RNA Romance Prize 2007
- NA October 2007 -
MILLS AND BOON ROMANCE
- UK October 2007 -
- AUS/NZ November 2007 -
Read more about all six books at the Rinucci Brothers book page.
Amazon United Kingdom
Amazon North America
"Lucy Gordon has created a passionate romance that will touch your heart. Her characters Polly and Ruggiero are both sensitive and vulnerable but together strive to find true love. Reading Ms. Gordon’s novels is like stepping into sunny Italy amid Mediterranean breezes and jovial impassioned people. So, for an absorbing read that will carry you away, I recommend THE MEDITERRANEAN REBEL'S BRIDE by Lucy Gordon."
Donna Zapf, 4.5 stars
Ruggiero Rinucci is haunted by the memory of Sapphire, a woman he knew and loved for two weeks in London, before she vanished without trace.
Polly is Sapphire’s cousin, and has come to Naples to find him. A nurse, she’s invited into the Rinucci home to look after him after a motor bike accident. Now she has to tell him that his lover is dead, leaving him a son.
“Dead,” he whispered. “No – you didn’t say that. I just thought for a moment - ”
“She’s dead,” Polly repeated softly. “A few weeks ago.”
He looked away, concealing his face from her, while his fingers moved compulsively on the photograph until it began to crumple.
“Go on,” he said at last, in a voice that seemed to come from a great distance.
“Her real name was Freda Hanson, until she married George Ranley, six years ago.”
He stirred. “She was married when I knew her?”
“He made her unhappy. She no longer loved him?”
“I don’t think she was ever madly in love with him,” Polly said, choosing her words carefully. “He’s very rich and - ”
“Stop there,” he said quickly. “If you’re trying to tell me that she married for money – don’t. She wouldn’t – not the girl I knew.”
“But you didn’t know her,” Polly said gently. “Don’t you realise that she made sure of that? She didn’t even tell you her real name. That way you couldn’t find her again when she vanished.”
“How much do you know of what happened between her and me?”
“You met in a bar in a London hotel, and you were together for two weeks.”
“You could put it like that,” he said slowly. “But the truth was so much more. What we had was there from the first moment. I looked at her, and I wanted her so badly that I was afraid it must show. I even thought I might scare her off, but nothing frightened her. She was brave, she went out to meet life – she came to me at once.”
There was an aching wistfulness in his voice that saddened Polly. She knew the truth behind her cousin’s ‘bravery’. She needed a man to father a child that she could pass off as her husband’s, and she had to act fast. That was the ugly fact, and it was painful to see this blunt, forceful man, reduced to misery by her ruthless tactics.
“Didn’t you think it strange that she wouldn’t tell you her full name?”
“At the time it almost seemed irrelevant. What she gave me – I’m not good with words, I couldn’t describe it – but she made me a different man. Better.”
Slowly he laid his fingers over his heart.
“What’s in there has always been just for me,” he said. “I’ve kept it that way. A man’s safer that way.”
“But why must he always be safe?” she ventured to ask.
“That’s what she made me ask myself. It was like becoming someone else, ready to take risks I couldn’t take before, glad of it. I even enjoyed her laughing at me. I’ve never found it easy to be laughed at but she – well, I’d have accepted anything from her.”
Against her will Polly heard Freda’s voice in her head, chuckling,
“The tougher they are, the more fun it is when they become my slaves.”
And this was the result, this bleak, desolate man holding onto his belief in her like a drowning man clinging to a raft. What would become of him in a few moments when that comfort was finally snatched away?
“What happened after she left me?” he asked.
Polly took a deep breath.
“She went back to George, and nine months later she had a baby.”
He stared at her. “Are you saying - ?”
He hauled himself up again, waving her away so that he could sit on the edge of the bed, his back to her.
“How can you be sure it’s mine?” he demanded harshly.
“It isn’t George’s. It couldn’t be.”
“But why didn’t she tell me? I never concealed where I live. She couldn’t have thought I’d turn my back on her. She knew how much I – she knew – ”
“She didn’t want you told. She wanted to stay married to George, so she had an affair hoping to get pregnant.”
For a moment he was as still as if he’d been punched over the heart.
“Shut up!” he said at last in a fierce voice. “Do you know what you’re saying about her?”
