The Italian’s Twin Consequences
Part of the Combe Family Scandals Series
Their passion is forbidden…
Her pregnancy? Shocking!
The only thing standing between CEO Matteo Combe and his company is Dr Sarina Fellows’s character assessment. She’s dealt with arrogant men like Matteo before and won’t be intimidated. But untouched Sarina isn’t prepared for the intense fire Matteo ignites in her! Succumbing to indescribable pleasure changes everything between them. Especially when she discovers she’s pregnant—with the powerful Italian’s twins!
Meet the billionaire and his two baby bombshells!
The Italian’s Twin Consequences
“I’m aware the terms of these sessions were set out in writing and forwarded to you by your board of directors, Mr. Combe, but I think it’s useful to go over them again in person. While you and I will be doing the talking, I must stress that you are not my client. I will be presenting my findings to the board rather than exploring therapeutic solutions with you. Do you understand what that means?”
Matteo Combe stared at the woman seated across from him in the ancient library of the Venetian villa that had been in his mother’s family since the dawn of time, or thereabouts. The San Giacomos were aristocratic and noble, with blood so blue it sang its own aria. They could even claim a smattering of Italian princes, Matteo’s great-grandfather among them. That he had not passed along his title had been, as far as Matteo was aware, the greatest disappointment of his grandfather’s life.
It would be a spot of luck indeed if Matteo could concern himself with such disappointments. more pressing concerns at the moment, such as the preservation of the family business that his father’s decidedly working-class forebears had built from nothing in the north of England during the Industrial Revolution. That he was choosing to handle that situation here in this self-congratulatory aristocratic villa was for his own private satisfaction.
And perhaps he’d thought he might cow the woman—the psychiatrist—sitting with him while he was at it.
Dr. Sarina Fellows was, by his reckoning, the first American to set foot on the premises. Ever. Matteo was vaguely surprised the whole of the villa hadn’t sunk into the Grand Canal in genteel protest the moment she’d set foot on the premises.
But then, villas in Venice were as renowned for their remarkable tenacity in the face of adverse conditions as he was.
Sarina looked as brisk and efficient as her words had been, which boded ill. She was dressed entirely in funereal black, but was saved from dourness by the quiet excellence of the pieces she wore. Matteo knew artisanal Italian design when he saw it. Her hair was a dark black silk, bound up in a crisp chignon at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were a complicated brown shot through with amber, the irises ringed in black. And her lips were pure perfection, begging for a man to taste them, for all that she had left them bare of any color.
She looked like what she was, he supposed. The agent of his destruction, if his enemies had their way.
Matteo had no intention of allowing anything to destroy him. Not this woman. Not his parents’ unexpected deaths within weeks of each other, leaving nothing in their wake but the fallout of the secrets they’d kept—and Matteo as the unwilling executor of the things they’d hidden while they lived. Not even his younger sister’s unfortunate life choices, which had led Matteo straight here, where the chairman of Combe Industries’ board—his late father’s best friend—now wished to take control.
Nothing would destroy him. Matteo wouldn’t allow it.
But he had to tolerate this farcical exercise first.
Sarina aimed what he suspected was meant to be a sympathetic smile his way. It struck him as rather more challenging instead. And Matteo had never been one to back down from a challenge—especially when he really should have, to keep the peace.
Lord, but he detested this process already. And it had only just begun.
He recalled that she’d asked him a question. And he’d agreed, hadn’t he? He’d given his word. He would sit here and subject himself to this intrusion and he would, yes, answer her questions. Each and every one.
Through gritted teeth, if necessary.
“I’m perfectly aware of why you are here, Miss Fellows,” he managed to reply. What he did not manage to do was strip his voice of impatience. Frustration. And what his erstwhile personal assistant often dared to categorize, to his face, as sheer orneriness.
He didn’t follow. “Excuse me?”
Her smile was all sharp edges. “It’s Dr. Fellows, Mr. Combe. Not Miss Fellows. I hope that critical distinction assures you that these conversations, while perhaps difficult, are wholly professional.”
“I’m delighted to hear it,” he said, wondering if he’d done that deliberately. He’d always prided himself on being far less of a blunt instrument than his father, renowned far and wide for his bluster and the sucker punch to back it up. But then, he’d never been in a situation like this before. “I have not spent much time—or any time, if I am honest—in mandated therapy, but the professional nature of this experience was, of course, my foremost concern.”
