Coming soon! His Sicilian Cinderella by Carol Marinelli will be available Aug 1, 2015.
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Matteo did not want to hear her name, yet tonight it had peppered the conversation.
Neither did he want to remember a love that had made him a fool.
And so he sat through his closest friend and business partner's small engagement party, which was being held at Luka's luxurious Rome penthouse, avoiding, as best he could, any references to an extremely chequered past.
Matteo and his girlfriend of three months, which was a bit of a record for him, had flown in from London for the occasion. Knowing that Luka and Sophie's engagement was an extravagant farce, Matteo just wanted the night to be over and done.
Sophie Durante had turned up at Luka's London office just a few days ago and demanded that, on her father Paulo's release from prison, Luka uphold their long-abandoned engagement for the little time that her father had left.
Had Luka sought advice from Matteo they would not be sitting here now.
He had not and so they were.
Paulo kept speaking about Sicily, or rather the beautiful west and the people he had known there. Matteo, doing his level best not let his mind return there, had kept guiding the conversation back towards his true passion.
No, his passion wasn't Shandy, the woman who sat beside him, even though she would prefer that it was.
Honest work was his passion.
Matteo's reputation in the business world was his most prized possession. He had clawed his way back from less than nothing. He had made something of himself after a violent, criminal past and nothing and no one would ever reduce him or drag him back to the ways of old.
'So when do you go to Dubai?' Luka asked.
'Sunday,' Matteo answered. 'Unless you'll be needing the plane.'
Luka understood the slight taunt behind Matteo's wordsMatteo was convinced that Sophie wanted more than an engagement ring on her finger.
He didn't believe Sophie's sob story for a moment.
Matteo didn't believe in anyone.
'Sunday?' Shandy checked. 'But I thought you said that you didn't have a firm date yet.'
'I only just found out.' Matteo's jaw gritted. Shandy had got it into her head that she would be joining him on this business trip. If they wanted to share a room then a ring on her finger might well be required and he could feel her squirm in expectation. No doubt she was thinking that this sudden trip to Rome might have a deeper meaning.
'Where are you staying?' Paulo asked.
'Fiscella,' Matteo answered, referring to the luxurious hotel he had booked into.
'It's very romantic,' Shandy said, but Matteo quickly crushed that.
'Luka and I are thinking of buying it,' he explained to Paulo. 'It is a nice old hotel but it needs a lot of refurbishment. I want to check out a few things for myself.'
'Doesn't Bella work there?' Paulo asked Sophie, and Matteo took a belt of his drink.
The sound of her name had his throat tighten, so much so that he had to think, he actually had to tell himself to relax, in order to swallow the sickly limon-cello down.
He loathed the taste, it reminded him too much of home and that was a place he had spent the last five years doing his level best to forget.
He did not want to think about his past and certainly Matteo did not want to hear what Bella Gatti was up to.
He'd already been told.
A couple of months after leaving, his half-brother Dino had told him that Bella was a regular at the bar.
He had told him a few other things that had had the bile rising in Matteo's chest and burning the back of his throat, but he had kept his voice impassive when he'd spoken with Dino.
If his half-brother got even a hint that Matteo cared then Bella would be punished for his leaving, just for the pleasure of Matteo being told.
He swallowed down the liquor as Sophie answered Paulo's question.
'She does,' Sophie said, and despite his best intentions not to delve further Matteo found himself asking Sophie a question.
'She's a chambermaid.' Paulo answered for his daughter. 'Isn't she, Sophie?'
'Well, I guess it gives her access to a richer clientele.' Matteo's response was surly and, taking Shandy's hand, he led her to the floor to dance.
He didn't want to dance.
He just wanted to get away from the conversation.
Rome glittered beneath them. He could feel the pulse from the street below and the guarded Matteo suddenly wanted to escape the shackles and to shed his skin. He wanted to take a moped and explore the ancient, beautiful city. He wanted to ride high up and stare down at the ancient buildings and ruins, to drink cheap wine and be younger than his thirty yearsonly he wanted to do all of this with Bella.
