old Money heritage. Just like his father and grandfather before him, love would not come into it at all.
Although, going on appearances alone, Portia Briscoe looked like the perfect candidate to be the next generation Ferrante bride. She was classically beautiful in a carefully constructed way. The sort of woman who never went anywhere without perfectly coiffed hair and expertly applied make-up. She was the type of woman who wouldn't dream of turning up at a funeral on a whim, in faded jeans with ragged hems and soiled trainers or, God forbid, a T-shirt that had suffered a food spill.
Portia Briscoe only wore exquisitely tailored designer couture. She even had toothpaste commercial teeth and porcelain skin that looked as if it had never suffered a blemish on it.
Unlike Sienna, who'd had to endure the torture of braces for two years and had only that morning had to reach for her concealer to cover a spot on her chin.
Andreas Ferrante would make sure his bride never put a designer-clad foot out of place. His bride wouldn't have a history of bad choices and reckless behaviour that had caused more pain and shame than she cared to think about.
No, his bride would be Perfect Portia, not shameful, scandalous Sienna.
Good luck to him.
As soon as the service was drawing to a close, Sienna slipped out of the church. She still wasn't exactly sure why she had felt compelled to pay her respects to a man in death she hadn't even liked in life. But she had seen the news in the press about his death from a heart attack and immediately thought of her mother.
Her mother Nell had loved Guido Ferrante.
Nell had worked for the Ferrante family for years, but not once had Guido acknowledged her as anything but his housekeeper. Sienna remembered all too well the scandal her mother had caused at Evaline Ferrante's funeral. The press had gone wild with it, like a pack of hyenas over a carcass. It had been one of the most humiliating experiences of her life. To see her mother vilified, to see her shamed in the most appalling way, was something Sienna still carried with her. She had sworn that day she would never be at the mercy of a powerful man. She would be the one in control. She would be the agent of her own destiny, not have her life dictated to by others who had been better born or had more money than her.
She would never fall in love.
'Excuse me, Miss Baker?' A well-dressed man in his late fifties approached. 'Sienna Louise Baker?'
Sienna set her shoulders squarely. 'Who wants to know?' she asked.
The man held out a hand. 'Allow me to introduce myself,' he said. 'I am Lorenzo Di Salle, Guido Ferrante's lawyer.'
Sienna took his hand briefly. 'Nice to meet you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go.'
She had barely moved a step before the lawyer's words stopped her in her tracks. 'You are invited to be at the reading of Guido Ferrante's will.'
Sienna turned back around and stared at him with her mouth open. 'Pardon?'
'As a beneficiary to Signor Ferrante's estate you are'
'A beneficiary?' she gasped. 'But why?'
The lawyer gave her a smile Sienna didn't much care for. 'Signor Ferrante has left some property to you,' he said.
'Property?' she said blankly. 'What property?'
'The Chateau de Chalvy in Provence,' he said.
Sienna's heart did a double shuffle. 'There must be some mistake,' she said. 'That was Evaline Ferrante's family home. Surely it should go to Andreas or Miette?'
'Signor Ferrante insisted it be left to you,' he said. 'There are, however, some conditions attached.'
Sienna narrowed her eyes. 'Conditions?'
Lorenzo Di Salle gave her a serpentine smile. 'The reading of the will is in the library at the Ferrante villa at three p.m. tomorrow. I look forward to seeing you there.'
Andreas prowled the length and breadth of the library feeling like a lion in a cat carrier. He hadn't been to his family home in years, not since the night Sienna had been found all but naked in his bedroom at the age of seventeen. The little she-devil had lied her way out of it, making him out to be some sort of lecher while she had maintained the act of innocent victim, a role she played all too well. Why else had his father included her in his will? She wasn't a blood relative. She was the housekeeper's daughter. She was nothing but a little gold-digging slut who had already married once for money. She had obviously inveigled her way into his ailing father's affections to get her greedy little hands on what she could, now that her elderly husband had died, leaving her practically penniless. His mother's estate in Provence was the one thing Andreas would do anything to keep out of Sienna's possession. And he meant anything.
The door opened and Sienna Baker came breezing in as if she owned the place. At least today she had dressed a little more appropriately, but not by much. Her short denim skirt showed off the long slim length of her coltish sun-kissed legs and her white blouse was tied at her impossibly slender waist, showing a glimpse of the toned flesh of her abdomen. She didn't have a scrap of make-up on her face and her silver-blonde hair was loose around her shoulders, but even so she looked as if she had just stepped off a photo shoot.
The whole room seemed to suck in a breath and hold it. Andreas had seen it happen so many times. Her totally natural beauty was like a punch to the solar plexus. He had worked hard over the years to disguise his reaction, but even now he could feel the effect she had on him. He had felt it yesterday in the church. He had known the very minute she had arrived.
He had sensed it.
He glanced at his watch before throwing her a contemptuous glare. 'You're late.'
She gave him a pert look as she flipped her hair over one shoulder. 'It's two minutes past three, Rich Boy,' she said. 'Don't be so anal.'
The lawyer rustled his papers on the desk. 'Could we get started?' he asked. 'There's a lot to go through. Let's start with Miette
Andreas remained standing as the will was read out. He was glad his younger sister was well provided for, not that she needed it as she and her husband had a very successful investment business based in London, but it was a relief to know she hadn't been elbowed out by that brazen little blow-in. Miette had inherited the family villa in Rome and assets worth millions set in trust for her two young children. It was a satisfying result given that Miettelike Andreashadn't been all that close to their father over the last years of his life.
'And now we come to Andreas and Sienna,' Lorenzo Di Salle said. 'I think we should conduct this part of the reading in private. Just the two of you, if the others don't mind.'
Andreas felt his spine tighten. He didn't want his name bracketed with that little wildcat. It made him feel edgy. It had always made him feel that way. She was a tearaway who rocked his world in ways he didn't want.
Had never wanted.
He had stayed away from the family home because of her. For years he hadn't stepped over the threshold, not even to spend those few precious weeks with his mother before she died. Sienna's outrageous deceit had destroyed any chance of a working relationship with his father for the last eight years. Andreas blamed her for it all. She was a sly little vixen intent on her own gain.
He hated her with a vengeance.