Authors: Sandra Marton
The Orsini Dynasty continues with:
THE ORSINI BRIDES
Two Sicilian sisters, two powerful princes—
two passionate, tempestuous marriages!
The Orsini name is synonymous with power
in Sicily, and no ordinary man could possibly
capture the heart of an Orsini woman—
at times like this, only a prince will do!
Sparks fly when Anna Orsini meets
THE ICE PRINCE
Also in this series:
The Orsini Brothers
TAMING HIS TEMPESTUOUS VIRGIN
CLAIMING HIS SECRET LOVE-CHILD
THE DARK GUARDIAN
THE POWERFUL SICILIAN
wrote her first novel while she was still in primary school. Her doting parents told her she’d be a writer some day, and Sandra believed them. In secondary school and college she wrote dark poetry nobody but her boyfriend understood—though, looking back, she suspects he was just being kind. As a wife and mother she wrote murky short stories in what little spare time she could manage, but not even her boyfriend-turned-husband could pretend to understand those. Sandra tried her hand at other things, among them teaching and serving on the Board of Education in her home town, but the dream of becoming a writer was always in her heart.
At last Sandra realised she wanted to write books about what all women hope to find: love with that one special man, love that’s rich with fire and passion, love that lasts for ever. She wrote a novel, her very first, and sold it to Mills & Boon® Modern™ Romance. Since then she’s written more than sixty books, all of them featuring sexy, gorgeous, larger-than-life heroes. A four-time RITA® award finalist, she’s also received five
RT Book Reviews
magazine awards, and has been honoured with
’s Career Achievement Award for Series Romance. Sandra lives with her very own sexy, gorgeous, larger-than-life hero in a sun-filled house on a quiet country lane in the north-eastern United States.
Welcome to the world of the Orsini family.
Cesare Orsini is rich and powerful. He commands men who would give their lives for him. He has a quiet, dutiful wife … and four sons and two daughters who refuse to be quiet or dutiful!
You’ve met Raffaele, Dante, Falco and Nicolo—the Orsini brothers. You were with them as they reluctantly carried out missions meant to clear Cesare’s conscience before he dies, or so he claims. You were there as they fell in love with the women who would forever change their lives. And then you wrote to me, in extraordinary numbers, asking me to tell the stories of the Orsini sisters, Anna and Isabella.
I’m delighted to tell you that I have!
You’ll meet Anna first. She’s an attorney who defends the poor and powerless. She’s spirited and beautiful, and she’s dealt with enough men like Prince Draco Marcellus Valenti to despise him on sight. Draco is rich, good-looking and arrogant. He’s drawn by Anna’s beauty but she’s infuriatingly independent. What man would want a woman like that? Still, neither can deny the hot, wild physical attraction that catches fire the night they meet though by the time the night ends, they’d just as soon never see each other again.
Fate has other ideas.
It turns out that Draco and Anna are opponents in what might become an ugly international war. They’re both up for the battle … especially if it’s going to be fought in Draco’s bed.
I hope you enjoy reading THE ICE PRINCE as much as I enjoyed writing it!
The Ice Prince
first time he noticed her was in the Air Italy VIP lounge.
Noticed? Later, that would strike him as a bad joke. How could he not have noticed her?
The fact was, she burst into his life with all the subtlety of a lit string of firecrackers. The only difference? Firecrackers would have been less dangerous.
Draco was sitting in a leather chair near the windows, doing his best imitation of a man reading through a file on his laptop when the truth was he was too sleep-deprived, too jet-lagged, too wound up to do more than try to focus his eyes on the screen.
As if all that weren’t enough, he had one hell of a headache.
Six hours from Maui to Los Angeles. A two-hour layover there, followed by six hours more to New York and now another two-hour layover that was stretching toward three.
He couldn’t imagine anyone who would be happy at such an endless trip, but for a man accustomed to flying in his own luxurious 737, the journey was rapidly becoming intolerable.
Circumstances had given him no choice.
His plane was down for scheduled maintenance, and with
the short notice he’d had of the urgent need to return to Rome, there’d been no time to make other arrangements.
Not even Draco Valenti—
Draco Marcellus Valenti, because he was certain his ever-efficient PA had resorted to the use of his full, if foolish, title in her attempts to make more suitable arrangements—could come up with a rented aircraft fit for intercontinental flight at the last minute.
