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Mills & Boon
ISBN: 0263886417
March 2, 2011
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Harlequin Presents Extra
ISBN: 0373528108
April 12, 2011
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Excerpt from The Proud Wife

CHAPTER ONE

The letter lay exactly where he had left it last night, right in the centre of his desk. The single sheet of paper was aligned carefully square, in the centre of the polished oak, straight in front of his chair where it could not possibly be missed. All it needed was his signature and it would be folded neatly, placed the already addressed envelope and sent on its way.

And after that there would be no turning back.

But until he made the final move, added the swift, determined scrawl of his signature — the work of just a couple of seconds — nothing at all would happen. It would just lie there, untouched, until he was ready.

Of course it would, Pietro told himself, his mouth twisting slightly wryly at the corners. He hadn't spent almost half his lifetime building up the sort of retinue of employees that any man would envy not to have things that way. The staff who would not only obey his every command but anticipate it perfectly, knowing exactly what he wanted and when. They would remain poised, waiting, until he would give the word to act. Then - and only then — would they carry out his instructions to the peak of perfection he had come to expect so much that he no longer even noticed it was there — only coming up against the system that created it when something went wrong. Which happened so rarely that he couldn't actually recall the last time it had ever ruffled the controlled surface of his world.

He would never allow it to happen. Lack of control, the wildness of emotion, brought confusion and chaos with it. Confusion and chaos of the sort that he never ever wanted to experience again.

'Dannazione!'

The curse was torn from him, the flat of his hand slamming down on the polished surface of his desk so that the letter lifted slightly in the air current it created, fluttered, shifted, landing back down again an inch or two further left before lying still again.

He had known the sort of chaos that could be created by lack of control. Once, just once, he had been fool enough to let that sort of wildness invade his life and take with it the organisation and the rule of rational thought he valued so deeply. He had loosened his grip on the reins and lost control. And he had hated the results.

Just once had been enough.

Just once. Never again. And it had all been because of this woman.

A dark-eyed, brooding look fixed on the letter heading once again and his fingers clenched, itching to grab the sheet of paper and crush it in his grip, giving in to the heavy pounding of dark anger through the blood in his veins.

'Dear Ms Emerson . . .'

That wasn't her true name, of course, but he'd be damned if he'd have let his secretary put 'Dear Principessa D'inzeo', or worse, 'Dear Marina'. Never mind the fact that she was entitled to both names, even if they would stick in his throat if he tried to say them. He hated the thought that his family name was attached to a woman who had given up on their marriage after less than a year, and walked out without so much as a backward glance.

But just the thought of her name triggered off a rush of images of the voluptuous red-headed spitfire he'd met when her car had caught his a glancing blow on an icy London street. The impact of her curvaceous body, green slightly slanting cat-like eyes and that glorious mane of hair had been immediate. He'd lingered over exchanging insurance details until she had agreed to have a drink with him to finalise things. The drink had turned to dinner and she had never moved out of his life again.

Until after they were married.

Their short-lived marriage had been a total, wretched failure. An ugly spot on his conscience for too long. The searing heat of their hunger for each other had to burn itself out, he had never expect it to crash and burn quite badly. Or that the new life he had thought he was going to welcome into the world had in fact been the death of everything he had thought would be in his future.

It was also appallingly messy, unfinished business that needed sorting out. With everything signed, sealed and made official. Which was the point of the letter.

Pietro paused, raking both hands through his black hair as his blue eyes stared down at the neatly typed letter on the desk surface so intently that the words blurred, becoming totally indistinct. This was what he wanted. His freedom from the woman who had turned his life upside down but had never loved him. The chance to slam the door closed on a bitter part of his past; to turn his back on it and walk firmly away, heading out into the future. So what the hell was he doing hesitating, considering. . . even debating? Why didn't he just sign and send the letter on its way?

He didn't even give himself time to consider the thought. He wanted this over. Done. Finished with once and for all.

Reaching out, he snatched up the silver pen that had been lying beside the paper, ready for this moment and clicked it open with a firm decisive movement. This ended now. He was taking his freedom back.

It was the work of just a few seconds to scrawl his signature at the bottom of the page, underlining it with a fierce, hard slash that almost ripped through the page.

It was done. And not before time.

Then in an abrupt change of mood, he picked up the letter and folded it carefully, matching the corners to corners with cool precision, before sliding it into the envelope that his PA had prepared. The ordinary post wouldn't do.

'Maria!' he lifted his voice so that it carried into the other room, the clear tones strong with conviction. 'Arrange to have this couriered to the address on the envelope please. I want to make totally sure it gets there as quickly as possible.'

Wanted to make sure it was put right into Marina's hands so that there was no mistake. He would know that she had received it and that he could finally start to move forward with his life.

His soon to be ex-wife would have the freedom to get on with hers too. Something he was sure that she wanted every bit as much as he did.

The letter lay exactly where she had left it last night, right in the centre of the kitchen table. The single sheet of paper was aligned carefully square, in the centre of the scarred and worn pine, straight in front of her chair where it could not possibly be missed.

Marina knew that she should read it again. Read and absorb it this time, not skim through the neatly typed paragraphs in a shaken rush, not taking in exactly what it actually said, but only getting a rough, and very shocked impression of just what Pietro had written.

When the courier had brought the letter to her door last night, she had been so stunned to see her estranged husband's name on any communication that she had found it impossible to actually focus on the letter. The words had danced before her eyes, blurring into one dark shadow as she struggled to take in their meaning. And it had been little better when she had gone back to try to reread later in the day. Then she had absorbed just what Pietro was demanding but she hadn't been able to work out how she felt about it. She had told herself that she would sleep on it and hope that the morning would bring clearer thoughts and a hope of making a decision.

'Sleep! Hah!'

Marina mocked her own thoughts as she reached for the kettle and filled it ready to make a much needed cup of coffee. Sleep was the last thing she had managed as she tossed and turned, trying to erase, at least ignore the images and memories that flooded her mind, keeping her from the much-needed oblivion. But just as in the time that she had been married to him, ignoring Pietro had proved impossible to do. And in the scenes that played over and over in her head, the contents of the letter seemed to grow with every repetition, getting worse and worse until she had finally tumbled into a restless, nightmare-ridden doze.

Excerpt from The Proud Wife © Kate Walker

 

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