The Italian Billionaire's Disgraced Fiancée

BOOK: The Italian Billionaire's Disgraced Fiancée
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CHAPTER ONE

 

Standing in front of a large table made entirely from drift wood, Izzy Jones peered longingly through the art gallery’s huge French windows towards the beach. The soft sand had acquired a golden glow in the heat of the summer sun, and Izzy couldn’t imagine anything more comforting than feeling its warmth under her bare feet while walking towards the foamy waves lapping against the shores of the Suffolk coast. She loved helping in the gallery while her father was busy painting his latest
oeuvre,
but today she couldn’t resist glancing at her watch to check when she could finally lock the doors and enjoy the beach. Just two hours till closing time, she realised with a smile and returned to her task of drilling tiny holes into the selection of beautiful shells she had collected this morning. In combination with colourful glass beads and shimmering freshwater pearls they would make a stunning necklace.

Usually the art gallery was her father’s territory. He owned the gallery and earned a meagre living selling his paintings. Since he’d been hit by this recent spell of creativity that kept him in his studio for endless hours, Izzy had stepped in to help out in the gallery’s show room, now that she’d finished university. A soft smile curved her lips. Dad would be so glad to hear that she’d sold one of his art works to a lovely old lady. It was one of Dad’s touristy paintings, how he called them, mostly scenes of seagulls or driftwood on the beach. Those were the paintings that sold and paid the bills, not his other pictures. Izzy’s eyes drifted to the huge mermaid painting that took up most of the wall space opposite the entrance. The picture was so shockingly beautiful that she’d almost forgotten to breathe when she’d seen it for the first time. Apart from the touristy pictures her late mother was everything Dad ever painted, and he had never sold any of these paintings. Izzy stared at the price tag with all these ridiculous
zeros at the end. She wasn’t surprised that customers weren’t tempted to buy them, and who had the space to hang such large works of art anyway?

The tinkle of the tiny bell above the entrance made her turn towards the door.  For a moment she just stood and gazed at the man standing in the doorframe. He looked like some kind of dark haired angel with the sun streaming through his raven hair from behind, his face in the shadow and his strong, large hand resting on the shining brass handle. He was tall she realised, at least 6 foot 2 inches with strong legs and broad shoulders, and for some strange reason Izzy felt herself blush.

She gasped when he took a step forward so that the light fell onto his face. Never had she seen eyes as blue as those looking at her now, their colour reminding her of the azure blue of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. Surely this must have been the most stunningly handsome man she’d ever met, one in a million, and here she stood and didn’t know what to say. He was a customer, after all, even if he looked like some kind of Roman god, who’d come down to earth in search of…
one of her father’s touristy pictures, may be?

‘Are you the artist?’ he asked glancing at the drill and the shells scattered in front of her on the table.

‘I’m his daughter,’ she answered in a croaky voice she hardly recognised as her own. ‘How may I help you?’

He smiled and pointed with his eyes to the mermaid. ‘Is that you?’

She shook her head. ‘No, it’s my mother.’

‘Beautiful,’ he said. ‘I’ll take it.’

Izzy stared at him, shocked about the intensity in which her body responded to his mere presence. As if it had been set on fire, some kind of frightfully delicious heat blazing within her.

‘You… you want to buy it?’ she managed to say. ‘I’m not quite sure whether it’s for sale.’

He raised one eyebrow. ‘There is a price tag on the frame, if I’m not mistaken.’

‘Yes but…’ Izzy bit her lip.  ‘It’s just that my father never sells any of these paintings. They’re special.’

‘The ones featuring your mother?’

Izzy nodded. ‘She died when I was born, that’s why. It was love at first sight. My father never looked at another woman. ‘

Why was she telling him this, a complete stranger?

He looked at her for several long seconds, and she felt as if he could see right through her, right into her soul. As if he knew what he was doing to her, that he confused and excited her at the same time.

‘And you? Do
you
believe in love at first sight?’

Her lips parted in shock. Had he really just said that? She felt her cheeks turn hot.

‘I… um…’ she whispered, her eyes nervously fixed at his elegant canvas shoes. ‘I’m not sure.’

Alarmed she watched his shoes come closer until they stood directly in front of her. When she lifted her face until their eyes finally met, the warmth in them went through her like a bolt of electricity.

