this place the Billionaires’ Playground.
Knight, staked my claim the minute I arrived.
their Rococo ceilings with blood.
casino is the hottest church in town,
the only confession required.
past comes calling with an offer I can’t refuse:
for the name of the man who killed my father.
is the queen of cloudy diamonds:
hard truth concealed beneath a pall of lies.
Armani black suit of spades:
to bury both her and my demons.
asked to see the shape of her heart.
asked for her to fill the blank spaces of
mafia wants her secrets.
the first she betrayed.
Sweet, not-so-innocent Issa?
and left me with a debt no sinner can pay.
the intersecting bars of a prison cell?
strange bed in a strange room, in a strange wedding dress, with a strange
perfume smothering my senses like a designer rag.
bodice. It’s as if I’m trying to find a weakness in the yarn so I can plan my
stupidly fussy and over-detailed, and it makes me look about twenty years older
than I am. Still, at least it covers the bruises…
sound will unchain my heavy heart from the bed and propel me to my feet. Her
face is a painted mask of encouragement, but it reminds me of a colombina I
bought in Venice once. The initial dazzle concealed the flaws. The cracks in
the porcelain grew wider and more obvious as the truth clawed its way to the
What are you waiting for?”
or how Marie first entered my father’s life, but her presence is more
front-and-center than my mother’s these days.
Ping-Pong match of mutual hostility. Unfortunately, since Karina disappeared,
Marie’s winning most of the shots. She’s subtle about it, though. Her words are
well-fed piranhas. They’ll take tiny bites here and there, leaving me stung and
chiffon, and I brace myself for more teeth.
“Oh dear, oh dear… Still, it’s the best I could do at such short notice. You
have no idea the strings I had to pull to get you something suitable in time.”
more disapproval. “Good grief. Your make-up is abysmal. Antoinette!” Her maid
appears in the doorway like a dutiful pet. “She needs less rouge on her cheeks.
And that red lipstick is wrong. She looks like a whore, not a virgin bride.”
twenty-four hours since Papa announced I was to marry a man I’d never even met?
A one-minute, formally worded deposition slotted in between his business
meetings. He takes longer to peruse menus in restaurants.
barks Marie, giving me a not so gentle shove in that direction.
I allow myself to be ‘de-whored,’ by Antoinette. On the plus side, marriage
means leaving Marie behind. Even she wouldn’t dare disrespect the wife of Luca
without a fanfare, though.
we’re bothering with this charade,” she mutters, driving an extra pin into the
base of my chignon and scraping my scalp on purpose.
I catch her eye in the mirror, instantly wary of the cruel green glint that I
find there. “This is what my father expects of me.”
cold smile for my curiosity. “I mean why go to so much trouble to look the part
when the ceremony room will be empty.”
Zaccaria’s family will be in attendance.”
mafia families and the eight billion aunts, uncles and associated offspring who
get wheeled out for occasions such as these. Kind of like a Bratva wedding when
a sibling’s disgrace hasn’t double-booked the venue.
a beat, and then the chill in her smile drops a couple of hundred degrees.
“What makes you think you’re marrying into La Famiglia, child? What
makes you think you’re good enough for one of Zaccaria’s precious sons? Your
sister has polluted you, like she’s polluted your father’s reputation, and
today you will pay the price for her disgrace and his resurrection.”
She’s right. My father never actually confirmed who my groom was.
to be marrying?” I whisper.
the detail is insignificant. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
you! He wouldn’t do this! Where’s Papa?” I rise to my feet, but her bony
fingers clamp around my upper arm to stop me.
girl.” I wince as her grip tightens; her coral pink nails digging crescents
into my skin. “Your father has no desire to see you. He left for Paris an hour
when I realize I’m gaping at her. “But he’s walking me down the aisle! I’m
playing the role of the good Bratva daughter for him… The least he can do is
guide me through the scene.”
mask cracks, just like my colombina did, but this time spite comes pouring out.
“The only things accompanying you to that altar, child, are shame and solitude.
You are all alone in this world now, Ielena. Your sister has deserted you, and
your stupid mother is soaking your memory in gin.”
I sit back down at the dressing table. My hands are shaking as Antoinette pats
away the last of the red Chanel before smoothing on a dash of Vaseline, and
then painting my lips a pale mauve.
wrong. I need a shot of color confidence to bring my fair skin and frozen
expression back from the brink, not something that’ll fade me out even more.
yesterday slams into my mind, one with raging battlements of contempt in his
stop thinking about all of last night. The beautiful cruel memory who tempted
my fingers between my thighs at the break of dawn.
about me again?
empty, unemployable, unsalvageable…”
in my head suddenly, telling me to hold on to my rainbow, no matter what. We
made promises to each other the night she left. The kind you cross your hearts
with, schoolgirl style, and keep until you die die die.
