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The Italian's Ruthless Seduction

By:Miranda Lee

The Italian's Ruthless Seduction - Miranda Lee

I SHOULD BE HAPPIER, Sergio thought as he snapped off the shower, stepped out onto the luxuriously soft bath mat and reached for an even more luxurious bath sheet. Today I became a billionaire. Today, my two best friends became billionaires as well. If that doesn’t make me happy, then what will?

Sergio frowned as he dried himself vigorously. Why wasn’t he happier? Why wasn’t he thrilled to pieces with the four-point-six billion they’d been paid for the Wild Over Wine franchise? Why did signing that contract today leave him feeling just a little...empty?

Wise people did say it was the journey that gave the most satisfaction, not the destination, he conceded with a resigned shrug of his broad shoulders. The irrefutable fact was that the three members of the Bachelors’ Club had now reached their destination. Well...almost. None of them had turned thirty-five yet, though they would soon. His own thirty-fifth birthday was just over a fortnight away.

Sergio smiled a wry smile as he recalled the night they’d formed the Bachelors’ Club. How young they were at the time. Not that any of them had realised it back then. They’d felt incredibly mature, older at twenty-three than a lot of the other students at Oxford in their year. More confident than most as well, each of them having been blessed with good looks as well as above-average intelligence. They’d also been very ambitious.

At least, he and Alex had been ambitious. Jeremy—who’d already had a private income—had just gone along for the ride.

It had been a Friday night, several months after they’d first met. They’d been in Jeremy’s room, of course. His room had been so much bigger and better than the one Sergio and Alex had shared. They had all been more than a little intoxicated when Sergio—who had a tendency to become philosophical when he drank—had asked the others what their goals were in life.

‘Definitely not marriage,’ had been Jeremy’s rather scathing remark.

Jeremy Barker-Whittle, youngest son of a British banking empire that went back generations. Perhaps because of their excessive wealth, his family was littered with divorce. It had not escaped his two friends that Jeremy was somewhat cynical when it came to the institution of marriage.

‘I’m not interested in marriage either,’ Alex Katona, a Rhodes Scholar from Sydney with a working-class background and a near-genius IQ had agreed. ‘I’ll be too busy working to get married. I aim to be a billionaire by the time I’m thirty-five.’

‘Me too,’ Sergio had concurred. Although Sergio was the only son and heir to the Morelli Manufacturing Company, based in Milan, he was well aware that the family firm was not doing as well as it once had. By the time Sergio inherited the business, he suspected it might not be worth inheriting. If he wanted to be a success in life, he had to make it on his own. Which meant no marriage as well. Not for ages, anyway.

And so the Bachelors’ Club had been born, their rules and goals laid out that night with great enthusiasm.

Rule One had been somewhat sentimental—and optimistic—for three young men in their early twenties.

To remain friends for ever.

Of course they had been very drunk at the time, having consumed quite a few bottles of Jeremy’s seemingly limitless supply of fabulous French wine.

But, rather amazingly, they were still the best of friends over a decade later, despite going into business together, which would usually spell the kiss of death where friendships were concerned. Sergio didn’t question why their friendship worked, but he was grateful for it. He couldn’t imagine anything ever happening to spoil the bond between them.

Sergio had to laugh over Rule Two, however, which was To live life to the full.

Translate that to mean they were to sleep with every attractive girl who looked sideways at them. Which the three of them had managed very well during their years at Oxford. Since their graduation to real life, however, they’d become a little more discerning. At least, Sergio had, preferring the company of women who had more to offer than just their willing bodies. Women with careers and class and conversation. Often older women, unlike Alex, whose girlfriends seemed to get younger as he got older.

‘Younger women don’t cling or criticise or complain as much as females of my own age,’ he told Sergio one day. ‘Neither do they always want me to marry them.’