He had flown coach from Maui to L.A., packed in a center seat between a man who oozed over the armrest that barely separated them and an obscenely cheerful middle-aged woman who had talked nonstop as they flew over the Pacific. Draco had gone from polite
to silence, but that had not stopped her from telling him her life story.
He had done better on the cross-country flight to Kennedy Airport, managing to snag a suddenly available first-class seat, but again the person next to him had wanted to talk, and not even Draco’s stony silence had shut him up.
For this last leg of his journey, the almost four thousand miles that would finally take him home, he had at the last minute gone to the gate and, miracle of miracles, snagged two first-class seats—one for himself, the other to ensure he would make the trip alone.
Then he’d headed here, to the lounge, comforted by the hope that he might be able to nap, to calm down, if nothing else, before the confrontation that lay ahead.
It would not be easy, but nothing would be gained by losing control. If life had taught him one great lesson, that was it. And just as he was silently repeating that mantra, trying to focus on ways to contain the anger inside him, the door to the all but empty first-class lounge swung open so hard it banged against the wall.
Just what he needed, he thought grimly as the pain in his temple jumped a notch.
Glowering, he looked up.
And saw the woman.
He disliked her on sight.
At first glance, she was attractive. Tall. Slender. Blond hair. But there was more to see and judge than that.
She wore a dark gray suit, Armani or some similar label. Her hair was pulled back in a low, no-nonsense ponytail. A carry-on the size of a small trunk dangled from one shoulder, a bulging briefcase from the other.
And then there were the shoes.
Black pumps. Practical enough—except for the spiked, sky-high heels.
Draco’s eyes narrowed.
He’d seen the combination endless times before. The severe hairstyle. The businesslike suit. And then the stilettos. It was a look favored by women who wanted all the benefits of being female while demanding they be treated like men.
Typical. And if that was a sexist opinion, so be it.
He watched as her gaze swept across the lounge. There were only three people in it at this late hour. An elderly couple, seated on a small sofa, their heads drooping, and him. Her eyes moved over the sleeping couple. Found him.
An unreadable expression crossed her face. It was, he had to admit, a good face. Wide set eyes. High cheekbones. A full mouth and a determined chin. He waited; he had the feeling she was about to say something … and then she looked away and he thought,
He was not in the mood for making small talk; he was not in the mood for being hit on by a woman. He was not in the mood for any damned thing except being left alone, returning to Rome and dealing with the potential mess that threatened him there, and he turned his attention back to his
computer as her heels tap-tapped across the marble floor to the momentarily deserted reception desk.
“Hello?” Impatience colored her voice. “Hello?” she said again. “Is anyone here?”
Draco lifted his head. Wonderful. She was not just impatient but irritable, and she was peering over the desk as if she hoped to find someone crouched behind it.
“Damn,” she said, and Draco’s lips thinned with distaste.
Impatient. Irritable. And American. The bearing, the voice, the
attitude—she might as well have had her passport plastered to her forehead. He dealt with Americans all the time—his main offices were in San Francisco—and while he admired the forthrightness of the men, he disliked the lack of femininity in some of the women.
They tended to be good-looking, all right, but he liked his women warm. Soft. Completely female. Like his current mistress.
“Draco,” she’d breathed last night after he’d joined her in the shower of the beachfront mansion he’d rented on Maui, lifted her into his arms and taken her while the water beat down on them both. “Oh, Draco, I just adore a man who takes charge.”
No one would ever take charge of the woman at the reception desk, now tapping one stiletto-clad foot with annoyance, but then, what man would be fool enough to want to try?
As if she’d read his thoughts, she swung around and stared around the room again.
Stared at him.
It lasted only a couple of seconds, not as long as when they’d made eye contact before, but the look she gave him was intense.
So intense that, despite himself, he felt a stir of interest.
“So sorry to have kept you waiting,” a breathless voice said.
It was the lounge hostess, hurrying toward the reception desk. “How may I help you, miss?”
The American turned toward the clerk. “I have a serious problem,” Draco heard her say, and then she lowered her voice, leaned toward the other woman and began what was clearly a rushed speech.
Draco let out a breath and dropped his eyes to his computer screen. That he should, even for a heartbeat, have responded to the woman only proved how jet-lagged he was.
And he had to be in full gear by the time he reached Rome and the situation that awaited him.
