From runaway to housekeeper…to the Italian’s wife!
When Enzo stops to help a broken-down car, he’s shocked by his discovery. Skye is frightened, on the run and with tiny siblings in tow. Enzo’s honor dictates he offer them sanctuary and Skye a job. But could their simmering attraction solve another problem–his need for a bride? Skye urgently needs a fresh start…and Enzo already makes her blood pound and her skin tingle. Yet can she marry a man she’s only just met? Joining the enigmatic billionaire at the convenient altar will require the ultimate leap of faith!
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A LARGE AND expensive four-by-four awaited Lorenzo Durante when he arrived in his private jet at Norwich airport.
It had been a long time since he had driven himself. Limousines were more Enzo’s style. He gritted his teeth. He didn’t whine about stuff, and he wasn’t a kid any more. He had got himself into his current predicament and he would get himself out of it again. That he was unlikely to enjoy the experience of relinquishing his affluent way of life went without saying but then wasn’t that part of the punishment?
His grandfather, Eduardo Martelli, had, however, insisted that the challenge he had set wasn’t a punishment. Eduardo had preached at length about the need for Enzo to grow up. Just remembering that demeaning phrase made Enzo seethe, his quick, hot temper ready to spark. He compressed his lips, his lean, darkly handsome features taut. He was twenty-seven years old and aside from his university studies and spells as an intern, he had never worked a day in his life. Why would he have? Orphaned as a baby, he had inherited billions from his late father, Narciso.
His maternal grandparents were nowhere near as wealthy as his paternal grandparents had been, yet they had fought them for custody and, probably because they were younger and healthier than their opponents, had won the case. In court they had promised to raise their grandson in what they had termed an ordinary life. Sadly, they had had their work cut out on that front, Enzo acknowledged ruefully, thinking of the legion of Durante relations and hangers-on who had constantly invaded his childhood with their visits and invitations, their ridiculously lavish gifts and their eagerness to tempt him into the supremely privileged permissive lifestyle his late father had enjoyed.
Somewhere around his twenty-third birthday, after he had completed his education in the business world, he mused grimly, the seduction had begun to work. Fresh from university and nursing a broken heart, Enzo had been vulnerable to the temptation of the playboy lifestyle. That was where it had started, the slow steady sink into a self-indulgent decadence that had appalled the grandparents who in every way had truly been his parents.
And a few years on, the inevitable had happened: his two lifestyles had collided and fatally clashed. The scandalous headlines their grandson attracted had been studiously ignored by Eduardo and Sophie Martelli. But after he had made the fatal mistake of attending a social occasion drunk with an equally drunken partner, the balloon had gone up on forgiveness. He still broke out in a cold sweat when he recalled that evening. The next day he had attempted to apologise. Eduardo Martelli had refused to listen while his wife had simply sobbed in embarrassment and heartbreak because her husband seemed determined to disown the grandson she adored.
That had been the shocking moment when Enzo had realised that it didn’t matter how much money he had, how many friends or what exciting opportunities to enjoy himself still shone on his horizon. He had finally appreciated how much more his family meant to him and his loving grandmother’s distress had shamed him. And coming to England, taking charge of a small company recently acquired by his grandfather and striving to live a more useful, normal life was the price of reconciliation. Only there was nothing normal about it, Enzo conceded in exasperation, not on his terms.
He drew up at the house he was to use. It was in the back of beyond, a couple of miles from the nearest town and larger than he had expected. He was accustomed to spacious accommodation, but a serviced apartment would have suited him better than an old country house with a turret. He hoped it looked better inside than it did from the outside. Minutes later, Enzo contemplated the fresh horror of an antique furnished décor and an empty kitchen, when he was starving. How the hell was he supposed to manage alone when he couldn’t cook? First world problem, he lamented wryly, and probably the opening to a long line of such jarring wake-up calls. He would manage, of course he would.
An hour later, the takeaway pizza he had ordered thrust into the bin in disgust, Enzo drove into the town to find a restaurant. He couldn’t find one. He located a twenty-four-hour supermarket but drove past it, deciding that he could do without eating for one night. Instead, he went to check out the business he would be dragging into the twenty-first century. The office block beside the factory he had to overhaul was substantial. He would be as popular as poison when he arrived in the morning as the new CEO. It had been a family business and there would be redundancies, restructuring, all the changes necessary to make the firm viable again.
