“But instead she gave me exactly what I wanted. Now, my dear, you have to marry me.”
SURPRISINGLY, MATTEO LEAVES me alone after dropping his bombshell on me. He tells me to make myself at home, then strides away, stating that he has business to take care of that can’t wait.
I watch his ass as he leaves. The realization that somehow, someway, I’m about to marry that ass seems like something from the Twilight Zone.
It’s not a real marriage, Tremaine. Get it through your head before you get hurt. I know this, and yet... I can’t help but feel a tremor of excitement.
The choice has been taken out of my hands—I’m embarking on this wild ride. And I know I could protest further, but let’s be honest here.
What just happened, with the police? It scared the ever living hell out of me. Somehow, someway, I’ve found myself in way over my head. And marrying Matteo serves the dual purpose of letting me have the adventure that I not so secretly want, as well as protecting me.
But I only need so much protecting—maybe it’s the trailer park trash in me, but the more I think about the way Matteo’s bitch of a stepsister set me up, the more I feel the need to prove myself.
If I’m going to be married to someone like Matteo Benenati, then I’ll earn my keep by refusing to be an easy target. If I was in possession of my right mind, I’d never even dream of doing what I’m about to. But one thing I’ve never been able to tame, no matter how much I’ve tried, is my kneejerk reaction to all things unjust. It got the best of me in the airport, and it’s getting the better of me now.
I don’t care if Matteo’s stepsister is a rich, powerful woman. I only care that she tried to get me sent to prison.
Oh, hell to the no.
The blind fury carries me right out the door of that monstrosity of a house, right into the car that’s still waiting, and all the way to Benenati Enterprises, which is where Franco, the driver, thinks that Signorina Emilia will be today. I’m almost thwarted when I get inside the giant tower that houses my soon to be husband’s empire—I’m dressed like a bum, after all, and security doesn’t think I have any business there, strangely enough.
But as I argue with security, I note that, behind the lobby reception desk, an icy cool blonde has pressed a phone to her ear. She’s one of those ones who is tall, slim, and effortlessly stylish, and just looking at her makes me want to turn and run.
That’s the kind of woman that Matteo should marry, not a penniless American student with a whore—a literal whore—for a mother.
But though I can tell that she thinks she’s being sneaky about it, this woman is very, very interested in me. And when she puts the phone down and approaches the place where I’m standing, hands on my hips, glaring at the security guards, I know that I don’t mistake the slight glare that shoots out of her eyes.
I wonder if she’s slept with Matteo.
I tell myself that it’s none of my business, but I once again feel my self esteem take a hit. I can see it all over her face...
She’s heard of me. But what, exactly, has she heard? Whatever it was, she’s clearly not that impressed. I wouldn’t be, either—I’m not who I would pick as a bride for a billionaire, either.
“Signorina Guerra says to send the American up.” The woman’s voice drips with disdain. Watching her wraithlike eyes look me over and effectively dismiss me, as if she’s decided she has nothing to worry about, rids me of the worst of my self-consciousness, stiffening my spine once again, reminding me of why I’m here.
I may not run with the rich and famous. I may not have been born with a silver spoon up my ass. But that doesn’t make me less. I know this, even if I sometimes have to work to believe it myself.
“Thank you.” I arch an eyebrow, staring the girl right in the eye as the guards tell me which floor to go to. She seems startled that I’m being so direct, but I’m gratified when she flushes and looks away.
“Won the battle, but not the war,” I mutter to myself as I head for the elevator. The snotty girl at the front desk? I have no doubt that she’s a teddy bear compared to Matteo’s stepsister.
Eyes scrape over me as I wait for the glass elevator, abrading me, chipping away at the shield that I’ve erected around myself. I don’t blame them. I look like hell, and everyone here is a shark, dressed in suits and ties and sky high heels that still manage to scream business.
It’s more than clear that I don’t belong.
Matteo says you do, a little voice in my head insists. And though I shouldn’t really care about the opinion of someone I’ve just met...
Remembering this infuses me with strength. So when the elevator opens onto the second highest floor in the massive building, I know that I appear calm and cool, even though inside I’m an uncertain, angry mess.
That calm facade is quickly tested. I step out of the elevator into a massive waiting area. Massive, elaborate... and empty.
Though there is a large, dark paneled reception desk, no one sits at it. A quick peek shows me steam still rising from a foamy latte, so someone was forced to leave their desk rather quickly.
The sliding door that sits behind the reception desk, like a nest guarded by a dragon, is firmly shut. I know the bitch who set me up is in there, and I want to crash through and pull her hair out strand by strand.
I don’t want to give her the satisfaction. She knows I’m here. She’s playing games.
I seat myself in a cushy armchair that faces the fortress of a door, and cross one leg over the other, wishing like hell that I was wearing something else.
I wish that for twenty long minutes, before Emilia finally deigns to appear. My head snaps up when the door slides open almost soundlessly... she must have some sort of remote opener, because she is standing in the middle of her office, revealed like a wicked witch dropping in from the sky.
She poses for a moment—there’s no other word for it—allowing me to take in her undeniable beauty. Tall and model thin, she shows off that body in a severe black suit that probably cost more than a car. She’s not wearing anything beneath the blazer, and the combination is both intimidating and ridiculously gorgeous.
Her dark hair is in some kind of sleek updo, her skin and makeup are flawless. And her eyes sparkle with cold amusement as she saunters toward me, seating herself primly in a chair that faces me directly.
“Oh, look at those leggings. So cute. I remember wearing those back when they were in style.” A plastic smile on her face, a cruel glint in her eyes, the woman crosses her legs, smoothes a hand over her hair.