He was accustomed to dealing with difficult situations. In fact, he enjoyed resolving them.
But this one threatened to turn into a public mess, and he did not countenance public anythings, much to the media’s chagrin. He did not like publicity and never sought it.
He had built a financial empire from the ruins of the one his father and grandfather and countless great-great-grandfathers had systematically plundered and ultimately almost destroyed over the course of five centuries.
And he had done it alone.
No stockholders. No outsiders. Not just in his financial existence. In his world. His very private world.
Life’s great lesson
Trusting others was for fools.
That was why he’d left Maui after a middle-of-the-night call from his PA had dragged him out of a warm bed made even warmer by the lush, naked body of his mistress.
Draco had listened. And listened. Then he’d cursed, risen from the bed and paced out the bedroom door, onto the moon-kissed sand.
“Fax me the letter,” he’d snapped. “And everything we have in that damned file.”
His PA had obliged. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, Draco
had read through it all until the pink light of dawn glittered on the sea.
By then he’d known what he had to do. Give up the cooling trade winds of Hawaii for the oppressive summer heat of Rome, and a confrontation with the representative of a man and a way of life he despised.
The worst of it was that he’d thought he’d finished with this weeks ago. That initial ridiculous letter from someone named Cesare Orsini. Another letter, when he ignored the first, followed by a third, at which point he’d marched into the office of one of his assistants.
“I want everything you can find on an American named Cesare Orsini,” he’d ordered.
The information had come quickly.
Cesare Orsini had been born in Sicily. He had immigrated to America more than half a century ago with his wife; he had become an American citizen.
And he had repaid the generosity of his adopted homeland by becoming a hoodlum, a mobster, a gangster with nothing to recommend him except money, muscle and now a determination to acquire something that had, for centuries, belonged to the House of Valenti and now to him, Prince Draco Marcellus Valenti, of Sicily and Rome.
That ridiculous title.
Draco didn’t often use it or even think it. He found it officious, even foolish in today’s world. But, just as his PA would have resorted to using it in her search for a way to get him from Hawaii to Italy, he had deliberately used it in his reply to the American don, couching his letter in cool, formal tones but absolutely permitting the truth—
Do you know who you’re dealing with? Get the hell off my back, old man
—to shine through.
So much for that, Draco had thought.
The don had just countered with a threat.
Not a physical one. Too bad. Draco, whose early years had not been spent in royal privilege, would have welcomed dealing with that.
Orsini’s threat had been more cunning.
I am sending my representative to meet with you, Your Highness,
he had written.
Should you and my lawyer fail to reach a compromise, I see no recourse other than to have our dispute adjudicated in a court of law.
A lawsuit? A public airing of a nonsensical claim?
In theory, it could not even happen. Orsini had no true claims to make. But in the ancient land that was
old grudges never ended.
And the media would turn it into an international circus—
Draco blinked. Looked up. The American and the lounge hostess were standing next to his chair. The American had a determined glint in her eyes. The hostess had a look in hers that could only be described as desperate.
“Sir,” she said, “sir, I’m really sorry but the lady—”
“You have something I need,” the American said.
Her voice was rushed. Husky. Draco raised one dark eyebrow.
“Do I, indeed?”
A wave of pink swept into her face. And well it might. The intonation in his words had been deliberate. He wasn’t sure why he’d put that little twist on them, perhaps because he was tired and bored and the blonde with the in-your-face attitude was, to use a perfectly definitive American phrase, clearly being a total pain in the ass.
“Yes. You have two seats on flight 630 to Rome. Two first-class seats.”
Draco’s eyes narrowed. He closed his computer and rose
slowly to his feet. The woman was tall, especially in those ridiculous heels, but at six foot three, he was taller still. It pleased him that she had to tilt her head to look at him.
“And,” she said, “I absolutely must have one of them!”
Draco let the seconds tick by. Then he looked at the hostess.
“Is it the airline’s habit,” he said coldly, “to discuss its passengers’ flying arrangements with anyone who inquires?”
The girl flushed.
“No, sir. Certainly not. I don’t—I don’t even know how the lady found out that you—”
“I was checking in,” the woman said. “I asked for an upgrade. The clerk said there were none, and one word led to another and then she pointed to you—you were walking away by then—and she said, ‘That gentlemen just got the last two first-class seats.’ I couldn’t see anybody with you and the clerk said no, you were flying alone, so I followed you here but I figured I should confirm that you were the man she’d meant before I—”
Draco raised his hand and stopped the hurried words.
