“If I don’t understand, then why don’t you tell me?” I try to keep my voice calm, but terror is clawing at my insides. And it’s not terror for me... right then, I realize that I would give my life for Riley without thinking twice.
“You’ll never understand. I see that now.” Emilia looks at me, smiles sadly. “It’s all such a mess. And he promised me. Carmine promised me that if I just did what he wanted, I could have the world.”
Cold fingers of dread probe their way into my gut. “As long as you did what he wanted?”
Emilia laughs, and the sound is without mirth. And right then I understand.
“Dio, Emilia.” I feel nauseous. “For how long?”
“Since I was fourteen. Right through until he died.” She steals a quick glance at me before returning her attention to Riley. “So I’ve paid my dues, you see. And I would have everything I ever wanted right now, if it wasn’t for this stupid little virgin.”
I feel frozen. I don’t know what to do, so I open my mouth and just start talking.
“Emilia, we can fix this.” My heart hammering, I start to walk toward her. The gun, I need to get the gun. Pasting an understanding smile on my face, I hold out my arms. “Look. It’s just me. Let’s go to the house and talk this through.”
Emilia looks uncertain, the hand holding the gun lowering. “I can’t shoot you, Matteo. I love you.”
But then I smile at her, and her eyes search my face, and something in her expression changes.
“It’s too late, isn’t it?” Her eyes are heartbreakingly sad. “You’ll never be mine now.”
The hand holding the gun lifts. I shout, and time seems to move in slow motion.
Emilia aims the pistol, not at Riley, but at her own head.
I jump toward her, but she’s scurried back, toward Riley.
A blur of blue, of red, and the crack of the pistol firing.
And then there is nothing but silence.
I WAKE UP IN a bright white hospital room. A steady series of beeps accelerates in my ears, scaring me, but then I realize that it’s just a monitor, just my own pulse.
And my hand is numb. Squinting against the light, I turn to find Matteo sitting at my bedside, dark circles under his eyes, holding my hand tightly between both of his.
My heart thuds in my chest. He’s here. We’re alive.
“If you ever do something that stupid again, I will tie you to the bed for the rest of your life.” The words could be joking, but Matteo’s tone is dead serious. “You could have died.”
I frown, searching my memory. Emilia... guns.
Tackling her to the ground so that she wouldn’t shoot herself.
I flush. It was an infinitely stupid move. But...
“You would have hated yourself forever.” I saw it on his face when Emilia told him about Carmine’s abuse.
“I should have known. I had no idea.” For a moment Matteo looks less like the superstar CEO of a massive corporation and more like a lost little boy. “I should have... given what he did to me.”
I wait to see if he will tell me more, though I understand now what he suffered at the hands of his father. But he doesn’t comment further—clearly he’s not ready, so I don’t push. “It’s hard to blame her, under the circumstances.”
I’m not quite that forgiving, myself. I’m a firm believer that people make their own choices, though our lives certainly help to shape us.
But that’s not what Matteo needs to hear right now, so I keep my thoughts to myself.
“What’s going to happen to Emilia now?” My heart pounds just saying her name.
Yes, she clearly has some mental issues. But I can’t erase the terror that she caused. I know that I will forever have nightmares of that blank look on Matteo’s face as she straddled him.
“She’ll be charged with a lot of things, but ultimately, I think she’ll end up in a mental hospital.” He smiles wryly. “Alexi is in town to help me straighten out the mess she caused. Once that’s done, she’ll have the best help available.”
I nod, then struggle to sit up, wincing at the throbbing in my temple.
My fingers stray to touch the painful spot, and encounter a bandage.
Oh yeah. Forgot about that. A bullet grazed me in the head.
“So that’s twice now that you’ve saved me.” Matteo reaches over, strokes a very, very gentle finger over my cut. “A man with a smaller ego than me might be having issues right now.”
I snort, even as I arch into the touch. The warmth. “There’s nothing wrong with your ego, husband. You have plenty to spare.”
We fall silent as my term of endearment echoes in the air.
“I’m still not used to saying that,” I finally murmur. I want to say so much more, but I can hear my pulse accelerating on the monitor at the very thought.
“Well, you’re going to have to get used to it.” Matteo catches my chin gently in his hands. The affectionate touch makes me want to nuzzle into him, but my attention is caught on his words.
“Why do you say that?” My voice is breathy, and I couldn’t have squelched the hope if I tried.
Bending, Matteo brushes a butterfly light kiss over my lips. The heart monitor goes wild.
“The one month deal is off. I have to save your life twice before we’re even. And since I plan for us to have a nice, quiet life from here on out, that debt should be worked off... never.”
I swallow thickly, overwhelmed. “What are you saying, Matteo?”
He pins me with that dark, enigmatic stare. “I’m saying that I don’t believe in divorce.”
“Try again.” Arching an eyebrow, I twine my fingers in his. “Here. I’ll go first. I love you, Matteo.”
“You don’t have to get shot to prove it, you know.”
I huff out an exasperated breath, and he grins.
“I love you, Mrs. Riley Benenati. And I’d pleased if you would continue to be my wife.”
His kiss is better than any pain medication. And when the nurse comes in and demands that he let me rest, I close my eyes, and realize something.
No matter how crazy this journey started...
In the end, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Stay tuned for All Night With the Billionaire, Alexi’s story and