Oh, he was dancing with the wrong woman tonight.
And every night since He halted his thought process, for he never went back in his mind.
He just could not escape the truth todayfor five years, long before Shandy, every night he had danced with the wrong woman and now, though his integrity at work was never in doubt, his reputation with women preceded him.
No, he could not escape the memories of them.
Matteo recalled Bella's deep, slightly husky voice as she had told him about her favourite place in the worlda jewel deep in Bordo Del Cielo that he had never bothered to explorethe ancient baths that the Moors had built. She had told him how she would take herself off there at times and pretend that she had lived long ago, how she imagined the carved-out stone filled with spring waters and the sex and debauchery that must have gone on there.
Bella had played with his mind then and somehow she played with it even now.
'I love Sophie's dress '
Matteo did not blink as Shandy pulled him out of introspection. Instead, he frowned at the intrusion as Shandy did what she did bestspent money in her head.
'I want something similar,' she explained. 'I asked Sophie who made it. Gatti. She's an emerging designer, apparently. I want to wear her before everyone else is. Tomorrow I want to see her studio '
Matteo's teeth ground down. More like a boudoir. 'Let's go.'
'It's too early,' Shandy protested. 'Anyway, I'm enjoying myself. You never said that it was Paulo Du-rante's daughter that Luka was getting engaged to. I never thought we would be dining with such a highprofile criminal tonight. It's exciting ' Shandy said, and then dropped her voice. 'A turn-on.'
'Then you didn't live through it,' Matteo hissed, and dropped his arms. 'We're leaving now.'
He chose not to tell Shandy that Paulo was no big fishthe old man had been Malvolio's puppet.
Malvolio had been the leader and had seen to it that Paulo had taken the fall for him.
And the reason they were here tonight was that Malvolio was Luka's father.
Luka felt that he had a debt to pay and Sophie had called it in.
'Thanks for this,' Luka said, as he saw Matteo out. Shandy had gone to top up her make-up and the two men stood, uncomfortable with small talk.
Neither liked that their past was catching up with them.
They had made strong, good lives in London.
It felt strange to be back in Italy. Even Rome felt too close to Bordo Del Cielo tonight.
'Will you let me know when the wedding is?' Matteo's voice was thick with sarcasm.
'There will be no wedding,' Luka said. 'I just agreed to an engagement. You can surely see for yourself how sick he is. It's a matter of days till all this is done and I can get back on with my life.'
'Why are you going through with it?' Matteo said. 'You owe her nothing.'
'I owe Paulo this,' Luka corrected.
'You owe that old fool nothing,' Matteo insisted. Bile was churning and his venomous words were aimed at himself, because he had been but a day away from being Malvolio's second man. 'Sophie is just like Bella, both are up to no good. I'm telling you that she lies,' Matteo said. 'She's not doing well, like she told you she was. That dress is not designer '
'Please.' Luka shrugged. 'I'm not like you, I don't care for fashion and labels. You always were a dark, mistrusting bastard.'
'A good-looking bastard, though,' Shandy said as she returned. Matteo pulled on his jacket and checked his reflection in the mirror, and Luka gave a dry laugh.
'Yes, Matteo, you look good,' Luka said, and it was his turn to be sarcastic now.
Matteo and Shandy headed out to the street.
'I like that you dress well,' Shandy said, but her words simply irked.
Yes, he always had dressed better than the rest. His suits were the most expensive, his hair superbly cut, his stubble pure designer.
Bella Gatti knew why, though, for he had confided in her.
His driver was waiting and opening the door but Matteo stood there in the street rather than getting in. 'I think it might be good to walk.'
'To walk?' Shandy shuddered at the thought. 'In these heels?'
'No, I would like a walk alone,' Matteo said. 'It's been a long time since I've been back in Italy.'
