Wife By Force(7)

By: Caro LaFever


He’d been correct to do so. Apparently, she’d settled in and planned to stay.

This isn’t a holiday.

Which was all to the good. His maneuvering, his work behind the scenes during the last months—it had placed her right where he wanted her.

Home.

Where she’d always belonged even though she’d denied it, and him, ten years ago. However, he was known for his patience now, patience he’d learned one hard step at a time. Impetuous actions led only to disastrous results. The years had taught him well and he never allowed himself to slip. Now he was legendary for quite the opposite of what he’d once been.

Patient. In control. Always, always achieving the goal.

Taking another sip, he grimaced at himself. He would not pretend this was like any other objective he needed to carry out. This goal. Oh, no. This objective, this goal meant everything.

Dio, the impact she had on him.

He’d forgotten. Purposefully.

With one glance, she'd brought it all back.

The need for her had drummed in him through tonight’s long dinner. Desire had lashed him as he stood and watched her smile and laugh with his sisters. Craving had curled its way into his gut as he said goodbye to her father and noticed her ignoring him once more.

She was angry. At him. Even after all these years. Over a few blunt words.

True, he had not handled the night of her seventeenth birthday well. In his defense, she had caught him by surprise. Though surely as a grown woman she would have realized why he’d said and done what he had. He’d needed to draw a line neither of them could cross.

A piercing memory struck him. Her young face white in the night shadows. Her eyes staring at him as he talked. The way her pointed chin wobbled for a moment before she turned and walked away from him.

Exactly as she had tonight.

He pushed the thought back. He hadn’t meant to hurt her that night; still it had been necessary. If he had to do it over again, he would. And his subsequent actions, actions she knew nothing of, had been necessary to separate them before the temptation became too great. He’d also thought it would help her to broaden her horizons and spread her wings. His actions had all been for Lara’s benefit.

Not all your actions.

Ah, well. That was long ago, when he still allowed his emotions to ride him.

He swirled the liquor in the glass. None of it mattered anymore. Now was the time to move forward. Time to forget the past and embrace what had always been their destiny. This resentment she held towards him would be dealt with. A few words said years ago would not stand in the way of his determination. She would soon realize who she was meant to be with.

Lara Derrick was his. Had always been his.

Her first marriage was done. Finally. It had been an eternity of waiting.

He stared at the liquor for a moment longer, and then threw back his head and swallowed. The tang hit his tongue as the burn slid down his throat. The taste reminded him of the taste of her; hot spice laced with bite.

At long last, the kiss he’d dreamed of giving her for years.

“Dante.”

He turned toward the library door. “Mamma.”

Giana Casartelli bustled in, black dress wrapped tightly around generous hips and bosom. Easing into a leather chair, she sighed. “The last guests have left. I think it went well, no?”

“With you in charge, how could it not?”

She waved away his comment with a ring-encrusted hand. “It was nothing.”

“A Casartelli wedding, and the parties leading up to it, cannot be a nothing.”

She chuckled. “Well, of course. We are the Casartellis.”

He rolled the glass in his hand and thought of a time when he would have given anything to not be a Casartelli, and certainly not The Casartelli. The mantle, the label, the duty had colored his entire existence, for as long as he could remember. Being the wild boy he’d been, he’d fought against it. For as long as he could.

Yet just as Lara was inevitable in his life, so too was his duty. The wild boy had, in the end, died inside him. In a strange way, it had been a relief. He’d eventually accepted, eventually even embraced the destiny laid out for him from the moment of his birth. A destiny that demanded he always step up to his duties. “Sandro is a good man. He will fit into the family smoothly.”