On his drive back to the house he drove past a car parked by the side of the road, a young woman standing by its bonnet. A woman on her own in the dark with a broken-down car. A groan of frustration escaped him. He didn’t want to get involved. Nobody would ever accuse Enzo of being a good Samaritan, but he was too well brought up to ignore the dangers threatening a woman in such a situation. Biting back a curse of irritation, he turned the car and drove back, buzzing down the window to lean out…
One hour earlier
Skye lay where she fell after Ritchie threw her viciously away from him. She was so terrified she couldn’t breathe, wasn’t even sure a breath could manage to squeeze past her agonisingly sore throat. He had semi-strangled her but only after he had first punched her in the face and the stomach to bring her down, glaring down at her like a madman as though he hated her, and then kicking her. She felt as if she was broken inside, as though the world had stopped suddenly and flung her off at a height and she was still falling. Shock was roaring through her because Ritchie had never hit her before. He had shouted but there had never been any violence.
Ritchie was still ranting, crashing about the bedroom, slamming doors, shouting abuse back at her. She stayed still, eyes shut tight, afraid he would notice her again, hurt her again. Or worse, get so mad at her lack of response that he hurt the children. Brodie, the poor little mite, having seen the attack, had rushed in front of her in a pathetic toddler attempt to protect her but she had managed to get between him and Ritchie and get Brodie into the safety of his bedroom. Her frantic intervention had only made Ritchie angrier than ever. She needed to get herself and the kids out of the apartment fast but Ritchie would never willingly let her leave him. She stayed on the floor, quiet as a mouse, her heart thumping at an insane rate as she played dead.
‘You stupid cow! I’m going down to the off-licence!’ Ritchie spat down at her.
A moment later, the front door slammed and she was up, trying to move at speed but then staggering in pain, groaning helplessly at the burning agony of her battered ribs. She stumbled straight into the kids’ room, found her little brother, Brodie, sobbing and frightened on his bed, and she reached for him first.
‘We’re going out,’ she told him soothingly, smoothing his tumbled blond curls. ‘But you have to be quiet.’
She scooped her sleeping sister, Shona, straight out of her cot, snatching up a cot blanket to keep the baby extra warm. Her feet were bare and she looked in vain for her shoes. Brodie was clingy and anxious, which was hardly surprising after what he had witnessed. It was bad enough that Ritchie had attacked her but unimaginable that she could have allowed him to hurt a two-year-old in his ungovernable rage.
It was her fault, she thought in an agony of guilt. After all, she had chosen to move in with Ritchie. She was the fool who had put her innocent siblings into contact with such a man and put them at risk. But she hadn’t known, hadn’t dreamt what Ritchie might be capable of in a temper. And now that she knew, now that she had learned her mistake, she was leaving. But there was no time to pack. There was too big a risk of Ritchie coming back before she could get away. She could return for their stuff later when everything had calmed down and he was hopefully at work.
Hands all clumsy fingers and thumbs, she strapped the kids into their car seats and collapsed into the driver’s seat, saying a momentary prayer to the god of ancient motor vehicles that Mavis would start for her because Mavis, her late mother’s elderly car, could be very temperamental. When the engine burst into noisy life, she heaved a sigh of relief and moved off, hunched over the wheel while she worried about where on earth she would go. A homeless shelter? A women’s refuge? Hopefully there would be somewhere in the town that would take them in. If not, they would have to spend the night in the car. Escaping Ritchie would be only the first step on a stony road, she conceded unhappily, guilt pulling at her afresh.
Enzo leant out of the window of his car.
‘Do you need help?’
‘Do you know anything about cars?’ Skye asked hopefully.
Suppressing a sigh, Enzo climbed out. He had spent his teens tinkering with engines. Unfortunately, one glance under the rusted bonnet was sufficient to tell him that it had been at least a decade since even basic maintenance had been carried out on the old banger. ‘It could be any one of a number of problems,’ he pointed out wryly. ‘Have you called anyone? Do you belong to a motoring organisation?’