Inherited By Ferranti
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‘Why did you want to marry me?’
Marco stared at her for a moment, furious that he felt cornered. Damn it, how dared she ask him—accuse him—when she was the one who should be called to account? What did it matter why he’d married her when she’d agreed?
Sierra had moved closer to the fire, and the flames cast dancing shadows across her face. She looked utterly delectable wearing his too-big clothes. The belt she’d cinched at her waist showed off its narrowness and the high, proud curve of her breasts. He remembered the feel of them in his hands when he’d given his desire free rein for a few intensely exquisite moments.
That memory had the power to stir the embers of his desire, and he turned away from her, willing the memories and the emotion back. He didn’t want to feel anything for Sierra Rocci now. Not even simple lust.
‘Damn it, Sierra, you have some nerve, asking me why I behaved the way I did. You’re the one who chose to leave without so much as a note.’
‘And you still haven’t given me a reason why. Don’t you think I deserve an explanation? Your parents are no longer alive to hear why you abandoned them, but I am.’ His voice hardened, rose. ‘So why don’t you just tell me the truth?’
After spending three years as a die-hard New Yorker, KATE HEWITT now lives in a small village in the English Lake District with her husband, their five children and a golden retriever. In addition to writing intensely emotional stories, she loves reading, baking and playing chess with her son—she has yet to win against him, but she continues to try. Learn more about Kate at kate-hewitt.com.
Inherited by Ferranti
TOMORROW WAS HER wedding day.Sierra Rocci gazed at the fluffy white meringue of a dress hanging from her wardrobe door and tried to suppress the rush of nerves that seethed in her stomach and fluttered up her throat. She was doing the right thing. She had to be. She had no other choice.
Pressing one hand to her jumpy middle, she turned to look out of the window at the darkened gardens of her father’s villa on the Via Marinai Alliata in Palermo. The summer night was still and hot, without even a breath of wind to make the leaves of the plane trees in the garden rattle. The stillness felt expectant, even eerie, and she tried to shake off her nervousness; she’d chosen this.
Earlier that night she’d dined with her parents and Marco Ferranti, the man she was going to marry. They’d chatted easily, and Marco’s gaze had rested on her like a caress, a promise. She could trust this man, she’d told herself. She had to. In less than twenty-four hours she would promise to love, honour and obey him. Her life would be in his hands.
She knew the hard price of obedience. She prayed Marco truly was a gentle man. He’d been kind to her so far, in the three months of their courtship. Gentle and patient, never punishing or pushing, except perhaps for that one time, when they’d gone for a walk in the gardens and he’d kissed her in the shadow of a plane tree, his mouth hard and insistent and surprisingly exciting on hers.
Another leap in her belly, and this was a whole different kind of fear. She was nineteen years old, and she’d only been kissed by her fianc? a handful of times. She was utterly inexperienced when it came to what happened in the bedroom, but Marco had told her, when he’d stopped his shockingly delicious onslaught under the plane tree, that he would be patient and gentle when it came to their wedding night.
She believed him. She’d chosen to believe him—an act of will, a step towards securing her future, her freedom. And yet... Sierra’s unfocused gaze rested on the darkened gardens as nerves leapt and writhed inside her and doubt crept into the dark corners of her heart, sly and insidious as that old serpent. Did she really know Marco Ferranti? When she’d first glimpsed him in the courtyard of her father’s palazzo, she’d watched as one of the kitchen cats had wound its scrawny body around Marco’s legs. He’d bent down and stroked the cat’s ears and the animal had purred and rubbed against him. Her father would have kicked the cat away, insist its kittens be drowned. Seeing Marco exhibit a moment of unthinking kindness when he thought no one was looking had lit the spark of hope inside Sierra’s heart.
She knew her father approved of the marriage between her and Marco; she was not so na?ve not to realise that it was his strong hand that had pushed Marco towards her. But she’d encouraged Marco; she’d made a choice. As much as was possible, she’d controlled her own destiny.
On that first evening he’d introduced himself, and then later he had asked her out to dinner. He’d wooed her gently, always courteous, even tender. She wasn’t in love with him; she had no interest in that deceitful, dangerous emotion, but she wanted a way out of her father’s house and marriage to Marco Ferranti would provide it...if she could truly trust him. She would find out tomorrow, when the vows were said, when the bedroom door closed...
Heaven help her. Sierra bit her knuckles as a fresh wave of fear broke coldly over her. Could she really do this? How could she not? To back out now would be to incur her father’s endless wrath. She was marrying in order to be free, and yet she was not free to cry off. Perhaps she would never be truly free. But what other choice was there for a girl like her, nineteen years old and completely cut off from society, from life? Sheltered and trapped.
