Chapter Four

Sabrina stepped out of her shower and onto the soft rug, thankful for the time alone to concentrate. The fashion show had been a huge success. Two more shows were scheduled before the end of the summer, as well as a full layout for three of the most exclusive fashion magazines in France.

Everything was going so well for her that she was able to afford two new assistants and had placed an offer on a building she could call her own. As much as she loved working at New Hope’s French headquarters, she really wanted to prove she could stand alone, away from the shadow of her very wealthy brother.

Sabrina looked at the reflection shining back at her through the mirror. She was proud of all she’d accomplished over such a short time, and yet she couldn’t forget her conversation with Sandra. A part of her knew her sister-in-law was right. She still had deep feelings for Giovanni.

He had been a part of her life since they were small children, but nothing ever really developed between them until their sophomore year at University. He was her first and only lover. What they shared could never be experienced with another person. There was a time when they were deeply in love, certain nothing could ever come between them. Then Silvano had to come along and ruin all of it.

The nightmare she and Sandra survived still haunted her dreams, and she would wake screaming. At first, she would call out for her brother to save them, but lately, she began calling for Giovanni. When she read that he had married in Africa, she felt betrayed and lost. Andre was there to help her pick up the pieces of her shattered life. He was loving and kind, and every woman she knew thought he was handsome and suave.

At first, Andre understood her reasons for not taking their relationship into the bedroom until they were married...or at least he claimed to understand. She made the mistake of allowing her heart to control her actions with Giovanni. She didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes with Andre. Lately, however, he’d seemed to be acting differently toward their arrangement. He was always trying to get into her clothing, touching her and kissing her until she was dizzy. Fortunately, she managed to come to her senses before anything more serious developed.

Sabrina pulled on her shorts and tank top and was about to slip her feet into her running shoes when the phone rang. She took her cellphone off the nightstand, seeing the name of her brother flash across the small screen. Reluctantly, she slid her finger across the screen and answered it.

“Sabrina, it’s Crey,” the man said in a deep tone. “Sandra told me you called last night, and I want to explain my side to all of this.

“Just tell me you’re not conspiring to reacquaint me and Giovanni?” Sabrina said in an accusing tone.

“I’m not. Giovanni is taking over the Don’s share of the business. He came to talk to me about it, nothing more. Your name didn’t even come up. He is staying in England for a few weeks to help clear up some family problems, then he’s taking his daughter and moving back to Italy. The fact he was at my office was just common courtesy, to let me know in person what’s going on.

“Did he have his daughter with him?” she asked with a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“No, he didn’t, though I doubt she was far away. He said he had a Nanny for her. He’s spent the past few years traveling with his daughter. After his father offered him the business, he decided it was time to settle down. He wants to offer a stable environment for Olivia to grow up in.

“Olivia?” Sabrina gasped. “He named her Olivia?

“Yeah, why?

“That’s the name we chose if we ever had a daughter.

“He must have liked it, or he wouldn’t have given it to her.

“What about the woman he got pregnant? Where was she during your little tete-a-tete?

Sabrina’s tone was thick with anger and Creighton didn’t miss it, though he was wise enough to ignore it, for now at least.

“She left him and the baby right after giving birth. He divorced her and has full custody of their daughter. These are questions you should ask him yourself. You know I hate being the middleman.

“I’m sorry, but since I don’t plan on ever seeing him again, I don’t see any other way than to ask the one person who has seen him.

“So, why do you sound so interested?” Creighton asked in a tone that assured her he wasn’t buying the excuse.

“I’m not. I was just curious.

“Alright. Well, I have to go. Sandra and I are taking the kids to the park while the sun is out. I’ll see you at the party next week, right?

“Yeah, I’ll be there. I could use a few days away from everything here.

“Will Andre be with you?” Creighton asked in a heavy tone. “I think we should spend some time getting to know the boy before you marry him.

“He said he would try, but I can’t promise he’ll stay the whole four days. He has a lot of jobs he’s trying to get finished before the wedding.

“Tell him we said hello, and we’re looking forward to any time he can devote to the family. I’ll talk to you next week. I love you, Sis.

“I love you too. Tell Sandra I’m sorry for yelling at her last night.

“She didn’t take offense, but I’ll tell her.

Sabrina disconnected the call, then tossed the phone to the bed before falling backward across the end. She couldn’t remember a time she felt more confused than she did at that very moment.

Giovanni had used the name they chose for a child of their own. He was moving back to Italy, just over the border, where she would be forced to think of him even more than she did right now - as if that were possible.

The closer she came to finalizing the preparations for her wedding, the more she thought about the plans she had made with Giovanni, as they lay embraced after making love. The memories bombarded her like a hurricane, bringing back fantasies she wasn’t ready to relive yet never wanted to lose. Memories of a time when she had hope. A time when the future seemed bright and happy.

“A stupid child’s dream,” she scolded herself aloud, as she sat up off the bed.

She slipped her shoes on then picked up her phone and left the flat. Perhaps a few hours in the gym would help unclutter her brain. She knew that living in the past wasn’t going to help her face her present. She was soon to be the wife of another man, and there was no room in her life for a long-forgotten fantasy…no matter how deeply her heart ached.