“Yes,” she said with a touch of sadness. “I’m saying that she planned everything.”
“You’re saying she was a calculating, cold-hearted bitch.”
“No, I’m not,” she insisted. “She could be warm and funny and generous. But when she came to London that time she wanted something, and it turned out to be you.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snapped. “You don’t know how it was with us – ”
He checked himself and asked bleakly, “Did her husband think the child was his?”
“At first, yes. Then he found out, by chance, that he had a very low sperm count, and he began to doubt. He demanded a test, and when he discovered that he wasn’t the father, he threw Freda and the baby out of the house.”
“When was this?”
“Almost a year ago.”
“Why didn’t she come to me then?”
Because she’d hoped to entice George back was the truthful answer, but Polly couldn’t bring herself to hurt him more, so she softened it.
“She was already growing thin from illness. She said she’d contact you when she got well. But she never did. She came to live with me. I nursed her as best I could, but it was hopeless. She made me promise to find you afterwards, to tell you that you have a son.”
“She’s dead,” he murmured. “Dead - and I wasn’t with her.”
In the face of his pain there was nothing she could say.
“You should have contacted me while she was alive,” he insisted.
“I couldn’t. She wouldn’t tell me where to find you. I didn’t even know that you lived in Naples. I found that and the name of this villa in a letter she wrote me to be opened after her death.”
“I would have looked after her,” he said in a daze.
“She didn’t want you to see her. She hated not being beautiful any more.”
“Do you think I’d have cared about that?” he flashed with a hint of ferocity. “I wouldn’t even have seen it, I lo- ”
He stopped himself with a sharp breath like a man pulling back from the brink. His haggard eyes met hers.
“It’s too late,” he said, like a man facing a bleak truth for the first time. “Too late.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. She reached for him but he flinched away.
“I want you to go,” he said.
“But – ”
“Get out for pity’s sake!” he said in agony.
At the door she glanced back at him, but he was looking at Freda’s picture, and didn’t notice as she left.
She understood his need to be alone. She shared it. The conversation had been even harder than she’d expected. She’d been fooled by Freda’s ‘love-em-and-leave-em’ description of Ruggiero, thinking he might take the news in that spirit.
Instead, his explosion of emotion had astonished her. Suddenly she saw the chasm yawning at her feet. From the first moment everything about Ruggiero had been a surprise, starting with the discovery that her cousin haunted him. She should have been prepared for tonight, but she’d sensed the danger almost too late.
“You’re saying she was a calculating, cold-hearted bitch.”
He’d spoken as though the mere thought was outrageous, but it was an exact description of Freda. In the great days of her beauty she would have taken it as a compliment.
“It’s such fun to make them sit up and beg,” she’d once trilled. “You can make a man do anything – if you go about it the right way?”
Later, talking about Ruggiero, with his baby in her arms, she’d said,
“He was the best – know what I mean? Well no, maybe you don’t.”
“I certainly don’t have your wide experience for making comparisons,” Polly had replied, trying to speak lightly.
“Well, take my word for it, Ruggiero was really something in bed.” She had given a luxurious gurgle. “Every woman should have an Italian lover. There are things about passion that only they understand.”
There was no affection in her voice. Freda had taken what she wanted from her lover, then dispensed with him.
And in that she’d lost out, Polly realised. Clever as she was, Freda hadn’t discovered the things that made Ruggiero truly fascinating: the contrast between the contrived self that he showed to the world, and the true self that he hid as though alarmed by it, the mulish stubbornness that collapsed into unexpected moments of self-deprecating humour. He was intriguing because everything about him contradicted everything else. A woman could spend years trying to understand him, enjoying every moment of the challenge, and Freda hadn’t suspected it.
“I’ve seen it,” Polly thought suddenly. “But I don’t want to. Heaven help me, this is no time to be falling into that trap! I’m just here to do a job.”
From the book THE MEDITERRANEAN REBEL'S BRIDE by Lucy Gordon.
USA & UK Publication October 2007
Copyright 2007 by Lucy Gordon
USA ISBN 978-0-373-03980-7
UK ISBN 978-0-263-85458-9
Cover Copyright © 2007 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. ® and tm are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
~ a taste of italy at home ~