The Sicilian’s Forgotten Wife

HEAT LEVEL:
Satisfyingly Spicy

Revenge is best served cold…
But their passion is red hot!

Innocent Josselyn Christie agrees to conveniently wed the infamously powerful Cenzo Falcone to please her beloved father. But she soon realizes her new husband has only one thing on his mind: revenge against her family!

Swept off to his remote Sicilian castle, Josselyn finds Cenzo arrogant, ruthless and dangerously compelling. But when an accident causes him to forget everything, the tables are turned. For this Cenzo wants her as she’s always dreamed, but will he feel the same once he remembers?

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The Sicilian’s Forgotten Wife

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Josselyn Christie did not expect to enjoy her wedding day.

It wasn’t that kind of wedding. She wasn’t that kind of bride—the sort who had dreamed her whole life of a white dress, a battalion of attendants, and a ceremony filled with personal details and love—which was just as well, because there was an appropriate dress, but no battalion. And the ceremony had been about the solemnity of marriage itself, not the couple getting married. A necessity as the couple hardly knew each other.

Josselyn understood it wouldn’t be a modern marriage, either, bristling with romance and mushy public declarations. Enjoyment really wasn’t on the menu.

But she had hoped for some degree of civility from the groom.

Her reception was in full swing in the ballroom. Old money Philadelphia milled genteelly around the ballroom in all their usual glory, here in her father’s house on the historic Christie estate, considered one of the most elegant addresses in Pennsylvania. And therefore, by definition, in the whole of America.

Just ask anyone here, Josselyn thought, as close to amused as she’d been in months.

The money on display in this ballroom tonight was so ancient that those who had inherited it didn’t call themselves Old Philadelphians. They preferred proper Philadelphians, or perennial Philadelphians, depending on the audience. But one thing they could all agree upon was that they were the direct—and in some cases, indirect—descendants of the first families of Ye Olde Pennsylvania colony. They felt, almost universally, that their bloodlines made them personally responsible for settling the state of Pennsylvania—and by inference, therefore, these United States.

If she listened closely, Josselyn was sure she could hear some of the snootier guests murmuring the so-called Philadelphia Rosary just under the sound of the band, that old rhyme of worthy Pennsylvania family names.

Morris, Norris, Rush and Chew…

Drinker, Dallas, Coxe and Pugh…

The Christies had Whartons on one side and Pennypackers on the other. Their money was old, their blood blue, and Josselyn supposed she should always have known that she was destined for a future precisely like the one she was embarking upon tonight. She should not have imagined that, somehow, she would be saved from sacrificing herself to her family name like all the blue-blooded brides before her.

“You look pensive, my dear,” came a familiar voice from beside her, startling Josselyn out of her gloomy thoughts. Thoughts of bloodlines and sacrifice did not inspire the average bride to beam about her reception, apparently. But she smiled almost instantly anyway, the usual rush of affection taking her over.

Even today.

Especially today.

Because she loved her father to distraction. She would do anything for him, as this day proved. She smiled down at him now, remembering when he had seemed bigger and stronger than anything that might threaten her. Now the years had seemed to shrink the elderly Archibald Christie, but she could see the differences in him already. Now that he had settled his daughter’s affairs as well as he could, in the best way he knew.

Because he believed that this marriage would keep Josselyn safe. And having lost her mother and brother, even if the accident was so long ago now, Josselyn had always understood that her safety was her father’s primary concern.

Even at such a cost.

Her gaze moved of its own accord toward the towering, brooding figure across the ballroom, engaged in deep conversation with a collection of other billionaires—all hanging on his every word, naturally—but she forced her eyes back to her father. No good could possibly come of making herself more anxious. Worrying would not change what lay ahead of her.

“I think the beginning of any marriage requires some level of pensiveness,” Josselyn said, but lightly. She slid her arm around her father’s shoulders, trying not to notice that he felt more frail than he should have. Because noticing it only broke her heart anew. And her poor heart was in enough trouble today. “Some sober reflection, perhaps. Clearheadedness and calm in preparation for what is to come.”

She could feel her father sigh a bit, next to her. They stood side by side, looking out over all the very best people who danced, drank, and cavorted beneath the gleaming lights. And who, Josselyn knew, would give not one thought to her again. Not one single thought.

