Though I can’t blame her for finally being scared off. It’s no secret to me who the villain here is, and I’m damn sure that it’s not my wife. Yet she’s the one whose name is being dragged through the mud.
I wince as I think about it. I know damn well that, by this point, the story will have spread across the world. Even the people Riley knows back in America... they will hear.
And though it sickens me to think how much Emilia fooled me, in that moment I make a decision that I never thought I’d make.
If it means that she’ll leave Riley alone, then Emilia can have the company. But I won’t allow this sweet girl to be dragged down with me, not anymore.
“I have to go upstairs to see if Rossi is still there,” I tell her as the car stops in front of the tower that holds Benenati Enterprises. “And then we’ll go home and talk.”
She nods listlessly.
I wince inwardly. I’d give anything to know what’s going through her head in that moment.
Whatever it is, I suspect I won’t like it.
Hesitating to get one last look at her, I move to slide out of the car. Her voice stops me, holding me in place.
“This is what happens, I guess. I should have known.” She smiles at me humorlessly. “Just please... I don’t care what else happens. But I need to know that you believe me. That I didn’t do this.”
Incredulity bangs me over the head.
“I never thought that.” I say carefully, climbing back into the car, sliding across the bench seat toward her. “Why on earth would you think that?”
Riley stares at me. “You believe me?”
“Of course I do.” Cupping her face in my hands, almost giddy with relief, I stroke my thumbs over her cheekbones. “I may not know you very well yet, cara mia, but I do know that you’re just not that kind of person.”
And add to that that my stepsister is the spawn of Satan, and we have a winner.
“Have you been thinking that I thought you were guilty, this whole time?” I feel awful. The entire flight back from Greece I’ve been stewing over the fact that Emilia managed to trick me, to catch me off guard. I’d assumed that Riley was upset that her reputation has been torn to shreds, not that she thought I was blaming her.
Riley nods, and I resist the urge to shake her with frustration. Rather than melting into my arms, though, she glares and shoves me away.
“You don’t understand how bad this is going to get!” She cried. “I thought you did your research on me. My mother is a whore. A literal whore. She raised me in a piece of shit trailer with whatever man happened to be paying her bills that week. I haven’t had two nickels to rub together once in my entire life. The only reason I accepted this marriage was so that I could avoid the same future for myself!”
She sucks in a deep breath as soon as she’s done speaking, as if she realizes what she just said. I, myself, feel as though she has sucker punched me in the gut.
“The only reason?” I ask quietly. I know, deep down I know, that that’s not the case. And yet I never thought that my stepsister was evil rather than merely cruel.
Am I that blind?
“Matteo, that’s not what I meant.” The words rush out of Riley’s mouth. “You know that’s not how I feel.”
I don’t even know how I feel in that moment. I have no right to be upset—the entire premise of our marriage was that Riley needed money, and I needed a wife.
And yet... is that really all there is?
I hold up my hand again, stopping her speech. “I need to go deal with this mess. After I’m done we’ll sit down and talk about... about our future. Okay?”
Riley’s eyes widen, and I swallow past a great lump in my throat.
I am Matteo Benenati. I’ve never even had a serious girlfriend, because I’ve never wanted to be tied down when there was so much life to be lived.
And now I’m thinking about keeping my wife.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Just remember. You are the light in my darkness. Now that I’ve found you, I won’t let you go so easily.”
The air outside the car is stifling. Alexi lent us his private jet for the flight back, and I took the time to change into a sharp suit, knowing I would need every tool at my disposal to fix this.
I just want to be back on the yacht with Riley. In fact, I don’t care if I ever see the inside of this damn building ever again.
Once inside though, I can immediately tell that something is wrong. The tower that houses Benenati Enterprises is usually bustling with activity. Today... it’s empty. Eerily silent.
The hair on the back of my neck stands up as foreboding washes over me.
What has Emilia done?
I take the elevator up to my offices on the top floor and as I do, I realize that I’ve never been in the lift alone. It’s always crowded with people.
Where has everyone gone?
Fury drives my movement as the doors open. I stride through my private reception area, and into my office. I’m not overly surprised to find Emilia sitting at my desk primly, one leg crossed over the other.
“You’re fired.” I spit out at her. “I can’t stop this ridiculous clause of Carmine’s from playing out, but I still have the authority to take your job. Consider it taken, and get out.”
“You might want to hear what I have to say first.” Idly, she holds her hand out in front of her, inspects nails that she’s painted glossy red.
“Get out before I have security carry you out. That will make a great shot for the paparazzi.” I’ve never before wanted to strike a woman, but this creature... she’s not a woman. She’s a demon.
She’s ruining Riley’s life.
“Perhaps you haven’t noticed, brother dearest, but there is no security to escort me anywhere.” She smiles, lets her fingers trail down the low neck of her wrap around dress. I look away, disgusted. “Since news broke this morning of their incompetent acting CEO allowing his little bride to swindle the company out of everything, they’re all looking for new jobs.”
Her words give me a pang, but I can’t focus on it. Some of those employees have been around since I was a child. I don’t know what she did to get rid of them, but I’m sure it can be fixed.
It doesn’t stop my rage.
“How was the honeymoon?” She continues, smiling maliciously up at me. “Have you had to look outside the marital bed yet? Or maybe she has... that’s more her style. Or her mother’s. Isn’t it?”