The Sicilian's Surprise Wife(2)

By: Tara Pammi

The vibrant pulse of it, the memories from almost a decade ago everywhere he looked, his own sheer naïveté when he had studied at Columbia with his other three friends—the memories rose up around him like a specter that wouldn’t let him breathe easy even for a few minutes.

And yet, as the head of a multimillion luxury real estate company, New York was unavoidable even though he tried to reduce the number of times he came here.

But this time, he had a reason for being at this exact party, on top of the Empire State Building.

It was high time he found a way to stop Jackson Smith.

The memory of his executive assistant Marco’s whitened face as he lay against the hospital bed after his suicide attempt, Marco’s five-year-old daughter’s chubby face wreathed in confusion as she asked Stefan about what had happened to her papa...

The powerlessness he had felt was like acid in his stomach.

Jackson had swindled Marco out of his savings, pushed him to bankruptcy, until his assistant had lost everything, had seen no way out...

The eviscerating self-doubt, the sense of being an utter failure, of letting down everyone that had counted on him—looking into Marco’s eyes had been like looking at his own reflection of a few years ago.

Guilt corroded his insides. If only he had found a way to stop Jackson years ago when he had swindled Stefan himself...

It had been the worst time of his life—Serena’s betrayal, his guilt driving him to not return to his parents in Sicily and the around-the-clock hours he had worked to secure a deal...

He had lost the little he had made because of Jackson’s treachery. He would have been in Marco’s place if it hadn’t been for his friends Rocco, Christian and Zayed anchoring him, if he hadn’t already been woken up to the reality of life by Serena, the woman who had professed to love him.

This time Jackson needed to be stopped, whatever it took.

As though Stefan thinking Jackson’s name invoked the very devil himself, the American laughed in a group not two feet from where Stefan stood.

A short blonde, dressed in jeans and a tight T-shirt, dragged Jackson away, interrupting the conversation. His craggy face tight with tension, Jackson leaned toward another woman in the group, a tall redhead, and whispered something.

An apology, Stefan assumed. That didn’t quite work, given the way the woman flinched and turned her head away. More curious than ever, Stefan looked on as the woman’s bare shoulders stiffened, bones jutting out of her shoulders.

Everything about her posture screamed tension and something more. Jackson let himself be dragged away even as the tall woman stood ramrod straight, her head held high and so perfectly still that Stefan wondered if she would break if someone blew a wisp of breath her way.

Her face wreathed in shadows, there was a quiet dignity to her. And then he noticed her hair. Even tucked away from that angular face and scrunched tight into an elaborate knot, that red hair was as unmistakable as the narrow, upturned nose and stubborn tilt of the chin.

That face would be perfectly oval and her eyes green, like glittering emeralds. When she smiled, one corner of her mouth turned upward in a crooked slant.

Clio Norwood, the one woman he had never tamed.

Every cell inside him went on high alert, as if he had been infused with a charge of live current. What the hell was Clio doing with Jackson Smith?

There had been intimacy in the way Jackson had bent closer to her and whispered something, in the way his open palm had caressed her bare arm.

Yet Stefan could feel the tension in her as the silence of the group reverberated against her. Saw the speculative and intrusively hungry glances cast her way. Noted the way she retreated into herself as an older woman inquired something.

And knowing Jackson and his perfidious ways, a thousand kinds of thoughts swarmed in on Stefan.

Anything even remotely connected to Jackson, Stefan didn’t touch with a pole. Yet, he found himself moving toward her, his gaze savoring the sight of her. Inch by glorious inch, light bathed that long neck and her face.

He stilled, supremely aware of the insistent beat of his own pulse, of the heightened charge of his own breath.

Clio was just as utterly gorgeous as she had always been, if a little too thin.

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