Christmas in Da Conti's Bed

By: Sharon Kendrick


CHAPTER ONE

NICCOLÒ DA CONTI hated marriage, Christmas and love—but most of all he hated it when people didn’t do what he wanted them to.

An unfamiliar feeling of frustration made him bite back a graphic expletive as he paced the floor of the vast New York hotel suite. Outside, skyscrapers and stars glittered against the deepening indigo sky, though not nearly as brightly as the Christmas lights which were already adorning the city.

But Niccolò was oblivious to the party atmosphere, or even to the onset of this most hated time of year. All he could think about was his only sister and wondering why she was being so damned disobedient.

‘I do not want,’ he said, sucking in a ragged breath in an attempt to control his rapidly spiralling temper, ‘some tacky topless model acting as your bridesmaid. I have worked long and hard to establish a degree of respectability in your life, Michela. Do you understand what I’m saying? It cannot be allowed to happen, and what is more—I will not allow it to happen.’

From the other side of the glitzy New York hotel penthouse suite, Michela’s expression remained unchanged as she looked at him.

‘But you can’t stop me from having her, Niccolò,’ she said stubbornly. ‘I’m the bride and it’s my decision. That’s the thing.’

‘You think so?’ His mouth hardened and he felt another hot flicker of rage. ‘I could refuse to pay for this wedding for a start.’

‘But the man I’m marrying is rich enough to carry the cost of the marriage if you decide to take such drastic action.’ Michela hesitated. ‘Though I’m sure you wouldn’t want the world to know that Niccolò da Conti had refused to finance his only sister’s wedding, just because he doesn’t approve of her choice of bridesmaid. Wouldn’t that be a step too far in the modern world—even for a man as old-fashioned as you?’

Niccolò flexed and then relaxed his fingers, wishing there were a nearby punch-bag on which he could vent his mounting frustrations. The world usually ran according to his wishes and he was not used to having them questioned. Bad enough that Alekto Sarantos was acting like some kind of prima donna…without having to cope with the bombshell that Alannah Collins was here.

His mouth tightened with anger as he thought about his sister and the sacrifices he had made. For too long he had fought to keep their tiny family unit intact and he was not prepared to relinquish control over her just yet. Because old habits died hard. He had faced shame and tragedy and had seen them off. He had protected Michela as much as was within his power to do so, and now she was about to enter into marriage, which would see her secure for life. His careful vetting of would-be suitors had paid dividends and she was about to marry into one of the most powerful Italian-American families in New York. She would have the sanctity he had always wished for her and nothing would be allowed to tarnish the occasion. Nothing and no one.

Especially not Alannah Collins.

Even the thought of the minxy little tramp made his body react in a complicated way he found difficult to control—and he was a man who prided himself on control. A powerful combination of lust and regret flooded over him, although his overriding emotion was one of rage, and that was the one he hung onto.

‘I cannot believe that she has had the nerve to show her face,’ he bit out. ‘I can’t believe she’s even here.’

‘Well, she is. I invited her.’

‘I thought you hadn’t seen her since I withdrew you from that appalling school.’

Michela hesitated. ‘Actually, we’ve…well, we’ve stayed in touch over the years,’ she said. ‘We emailed and phoned—and I used to see her whenever I was in England. And last year she came to New York and we took a trip to the Keys and it was just like old times. She was my best friend at school, Niccolò. We go back a long way.’

‘And yet you told me nothing of this before?’ he demanded. ‘You maintain a secret friendship and then spring it on me on the eve of your marriage? Didn’t you stop to consider how it might look—to have someone as notorious as this tawdry exhibitionist playing a major role in your wedding?’

Michela lifted her hands up to the sides of her head in a gesture of frustration. ‘Are you surprised I didn’t tell you, when this is the kind of reaction I get?’

‘What does Lucas say about your connection with her?’ he demanded.

‘It happened a long time ago. It’s history, Niccolò. Most people in the States haven’t even heard of Stacked magazine—it folded ages ago. And yes, I know that a video of the original shoot seems to have found its way onto YouTube—’

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