First Love. Forever Love
International business mogul Rafael Morretti has his pick of the world's most desirable women. But the all-work, no-play bachelor can't forget the one who got away. Fifteen years ago, Paris St. Clair was his college sweetheart. Now a destination wedding in Venice has reunited him with the vivacious beauty. And he will stop at nothing to win her back.
Busy building her financial career, Paris is still haunted by the one who got away. Maybe meeting Rafael again in The Floating City is a sign that their love is meant to be. As passions collide and they give in to desire at a private villa, will a sudden web of blackmail destroy Rafael's good name and sabotage their precious second chance?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"I've wanted to meet you for years, and it looks like today is my lucky day!"
Like a genie in a bottle, a voluptuous woman in a gold strapless dress appeared at Rafael Morretti's side, flashing a seductive smile. He had been searching the tent for his friend Stefano Via, but couldn't find the gregarious stockbroker anywhere. Stefano and his bride-to-be, Cassandra Knight, had rented the lavish countryside villa, near Venice, Italy, for their week-long wedding celebration. And the three-hundred-plus guests inside the satin-draped tent were partying like there was no tomorrow. Conversation was loud and boisterous, the live band was whipping the fashionably dressed crowd into a frenzy, and the mood was energetic and festive.
"I spotted you the moment you arrived." A girlish giggle fell from between her thin, peach lips. "Being over six feet tall, and drop-dead gorgeous makes you kinda hard to miss."
Raising an eyebrow, Rafael regarded his female admirer closely. The blue-eyed temptress didn't seem to care about sending the wrong impression or offending the other guests. In fact, she was determined to violate his personal space, and to rub her body against his. Damn, he thought, searching the tent for an escape route. Now I know how a waitress feels during happy hour!
"I'm a huge fan of your work, and I have every magazine you've ever been featured in."
Rafael raised his glass to his mouth and tasted his Dom Perignon. The blonde was staring at him with adoration, as if he was a rock star and she was his number one fan. But Rafael wasn't moved by her sultry tone or her provocative pout. Her blatant come-on was a turnoff. Call him old-fashioned, but he didn't like the aggressive, take-charge types. He preferred classy, refined women who carried themselves with grace and dignity. A huge fan of my work? he thought, puzzled by her words. Can't say I've ever heard that line before. I hope she doesn't think I'm Emilio.
His younger brothers, Demetri and Nicco, teased him mercilessly about his resemblance to their famous, cousinrace-car driving sensation Emilio Morretti. And although Rafael didn't see the physical similarities, he suspected that's who the giggly blonde thought he was. "I'm sorry, miss, but I think you have me confused with someone else." He peeled her fingers off his forearm and forced a smile. "I don't know you, and I'm certain you don't know me."
She batted her fake eyelashes. "I know exactly who you are and I can prove it."
"Okay," he said, deciding to call her bluff. "Who am I?"
"You're Rafael Morretti, heir to the Morretti Incorporated empire, and according to Business Weekly, one of the most brilliant minds of the twenty-first century." Moving closer, until they were touching, she lowered her voice to a whisper. "You turned thirty-six back in August, but in my opinion you don't look a day over twenty-five."
A grin found its way onto his lips. Rafael was impressed. Not because the woman had memorized his personal bio, but because she'd managed to recite his profile with a sincere expression. As if she truly was his biggest fan.
"You were born in Italy, but presently reside in Washington D.C. You're single, you've never been married and you have no kids. Are you satisfied? Or should I go on?"
"No, I think you've said enough."
"Silly me. I forgot to introduce myself." She stuck out her chest and twirled a lock of hair around her index finger. "I'm Stefano's cousin, Julietta Via. You probably won't believe this, but I'm very well known in Italy."
Oh, I believe it! I bet you've tried to seduce every rich man in the country! As he stood there, listening to Stefa-no's cousin brag about her burgeoning modeling career, Rafael couldn't help wondering what he was doing wrong. Women like Julietta were always throwing themselves at him, sliding him their phone numbers and boldly propositioning him. These were the exact reasons he preferred to stay home on the weekends. He wasn't interested in finding Ms. Right, or making a love connection in Venice, either. He'd been disappointed by the opposite sex one too many times, and after his ex-girlfriend's bitter betrayal he'd decided to take a break from dating altogether. Rafael had no intention of getting played by another conniving woman desperate for fame and fortune. So he took a giant step away from the aggressive blonde and scanned the grounds for someone else to talk to.
"This is my favorite song," Julietta said, swaying to the sensuous beat of the music. "Let's get out there, and show everyone how to really get down."
Rafael shook his head. "I don't dance."