The late spring storm beat against the windows outside, rushing in from the lagoon and threatening to flood the Piazza San Marco the way it did more commonly in fall and winter. The threat of high water reflected Matteo’s mood perfectly. But the woman across from him only aimed that same smile at him as the rain slapped against the glass, wholly undeterred.
“I understand that there is resistance to this kind of therapy. Or indeed, any kind of therapy. Perhaps it will be helpful to dive in straightaway.” She settled there in the high-backed, antique chair that he knew for a fact was excruciatingly uncomfortable as if it had been crafted to her precise ergonomic specifications. She made a show of checking her notes in the sleek leather folder she brandished before her like a weapon. “You are the president and CEO of Combe Industries, correct?”
Matteo had dressed casually for this interview. Or session, as the woman had insisted upon calling it. Now he wished he hadn’t. He would have greatly preferred the comfort of one of his bespoke suits, the better to remind himself that he wasn’t simply any old ruffian in off the street. He was Matteo Combe, raised to be the eldest son and reluctant heir to the San Giacomo fortune and the sprawling, multinational corporation that his father’s gritty, determined Combe ancestors had built from nothing long ago in the stark mill towns of northern England.
You need to humanize yourself, his assistant had insisted.
That was the trouble, of course. Matteo had never been very good at being human. With his family—his careless, scandalous mother and his bullish, jealous father and all their theatrics—he’d never had much practice.
He forced a smile now. Something else he didn’t have much practice with. “I was president of the corporation before my father’s death. He had been grooming me to take his place for some time.” Since birth, in fact, though he kept that to himself. “I became CEO after he passed.”
“And you chose to mark the occasion of his passing by descending into a physical altercation with one of the funeral guests. A prince, no less.”
The smile on his mouth felt strained. “I wasn’t concerned with what he was at the time. All I knew was that he was the one who impregnated and abandoned my sister.”
Sarina checked her notes again, rustling through her papers in an officious manner that put Matteo’s teeth on edge. Or more on edge.
“You’re referring to your sister, Pia, who is some years younger than you, but is, in point of fact, an adult woman. Capable of choosing to bear a child if she so wishes, presumably.”
Matteo eyed the woman sitting across from him in that draconian chair his grandfather had made him sit in when the old man felt Matteo needed to learn humility. He’d had a dossier prepared on her, of course. Sarina Fellows had been born and raised in San Francisco and had distinguished herself in one of the city’s foremost private academies. She’d gone on to Berkeley, then Stanford, and instead of going into private practice as a psychiatrist, had opened up her own consulting firm instead. Now she traveled the globe, working most closely with corporations on various projects where psychological profiles on executives were needed.
Matteo was simply her latest victim.
Because he hadn’t simply punched out the jackass prince who’d left Pia pregnant and alone, which he still wasn’t the least bit sorry about. His little sister was the only family member Matteo had ever had that he could say he adored unreservedly, if often from afar, as the heiress to two grand fortunes was something of a target. For unscrupulous fortune hunters as well as princes, apparently.
He’d happily do it again, and worse. But he’d done it in full view of the paparazzi, who’d had a field day.
Chip off the old block, they’d called him in a frenzy of malicious glee. They’d dragged his late father’s many scandals and altercations back into the light of day, in case anyone had been tempted to forget who Eddie Combe had been, mere days after his death. It had taken a single snide news cycle for the vicious tabloids to start speculating about whether or not Matteo was the right person to run his own damned company.
He’d had no choice but to submit to the demands of his prissy, pearl-clutching board of directors, all of whom had fluttered about claiming they’d never seen such behavior in all their days. A bald-faced lie, since they’d all gotten their positions in the first place from Eddie, who’d been a brawler by nature and inclination.
But Eddie was dead, which Matteo still found difficult to believe. All that force and power and fury, gone. And Matteo had to get high marks from the good doctor after the way he’d channeled his father at the funeral, or risk a vote of no confidence.
Matteo could have quashed the motion outright. But he knew that the company was in a time of transition. If he wanted to lead—instead of what his father had done all this time, which was bully, threaten, lie and occasionally cheat—he had to start off on the right foot.
Especially when he knew exactly what other revelations awaited in his parents’ wills.
“My sister is naive and trusting,” Matteo said shortly. “She was raised to know very little of the world, much less the nature of men. I’m afraid I don’t take kindly to those who would take advantage of her better nature.”
Sarina shifted slightly in the seat opposite, staring at him as if he was some kind of science experiment.