“Let me be sure I understand this,” he said evenly. “You badgered the ticket agent.”
“I did not badger her. I merely asked—”
“You badgered the hostess here, in the lounge.”
The woman’s eyes snapped with irritation.
“I did not badger anyone! I just made it clear that I need one of those seats.”
“You mean you made it clear that you want one.”
“Want, need, what does it matter? You have two seats. You can’t sit in both.”
She was so sure of herself, felt so entitled to whatever she wanted. Had she never learned that in this life no one was entitled to anything?
“And you need the seat because …?” he said, almost pleasantly.
“Only first class seats have computer access.”
“Ah.” Another little smile. “And you have a computer with you.”
Her eyes flashed. He could almost see her lip curl.
He nodded. “And, what? You are addicted to Solitaire?”
“Addicted to …?”
“Solitaire,” he said calmly. “You know. The card game.”
She looked at him as if he were stupid or worse; it made him want to laugh. A good thing, considering that he had not felt like laughing since that damned middle-of-the-night phone call.
“No,” she said coldly. “I am not addicted to Solitaire.”
“To Hearts, then?”
The hostess, wise soul, took a step back. The woman took a step forward. She was only inches away from him now, close enough that he could see that her eyes were a deep shade of blue.
“I am,” she said haughtily, “on a business trip. A last-minute business trip. First class was sold out. And I have an important meeting to attend.”
This time it was her intonation that was interesting.
He had not bothered shaving; he had taken time only to shower and dress in faded jeans and a pale blue shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, the top button undone. He wore an old, eminently comfortable pair of mocs and, on his wrist, the first thing he’d bought himself after he’d made his first million euros—a Patek Phillipe watch for no better reason than the first own he’d owned he had stolen and, in a fit of teenage guilt, had a day later tossed into the Tiber.
In other words he was casually but expensively dressed. A woman wearing an Armani suit would know that. He’d
reserved two costly seats, not one. Add everything together and she would peg him as a man with lots of money, lots of time on his hands and no real purpose in life, while she was a captain of industry, or whatever was the female equivalent.
“Do you see why the seat is so important to me?”
Draco nodded. “Fully,” he said with a tight smile. “It’s important to you because you want it.”
The woman rolled her eyes. “My God, what’s the difference? The seat is empty.”
“It isn’t empty.”
“Damnit, will someone be sitting in it or not?”
“Or not,” he said, and waited.
She hesitated. It was the first time she had done so since she’d approached him. It made her seem suddenly vulnerable, more like a woman than an automaton.
Draco felt himself hesitate, too.
He had booked two seats for privacy. No one to disturb his thoughts as he worked through how to handle what lay ahead. No one with whom he’d have to go through the usual
Hello, how are you, don’t you hate night flights like this one?
He was not in the mood for any of it; if truth be told, he was rarely in the mood for sharing his space with others.
Still, he could manage.
He didn’t like the woman, but so what? She had a problem. He had the solution. He could say,
Va bene, signorina. You may have the seat beside mine.
“You know,” she said, her voice low and filled with rage, “there’s something really disgusting about a man who thinks he’s better than everyone else.”
The hostess, by now standing almost a foot away, made a sound that was close to a moan.
Draco felt every muscle in his body tighten.
If only you were a man,
he thought, and for one quick moment imagined the pleasure of a punch straight to that uptilted chin ….
But she wasn’t a man, and so he did the only thing he could, which was to get the hell out of there before he did something he would regret.
Carefully he bent to the table where his laptop lay, turned it off, put it in its case, zipped the case closed, slung the strap over his shoulder. Then he took a step forward; the woman took a step back. Her face had gone pale.
She was afraid of him now. She’d realized she had gone too far.
he thought grimly, even though part of him knew this was overkill.
“You could have approached me quietly,” he said in a tone of voice that had brought business opponents to their knees. “You could have said, ‘I have a problem and I would be grateful for your help.’”
The color in her face came back, sweeping over her high cheekbones like crimson flags.
“That’s exactly what I did.”
“No. You did not. You told me what you wanted. Then you told me what
was going to do about it.” His mouth thinned. “Unfortunately for you,
that was the wrong approach. I don’t give a damn what you want, and you will not sit in that seat.”
