Chapter Three

“You all did amazing, and I want to thank you for putting up with me these past few weeks,” Sabrina told her models and assistants later that afternoon, once the commotion and excitement had ended.

Creighton had insisted that he take care of the after-show party to celebrate his little sister’s first full-length fashion show, complete with champagne and a catered lunch.

“Your designs are what made the day so great,” one model told her, giving her a warm hug.

Sandra sat beside Creighton at a small round table, unwilling to interfere in Sabrina’s limelight. They watched with pride at the outpour of affection for the young woman. There had been a lot of dedication on Sabrina’s part, and well-earned praise from all concerned.

“What did you mean, you wished Sabrina was happy?” Sandra asked quietly.

“You’re not the only one who knows she’s still in love with Giovanni,” he answered as he reached for his glass. “I had a lot of hope for those two. He made her laugh and I liked seeing how excited she was whenever his name was mentioned.

“So, why aren’t you doing something to stop this wedding?” Sandra asked in an anxious whisper. “You know as well as I do it will end in disaster. You should be on the phone tracking him down and dragging him back to London. We can lock them in one of your luxurious hotels until they come out completely satisfied and content.

“I won’t interfere in my sister’s life unless she asks me to,” Creighton said in a stern, low tone. “And neither will you. You promised to stay out of her love life and I’m holding you to it. She has made her decision and she’s going to have to be the one to work it all out on her own.

“But she needs someone to tell her she’s making a mistake,” Sandra told him with a pouty expression. “She needs to know it’s okay if she doesn’t go through with this ridiculous engagement.

“She has to find that out on her own. Who knows, maybe she truly loves Andre, but regardless, you’re not going to be the one to convince her she doesn’t.

“But you would rather she wake up one day and realize the man next to her in bed is the wrong one?

“You don’t know that. She was young when she and Giovanni were together. He was her first real love and that feeling never leaves. She’s grown up and needs to make choices for herself, and nobody is going to convince her otherwise. Understand?” he warned with a threatening look that Sandra ignored.

“I just think you should be checking up on this guy. How do you know he’s not some kind of pedophile or serial killer? Have you checked to see if Andre is even his real name?

“Sabrina trusts him and that’s all that matters to me,” Creighton said as he sipped the sweet liquid from his glass.

“You’re lying,” she accused. “You’re just as leery about him as I am. If he really loved her, he’d be here to support her. Do you see him? Have you seen him? You need to tell Clark to do a background check on him.



“Because I’m not interfering. Now, lay off, and let Sabrina enjoy her day.

“What if she were to ask you to find out about him? Would you interfere then?” Sandra asked as Creighton drew a deep breath.

“Yes, I would interfere then, but she hasn’t, and she won’t. She’s made her decision and she won’t go back on it.

“Then we’ll see what the future brings,” Sandra said with a smile so sweet she had several of the models glancing her way as they passed.

“Don’t do it, Sandra,” Creighton warned. “I do not want my sister and my wife refusing to speak to each other because you can’t keep your nose out of things.

“I’m not going to do anything but enjoy Sabrina’s day, as you suggested.

“Liar,” he growled softly. “Don’t make me put you over my knee.

“But you like having me over your knee,” she teased with a wicked gleam in her eyes as she lifted her glass to her lips.

“It won’t be for pleasure this time, Sweetheart,” he warned her again. “And I can promise, you won’t like it when I’ve finished.

“You would never hurt me and we both know it, and I would never do anything to hurt your family. I love them as if they were my own. If Sabrina is genuinely happy with Andre-The-Horrible, then so be it. I won’t say a single word.

“Promise?” he challenged.

“I promise.

With that said, Creighton relaxed against the back of his chair and watched Sabrina mingle with her guests. The day had definitely been productive and prosperous for his little sister, who wowed the buyers with her designs. The high point had been the gown Sabrina gave Sandra, especially when it was announced that Mr. and Mrs. Creighton Ashford were present to do the modeling in person. As soon as they stepped out on the runway, photos were snapped, and orders came rolling in.

As Creighton watched the young woman move from one part of the room to another, smiling and laughing as if she were enjoying herself, he started to think about what Sandra had said. A part of him wanted to do as she suggested and pull a background check on Andre, but he promised himself years ago to back out of the intimate lives of his siblings. He would never admit it to his wife, but he didn’t trust his future brother-in-law any more than she did, and he liked Giovanni best out of all of the Don’s kids. He was hard working and honest, and he once made Sabrina very happy.