It was not the way women normally looked at him and Matteo couldn’t say he liked it much. Especially when he couldn’t help but notice the doctor was not exactly hard on the eyes. Her legs were slim and toned, and it was entirely too tempting to picture them draped over his shoulders as he drove into her—
Focus, he ordered himself.
He knew too much about her to imagine she would take kindly to his line of thought. He knew that she had built her consulting business out of nothing and was ruthless, driven—qualities he possessed himself and usually appreciated in others. Though not, perhaps, in this particular scenario, when all of that knife-edged ferocity was directed at him.
“You look as if you’ve seen a ghost,” she said, almost idly. He knew better than to imagine anything about her was the least bit idle. “Have you?”
“There are ghosts everywhere in a house like this,” Matteo replied, unsettled despite himself. Not at the notion of ghosts. But at the strange sensation that had washed over him at the suggestion of them—the idea that he’d met this woman before when he knew he hadn’t. He shoved the odd sense of recognition aside. “The halls are cluttered with my ancestors. I’m sure some of them enjoy a good haunting, but I can’t say they’ve ever bothered me. Feel free to sleep here tonight and see if you receive a ghostly visitation.”
“That would be something indeed, as I don’t believe in ghosts.” Her head tilted to one side. “Do you?”
“If I did, I’d be unlikely to mention it. I wouldn’t wish to fail your test.”
“This isn’t a test, Mr. Combe. These are conversations, nothing more. And surely you understand why your shareholders and directors take a dim view of the sort of violent, antisocial behavior you displayed at the funeral.”
He lifted a shoulder and then dropped it, affecting a carelessness he had never actually felt. “I was protecting my sister.”
“Walk me through your thought process, if you will.” Sarina propped one elbow on the arm of the chair, then tapped one of her long, elegant fingers against her jaw. He shouldn’t have been mesmerized by the motion. “Your sister is six months’ pregnant. And not, by all reports, incapacitated in any way. My research into Pia indicates she’s a well-educated, well-traveled, perfectly independent woman. Yet you felt some archaic need to leap to her defense. In a markedly brutal fashion.”
“I am distressingly archaic.” Matteo wasn’t sure why that word ignited like a flame in him. Or maybe that was just her fingers on her own jaw, making him wish it was his hand instead. “It’s a natural consequence of having been raised in a historic family, I suspect.”
“All families are historic, Mr. Combe. By definition. It’s called generations. It’s just so rarely your history, complete with Venetian villas and claims of nobility.” He thought he saw something flash in her gaze then, but she repressed it in the next moment. “But back to your sister. Did you imagine you were defending her honor? How…patriarchal.”
He didn’t like the way she said that word, biting off the syllables as if they were weapons. “I apologize for loving my sister.”
Matteo loved Pia, certainly, though he couldn’t say he understood her. Or her choices when she must have known the whole of the world would be watching her—but then, perhaps she hadn’t had that pounded into her head from a young age the way he had.
“Love is a very interesting word to use in these circumstances, I think,” Sarina said. “I’m not certain how I would feel if my brother chose to express his so-called love for me by planting his fist into the face of the father of my unborn child.”
“Do you have a brother?”
He knew she didn’t. Sarina Fellows was the only child of a British linguistics professor and his Japanese biochemist wife, who had met in graduate school in London and ended up in California together, teaching at the same university.
“I don’t have a brother,” she replied, seemingly unfazed that he’d caught her out. “But I was raised by people who prize nonviolence. Unlike you, if I’m understanding your family’s rather checkered past correctly.”
He could have asked her which checkered past she meant. The San Giacomos had dueled and schemed throughout the ages. The Combes had been more direct, and significantly more likely to throw a punch. But it was checkered all around, anyway he looked at it.
“If I’m guilty of anything, it’s being an overzealous older brother,” Matteo said. And then remembered—the way he kept doing, with the same mix of shock and something a great deal like regret—that he too had an older brother. An older brother his mother had given up when she was a teenager, yet had dropped into her will like a bomb. An older brother Matteo had yet to meet and still couldn’t quite believe was real.
Maybe that was why he’d done nothing about it. Yet.
He tried to flash another smile.
Not that it was any use. The doctor didn’t change expression at all. Instead, she sat there in silence, until his smile faded away.
He understood it was a tactic. A strategy, nothing more. It was one he had employed a thousand times himself. But he certainly didn’t like it being aimed his way.
He felt the urge, as everyone always did, to fill the silence. He refrained.
Instead, he settled there in the ancient armchair where he remembered his own grandfather sitting decades ago, shrouded in bitterness because he was noble, yet not royal. Matteo lounged there the way he remembered the old man had, endeavoring to look as unbothered as he ought to have been.