From below she heard the low rumble of her father’s voice. Although she couldn’t make out the words, just the sound of his voice had her tensing, alarm prickling the nape of her neck. And then she heard Marco answer, his voice as low as her father’s and yet somehow warm. She’d liked his voice the first time she’d heard it, when he’d been introduced to her. She’d liked his smile, too, the quirking of one corner of his mouth, the slow way it lit up his face. She’d trusted him instinctively, even though he worked for her father. Even though he was a man of great power and charm, just as her father was. She’d convinced herself he was different. But what if she’d been wrong?
Before she could lose her nerve Sierra slipped out of her bedroom and hurried halfway down the front stairs, the white marble cold under her bare feet. She paused on the landing, out of view of the men in the foyer below, and strained to listen.
‘I am glad to welcome you into my family as a true son.’ Her father was at his best, charming and authoritative, a benevolent pap?, brimming with good will.
‘And I am glad to be so welcomed.’
Sierra heard the sound of her father slapping Marco’s back and then his good-humoured chuckle. She knew that sound so well. She knew how false it was.
‘Bene, Marco. As long as you know how to handle Sierra. A woman needs a firm hand to guide her. Don’t be too gentle or they get notions. You can’t have that.’ The words were abhorrent and yet so terribly familiar, the tone gentle, almost amused, her father as assured as ever and completely in control.
Every muscle in Sierra’s body seemed to turn to iron as she waited for Marco’s response.
‘Don’t worry, signor,’ Marco said. ‘I know how to handle her.’
Sierra shrank back against the wall, horror and fear churning inside her. I know how to handle her. Did he really think that way, like her father did? That she was some beast to be guided and tamed into subservience?
‘Of course you do,’ Arturo Rocci said, his voice smug with satisfaction. ‘I’ve groomed you myself, chosen you as my son. This is what I wanted, and I could not be more pleased. I have no doubts about you, Marco.’
‘You honour me, signor.’
‘Pap?, Marco. You may call me Pap?.’
Sierra peeked around the edge of the landing and saw the two men embracing. Then her father gave Marco one more back slap before disappearing down the corridor, towards his study.
Sierra watched Marco, a faint smile curving that mobile mouth, the sharp angle of his jaw darkened with five o’clock shadow, his silvery-grey eyes hooded and sleepy. He’d loosened his tie and shed his suit jacket, and he looked rumpled and tired and overwhelmingly male. Sexy.
But there was nothing sexy about what he’d just said. Nothing romantic or loving or remotely attractive about a man who thought women needed to be handled. Her stomach clenched hard with fear and, underneath, anger. Anger at Marco Ferranti, for clearly thinking as her father did, and anger at herself for being so na?ve to think she actually knew a man after just three months, a handful of arranged dates, all of them carefully orchestrated evenings where Marco was at his best, guiding her gently towards the inevitable conclusion. She’d thought she’d chosen him, but now she wondered how well she’d been manipulated. Handled. Perhaps her fianc? was as false as her father, presenting a front she wanted to see while disguising the true man underneath. Would she ever know? Yes, when it was too late. When she was married to him and had no way to escape.
‘Sierra?’ Marco’s silvery gaze flicked upwards, one eyebrow lifted as he gazed at her peeking around the landing, his faint smile deepening, revealing a dimple in one cheek. When Sierra had first seen that dimple it had made him seem friendlier. Kinder. She’d liked him more because of a dimple. She felt like such a child, na?ve to the point of stupidity, thinking she’d wrested some control for herself when in fact she’d been the merest puppet.
‘What are you doing hiding up there?’ he asked, and he stretched one hand towards her.
‘I...’ Sierra licked dry lips as her mind spun. She could not think of a single thing to say. The only thing she could hear on an endless, awful reel was Marco’s assured, indulgent words. I know how to handle her.
Marco glanced at his watch. ‘It’s after midnight, so technically I suppose I shouldn’t see you. It’s our wedding day, after all.’
Wedding day. In just a few hours she would marry this man. She would promise to love him. To honour and obey him...
I know how to handle her.
‘Sierra?’ Marco asked, concern sharpening his voice. ‘Is something wrong?’
Everything was wrong. Everything had been wrong for ever, and she’d actually thought she’d been fixing it. She’d thought she was finally escaping, that she was choosing her own destiny. The thought seemed laughable now. How could she have fooled herself for so long? ‘Sierra?’ Impatience edged his voice now, and Sierra heard it. Heard how quickly the fa?ade of concern fell away, revealed the true man underneath. Just as it did with her father.