The memories of what put the rift between the young man and his sister filtered through his conscience. He understood how his sister felt. As much as he didn’t want to point blame, he had a hard time trusting any Vigano, even his old partner, Donato. The Don and his other children weren’t a part of Silvano’s insane act, but they were his family, and it was easy to hate all of them in his place. In a way, it helped them have their taste of justice for what Silvano did. He was never sent to court since he had been killed by Konrad Bachmeier, so they were left to deal with their unsatisfied anger the only way they could.

Giovanni, however, was a different case. He was the voice of reason more times than Creighton could remember. He was loving and kind, and always tried to find the solution to a problem, even to the point of moving to Africa to allow Sabrina time to heal. When Sabrina refused to open his letters, blocked his number from her phone, and even unfriended him from her social network accounts, he had no choice but to move on with his life.

Now, with a child to care for, he had to readjust his plans for the future. His daughter and her happiness came first, and Giovanni Vigano was the kind of person who would sacrifice his own desires and goals to provide for another person. Creighton just wished Sabrina could see that side of him and forget the past.

Creighton sat at his desk at NHT’s London headquarters reviewing the recent statistics for their newest security system. Testing was going much better than he had hoped, but it was a slow process. The system still had bugs that had to be worked out, and until it was perfected, he couldn’t afford to manufacture it and put it on the open market. Far too many companies cut corners as is. He wasn’t going to allow the name and reputation he had worked so hard to build, to fall into the same grouping as those others.

With an exhausted sigh, he tossed his iPad aside and closed his eyes, rubbing them with the heel of his palms. His eyes were crossing, and he had a headache developing behind them. In the back of his mind, he was beginning to think he needed glasses. He knew it was only the long hours of reading the small print that gave him the tense muscles, but maybe a pair of reading spectacles might offer a bit of aid.

Creighton glanced at his watch as he rubbed the stiffness from his neck. Sandra and her grandmother had come to London with him to buy some summer outfits for the children, but they wouldn’t be ready to meet him for another hour. He couldn’t go to his flat in Chelsea because he had leased it out to Andrew and Cathy. He wasn’t too keen on being there when either of them returned, especially his sister-in-law. As much as he loved his brother and as close as they had become over the past several years, Creighton still had issues with Sandra’s sister.

She was domineering and rude, especially when it came to the kind of life Sandra had chosen for herself. He knew the sisters had once been close, and probably still were to a point, but Cathy was jealous of her little sister. The fact that Creighton had chosen to spend his life with Sandra never set well with Cathy. Even though she was with Andrew, the woman still had a nasty habit of flirting with other men, and it bothered Creighton more than he was willing to admit.

With a reluctant sigh, he picked up his iPad again and began reading through the reports once more. Ten minutes later Michelle stepped in the office, a fresh cup of coffee in her hand and a smile on her face.

“Do you have a few minutes for a visitor?” she asked him in her native French language as she set the cup on the desk.

“Who is it?” he asked with a frown.

It was three o’clock on Friday, not a typical time for a business meeting, and he was anxious to pick up Sandra and Nana and go back to Yorkshire before dark.

“Giovanni Vigano,” Michelle said with the pretense of an innocent smile.

She knew the rift between the Viganos, and Creighton ran deep, ever since the incident with Silvano, and she wasn’t in a big hurry to stand by and watch as flames rekindled the feud. She also knew that Giovanni was Creighton’s favorite of all the Viganos, and since her boss had been rather moody the past few days, she figured a distraction may be warranted.

Creighton, on the other hand, was shocked to hear the name on anyone’s lips beside his wife’s. They had been arguing about the young man for weeks, and to have him here now, seemed a little too coincidental for comfort. With a tightening of his jaw, he nodded his head silently and moved the iPad he had been working on back into the safety of his desk drawer. If Sandra was involved with the unexpected visit, he was going to make certain she didn’t sit comfortably the rest of the weekend.

The door opened a moment later and Giovanni stepped through. He had grown up a lot since the last time Creighton had seen him and filled out quite a bit. He wore a short-sleeved green pullover that showed his very muscular torso and arms, and a tight pair of black jeans. His feet were covered in a pair of hiking boots, and his hair was in need of a good trimming, as it fell to his shoulders without care.

