With this ring…
Beautiful doctor Ellie Dixon once rejected Rio Benedetti’s passionate advances – and the fiery Italian hasn’t forgotten the insult! Ellie’s arrival in Italy, bearing an antique sapphire ring and claiming to be the daughter of Rio’s godfather, reawakens his rage…and a devastating longing! I thee claim! Rio won’t stop until he uncovers Ellie’s captivating curves – her heated surrender can’t come quickly enough! Facing the consequences of their abandon, Rio realises Ellie’s pregnancy will break his godfather’s heart. There’s one solution: Rio will have to seduce her all the way to the altar.
RIO BENEDETTI SET his even, white teeth together hard and suppressed a very rude word as his godfather cheerfully chatted on about his plans to entertain his unexpected guest. Beppe Sorrentino was a naïve man, trusting and generous to a fault, not at all the sort of man to suspect his self-invited guest of a hidden agenda. Luckily he had a godson like Rio, determined to shield the older man from anyone trying to take him for a ride.
Rio, the billionaire veteran of many triumphant wins in the business world and a man cynically unimpressed by women, knew he had to proceed with discretion because Ellie Dixon had powerful, wealthy friends, and most important, she was the sister of Polly, the current queen of Dharia—a country which rejoiced in oil wealth. Even worse, on paper at least, Ellie was impressive. Nobody knew that better than Rio, who had met her at his friend Rashad’s wedding to her sister Polly. She was a beautiful, intelligent and hard-working doctor. But saintly Dr Ellie’s profile took a fast nosedive if you had her past history exhaustively checked. At best Rio knew her to be a thief and a gold-digger, at worst she could be the kind of doctor who befriended the elderly to persuade them to change their wills in her favour.
Ellie had had a disciplinary action brought against her at work after an elderly patient had died endowing Ellie with all her worldly goods. Not surprisingly, the old lady’s nephew had filed a complaint. But then there had been indications that Ellie might have an unseemly lust for money earlier than that, Rio acknowledged, thinking of the section in the investigative report relating to her grandmother’s diamond brooch. The valuable brooch should’ve gone to Ellie’s uncle but Ellie had somehow acquired it instead, causing much family bitterness.
No, nothing about Ellie Dixon was straightforward, not least her surprising approach to his godfather in a letter in which she had asked to visit because Beppe had apparently once known her late mother.
Of course, it was equally possible that Rio himself was the actual target in Dr Ellie’s sights, he conceded with a certain amount of cynical satisfaction at that idea. Perhaps Ellie hadn’t realised just how very rich he was at the wedding and, knowing where he lived, had come up with this vague connection as an excuse to visit his godfather, Beppe. Women, after all, had often gone to quite extraordinary lengths to try to reel him in, and he was as slick as an eel when it came to avoiding commitment.
He refused to think about what had happened with Ellie at Rashad’s wedding because Rio did not believe in reconstructing unpleasant past events. With women he was very much a ‘hit it and quit it’ kind of guy. He didn’t do serious and he didn’t do long-term. Why would he? He was thirty years old, rich as sin and very good-looking and his female options were so many and varied that, had he wanted to and without effort, he could have slept with a different woman every night of the year. So, if he was Dr Ellie’s target she was in for a severe disillusionment. In any case, the woman was an absolute shrew with a streak of violence, he recalled sardonically.
‘You’re very quiet, Rio…’ Beppe remarked. ‘You don’t approve of Annabel’s daughter visiting, do you?’
‘Why would you think that?’ Rio parried, surprised that the older man had seen through his tolerant front.
Beppe simply grinned. He was a small man with greying hair and rather round in shape. Perched in his favourite armchair, he had the cheerful air of a playful gnome and Rio’s shrewd dark eyes softened the instant they settled on him because Beppe Sorrentino was as dear to Rio as any father could have been.
‘I saw you wince when I mentioned how disappointed I was that Ellie wouldn’t agree to stay here in my home as my guest. She’s a very frank young lady. She said she wouldn’t be comfortable because she doesn’t know me and would prefer to stay at the hotel.’
‘It wouldn’t be comfortable for you either to have her here. You’re not used to having guests,’ Rio pointed out, for Beppe had been a childless widower for almost twenty years and lived a very quiet and peaceful life in his family palazzo a few miles outside Florence.
‘I know but I get bored,’ Beppe admitted abruptly. ‘Bored and lonely. No, don’t look at me like that, Rio. You visit plenty. But, Ellie’s visit will be stimulating. A fresh face, different company.’
‘Dio mio…’ Rio rhymed thoughtfully. ‘Why are you so reluctant to tell me anything about Ellie’s mother and yet so excited about her daughter coming here?’
Beppe’s rounded face locked down so fast it was like a vault sliding shut and his dark eyes evaded his godson’s. ‘It’s not something I can discuss with you, Rio. Please don’t take that the wrong way.’
Rio’s even, white teeth gritted again. He had even considered the idea that in some way Ellie could be engaged in an attempt to blackmail his godfather about some dark secret, but even optimistic Beppe would hardly look forward so happily to the visit of a blackmailer. Furthermore Rio couldn’t imagine that Beppe had any dark secrets because he was the most open, transparent personality Rio had ever known. Yet Beppe had known great unhappiness and loss in his private life. His delightful wife, Amalia, had given birth to a stillborn son and had then suffered a severe stroke. From then on right up until her death, Beppe’s wife had endured precarious health and the confinement of a wheelchair. Beppe, however, had remained utterly devoted to his beloved Amalia and, although now pushing sixty, had evinced not the smallest desire to meet another woman.
Rio, in strong comparison, had never been open or trusting with other human beings. He was naturally suspicious and naturally complex. He had been abandoned in a dumpster at birth, born to a heroin-addicted mother and an unknown father and he had spent his formative years in an orphanage until Amalia Sorrentino took an interest in him. Through Amalia he had met her kindly husband, his benefactor. He knew very well that he owed almost everything he had become and everything he had achieved to the man seated by the fireside who had first recognised his intelligence and there was little he would not have done to protect Beppe from any potential harm. And Rio was absolutely convinced that in some way Ellie Dixon was a harmful threat.
Evil temptress? Gold-digging harpy? Hard-nosed feminist? Thief? Scam artist with the elderly? At Rashad’s wedding, he had been treated to giggly, amusing Ellie and enraged Ellie. He had also been led down the garden path right to the door of his hotel room and then assaulted. He hadn’t forgotten the experience. He hadn’t forgiven it either. Insults lingered with Rio. For too many years of his life he had been a nameless orphan, bullied and abused and dismissed as unimportant. And Ellie Dixon had cut him down to size as effectively as the most terrifying nun at the orphanage, Sister Teresa, who had struggled to overcome Rio’s stormy and essentially vengeful temperament.
No, Rio wasn’t the forgiving and forgetting sort. He still occasionally dreamt about Ellie twirling on the dance floor in her diaphanous green dress, her glorious mane of red curls tumbling round her animated face, and he would remember how he had felt and it stung him like salt in an open wound. He had felt that night that he would die if he didn’t have her. Lust multiplied by wine and wedding fervour, he dismissed now with still-gritted teeth. Now all he had to do was sit back and wait for Ellie and her character of many divergent colours to emerge into the unforgiving glare of daylight…
So, would she be the temptress, the prim doctor, the clever academic or the friendly, casual tourist? And just how long would it take for Rio to find out what her game was?