SHE was not going to die.
Rico Crisanti, billionaire President of the Crisanti
Corporation, stared grimly through the window that sep-
arated the relatives' room from the intensive care unit,
oblivious to the dreamy stares of the nurses working on
the unit. He was used to women staring. Women always
stared. Sometimes he noticed. Sometimes he didn't.
Today he didn't.
His gaze was fixed on the still body of the girl who lay
on the bed, surrounded by doctors and high-tech machinery.
The jacket of his designer suit had long since been
removed, tossed with careless disregard for its future
appearance over the back of a standard issue hospital
chair, and he now stood in a state of rigid tension, silk
shirtsleeves rolled back to reveal bronzed forearms, his
firm jaw grazed by a dark stubble that made him more
bandit than businessman.
For a man as driven as Rico, a man accustomed to
controlling and directing, a man accustomed to action, the
waiting was proving to be the worst kind of torture.
Waiting for anything was not his strong point. He wanted
the problem fixed now. But for the first time in his life
he'd discovered that there was something that he couldn't
control. Something that money couldn't buy.
The life of his teenage sister.
Rico swore softly under his breath, fighting the temp-
tation to punch his fist through the glass.
He'd been at the hospital for the best part of two weeks
and never had he felt so helpless. Never had he felt so
ill-equipped to solve a problem that confronted him.
Blocking out the muted sobs of his mother, grand- mother,
aunt and two cousins, he stared in brooding, frustrated
silence at the still figure, as if the very force of his
personality might be sufficient to rouse her from her
There must be something more he could do. He was the man
with a solution for everything and he refused to give up.
He sucked in a breath and tried to think clearly, but he'd
recently discovered that lack of sleep, grief and worry
were not a combination designed to focus the mind. Fear
had induced a mind-numbing paralysis that was becoming
harder to shake with each passing hour.
Trying to clear his head, he inhaled deeply and ran a hand
over the back of his neck, clenching his jaw as his mother
gave another poorly disguised sob of dis- tress. The sound
cut like a blade through his heart. The expectation of his
family weighed on him heavily and for the first time in
his life he knew what it felt like to be truly helpless.
He'd flown in a top neurosurgeon who had operated to
relieve the pressure on Chiara's brain caused by the
bleed. She was breathing on her own but still hadn't
recovered consciousness. Her life hung in the balance and
no one could predict the outcome. No one could answer the
Life or death.
And if it were life, would it be life with disability, or
life as Chiara had known it before the horse had thrown
He swore softly and raked strong fingers through his hair.
To Rico, that was the hardest aspect to cope with. The
exquisite, drawn out mental torture of waiting. He'd seen
his mother worn down by it, had watched the black shadows
grow under her eyes as she lived under the cruel shadow of
uncertainty on a daily basis. Had watched her wither
slightly as she was forced to ask herself whether this
would be the day when she lost her only daughter â€”
Suddenly his own powerlessness mocked him and had he not
been too drained for laughter, then he would have laughed
at his own arrogance.
Had he really thought that he could control destiny? The
vow he'd made to his father, the vow he'd made to look
after the family, seemed suddenly empty and worthless.
What did it matter that he'd created an em- pire from
nothing but dust using only fierce determi- nation? What
did it matter that his success in building that empire had
been nothing short of staggering? Somewhere along the way
he'd started to believe that there was nothing he couldn't
control. Nothing he couldn't do if he set his mind to it.
And it had taken this accident to remind him that no
amount of riches could protect a man from the hand of fate.
Driven by the monumental frustration of doing noth- ing,
he loosened another button on his silk shirt with
impatient fingers and paced the room, his long strides and
the confined space combining to provide little in the way
of relief. Emotion, as unwelcome as it was unfamiliar,
clogged his throat and for the first time since he was a
small child he felt the hot sting of tears threaten his
usually icy composure.
Cursing his own weakness, he closed his eyes and rubbed
long fingers along the bridge of his nose as if he could
physically hold back the building pressure of grief.
It would help no one if he crumbled. The whole family was
on the edge, grasping on to fragile threads of hope
extended by grim-faced doctors. His was the strength that
they used. The rock that they leaned on. If he caved in,
gave in to the desire to howl like a baby, then the morale
of the whole family would disintegrate. The game they were
playing â€” the game of hope â€” would be ended.
So instead he stared in brooding silence at the bruised,
immobile body of his sister, willing her to wake up, and
he was still staring when the door opened again, this time
to admit the doctor who was in charge of his sister's case
together with several more junior doctors.
Ignoring the minions and the immediate response of his own
security team to this latest intrusion, Rico's attention
zeroed in on the man in charge, sensing from his manner
that he had news to impart. Suddenly he was almost afraid
to ask the question that needed to be asked.
"Any change?" His voice was hoarse with strain, lack of
sleep and something much worse. The fear of prompting bad
news. "Has there been any change?"