“Giovanni,” Creighton said with a smile as he stood and walked around the edge of the desk. “This is a surprise. What brings you to London?

Creighton shook the man’s hand and waved him to the seat across from his desk, then ordered Michelle to bring another cup of coffee.

“I’m here on business,” Giovanni smiled as he sat down. “My father wanted me to talk to you, sort of smooth the edges a bit before he saw you at the party next month. He’s decided to retire and settle down to a quieter life with Mariella. He has asked me to take over for him.

“This is news to me,” Creighton said with a slight frown. “I wasn’t aware he was even considering the idea.

“He wasn’t, but Mariella has been hounding him to move in with her and make their relationship legal.

“Does that mean he’s getting married?” Creighton asked in surprise.

“No, it means he’ll finally admit that she is his lover. Mariella found a villa and has talked him into buying it for her, but then refused to live there unless he moved in with her. He was very hesitant at first but relented once she assured him that she would cut him off for good if he didn’t.

“Women are good at that, aren’t they?” Creighton asked with a chuckle.

“So, I’ve been told,” Giovanni said. “I haven’t really had much time for them lately. I have my hands full and now this.

“Why didn’t your father ask Demetrio and Demarco to take over? They are the oldest.

“The twins are both getting married this year,” Giovanni said with a wide smile. “And get this, to twin sisters no less. Anyway, Demarco’s fiancée is a doctor and has been offered a really great job at a hospital in Florence, and Demetrio has his own vineyard to take care of. Renato can barely add two and two, and Papa is worried about what he will do to the books. Besides, he likes playing with his cars. He’s very good in the racing circles. I think Papa decided to give the family business to me mainly because of Olivia. He wants her to have the stable life that I haven’t been able to give her.

“Why do you say that?” Creighton frowned as Michelle returned with the coffee and a plate of pastries.

“Olivia and I have been traveling between Africa and Asia with an import company. We find antiques and arrange a sale to clients around the world. It’s very legitimate but extremely chaotic. I don’t think we’ve been in the same place more than a month running. Papa wants his granddaughter to have a home with family nearby. To be completely honest, I’m tired of traveling. It would be good to settle down and have a place to hang my clothes again.

“What about her mother,” Creighton asked, watching as Giovanni picked up a chocolate éclair and began eating it.

“She’s not in the picture, never has been,” he answered with an angry set to his jaw. “We married after a drunken encounter of lust and she was pregnant within weeks. All we did was fight, but I thought the baby would calm things down. The day I went to pick them up at the hospital, the nurse handed me an envelope with divorce papers. She signed over her rights to Olivia and left with an old lover. She never took the time or effort to even look at her child. After the papers were filed, I took Olivia and went to Asia where I found the liaison job.

“That’s tough, I’m sorry. But your daughter has you, right?

“Yes, she does,” Giovanni said with a wide smile as he pulled up a photo on his phone and handed it to Creighton. “She is my little angel, which is why I agreed to my father’s proposal.

“She’s beautiful,” Creighton smiled as he handed the phone back. “She looks like you.

“I think she looks like my mother, what I remember of her of course. I just want what’s best for her.

“Sounds like a true father,” Creighton chuckled. “Are you going to be in England for long? I know Sandra would love to see you and your daughter.

“I am not ready to move to Italy just yet. I have some loose ends to tie up before I do.

“Anything I can help with?” Creighton asked as a tiny voice that sounded much like Sandra whispered in his ear, he means Sabrina.

“Papa received a letter a few weeks ago from a woman claiming to be the mother of Silvano’s child. She told him they had been involved and had a son together. She asked for fifty thousand pounds to help support the child. Papa has asked me to check it out and find out if she is telling the truth or not. Silvano liked whores, so the likelihood of him being the father of any number of children is great. I doubt he ever took precautions, but we can’t have illegitimate children popping up every few years, claiming to be my brother’s heir.

“What if she’s telling the truth?” Creighton asked.

Talk of the man he despised was growing on his tired nerves, and he was starting to get irritated and it showed in his tone as he spoke with the young man across from him.

“Then we’ll make sure the child is cared for and has whatever he needs. Speaking of children, Papa told me you have a daughter yourself. Congratulations.

