His Sicilian Cinderella

By: Carol Marinelli

PROLOGUE

‘YOU’LL COME WITH ME?’ Matteo checked. ‘You’ll meet me and Luka at the airport this morning?’

He couldn’t quite meet Bella’s eyes—not just because there was a bruise on her cheek that his hand had made, more that last night had left him feeling more open and exposed than Matteo was used to.

And yet, for the most part, there was no sense of regret.

Bella looked up at the man who had had her heart since she was sixteen. On her first day as a chambermaid at Brezza Oceana she had started her shift feeling awkward in her uniform and missing her friends from school, but at least her closest friend Sophie had started working there that day too.

Bella and Sophie had walked along a corridor, only to see a few of Malvolio’s men coming towards them, including Matteo Santini and his half-brother Dino.

The young women had stepped back to let the group pass but even as they’d done so Bella had braced herself for what was to come.

Sophie was out of bounds. She had been promised to Luka and they would get engaged soon. Even though he lived in England, Luka was Malvolio’s son and so they didn’t say anything to her.

The lewd comments were instead all aimed at Bella, because they knew she was Maria Gatti’s daughter and were aware of her mother’s occupation.

Bella was more than used to it.

‘Hey!’ Matteo said sharply, and for a moment Bella thought he was speaking to her but then he turned to the group, his brother included, and there was anger in his rich, deep voice. ‘Déjala en paz.’

He told them to leave her alone and when Dino argued Matteo said it even more firmly. In fact, when Dino persisted, Matteo shoved him against the wall and, still holding his brother there, he briefly turned to Bella.

‘Via via...’

He had told her, not unkindly, to go away and leave them. It was the only time he had really spoken to her, but even before then he’d had a little bit of her heart—if her mother had money for Malvolio, it was Matteo she would ring to come and collect it, rather than Dino.

‘At least Matteo only takes the money,’ her mother would say.

Yes, little by little, over the years, Matteo had collected pieces of Bella’s heart and now finally he had taken it all.

Last night Matteo had made her his lover and he had been her first.

Yes, the night had started out in the cruellest of circumstances, but they had been circumstances that had been forced upon them.

The coastal town in Sicily’s wild, wild west was ruled by Malvolio.

The game was called fear and the people were his pawns.

He owned the hotel and most of the businesses and was a cruel landlord to most of the town. Despite the idyllic surroundings, there was crime and corruption at every turn and it was also a dangerous world if you did not play by Malvolio’s rules.

Yet somehow, together, they had made last night beautiful and now, this morning, Matteo had asked her to leave Bordo Del Cielo with him.

‘I’ll do my best to be there,’ Bella said.

‘We only have this one chance,’ Matteo warned. ‘If you stay, then no one can ever know that I offered for you to join me. If they know that I...’ Matteo hesitated, because with Bella he used words he was not used to hearing, let alone saying. ‘If Malvolio gets so much as a hint that I care about you then you will be in serious trouble.’

‘I’ve said that I will do my best.’

Bella watched as he knotted his tie. Matteo always dressed well, far better than the rest—his suits were made in Milan and his shoes were handmade. Last night she had found out the reason why Matteo always looked more expensive than the others.

Last night he had told her things that could possibly have them both killed.

He slipped on his jacket. His suit was dark grey, almost black, and his thick cotton shirt was relatively uncrumpled for he had carefully hung up most of his clothes last night during his slow, teasing strip.

‘I love the fabric...’ Bella ran her fingers over his jacket then slipped her hand inside to feel the cool silk lining. She was a skilled seamstress and had an eye for design, not that she got to practise it here. ‘I could make that,’ Bella said.

‘I have the best tailor come from Milan once a year,’ Matteo said, and then he chose not to argue because her nimble fingers had moved from examining his jacket and were exploring the tiny pleats beneath his leather belt and his want for her had become unrelenting because he was rising again. ‘You probably could.’

‘Come back to bed,’ Bella said.

‘No. There is no time.’

She watched as he ran a hand through his jet hair and it fell into perfect shape. Soon those eyes would be behind expensive dark glasses. That was how she knew him best but in the last few hours Bella had seen the real beauty in those dark grey eyes as they had made love to her.