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Dante Claiming His Secret Love-Child

By:Sandra Marton

Dante Claiming His Secret Love-Child
Sandra Marton

       CHAPTER ONE




DANTE Orsini was in the prime of his life.

He was rich, powerful and as ruggedly good-looking as a man could hope  to be. He worked hard, played hard, and on those rare nights he went to  bed alone, he slept soundly until morning.

But not tonight.

Tonight he was dreaming.

In his dream he walked slowly along a narrow road. It led to a house. He  could hardly see it because of the heavy mist that hung over  everything, but it was there.

His footsteps slowed.

It was the last place on earth he wanted to be. A house in the suburbs. A  station wagon in the driveway. A dog. A cat. Two-point-five kids.

And a wife. One woman, the same woman, forever …

Dante sprang up in bed, gasping for air. A shudder racked his big,  leanly muscled body. He slept naked, kept the windows open even now, in  early autumn. Still, his skin was slick with sweat.

A dream. That's all it was. A nightmare.

The oysters last night, maybe. Or that brandy right before bedtime.  Or … he shuddered again. Or just another resurfacing of that long-ago  memory of what had happened when he was just eighteen, stupid and in  love.

In what he'd thought was love.

He'd gone steady with Teresa D'Angelo for three months before he'd so much as touched her.

When he finally did, one touch led to another and another and another … .

Christmas Eve, he'd given her a gold locket.

She'd given him news that almost brought him to his knees.

"I'm pregnant, Dante," she'd whispered tearfully.

He'd been stunned. He was a kid, yeah, but he'd still known enough to  use condoms. But he loved her. And she'd wept in his arms and said he'd  ruined her life, that he had to marry her.

He would have.

He would have Done The Right Thing.

But fate, luck, whatever you wanted to call it, intervened. His brothers  noticed how withdrawn he'd become. They sat him down, saw to it that he  had enough beer to loosen him up a little and then Nicolo asked him,  point-blank, what was going on.

Dante told them about his girl.

And the three of them, Nicolo and Raffaele and Falco, looked at each  other, looked at him and said, was he out of his freaking mind? If he'd  used protection, how could she have gotten knocked up?

She had to be lying.

He went after Falco because he'd said it first. When Rafe and Nick  repeated it, he went after them, too. Falco grabbed him in an arm lock.

"I love her, dammit," Dante said. "You hear me? I love her and she loves me."

"She loves your money, dude," Nicolo had said, and for the first time in days Dante had laughed.

"What money?"

Falco let go of him. And Rafe pointed out that the girl didn't know he  wasn't loaded. That even way back then, all four Orsini brothers had  thumbed their noses at their old man's money and power and everything  that went with it.

"Ask around," Falco, the oldest of them, said bluntly. "Find out how many other guys she's been with."

Dante lunged for him again. Nick and Rafe held him back.

"Use your head," Nick snapped, "not that divining rod in your pants."

Rafe nodded in agreement. "And tell her you want a paternity test."

"She wouldn't lie to me," Dante protested. "She loves me."

"Tell her you want the damned test," Rafe growled. "Or we'll tell her for you."

He knew Rafe meant it. So, with a dozen apologies, he'd suggested the test.

Teresa's tears had given way to fury. She'd called him every name in the  book and he'd never heard from her again. Yeah, she'd broken his heart  but she'd also taught him a lesson that still came back to haunt him  when he least expected it.

Like that ridiculous dream.

Dante took a couple of deep breaths, sank back against the pillows and folded his arms behind his head.

Marriage? A wife? Kids? No way. After years of trying to decide what to  do with his life, of coming close to losing it a couple of times in  places no sane man should have been, he'd finally sorted things out. Now  he had everything a man could possibly want: this penthouse, with the  morning sun pouring through the skylight above his bed. A cherry-red  Ferrari. A private jet.

And women.

A wicked grin lit his hard, handsome face.

More women, sometimes, than a guy could handle and all of them  beautiful, sexy and not foolish enough to think they could con him into  anything more permanent than a relationship-and, God, he hated that  word-a relationship of a few months duration.

He was between women right now.

