Cavalieri Billionaire Legacy Excerpts
Scandals of the Father – Chapter One
No good came from attracting the attention of a man like Barone Cavalieri.
The prosecco flutes on my tray rattled as I caught sight of his glare.
The Barone Cavalieri, powerful patriarch of the Cavalieri family, was staring at me. No, not staring, glaring.
Shifting my gaze away, I tried to swallow past the dry fear which had turned my throat to dust. The flutes clattered again. I pressed my hand over their tops, stilling them. I inhaled a shaky breath and held it, trying to calm my racing heart. A piece of hair escaped my loose bun and tickled the side of my neck. I desperately wanted to flick it aside but was afraid to release my grip on my passing tray.
Despite it being late autumn, the sultry Italian sun would not release its hot grip on our little mountain valley in Abruzzo. A bead of sweat trickled between my shoulder blades. I shrugged one shoulder, trying to relieve the icky, itching sensation on my skin. Then froze. Had my motion drawn more of his unwanted attention? I was afraid to look.
What had I done wrong to warrant his glare?
Internally, I rolled my eyes.
Dammit, why had I agreed to work this awful wedding?
Everyone in the village knew it was doomed from the start.
The answer was simple.
Money, of course.
Stupid, completely necessary for survival money.
I dared a glance out of the corner of my eye. Barone had turned away, his attention drawn by a handful of disreputable looking guests.
I let out the breath I was holding.
Maybe it had all been in my imagination?
After all, why on earth would Barone Cavalieri be glaring at me, one of the village catering servants, at his eldest son’s wedding? I mean sure, I had been friends with his youngest son at school, but that was years ago. It wasn’t like our families hung out in the same circles.
There were the rich as hell Cavalieris.
There was everyone else below them.
And at the very top was Barone Cavalieri.
The man was practically a legend in his own time.
Known as much for his kindness as his temper, he watched over our village like a feudal lord, harkening back to the power of his ancestors. I guessed it made sense, they even named our village after his family, who owned literally millions of acres of land across Italy and countless businesses, besides the ancestral winery that was the Cavalieri legacy.
It didn’t hurt that the man was also tall, imposing, and handsome as sin.
Still, with that kind of power and wealth, there was always an undercurrent of treachery and fear.
It was this that had me shivering in the afternoon sun.
I headed inside to get more prosecco.
Later, I would be expected to pass glasses of the famous, and insanely expensive, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano d’Abruzzo dei Cavalieri made from old vines dating back to the thirteenth century, but for now the guests were supposed to be drinking prosecco to celebrate the happy couple.
Except nobody wanted any.
Irritated, I pulled out the band holding my hair back, relieved when the tight tension eased.
My best friend approached, carrying a full tray of uneaten appetizers. She lifted one poached pear half filled with creamy ricotta and drizzled with local sideritis honey and took a bite. “These are really quite tasty. A total waste on that boring crowd out there,” she said after swallowing and licking her lips. “Have you ever seen a more somber and tense wedding? You’d think it was a funeral. Although it serves Enzo right for marrying such a bitc—”
I gestured with my head toward Signora Rossi, our supervisor who was standing nearby, as I whispered harshly through tightly closed teeth, “Milana!”
Milana’s eyes widened. She tossed her tray aside so haphazardly, the contents slid over the tray lip and toppled onto the Carrara marble table surface. She swallowed a laugh. “Oops.”
Milana used the flat of her hand to sweep the pear halves back onto the silver passing tray. The once elegant display was now a jumbled mess of overturned pears and smeared ricotta. She turned to face me, leaning her hip against the table. She licked a drop of honey off the tip of her finger as she raised one elegantly arched eyebrow. “You think the rumors are true?”
I finished wiping my tray and reached for several clean glasses. Distracted, I asked, “What rumors?” as I arranged the flutes on the tray.
“You know the rumors!” She leaned in close and in a hushed, conspiratorial tone whispered, “About the father and the scandal.”
I lifted the green glass bottle of prosecco and carefully poured one hundred and eighty milliliters in the first flute.
Warmth crept up my cheeks.
Barone Cavalieri’s late wife, the mother of his sons Enzo and Cesare, died under mysterious circumstances over fifteen years ago. It caused a huge scandal. The topic tore the I pettegolezzi del villaggio in different directions. Some said she killed herself because she was a religious woman and could no longer bear to satisfy her husband’s ungodly tastes in the bedroom. Others said he accidentally killed her in the middle of some rather vigorous, to put it mildly, lovemaking. Still others said he straight up murdered her.
The image of Barone’s tall, powerful body looming over me as his dark, piercing glare held me in thrall clashed with all the salacious stories I had heard about his sexual kinks and appetites over the years.