‘I
do,’ he let her know. ‘I didn’t before but now I do.’

‘You do?’

‘Yes,’ he confirmed. ‘And I’d still like to buy that painting. Will you discuss this with your father, please? ’

She nodded, still drowning in the intense blue of his eyes.

‘Have dinner with me tonight,’ he whispered. ‘I really want to get to know you better, or are you already seeing someone?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I mean… yes.’

Something shifted. The expression in his eyes became unreadable, his lips a tight line. ‘No to dinner with me and yes, you are seeing someone else?’

He stood very still, his eyes never leaving hers, and instantly she missed the emotion she’d seen in them before.

‘It’s the other way round,’ she hastened to say. ‘I’m not seeing anyone, and I’d love to have dinner tonight.’

‘I was hoping for this answer.’ A warm smile curved his lips. ‘Shall we meet here at seven?’

‘Seven sounds fine, thank you.’

‘Wait.’ It was only when he had already reached the door, his muscular back turned to her, that she called him back. ‘I don’t even know your name.’

‘My apologies, I should have introduced myself earlier. It’s Enzo.’ His smile made her knees wobble. ‘Enzo Vallorini.’

CHAPTER TWO

 

Dead.

Tears streaming down her cheeks Izzy staggered through the vast reception area of the hospital towards the exit, the staccato of her high heels clattering against the glossy tiles being the only sound at this hour of the day. A strong antiseptic smell wafted through the air. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed a cleaning lady mopping the floor. The automatic glass door silently slid open, and she stepped outside. The fresh sea breeze hit her face like a slap, but she hardly noticed. Despair in her eyes, she stared into the morning sky that had turned a hot shade of blood orange red.

With shaking fingers Izzy wiped the tears out of her eyes, not caring about her mascara that was probably smeared all over her face. Her lips were trembling, her whole body felt like one quivering mass. How could her beloved father have possibly died within hours, just like that, a man who’d never been ill in all his life? Why had fate been so cruel to take him away from her today, of all days, on her twenty-first birthday? She’d
never
be able to forget that. For the rest of her life her birthday would always be a bleak reminder of these dreadfully dark hours filled with panic, hope and – finally – utter despair.

Calm down
, she tried to steady herself. She had to think about her next step. She had to face the inevitable, but she just couldn’t do it. No way could she return home now. The very idea of entering the house made her shiver. She thought of his empty studio with the unfinished painting sitting on the easel. That’s where he would be standing now, if he were still alive.

Izzy took a deep breath.  No, she couldn’t possibly go back to the house. Not now, while this was all so fresh and painful. Her father had been everything to her, her only family, the only person who had always been there for her. Izzy gazed at the large square cut diamond engagement ring gracing her left hand, and instantly a feeling of warmth and love spread through her.  Not quite her only family, she corrected herself, now that Enzo was in her life.

She hadn’t even managed to tell him last night what had happened, because she’d forgotten her mobile phone at home. Still trembling, Izzy wiped another tear off her face. She was supposed to meet Enzo yesterday evening at his family mansion and had been almost ready to leave when, while she was putting lipstick, keys and other necessities into her red evening bag, she suddenly heard her father collapse in the kitchen with a painful groan.  She had instantly rushed to his side and found him lying next to the wooden chair he had taken with him to the floor. With shaking fingers she had phoned for an ambulance, sick with fear. In all this commotion she had forgotten her phone on the table. Without thinking about anything at all apart from fear for her father’s life, she had followed the ambulance in her own car, all dressed up in that figure hugging red dress and her new killer heels, her hands clenched so tight around the steering wheel that her knuckles had turned white.

Once in the hospital, one of the friendly nurses had given her best to locate the number of the
Vallorini mansion in the local phone book while Izzy was sitting by her father’s side but to no avail. The number was off directory, and Enzo’s mobile phone number was securely stored in Izzy’s phone on the kitchen table but not in her memory. Izzy had felt utterly devastated once she realised that she couldn’t reach her fiancé.  She needed him next to her. She needed his warmth, his strength, his reassurance, but in the end it had all been hopeless. Enzo couldn’t be informed, and her father had died anyway, no matter how much she’d prayed.