Her mouth dropped open.
Hell. Why wouldn’t it? Had he really just said something so foolish and petty? Had she reduced him to that?
Get moving, Valenti,
he told himself, and he would have …
But she laughed. Laughed! Her fear had given way to laughter.
His face burned with humiliation.
There was only one way to retaliate and he took it.
He closed the last inch of space between them. She must have seen something bright and icy-hot glowing in his
eyes, because she stopped laughing and took another quick step back.
Draco reached out. Ran the tip of one finger over her lips.
“Perhaps,” he said softly, “perhaps if you had offered me something interesting in trade …”
He put his arms around her, lifted her into the leanly muscled length of his body and took her mouth as if it were his to take, as if he were a Roman prince in a century when Rome ruled the world.
He heard the woman’s muffled cry. Heard the hostess gasp.
Then he heard nothing but the thunder of his blood as it coursed through his veins, tasted nothing but her mouth, her mouth, her sweet, hot mouth …
She hit him. Hard. A surprisingly solid blow to the ribs. The sting of her small fist was worth the rage he saw in her eyes when he lifted his head.
“Have a pleasant flight,
” he said, and he brushed past her, leaving Anna Orsini standing right where he’d left her, staring at the lounge door as it swung shut behind him while she wished to hell she’d had the brains to slug the sexist bastard not in the side but right where he lived.
Where all men lived, she thought grimly as she snatched up her carry-on and briefcase that had somehow ended up on the floor.
In the balls.
stalked through the crowded terminal, so furious she could hardly see straight.
That insufferable pig! That supermacho idiot!
Punching him hadn’t been enough.
She should have called the cops. Had him arrested. Charged him with—with sexual assault ….
A kiss was not sexual assault. It was a kiss. Unwanted, which could maybe make it a misdemeanor …
Not that anyone would call what had landed on her lips
That firm, warm mouth. That hard, long body. That arm, taut with muscle, wrapped around her as if she were something to be claimed …
A little shudder of rage went through her. It
rage, wasn’t it?
Damned right it was.
Absolutely, she should have done something more than slug him.
Where was the gate? Her shoulders ached from the weight of her carry-on and briefcase. Her feet hurt from the stilettos. Why in hell hadn’t she had the sense to change to flats? She’d worn the stilettos to court. Deliberately. It had become
her uniform. The tailored suit coupled with the spike heels. It was a look she’d learned worked against some of the high and mighty prosecutors who obviously thought a female defense counsel, especially one named Orsini, would be easy to read.
Nothing about her was easy to read, thank you very much, and Anna wanted to keep it that way.
But the shoes were wrong for hurrying through an airport. Where on earth was that gate?
Back in the other direction, was where.
Anna groaned, turned and ran.
By the time she reached the right gate, the plane was already boarding. She fell in at the end of the line of passengers shuffling slowly forward. Her hair had come mostly out of the tortoiseshell clip that held it; wild strands hung in her face and clung to her sweat-dampened skin.
Anna shifted her carry-on, dug into its front pocket, took out her boarding pass. Her seat was far back in the plane and, according to the annoyingly perky voice coming over the loudspeaker, that section had already boarded.
She was late enough so that the most convenient overhead bins would surely be full by the time she reached them.
Thank you, Mr. Macho.
The line, and Anna, moved forward at the speed of cold molasses dripping from a spoon.
He, of course, would have no such problem. First-class passengers had lots of overhead storage room. By now he probably had a glass of wine in his hand, brought by an attentive flight attendant who’d do everything but drool over her good-looking passenger, because there were lots of women who’d drool over a man who looked like that.
Tall. Dark. Thickly lashed dark eyes. A strong jaw. A face, a body that might have belonged to a Roman emperor.
And the attitude to go with it.
That was why he would have access to a computer outlet, and she would not ….
Anna took a breath. No. Absolutely not. She was not going there!
she told herself. Try to remember what it said on those yellowed, zillion-year-old documents her father had given her.
Hey, it wasn’t as if she hadn’t read them ….
Okay. She hadn’t read them. Not exactly. She’d looked through them prior to scanning them into her computer, but the oldest ones were mostly handwritten. In Italian. And her Italian was pretty much confined to
ciao, va bene
and a handful of words she’d learned as a kid that wouldn’t get you very far in polite company.
The endless queue drew nearer to the gate.
