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Ruthlessly Bedded Forcibly Wedded

By:Abby Green

PROLOGUE


Vicenzo Valentini stood for a long moment looking down at the set and cold features of the dead woman. His baby sister. She was only twenty-four. Her whole life ahead of her. But not any more. That life had been snuffed out like a candle in the mangled wreckage of a horrific car crash.

And he’d been too late to stop it, to protect her. What felt like a granite block weighted down his insides.


He should have followed his instincts and insisted that she come home weeks ago…if he had he would have realised how much danger she was in.

That thought made his fists clench as pain and guilt surged through him, so strong that he shook with the intensity it took to not let it out in front of the anonymous morgue attendant. He’d been kept away deliberately. A crude ruse to ensure he didn’t come to check up on his sister. When he thought of how awfully futile it made him feel he wanted to rant and rail, to smash something. He fought to regain control. He had to keep it together. He had to bring his sister home. He and his father would mourn her there. Not in this cold country where she had been seduced out of her innocence and led down a dark path to this tragic end. He stretched out a shaking hand and ran a finger down one icy cold cheek. It almost undid him. The crash hadn’t marked her face, and that made it even harder to bear, because like this she might almost be eight again, clinging onto Vicenzo’s hand tightly. Summoning all his control, he leant forward and pressed a kiss against her clammy, lifeless forehead.



He stood and turned away abruptly, saying in a voice clogged and hoarse with grief, ‘Yes. This is my sister. Allegra Valentini.’ A part of him couldn’t believe he was saying the trite words, that this wasn’t just an awful nightmare. He stepped out of the way jerkily to let the attendant zip the body bag back up.



Vicenzo muttered something unintelligible and strode from the room, feeling constricted and claustrophobic, making his way up through the hospital, just wanting to get back outside and breathe in fresh air.

Although that was laughable. The hospital was right in the smog-filled centre of London.



Outside, he sucked in deep breaths, unaware of the gaping looks he drew with his tall, lean body, and dark olive-skinned good-looks. He stood out like an exotic beacon of potent masculinity against the backdrop of the hospital in the harsh early-morning light.



He saw nothing, though, but the pain inside him. The doctor had described it as a tragic accident. But Vicenzo knew it had been much more than an accident. His fists clenched at the sides of his body in rejection of that platitude. Two people had died in the crash: his sister—

his beautiful, beloved, irrepressible Allegra—and her duplicitous lover, Cormac Brosnan. The man who had calculatedly seduced her, with one grasping hand out for her fortune and the other hand holding Vicenzo back from interfering. Rage burned inside him again. He’d had no inkling of Brosnan’s influence and cunning until it was too late. He knew it all now, but that information amounted to nothing any more, because it couldn’t bring Allegra back.



But one person had survived the crash. One person had walked out of this hospital just an hour after being admitted last night. The words of the doctor came back to him. ‘Not even a scratch on her body unbelievable, really. She was the only one wearing a seatbelt and undoubtedly it saved her life. Lucky woman.’



Lucky woman. The words made a mist of red rage cloud Vicenzo’s vision. Cara Brosnan. Cormac’s sister. Reports stated that Cormac had been behind the wheel of the car, but even so Cara Brosnan had been no less responsible. Vicenzo’s hands clenched even harder, his jaw so tight it hurt. If he’d only got here sooner he would have made sure that she had not walked anywhere until he’d looked her in the eye and made it his business to let her know that he would make her atone. He’d had to endure that soul-destroying moment when the doctor had informed him that his sister had had high levels of drugs and alcohol in her system.



His driver, who must have seen him standing on the steps of the hospital, pulled up in front of him, the powerful engine of the sleek car purring quietly. Vicenzo forced himself to move and sat in the back. As they swung away from the front of the grim hospital he had to stifle a moment of blind panic, stop himself demanding that the car be stopped so he could go back and see Allegra one more time. As if he had to make sure for himself that she was really dead. Really gone.



But he didn’t. And he willed the awful, uncustomary feeling of panic down. She was dead. Only her body lay back there. He was aware that this was the first time in years anything had struck him through the iron-clad high wall he’d built around his emotions. And his heart. He’d grown strong and impervious since that time. And he had to draw on that strength now. Especially for his father’s sake. On the news of the death of his beloved only daughter his father had suffered a minor stroke and was still in a hospital albeit stable enough to allow Vicenzo to make this trip.