Giovanni sat at his desk in the quiet room of his London flat. He had received the plans for Olivia’s nursery and was trying to decide whether to alter them or not. It was, of course, princess related with pink walls and hardwood floors. The room was three times the size of any flat they had lived in since her birth, but she would find a use for every corner.

He smiled, thinking of all the toys she would have, all the clothes and the friends she would make. She had Aryana’s three children to grow up with. Dantae was the eldest, just two months older than Creighton’s son Brandon, and the twin girls, Elina and Mia who were very close to the same age as Olivia. Demarco and Demetrio would start having children, so she would have a number of cousins to keep her occupied.

Perhaps in time, he would find a good mother for his daughter. He had always wanted a large family and who knew what the future would hold. Perhaps one day he’d be able to hold onto hope and move forward, but he doubted that would be any time soon.

The thought of the woman he had married came into his mind, and he tried to fight off the feelings of regret. He knew marrying her was a mistake, but it happened when he was drunk and out of control with grief over losing Sabrina. It was a horrible mistake and he knew it as soon as he sobered up, but he had made his bed, as his father would say, so he chose to sleep in it rather than run away. A few weeks later they learned she was pregnant with Olivia. He was terrified of what would happen. Not just for his own life and his ability to raise a child, but the woman who would give birth to her.

Rosetta was not the maternal type, and they both knew it. She hated being pregnant, hated gaining weight, and hated that he refused to allow her to drink. He practically kept her a prisoner in their luxurious flat, denying her the freedom to frequent the bars as she had always done. She liked the money he offered her, even to the point of making certain she wiped out their bank account when she left, but it never seemed enough for her. She was never happy, no matter how hard he tried, and after a few weeks, they even stopped sleeping in the same bed.

Giovanni knew it was his fault she moved into the guest room. On the few occasions, he was drunk enough to have sex with her, he called her by Sabrina’s name. He even made the recurring mistake of referring to Rosetta by his lost love’s name when he addressed her. It became such a habit that she would end her sentences with, and my name isn’t Sabrina. Even if he had wanted to try and make his marriage work, he couldn’t deny his heart. Subconsciously, he knew there was only one woman who would ever truly make him happy.

Opening the top drawer of his desk, Giovanni pulled out the tattered photo he had carried with him all these years. It was the last one they had taken together, just after Creighton and Sandra had married. Sabrina had never looked more beautiful than she had that day, smiling and laughing, looking like an angel. He had held her in his arms and shared a happy dream of their life together. But that all changed with Silvano. Even now he could feel the sting of her rejection.

Silvano had always been a nightmare, a drunken fool, a liar, and a letch, but the hatred he brought to his own family was unforgivable. As the younger brother, Giovanni had been beaten and shunned by Silvano his entire life. It was an event he had gotten used to. But all of that changed when he found Sabrina. She was the one good thing he could always count on. She was the light that made him happy, but Silvano had to ruin even that. No matter how many confessions he went through, Giovanni would never forgive his brother for what he had done, or what he had stolen from him.

“Tell Daddy goodnight,” Anna said bringing the little girl, damp from her bath, into her father’s office.

“All ready for bed?” he asked, taking his daughter from her nanny’s embrace and hugging her close to his chest.

“I’ll give you some time alone,” Anna said with a warm smile.

Giovanni smiled back as the woman left the room. She had been a Godsend to him. When Olivia was born, he felt completely lost. He had no idea what he was going to do, or how to care for a child on his own.

Anna had been a volunteer at the hospital and came highly recommended by the nurses and staff. An older woman in her early sixties, with silver hair and bright green eyes. A widow with no children of her own. Anna spent every day at the hospital, helping where she was needed and tending to the daily care of the newborns. It was the perfect fit and when he asked her, she jumped at the chance to take care of the new baby full time. She even traveled with them from one country to another, with the promise of settling down in Italy. She was kind and loving, and Olivia adored her.

“What book shall it be tonight?” Giovanni asked, tucking the picture back into his desk as he stood and walked to the stack of storybooks sitting on the table, between two wingback leather chairs.

“Belle,” Olivia said excitedly reaching for the book on top.

Giovanni chuckled as he sat down in one of the chairs then switched on the lamp, snuggling close to his daughter.

“Once upon a time,” he began as she clapped her hands.

Twenty minutes later the story was finished, and the child was sound asleep on her father’s lap. He set the book aside and switched off the light, snuggling the child to his heart as he breathed in the clean fragrance of her damp hair. Life may not have turned out the way he had once dreamt it would, but he knew he wouldn’t have changed having this little girl. She was his pride and joy, his life, and his salvation. She was the only thing that made facing a new day worthwhile.

“I promised my family you would be there,” Sabrina snapped, as she paced the floor of her office. “I don’t know why you can’t spend time with them. They are my family and we are very close.

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t spend time getting to know them, I just don’t want to waste four days in an amusement park with a bunch of screaming children.

Andre crossed his legs as he sipped his cappuccino. The argument was an old one and he was growing tired of having it every time they got together.