"Then let's take this intimate party for two inside the villa." She linked an arm through his and gestured to the French doors. "Follow me. I want to show you something."
"Are you always this forward?"
"I believe in taking life by the horns."
And I believe in staying far, far away from provocative women like you! Rafael spotted his brothers, slow dancing with their wives-to-be out on the floor, and felt a twinge of envy. These days, Demetri and Nicco were busy planning romantic dates and jetting off to the City of Lights, rather than hanging out with him. And for the first time ever Rafael was unfulfilled at work, and worried about his future. Am I destined to spend the rest of my life alone? he wondered, releasing a deep sigh. Will I ever meet a woman who loves me for me, and not because of my net worth? Ever since his younger brothers had gotten engaged, their mother, Vivica, had been on his case to settle down. And when she wasn't badgering him about finding a bride, she was trying to set him up on blind dates.
But Rafael had bigger problems than keeping his mother out of his personal life. Someone was out to ruin his family, and he had to find out who it was before it was too late. Terrifying things had happened over the summer, and even though his dad put up a brave front, Rafael could tell he was deeply concerned about Nicco's restaurant being vandalized, the shooting at the Beach Bentley Hotel and the recent arson attack. For that reason Rafael didn't bother to tell his father about the blackmail letters he'd received last Friday. He'd immediately turned the letters over to the police, though he knew there was little the cops could do. It was ultimately up to him and his security team to unearth the truth, and they would, no matter what.
"I want to get to know you better."
Rafael surfaced from his thoughts. "Is that right?"
"Absolutely," the blonde purred, brushing her lips against his cheek and a hand against his forearm once again. "Let's sneak inside for a quickie. No one will even notice we're gone."
Rafael had to admit it was a tempting offer, but he wouldn't do it. He wasn't looking for trouble, and Stefano's cousin could be the poster girl for Gold Diggers Anonymous. For all he knew, she was in cahoots with one of his business rivals, and he had no desire to end up on the cover of a sleazy Italian tabloid. Not when he was on the verge of finalizing a multimillion-dollar deal with one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. He had come to Venice for business, not pleasure, and it was imperative he keep his eyes on the prize, and off Julietta's jaw-dropping cleavage. "I'm not interested."
"Of course you are," she argued, licking her lips lasciviously. "I can do things with my tongue that will make you scream ."
A rich, effervescent laugh filled the air, seizing Rafael's attention. It couldn't be, he told himself, shaking his head. No way she was there. Not in Venice, at his friend's wedding.
Another giggle reached his ears, louder and longer than the last. Rafael combed the tent, searching for the woman whose throaty, sultry laugh still gave him chills. His gaze landed on the bar, more than fifty feet away. And there she was. Paris St. Clair. How could he miss her? She'd been his first love, the only woman he'd ever felt an intense connection to, and even after all these years the sound of her voice still aroused him.
Her scarlet-red lips looked plump and juicy, her silky hair hung like a curtain over her shoulders, and she was dressed to kill in a black lace minidress. His eyes roved over her delectable shape. His pulse hammered in his ears, and his temperature shot through the roof. Breathe, fool, breathe!
Rafael stood at the back of the room, mesmerized, watching Paris dazzle her group of male admirers. Her radiant, butterscotch skin was glowing, her eyes shimmered under the decorative lights and her silky brown legs seemed to go on for miles. He was curious to know if she was married, how many children she had and if she'd fulfilled her dream of owning a beauty salon franchise.
But most important, he wondered if she'd ever thought of him over the years.
Rafael didn't realize he was moving until he heard the blonde's high-pitched voice fade into the background. With a dry mouth and a pounding heart, he strode purposely toward the bar. The beauty with the dazzling smile and bountiful curves sure looked like his ex, but Rafael had to know for sure if it was Paris, and there was only one way to find out.
Paris St. Clair loved having male attention. She stood at the bar discussing lucrative investment opportunities with a group of distinguished Italian businessmen worth millions. It was her job as maid of honor not only to tend to the bride, but to socialize with the other guests. Plus Paris knew if she continued flirting, and laughing at their jokes, they'd soon be putty in her hands.
Raising her champagne flute to her lips, she discreetly scoured the tent for anyone else wearing diamond watches and designer suits. No one caught her eye, but she made a mental note to introduce herself to the groom's family during dessert. Stefano Via came from old money, and although he never flaunted his wealth, Paris knew his father, a former mayor, was one of the richest men in the country. Definitely someone to get better acquainted with.
"So, what happened, little lady?" The media mogul with the salt-and-pepper hair grinned like the Cat in the Hat. "Did you hit the target or miss by a mile?"
