Excerpt: Dante's Stolen Wife
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“I’m warning you, Marco. No more scandals. If your family continues to be featured in the gossip magazines, we will have no choice but to place our account elsewhere. The reports have carried all the way to Italy. I even caught Ariana reading them. My own daughter!”
Marco Dante inclined his head. “I understand, Vittorio. We don’t know why The Snitch has embarked on this campaign against Dantes. But I promise you, I plan to put an end to it, no matter what it takes. You and my father were good friends. We appreciated your business when he ran our jewelry business, and now that we’re moving back into the European market, we hope to have your patronage once again.”
Vittorio gave an expressive shrug to accompany his expression of vague regret. “I’d enjoy seeing the names of Dante and Romano mated once more. But we’re extremely private people. We choose our associates with great care.” He deliberately switched to Italian to add weight to his words. “If you wish to have our support for your European expansion, you must take care of this problem.”
Marco nodded. Unfortunately, they’d lost the Romanos’ backing years ago, shortly after his father’s death. At that time, Dantes teetered on the brink of ruin, and would have gone under if not for Marco’s brother, Severo, who’d assumed the reins of the family jewelry empire straight out of college. During his first year on the job, he’d been forced to scale back on the size of the business, stripping Dantes to the bone.
Little by little over the past decade, under Sev’s brilliant direction, Dantes had made an impressive resurrection and now stood on the verge of regaining their place as the premier jewelers, worldwide. At least they would if they recovered the European trade they’d lost. And Marco planned to make certain that happened.
It was imperative to their success that they return the Romanos to the fold, something he’d worked tirelessly on for the past year. And it was all due to a single ancient expression, one that had floated around the most elite circles for countless generations—Where the Romanos lead, Europe follows. The Romanos were considered Italian royalty and Marco intended to have Europe follow Vittorio and Ariana straight to Dantes’ front door. And now that possibility hovered within reach.
The Romanos craved the glorious designs Dantes offered, designs that featured only the finest stones available, including the fire diamonds that could be found nowhere else in the world other than in one of Dantes’ display cases. But the Romanos wanted them without any unsavory scandal attached. Thanks to the type of gossip The Snitch liked to dish on a weekly basis—as well as their current focus on the four Dante brothers—Marco had reached an impasse with Vittorio Romano.
It was an impasse Marco planned to overcome, no matter what it took. He clapped Vittorio on the shoulder. “Consider it done. We’ll deal with The Snitch, after which we look forward to providing for your every need.” He held out his hand. “Thank you for coming all the way to San Francisco. I’m sorry Ariana didn’t accompany you on this trip. My family would have enjoyed meeting her.”
Vittorio grinned. “She is lovely, my Ariana, is she not?” He returned Marco’s handshake. “Next time I am in San Francisco I will insist she come with me.”
“We’ll make it a family affair.”
“Eccellente. I look forward to it. I understand Severo just became engaged to that new designer you recently acquired. Francesca Sommers? Please offer the couple my warmest congratulations.”
With that, Vittorio walked briskly toward the huge etched glass doors that graced the entryway of the Dantes San Francisco offices, and held one open for a woman entering the building. He offered her a courtly nod and a smile of pure masculine appreciation, before exiting. Not that Marco noticed Vittorio’s departure. The instant he set eyes on the woman, he paused, riveted. Every thought vanished from his head, replaced by a whispered demand unlike any he’d ever experienced before.
Take this woman. Possess her. Make her yours.
Without hesitation, he approached, compelled to obey. She stood in the three-story entryway, absorbing the elegant decor. Sunlight streamed through the tinted windows, capturing her within its golden embrace. It plunged into hair so deep an ebony that it rivaled the nighttime sky, while turning her complexion to pure cream. She tipped her head back to look at the glass sculpture hanging above the receptionist’s desk, a sculpture that resembled leaping flames, and her hair sheeted down her back in heavy waves. It took every ounce of self-control Marco possessed to keep from sweeping her into his arms and carrying her off.
She walked up to the receptionist and he caught the murmur of her voice asking for information. The man behind the desk glanced at Marco, frowned in momentary confusion—no doubt trying to decide which twin he was, something that amused Marco no end—then pointed in his direction. With a nod of thanks, the woman approached and Marco smiled in open delight. At his smile, the receptionist made a frantic effort to catch the woman’s attention, before giving up with a shrug.
Marco only had eyes for the woman. God help him, but he wanted her. It was as though someone had delved deep into his mind and plucked loose his personal image of perfection, then created this glorious example of femininity from that image. She stood at the exact right kissing height, not too short, nor too tall, with a full, smiling mouth he couldn’t wait to explore. Her features were delicate and ivory pale, with a straight, no-nonsense nose, determined jawline and high, arching cheekbones that lifted her from beauty to sheer poetry.
His gaze dipped lower and his forward momentum faltered. She was dressed for business, but no fabric existed that could conceal a body created for the pleasures of the night. Full breasts strained against her crisp, tailored navy suit, and some kind soul had designed the jacket so that it nipped in at a waist he could have spanned with two hands before flirting with the curves below—tight round curves that were the devil’s own temptation.
He must have made some sound—a groan, if he were a betting man—because she studied him curiously. Her eyes were a deep teal blue and made a striking contrast to her dark hair. Before he could introduce himself, she stuck out her hand. “Ah, Mr. Dante,” she said. “Just the man I was looking for. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I’m Caitlyn Vaughn.”
She said it as though he should recognize her name, but he couldn’t recall ever having heard of her before, maybe because in the last sixty seconds every single one of his brain cells had leaked out of his ears. Not that he’d admit his foolishness. “Of course,” he said with his most charming smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, as well.”
He took the hand she offered, and that’s when it happened. A hard jolt of electricity zapped him, sinking deep into muscle and bone. He’d never felt anything like it. It didn’t hurt, precisely, just surprised and shocked. Based on Caitlyn’s startled expression and the way she jerked free of his hold, she must have felt it, as well… and didn’t like it.
“Oh! What was that?” she asked.
“I’m not certain.”
But he suspected he knew. Based on his reaction toward Caitlyn, as well as what his eldest brother, Sev, had described, this must be The Inferno. Such an odd Dante blessing—or was it a curse?—that irrevocably bound the men in his family with their true soul mates, the one and only woman they would ever love. Marco and his brothers had believed the story to be a charming family fairy tale. But ever since Sev had encountered the unremitting burn of its existence, Marco wondered if he would experience it. Wondered if he were capable of experiencing it.
He was a man who adored women. All women. He loved everything about them. The unending glorious shapes and sizes. The delightful palate of hues. The music of feminine voices. Their unique scent. As far as he was concerned, women were as beautiful as they were fascinating and he delighted in each and every one. The idea of choosing one specific flower, instead of the bounty nature offered struck him as unreasonable. And yet…
When he looked at Caitlyn, he saw a woman who was a bounty in and of herself, a bouquet of such depth and beauty that it would take the rest of his life to fully explore each and every aspect. Where hardheaded Sev fought, where the accountant soul in his twin brother Lazzaro questioned and analyzed, where problem-solver Nicolò flat-out denied, the romantic in Marco accepted. He’d take this gift from the gods.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” he told her.