Nicoletta Gomez was a terrified teenager when Taviano Ferraro and his brother saved her life. Ever since, she’s been trying to rise above what was done to her, molding herself into a survivor under the protective eyes of the Ferraro family. All the while, she’s been falling hopelessly in love with the man who knows her darkest secrets.…
With one look, Taviano knew that Nicoletta was his, just as he felt their shadows connect. But no matter how much he wanted to claim her, he knew she needed time to become her own woman. When Nicoletta once again finds herself in the sights of dangerous men, a split-second decision has Taviano breaking all of the Ferraro family’s rules to keep her safe. And as far as he’s concerned, the reward is more than worth the risk.
About the Author
Christine Feehan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Carpathian series, the GhostWalker series, the Leopard series, the Shadow series, and the Torpedo Ink series.
Read an Excerpt
Nicoletta Gomez sat in her very luxurious leather seat, trying not to look as if she were staring at or even noticing Taviano Ferraro. She'd asked him for this and, as always, when she'd asked anything of the Ferraro family, they had given her whatever she wanted. This was the first time she'd asked for something so ridiculous that she was embarrassed, but it hadn't mattered. The family hadn't flinched or hesitated. She sat in their private jet with three of her friends headed to Los Angeles to see a Kain Diakos concert because it was Pia Basso's birthday and that was her greatest wish.
Nicoletta was ashamed she'd asked. She didn't much like the way the three girls were acting in front of Taviano. They flirted relentlessly with him, and were constantly ordering his staff around. She sat silently staring out the window, wishing she'd never made the decision. As much as she loved Kain's music and thought it sounded so fun, asking a favor of the Ferraros wasn't worth it, not after all they'd done for her. Everything felt like a nightmare almost from the first, when she'd told Pia the Ferraros had acquired tickets for them and would fly them to Los Angeles and secure a hotel suite for the night.
Within hours, Pia, her sister Bianca, and their closest friend Clariss Naples were on Nicoletta about asking the Ferraros for an expense account to go shopping for clothes. Nicoletta was horrified. The girls came from affluent families, and she was not going to ask the Ferraros for money for them to purchase new outfits for their trip, not when they were already providing a jet, a suite at a luxury hotel and the tickets to a concert. She found it a little shocking that they would even consider it reasonable for her to ask.
They whined at her, reminding her that it was Pia's birthday, and then when she absolutely refused, wanted her to ask her foster parents, Lucia and Amo Fausti, to open their boutique, Lucia's Treasures, to allow the three to choose free clothing. That horrified her even more. She considered canceling the entire birthday event right then, but Clariss must have read her expression because she immediately burst out laughing and said it was all a joke and of course they were kidding. Nicoletta had been relieved, but now, thinking it over, she wasn't quite so certain.
The truth was, she didn't know or understand people. She'd spent the last few years avoiding getting close to anyone. She had too many secrets and was terrified of anyone finding out anything about her past. Now, she was beginning to have more confidence in herself thanks to her foster parents, counseling and, she had to admit, the Ferraro family.
Giggles broke out and she glanced up to see Pia almost fall into Taviano's lap. He caught her gallantly, his strong hands around her waist, steadying her, but there was no expression on his face. She knew that look from vast experience. Taviano wasn't happy. He never showed it. Never. But he had a temper and she didn't want to be on the wrong side of it, as she had been more than once.
She knew her friends thought he was absolutely the hottest man they'd ever seen, and she didn't blame them because-well-he was. He was tall with broad shoulders and, like his other brothers, totally ripped. Muscles everywhere, and, saying that, they looked amazing in the suits they wore. He had very dark hair, always just a little messy, which she loved, just the way she did the dark bluish shadow that seemed to be permanently on his strong jaw. She couldn't imagine him looking like a boy. He always looked like a man. He had the bluest eyes. A dark blue surrounded by very long black lashes.
