The Italian’s Wife

January 4, 2002

March 1, 2002

January 4, 2002

March 1, 2002


Abandoned by her boyfriend and family after the birth of her son, Holly Sansom collapses in the street.

Rio Lombardi, M.D. of Lombardi Industries, comes to her rescue. Rio insists that Holly stay at his luxurious home, and proceeds to lavish her and her baby with all that money can buy. But Rio’s emotions are caught off guard by Holly’s natural charm and indifference to his wealth. In fact, Holly would make a perfect wife….

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WHEN Rio Lombardi finally heard the apartment door open, his handsome mouth quirked and he sprang upright. Christabel was in for a surprise.

A breathless series of giggles and an urgent whisper which he didn’t catch sounded from the hall, making him frown. Evidently, his fiancée had a friend in tow. That was the trouble with surprises, Rio acknowledged in exasperation: their very nature made them unreliable. He should’ve warned her that he might make it back to London a day early. Surrendering his fantasy of sweeping Christabel straight off to bed for a passionate reunion, Rio crossed the spacious lounge to announce his presence and make polite social chitchat instead.

But the hall was already empty. A pair of kitten-heeled turquoise shoes and a pair of diamanté-studded black satin mules lay abandoned on the carpet. Frowning a little at the suspicion that his fiancée might not be sober again, and now also wondering if he was about to break in on some cosy girly get-together, Rio strolled down the corridor to the bedroom. He’d intended to knock on the door but it was wide open and the sight which met his eyes was so shocking, so utterly unbelievable to him, that his lean hand froze in mid-air.

Halfway out of her dress, Christabel was kissing…another woman, also half out of her dress. Paralysed to the threshold, Rio stared, his dark-as-midnight eyes totally refusing to accept what he was seeing. They were drunk, fooling about, he started to tell himself; maybe they had realised he was in the apartment and were playing some stupid tasteless joke on him. But they were locked together, breast to breast, hip to hip, Christabel’s glossy blonde hair mingling with the brunette’s darker tresses as they touched each other with the unmistakable eagerness of lovers. He was so revolted by that acknowledgement that for an instant he felt physically ill. Christabel, his woman, his lover, his bride-to-be…

Christabel drew back with a husky, sexy laugh, her fabulous face flushed with excitement, and only then did the two women realise that they had an audience poised in the doorway. Rio recognised the brunette as one of Christabel’s friends: Tammy something or other, another fashion model, also another man’s wife.

For a split-second nobody moved or spoke. Aghast, Christabel and Tammy gaped at him, and then the brunette loosed a strangled moan of horror and fled into the connecting bathroom, noisily slamming and locking the door behind her.

‘H-heavens…what a fright you gave me…’ Christabel faltered, frantically yanking up her dress to cover her bare breasts, her face now pale and stiff as marble, her wonderful green eyes glittering with fearful anxiety. ‘Please…you mustn’t misunderstand what you just saw, Rio—’

‘Misunderstand?’ Rio could never recall it taking more effort to speak one word levelly. Initial shock and disbelief were giving way to rage and an unfamiliar sense of appalled bewilderment that only stoked the rage higher.

‘We were just mucking around. Don’t be old-fashioned about this…’ Christabel urged in the charged silence as she moved closer and made a little pleading movement with her manicured hands.

Rio could not take his eyes off her. Christabel Kent, the world-famous supermodel and media darling who wore his engagement ring, her Nordic fairness and endless legs a legend in the fashion and beauty market. Perfect face, perfect body.

‘OK…I’ll come clean,’ Christabel continued feverishly. ‘So I was missing you dreadfully and I like a change occasionally—’

‘A change? You make it sound like it’s nothing—’

‘It isn’t…it’s just sex!’ his fiancée interrupted, reaching for the lean, powerful hands coiled into fierce fists of self-restraint by his sides. ‘Nothing for you to worry about or even think about, because if you don’t like it I swear it won’t ever happen again!’

Rio backed out of her reach. In his mind’s eye he could still only see one image: Christabel wrapped half-naked and excited round another woman. Just sex? He felt betrayed. He felt incredulous. He felt something he wasn’t used to feeling: foolish.

‘All right…you’re shocked and furious and I understand and I’m really sorry!’ Christabel was panicking at his lack of response. ‘I’ll make it up to you—’

‘What with? An offer to join the two of you?’ Rio derided between clenched white teeth.

Christabel looked up at him, green eyes gleaming with sudden relief lightened by a shard of seductive amusement. ‘Would you like that, darling?’

Violence coursed through Rio in a molten wave and a shudder of angry revulsion passed through him. If she hadn’t been a woman he would have knocked her through the wall and if that was an old-fashioned reaction, tough! Yet her stupidity in assuming that his contemptuous question might have been a serious hint that all would be forgiven if he got a piece of the same action freed him from that first binding shock.

‘I’ll give you time to move out of here,’ Rio breathed with raw clarity. ‘I’ll deal with cancelling the wedding arrangements—’

‘You can’t be serious!’ Christabel gasped in stricken horror. ‘We’re perfect together!’

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