'Well, it doesn't suit you,' Shandy said, because he had been at his brooding best since the plane had touched down. 'Matteo, come to bed ' Her mouth moved in to persuade him but he dodged his head back.
'I'll be in later.'
No apology, no excuses, he just walked off into the night.
And he did what he wanted.
Matteo bought a bottle of wine, and though the grapes were not from Bordo Del Cielo, they were from the west. He hired a moped and drove up, ever up, and then he parked it atop Capitoline Hill and stared down at the illuminated view and there, unlit, the lone horseman. But, though ancient and beautiful, it was the wrong view he gazed upon and, of course, there wasn't Bella by his side.
He let himself remember, not all of it, not even a lotbut something more intimate than the sex they had shared, he recalled the woman.
Black hair, green eyes and a smile that was so unexpected.
Sophie was all Sicilian fire, whereas Bella was the chameleon, the actress, the survivor who had once made his black heart smile.
Not now, Matteo thought, taking a drink from the bottle, but cheap wine didn't work either.
Nothing deadened the ache.
She was here in this town, he knew it now.
Was she sleeping?
Or did she lie awake tonight, knowing that he was near and burning for him as he did for her?
What did it matter? he thought, tossing the bottle into a bin and heading back to the hotel.
They could never be now.
'Where have you been?' Shandy asked sleepily, as he came into the bedroom of the luxurious suite, flicking on the sidelight as he crept in after three.
'Walking,' Matteo said. 'Go back to sleep.'
'I ordered champagne,' she said. 'I thought you had brought me here to.'
Yes, there was an air of expectation from Shandy. The sheikh Matteo was meeting with had told him he was looking forward to meeting his partner. The shareholders too were braying for the wild Matteo Santini to tame his ways.
And though he had told her from the start that nothing would ever become of them, Matteo had stuck at things with Shandy for longer than he did usually, though the final hurdle was proving too daunting.
Yes, Matteo knew it was time to grow up and settle down.
And he would, Matteo told himself as he undressed. Just not yet.
He looked at the hotel suite with more than vague interest, given that Hotel Fiscella was a potential purchase that he and Luka were considering making. And so he noticed not just that the room was immaculate but that the turn-down service had been discreet. The curtains were drawn and there were chocolates and a flower by the bed that had presumably been on his pillow and there was a pleasing scent in the air.
He glanced at the note by the bed that informed him that the weather tomorrow would be stormy and hot and that if there was anything further required not to hesitate to call the desk, and it was signed.
It could not be her, Matteo mused. Yes, while he had found out that she was a chambermaid at this very hotel Bella was still a very common name.
Was it her scent that lingered?
Was it her hands that had smoothed back the sheets and plumped the pillows? Matteo thought as he climbed into bed.
'When?' Shandy asked as he lay there. 'Your friend just got engaged.'
Matteo said nothing.
'I want a commitment, Matteo,' she pushed.
Now he turned his head on the pillow and spoke to the face next to his.
'Then you're with the wrong man.'
Had she slapped him, had Shandy risen from the bed and got dressed and got out, he might have admired her.
But there she lay, clinging on with her gel nails to the image of them that the paparazzi had created and to the man she'd hoped he would one day be.
Matteo Santini, the bad boy made good.
No, he hadn't made good, not yet.
Tonight, he was right not to ask Shandy to marry him for had he known where Bella lived, had he had Bella's number then, Matteo knew he would have been paying a late-night visit to the whore he was hard for now.
He turned to flick off the bedside light and looked again at the signed card and he ached for Bella in a way he never had for anybody else.
Matteo fell asleep trying not to think about a woman from the past.
And then the dreams started.
On many occasions over the years Bella had attempted to frequent Matteo Santini's dreams.
His subconscious kept perpetual guard, though.
So controlled was Matteo that even in sleep he did his level best to chase all thoughts of her away.
But even guards had to sleep at times and so, on occasion, Bella slipped through the net and would dance all night through his mind.
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