The Sicilian's Surprise Wife(10)

By: Tara Pammi


“Have you eaten dinner?”

“No.”

“How did you get here?”

She raised her gaze. “What?”

“To the Chatsfield?”

“I walked.”

“From where?”

“From the dinner party.”

“At the Empire State Building?”

“Yes.”

He cursed so vehemently that Clio hugged herself instinctively. “That’s almost fifteen blocks from here and it’s nine-thirty at night. What the hell is wrong with you that you would walk at night in New York of all places?”

She remained mute, no response rising in the face of his valid point.

He sighed. “Finish that water and then order something from room service. I’ll get dressed and be back. And then you can tell me why you look like you—”

Anxiety hit her in waves. If he disappeared, she knew she would lose whatever it was that had brought her this far.

Saving face in front of him would become more important than moving on in her life.

“No, wait. Don’t leave. I...”

“Then get rid of that look in your eyes, bella,” he said. “I can’t stand it.” A hint of emotion colored that bland statement.

“What look?”

Pushing his tensile body into her space, he folded his hands. The muscles in his biceps curled enticingly and Clio choked back hysteria. Her life was falling apart, and yet it seemed the sight of Stefan half-naked could distract her as nothing else could.

“Like you’re terrified of me,” he said through gritted teeth. “We might have become strangers to each other but I would never hurt you, bella. Whatever Jackson did, you need to shake yourself out of it.” His voice fell as if she were a wounded animal he was persuading into his care.

“I’m not a danger to you, Clio.”

Oh, but he was, Clio admitted, her pulse skyrocketing.

If Jackson had reduced her to a shadow of herself over the years, Stefan could destroy the small part of her that was still intact. That he knew what she had been once and what she was now, it was a weapon he could wield with ease and without emotion, if he didn’t like what she was about to say.

The young man she had known at Columbia had not only been idealistic but also kind, with a rosy view of the world.

This man he was now, he rattled Clio on so many levels.

But she had no intention of ever letting a man define her sense of self. Ever again.

The thought gave her the courage to say what she wanted to. “I decided to take you up on your offer. I need your...I need help, Stefan.”

Something infinitesimal flashed in his brooding gaze, gone before she could read it. His defined jaw hardened. He moved to a small side table with delicately carved legs, and pulled out a checkbook.

He flipped it open with a pen poised in his left hand. That familiar sight of him balancing the book on his right forearm brought forth such a strong memory that she almost didn’t hear him when he said, “How much do you need?”

Her jaw falling open, Clio stared at him. Acid crawled up her throat and she forced herself to hold his gaze, realizing what his look had meant.

He thought she had come to him for money.

Even as he had reminded her of what she had been, it was clear that Stefan had already written her off as a lost cause.

It rankled just as much as Jackson’s treacherous perfidy did; it tore her in half that she had brought this on herself. But it was high time she started fighting for herself, too. High time she started growing a backbone.

“How much, Clio?”

“Will you give me as much as I want, Stefan? How about a million dollars?” Something in her challenged him, pushed to see how far he would go.

He didn’t even blink. “A million it will be, bella. I will tell my finance guy that this year our charity contribution is going to the Clio Norwood Foundation.”

I don’t want your charity.

Swallowing back the bile his offhand comment provoked, she reminded herself to not flinch, to not betray the hurt that lanced through her.

She had no idea why she was inflicting this on herself, but she couldn’t stop.

“And if I come back for more?”

“I’ll give you more.” He threw the checkbook on the coffee table between them, the gesture so full of powerful arrogance and a masculine elegance that Clio forgot what had prompted it. Even half-naked as he was, power and ruthlessness emanated from every cell in him.

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