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Every movement she makes is... sensual. Like sexiness just seeps out of her pores. Sexiness, and a razor sharp perfection.

It makes me, in my Walmart discount clothes, feel fat, ugly, out of place. But if there’s anything growing up in a trailer park taught me, it was how to fake it.

I stand abruptly, which should startle her, I think. But she just looks up at me with those jet black eyes, and for a moment I’ve thrown off of my tirade.

Anger, amusement, derision... something should be showing in those eyes, right? But there’s nothing. They’re just... dead.

It’s creepy as hell. She reminds me of a snake poised to strike, the way she sits there, so still and perfect. Goose bumps pop out along my skin, a bead of cold sweat tracing my spine, and suddenly I question the brilliance of confronting this woman.

I don’t know for sure, but... somehow, I think she could do a lot worse to me than try to get me thrown in jail.

In for a penny, Tremaine.

I look down into those dead eyes and swallow past the sudden knot of fear in my throat.

“Don’t fuck with me again.”

There—there is a spark of something, a tiny light that has been nearly swallowed by black. But it’s gone so quickly that I might have imagined it, absorbed back into the darkness as those perfect, glossy lips curve into a smile.

Leaning forward, she places a finger against the line of my jaw, slides it downward in a touch that can only be described as... seductive. My heart thuds in my chest and my words catch in my throat as I wonder what the hell she’s doing.

“So sweet. So... untouched, am I right? I can see why Matteo is so drawn to you.” Emilia leans forward, and for a frantic second I think that she’s going to kiss me. Instead I feel a sharp stab of pain when she digs her glossy burgundy nail into the tender flesh of my chin.

I swallow back a cry of pain. Back home we have wild dogs that live just outside the trailer park. If you look them in the eye, speak to them with authority, they’ll leave you alone. But if you show even a hint of weakness, they’ll go for your throat.

This woman is like those wild dogs, and I refuse to let her scent blood.

“I understand why you don’t want Matteo to get married,” I say carefully, making a point of maintaining eye contact. Too bad you don’t have any scraps to throw, I think, and barely suppress a hysterical giggle. “But trying to get me thrown in jail when I haven’t done anything wrong isn’t any way to do things.”

The dark eyes narrow to fathomless slits, and the nail on my chin presses further. I can’t quite swallow my hiss as she breaks through my skin, and the rich, coppery scent of blood reaches my nose.

Holy shit, this bitch just drew blood. I rear back, unable to keep a leash on my temper any longer, but Emilia follows, standing and grabbing my chin in her fingers. She twists it until I cry out in pain.

“You jumped down the wrong rabbit hole, sweetheart.” Her breath is hot as it fans out over my face. “Let me enlighten you. Matteo and I belong together. We are part of the same world. The same world that won’t bat an eyelash if a delicious, untouched morsel like yourself gets eaten alive. In fact, we would enjoy it.”

My spine stiffens and my temper flares. I’m already quite aware that I’m out of my league here, but to hear her lump Matteo in with her? The man who took care of me for no reason but the goodness of his heart?

I won’t have it.

“Just because Matteo is part of this world doesn’t mean he’s anything like you.” And in that instant, I relax about my impending nuptials.

If Matteo has shown me anything over the last two days, it’s that he won’t hurt me. Quite the opposite, in fact... he defended me against this woman, right here.

And then it hits me.

“You didn’t just want me out of the way,” I say slowly, backing further away from Emilia as she tilts her head to the side, examining me as though I’m a bug she’d love to squash beneath her stiletto. “You want him for yourself.”

Oh man, that’s fucked. I may have hillbilly blood running through my veins, but even the people I know don’t get it on with their stepsiblings.

Though I assume that if there had been any actual getting it on, Emilia would be a lot less cranky.

Without warning, Emilia springs forward a step, landing her right in my face again. I want to flee, but lock my knees in place.

“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, little girl.” Emilia gets right in my face, close enough that I can see a very thin sheen of perspiration film her forehead. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll walk away before something very bad happens to you.”

I may have little reason in my lie to believe in fairy tales, but one thing my past has shown me is that taking the easy road doesn’t lead to rewards. I’ll be honest and true to myself until I die.

“I didn’t steal the money.” I annunciate every word. “And Matteo knows that.”

Emilia smirks, and damn her, looks gorgeous even though she’s quite clearly half crazy. “No, but you could have.”

“Does he know?” I back up a step. Even though retreating goes against everything inside of me, I calculate in my mind how far away I am from the elevators, or even the stairs... she can’t follow me in those heels, I’m sure, and I want the hell out of here.

But not before I’ve made my point.

“Does he know how you feel about him?”

Emilia rears back as though I’ve struck her. She looks at me, wild eyed, beautiful lips party. She stares at me wordlessly for a long moment—I’ve struck her dumb.

“Get out of my face.” She whispers, gesturing wildly toward the elevator. I back up quickly before she decides our chat isn’t actually over.

Turning, I walk briskly toward the elevator. She repeats herself, her voice growing louder each time.

Hurry up, hurry up. The elevators take entirely too long to arrive, and when the clear glass doors finally part, I all but throw myself inside. I don’t dare slump against the walls with relief the way I want to, but I do cast one last look over my shoulder as I try to counter the adrenaline that has surged into my veins.

But Emilia is gone.

Chapter Nine

MATTEO

I AM UNEXPECTEDLY NERVOUS.

It doesn’t sit well, as I pace the floor in my office, the box containing my mother’s ring tucked into my pocket, pressing against my leg.

I am the son of Carmine Benenati. I’ve been wrapped in wealth and privilege my entire life, and have rarely had to ask for anything.

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