Because this was the kind of wedding people attended for any number of reasons, but none of them having to do with celebrating love. And really, Josselyn had no one to blame but herself for imagining love would ever factor into her situation.

More fool her.

“I understand that this is not, perhaps, what you wanted,” Archibald said in his usual tone, gruffness overlaid with seven decades of innate polish. “I may be an old fool, but I hope I’m not entirely delusional.”

“Of course not, Papa,” Josselyn murmured. Placating him, of course. She’d told herself a million times that she needed to stop doing it, because surely it was time she strode forth and claimed her own life. But no matter how many New Year’s resolutions she made, she couldn’t quite bring herself to stop.

That was what affection did. It made her act against her own interests, and she couldn’t even say she’d minded too much until now.

Her father was many things, but easily placated was not among them. “You might think that I am a doddering idiot. I accept that. But I think, in time, you’ll see that all of this is for the best.”

“I understand,” Josselyn said as calmly as she could. “If I didn’t understand, I would never have agreed.”

And that was the thing. She had agreed.

No matter how overwrought she might have felt when she’d walked down the aisle this afternoon, no one had forced her to do it. There had been no gun at her back, no threats, no direct pressure. Josselyn had taken her father’s arm of her own free will and walked down that long aisle to her own doom.

Her father was drawn into conversation with an old family friend, but Josselyn stayed where she was. She smoothed her hands down the front of her exquisite gown, a near replica of the one her gorgeous mother had worn at her wedding. It had been Josselyn’s great joy, if laced with the usual bitter sweetness, to hold on tight to that connection today. She ordered herself to breathe. To smile. Instead, against her will, her gaze was drawn back across the room to where he still stood, holding court in his typically unyielding fashion.

Cenzo Falcone, man so widely feared and admired that his first name was usually enough to create commotion. Cenzo, they would whisper, then shudder, and no explanation was needed. Cenzo, descended through European royalty and considered Sicilian nobility, heir to crumbling castles across the globe and a fortune so vast it was said a man could not possibly spend it all in ten lifetimes.

Cenzo Falcone. Her husband.

God have mercy on her soul.

A passing waiter offered Josselyn a drink and she took it gratefully. She was tempted to neck it straight down, but she managed to control herself. Rendering herself insensate might be appealing—more than appealing, at the moment—but she doubted it would end well. Because the wedding and the reception were one thing, but the clock was ticking. And all too soon, Josselyn would have to leave this place.

With him.

As his wife.

She took a small sip of the sparkling wine and kept her gaze trained on the groom.

Her husband. Maybe if she kept calling him what he was, this whole thing would seem more real. Or less overwhelming. Because many people had husbands. They were thick on the ground. There was surely no need to find the term intimidating.

Maybe if she called him what he was, she would find her way to some kind of peace with her new role as his wife.

When she looked across the room at this man who had stood up before all these people—there at the head of the long aisle, unsmiling while tightly coiled power swirled all around him, his brutally sensual features a raw assault—her mouth went dry. When the wedding ceremony had been hours ago now.

It was something about those arresting eyes of his, copper and gold, as if he was making a mockery of all the robber barons who had made their fortunes here. Many of whose descendants were currently eating canapés and having a waltz across the ballroom floor.

Breathe, Josselyn ordered herself.

Their courtship, such as it was, had been conducted over the course of only two in-person meetings. The first meeting had occurred two years ago, in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where Josselyn’s family had been summering for more than a hundred years. Josselyn had been acting as her father’s social secretary since she’d graduated from Vassar four years before, and she had been spending the cool afternoon catching up on his correspondence in the blue and white sitting room where her mother had once sat and read to her.

And everything seemed divided into before and after that fateful meeting.

There was before, when she had been writing out notes by hand because her father prided himself on his old school, old world approach to things. The secret to my success, my dear, he would tell her jovially, when they both knew the real secret was having been born a Christie. And better still, the male heir.

Josselyn had been humming her favorite summer anthem beneath her breath, silly and bright. She had been thinking that the breeze coming in through the windows was lovely, but it was making her a bit cold, so she might run up in a moment to grab a light scarf. Her plans had involved a walk later. Possibly a sail, though her father didn’t like it when she sailed out alone, so she rarely did it. It had been a Thursday, so her father’s housekeeper was off and it would fall to Josselyn to prepare their supper later. She was planning on a cold soup with fresh vegetables from the garden.