Those lashes suddenly lifted, and she found herself staring into all that blue. Her heart nearly stopped and then began pounding. He did that to her. Always. She'd been a terrified teenager when he and his brother Stefano had saved her life and brought her to her foster parents, Lucia and Amo, the two most wonderful people on the entire planet. Just thinking about them made her want to cry.
Her foster parents knew all about her, everything that had happened to her, and they loved her through her nightmares and loved her through her insanity of parties and rebellion and trying to outrun herself. Taviano and his family had put up with her, watching over her, seeing to her education, even sending her to Europe and making certain she had the best counseling.
The moment Taviano released Pia, he shifted out of his seat and around her, ignoring the woman batting her eyelashes at him, and came straight to Nicoletta. When he did that, looking so directly at her, she immediately felt shy. She'd acted so crazy sometimes around him when she was younger, said things, and there had been that one terrible night . . .
She wanted to groan in shame, and it took all she had not to turn red with embarrassment remembering how drunk she'd been and how she'd thrown herself at him. It had been a really, really horrible night. They'd been very careful with each other over the next couple of years, and she always felt awkward around him. For the most part, Taviano had avoided her, but he'd watched over her, just like the other Ferraros had done.
"What's wrong, piccola? You look upset. Your friends are having fun but you're over here staring out a window."
There was no reprimand in his voice. She realized there rarely was anymore. She looked for disapproval of herself often in others and was especially sensitive around Taviano. His sister, Emmanuelle, had pointed that out to her. She had given that a lot of thought and realized it was true. She looked down on herself and any little nuance others used was interpreted as disapproval.
"I feel bad that I got you into this, Taviano. I know you pulled the short straw coming with us. I didn't think that one of the family would be coming with the jet." She hadn't. She knew they'd send bodyguards, cousins of the Ferraros, but it hadn't occurred to her that a family member would deem it necessary to travel along.
He reached out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. The pads of his fingers were gentle as they moved along her cheek in a whisper and then over her ear. Her heart accelerated into a frenzy and her sex clenched. She was fairly certain if he kept it up her panties might melt off, but she didn't dare move or even breathe deeply.
"I came because I wanted to come, not because I drew a short straw. When you go somewhere, Nicoletta, a member of the family goes, or we send a cousin, someone trusted. We don't let strangers watch over a treasure, and you are that to us. To me. Have your fun with your friends. You never ask for anything for yourself. It is always for Lucia and Amo or someone else. Even this was for . . ." He glanced over his shoulder and gestured. "Enjoy your time with your friends while you can," he reiterated.
She forced herself to draw in air even though she knew it was a mistake. Taviano always had a distinctive masculine scent about him. She would be able to find him in the dark. The scent wasn't strong, and she didn't think it was a cologne; it was his skin, a faint spicy trail she wanted to follow that made her feel safe every time she got near him. Intellectually, she was certain she felt that way because he was the one who had come at her darkest hour, and when she inhaled and drew air-and him-into her lungs, she felt that sense of well-being.
"Thank you, Taviano. You're always so generous. You and your family." She nodded toward Pia and Bianca, who were dancing to one of Kain's most popular songs. Clariss was downing a strawberry-filled flute of champagne. "They're having a fabulous time, drinking your best champagne."
"That's what it's for. I see you're not drinking."
This time she couldn't control the blush. It started somewhere low and crept steadily up her neck to her face. She avoided his eyes. "I stopped drinking some time ago."
There was a small silence. "Nicoletta."
"Mmmm?" It was the best she could do. She fiddled with her phone, pretending she was occupied with a text message.
"Look at me."
It was a command, nothing less, and she was used to obeying a Ferraro command. No one disobeyed them. It just didn't happen. She had to steel herself to meet his gaze. It took courage, but she managed to raise her lashes and meet all that dark blue. It was like looking at a turbulent night sky. Every time she did it, he robbed her of her ability to breathe.