Izzy cringed at the thought how Enzo must have felt when she hadn’t turned up at his house. Her fiancé was the most charming, loving and thoughtful man in the world. Surely he’d gone to great length to make the night before her birthday extra special, with candles and a romantic dinner maybe, and then she hadn’t come without letting him know why. Enzo would never blame her once she told him what had happened, she knew. He would take her into his arms and hold her tight. She sighed. There was no place on earth where she’d like to be more right now than in the security of his embrace, feeling warm, loved and not alone.

She wiped another tear off her cheek and headed for the car park. Enzo would be back in London now, in his office, so this was where she’d head. At the moment she couldn’t face returning to her father’s white painted clapboard house anyway and, with her father gone, her fiancé was her only family now. The man she loved and trusted. She sighed, a loving smile on her lips. How bleak and lonely would her life be now, if Enzo hadn’t suddenly burst into her life ten days ago and captured her heart?

Not daring to look at her own reflection in the mirror, Izzy turned the key in the ignition and manoeuvred the car out of the parking space. If only she were in London already, safely in Enzo’s arms.

By the time she noticed the sign post to Stansted airport next to the roadside, Izzy began to feel completely shattered. The thought of having to drive through the frantic London traffic during the morning rush hour made her quiver, and without her phone’s navigation system she’d be lost anyway. Spontaneously she decided to leave her car at the airport and take the train from there.

She bought a watery coffee from a vendor on the train – although she couldn’t possibly face one of the pastries on offer - but the hot drink did nothing to bring her nerves back to normal. She cried almost non-stop throughout the train journey and only just managed to pull herself together on the underground, which was packed. People stared at her, of course, and she was well aware what a dreadful sight she must be in her crumpled red dress and the tear strained make-up, but she didn’t care. All she could think of was counting the stops to Green Park, where the famous London flagship of the
Vallorini hotel chain was located. Where she would finally find Enzo.

By the time Izzy climbed the stairs of the underground to street level, she felt utterly exhausted. She had only been to London twice before, each time accompanying her father to art fairs, and as usual she was overwhelmed by the sheer splendour of the capital and the amount of people rushing along the pavements.  After a two minute walk she reached the ‘
Vallorini’ with its famous view across the park and a striking Regency façade. Two doormen in red and gold uniforms stood at each side of the entrance ready to greet the hotel guests. In her current state she didn’t look like their usual clientele, if the concerned look from one of the men was anything to go by. For a second she feared he might refuse her entry, but instead he politely held the door open for her.

‘Welcome to the
Vallorini.’

‘Thank you,’ Izzy replied with a faint smile and entered the reception area, a vast domed space with plush sofas and valuable art works hanging on ruby red walls. She crossed the large patterned carpet that lay on the gleaming parquet floor and approached the polished reception desk.

The stylish blonde behind the counter threw her a beaming smile, not giving any indication that she’d noticed Izzy’s tattered looks. ‘Welcome to the Vallorini. How may I help you?’

‘I’d like to see Mr Enzo
Vallorini, please,’ Izzy answered and gave her name without mentioning that he was her fiancé. Enzo had only proposed two days ago. Being engaged was still so new to her, and so far they hadn’t even told their families. Tears welled up in her eyes. Now her father would never know…

Suddenly Izzy felt slightly faint. She should have had one of the pastries on the train, she realised. The last time she’d had something to eat had been yesterday at lunch time with her father. No wonder she was feeling so feeble.

If the receptionist was surprised about her request, she certainly didn’t let it show.

‘I’ll phone Mr
Vallorini’s personal assistant straight away,’ the young woman replied, still beaming at Izzy as if she was some kind of royalty, and reached for the phone. ‘Please take a seat, while I sort this out.’

Gladly Izzy sank into one of the plush sofas and took a handful of roasted peanuts from the coffee table in front of her. She didn’t particularly like peanuts, but she desperately needed to eat something before she blacked out.

She had just swallowed the nuts, when the receptionist appeared by her side.

‘Mr
Vallorini is very busy at the moment, but he can give you five minutes,’ she said. ‘Would you please follow me to the lift?’

Five minutes.

Izzy didn’t know whether to laugh or to start crying again. Enzo didn’t know why she was here, of course, and heading an international hotel chain was a demanding job but certainly he would find the time to comfort her a bit longer than five minutes once he knew that her father had died last night.

