The Sicilian's Surprise Wife(5)

By: Tara Pammi

Her brittle laughter interrupted him. “I could say the same or even less about you. A Slavic model and the ripples that she created just a couple of months ago come to mind.” A feverish gleam entered her eyes. “What was it? ‘Bianco’s last name should really be Bastard,’” she finished with a mutinous gleam. “You have been dubbed the One-Date Wonder because you won’t even the see the same woman twice.”

Her defense of that crook infuriated Stefan. “You have no idea what Jackson could be up to. His business practices are extremely murky. I have been looking for proof for a long time to pin him for it. He’s a greedy bastard, a leech who will use anyone to climb the ladder a little more, will use any means, even illegal ones to get what he wants. In straight words, he’s scum through and through. Whatever connection you have with him, cut it and walk away, before he brings you down with him.”

Every ounce of color fled from her face, leaving a pale, tight mask behind. “I don’t believe you. I know that Jackson can be brash and even uncouth sometimes, but he...”

“Then you’ve also become a fool and are not worth my time or advice.”

Fury that she would put him on the same level as Jackson left a bad taste in his mouth. This was not the woman he had known and admired once.

“Or maybe this is the life you lead now, Clio. Maybe walking away from wealth and the status you were born to didn’t work out quite like you thought it would. Maybe the facade of status and wealth that Jackson provides you makes being part of his crooked schemes worth it.”

Something flittered in her gaze, and against every instinct that warned him to walk away, Stefan stayed. Instead of the anger he expected, hurt wreathed her features. And again, this pale imitation of the old Clio he had known once twisted a knot in his gut.

“You don’t think that really.”

“A decade is a long time. You might be just as power hungry and itching to be kept like most women I know.”

“And you must have really become a cold bastard to be able to say that to me.”

Her words fell away like water on rocks. Had he become sentimental about her because he had known her a decade ago?

Clio was no different.

Women with self-respect, women who weren’t out for everything they could get could be counted on one hand. Like Rocco’s Olivia.

“Touché, bella. Maybe we are strangers to each other.”

“With nothing more to say to each other.”

She looked as if she was caught in a trap with no way out. It would haunt him if he walked away now.

“Dio, Clio...are you in some kind of trouble? Just tell me how you know him.”

Her chin lifted. As if she was bracing herself for attack.

“I work for him, have done for five years now. He gave me a job when no one would hire me, Stefan, showed me a way to make it in New York when I would have returned home to England with shame on my face. I have to believe that you’re mistaken. I have to believe for my own sake that everything you’re saying...” As erect and stiff as her shoulders were, she trembled. “Jackson’s my fiancé.”

“You are...” Gritting his jaw, Stefan curtailed the stinging response that rose to his lips, waited for the shock that was reverberating inside him to abate.

The fact that she had mentioned her engagement to Jackson as a second thought, that she had almost swayed while saying it—nothing could dilute the acidic taste that filled him.

How could Clio, of all the women in the world, be engaged to marry Jackson Smith? Had she changed that much?

Was it all shine and no substance to Clio either?

A memory from a long time ago of a laughing Clio, her lustrous red hair flying behind her, cycling across the campus from one class to the next, challenging him to a race, slammed into him.

Against the backdrop of a lot of ugly memories of New York that persisted in his mind, he could do nothing but let himself be washed in the wake of this one.

“‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,’” he said, quoting her favorite line by Frost.

A gasp fell from her mouth, the sheen of tears turning her eyes into glittering emeralds. “I used to think of you as a firestorm, Clio. Vibrant, fierce and so unafraid.” His pulse quickened as the scent of her skin teased him. “I used to think you were the strongest woman I had ever met.

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