The Secret to Marrying Marchesi

By: Amanda Cinelli

It seemed like a lifetime before she crossed the gateway onto her own private property. They couldn’t enter without breaking the law, but she wasn’t so naive to think that she was somehow out of their reach.

She would never have privacy here again. The thought brought a choking sob to her throat.

She resisted the urge to look over her shoulder and focused on retrieving her keys from her handbag with trembling hands. Once she was finally inside, she slid the deadbolt into place and scooped Anna up into her arms. Her daughter’s warm cotton scent soothed her nerves, giving her a small moment of relief through the haze of blind panic. The sun shone through the windows, brightening the room and filling the space with light. Anna’s sparkling blue eyes smiled up at her, so peaceful and unknowing of the situation they were in.

She needed to find out what was going on. Now. She gently settled her daughter on a soft mat surrounded by toys, then quickly got to work. It wasn’t an easy task to fire up the ancient computer that had come with the farmhouse. One of her first resolutions upon moving to the French countryside from London had been to throw away her smartphone and stop checking the showbiz news. Still, she made sure to keep a phone charged for emergencies. One that only made and received calls—that was all she needed.

It seemed like hours before she could finally type a few keywords into the search engine on the dusty screen. She immediately wished she hadn’t bothered.

‘Billionaire Marchesi’s Secret Love Child Uncovered!’

Seeing the words in black and white filled her with ice-cold dread. She scanned through a few lines of the anonymous interview before turning away from the screen in disgust. Was her life always going to be sordid entertainment for the masses? She bit her lip hard as she dropped her head into her hands. She wouldn’t cry.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to her here. The tiny village of L’Annique had been her sanctuary for more than a year now. She had fallen in love with her kind neighbours and the quiet, almost humdrum atmosphere. Unlike in London, where her name was synonymous with scandal, here she had been free to raise her daughter in peace. And now this quiet village would be overtaken by the storm of her old life catching up with her.

Every penny from the sale of her London town house had been poured into her new beginning. Uprooting herself again would bankrupt her. And if she ran they would follow her—of that much she could be sure. She didn’t have the kind of power it took to protect her child from the media.

There was only one person she knew who did. But the man she was thinking of didn’t deal with idle tabloid gossip. Rigo Marchesi wouldn’t even think of trying to help her. She was surprised the media had even dared to cross him with the sheer power of his family name. Luckily for him he had a whole team of PR people to deal with this. Nicole would be left, alone once again, to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath.

She parted the curtains to peer out at the crowd, frowning at the sight of the men and their cameras being herded further down the street. Two police cars full of officers had arrived and they were quickly moving all the people and vehicles down the lane and out of view.

A second black Jeep had joined the first, this one with blacked-out windows. A handful of men in dark suits stepped out and began fanning across the premises and down each side of the laneway.

Nicole felt her breathing slow to a dangerous pace, and the air rushed in her ears as she watched the last man step out of the vehicle. He was tall, wearing a sleek suit and dark sunglasses. She bit her bottom lip hard as he finally turned to face her, removing the glasses from his face. A moment of utter stillness passed before she released her breath in one slow whoosh.

It wasn’t him.

For a moment there she had honestly thought... Well, it didn’t matter what she’d thought. Right now the tall, suited man was walking up to her front door.

Pushing her hair behind her ears and clearing her throat, she opened the door with the latch in place, so that she might survey the imposing stranger through a comfortable three-inch gap. Something about him was vaguely familiar.

‘Miss Duvalle?’ He had a hawklike gaze and spoke in her native English, albeit with a strong Italian accent. ‘My name is Alberto Santi. I work for Signor Marchesi.’

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