Alex was still anti-marriage. Not in principle. Just for himself. Unlike Jeremy, he wasn’t cynical about the institution, Alex’s parents and siblings having enjoyed happy marriages. As for Jeremy...he’d become a playboy of the first order, his girlfriends coming and going with alarming speed. No one could get bored with a girlfriend quicker than Jeremy. But there was always another one eager to take the previous one’s place, Jeremy’s wealth, good looks and charm had women falling at his feet wherever he went. Naturally, they all fell in love with him as well, a sentiment that was never returned. Jeremy wasn’t into love, leaving a trail of broken hearts all over Britain, and half of Europe as well. Sergio didn’t approve—and said so—but Jeremy just shrugged and said it wasn’t his fault that he was fickle. It was a genetic flaw. His father was on his third marriage and his mother her fourth. Or was it her fifth?

So of course neither Alex nor Jeremy had trouble with rule number three.

Members of the Bachelors’ Club must not marry till at least thirty-five.

Which had seemed an eternity away at the time.

Still, Sergio had always known, despite a huge dose of bitterness over his father’s second marriage and subsequent divorce, that one day he would marry. He was Italian, after all. Family was important to him. But he’d put the idea on hold whilst he’d worked obsessively towards the Bachelors’ Club’s main goal.

To become billionaires by the age of thirty-five.

Which they’d finally managed. Today.

Another wave of melancholy washed through Sergio as he accepted that today also marked the virtual end of their club. Yes, the three of them would still remain friends for ever—that was a given—but only at a distance. He himself was returning to Milan shortly to take control of the family business which had gone into serious decline since his father’s death last year. Alex was off back to Australia tomorrow to expand his already successful property development company whilst Jeremy would stay in London where he planned to buy himself a business. Possibly advertising. Anything but banking, apparently.

Sergio knew that once he told Jeremy and Alex tonight about his intention to marry, they would also see that the Bachelors’ Club’s days were seriously numbered. Still, that was life, wasn’t it? Nothing stayed the same. Change was inevitable.

I will think of marriage as a new goal, Sergio decided with determined positivity as he strode from the bathroom. A new challenge. A new journey.

So what kind of wife do you want, Sergio? he asked himself as he made his way into his huge dressing room, which housed a wardrobe that even Jeremy envied. Sergio bypassed the rack of superb Italian business suits he owned—tonight was for celebrating, not business— selecting a casually tailored pair of black trousers, drawing them on and zipping them up in a rather reckless fashion for a man of his impressive dimensions.

She would have to be reasonably young, he supposed, since he wanted to have more than one child. Certainly no older than mid twenties. She would also have to be physically attractive, he decided pragmatically, taking a white silk shirt off its hanger and putting it on. Sergio couldn’t see himself marrying a plain Jane. Not stunning looking, though. Stunningly beautifully women caused a man trouble.

Sergio was buttoning up his shirt when his personal cell phone rang. He frowned as he strode back into the bedroom and over to where he’d left the phone by the bed. Only a small number of people had that particular number. Alex and Jeremy, of course. And Cynthia. He changed the number every year, liking the privacy this afforded him. No doubt it was either Alex or Jeremy, telling him they were running late. As usual. It wouldn’t be Cynthia. He’d broken up with her over a month ago, and she’d long given up on a reconciliation.

Sergio’s eyebrows lifted when he swept up the phone and saw that the caller ID was blocked, his lips pursing angrily at the very real possibility that some scam artist had hacked into his private number. It had happened once or twice before.

‘Who is this?’ he snapped down the line.

There was a short silence at the other end before a woman’s voice hesitantly said, ‘It...it’s Bella...’

Shock slammed into Sergio with all the force of a physical blow, taking his breath away, not to mention his voice.

‘Sergio?’ she went on after a few seconds of strained silence. ‘That is you, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, Bella, it’s me,’ he managed to say at last, marvelling at how normal he sounded. Because there was nothing even remotely normal going on inside him. His heart was pounding behind his ribs and his head...his head had ceased to process logical thoughts. For this was Bella calling him. The stunningly beautiful Bella...his one-time stepsister and long-time tormentor.

‘You said...that if I ever needed your help...that I could call you. You...you gave me your number. At your father’s funeral...don’t you remember?’ she finished on a somewhat breathless note.