“Thank you,” Creighton said with a smile, the steam quickly leaving his words as he thought of his children. “We have two now, to be exact.

“I heard that. I am very happy for you. I’m sure you are a great father.

“I try to be, but you know how hard it is. You want to do so much, but you’re afraid of spoiling them, or afraid you won’t be able to do enough.

“It’s frustrating,” Giovanni answered. “I know. I have a Nanny for Olivia, but it’s not the same thing as being with her myself. I want to be able to spend more time with her and to see her do all the things little girls do. That is why I agreed to Papa’s offer. Taking over his share of the business would leave me free to be with my daughter and watch her grow up.

“Then I welcome you, my friend, and look forward to a long and prosperous acquaintance.” Creighton shook the man’s hand again as he stood to leave.

“Thank you for everything,” Giovanni said with a smile. “You have been a good friend to my father, and I appreciate it more than you will ever know. Perhaps if things had been different…” his voice trailed off as he realized he was about to mention Sabrina.

“The company is having our annual summer party,” Creighton began and nearly choked on the words as they tumbled out of his mouth. “You and Olivia are invited. It will be fun. Four days at Euro Disneyland. What little girl could say no to that?

“Not mine,” he smiled with a soft laugh. “She is in love with everything princess.

“Then have Michelle give you the information and we’ll see you at the party.

The two shook hands again as Creighton walked him to the door and opened it. He felt like kicking himself for mentioning the party. Sabrina will be there with Andre. There was sure to be more tension than there should be at an event of this size, yet once the words were spoken, he couldn’t take them back.

He watched Giovanni walk to Michelle’s desk, noting the three young female interns who had stopped working to look up at him. Creighton groaned inwardly. It was bad enough he had to deal with their ogling when he arrived at the office, but to have them do it to his new business partner seemed obscene.

As he closed the door and walked back to his desk, Creighton made a mental note to tell Michelle that they were taking only male interns from now on.

“This whole thing has gotten way out of hand,” Sandra moaned as she fell into the cushioned sofa beside Creighton. “We have over six hundred employees coming to this party next week. Who is going to be taking care of the company while everyone is away playing?

“We have more than a third of the employees who chose the monetary package over the trip,” Creighton told her, pulling her into his embrace. “Not everyone likes to travel and may not even have passports, so money is a good option for them. I don’t know why you’re so stressed about it. NHT is not going to go bankrupt if the work is reduced for a few days. We have everything under control, with enough added help to make sure things are taken care of. All you have to do is sit back and relax.

“Is this another one of those times when you tell me money speaks?” she asked as she curled into his shoulder, slinging her legs over his.

“Volumes, Darling,” he teased, kissing the top of her head.

Sandra drew a deep breath as the house phone began to ring and Grace woke up calling out for them. The night was far from being over.

“I’ll get her, you answer the phone,” he told her, kissing her lips briefly as they stood up off the sofa.

Sandra watched him walk away, taking particular notice of how nicely his pajama pants hung across his hips, then reluctantly turned and answered the phone.

“Where the hell is that brother of mine?” Sabrina screeched through the receiver.

“He’s upstairs with Grace, what’s wrong?” Sandra asked with a frown.

“Did you know about this as well? Were you a part of it?

“What are you talking about?

“Giovanni Vigano is back in London, and your husband met him at NHT. How could he do something like that and not tell me? Why is it, I have to learn from an outside source, instead of the two people I trust most?

“First of all, you need to calm down and quit yelling at me. I didn’t know anything about it. Creighton didn’t mention it to me. Second, if he was at the office that doesn’t mean they are conspiring against you. He may have been there for his father. Did you ever consider that? Creighton and Donato are partners, remember? Sometimes, that means they have to meet and talk, and occasionally he sends one of his kids in his place.

“Why wouldn’t he tell me?” Sabrina asked in a tone slightly less angry.

“Maybe, because he didn’t want you getting upset like you are now. Your brother loves you and he would never do anything to hurt you, even if it means having to keep secrets from you.

Sabrina drew a deep breath, allowing Sandra to do the same.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a brief silence. “I just don’t like hearing that my…that a person from my past is visiting my family behind my back. Why was he there?

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out. You know Creighton better than anyone. Do you really think he would sneak around behind your back and arrange a secret meeting, without telling you?

