Authors: Karen Erickson
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
To all the readers out there who’ve written to let me know how much they’ve loved the Worth It series: I hope you enjoy this final glimpse of the Worth family.
“We need to talk.”
With those four little words, everything within Anastasia Renaldi went completely still—with the exception of her heart. It felt as if it would pound straight out of her chest and land on the floor. “Can it not wait until—after?”
Giorgio Renaldi’s lawyer shook his head slowly, his gaze never leaving her face. The grave expression Paolo Molinelli wore didn’t reassure her. It sent her already-frayed nerves straight into frazzled territory. “It’s imperative that I prepare you for what’s about to happen.”
Stasia rested her hand on his forearm, ironically offering him reassurance. “Mr. Molinelli.” She gave him the respect he deserved—she’d known him since she was a little girl, recalled when he used to slip her a piece of caramel candy whenever she accompanied her father to his offices. He’d been a part of her life since she could remember. “You’re about to read my father’s will to the family. Surely whatever you have to say may wait until it’s over, no?”
The old man pressed his thin lips together and shook his head once. “I must tell you now, Stasia. The news in the will…it is not good.”
She frowned. Was Renaldi not financially sound? Ridiculous. She knew the company was solid and its worth had skyrocketed in the last three years alone, despite the world economic woes. “And what does that have to do with me specifically? Is this not news for my brothers to be prepared for as well?”
“It has everything to do with you and only you.” Molinelli took a deep breath, appeared ready to launch into the details but was interrupted by the arrival of her three older brothers. Their late father’s most loyal and faithful friend and employee offered them all a weak smile. “Ah, are we ready to begin?”
“Absolutely.” Her eldest brother, Matteo, nodded, his expression stern, his jaw hard as granite. Only his dark brown eyes, filled with such sorrow, gave away any hint of emotion. He’d taken the loss of their father especially hard, being as he was the most like him. But they had all taken it hard. The illness had come fast, taken him even faster. “Though Mother…she won’t be able to attend this afternoon.”
“Not a surprise. There is much she doesn’t want to face.” Molinelli’s sigh was world-weary. “Let us get on with it.”
Stasia entered the room ahead of her brothers, her mind racing. What could her father’s lawyer want to warn her about before the actual reading? And why wasn’t their mother there? What could she want to avoid? She knew Claudia Renaldi was in deep mourning…they all were. Her father died not even a week ago. Within a month of his terminal cancer diagnosis, they’d lost him, their mother at his side. She’d become inconsolable after his death, hadn’t left her room since the funeral.
Perhaps she’d made herself ill. Stasia made a mental note to go visit her as soon as the reading was over.
“Shall we begin, then?” Molinelli asked once everyone was seated. He didn’t look in Stasia’s direction.
“Get on with it.” Her brother Rafael had absolutely no patience, his irritated growl loud in the otherwise small, quiet meeting room.
“Very well.” Molinelli cleared his throat, settled his reading glasses on the bridge of his nose. Nerves jumped in her stomach when he glanced up at her, their gazes locking before he hurriedly looked away.
Something wasn’t right. Whatever the man was about to say was going to be…bad.
And she didn’t know why.
Clutching her hands together, she listened as he rattled off the usual legal details, the “of sound mind and body” declaration, the “I bequeath this and that to my sons, my estate, to my company”. One mention of their mother, who inherited the three houses they owned.
No mention of his daughter. Ever.
After fifteen minutes of an endless list of assets, donations and divisions, her father finally acknowledged her.
“‘And now to my daughter, Anastasia, my darling, darling girl who doesn’t belong to me, who is not of my blood. How I wish I could make it so.’” Molinelli glanced over the top of his reading glasses before he continued. “‘It pains me to do this. I am not a cruel man, but only recently did I discover this betrayal and so therefore, consequences must be met. Long ago, twenty-six years ago, to be exact, I split from your mother.’”
Molinelli paused, letting the words hang heavy in the silence before he continued. “‘She left me, unhappy with our marriage, looking for excitement and adventure. She found it. I didn’t know, but she found it and she delivered it to me during what I once believed was one of my proudest moments.’”
“What the hell is going on?” Rafe interrupted, the irritation in his voice clear. “Get on with it, man.”
“I’m only reading what your father dictated to me, word for word.” Molinelli sniffed, offended. “The more you interrupt, the longer it will take.”
Stasia’s heart stilled. Everything around her slowed, as if time came to a stop. What her father’s words implied, she could hardly fathom.
“Leave him be,” Matt said sternly to Rafe before he turned to Molinelli. “Carry on.”
“‘Due to the facts that cannot be denied, I must disinherit Anastasia Renaldi from my will, from my life. She is not a part of me, not of my flesh and blood, for she belongs to another. A bitter rival who obtained his revenge against me by filling my wife’s belly with his child.’” The words dripped with disgust, even read in Molinelli’s thin voice.
Shock coursed through Stasia, rendered her silent, still. Completely frozen and confused. Whatever did the words mean? She wasn’t his daughter? She wasn’t a Renaldi?
“‘No longer may Stasia work for Renaldi. No longer may Stasia take the name Renaldi. She must assume her new name, for she is no child of mine, no true sister to my sons. She belongs to another family.’”
Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her brothers all turned to look at her, the disbelief clearly written all over their paling faces. She tried to speak but only a sob came forth and she covered her face with her hands, crying in earnest.
This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be real. Surely she was dreaming.
“Is that all?” Matteo asked, his teeth clenched.
Stasia wiped her damp eyes, settled her hands in her lap. Is that
, her brother asked? How could there be more? She couldn’t take it. Why would her
be so cruel? And who could she belong to?
“This all sounds like complete falsehoods.” Her other brother, Vincenzo, piped up. “Why would our father do such a thing? He adored Anastasia.”
“He did, indeed. So the betrayal was extra hard for him when he discovered it,” Molinelli explained. “Now please, let me finish.”
They all resumed their silence, Stasia keeping her gaze locked on her lap, her clutched hands that rested there.
“‘It is with utter disgust that I acknowledge Anastasia Renaldi is the daughter of the late Michael Worth of Worth Luxury. May my deceitful wife, Claudia, be able to live with herself after all these years of passing off Stasia as my own.’” Molinelli cleared his throat. “‘And to my delightful, most likely devastated Anastasia. I am so very sorry it has to end this way. That I must make you pay for your mother’s trickery is wrong. I know this, but I am hurt and stubborn. There is no other way to make Claudia see. The damage her betrayal has brought upon this family is devastating. I hope someday, my dearest Stasia, you will understand.’”
The silence in the room was deafening. No wonder their mother didn’t want to attend the will reading. Bitterness trickled through Stasia like melting snow. Her mother looked like an opportunistic slut compared to the pillar of fashion society everyone revered her to be.
“So Stasia is not allowed to work for the company any longer.” It wasn’t a question on Matteo’s part.
“She is not. Allowing her to continue within her position is possible grounds for termination. For all of you.”
“And who the hell would terminate us?” Rafe asked, his anger written all over his face. “It is
company. And she is our sister, no matter what that will says.”
“Just because the three of you have shares in Renaldi Accessories doesn’t mean much when you can still be overridden by the board of directors. Originally your father’s will gave Anastasia enough shares that the four of you held the majority. That’s now changed. It would do you well to remember that.”
That her brothers would still stand up for her warmed her heart.
And then she remembered they weren’t her brothers any longer. That her father’s will forced them to ostracize her, push her to discover her new family.
One month later
“Stasia Renaldi is here to see you,” the voice chirped through the intercom.
Gavin Westmore leaned forward in his chair. “Send her in.” His latest assistant had a voice that was like fingernails on a chalkboard. Squeaky, and it set him on edge, not to mention she had issues with filing.
It appeared he was on his way to hiring a new secretary, and soon.
Closing out of a few programs on his computer, he slipped on his glasses, part of his stern, serious attorney guise. At the age of twenty-nine, he was the youngest partner at Keegan and Pearson, which made many potential clients nervous. Going to such lengths to prove his capability was annoying to say the least.
And he wasn’t about to let this new possible client slip through his fingers. He knew everything there was to know about the Anastasia Renaldi controversy. It had been the most talked about story in all of Manhattan high society for the last four weeks. A messy disinheritance, a despondent mother who refused to speak with her children—let alone the media—and three angry, somewhat protective men swirling about one single woman who appeared as defenseless as a newborn baby.
In other words, she was pure tabloid fodder. Which he could potentially make a ton of money off of.
A discreet knock sounded at the door and then it swung open, the assistant sweeping in, flashing him a saucy wink. ”Miss Renaldi is here.”
He ignored the subtle flirtation. The woman was a complete pain.
Standing straight, he pasted on his most pleasant smile as he rounded his desk to approach Anastasia Renaldi. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Renaldi. Though I’m sorry we’re having to do this under such dire circumstances.” He doubted they would run in the same social circles, doubted even further that a chance meeting between the two of them would ever happen without this family mess pushing them together.
A pity, considering how damn beautiful she was. Thick, wavy locks that hung past her shoulders, her hair was a dark, rich brown, which only emphasized the pale creaminess of her skin. Her hand trembled in his grip, though her shake was firm. She was respected in the fashion industry, a powerhouse force in a tiny package.
Despite her reputation and the determined expression on her pretty face, he saw the ravages of her family troubles in the turbulent depths of her gaze. She appeared to be a woman barely holding it together.
And she’d come to him for help.
He released her hand, indicated a chair. “Won’t you please sit down?”
She did so, her black skirt riding up the slightest bit, revealing slender legs. He knew she was attractive, but hadn’t expected the immediate rush of lust flowing through his veins.
Clearing his throat, he focused on the task at hand. “I heard about your father. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Her lush mouth twisted. “Thank you, Mr. Westmore.”
“Please. Call me Gavin.”
“Then call me Stasia.” Her gaze met his, a smoldering, sultry blue. “Please.”
His tie threatening to choke him, he looked away, focused for a moment instead on the serene landscape photo that hung on the wall, just above her head. “How can I be of assistance to you, Miss…Stasia?”
She straightened in her seat, her shoulders square, her delicate jaw set. “I need you to get me in to see the Worths.”
“I don’t work for them,” he started, but she cut him off.
“I know you don’t. But you went to school with Alexander Worth. I know the two of you are still friends.”