Inherited by Ferranti

By: Kate Hewitt

CHAPTER ONE

TOMORROW WAS HER wedding day. Sierra Rocci gazed at the fluffy white meringue of a dress hanging from her wardrobe door and tried to suppress the rush of nerves that seethed in her stomach and fluttered up her throat. She was doing the right thing. She had to be. She had no other choice.

Pressing one hand to her jumpy middle, she turned to look out of the window at the darkened gardens of her father’s villa on the Via Marinai Alliata in Palermo. The summer night was still and hot, without even a breath of wind to make the leaves of the plane trees in the garden rattle. The stillness felt expectant, even eerie, and she tried to shake off her nervousness; she’d chosen this.

Earlier that night she’d dined with her parents and Marco Ferranti, the man she was going to marry. They’d chatted easily, and Marco’s gaze had rested on her like a caress, a promise. She could trust this man, she’d told herself. She had to. In less than twenty-four hours she would promise to love, honour and obey him. Her life would be in his hands.

She knew the hard price of obedience. She prayed Marco truly was a gentle man. He’d been kind to her so far, in the three months of their courtship. Gentle and patient, never punishing or pushing, except perhaps for that one time, when they’d gone for a walk in the gardens and he’d kissed her in the shadow of a plane tree, his mouth hard and insistent and surprisingly exciting on hers.

Another leap in her belly, and this was a whole different kind of fear. She was nineteen years old, and she’d only been kissed by her fiancé a handful of times. She was utterly inexperienced when it came to what happened in the bedroom, but Marco had told her, when he’d stopped his shockingly delicious onslaught under the plane tree, that he would be patient and gentle when it came to their wedding night.

She believed him. She’d chosen to believe him—an act of will, a step towards securing her future, her freedom. And yet... Sierra’s unfocused gaze rested on the darkened gardens as nerves leapt and writhed inside her and doubt crept into the dark corners of her heart, sly and insidious as that old serpent. Did she really know Marco Ferranti? When she’d first glimpsed him in the courtyard of her father’s palazzo, she’d watched as one of the kitchen cats had wound its scrawny body around Marco’s legs. He’d bent down and stroked the cat’s ears and the animal had purred and rubbed against him. Her father would have kicked the cat away, insist its kittens be drowned. Seeing Marco exhibit a moment of unthinking kindness when he thought no one was looking had lit the spark of hope inside Sierra’s heart.

She knew her father approved of the marriage between her and Marco; she was not so naïve not to realise that it was his strong hand that had pushed Marco towards her. But she’d encouraged Marco; she’d made a choice. As much as was possible, she’d controlled her own destiny.

On that first evening he’d introduced himself, and then later he had asked her out to dinner. He’d wooed her gently, always courteous, even tender. She wasn’t in love with him; she had no interest in that deceitful, dangerous emotion, but she wanted a way out of her father’s house and marriage to Marco Ferranti would provide it...if she could truly trust him. She would find out tomorrow, when the vows were said, when the bedroom door closed...

Heaven help her. Sierra bit her knuckles as a fresh wave of fear broke coldly over her. Could she really do this? How could she not? To back out now would be to incur her father’s endless wrath. She was marrying in order to be free, and yet she was not free to cry off. Perhaps she would never be truly free. But what other choice was there for a girl like her, nineteen years old and completely cut off from society, from life? Sheltered and trapped.

From below she heard the low rumble of her father’s voice. Although she couldn’t make out the words, just the sound of his voice had her tensing, alarm prickling the nape of her neck. And then she heard Marco answer, his voice as low as her father’s and yet somehow warm. She’d liked his voice the first time she’d heard it, when he’d been introduced to her. She’d liked his smile, too, the quirking of one corner of his mouth, the slow way it lit up his face. She’d trusted him instinctively, even though he worked for her father. Even though he was a man of great power and charm, just as her father was. She’d convinced herself he was different. But what if she’d been wrong?

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