‘I’m only tired,’ she whispered. Marco beckoned her towards him and on shaking legs she came down the stairs and stood before him, trying not to tremble. Not to show her fear. It was one small act of defiance she’d nurtured for most of her life, because she knew it infuriated her father. He wanted his women to cower and cringe. And Sierra had done her fair share of both, to her shame, over the years. But when she had the strength to stand tall, to act cool and composed, she did. Cloaking herself in numbness had been a way of coping since she was small. She was glad of it now.
Marco cupped her cheek with one hand. His palm was warm and dry and even now the tender gesture sent sparks shooting through her belly, and her legs shook.
‘It’s not long now,’ he murmured, and his thumb brushed her lips. His expression was tender, but Sierra couldn’t trust it any more. ‘Are you nervous, little one?’
She was terrified. Wordlessly she shook her head. Marco chuckled, the sound indulgent, perhaps patronising. The assumptions she’d made about this man were proving to be just that: assumptions. She didn’t really know who he was, what he was capable of. He’d been kind to her, yes, but what if it had just been an act, just like her father’s kindness in public was? Marco smiled down at her, his dimple showing. ‘Are you certain about that, mi amore?’
Mi amore. My love. But Marco Ferranti didn’t love her. He’d never said he did, and she didn’t even want him to. Looking back, she could see how expedient their relationship had been. A family dinner that led to a walk in the gardens that led to a proper date that led to a proposal. It had been a systematic procedure orchestrated by this man—and her father. And she hadn’t realised, not completely. She’d thought she’d had some say in the proceedings, but now she wondered at how well she’d been manipulated. Used.
‘I’m all right, Marco.’ Her voice came out in a breathy whisper, and it took all the strength she possessed to step away from him so his hand dropped from her cheek. He frowned, and she wondered if he didn’t like her taking even that paltry amount of control. She’d let him dictate everything in the three months of their courtship, she realised now. When and where they went, what they talked about—everything had been decided by him. She’d been so desperate to get away, and she’d convinced herself he was a kind man.
‘One last kiss,’ Marco murmured and before Sierra could think to step farther away he was pulling her towards him, his hands sliding up to cup her face as his lips came down on hers. Hard and soft. Hot and cold. A thousand sensations shivered through her as her lips parted helplessly. Longing and joy. Fear and desire. All of the emotions tangled up together so she couldn’t tell them apart. Her hands fisted in his shirt and she stood on her tiptoes to bring his body closer to hers, unable to keep herself from it, not realising how revealing her response was until Marco chuckled and eased her away from him.
‘There will be plenty of time later,’ he promised her. ‘Tomorrow night.’
When they were wed. Sierra pressed her fingers to her lips and Marco smiled, satisfied by her obvious response.
‘Goodnight, Sierra,’ he said softly, and Sierra managed to choke out a response.
‘Goodnight.’ She turned and hurried up the stairs, not daring to look back, knowing Marco was watching her.
In the quiet darkness of the upstairs hallway she pressed a hand to her thundering heart. Hated herself, hated Marco, for they were both to blame. She never should have let this happen. She should have never thought she could escape.
Sierra hurried down the hallway to the far wing of the house, knocking softly on the door of her mother’s bedroom.
Violet Rocci opened the door a crack, her eyes wide with apprehension. She relaxed visibly when she saw it was Sierra, and opened the door wider to let her daughter in.
‘You shouldn’t be here.’
‘Even so.’ Violet clutched the folds of her silk dressing gown together, her face pale with worry and strain. Twenty years ago she’d been a beautiful young woman, a world-class pianist who played in London’s best concert halls, on the cusp of major fame. Then she’d married Arturo Rocci and virtually disappeared from the public, losing herself in the process.
‘Mamma...’ Sierra stared helplessly at her mother. ‘I think I may have made a mistake.’
Violet drew her breath in sharply. ‘Marco?’ Sierra nodded. ‘But you love him...’ Even after twenty years of living with Arturo Rocci, cringing under his hand, Violet believed in love. She loved her husband desperately, and it had been her destruction.
‘I’ve never loved him, Mamma.’
‘What?’ Violet shook her head. ‘But Sierra, you said...’
‘I trusted him. I thought he was gentle. But the only reason I wanted to marry him was to escape...’ Even now she couldn’t say it. Escape Pap?. She knew the words would hurt her mother; Violet hid from the truth as much as she could.
‘And now?’ Violet asked after a moment, her voice low.
‘And now I don’t know.’ Sierra paced the room, the anxiety inside her like a spring that coiled tighter and tighter. ‘I realise I don’t know him at all.’