Make them wait. It builds suspense! she thought, taking another sip of her champagne. Being a senior executive at her father's company, Excel Construction, had given her keen insight into the opposite sex. And holding center court among a group of rich, influential men was an exhilarating high. Being the "boss's kid" definitely had its downside, but Paris wouldn't trade working for her father, or her fabulous, jet-setting lifestyle, for anything in the world. She'd never forgotten her humble beginningsall the times she'd gone to bed hungry as a childand she was willing to do whatever it took to remain in the lap of luxury.
"I hit the bull's-eye on my first throw," she said proudly, shaking off the bitter memories of her past. "And when my brother fell into the dunk tank, he looked like he was going to cry!"
Tossing her head back, she laughed long and hard at the memory of Oliver shouting and flailing his arms in the dunk tank during Excel Construction's annual employee barbecue. Midgiggle, her gaze fell across a superfine man with light brown skin, a fitness trainer's build and the sexiest lips she had ever seen. The ground fell out from under her feet and her eyes widened in surprise.
Swallowing a gasp, she willed herself not to faint. Her heart was beating so loud and so fast she feared it would explode straight out of her chest. It was Rafael. Her first love. The guy she'd lost her virginity to; the man she'd once innocently believed was her soul mate.
Paris squinted, focused her gaze. Maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her. It wouldn't be the first time she'd mistaken a gorgeous Italian guy for her ex, and it probably wouldn't be the last. Their eyes met, zeroed in on each other, and Paris knew without a doubt it was Rafael. She'd recognize his smoldering stare and those long, thick eyelashes anywhere. Off-kilter, she gripped the side of the bar to keep from keeling over onto the manicured grass.
Eyes narrowed, she inspected him from head to toe. The years had obviously been kind to him. Back in the day, Rafael had been cute, but today he put the h in hot. His thick black hair was neatly trimmed, and he was immaculately groomed. His muscled physique filled out every inch of his tailored suit, and his boyish smile still made her heart swoon. He moved through the crowd with more confidence than one of Hollywood's leading men, and if that wasn't bad enough, charisma oozed from his pores.
Paris fanned a hand in front of her face, warning herself to get a grip. But he looked so dapper in his khaki suit that she couldn't help but stare at him. This can't be real. I must be dreaming. What is Rafael Morretti doing here? And why is he headed my way?
His cologne was a subtle fragrance, and as it wafted through the air her thoughts slipped back to the afternoon she'd lost her virginity to him at his family's beach house in Cape May. Did he remember that night? Paris quickly told herself it didn't matter. She didn't have time to relive the past, not when her past was staring her right in the face. Rafael was there, just inches away, and seeing him again gave her a heady feeling.
Desire rushed down her spine, tickling and teasing her most intimate parts. After all these years, she still wanted him, but Paris was determined not to embarrass herself.
To break the ice, she smiled. Rafael didn't.
"This is a pleasant surprise." His clipped tone suggested otherwise, but he had that twinkle in his eyes. A hungry, predatory expression on his face that said he was aroused. Back in the day, that look used to make her body tremble and quiver
Still does, her conscience interrupted. You're shaking so hard your teeth are chattering!
"It's been, what, twenty years since we saw each other?"
No, fifteen years and three days, but who's counting? Feeling as if she was trapped in a mental fog, she gave her head a hard shake to clear her thoughts. Never in a million years did she expect to see Rafael at her best friend's engagement party. Questions raced through her mind. Did he still live in Washington? Did he have children? Was he married?
Of course he's married! her conscience shrieked. Look at him! He's worth millions, he's built like a Greek god and his scent is as seductive as his smile.
Years ago, he'd been featured in Money magazine, but the article didn't reveal any personal information about him. Currently, the rumor mill was filled with tales of embezzlement, lawsuits and infighting at Morretti Incorporated. But the most shocking story she'd heard recently was that Rafael's brothers, Demetri and Nicco, were happily in love. Deliriously in love, if the gossip blogs were true. The Morretti brothers used to be closer than the Three Musketeers, and Paris couldn't imagine any womanno matter how beautiful she wasever coming between them.
"It's wonderful to see you again." Commanding her legs to quit shaking, Paris leaned casually against the bar, as if she wasn't the least bit affected by his arrival. And she wasn't. She was a confident, thirty-five-year-old woman, not a shy, pubescent tween. She refused to let her nerves get the best of her. "It's been a long time, Rafael. How have you been?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved how this book started and ended. I just wished the author would have wrote more on what happened with her ex. I enjoyed it great read which it was longer.
This book was read really slow. Took too long to get to the plot. I would read other books by this author. I would not recommend this book.
Great series I could not stop reading Lydia
I loved this family . Can't wait for the next read