Because this was a minor inconvenience, surely. An impertinence, nothing more.
He was submitting to this because he chose to. Because it was an olive branch he could wave at his board to prove that he was both conscientious and different from his father. Not because he had to.
It didn’t matter if the doctor didn’t realize that.
Besides, the longer she stared at him, letting the silence stretch and thicken between them, the more he found it impossible to think about anything but how distractingly attractive she was. He’d expected someone far more like a battle-ax. Fussy and of advanced years, for example.
He suspected her beauty was another tactic.
Because Sarina Fellows didn’t look at all like the kind of woman who could hold such supposed power over his life. She looked a great deal more like the sort of woman he liked to take to his bed. Sleek and elegant. Poised. Matteo preferred them intelligent and pedigreed, because he liked clever conversation as well as greedier, more sensual pastimes.
If she hadn’t been sent here to judge him, he might have amused himself by finding ways to get his hands up beneath the hem of the elegant pencil skirt she wore and—
“Toxic masculinity,” she pronounced, with something like satisfaction in her tone.
Matteo blinked. “Is that a diagnosis?”
“The good news, Mr. Combe, is that you are hardly unique.” It was definitely satisfaction. Her dark eyes gleamed. “You seem unrepentant, and think about what we’re discussing here. A funeral is generally held to be a gathering where the bereaved can say their final goodbyes to a lost loved one. You chose to make it a boxing ring. And you also took it upon yourself to draw blood, terrify those around you, and humiliate the sister you claim to love, all to assuage your sense of fractured honor.”
He didn’t sigh at that, though it took an act of will. “You obviously never met my father. There were no bereaved at his funeral and furthermore, he would have been the first to cheer on a spot of boxing.”
“I find that difficult to believe. And, frankly, more evidence of the kind of cowboy inappropriateness that seems to be part and parcel of the Matteo Combe package.”
“I am Italian on one side and British on the other, Dr. Fellows. There is no part of me that is a cowboy. In any respect.”
“I’m using the term to illustrate a strain of toxic male vigilantism that, as far as I’m aware, you haven’t bothered to apologize for. Then or now.”
“If I felt the need to apologize for defending my sister’s honor, which I do not, that would be a discussion I had with Pia,” Matteo said quietly. “Not with you. Certainly not with my board. Nor, for that matter, with the clamoring public.”
Her pen was poised over her paper. “So you do feel remorse for your brutality? Or you don’t?”
What Matteo felt like doing would, he suspected, inspire her to call him names far worse than cowboy. He spread his hands out in front of him, as if in some kind of surrender. When he didn’t have the slightest idea how to surrender. To anything or anyone.
“Remorse is a lot like guilt. Or shame. Both useless emotions that have more to do with others than with the self.” He dropped his hands. “I cannot change the past. Even if I wanted to.”
“How convenient. And since you can’t change it, why bother discussing it. Is that your policy?”
“I cannot say that I have a policy. As I have never subjected myself to these, quote-unquote, ‘conversations’ before.”
“Somehow I am unshocked.”
“But I am here now, am I not? I have promised to answer any question you might have. We can talk at length on any topic you desire. I am nothing if not compliant.” He made himself smile again, though it felt like a blade. “And toxic, apparently.”
“Compliant is an interesting word choice,” Sarina said, and he was sure there was laughter in her voice, though he could see no sign of it anywhere on her face. “Do you think it’s an adequate word to describe you or your behavior?”
“I have opened my home. I have invited you into it and lo, you came. I have agreed to have as many of these conversations as you deem necessary. And for this, I am called toxic instead of accommodating.”
“That word bothers you.”
“I would not say that it bothers me.” What bothered him was the pointlessness of this. The waste of his time and energy. And yes, the fact that she was distractingly beautiful—which, he had to remind himself, was nothing but another weapon. “But it is not as if one wishes to be called toxic, is it? It is certainly not a compliment.”
“And you are a man who is accustomed to compliments, is that it?”
He knew better, but still, he felt his mouth curve. “It will perhaps shock you to learn that most women who make my acquaintance do not find me the least bit toxic.”
“Are you attempting to make this session sexual, Mr. Combe?” He saw her eyes flash at that and he could have sworn what he saw in them then was triumph. It told him he was in deeper trouble than he’d thought even before she smirked. “Oh dear. This is much worse than I thought.”
End of excerpt
The Italian’s Twin Consequences
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