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Authors: Catherine Bybee

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BOOK: Seduced by Sunday
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“Only tonight, but he’ll be back at the end of the week for a longer visit.”

Alonzo’s visits were becoming briefer with each one. The man had a business to run, but it seemed he didn’t have a lot of time for his future bride. Perhaps it was time Val asked exactly how Gabi was going to fit into the entrepreneur’s life. Truth was, while he was a little concerned about the man, he liked Alonzo and wanted to make sure his sister was happy in her choice for a husband.

Several of Val’s staff wheeled the crates of wine back toward the villa. One of Alonzo’s men called after them, reminding them which bottles were the champagne and to go slowly. They all disappeared before Alonzo returned.

“Gabi tells me you’re leaving tomorrow.” Val directed them to his cart and pulled away from the docks.

“Can’t be avoided,” Alonzo said. “I need to fly to California to finish the paperwork on the new vineyard.”

“I can’t wait to see it,” Gabi said from the backseat.

“My wedding gift to you, m’dear. It needs to be perfect before you walk through the doors.”

“Isn’t that wonderful, Val?”

Almost too much, he mused.

“You’ll never guess who is visiting the island.”

If Alonzo were anyone but Gabi’s fiancé, Val would shush her.

“I can’t imagine.”

“Michael Wolfe.”

“The actor?”

“Is there another?” Gabi asked. “He’s such a nice man.”

Val glanced in the mirror to see his sister smiling. “You could tell that with your brief visit?”

“You can tell a lot about a person in a few minutes,” she defended. “His girlfriend is just as pleasant. I’m not sure why they worried you so much.”

“I’m not worried.”

Gabi shook her head, not buying his denial for a second.

“Val hasn’t been right since they arrived,” she told her fiancé.

Val felt his jaw tighten, knew his nose flared. He forced a deep breath and stretched his neck. “I can’t be too careful, Gabi. You know that.”

“How long is he going to be here?” Alonzo asked.

“A week.”

Val’s future brother-in-law managed a smile. “You’ll know his character long before he leaves, I’m sure.”

Yes, but if he, or more to the point, Margaret, couldn’t be trusted, by the time they left it could be too late . . .

“I don’t like him,” Simona Masini spit from her perch overlooking the sea.

“You don’t know him,” Val insisted.

“It’s in the eyes, Valentino. The truth is in the eyes.”

“He loves Gabi.”

His mother huffed out a laugh. “He wants you to believe he loves your sister.”

Val ran a frustrated hand through his hair. The last thing he needed on this day was his mother contradicting everything he said. “The invitations have already been sent. The wedding will take place in just under five months.”

Simona pointed her chin toward the window. “Sometimes you’re so much like your father it scares me.”

Val felt his back teeth grind together.

“Speaking ill of the dead, Mama?”

“Speaking the truth. He seldom saw the truth when something more pleasant filtered his view.”

He had no idea what his mother was saying . . . didn’t want to ask what she meant. His sister met and fell in love with a man. Who was Val to step in and say she was making the wrong decision? He was her brother . . . not her father. He laughed at his own thoughts.

“We’re having dinner in an hour. Gabi invited our new guests to the table.”

Simona sighed, tired with the entire conversation.

“Join us.”

“Very well.”

Val turned to leave the room. His mother’s words stopped him. “What of you, Val? When will you find a woman, settle down? Give me bambinos?”

“Leave that to Gabi.”

“You should marry first. That is the tradition.”

His mother would be the death of him. “We’re not in Italy.”

Simona blew out a long-suffering sigh. “Tradition holds no borders.”

Without furthering the frustrating conversation with his mother, Val left her suite, dismissing her concerns.

He made his way into his office, past Carol, who should have left for her on-island room long before.

“I need you to extend an invitation to my table this evening,” he told her.

“Our new guests?”

Val hesitated. “How did you know?”

“Gabriella already asked. She thought an actor would appease your mother.”

A rare smile met Val’s lips. He loved his sister, would miss her when she moved away. “Word the invitation with color, Carol. Plain text won’t woo our guests.”

“Of course, Mr. Masini.”

Val stepped into his office, exhaustion nipping at his eyelids.

Chapter Four

The sting in Meg’s tongue reminded her to keep biting her words. She should have guessed Valentino Masini would
highly encourage
them to join him and his party for dinner. The man was still checking up on her, and ticking her off.

What would he do if she refused?

Michael didn’t give her a chance to find out.

“The invitation says his mother is a huge fan. How can I say no to a mom?” Michael had asked her.

“I say no to mine all the time.”

“If my mother received word of me refusing, I’d never hear the end of it.”

“The man is still screening me,” Meg insisted.

“Your insecurity is showing, Meg.”

“I’m not insecure.” She tried to control the lift in her voice and failed.

They now stood beside the head table, where Gabriella sat beside an older woman Meg assumed was Mrs. Masini. Valentino, of course, was absent.

“You made it.” Gabriella stood when they approached the table.

Semiformal dinner attire put Meg in her third outfit for the day. Talk about excessive. Gabriella wore a cream linen dress that stopped at her knees. The rhinestone heels highlighted her olive skin. The dress wasn’t overly flashy, just stylish and fitted.

“How could we say no?” Michael asked.

“Oh, you could have, but I’m happy you didn’t. Mama, this is Michael Wolfe and his companion, Margaret Rosenthal.”

Mrs. Masini offered the same smile her daughter owned. “You’re just as handsome in person as you are on the big screen, Mr. Wolfe.”