Such a mundane, quiet summer’s day in the middle of what she’d considered a happy little life. At least, Josselyn thought she’d been happy. It seemed to her she must have been, in those last, sweet moments before everything changed.

“Josselyn,” her father had called from the parlor in the front part of the house. “Come meet our guest.”

She could remember the suppressed excitement in her father’s voice and had stood quickly, frowning, because she hadn’t expected any visitors that day. Her father’s interests ran mainly to his golf game and his club when he was in Maine, and when he threw the odd dinner party—rarely more than a handful all summer—he had Josselyn plan them well in advance.

Still, there were longtime family friends and what seemed like half of Philadelphia’s upper crust all around on the rocky, craggy island, some twenty miles from Bar Harbor. Any one of them might have stopped by.

Josselyn had tried in vain to smooth down her usually long and straight dark hair, gone thick, wispy, and frizzy with the sea air. She’d been thinking a little bit crossly that she shouldn’t need to worry about her appearance with no advance warning, but knew she would have worn something more appropriate if she’d known she’d have to appear in the parlor today. Appropriate by her father’s definition, that was, whose take on modesty seemed to have gotten stuck midway through the previous century.

Then she’d walked into the room and promptly forgotten her Bermuda shorts and soft chambray shirt, clothes better suited for, say, a spell in the garden where there would be dirt. Her father was seated in his usual chair, and she noted distractedly that he was beaming. But that wasn’t the alarming part.

The alarming part was Cenzo Falcone, leaning up against the gentle old fireplace across the bright and happy room.

Dark and brooding and the end of everything.

She couldn’t remember what he’d chosen to wear, though she had the vague impression of a suitable shirt and dark trousers. But all she’d really registered was him. All that power. All that unrelenting intensity of those curious eyes of his, as if they were ancient coins his ancestors might have traded in, off in lost kingdoms long ago. The impression of his chiseled male beauty, almost alien in its severity. The close-cropped dark hair, the nose of a Roman emperor, the sense that whole nations rose and fell on his wide shoulders.

The man would have been an affront to the senses in a city of glass and concrete. Somehow, there on the coast of Maine, he was more like a terrible outrage. A dark and knowing storm that had rendered her powerless at a glance.

Her ears had been ringing, her heart had taken up a terrible pounding in her chest, and Josselyn had felt simultaneously winded and wild. She’d wanted to run out of the house that had always been her refuge, as fast as she could until she hit the water. The moody Atlantic, where she could take her chances with the currents that might sweep her off, all the way to Iceland and beyond, if she was lucky.

Though at that moment, Cenzo’s eyes heavy upon her for the first time, drowning had seemed like a pleasant alternative. And also redundant.

Josselyn had stayed where she was, rooted to the spot, while her father mouthed some pleasantries, conducted whatever he considered appropriate introductions that she hardly heard, and then made everything worse by quitting the room.

Leaving Josselyn all alone with this man who had looked at her like she had chosen this fate. And made it clear he did not think highly of her for the choice.

“I… I don’t know what my father told you,” Josselyn had said, haltingly.

“He has told me the bare minimum,” Cenzo had replied.

It was the first time she’d heard his voice. Low, dangerous, and spiked with that accent that whispered to her of European capitals and Italy’s rolling hills. He made her shiver. Made her break out in goose bumps.

Made her wish she had already started running.

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Then I will tell you.” Cenzo stayed where he was at the other end of the room, dominating the old fireplace. It was impossible not to notice how tall he was. How he commanded this space that had been her family’s for generations. As if it was his. As if she was his. As if this was no more to him than going through the motions. “Your father, who was in another life my own father’s roommate at Yale, has made me an intriguing proposition. And I have accepted it.”

“Proposition?” she had repeated, her heart hammering in her chest. When she’d already known. When this had been inevitable all along. It was a wonder only that her father had not married her off before now, and how had she convinced herself that he had let go of that notion? She’d known full well her father was not in the habit of letting go. Of anything.

“We will marry, you and I,” Cenzo told her. There had been something cruel in his gaze. In the elegant brutality that she could see all over his features, no matter that it was tempered with that sensuality beneath it. She had the thought that a knife could be dulled, but it was no less a knife. “It is your father’s wish and I have chosen to grant it.”

