Riley Tremaine? I have no idea what it will be like to lie with her... to lie with her as my wife. And that excites me like nothing has in years.
Belatedly I realize that Rossi is still droning on in my ear. “I really don’t advise using an heirloom like your mother’s ring for an occasion like this...”
He continues, and, unable to control myself, I slam my fist into the wall. “Shut up. Just shut the fuck up.”
I hiss as the pain radiates outward from where my closed hand impacted the cold plaster.
“I beg your pardon?” Rossi sounds as stuffy as I know he is. I want to give him some respect, for dealing with Carmine and the business for so many years, but the fact is, he doesn’t have any respect for me in return.
That has to change.
“Did you or did you not, just yesterday, inform me that I need to take a wife?” I can hear the ice in my voice, and I do nothing to hide it. This man may have known me since I was a child, but the fact remains that he is now in my employ. And the bastard knows, he knows exactly what I had to put up with at Carmine’s hands to get to this point.
Rossi sputters through the line. “You know I did. It’s the term of your father’s will, one that I advised him against—”
“Then please enlighten me as to why you feel I shouldn’t use my mother’s ring to give to my future bride.” I smile as I would if the lawyer was here, a smile that I really don’t mean.
Rossi sighs, and I can feel my temper rise.
“Matteo. You know that this marriage... it won’t last past the month.” The lawyer’s voice is full of condescension, and I cannot believe that he has the gall to say this to me—me, the one who pays his retainer. “And you may well want to give that ring away to someone you truly care about someday. Or perhaps Emilia—”
“Emilia is not to touch my mother’s ring. Ever.” Even if she hadn’t pulled last night’s stunt... that ring is mine. Mine to give to whom I choose. “And thank you ever so much for your thoughts on the matter, but let me make myself clear. I need the fucking ring, and I need it now. Figure it out.”
I know I’m not imagining it, the way Rossi is talking to me like a petulant child. And I realize that that’s exactly what I’m acting like. But I can’t seem to stop—it’s a kneejerk reaction. I have so much to prove, and Carmine had ensured that I’ll never be able to do so.
I’m not going to correct him for using my first name over a private phone call. But I’m also not leaving this phone conversation without making something clear.
“Rossi. Until the company passes to either Emilia or myself next month, you are under my employ, yes?” This isn’t a question—it’s a fact. “I have asked you to do a simple task. Are you refusing?”
I can tell that he has picked up on the steel that I have infused my voice with.
“Good. There’s no need to come in when you get here; just leave it with Massimo.” Massimo is the massive thug who works at the front gate; he’ll ensure it gets delivered to the house unharmed.
I almost hang up, but Rossi stops me with words that I don’t expect.
“Matteo. You don’t have to do this.” His words pull my world out from under me.
Rossi, of all people, knows exactly what my parents’ marriage was like—know exactly what my mother and I endured.
Knows how I must feel to be controlled like this from beyond the grave.
“Are you saying you have a loophole in Carmine’s will?” My spirits rise, then unexpectedly crash.
Without this will, I would have no further need to keep Riley Tremaine around. And that...
I don’t like it.
And so I’m only partially disappointed when Rossi replies in the negative, and as I hang up, the realization stuns me.
I have never wanted to marry. Have actively avoided it. Where are my mushy feelings coming from... the disappointment, the primal desire to see that ring on the girl’s finger?
For, despite my anger with Rossi, he is completely right. I will marry Riley—that I will be able to convince her, I have no doubt. I will enjoy her for the month.
And then I will let her go.
There is no other choice, not for a man like me.
I CAN’T DO IT.
I just can’t do it.
This morning after I woke up, I stood by the huge glass window in my room for the longest time, looking out over the city of Palermo.
I don’t want to leave. I learned so much in my year here, and I fell in love with the city in the process. Everything about this place—the language, the buildings, the people... it nurtures that artistic spark inside of me like Colorado never did.
But responsible people don’t just pack up and move to Italy on a whim, not permanently. It had been hard enough to convince myself that a year abroad to study art of all things was okay.
Impulsive decisions—those were my mother’s forte, right up there with spending money that doesn’t exist.
I will never be like my mother. And that’s why, no matter how tempting it is, I can’t accept Matteo’s offer.
As I pull on the yoga pants and shirt that I was wearing at the airport, now newly laundered by some mysterious staff member that I never saw, I wonder why this decision makes me so sad. It seems that fate has decided I’ll be in Palermo for a while longer, after all¸ since I can’t afford a plane ticket home. And that should make me happy, right?
But I’m not. Instead, I feel dread over knowing exactly how little money is in my bank account. And I also feel strangely letdown, that this little adventure with Matteo Benenati is coming to such a meek ending.
For one brief moment, as I push through the heavy doorway that takes me out of the bedroom and into a hallway I don’t remember, being unconscious when I was brought here and all, I consider doing the impossible. Consider throwing caution to the wind and accepting Matteo’s wild offer.
I knew plenty of girls at school who would do it in a heartbeat, if not for the money and the lure of being with someone I am coming to understand is a very powerful man, then for the sheer thrill of it. What a wild story they’d have to tell someday—that time a billionaire paid them to be his bride.
But I just can’t. It’s not entirely because of my mama, or because I think it’s wrong, or even because Matteo will expect things that I’ve never done in exchange for money that he can quite clearly afford to blow on something like this.