"Some." The doctor cleared his throat, clearly more than a
little intimidated by the formidable status of the man
standing in front of him. "Her vital signs have im- proved
slightly and she regained consciousness briefly," he
announced quietly. "She spoke."
"She spoke?" Relief flooded through him and for the first
time in days he felt lighter. "She said something?"
The doctor nodded. "She was very difficult to under-
stand, but one of the nurses thinks that it was a name."
He hesitated and looked at them questioningly. "Stasia? It
sounded like Stasia. Could that be right?"
Rico froze, momentarily stunned into shocked si- lence,
while behind him his mother gave a strangled gasp of
horror and his grandmother gave another wail.
Rico gritted his teeth and tried to shut out the sound. He
would have done anything to banish his well- meaning
family to the privacy of his estate but he knew that, for
the time being, that option was out of the ques- tion.
They needed to be here with Chiara. It was just
unfortunate that their hysterical display of emotion was
making his job harder, not easier.
And now that Stasia had been mentioned the situation was
about to deteriorate rapidly.
The mere sound of her name was enough to detonate an
explosion within his family.
And as for his own feelings â€” He closed his eyes briefly
and rubbed long fingers over his bronzed forehead. With
his sister fighting for her life, he didn't need to be
thinking about Stasia. It seemed that fate was determined
to make further efforts to crush him.
The doctor cleared his throat. "Well, whoever she is â€”
could she be brought to the hospital?"
Ignoring his mother's moan of denial, Rico forced himself
to focus on the main issue. His sister's recovery. Somehow
he voiced the words. "Would it make a dif- ference?"
"It might." The doctor shrugged. "Difficult to say, but
anything is worth a try. Can she be contacted?"
Not without considerable emotional sacrifice.
His mother rose to her feet, her face contorting with
anger and pain. "No! I won't have her here! She â€”"
"Enough!" Rico felt the ripple of curiosity spread through
the medical team and silenced his mother with one cool,
quelling flash of his unusually expressive black eyes.
It was bad enough that the world's press was camped on
their doorstep, tracking every moment of their darkest
hour, without supplying them with further fod- der for
How ironic that this should happen now, he reflected, when
the connection between them was about to be sev- ered
permanently. He had thought that there was no circumstance
that would ever require him to lay eyes on his wife again.
For the past few months he'd had a team of lawyers working
overtime to draw up a divorce settlement that he thought
was fair. Enough to buy her out of his life and leave him
with a clear conscience to marry again. This time to a
gentle, compliant Italian girl who understood what it
meant to be the wife of a tra- ditional Italian male.
Not a fiery English redhead who was all heat and spark and
knew nothing about compliance.
He sucked in a breath as a clear vision of Stasia â€” wild,
beautiful Stasia â€” flared in his mind and he felt the
immediate throb of raw sexual heat pulse through his body.
It had been a year since their final, blistering en-
counter and despite the distasteful circumstances of their
parting, his body still craved her with almost in- decent
desperation. And he didn't trust himself to see her again.
She affected his judgement in ways that he didn't want to
admit, even to himself.
Despite everything she'd done, Stasia was as addic- tive
as any drug and seeing her again was not a sensible move.
In the past year he'd learned to hate her, had learned to
see her for what she was.
Rico paced back to the window and studied his sister in
brooding silence, an ominous expression on his hand- some
face as he reviewed his options. They were de- pressingly
limited. Reaching the unpalatable conclusion that his own
needs and wishes had to be secondary to the issue of his
sister's recovery, he forced himself to accept that he was
going to have to see Stasia again.
He'd fully intended to end the entire fiasco of their
marriage through lawyers and there was no reason why this
couldn't still happen, he assured himself swiftly. This
was just a temporary stasis in proceedings. He could fly
her out and she could do whatever needed to be done and
then he could have her flown home again.
It was entirely possible that they could avoid all but the
briefest of conversations. Which would suit him per-
fectly. He had no desire whatsoever to indulge in any
reminiscence of the past. And even less desire to spend
time with the woman.
He gave a grim smile, knowing that the irony of the
situation wouldn't be lost on Stasia. Dazzling, uncon-
ventional Stasia. The woman who had never conformed to his
family's perceptions of the perfect Sicilian wife.
He'd given her everything. Had done everything a husband
should do. And still, apparently, it had not been enough.
The doctor cleared his throat discreetly and Rico stirred,
making the only decision that he was in a po- sition to
"I will send for her." He turned to Gio, his head of
security. "Contact her and make arrangements for her to be
flown out immediately."
He caught the startled glance of the man who'd known him
from childhood, heard the shocked gasp of his mother and
gritted his teeth as he battled to come to terms with the
fact that he was going to have to do the one thing he'd
promised himself that he'd never have to do again. Come
face to face with Stasia.
One day soon he was going to put her behind him, he vowed.
One day soon he'd be able to think of her without feeling
an instantaneous reaction in every male part of himself.
And the sooner that day came the better.