Nicoletta was hopelessly in love with him and there was nothing she could do about it so she didn't even try anymore to fight it. She had made up her mind a couple of years earlier just what she was going to do with her life-she was going to be like Emmanuelle and Mariko Ferraro. They were quiet about it, but they were warriors, exuding confidence, commanding respect, and she was slowly coming to find that belief in herself thanks to them.
The one thing the Ferraros had drilled into her over and over, wanted her to believe and given her as a gift, was that she could rise above everything that had been done to her-everything that had been taken from her. She could be a phoenix, rising like that firebird from the ashes of who she had been. She was determined that no one would ever be able to hurt her like that again, destroy her or anyone she loved. She would be a strong, confident woman and ensure that her daughters would be as well. If she had sons, she was determined they would be like the men in the Ferraro family, because she didn't know better men.
"That night was not your fault. It was mine," Taviano said, his voice very firm, but his tone was low, gentle, just the way he almost always spoke to her now, ever since that horrible night when she'd acted such a fool. "We are careful in our family not to drink to excess. You are aware of that. You're one of the few we allow close to us. Only one of us can do so at a time; that night was my night, and I indulged too much. I should never have gone after you when you were partying, and I was angry. I knew better. My brothers should have stopped me. You have to let it go."
She shook her head, her gaze flicking past him to her friends, who fortunately weren't paying much attention to their conversation. "I'm ashamed of the way I treated you after all you did for me. I really am, Taviano. I think I wanted to run away from myself." She knew that was what she'd been doing. She'd loathed herself, and she didn't think she was worth anything. In some weird way she was punishing herself for the things her step-uncles had done to her-things she had been helpless to stop. "Every time I saw you, you were a reminder . . ."
"You don't have to explain. I'm well aware." Taviano brushed his fingers down her cheek very gently.
She caught her breath. There was something about the way he touched her that got to her every time. He put goose bumps on her skin. Sent a rush of heat through her veins. Fire always danced low and wicked at that touch. It had been that way almost since the first time she'd opened her eyes and stared into his. She'd been so young and so old. So terrified of living, and humiliated that he knew what had happened to her over the last few years. She could barely stand looking at him or his brothers. At any of his family. They knew.
Yet because of them, because of his family, because of Taviano, she had learned to have confidence in herself. To believe she was worth something. Her recovery was due to the Ferraros and their endless patience with her, and of course the counseling they paid for. But also, she was certain, it was due to Lucia and Amo Fausti, the family the Ferraros had chosen for her. Her foster parents had loved her through the worst of her striking out at everyone-mostly striking out at herself.
"Just have fun, tesoro. We're going to worry about us and our relationship another day, but this day is for you and your friends."
Her heart jumped and then clenched hard. It took discipline not to rub her chest. She was acutely aware of his declaration but had no idea what he meant. Their relationship? He rarely spoke to her, in fact he usually avoided being alone with her, not that she blamed him. The family relationship? She hoped they weren't thinking of cutting ties with her. She'd toed the line, done more than what they'd expected of her.
She glanced at the three girls. Pia was glaring at her. It was her birthday and she wanted the attention, especially Taviano's. He was wealthy and gorgeous and reputed to be dangerous. The combination was heady. Nicoletta was embarrassed that her three friends were throwing themselves at him, but she couldn't throw proverbial stones-she'd done it, too. She'd been younger and drunk and feeling worthless, but she'd done it. The results had been disastrous, and she would never forget that lesson. Never. Not for as long as she lived.
The blush was back, and immediately Taviano reacted as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, and he probably did. She could swear he read minds-at least he seemed to read hers.
"You have to let it go, Nicoletta. We were both very drunk that night."
"I was very drunk. You at least didn't lose your mind completely." She whispered it to him, afraid the others might hear, even though they were a good distance away and the music was loud.
His eyes, already so blue, darkened with something that looked so close to desire her stomach dropped and her sex clenched. His breath was suddenly warm on her neck, her ear, sending a shiver of need down her spine. She couldn't look at him. She didn't dare. Not when every cell in her body was alive with need and awareness and he was so experienced he could read a woman like an open book.