His Sicilian Cinderella(6)

By: Carol Marinelli


‘So when do you go to Dubai?’ Luka asked.

‘Sunday,’ Matteo answered. ‘Unless you’ll be needing the plane.’

Luka understood the slight taunt behind Matteo’s words—Matteo was convinced that Sophie wanted more than an engagement ring on her finger.

He didn’t believe Sophie’s sob story for a moment.

Matteo didn’t believe in anyone.

‘Sunday?’ Shandy checked. ‘But I thought you said that you didn’t have a firm date yet.’

‘I only just found out.’ Matteo’s jaw gritted. Shandy had got it into her head that she would be joining him on this business trip. If they wanted to share a room then a ring on her finger might well be required and he could feel her squirm in expectation. No doubt she was thinking that this sudden trip to Rome might have a deeper meaning.

‘Where are you staying?’ Paulo asked.

‘Fiscella,’ Matteo answered, referring to the luxurious hotel he had booked into.

‘It’s very romantic,’ Shandy said, but Matteo quickly crushed that.

‘Luka and I are thinking of buying it,’ he explained to Paulo. ‘It is a nice old hotel but it needs a lot of refurbishment. I want to check out a few things for myself.’

‘Doesn’t Bella work there?’ Paulo asked Sophie, and Matteo took a belt of his drink.

Bella.

The sound of her name had his throat tighten, so much so that he had to think, he actually had to tell himself to relax, in order to swallow the sickly limoncello down.

He loathed the taste, it reminded him too much of home and that was a place he had spent the last five years doing his level best to forget.

He did not want to think about his past and certainly Matteo did not want to hear what Bella Gatti was up to.

He’d already been told.

A couple of months after leaving, his half-brother Dino had told him that Bella was a regular at the bar.

He had told him a few other things that had had the bile rising in Matteo’s chest and burning the back of his throat, but he had kept his voice impassive when he’d spoken with Dino.

If his half-brother got even a hint that Matteo cared then Bella would be punished for his leaving, just for the pleasure of Matteo being told.

He swallowed down the liquor as Sophie answered Paulo’s question.

‘She does,’ Sophie said, and despite his best intentions not to delve further Matteo found himself asking Sophie a question.

‘Doing what?’

‘She’s a chambermaid.’ Paulo answered for his daughter. ‘Isn’t she, Sophie?’

‘Well, I guess it gives her access to a richer clientele.’ Matteo’s response was surly and, taking Shandy’s hand, he led her to the floor to dance.

He didn’t want to dance.

He just wanted to get away from the conversation.

Rome glittered beneath them. He could feel the pulse from the street below and the guarded Matteo suddenly wanted to escape the shackles and to shed his skin. He wanted to take a moped and explore the ancient, beautiful city. He wanted to ride high up and stare down at the ancient buildings and ruins, to drink cheap wine and be younger than his thirty years—only he wanted to do all of this with Bella.

Oh, he was dancing with the wrong woman tonight.

And every night since... He halted his thought process, for he never went back in his mind.

He just could not escape the truth today—for five years, long before Shandy, every night he had danced with the wrong woman and now, though his integrity at work was never in doubt, his reputation with women preceded him.

No, he could not escape the memories of them.

Matteo recalled Bella’s deep, slightly husky voice as she had told him about her favourite place in the world—a jewel deep in Bordo Del Cielo that he had never bothered to explore—the ancient baths that the Moors had built. She had told him how she would take herself off there at times and pretend that she had lived long ago, how she imagined the carved-out stone filled with spring waters and the sex and debauchery that must have gone on there.

Bella had played with his mind then and somehow she played with it even now.

‘I love Sophie’s dress...’

Matteo did not blink as Shandy pulled him out of introspection. Instead, he frowned at the intrusion as Shandy did what she did best—spent money in her head.

‘I want something similar,’ she explained. ‘I asked Sophie who made it. Gatti. She’s an emerging designer, apparently. I want to wear her before everyone else is. Tomorrow I want to see her studio...’

Studio?

Matteo’s teeth ground down.

More like a boudoir.

‘Let’s go.’

‘It’s too early,’ Shandy protested. ‘Anyway, I’m enjoying myself. You never said that it was Paulo Durante’s daughter that Luka was getting engaged to. I never thought we would be dining with such a high-profile criminal tonight. It’s exciting...’ Shandy said, and then dropped her voice. ‘A turn-on.’