“And ready to reunite with his brothers,” Emma said.

“Exactly,” Nicole agreed. Silence hovered over the women for a long moment. “I’m glad Michael is doing well. From the way he looks at you, I’m sure you’re part of the reason.”

Bella wasn’t at all sure of that. “Hmm. Would either of you like something to drink? Coffee? Tea?”

“I’d love some hot tea,” Emma said.

Bella rose. “Let me get it for you,” she murmured and went into the kitchen. Her stomach twisted with agitation as she put the water on and pulled some packets of tea from the cupboard. Why hadn’t Michael discussed something so important to him with her? The logical side of her brain immediately came to his defense.

They were having an affair where he dictated the rules. He was completely within his rights to keep the matter about his missing brother private.

After the way he’d insisted that she reveal her painful story about Stephen, though, it didn’t seem fair at all. Bella felt like a fool. Why hadn’t he told her about the latest developments in the search for Leo? Perhaps because she wasn’t truly important.

The knowledge stung. It shouldn’t, but it did. She pulled two cups and saucers from the cabinet.

“I can take care of this,” Gary said.

She shook her head. “No. I’ve got it. It’s just tea.”

“I insist,” Gary said, pulling out a tray and cream from the refrigerator. “It is my job.”

Stepping back, she smiled although she was still distracted. “Thanks. It’s for the two women in the keeping room. I’m going to step out for a breath of fresh air. I’ll be back in just a moment.”

Bella scooted out the back door and took a deep breath of the chilly winter air. Closing her eyes, she tried to clear her head. She felt hurt and offended. She took another deep breath and wrapped her arms around her waist.

“Too many Medicis for you?” Michael asked, sliding his arm around her back. “Can’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Wondering when he’d joined her, she glanced up at him. “You did warn me.”

“Did someone offend you?”

“Hmm,” she said and swallowed a wry chuckle. “I guess if anyone offended me, it was me.”

His body stiffened. “You? How?”

“It’s more about what happened before your family even arrived,” she said.

“Is the guessing game necessary or do you want to tell me what this is about?”

“I could say the same about guessing games,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me the latest news about Leonardo?”

His face immediately turned dark. “What about Leonardo?”

“The fact that he survived the train crash,” she said. “You found that out the night you were sitting in the dark by the fire, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did,” he said and moved away from her. “You need to understand that there are some subjects that are off limits.”

“To me,” she said, angry at herself because this just underscored the fact that she was temporary.

His expression closed up as tight as Fort Knox. “I won’t allow this subject to contaminate my time with you. That’s my final word.”


T hat night was the first time she shared a bed with Michael and they didn’t make love. She lay staring up at the ceiling, torn between anger at herself and him. Why should he be the one to call the shots?

Because he was financing her aunt’s business.It seemed, however, that he’d changed the rules when he’d said he wanted her to come to him. Add in the meeting with his family and she didn’t know what was going on.

“You’re a complicated, difficult man,” she said because she knew he was still awake.

“I’m neither,” he said. “I’m ordinary.”

She laughed. “That’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said.”

“I am,” he insisted. “I have basic needs. Food, water, sex.”

She rolled her eyes. “Along with control, wealth, and a few other things you probably don’t realize.”

He rolled over and pulled her against him. “Such as?”

She wanted to say love, but she wouldn’t. “Compassion, affection, understanding.”

He shrugged, but slid his fingers through her hair. “Like I said before, there’s a difference between need and want.”

“So, maybe you want those things,” she said, feeling herself sink under the spell of his dark eyes. “There are other things you want, but you’d never admit it.”

“Never is a long time,” he told her and pulled her on top of him.

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