Taking a breather, Falco had said wryly. True. And enjoying every minute  of it. Like the blonde at that charity thing last week. He'd gone to  what should have been a dull cocktail party. Save the City, Save the  World, Save the Squirrels, who knew what? Orsini Brothers Investments  had bought four tickets, but only one of the brothers had to show his  face.                       
       
           



       

As Rafe had so elegantly put it, it was Dante's turn in the barrel.

So he'd showered and changed in his private bathroom at the office,  taxied to the Waldorf figuring on a few polite handshakes and a glass of  not-very-good wine-the wine was never very good at these things even if  it cost five thousand bucks to buy a ticket.

And felt someone watching him.

It was the blonde, and she was spectacular. Long legs. Lots of shiny  hair. A slow, sexy smile and enough cleavage to get lost in.

He'd made his way through the crowd, introduced himself. A few minutes of conversation and the lady got to the point.

"It's so noisy here," she'd purred and he'd said, yeah, it was and why  didn't he take her somewhere quiet, where they could talk?

But what happened in the taxi the doorman hailed had nothing to do with  talk. Carin or Carla or whatever her name was had been all over him. By  the time they got to her apartment, they were both so hot they'd barely  made it through the door … .

Dante threw back the blankets, rose from the bed and made his way to the  bathroom. He had her cell number but he wouldn't use it tonight.  Tonight he had a date with a cute redhead he'd met last week. As for  that dream …

Ridiculous.

All that had happened almost fifteen years ago. He knew now he'd never  loved the girl who'd claimed he'd made her pregnant, though he did owe  her a thank-you for teaching him an important life lesson.

When you took a woman to bed, it was your trousers you left on the floor, not your brain.

Dante tilted his head back, closed his pale-blue eyes, let the water sluice the shampoo from his dark-as-midnight hair.

No woman, no matter how beautiful, was worth any deeper involvement than the kind that took place between the sheets.

Without warning a memory shot into his head. A woman. Eyes the color of  rich coffee. Hair so many shades of gold the sun seemed trapped there. A  soft, rosy mouth that tasted of honey …

Scowling, he shot out his hand, turned off the water and reached for a  towel. What the hell was the matter with him this morning? First the  insane dream. Now this.

Gabriella Reyes-amazing how he could remember her name and not the name  of a woman he'd been with last night, especially since it was a year  since he'd seen Gabriella.

One year and two months. And, yeah, okay, twenty-four days …

Dante snorted.

That was what came of having a thing for numbers, he thought as he  dumped the towel on the marble vanity. It made him good at what he did  at Orsini's but it also made the damnedest nonsense stick in his head.

He dressed quickly in a beat-up New York University T-shirt, the sleeves  long since torn out, and a pair of equally disreputable NYU gym shorts,  and went down the circular staircase to the lower level of his  penthouse, hurrying past the big, high-ceilinged rooms until he reached  his gym. It wasn't an elaborate setup. He had only a Nautilus, some free  weights, an old treadmill.

He only used the stuff when the weather was bad enough to keep him from  running in Central Park, but this morning, despite the sunshine, he knew  he needed more than a five-mile run if he was going to sweat a couple  of old ghosts out of his system. It was a Saturday; he could afford the  extra time.

When he was done, he spent a couple of hours online looking at auction  sites that dealt in vintage Ferraris, checking to see if there was  anything out there that came close to the 1958 Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta  "Tour de France" he'd been searching for. There'd been word one had been  coming on the market about a year ago in Gstaad; he'd thought about  flying over to check it out, but something-he couldn't recall what-had  come up just then …

His hands stilled on the keyboard.

Gabriella Reyes. That was what had come up. He'd met her and everything else had flown straight out of his head.

"Dammit," Dante said tightly. That was twice today he'd thought about the woman, and it made no sense. She was history.

Okay. Enough sitting around. He closed his computer, changed into another pair of shorts and a T-shirt and went out for a run.

Getting all those endorphins pumping did it. He came home feeling good  and felt even better when Rafe phoned to say he'd just put away the  French bank deal they'd been after. He'd already called Falco and Nick.  How about meeting for a couple of drinks to celebrate at their favorite  hangout, The Bar down in Chelsea?

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