‘The wedding is tomorrow, Sierra.’ Violet turned away from her, her hand trembling at the throat of her dressing gown. ‘What can you do? Everything has been arranged—’
‘I know.’ Sierra closed her eyes as regret rushed through her in a scalding wave. ‘I’m afraid I have been very stupid.’ She opened her eyes as she blinked back useless tears and set her jaw. ‘I know there’s nothing I can do. I have to marry him.’ Powerlessness was a familiar feeling. Heavy and leaden, a mantle that had weighed her down for far too long. Yet she’d made her own trap this time. In the end she had no one to blame but herself. She’d agreed to Marco’s proposal.
‘There might be a way.’
Sierra glanced at her mother in surprise; Violet’s face was pale, her eyes glittering with uncharacteristic determination. ‘Mamma...’
‘If you are certain that you cannot go through with it...’
‘Certain?’ Sierra shook her head. ‘I’m not certain of anything. Maybe he is a good man...’ A man who was marrying her for the sake of Rocci Enterprises? A man who worked hand in glove with her father and insisted he knew how to handle her?
‘But,’ Violet said, ‘you do not love him.’
Sierra thought of Marco’s gentle smile, the press of his lips. Then she thought of her mother’s desperate love for her father, despite his cruelty and abuse. She didn’t love Marco Ferranti. She didn’t want to love anyone. ‘No, I don’t love him.’
‘Then you must not marry him, Sierra. God knows a woman can suffer much for the sake of love, but without it...’ She pressed her lips together, shaking her head, and questions burned in Sierra’s chest, threatened to bubble up her throat. How could her mother love her father, after everything he’d done? After everything she and her mother had both endured? And yet Sierra knew she did.
‘What can I do, Mamma?’
Violet drew a ragged breath. ‘Escape. Properly. I would have suggested it earlier, but I thought you loved him. I’ve only wanted your happiness, darling. I hope you can believe that.’
‘I do believe it, Mamma.’ Her mother was a weak woman, battered into defeated submission by life’s hardships and Arturo Rocci’s hand. Yet Sierra had never doubted her mother’s love for her.
Violet pressed her lips together, gave one quick nod. ‘Then you must go, quickly. Tonight.’
‘Yes.’ Swiftly, her mother went to her bureau and opened a drawer, reached behind the froth of lingerie to an envelope hidden in the back of the drawer. ‘It’s all I have. I’ve been saving it over the years, in case...’
‘But how?’ Numbly, Sierra took the envelope her mother offered her; it was thick with euros.
‘Your father gives me housekeeping money every week,’ Violet said. Spots of colour had appeared high on each delicate cheekbone, and Sierra felt a stab of pity. She knew her mother was ashamed of how tied she was to her husband, how firmly under his thumb. ‘I rarely spend it. And so over the years I’ve managed to save. Not much...a thousand euros maybe, at most. But enough to get you from here.’
Hope and fear blazed within her, each as strong as the other. ‘But where would I go?’ She’d never considered such a thing—a proper escape, unencumbered, independent, truly free. The possibility was intoxicating and yet terrifying; she’d spent her childhood in a villa in the country, her adolescent years at a strict convent school. She had no experience of anything, and she knew it.
‘Take the ferry to the mainland, and then the train to Rome. From there to England.’
‘England...’ The land of her mother’s birth.
‘I have a friend, Mary Bertram,’ Violet whispered. ‘I have not spoken to her in many years, not since...’ Since she’d married Arturo Rocci twenty years ago. Wordlessly, Sierra nodded her understanding. ‘She did not want me to marry,’ Violet said, her voice so low now Sierra strained to hear it, even when she was standing right next to her mother. ‘She didn’t trust him. But she told me if anything happened, her door would always be open.’
‘You know where she lives?’
‘I have her address from twenty years ago. I am afraid that is the best I can do.’
Sierra’s insides shook as she considered what she was about to do. She, who did not venture into Palermo without an escort, a guard. Who never handled money, who had never taken so much as a taxi. How could she do this?
How could she not? This was her only chance. Tomorrow she would marry Marco Ferranti, and if he was a man like her father, as his wife she would have no escape. No hope.
‘If I leave...’ she whispered, her voice thickening. She could not continue, but she didn’t need to.
‘You will not be able to return,’ Violet said flatly. ‘Your father would...’ She swallowed, shaking her head. ‘This will be goodbye.’
‘Come with me, Mamma—’
Violet’s expression hardened. ‘I can’t.’
‘Because you love him?’ The hurt spilled from her like a handful of broken glass, sharp and jagged with pain. ‘How can you love him, after everything...?’
‘Do not question my choices, Sierra.’ Violet’s face was pale, her mouth pinched tight. ‘But make your own.’
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