As they entered the London rush hour mayhem, his mind seized once again on the woman who had played her part in causing this awful tragic day. Her brother was dead. But she was no less accountable than he for what they had planned to do together. They were a team. She might have walked free for now, but Vicenzo knew he wouldn’t rest until he had forced her to feel even a measure of the pain he felt right now. The fact that she’d walked from the hospital so soon after the crash made the bitter feeling even stronger. She’d got away scot-free.



He had to wait now for papers to be processed, red tape to be navigated before he could take his sister home, where she would be buried with her ancestors far too much ahead of her time.



Vicenzo’s mouth settled into a grim line as he looked out onto the busy streets, at people going about their everyday business, with not a care in the world. Cara Brosnan was one of those people. In that moment Vicenzo knew he would do his utmost to seek her out and make her face the fall-out of her devious manipulation.





CHAPTER ONE


Six days later




‘But, Rob, I’m fine to work, and I’m only going back to Dublin tomorrow. It’s hardly the other side of the world.’ Cara couldn’t quite keep the tremor from her voice, or stop the way she still felt a little shaky.



Her good friend noticed it too, with a sardonic lift of one eyebrow.

‘Right, and I just saw a pig fly past outside. Sit down on that stool now, before you fall down. You are not working on your last night here. I’ve promised you your two weeks’ wages, and you’re still owed tips from the door.’



She was about to point out that she wasn’t going to be working two weeks’ notice, but Cara saw the granite-like expression on his prettily handsome face and watched as he poured a shot of brandy into a glass before pushing it towards her across the solid oak bar.



‘Here, I think this is long overdue. You looked as if you were going to keel over at the funeral yesterday.’



Cara gave up the fight and sat on the high stool. The surroundings were dark and warm and familiar. This place had been her home for the past few years, and a well of emotion rose within her at the kindness of her old friend.



‘Thanks, Rob. And thanks for coming with me yesterday, I don’t think I could have done it on my own. It meant a lot that you and Barney and Simon were there.’



He reached over and placed a warm hand over hers, looking at her intently, ‘Sweetie, there was no way we’d have let you go through that by yourself. Cormac’s gone now. It’s over. And that accident was not your fault, so I don’t want to hear another word about it. It’s a miracle he didn’t bring you down with him. You know damn well it was only a matter of time before something happened.’



Yes, but I could have tried harder to stop them…to protect Allegra… The words resounded sickeningly in Cara’s head. She smiled weakly. Rob’s words were meant to soothe, but they stirred up the seething emotions that were ever present. The awful burning guilt that she hadn’t been able to stop Cormac driving that night. She’d gone in the car with them in an effort to try and be the sober one, the one who would make sure they weren’t careless…



But Rob didn’t need to know that. She smiled again, a little stronger this time, hoping to make him believe she was okay. ‘I know.’



‘See? That’s my girl. Now, drink that up and you’ll feel a lot better.’



Cara did as she was told, wrinkling her nose as the liquid burnt down her throat like a line of fire. Immediately she felt the effect, a warming and calming in her belly. Impulsively she leant across the bar and pulled Rob towards her, kissing him lightly on the lips and hugging him. He meant so much to her. He’d watched out for her for so long. She couldn’t contemplate how empty and hopeless her life might have been without him as her friend.



He grabbed her too in a tight hug, before pulling back and kissing her on the forehead. Something caught his eye behind her and he said, ‘Looks like the first customers are arriving.’



Cara swiveled to look back briefly, and saw a tall, dark shape through the gap in the heavy curtains that cordoned off the VIP bar from the rest of the club. For some reason a frisson of sensation she didn’t understand raced through her, but she dismissed it and turned back to Rob. Up till now it had been blessedly quiet. She decided that she’d leave shortly. She had precious little to pack for going home to Dublin, but at least she’d be ready in the morning for when the solicitor came to take the possession of the apartment keys. Suddenly the thought of going back to that huge, empty, soulless apartment made trepidation fill her belly as she recalled the visit she’d been paid last night, alone in that apartment after the funeral. It was something she knew she was shying away from thinking about, the past week having simply been almost too much to bear.

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