If only she’d had more time, not just to read those notes but to arrange for this flight. She’d have flown first class instead of coach, let her father pay for her ticket because Cesare was the only reason she was on this fool’s errand.
Cesare could afford whatever ridiculous amount of money first class cost.
She certainly couldn’t. You didn’t fly in comfort on what you earned representing mostly indigent clients.
And comfort was what first class was all about. She’d flown that way once, after she’d passed her bar exams and her brothers had given her a two-week trip to Paris as a gift.
“You’re all crazy,” she’d said, blubbering happily as she bestowed tears and kisses on Rafe and Dante, Falco and Nicolo.
Plus, she’d flown on the private jet her brothers owned. Man, talk about flying in comfort …
“Boarding pass, please.”
Anna handed hers over.
“Thank you,” the gate attendant said. In, naturally, a perky voice.
Seven hours jammed into an aluminum can like an anchovy was not something to be perky about.
Not that she disliked flying coach. It was what real people did, and she had spent her life, all twenty-six years of it, being as real as possible.
Which wasn’t easy, when your old man was a
It was just that coach had its drawbacks, she thought as she trudged down the ramp toward the plane. No computer outlets, sure, but other things, too.
Like that flight to D.C. when the guy next to her must have bathed in garlic. Or the one to Chicago, when she’d been sandwiched between a mom with a screaming infant on one side and a dad with a screaming two-year-old on the other.
“You guys want to sit next to each other?” Anna had chirruped helpfully.
No. They didn’t. They weren’t together, it turned out, and why would any sane human being want to double the pleasure of screaming kids trying their best to drive everyone within earshot to infanticide?
One of the flight attendants had taken pity on her and switched her to a vacant seat. To the
Unfortunately, it was right near the lavatories.
By the time the plane touched down, Anna had smelled like whatever it was they piped into those coffin-sized closets.
Or maybe worse.
In essence, flying coach was like life. It wasn’t always pretty, but you did what you had to do.
And what she had to do right now, Anna told herself briskly, was find a way to review her notes in whatever time her cranky old laptop would give her.
At last. The door to the plane was just ahead. She stepped through and somehow managed not to snarl when a flight attendant greeted her with a smiling
It wasn’t the girl’s fault she looked as if she’d just stepped out of a magazine ad. Anna, on the other hand, knew she looked as if she had not slept or fixed her hair or her makeup in days.
Come to think of it, she hadn’t.
Her father had dumped his problem on her twenty-four hours ago and she had not slowed her pace since then. A long-scheduled speech to a class of would-be lawyers at Columbia University, her alma mater. Two endless meetings. A court appearance, a desperate juggling of her schedule followed by a taxi ride to the airport through rush-hour Manhattan traffic, only to learn that her flight was delayed and that no, she could not upgrade her seat even though she’d realized during the taxi ride that she had to do so if she wasn’t going to walk into the meeting in Rome without a useful idea in her head.
And on top of everything, that—that inane confrontation with that man …
There he was.
The plane was an older one, which meant the peasants had to shuffle through first and business class to get to coach. It gave her the wonderful opportunity to see him in seat 5A—all, what, six foot two, six foot three of him sitting in 5A, arms folded, long legs outstretched, with 5B conspicuously, infuriatingly empty.
Her jaw knotted.
She wanted to say something to him. Something that would show him what she thought of him, of men like him who thought they owned the world, thought women were meant to fall at their feet along with everybody else, but she’d already tried that and look where it had gotten her.
And, almost as if he’d heard her thoughts, he turned his head and looked right at her.
His eyes darkened. The thick lashes fell. Rose. His eyes got even darker. Darker, and focused on her face.
On her mouth.
His lips curved in a slow, knowing smile.
that smile said.
Remember that kiss?
Anna felt her cheeks turn hot.
His smile tilted, became an arrogant, blatantly male grin.
She wanted to wipe it from his face.
But she wouldn’t.
She wouldn’t, she told herself, and she tore her gaze from his and marched past him, through first class, through business class, into the confines of coach where the queue ground to a halt as people ahead searched for space in the crowded overhead bins and stepped on toes as they shoehorned themselves into their designated seats.
“Excuse me,” Anna said, “sorry, coming through, if I could just get past you, sir …”
At last she found her row and found, too, with no great surprise, that there was no room in the overhead bin for her carry-on. Which was worse? That she had to go four more seats to the rear before she found a place where she could jam it into a bin, or that she had to fight her way back like a salmon swimming upstream?