I catch Marie’s eye in the mirror and hold it. Screw her. Screw my father. They
could marry me off to a beggar on the street and I’d still find a way to paint
firing back a Ping-Pong shot of my own.
that sense of satisfaction earlier. I’m not some little girl she can push
around anymore. My new groom may not be Luca Zaccaria, but my father’s choice
for me would have been tactical. He’ll be a man of standing in the criminal
“You won’t be saying that in an hour’s time.”
to wish me luck?”
an answer, I rise to my feet and sashay from the room as elegantly as my badly
fitted shoes—thanks again, Marie—will allow.
make my way down the elegant marble staircase, feeling like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone
With The Wind, but with the whole world, not Rhett Butler, declaring that
they don’t give a damn about me anymore.
to find the tall, stoic figure of my father’s Brigadier waiting for me. There’s
another man standing there, too. He has his back turned, his black-suited
shoulders blocking out most of the light from a nearby window. I’m so relieved
to see Maxim I barely glance at him.
too fast and nearly lose my footing.
voice—eyes hooded, expression bleak. “Issa.” He catches me as I stumble into
his arms. “Careful, zvezda moya.” He sets me right before sweeping his
gaze downward. “Why, you look beautiful.”
sweetest liar.” I step back to break his embrace, embarrassed by my lack of
poise. What’s worse, there’s a masculine scent in the air that’s aiding and
abetting that emotion, whipping up memories I’d rather forget. “Marie chose the
dress so you can draw your own conclusions from that.”
chides. “She chose well.”
I say with a shy smile.
hideous,” drawls a deep voice in perfect Russian. “But it’s nothing a bottle of
Saint-Émilion couldn’t fix.”
the bar and my late night fantasies is smirking down at me, his cerulean-blue oceans
churning with the same derision. My lungs stutter and lose function as I
finally place the scent in the air.
requested so it’s a good job I had another suit to wear.”
process his words. It’s not just the size of him that’s throwing me off kilter.
Those oceans are shark-infested, and I’m the bloody bait.
Maxim for answers, but the scars on his face offer me nothing so I find it
swinging back to him. It’s magnetic. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.
lovely it is to see you again.”
acid in your voice, princess. Your insincerity is corrosive.”
here in our blazing crossfire.
his eyes are like chips of ice. “Let’s just say we had a difference of opinion
over some home truths and a bottle of red yesterday.”
is a drum and bass beat inside my chest. I hate how British men have the whole
archetypal bastard thing down to a fine art. His accent is a poisoned arrow
with a fin-shaped fletching of contempt. He’s dressed in black Armani again
today, though he’s swapped the black dress shirt for white.
lipstick I chose for myself until Marie instructed Antoinette to scrub it off.
He’s stolen it. How dare he! I find
myself hating him more for that than I do for his insults.
gaze away from my nemesis. He’s coolness personified, with the kind of hard
arrogance that hazardous men exude. I don’t like the way he’s looking at me
either, as if I’m a cornered fox and he’s the Master of the Hunt.
to curse in both French and Russian at my English invasion.
It’s a bi-language of reproach, but Knight just shrugs it off. Clearly, his
ninety-nine problems don’t include Bratva Brigadiers who’d be more than happy
to use his head as target practice.
voice, cutting him off mid-flow. “If you’re quite finished, her chariot
stone steps and into one of the waiting Escalades without so much as a backward
glance at me.
eyes. “Marie told me I’m not betrothed to Luca Zaccaria anymore.”
need you to be straight with me. Who the hell am I marrying today?”
his jaw. It’s as if he’s disinfecting his next words for an unclean revelation.
I then watch in mounting, escalating, soul-crushing horror as his gaze shifts
to the vehicles outside. Or rather, to one in particular…
romance novels, a former TV producer, and a self-confessed alpha addict. Her
writing is best described as sinfully sexy, and her characters always fall hard
and deep for one another.
She lives in the UK with her husband and two young daughters. If she ever found
herself stranded on a desert island, she’d like a large pink gin to keep her
company. Cillian Murphy wouldn’t be a bad shout either…
For book and blog updates, please visit www.catherinewiltcher.com