Wife By ForceBy: Caro LaFever
International Billionaires II: The Italians
The anger surprised her.
This rush of pure rage. Of bitterness she thought she’d erased long ago.
She’d practiced this meeting for years. Rehearsed how she’d act, what she’d say. But it all fell out of her head and heart. Slipped away from her mouth and tongue.
His hand held hers in a light, formal grip. Yet his heat overwhelmed her senses, pulsing down her arm into the core of her—the old, cold pain. Everything around her faded: the warm night air behind her, the noise of the party behind him. A haze of unreality blurred everything around her.
Except for his heat.
“Ah,” he finally said. “Little Lara Derrick. All grown up.”
She looked at him then, looked into hooded eyes set in a face of stark angles and planes. For a moment, she saw only a stranger. This was a man’s face—a ruthless man, tough and implacable. Exactly as she remembered from the last time they’d stood together.
Nothing like the boy she’d once thought of as her best friend.
His eyes narrowed. Something sparked between them. The old bond, the feeling she’d carried through her childhood…of belonging…of being loved…
Her wits stirred to life and with them the hard-won truths she’d learned over the past years. There had never really been anything. All her fantasy, all silly girlhood imaginings. Not reality. He’d made that brutally clear with his actions against her.
In a rush, the fury surged once more. Surprised again at its power, she sucked in a deep breath and stiffened her spine. A nod at the man in front of her was the only thing she could manage. If she started to talk, she might yell. If she moved another muscle, she might hit. If she looked at him again, he might see what was in her eyes.
And then he would know what he’d done to her.
“Nothing to say?” His hand held hers in a light grip, his touch soft. “If I remember correctly that is unusual for you.”
The slight teasing in his tone made her itch to strike out. She jerked her hand from his, and a wave of relief welled inside her when her father stepped up behind her, providing needed distraction, stopping her from doing anything stupid. But for a long moment, she still felt the coolness of the man’s dark gaze, felt the heat of his body.
The haze threatened to blur her surroundings once more.
Then it was gone with her father’s booming hello, the lighter tones of her brother’s laughing joke. The man’s deep, smooth voice, greeting them and welcoming them into his home without a trace of warmth, cleared the haze inside her like a good gale of icy English wind.
Lara walked past him into the cool marble foyer. Laughter and chatter drifted out of the large drawing room on the right and she moved quickly, losing herself in the crowd of neighbors and friends celebrating the upcoming nuptials of his youngest sister. Exchanging a wave of greeting with a cluster of friends across the room, she ignored his sister’s invitation to join them. Instead, she swiped a glass of champagne from a waiter, leaned on the wall and sipped.
Her fingers shook as they clutched the crystal.
A fresh spurt of anger, at herself this time, ran through her. He meant nothing to her. He’d meant nothing to her for a long time. She’d made sure of that.
Why was her stomach churning, why were her hands damp, her eyes blurry with tears? This reaction gave him too much credit. Too much power. Something she would not tolerate.
She needed some air.
With a stiff gait she walked through the crowd, past the laughter and talking, and eventually out onto the terrace. Closing the door behind her, she let the Italian night surround and soothe her. The gentle lap of the Mediterranean Sea, meters away, slid through and around her. Calming her.
It was over. She’d met him again and survived the experience.
“He doesn’t matter to you,” she whispered to herself.
So he’d changed the course of her life and certainly not for the better. Yet she’d managed to come through her experiences stronger and smarter.
The beat of her heart throbbed in her chest.
She’d been a foolish child then, bent on destroying any link to him. Systematically, she’d cut herself off from her childhood, isolated herself in a new life. Done exactly what he’d wanted her to do…disappear.
How stupid she’d been.
Because this place, these people, were part of her and always would be. Not him. Never him. Everything else, though, she wanted back. Her life in Italy, her family, the friendships she had with his sisters.
She also had a goal now, something not tied to a man or his wishes and desires. Her school would be the declaration of her power as a survivor. For the foreseeable future, it would be her life. Precisely as she wanted it to be.