A Ring for Vincenzo's Heir(4)

By: Jennie Lucas



There was a scuffle, a loud bang. Footsteps. From the corner of his eye he saw heads in the audience turn. He refused to look—that would be undisciplined—but his smile grew a little strained.

“...speak now,” the minister finished, “or forever hold your peace.”

“Please! Stop!”

A woman’s voice. Vin’s jaw tightened. Who would dare interrupt their wedding? One of his despondent ex-lovers? How had she gotten past the bodyguards? Furious, he turned.

Vin froze when he saw green eyes fringed with black lashes in a lovely heart-shaped face, and vivid red hair cascading down her shoulders, bright as heart’s blood. She stood in the gray stone cathedral, his dream come to life.

Scarlett. The woman who had haunted his dreams for the last eight months. The flame-haired virgin who’d shared a single night with him he could not forget, then fled the next morning before he could get her number—or even her last name! No woman had ever treated him so badly. She’d inflamed his blood, then disappeared like Cinderella, without so much as a damned glass slipper.

She was dressed completely in black. And barefoot? Her breasts overflowed the neckline of her dress. His gaze returned sharply to her belly. She couldn’t be...

“Please, Vin, you have to help me,” she choked out, her voice echoing against the cool gray stone. “My boss is trying to steal our baby!”

For a moment, Vin stared at her in shock, unable to comprehend her words.

Our baby?

Our?

There was a collective gasp as two thousand people turned to stare at him, waiting for his reaction.

Vin’s body flashed hot, then cold as he felt all control—over the wedding, over his privacy, over his life—ripped from his grasp. Nearby, he saw the glower of Anne’s red-faced father, saw her mother’s shocked eyes. Fortunately he had no family of his own to disappoint.

He turned to his bride, expecting to see tears or at least agonized hurt, expecting to have to explain that he hadn’t cheated on her, of course not, that this had all happened months before they’d met. But Anne’s beautiful face was carefully blank.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I need a moment.”

“Take all the time you want.”

Vin went slowly down the aisle toward Scarlett. The people watching from the pews seemed to fall away, their faces smearing into mere smudges of color.

His heart was pounding as he stopped in front of the woman he’d almost convinced himself didn’t exist. Looking at her belly, he said in a low voice, “You’re pregnant?”

She met his eyes. “Yes.”

“The baby’s mine?”

Her chin lifted. “You think I would lie?”

Vin remembered her soft gasp of pain when he’d first taken her, holding her virgin body so hot and hard and tight against his own in the darkness of his bedroom. Remembered how he’d kissed her tears away until her pain melted away to something very different...

“You couldn’t have told me before now?” he bit out.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t...” Then she glanced behind her, and her expression changed to fear.

Three men were striding up the aisle, the leader’s face a mask of cold fury.

“There you are, you little...” He roughly grabbed Scarlett’s wrist. “This is a private matter,” he snarled at Vin, barely looking at him. “Return to your ceremony.”

Vin almost did. It would have been easy to let them go. He felt the pressure of his waiting bride, of the pending merger, of her family, of the cathedral and the archbishop and the many guests, some of whom had flown around the world to be here. He could have told himself that Scarlett was lying and turned his back on her. He could have walked back to calmly speak the vows that would bind his life to Anne.

But something stopped him.

Maybe it was the man’s iron-like grip on Scarlett’s slender wrist. Or the way he and his two goons were dragging her back down the aisle, in spite of her helpless struggles. Maybe it was the panicked, stricken expression on her lovely face as all those wealthy, powerful guests silently watched, doing nothing to intervene.

Or maybe it was the ghost of his own memory, long repressed, of how it had once felt to be powerless and unloved, dragged from his only home against his will.

Whatever it was, Vin found himself doing something he hadn’t done in a long, long time.

Getting involved.

“Stop right there,” he ordered.

The other man’s face snapped toward him. “Stay out of this.”

Vin stalked toward him. “The lady doesn’t want to leave with you.”

“She’s distraught. Not to mention crazy.” The man, sleek and overfed as a Persian cat, yanked on her wrist. “I’m taking her to my psychiatrist. She’s going to be locked away for a long, long time.”

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