“You better get used to it. I will not abandon my family for anyone, even you. What are you going to do when we have children? Are you going to be as prudish with them as you are with my nieces and nephews?

“I hope you’re not planning on a large family,” he said in an air of sophistication. “We only need one heir.

“An heir?” she snapped, turning to glare at him. “Is that all children are to you? Heirs to the riches we stock up during our lives?

“What else are they? I was my father’s heir and he was his father’s. That’s how successful families prosper. We will have a son who will take over when I am too old to manage on my own.

“And what if we have a daughter? Do we trade her in for a new model?

“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s the twenty-first century. We can speak with a fertility specialist when the time comes to make certain we have a male. I honestly don’t know why you are so hell fired about this. As old as you are, you couldn’t possibly want more than one child anyway.

“Old? I’m only twenty-seven.

“And by the time we decide to have a child, you’ll be in your thirties. I do not plan on having a child with disabilities. I don’t have the patience for it.

“Even if we were teenagers, we still have a risk of having children with problems, and I would love them regardless. Age is not the only determining factor, and yes, I do want more than one child. I come from a large family and I’ve always wanted children. Plural.

“Why don’t we discuss this at a later time when you’re calmer and you don’t have so much on your mind?” he suggested with an aggravated sigh.

“I just want to know if you are going to my brother’s party with me or not?

Sabrina was growing tired of constantly arguing with a man she had promised to marry, and she was coming close to telling him where he stood in this relationship.

“I will try and spend a day or two, but not four. Your brother and his wife are snobs. Always flaunting their money in people’s faces like it was sweets on display. It’s disgusting.

“They do not flaunt anything,” Sabrina growled. “They are the least public people I’ve ever known, and if that’s how you feel about them, maybe you shouldn’t go at all.

“I said I would try, didn’t I? Now, can we stop fighting about it? I’ve barely seen you more than a few minutes this week with everything you’ve been doing. Which is another thing. I seriously hope you plan on putting me first after we’re married. A wife’s place is at her husband’s side, not the other way around.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she asked in a threatening tone.

“I do not plan on being the one in the background, while you’re taking all the bows and praise. I have my own career and you need to support me. As my wife, I expect you to make time for the events that will strengthen my work. Your job is to obey me and stop acting like a spoiled little girl.

“I think it’s time for you to go,” Sabrina said in a quiet voice. “I’m getting a headache and I really am not in the mood to continue this discussion any further.

Andre drew a deep breath and stood up, setting his cup on the desk in front of him.

“You need to stop worrying about all of this,” he told her as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “Things will work out and perhaps someday you can change my mind and mold me into the ideal husband. It seems to have worked with your brother’s American wife.

“I have work to do,” she insisted, pushing out of his embrace.

“Will I see you for supper?” Andre asked.

“I don’t know. It all depends on how much I get finished this afternoon.

“Don’t be like this,” he insisted. “Everything will work out for the best, and in time you’ll see that I’m right. I promised I would spend some time getting to know that herd you call a family, and I will, but I’m marrying you, not them, so I don’t see a reason why my being best friends with your brothers and sister, should influence our lives. We will be here, and they will be on that farm in England. That’s where it begins and ends.

“Miss Ashford, your next appointment is here,” her assistant said over the phone on her desk.

“I have work to do,” she told him again, fighting the urge to knock him on his arse.

Andre leaned in and kissed her on the cheek very briefly, then turned to leave.

“Try and make time for supper. I have a very influential client who is in town and would like to meet you. It’s important to me that you be there looking presentable.

With those words spoken, he left the room and the woman to fume in silent anger.

“I thought you might like something to drink,” her assistant said as she stepped through the door.

She could tell from the way Andre left, that they had words again, and she felt that a nice cup of fresh coffee might be what her boss needed.

“Thank you, Marie,” Sabrina said, taking the cup from the small redhead before sitting in her seat.

“Is everything alright?

“Just the same as always. He’s right and I’m wrong. He knows what’s best for me, and I’m a little nobody from a farm in England who needs to remember her place is in the kitchen - or bedroom.

“But the fashion show was a huge success. That must make you happy. You’re going to be famous in no time and you can hire someone to wash the dishes for you.

“I wish it were that simple,” Sabrina sighed. “Did you say I had an appointment here?

Marie turned a deep scarlet as she folded her hands in front of her.

“I heard the yelling and thought you could use a distraction.

Sabrina smiled for the first time that afternoon, followed by an amused laugh.

“I did, thank you. And thank you for thinking about me.

Sabrina took up the design she had been working on as Marie turned and walked toward the door. A few quiet hours to finish this was exactly what she needed to reign in her temper.

“Can I ask you something without getting you mad at me, or firing me?” Marie asked as she reached for the doorknob. “Why are you marrying him? I mean, you’re beautiful and smart and everyone loves you. No offense, but he doesn’t seem like your type at all. I thought he was a photographer. He acts like he’s Lord of the Manner if you ask me.

“My sister-in-law asked me the same thing,” she answered softly.

“What did you tell her?

“I didn’t.

Marie nodded then left her employer, wondering what answer she would give to that question the next time she was asked.

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