The flute I had been filling bubbled over with crisp, white foam as I overfilled the glass, toppling it. I stepped out of the way as fizzing prosecco covered the white marble tabletop and dripped onto the floor. “Che due palle!”
Milana helped me lift the flutes off the tray. “I, for one, don’t think he’s a murderer. I’m sure it was just rumors started by a bunch of jealous bitches who were angry, because they couldn’t tempt Barone and his legendary coc—”
“Milana!” I hissed again, furiously turning my head to make sure we weren’t being overheard. I swept the spilled prosecco into the nearby porcelain sink with a towel.
“—to their beds,” she finished in a rush before stuffing another pear in her mouth to stop herself from saying anything more.
I used the towel to cover my mouth as I laughed. “You’re a terrible influence.”
She laughed as she unabashedly talked around the appetizer in her mouth. “The worst.”
The sound of voices coming closer echoed down the carved stone corridor to our left.
Milana scurried to finish righting as many of the pear halves as she could. “We better hurry or Signora Rossi will have our heads for not doing our jobs.”
I splashed the bare minimum amount of prosecco in the flutes and lifted the tray. It wasn’t like it mattered, no one was interested in drinking it anyway.
I headed toward the stone corridor to the right, away from the incoming voices. The lower level of the villa was a labyrinth of narrow corridors and small, cave-like rooms radiating from the center of the vast catering kitchen reserved for special events, like spokes on a wheel.
As I neared an intersecting corridor, voices raised in anger reached me.
“I will not stand for it, Renata!”
I started. It was Enzo Cavalieri, the groom, yelling at his bride. Hissing air through my teeth, I covered my mouth and looked around, hoping they had not heard me.
Renata cackled in return. “There’s nothing you can do about it now, husband.”
I peeked around the corner and watched as Enzo snatched her around the upper arm and dragged her into one of the cave rooms. Its heavy oak door, hung with ancient wrought iron hinges, slammed shut behind them.
I tightened my grip on the tray as I was forced to walk past the door to get back outside, where I was supposed to be passing out drinks.
Even though I knew I shouldn’t… I couldn’t resist pausing just outside the door to see if I could hear anything more.
The thickness of the door muffled much of what they were saying, or technically, shouting.
“—if it’s even mine.”
“—ruin my name—”
I was so caught up in the drama, I didn’t hear the heavy footsteps behind me until it was too late.
Sins of the Son – Chapter One
I stared with growing alarm as Cesare Cavalieri stalked toward me, his jealous anger palpable.
Before I could escape, his firm hand wrapped around my upper arm and wrenched my body behind him. He then stepped up to his cousin, Matteo. “Walk away.”
Matteo’s questioning gaze moved to me, then back to Cesare. “I didn’t know.”
Cesare ground out, “Now you do.”
The moment Matteo left, Cesare turned his wrath on me. “Stay away from Matteo. Trust me. He’s interested in just one thing.”
I cocked my head to one side as I raised an eyebrow. “You would know.”
Cesare stepped closer, the primal threat of his superior height and strength unmistakable. He had been working the grapevines all day alongside his father and brother. The heady masculine scent of leather, soil, and sweat still clung to his body. I stared at the steady pulse at the base of his neck and wondered if his skin would taste salty if I licked it.
As if sensing my illicit thoughts, Cesare moved even closer, his thigh brushing mine as he raised his arm to wrap his hand around my waist.
My eyes widened. With a gasp, I stepped back, breaking the spell.
He curled his fingers into a fist as he lowered his arm. His dark gaze moved from my eyes to my mouth. When he spoke, his voice was a low, sensual growl. “I’m tiring of this game you’re playing, Milana. Either tell me what the fuck I did wrong so I can apologize or get over it.”
I took a long sip from my wineglass as I glared at him over the rim before raising it high in the air and smashing it violently at his feet. “It will be a cold day in hell before I ever… ever… forgive you, Cesare Cavalieri.”
I stomped up the limestone gravel path to the cottage on the Cavalieri estate.
Technically, as far as prisons went, it was pretty posh.
The bedroom alone was bigger than my entire apartment, but that was not the point. I stamped my foot for emphasis, even though I was venting to no one but myself.
My foot landed on a stone the wrong way. My ankle collapsed to the side as the heel on my favorite pair of knockoff Dolce midnight black pumps snapped. I wrenched off my shoes and picked up the broken heel. If I ever laid eyes on Cesare Cavalieri again, I would throw these shoes at his head.
God! Why had I let him back into my life?
Oh, right, I didn’t! He’d forced his way back into my life when he kidnapped me from my apartment and got me fired.