On shaking legs Izzy followed the receptionist to the lift and gasped as she caught sight of herself in the mirrored walls. She looked like a zombie in a blood-red frock and with thick black streaks around the eyes – certainly not like the naturally beautiful fiancé Enzo had left behind in Suffolk. Before she could do anything about this, they had already arrived on the fifth floor and the blonde led the way across a thickly carpeted corridor to a wooden door and pressed down the handle.

Izzy found herself ushered into a spacious room with lots of filing cabinets and an orderly writing desk dominating the space, behind which sat a stunning redhead. The woman looked up and gave her a beaming smile, similar to the one the receptionist held plastered on her face.

‘Welcome Miss Jones,’ she said while the receptionist discreetly retreated towards the lift. ‘I’m Mr
Vallorini’s personal assistant. Would you please go straight in.’ Her eyes pointed towards a door leading to an adjoining office. ‘Mr Vallorini is expecting you.’

Izzy nodded. ‘Thank you.’

She staggered towards the closed door, still wearing her unfamiliarly high evening shoes, and regretted not having returned home to change and phone Enzo instead of racing here to fall into his arms. It wouldn’t have taken more than an hour, if at all, and she would have emerged looking much more composed, but it was too late to torture herself about this now – and anyway, Enzo loved her no matter how bedraggled she looked. For better and for worse, so he had promised. Taking a relieved breath Izzy opened the door.
Finally.
After her long and straining journey she had finally reached her destination.

The moment she stepped into the office she felt that something was terribly wrong. Was it the sheer size of the room, maybe, or the grey morning light streaming in through the large stretch of windows that created these feelings? She nervously clasped her hands when a shiver went down her spine, cold and foreboding, as if something dreadful was about to happen. How could the air around her suddenly seem frosted over with feelings of hostility when Enzo was in the room, the man who loved her?

He stood with the back to her in front of the large front of windows overlooking Green Park, his broad shoulders held straight, almost rigid.

‘Enzo,’ she said, but he didn’t seem to have heard.

He still didn’t stir when she closed the door behind her. Izzy felt a bead of sweat form above her brow. Why did he not greet her with a warm smile and open arms as he would usually do? Had he maybe not realised that she was in the room?

‘Enzo,’ she whispered again and took a step in his direction. ‘I’m so glad to see you…’

‘And why, I wonder, would this be?’ He turned around, his blue eyes cold like pure ice. ‘Has your rich lover had enough of you already, or have you chosen to add me to the triangle? I can tell you straight away that you can spare your breath.’

Izzy looked at him in disbelief. What was he talking about?

‘I… I don’t know what you mean,’ she stammered. ‘There is no other lover. You know very well that I’ve never been with another man. I’ve never even kissed someone before you…’

‘Ah, still pretending to be a sweet little virgin?’ A sharp laugh left his lips as he turned towards his desk and picked up this morning’s newspaper. He handed it to her, coming just close enough so that she could grab the paper and then stepping back as if she had some infectious disease he didn’t want to catch. ‘Even if you haven’t lied to my face, Carson has certainly made sure that you were no blushing flower when you left his bed this morning.’

She looked at him blankly. ‘
Carson
? Who’s that?’

‘Too bad you didn’t bother to ask for his name before spending the night with him,’ Enzo bit out, his cold glare never leaving her. ‘Maybe you’ll remember when you look at the pictures.’

Shaking all over, Izzy followed his advice. She gasped. ‘But this is… this can’t possibly be…’

But it was. The first picture quite clearly showed Izzy wearing the short red evening dress with high heeled shoes and a satin ‘21
st
Birthday Girl’ sash across her chest. Her hands were clasped around the neck of a handsome man in his fifties, who carried her out of a nightclub. The second picture showed the same man carrying her from his limousine into a posh looking apartment building.


Mystery birthday girl gets carried over the threshold by Samuel Carson
,’ read the headline.
‘After carrying the unknown beauty from VIP nightclub ‘Glitzy’s’ in his strong arms, the superstore tycoon couldn’t wait to bring his new lady back to his penthouse in one of the best addresses of Chelsea. No doubt well-known playboy Carson will give his Lady in Red a birthday night to remember…’

BOOK: The Italian Billionaire's Disgraced Fiancée
8.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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