“Before even meeting me?” Josselyn had asked, feeling as if she was being daring when surely it was a reasonable enough question.

But Cenzo had smiled, that was what she remembered chiefly from that first day. That smile. It was as if he’d carved it down the length of her spine with the dullest knife in his possession.

“Meeting you is but a formality, cara,” he had said. “Our wedding, now I have agreed to it, is a foregone conclusion.”

Josselyn, despite a lifetime of having the necessity for good manners at all costs pounded into her, had turned on her heel and run. Not into the sea, only off toward the woods, a choice she would have a lot of time to regret.

Over the next year, she had spent entirely too much time remembering Cenzo’s laugh as she’d run, chasing her from the room. Following her into sleep. Disturbing her wherever she went.

But her father had not been swayed by any arguments. He hardly acknowledged them, much less any talk of laughter. He had chosen Cenzo Falcone for his only daughter and that was an end to it.

Josselyn had assured herself that this time, she might defy him. This time she would stand up to him, because surely—though he had spent years telling her of his plans to assure her safety even after he was gone, and what he expected her to do—he could not mean he truly expected her to marry a stranger.

But he did.

She had tried to comfort herself with the knowledge that while Cenzo was a stranger to her, their families had long been connected. Their fathers had been friends since university, and Archibald had spent time palling around with his friend and Cenzo’s mother in places like giddy London and the South of France. Long before Archibald had married Josselyn’s mother, then lost her. And before Cenzo’s father had died, as well.

Archibald had told her these stories since she was a child. Surely, she thought that first year, the fact that she and the forbidding man she was to marry had both lost a parent should work in their favor. It should connect them, that enduring grief.

She’d convinced herself it would.

If she couldn’t change her father’s mind, it would.

A year later, she had met Cenzo once again.

This time, the occasion was their engagement party, to be held in a restaurant high in a Philadelphia skyscraper with views to die for and Michelin-starred food to tempt the well-heeled guests. Josselyn had not staged a protest, no matter how many times her friends offered to act as getaway drivers. She had been dressed and, she’d thought, prepared.

Her schemes to escape her fate had all ended in nothing, because her tragedy was that she understood her father. She knew why he wanted her to do this archaic thing. And she had never managed to mount a satisfactory rebellion because she cared too much about him to hurt him. It had been only the two of them for so long, and they were the only ones who knew what they’d lost. They were the only ones who still felt the ghosts of Mirabelle Byrd Christie and young Jack wherever they went.

Josselyn didn’t have it in her to defy him. Not when all that was required of her was no more than had been asked of countless women through the centuries.

Including her own mother.

That was the argument that had worked the best. The one that had allayed a great many of her fears. Because Mirabelle had been nineteen when she’d become engaged to Archibald, twenty when she’d married him, and barely twenty-one when she’d had Jack. Her notably stern father, Bartholomew Byrd, had arranged the match himself. Mirabelle had famously sobbed on her wedding day and had locked herself in the bathroom of the fancy Philadelphia hotel that was the first stop on the couple’s honeymoon later that night.

And yet despite such inauspicious beginnings, Josselyn’s parents had fallen in love.

Trust me, her father had told Josselyn the morning of her engagement party. All I want for you is what your mother and I had.

And Josselyn had wanted that too. Really, she did, she’d decided. She’d taken care with her outfit, choosing a gown that she was certain could only please the implacable man she was to marry. Even if it did not, because men were nothing if not inscrutable, she felt confident it would look beautiful in all the society pages and her father would feel honored by her acquiescence. She had lectured herself, repeatedly, to remain openhearted. To trust in her father, as he’d asked, because surely he would never choose for her a man who was truly as harsh and inhuman as Cenzo seemed to be.

Remember, she had told herself, you have that connection.

She’d ordered herself to cast aside all the gossipy tidbits she’d collected about him over the past year. The many stunning and often famous ex-lovers, all of whom seemed broken when he finished with them. Broken, yet never spiteful, no matter how publicly he had tossed them aside. Josselyn knew too many things about him. A collection of details that together created an overwhelmingly ferocious mosaic and did nothing at all to calm her fears. Like his father before him, Cenzo had come to the States for his education, spending his formative years at Choate before going on to Yale. At Yale he had distinguished himself as a great intellect and excellent football player, then had gone on to Harvard Business School, where he parlayed a small fraction of his fortune into the beginnings of the multinational Fortune 500 company he had sold off five years back. For another fortune, and then some.