Although that was not really true, was it?
He was not a bastard.
That was part of the problem.
He was one of the exalted sons and heirs of the great Cavalieri fortune, practically a living god as far as most of Italy was concerned.
Tall, handsome, and rich, the man could probably get away with murder in this town and everyone would turn a blind eye because he was a Cavalieri.
Hell, he’d dragged me out of my apartment kicking and screaming, and not one person had rushed to my aid, the moment they saw whose shoulder I was slung over. Because in the village of Cavalieri, the Cavalieri men were kings.
Damn, damn, damn him.
Limping up to the cottage door, I rummaged for my key.
Not finding it, I dumped the contents of my purse out on the courtyard bench. Pushing aside shiny tubes of various shades of red lipstick, my compact, my mascara, the gold earrings I wore yesterday, the silver ones I wore last Monday, the onyx resin bangle I’d been looking for—which I slipped on my wrist—and a purple silk change purse filled with perfume samples, I finally found the cottage keys.
I unlocked the door and slipped my arm inside. My palm slid along the interior plaster wall, searching for the light switch. I couldn’t enter until the light was on. Once the main room was flooded with a warm, welcoming glow, I opened the door wide and crossed the threshold. I rushed from room to room, turning on all the lights. Only then did the tightness in my chest ease.
Returning to the courtyard, I swept my arm over the bench and scooped all the items back into my purse which I tossed, along with my ruined heels, on the seat of a nearby chair before securing the door.
I sank to the floor and hugged my legs to my chest as I rested my chin on my knees.
What did I do now?
My best friend Amara was practically engaged to Barone Cavalieri, Cesare’s father, and moving on with her life. Soon she would be married and starting a family. Not that I worried she would push me aside. We were ride or die girlfriends and always would be, but things were changing in our lives. It was time I made some changes as well.
Changes that didn’t include being under the influence of the Cavalieris.
I’d only stayed for Amara’s sake.
Now that she was happy with Barone, I could leave.
Cesare had made his intentions clear.
Especially after that kiss a few weeks ago.
And the kiss we almost shared tonight.
He not only wanted me… he wanted answers.
And no would not be one of them.
I tightened my arms around my legs as I tried to control the shiver that wracked my body at the terrible memories. As always, I silently berated myself for being so foolish. That was the messed-up thing about trauma. It didn’t really respond to rational thought. I knew rationally that things could have been much worse. That because I fought them off, they didn’t finish their intended attack, but still… the memories… the trauma… haunted me.
Being trapped in the darkness like that for hours and hours on end.
Screaming for help until I was hoarse.
Not knowing if they would return to finish what they’d started.
And it was all Cesare’s fault. He was my friend back then.
He should have protected me.
But he didn’t.
I didn’t care if the rest of Italy’s women thought he was God’s gift.
I hated him and would always hate him.
Anger gave me renewed vigor and purpose.
I got up off the floor.
I hurried down the hallway, passing Amara’s old bedroom.
The second I did, I backtracked.
I threw open the oak wardrobe’s paneled doors. There were still several Gucci, Valentino, and Dolce outfits she hadn’t moved over to the villa yet. Without a second’s hesitation, I swept them all off their padded, pale pink silk hangers, then reached down and grabbed the matching shoes. I stretched my arm up to the top of the wardrobe and slung the purse straps to two purses over my neck and hustled out of the room.
She’d have wanted me to have them.
After depositing my new wardrobe items on my bed, I got on my knees and pulled my suitcases out from under the bed. I could stay at Amara’s old house and leave at first light. When I didn’t show up for work, Cesare would come looking for me. Of that, I had no doubt. I needed to be long gone by then.
After I placed the suitcases by the door I went in search of a piece of paper and pen.
I knew if I called or texted Amara, she would race over and try to change my mind.
Worse, Barone would find out, which meant Cesare would find out.
And then they’d both get all over-the-top bossy about how staying in Cavalieri under their protection was for my own good, and how I was like a sister to Amara and therefore family now, blah, blah, blah.
Nope. No way. Not buying it.
I had vowed long ago never to let a man in my life, and I freaking meant it.
And that vow especially applied to Cesare Cavalieri.
I scrawled a quick note telling Amara not to worry, that I was fine, and that I would call her when I settled somewhere.
Snatching a handled basket from under the sink, I filled it with some fresh figs, a loaf of bread, some cheese, three bottles of wine, a bottle opener, a jar of plum preserves, and a bottle of sparking water.
After one last look around the cottage, I grabbed my purse and opened the front door.
Cesare was standing on the threshold.
His dark gaze swept from my face to the suitcases and back.
His brow lowered as his eyes narrowed. “Going somewhere?”