“And then we lived happily ever after,” Angelo Valencia murmured in a self-mocking tone as he shared about his rollercoaster romance with his fiancée. “Or at least we will tomorrow, assuming I get out of this bachelor’s party alive.” He surveyed his surroundings with lips thinned in annoyance. Although Angelo appreciated his friends’ efforts at organizing tonight’s gathering, he would’ve rather spent the evening with Lane.
Luca could only shake his head at the look on Angelo’s face. The younger man was obviously smitten, and he had to forcibly swallow all cynical remarks that were brimming on his lips. He had met Lane and found her lovely. A little eccentric, considering her strange aversion to men with wealth. Since Angelo was a billionaire in his own right, Luca wasn’t quite sure how that would work out for the couple, but to each his own.
Luca raised his glass. “To your fortune, cugino.”
Knowing that his cousin was not referring to his material possessions, Angelo raised his glass in return. “I wish you the same luck, cugino.”
After downing his third shot, Luca put the glass back down on the table and leaned back against his seat, silently contemplating the recent changes in his younger cousin’s life. Like him, Angelo had one serious relationship before meeting Lane, and one that ended with his younger cousin deliberately breaking his girlfriend’s heart.
Luca’s previous relationship had also gone sour, but whereas Angelo’s former flame Jaike had been an angel, Luca’s ex-wife had been an adulterous bitch.
Even now, thoughts of Maria left a despicable taste in Luca’s mouth. He had grown up in an extremely conservative Italian family, with a strict but loving father who had done his very best to raise his only child to know right from wrong. Even though his father had passed away in his late teens, by then Luca’s character had been fully developed, and with his mother’s gentle, soft-spoken guidance, he had grown up to be honorable and hardworking, a man without any pretensions of himself and with no desire to sow his wild oats.
Unlike many of his peers, Luca had looked forward to starting his family young, and at that time, he could not imagine himself loving or marrying anyone else than his childhood friend Maria. They had grown up together, gone to school together, and he had been her first lover – as she had been his.
It had not mattered to Luca that she was the daughter of one of the countless servants employed at the Tuscan winery that his family owned or that she had only finished high school before leaving the countryside to work as a secretary in town. It had not mattered to Luca that her manners had been rather coarse, which at that time he had considered more charmingly refreshing than anything else, or that she occasionally showed wild bursts of temper.
At least she was being honest with him, Luca had thought then. It was better than those women in college who had constantly thrown themselves at him and pretended to be the kind of girl they thought he would like.
For Luca, everything about Maria was perfect because he had been in love.
And so he had married her, even knowing of his family’s tacit disapproval of her. It was not that his mother and their relatives had been snobs. Rather, they had simply cautioned him about not knowing Maria well enough to make her his bride.
Their concerns then had sounded ludicrous to him, and Luca’s lips twisted at the memory. How foolish he had been, he thought with self-contempt, to believe that knowing another person was a matter of years.
He had grown up with Maria, his brash twenty-five-year-old self had rationalized. So of course he knew her inside and out.
The first few months of their wedding had been bliss, and with hindsight, he realized it was Maria doing the same thing he despised other women for, which was to pretend to be someone she was not. The only difference was that where others had failed, Maria had managed to succeed, and he had considered himself the luckiest of all men. He had loved her so much that by the time Maria began to exhibit gradual but significant changes in her behavior, Luca had tried damnably hard to accept all of them.
First were the demands. She had wanted to spend more and more of his money and had thrown tantrums and threatened to leave him when he had forbidden her to do so. It was not that he couldn’t afford her expenses. He could. But it was the sheer frivolity of her purchases that were anathema to Angelo and went completely against how his parents had raised him.
Then there were the late night outs, with the way she had attended one party after another, dancing the hours away until the driver would be forced to take her home, drunk and incoherent.