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?”