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Mistress For A Month
By Miranda Lee
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRICO MANDRETTI jumped into his shiny red Ferrari and headed, not towards Randwick Racecourse, but straight for his parents' place on the rural outskirts of Sydney. His plans had changed. Last night had changed them.
'Not today,' Rico muttered to himself as he sped out through Sydney's sprawling western suburbs, oblivious of the second glances he received from most of the women in the cars he passed, and all of the women in the cars he was forced to idle next to when the lights turned red.
Only one woman occupied Rico's mind these days. Only one woman did he crave to look at him as if he was a man worth looking at and not some primadonna playboy with no substance at all.
For over five years he'd endured Renee Selinsky's barbs over the card table every Friday night, as well as at the races on a Saturday afternoon.
Five years was a long time to tolerate such treatment. Too long.
Yet he had to confess that till last night he'd enjoyed their verbal sparring in a perverse fashion, despite the fact Renee usually got the better of him. When she'd temporarily subjected him to the coldshoulder treatment a few months back, he'd hated it. Rico discovered during that difficult time that he'd rather have his buttons pressed than be ignored.
Still, Renee had pressed his buttons one too many times last night.
Be damned if he was going to be on the end of that woman's caustic tongue again today at the races. Enough was enough!
The lights turned green and he floored the accelerator. The Ferrari leapt forward, tyres screeching slightly as he scorched up the road. But, given the speed limit on that section of highway, and the regular traffic lights, there was no solace for Rico's frustration in speeding, and no escape for his thoughts.
Soon he was idling at the next set of red lights, practically grinding his teeth when his mind returned once more to his nemesis.
She'd be at the races by now, probably sitting at the bar in the members' stand, sipping a glass of champagne and looking her usual cool and classy self, not caring a whit that he hadn't turned up, whilst he was sitting here in his car, stewing away, already regretting his decision not to go. He loved the races. They were one of his passions in life. And one of hers, unfortunately.
That was how he'd met Renee in the first place, through their mutual love of horse racing. Just over five years ago she'd become the third partner in the syndicate he and his best friend, Charles, had formed with the help of Ward Jackman, one of Sydney's upand-coming young horse trainers.
Rico could still remember the first day he met the up-till-then mysterious Mrs Selinsky. The three coowners had gathered at Randwick races to see their first horse race, a lovely chestnut filly named Flame of Gold.
Before that day, Rico had only known of his lady co-owner's existence on paper. He'd no idea that she was also Renee, the owner of Renee's modeling agency and the widow of Joseph Selinsky, a very wealthy banker who'd been almost forty years his second wife's senior, and who'd passed away the previous year. He did know she was a rich widow, but he'd pictured an overweight, over-groomed madam in her sixties or seventies with more money than she could spend in the beauty salon, and a penchant for gambling.
Nothing had prepared Rico for the sleekly sophisticated, super-stylish and super-intelligent thirty-yearold which Mrs Selinsky had proved to be. And certainly nothing had prepared Rico for her instantly negative reaction to him. He was used to being fawned over by the opposite sex, not the exact opposite.
Looking back, he'd been attracted to her right from first sight, despite his having another woman on his arm that day. His fiancee, in fact. Jasmine. The bright, bubbly, beautifully blonde Jasmine. He'd thought himself in love with Jasmine, and he'd married her a month later.
It was a marriage which had been doomed from the start. God, if he'd only known then what he knew now.
But would that have changed anything? he pondered as he revved up the Ferrari's engine in anticipation of these lights turning green. What if he'd realised Jasmine was an unfeeling fortune-hunter before their wedding? Or that his so-called love for her was the result of his being cleverly conned and constantly flattered? What if he'd broken up with his faking fiancee and pursued the enigmatic and striking Renee instead?
Renee's reaction to him might have been very different if he'd been single and available five years ago, instead of engaged and supposedly besotted with his fiancee.
After all, he was Rico Mandretti, the producer and star of A Passion for Pasta, the most successful cooking show on television. The merry widow - as he'd soon nicknamed Renee - obviously knew the value of a dollar, given she'd already married once for money. Rico could not imagine a woman of her youth and beauty marrying a man in his sixties for love.
Whilst Rico hadn't had as many dollars in the bank as Renee's late husband at that stage, he'd still been well-heeled, with the potential for earning more in the years to come, which had since proven correct. His little cooking show - as Renee mockingly liked to call it - was now syndicated to over twenty countries and the money was rolling in, with more business ventures popping up each year, from cookbooks to product endorsements to his more recent idea of franchising A Passion for Pasta restaurants in every major city in Australia.
Aside from his earning potential, he'd also only been twenty-nine back then, brimming with macho confidence and testosterone. In his sexual prime, so to speak.
Rico liked to think Renee would have fallen into his arms, but he knew he was just kidding himself. He'd been split up from Jasmine for two years now, his divorce signed and sealed over a year ago, and Renee's negative attitude to him hadn't changed one bit. If anything, she'd grown more hostile to him whilst his desire for her had become unbearably acute.
It pained Rico to think that she found nothing attractive in him whatsoever. In fact, she obviously despised him. Why? What had he ever done to her to cause such antagonism? Was it his Italian background? She sometimes sounded off about his being a Latin-lover type, all hormones and no brains.
Rico knew there was more to himself than that. But not when he was around her these days, he accepted ruefully. Lately, whenever she turned those slanting green eyes on him and made one of her biting comments, he turned into the kind of mindless macho animal she obviously thought him. His ability to play poker suffered. Hell, his ability to do anything well suffered! The charm he was famous for disappeared, along with his capacity to think.
Aah, but he could still feel. Even as his blood boiled with the blackest of resentments, his body would burn with a white-hot need. That was why he was avoiding his nemesis this weekend. Because Rico suspected he was nearing spontaneous combustion where she was concerned. Who knew what he would do or say the next time she goaded him the way she had last night?
Excerpted from Mistress For A Month by Miranda Lee Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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