Slade watched his sister drag her oversized floral pieces of luggage down the hallway and drop them at the front door. A strange panic roared through his system, but he stood frozen in the foyer, watching the scene unfold. Hell, no. She wasn’t ready to go anywhere on her own yet, but somehow he needed to convince her without looking like a crazed control-freak brother. He kept his voice gentle and firm.
“Jane, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I know you want a place of your own, but I don’t think you’re ready. Besides, I’ll get lonely by myself. Give it some time, and I’ll help you find an apartment.”
Jane turned fast, hands on hips, that furious female scowl he knew well. Bottom line, he’d screwed up his words again. “First off, give me a little credit. I’m ready. I appreciate you letting me live here, but I should’ve moved out a year ago. And the only reason you’re lonely is your refusal to stay with a woman past one night.”
Slade winced. Unfair. He was always discreet when it came to women, not needing his sister to try to bond with any of them, since long-term commitment was doomed from the start. The statistics alone of marriage breakups caused a shudder.
She marched into the open living room and headed toward the bookcase to grab a few off the shelves. Crap, was that The Chew’s new cookbook? He hadn’t even looked at the pictures yet. “Be reasonable, Jane. You have nowhere to go, and I don’t want you staying at a crappy studio in Manhattan. It’ll cost a million dollars and won’t be safe. Are you still upset over your breakup? We can go slash his tires, get drunk, and watch chick flick movies. That’s what women do, right?”
Jane tipped her head back and laughed. “God, Slade, if I didn’t love you so much I’d murder you. I have a place already. I rented an apartment in Verily on the river. I quit my job and lined up a new one at the local community college there.”
The room spun. He stared at his normally shy, logical, steady sister and wondered what she’d drunk to turn into Mr. Hyde. “Quit your job? You were working on tenure!”
“And I hated it there. Stuffy, pompous, and boring. I hate Manhattan, too. It’s crowded and hurts my head most of the time.” Jane dragged in a breath and walked over, stuffing the books into her tote bag. Her long jet-black hair sprung into a whirlwind of curls, and her cocoa-brown eyes peered at him sadly from behind thick black glasses. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “I need a fresh start on my own terms. Verily is small and quaint, and the college focuses on using creativity in literature. I can grow there. Maybe meet a man who won’t wring me dry and dump me.” Her laugh was totally wry, and Slade’s heart squeezed in sheer fear.
He couldn’t let her go. If something happened, it would be his fault. Again. At least if she were under his roof, he could easily gauge if she was down-spiraling. Slade swung into lawyer mode. Being one of the top divorce lawyers in the state had to be good for something other than money. “I understand you want to be on your own. I agree it’s time, but quitting your job and running off to a town you don’t know is dangerous. I’ll go with you to Verily this weekend. I’ll help you look, maybe meet some people there so you’re not alone, and we’ll figure it out together.” To satisfy his late father’s wishes, hot and single billionaire Michael Conte must find a bride—someone who will fit into his traditional family back home in Italy—and fast, so his engaged sister will be allowed to wed. With no intention of being tied down, Michael “proposes” to fiery, free-spirited photographer Maggie Ryan: if she will play the part of his fiancée during her trip to Milan for a photo shoot, he will keep away from her married best friend, Alexa, and stop making Maggie nuts with their too-close-for- comfort flirtations.
But once in Italy, sexual tension sparks the hottest no-strings- attached arrangement on any continent. Could marriage be the most enticing trap of all?