They claimed he’d done it simply to prove he could. That a man born with too many silver spoons to count had made his own.

Where Cenzo Falcone walked, the Italian papers liked to claim, the earth shook.

Josselyn had laughed at that in the privacy of her bedroom in her father’s house. But she had not laughed when Cenzo had arrived that night to pick her up. For she was sure that she could feel the ground beneath her feet buckle when he strode inside.

He had studied her as if she was a bit of livestock on the auction block.

And despite herself, Josselyn had found that she was biting her tongue, hoping that he did not find her wanting.

Cenzo had not spoken. He was a vision of rampant masculinity, somehow elegant and breathtakingly ruthless at once. His evening clothes only seemed to call attention to the width of his shoulders, the narrowness of his hips, and the wide swathe of muscled chest in between. Most men of Josselyn’s acquaintance looked somehow antiseptic in evening clothes, but not so Cenzo. He seemed to burn bright where he stood. He was alarming raw and shockingly vital, so that it was hard to look at him directly.

She’d had the unnerving notion that though this man might pretend that he was civilized, though his blood ran hot with the dawn of too many civilizations to count, he was not.

He was not.

A notion that was only compounded when he, still silent, came to take her hand.

Josselyn had frozen still, even though his touch had made a new, insistent heat roar through her. But it was good that she hadn’t leaped away at his touch, because he was not caressing her or making advances. He was not holding her hand. He was sliding a ring into place.

“The ring has been in my family for too many generations to count,” he had informed her, his ancient eyes gleaming with a light she could not have begun to read, though it made her skin prickle. “It is always worn by the bride of the eldest Falcone son and heir.”

As if she lived in a cave and had never heard of the Sicilian Sky.

Standing in her wedding reception, Josselyn looked down at the famous deep blue diamond. It was a remarkable heirloom, passed down for centuries and possessed of its own myths. It had been stolen in the sixteenth century but recovered after much accusation and suffering. There had been duels to procure it, intrigue and backstabbing across generations. And it was no dainty, elegant ring. It looked like what it was. A twelve-carat stamp of ownership in the ornate setting it had enjoyed since the Industrial Revolution. The mark of the ferocious clan who had wrested power from almost every European government that had ever existed, yet had both lived and thrived.

It had fit Josselyn’s finger perfectly.

Today, Cenzo had slid a deceptively simple band of gold onto her finger. His expression in the church had been grim. His eyes had glittered while his absurdly male jaw had been hard. His vows had fallen against her like threats.

But it was that band of gold that seemed to Josselyn to be made of concrete, even now. She looked down at her hand and it no longer looked like hers. Not with that blue diamond weighing down her hand. Not with that gold ring that declared her a wife.

His wife.

The music stopped playing and Josselyn looked up to see what was happening in this reception of hers. Only to find everyone looking at her with varying degrees of pity and speculation. She looked around to see Cenzo—her new husband, God help her—moving through the crowd that fell back to allow him through. Like a knife through butter.

Directly at her.

She told herself it was excitement. Hope. Even happiness. But the truth was that as he bore down upon her, a look of hard triumph on his face, Josselyn felt as if she was on the verge of a full-scale panic attack.

But she could not allow it, no matter how her heart pounded.

Pull yourself together, she ordered herself. She looked to the side, possibly in search of the nearest exit, but instead her gaze fell on her father. Archibald, beaming at what he saw before him. Filled with all the hope and happiness she couldn’t feel herself.

Josselyn reminded herself, again, why it was she did this thing.

It was for the man who had raised her so gently in the wake of her mother's and brother’s deaths. The man who had not fobbed her off to nannies or servants as she knew so many in his position would have.

The man who had dried her tears, who had held her and comforted her.

Now it was her turn. This was her chance to comfort him.

And so when Cenzo Falcone—the beautiful calamity she had married today and who might well be the end of her—stopped before her and extended his hand, Josselyn smiled. Brightly, as if this truly was the happiest day of her life.

Then she screwed up her courage and took it, letting him lead her away from all she’d ever known.

End of excerpt

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