Looking at the room around me, that is easy to believe. And easier to focus on than the fact that I have no one to call.
No one who cares.
Every fibre of my body wants to protest this arrangement. No matter how well-meaning this guy seems, he’s a stranger. And I do not want to be in his debt.
I don’t see that I have a choice.
Huffing out a sigh of exasperated surrender, I flop back against the pillows. “Do you always get your way?” I’m irritated, or at least I would be if I could gather enough energy.
The longer I’m awake, the more that the pleasant fog from the painkillers dissipates. Right at this moment, I kinda feel like I’ve been hit by a semi.
“Yes.” His answer is simple, and I absolutely believe him.
“Who are you, anyway?” Squinting, I study his face. He’s hot enough to be a movie star or a musician, absolutely. But I don’t recognize him—and some strange little tug inside of me tells me that I would, if I had seen him before.
He hesitates, like he doesn’t want to tell me—like he wants to keep what’s between us the way that it is now. Unbalanced.
“My name is Matteo Benenati.” Pausing, he cocks his head to one side, and I know that I’m not imagining that he is watching me for my response.
His last name sounds vaguely familiar, true enough. But I could be making that up. To my American ears, everyone in Italy has names with a similar tone. Benenati. Agnelli. Fiori. Leoni.
So probably it’s not familiar at all.
“I’m Riley.” I offer my hand, a very American custom, I know, and realize the absurdity of the gesture when he arches an eyebrow at my proffered hand, which I snatch back.
I’m naked in a bed in his house, with a stab wound on my shoulder. We’re a little bit past the introductions phase of our relationship.
“Riley Tremaine. Twenty-one years old, from Coal Creek, Colorado. Here on an exchange program for your final year of college, where you have just finished studies in fine arts. Speciality is oil painting. Currently of no fixed address.” Sliding his hands into the pockets of his slacks, he rocks back on his heels, studies my face as I gape at him. I shouldn’t be shocked that he knows any of this about me—I have a Facebook account, though I rarely use it.
But I’m a bit startled that he bothered to look. That I, a stranger to him—and a troublesome one at that—was important enough to dig for information on.
He doesn’t smile as he regards my obvious confusion. Instead, I get the sense that he’s just pulled some kind of power play.
He is in charge here. Not like I needed the reminder. And it makes me mad, even though I suppose I should be thanking him profusely for his help.
I don’t like needing help. Don’t care for being weak.
To his credit, he doesn’t rub in the fact that, at that moment, I have no choice but to stay here, as he has ordered me to do. I’m out of options. Out of money. Across the word from my home, simply because I wanted a taste of life in a town of three hundred that saw my mother every time they looked at me.
“Rest.” He turns, strides to the door. “I will be back later.”
The rational part of my brain tries to stop the next question from leaving my mouth, but then, if that part of my grey matter was strong, I wouldn’t have gotten stabbed, wouldn’t be here in the first place.
“Matteo.” My voice still sounds rusty, and to my surprise, tired. I suddenly want nothing more than to fall back on the softest bed I’ve ever been in in my life and crash. “Who undressed me?”
Looking over his shoulder, he smirks and winks, a small gesture that nevertheless sends a flock of hormonal butterflies crashing around in my stomach.
“Sweet dreams, Miss Tremaine.” And then he is gone, though the scents of his cologne, of the musk of his skin, linger.
Sweet dreams, indeed.
THE IMAGE OF RILEY TREMAINE, nearly naked and flushed from my words, lingers in my mind as my driver, Franco, pulls to a stop in front of the towering building that houses Benenati Enterprises. I instruct him to wait for a moment before he gets out of the vehicle, before he comes to open my door.
I need a second to compose myself, and that irritates me greatly. I know that the second that I step outside of this car, I need to portray myself as Matteo Benenati, son of the legendary Carmine. A man who might be young, but who is nevertheless as controlled and ruthless as my own father always was.
Often, I play the role so well that even I am fooled. Even today, knowing that I will be facing the entire board that my father hand-picked, people who will look at me and see him, I might have been able to pull it off, but for the guilt that is dogging my steps.
“Dio.” Watching that knife slide into Miss Riley Tremaine’s flesh made my well-repressed demons jump out of the dark in which I force them to hide. It was like watching my father with my mother—the lack of power swamping me all over again.
And it had only happened because I had hesitated—because I had, even just for a moment, acted as he would have. Even dead, he is still influencing my actions, molding me in his image.
For a long, agonizing moment in which I bury my head in my hands, I wonder if I will ever truly be free.
In my pocket my phone vibrates. I don’t have to look to see who it is—it will be a text from Emilia, wondering where the hell I am. Since I no longer have the excuse of being out of town, I am expected to attend this meeting, and not even helping a damsel in distress—a sexy, albeit puzzling one—will be an excuse in Emilia’s books.
While I am the acting CEO of the company, I know that my stepsister will use any excuse that she can to undermine me. And, heaven help me, I admire the ambition.
Sucking in a deep breath, I push out of the sleek black vehicle without waiting for Franco to open my door for me. As I stride toward the tower of glass and chrome, I try to think of something besides this meeting, which, despite my best efforts, fills me with dread.
This, of course, brings my thoughts circling straight back around to the puzzling woman lying naked in one of my guest rooms.
And thinking about that soft ivory skin beneath the clinging silk of the bed sheets has my pants starting to feel a bit tight. I didn’t undress the girl—I had one of the maids do it. Mostly because I was a little too interested in what lay beneath those dreadful cheap clothes that she wore.
I had plenty of time to study her while she lay unconscious in the ambulance. She is an attractive young woman, of that there is no doubt. But her beauty is of the wide-eyed, innocent type—a far cry from the sleek, predatory women I usually date.