Michael flashed a smile and winked at Meg. “I think I need to sit beside you, Mrs. Masini.”

The older woman patted the seat at her side. “Wonderful idea.”

Michael pulled out the chair beside him for Meg.

“Are we early?” Meg asked, looking at the two vacant seats at the round table.

“Val and my fiancé will be along shortly.”

Meg glanced at Gabriella’s ring finger, noticed the engagement ring for the first time. “When is the big day?”

Something close to a grunt sounded from Mrs. Masini.

Gabriella placed a hand over her mother’s and answered, “Four and a half months.”

“Congratulations,” Michael said.

“You must be excited,” Meg said to the future mother of the bride.

Mrs. Masini’s smile fell when talking about her daughter’s wedding. “I should be, shouldn’t I?”

Interesting.

“Mother!”

“What?”

“Please.”

Michael lifted a brow.

Before any further questions, comments, or otherwise tension-building conversation could continue, Valentino and Gabriella’s fiancé arrived.

Now the tension could really begin.

Michael stood, shaking the other man’s hand. “Sorry we’re late,” Valentino said. “I see you’ve met our mother.”

Alonzo Picano was pleasant to look at, but not the stunning bookend Meg thought should be sitting beside Gabriella, or Gabi as the others referred to her. The man smiled easy enough, attempting to convince Mrs. Masini to grin, too, only to have the older woman look past him.

As everyone took their seats, Meg realized she had the privilege of sitting beside the man determined to find fault with her. On the surface, she’d have a hard time saying she didn’t like the look, or the spicy scent, of him.

He wore a solid black tux, crisp white shirt, and bow tie. Normally, the look did nothing for her. But Valentino owned the classy threads as if born to it. The other men at the table were dressed well, but didn’t compare to their host.

Mrs. Masini pulled Michael into a quiet conversation, while Gabriella whispered something to her fiancé.

Beside her, Valentino sighed. “Thank you for joining us, Miss Rosenthal.”

Meg lifted her ice water to her lips. “I didn’t realize I had the choice to refuse.”

“You’re a guest. You have the right to decline.”

Even though she felt the weight of his stare, Meg refused to look directly at him. “I’ll remember that.”

For the first time, she heard him chuckle, and the sound made her grin.

The dining room was filling with guests, while a man wearing a tuxedo played a baby grand in the corner of the room.

Linen covered every table; hurricane glasses covered flickering candles surrounded by fresh floral sprays.

The Masini table sat on an elevated platform along with several others. The space between the tables was vast enough to avoid anyone overhearing conversations. Though the ceilings soared a good twenty feet, the room was relatively quiet with the exception of the piano and chatter. Huge windows took in the azure blue sea.

“Mr. Wolfe . . . tell us, what new film are you working on?”

“I’m in between projects right now or I wouldn’t be here. And please, call me Michael.”

Mrs. Masini beamed. “I liked that car movie.”

Michael laughed. “So did I. Nothing quite like driving someone else’s expensive cars fast.”

“You do your own stunts?” Gabi asked.

“Some.”

“Mr. Masini loved to drive fast, rest his soul. It would kill him to be here on an island with only golf carts.”

“Papa would have found a way to make the cart do ninety.”

“You’re right about that,
cara
,” Valentino told his sister. His occasional words in Italian made Meg’s belly warm.

“Do you like fast cars, too, Mrs. Masini?” Meg asked, doing her level best to ignore the tingle spreading through her limbs.

“I do.”

The waiter arrived and presented Valentino with a bottle of wine.

With a nod from Valentino, the waiter proceeded to open it.

“You’re welcome to order whatever you like,” Gabi told them, “but Alonzo owns Grotto di Picano. His wines are wonderful.”

Michael sat forward, his interest focused. “This is your label?” he asked.

“It is.”

The waiter poured Michael a small amount of wine and stood
back. With a swirl, sniff, and sip, he swallowed and nodded. “Your winery is in the Umbria region?”

Gabi smiled and Alonzo blinked. “It’s in Campania, actually.”

Michael took another sip and shrugged. “It’s good.”

“Thank you.”

“You know wine, Michael?”

Meg preferred a shot of whiskey or a nice cold beer over wine. She’d learned to drink wine, knew what went with what, and didn’t mind some of the heavier reds, but knowing what region a wine grape came from . . . no, not her thing.

“A little.”

Meg shook her head. “Michael’s wine cellar is full.”

Michael bumped her knee under the table.

“You’ll have to add Alonzo’s to your collection.”

Alonzo shifted in his seat and tapped Gabi’s hand on the table.

“I might do that,” Michael said.

Wine was served and the chef’s specials were presented.

“What is it you do for a living, Miss Rosenthal?”

The question was common, the answer always vague. “Acquisitions and client relations,” she said, pushing her salad plate aside.

Alonzo seemed disinterested, where Mrs. Masini narrowed her eyes. “Is that in the movie business?”

“No.”

“What exactly do you acquire?” It was the first direct question Valentino had asked.

“You don’t know? Seems you make it your business to learn every possible thing about your guests before they arrive on the island.”

Michael leaned in. “Meg is a little sore on the subject, Valentino. Seems your delay in approving our stay left a bad taste in her mouth.”

It was Meg’s turn to hit Michael under the table.

“Is that right?”

The nerve of the man. He knew damn well she wasn’t happy with his snail-paced delivery of their approval.

BOOK: Seduced by Sunday
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