But it wasn’t her husband. The scruffy-looking homeless man from the corner now stood before her.
Confused, she drew back. “Can I help you?”
The man was dressed badly, his face lumpy. But when he smiled, she suddenly choked out a gasp as she recognized his face beneath the dirt.
“Yes, Scarlett.” Blaise Falkner’s eyes looked crazy above his evil smile. “You can.”
* * *
As Vin entered the palazzo, his whole body felt tight, his hands clenched at his sides. He didn’t even know where he was going. He just felt sick inside. Panicked. Like he had to either fight or run.
He couldn’t fight Scarlett, so he’d run. He’d never run from anything in his life.
Vin ran an unsteady hand over his forehead.
When he’d told Scarlett about the post-nup, he’d expected to feel triumph, or at least a sense of calm control.
Instead, watching the happiness in his wife’s eyes melt into horror, Vin had experienced a physical reaction he’d never expected. His hands had tightened into fists. He’d instantly wanted to destroy whomever had hurt her.
Except he had no one to blame—but himself.
Vin abruptly stopped in the gilded, high-ceilinged hallway when he saw Giuseppe waiting for him.
Just what he needed. He gave a silent curse. Another person to heap scorn on him, when he was doing a fine enough job heaping it on himself. He bit out, “What do you want?”
Giuseppe came forward, solemn in his formal tuxedo. “We have to talk.”
“Make it quick.”
“I always knew you weren’t my biological son.” He gave Vin a small smile. “Is that quick enough for you?”
He gaped at him, dumbfounded. “What?”
The older man shook his head. “Vincenzo, your mother’s eyes were blue. So are mine. What are the chances we could conceive a child with eyes as dark as yours?”
After twenty years of keeping the secret, Vin was staggered. “But my mother used you for money. For years. Why didn’t you tell her to go to hell, tell her I wasn’t yours?”
“Because you are mine,” he said, coming forward. “From the moment I held you as a tiny baby, Vincenzo, I was your father.”
Vin thought of the first moment he’d held his own son in his arms. He knew what that felt like.
Giuseppe put his hands on Vin’s shoulders. “I didn’t give a damn what some DNA test might say. I loved you. You were—you are—my son. And you will always be.”
Vin felt dizzy, like he’d gotten drunk on that one glass of champagne. The floor was trembling under him.
He’d been so wrong. He, who’d believed he could never be wrong about anything, had been wrong about everything.
He thought he’d never run away from a fight?
He’d been running for twenty years.
All these years he’d avoided Giuseppe and Joanne, avoided emotion, avoided life. For what? For the sake of a secret that didn’t matter?
His whole adult life, he’d tried to control everything, to make sure he never felt tied to anyone, so he’d never feel pain when they left. When, against his will, he’d come to care for Scarlett, it had terrified him so much he’d thought he needed to bring her to heel. To make her his slave.
Had he really thought he could rule her with a piece of paper? He was powerless where she was concerned. No pre-nup or post-nup in the world could change that.
I love you, Vin. And you love me. That was the whole reason for this, wasn’t it? You’re afraid to love me.
Giuseppe sighed ruefully in the hallway. “I just wish I’d known that was the reason you stayed away from us.” He glanced at his wife, who’d come up behind him, followed by Maria. “We were foolish to keep silent, but we didn’t want to give you more reasons to stay away.”
“You knew, too?” Vin said to Joanne. She smiled, even as she wiped tears away.
“Of course I knew, darling. Giuseppe and I have been married a long time. We have no secrets.”
“Well, I didn’t know!” Maria cried sulkily behind her, tossing her long white veil. “No one tells me anything!”
Vin glanced at his young sister in her white wedding gown, and in that instant, his whole life came sharply into focus.