Or that the guy in the window seat bore a scary resemblance to Hannibal the cannibal, and the woman on the aisle was humming. No discernible melody. Just a steady, low humming. Like a bee.
Anna took a deep breath.
“Excuse me,” she said brightly, and she squeezed past the hummer’s knees, tried not to notice that part of Hannibal’s
thigh was going to be sharing her space, shoved her bulging briefcase under the seat in front of her and folded her hands in her lap.
It was going to be a very long night.
At 30,000 feet, after the usual announcement that it was okay to use electronic devices, she hoisted the briefcase into her lap, opened it, took out her laptop, put down the foldout tray, plunked the machine on it and tapped the power button.
The computer hummed.
Or maybe it was the woman on the aisle. It was hard to tell.
The computer booted. The screen came alive. Wasting no time, Anna searched for and found the file she needed. Clicked on it and, hallelujah, there it was, the most recent document, a letter from Prince Draco Marcellus Valenti to her father.
The name made her snort.
So did the letter.
It was as stiffly formal as that ridiculous name and title, wreathed in the kind of hyperbole that would have made a seventeenth-century scribe proud.
One reading, and she knew what the prince would be like.
Old. Not just old. Ancient. White hair growing from a pink scalp. Probably growing out of his ears, too. She could almost envision his liver-spotted hands clutching an elaborate cane. No, not a cane. He’d never call it that. A walking stick.
In other words, a man out of touch with life, with reality, with the modern world.
Anna smiled. This might turn out to be interesting. Anna Versus the Aristocrat. Heck, it sounded like a movie—
Her computer screen went dark.
“No,” she whispered, “no …”
“Yup,” Hannibal said cheerfully. “You’re outta juice, little lady.”
Hell. Little lady? Anna glared at him. What she was, was out of patience with the male of the species … but Hannibal was only stating the obvious.
Why dump her anger on him?
Sure, she was ticked off by what had happened in the lounge, but her mood had been sour even before that.
It had all started on Sunday, after dinner at the Orsini mansion in Little Italy. Anna’s mother had phoned the previous week to invite her.
“I can’t come, Mom,” Anna had said. “I have an appointment.”
“You have not been here in weeks.” Sofia’s tone of reprimand had taken Anna straight back to childhood. “Always, you have an excuse.”
It was true. So Anna had sighed and agreed to show up. After the meal her father had insisted on walking her to the front door, but when they were about to pass his study, he’d stopped, jerked his head to indicate that Freddo, his
and ever-present shadow, should step aside.
“A word with you alone,
” he’d said to Anna.
Reluctantly she’d let Cesare lead her into the study. He’d sat down behind his massive oak desk, motioned her to take a seat, looked at her for a long moment and then cleared his throat.
“I need a favor of you, Anna.”
“What kind of favor?” she’d said warily.
“A very important one.”
Anna had stared at him. A favor? For the father she pretended to respect for the sake of her mother but, in reality, despised? He was a crime boss. Don of the feared East Coast
Cesare had no idea she knew that about him, that she and her sister, Isabella, had figured it out when Izzy was thirteen and Anna was a year older.
Neither could remember exactly how it had happened. Maybe they’d read a newspaper article. Maybe the whispers of the girls at school had suddenly started to make sense.
Or maybe it was their realization that their big brothers, Rafe, Dante, Falco and Nick, had struck out on their own as soon as they could and treated Cesare with cold disdain whenever they visited the mansion and thought the girls and their mother were out of earshot.
Anna and Izzy only knew that one day they’d suddenly realized their father was not the head of a waste management company.
He was a crook.
Because of their mother, they hadn’t let on that they knew the truth. Lately, though, that was becoming more and more difficult. Anna, especially, was finding it hard to pretend her father’s hands were not dirty, even bloody.
Do a favor, for a man like him?
No, she’d thought. No, she wouldn’t do it.
“I’m afraid I’m incredibly busy, Father. I have a lot on my plate just now, and—”
He’d cut her off with an imperious wave of his hand.
“Let us be honest for once, Anna. I know what you think of me. I have known it for a very long time. You can fool your mama and your brothers, but not me.”
Anna had risen to her feet.
“Then you also know,” she’d said coolly, “that you’re asking the wrong person for a favor.”