“He did with you,” Sabrina answered. “He plotted for over two years, without your knowledge, until he managed to get you to travel to France alone.

“That was different, and you know it. He didn’t do any of that to hurt me, just to make me fall in love with him. Which I did. Now, you need to calm down and go to bed. I’ll find out what’s going on and get things straightened out.

“Thank you,” Sabrina said hesitantly. “I’m sorry for yelling at you, it’s just that I can’t help thinking…well, you understand. It was a long time ago.

“Can I ask you something and have you answer me honestly, without ripping my head off,” Sandra asked as she drew in her courage and forged forward, knowing this might be the only chance she could get to speak with her sister-in-law alone.

“What?” Sabrina answered in a tone that was more suspicious than curious.

“Why are you getting married?


“You heard me. Do you know anything about Andre? You’ve never met his family and you know nothing of his past or the life he led before you.

“You’re a fine one to talk,” Sabrina snapped. “You only knew my brother two weeks before you were walking down the aisle with him. I love Giovanni and I trust him with all my heart.

“You said Giovanni,” Sandra said, listening to the inhaled gasp on the other end of the phone.

“No, I didn’t,” Sabrina said softly.

“Yes, you did, and what’s more, I think you mean it. Were you lovers with Giovanni?

“That’s a very private matter and has nothing to do with any of this.

“Yes, it does. You gave yourself to Giovanni, out of love, and yet you refuse to sleep with Andre until you’re married, which you keep putting off for one reason or another. I think deep down inside you don’t want to marry him. You want to be with Giovanni, but you’re afraid to admit you’ve made a mistake by breaking it off with him. Now, you’re stuck in a dead-end situation and the only way you can think to get out of it is to go forward with your agreement to marry a man you don’t love.

“You’re wrong,” Sabrina said softly. “I love Andre and I’m marrying him in a few short weeks.

“Think about it before you go that far,” Sandra told her. “Nobody would blame you for following your heart, instead of your head. If I had listened to my head, I’d be in Kansas right now, living a lonely existence of one. Look at what I gave up. Look at what I have gained. I have a wonderful husband that I am hopelessly in love with and two incredible children that I will never regret having. I said yes to your brother because, for the first time in my life, I didn’t do the right thing or the proper thing. I did what my heart told me to do, and I’ve never been happier. That’s what I want for you. It’s what we all want for you. We just want you to do what your heart tells you to do. Follow your dreams, Sabrina, and be happy.

Without waiting for an answer, Sandra hung up the phone and turned around to see her husband standing by the entrance to the living room, a sleepy Grace across his shoulder. He wore an expression that was a mix of admiration and concern. She hadn’t realized he was listening to her conversation, and frankly, she didn’t care. She knew Sabrina was making a mistake, and she knew someone had to tell her before it was too late.

“Did you mean all of that?” he asked her quietly. “You are happier with me than you would be in Kansas?

“You know I am. I’ve told you a million times.” Sandra drew a deep breath as the tears began running down her cheeks. “Sabrina isn’t happy and we both know that,” she began to sob as quietly as possible, so she didn’t wake Grace. “She’s making a huge mistake by marrying that man, and someone has to tell her. Someone has to give her permission to call it off, and if you or your parents won’t do it, then I will, even if it means losing her friendship for it.

Sandra took Grace out of his arms and hurried up the stairs, closing the door to the nursery behind her. Creighton watched her leave and drew a deep breath. She was right. He didn’t like Andre any more than she did, and even his parents had concerns about this wedding. They all knew Sabrina’s feelings for Giovanni were stronger than they would ever be for another man. It was obvious to all of them that she was finding excuses not to come home because Andre didn’t want her to. They just weren’t sure if she was noticing it herself.

Creighton walked over to the phone and dialed a number as he switched off the lamp by the sofa. The room was illuminated in the soft glow from the moonlight shining through the windows.

“Hey, it’s me,” he said into the receiver. “I want you to find out everything you can on Andre Marez…yeah, that’s right, my sister’s fiancée. I want to know who his family is, where he comes from, what color socks he prefers, and what his favorite ice cream is. I want to know who this man is, and I want to know now before my sister makes the biggest mistake of her life.

Creighton hung up the phone and slowly walked up the stairs. Sandra was right, but there was no way in hell he would ever admit it to her. It would make living with her impossible.

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