The Sicilian's Unexpected Duty

By: Michelle Smart


  PEPE MASTRANGELO HELPED himself to another glass of red wine from a passing maid and downed it in one. His aunt Carlotta, who had taken it upon herself to shadow him since they’d arrived back at his family home, was blathering on in his ear about something or other. Probably parroting her favourite inanities about when he, Pepe, was going to follow in his older brother’s footsteps and settle down. Namely, when was he planning to get married and have babies?

  Aunt Carlotta was not the only guilty party in this matter. The entire Mastrangelo clan, along with the Lombardis from his mother’s side, all thought his private life was a matter of public consumption. Usually he took their nosiness in good part, knowing they meant well. He would deflect their questions with a cheeky grin, a wink and a quip about how there were so many beautiful women in the world he couldn’t possibly choose just one. Or words to that effect. Anything but admit he would rather swim in a pool of electric eels than marry.

Marriage was for martyrs and fools, and he was neither.

He’d almost married once, when he’d been young and foolish. His childhood sweetheart. The woman who’d ripped his heart out, torn it into shreds and left an empty shell.

Now he considered that he’d had a lucky escape. Once bitten, twice shy. Only complete idiots went back for a second helping of pain if it could be avoided.

Not that he ever shared that little titbit of information with people. Heaven forbid. They’d probably try to talk him into something ridiculous like therapy.

Today though, his usually quick repartee had deserted him. But then, he wasn’t usually fielding these questions with a pair of almond-shaped green eyes following his every move. To make it even harder to concentrate, those same eyes were drilling into him with pure loathing.

Cara Delaney.

He and Cara had been appointed his niece’s godparents. He’d been forced to sit next to her in the church. He’d been forced to stand by her side at the font.

He’d forgotten how pretty she was—with her large eyes, tiny nose and small heart-shaped lips, she looked like a ginger geisha. Although ginger was the wrong word to describe the red flame of hair that fell down her back. Today, wearing a red crushed-velvet dress that showcased her curvy figure yet barely displayed an inch of flesh, she looked more than pretty. She looked incredibly sexy. Under normal circumstances he’d have no hesitation in spending the day in her company, flirting with her, plying her with drinks, maybe seeing if a repeat performance could be on the cards.

Being in the presence of his ex-lovers was not usually a problem, especially as his ‘emotionally needy’ detector was so acute. As a rule, he could spot a ‘looking for marriage and babies’ woman at ten paces and avoid her at all costs. As such, meeting up with an ex-lover was usually no big deal.

This time was different. Under normal circumstances he hadn’t last seen them when he’d sneaked out of the hotel suite, leaving them sleeping in the very bed they’d just made love in. And usually he hadn’t stolen their phone.

As soon as the date for the christening had been set a month ago, he’d known he would have to see Cara again. It was inconceivable that she wouldn’t be there. She was his sister-in-law’s best friend.

He’d expected the loathing that would be pointed his way. He really couldn’t blame her for that. What he hadn’t expected was to feel so... The word that would explain the strange sickness churning in his stomach wouldn’t come. Whatever the word, he did not like it at all.

A quick glance at his watch confirmed he would have to endure her laser glare for another hour before he could leave for the airport. Tomorrow he’d be taking a tour of a profitable vineyard in the Loire Valley that he’d heard through the grapevine—pun intended—was being considered for sale. He wanted to get in there and, if viable, make an offer before any competitor started digging around.

‘I said, she’s beautiful, isn’t she?’ Aunt Carlotta’s voice had taken a distinctly frosty tone. Somehow, in between her non-stop nattering, she had managed to acquire Lily without him noticing. She held the baby aloft for his perusal.

He peered down at the chubby face with the black eyes staring up at him, and all he could think was how like a little dark-haired piglet she looked. ‘Yes, beautiful,’ he lied, forcing a wide smile.

Seriously, how could anyone think babies were beautiful? Cute at a push maybe, but beautiful? Why anyone raved about them was beyond him. They were the most boring of creatures. He quite liked toddlers though. Especially when they were getting up to mischief.

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