Scandal at the Balfour BallAfter barely a year of marriage, Alessandro and Meredith Ferrera’s relationship is already strained by careers that force them to live in different countries for weeks at a time. So it doesn’t take much to raise Alessandro’s suspicions about what his bride is up to when he’s not around!
by Michelle Reid
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It was like receiving a hard slap in the face. Meredith gasped and jerked away from him.
He had done it on purpose—kissed her like that to bring her defenses crashing down just so he could stick his knife in her chest.
Aware that the pilot was waiting for them to disembark, Alessandro turned away from her shaken expression, opened the door and stepped out into the mellow dark night.
Meredith walked off ahead of him with her slender white shoulders stiffly set and her hair a streaming river of fire down her back. He grimaced as he followed at a slower pace. By the time he entered the glass atrium, which formed the entrance to their apartment, she had already disappeared in a whisper of silk organza down the stairs. A huge black dog sat at the stair head, its shaggy black tail bashing the floor.
A glimmer of a smile softened some of the sternness from his face, and the moment it did so the dog pounced with a husky woof.
“Okay, you stupid dog,” he said fondly. “You don’t need to ruin my suit.”
The dog wasn’t just stupid, he was deaf to any vocal censure and refused to stop jumping up at him until he’d been petted and stroked.
Alessandro heard a door shut downstairs, and he straightened, the smile dying from his face. The dog finally took the hint and sat.
“So, where did she stalk off to, Mutt?” he queried grimly.
Mutt loped off towards the stairwell then paused to wait until Alessandro arrived at his side. Perhaps, the dog was not so stupid, he mused grimly because he let out a whimper before he shot off down the stairs.
Alessandro followed and was eventually guided into the master bedroom. He stopped on the threshold, watching as Mutt slunk up to Meredith, who was standing on one foot as she slipped off a shoe. The dog nudged her hand and she almost toppled over.
“Oh, thanks, Mutt,” she murmured.
“I think he is trying to warn you I am here,” Alessandro provided.
Meredith froze for a throbbing crush of a second then bent to snatch something up off the bed. It was something white, like her mobile phone, Alessandro saw in the split second before it became lost in the folds of her flowing skirts.
Had she been intending to call up her lover before he walked in here? Was Marco that important to her that she could think only of him?
A stream of acid jealousy poured into his bloodstream. As she lifted her chin to him, he saw the defiance on her pale face. Tension shot between them like an electric current. It infuriated Alessandro that it attacked every erogenous zone in his body, accompanied by flash lightning images of him declaring to hell with it and tossing her down on the bed.
He wanted her. It was like a growling animal inside him. His wife. His woman. It felt that primitive.
As if sensing the lurking intruder in their midst, Mutt let out a warning growl. Alessandro looked down at the dog standing there at the ready to defend his mistress and felt like growling himself.
“Out,” he instructed the dog.
“Don’t you take your filthy mood out on Mutt,” Meredith said shakily.
“Out,” he repeated, spearing out an arm indicating towards the door, and Mutt, big though he was, surrendered to a greater power and slunk out of the room.
Alessandro closed the door then turned back to Meredith, who was in the process of wrapping her arms across the front of her sparkling bodice. The aroused animal inside of him honed onto the creamy lush slopes of her breasts the action had highlighted for him like a taunt.
Her soft full mouth pursed for a second then parted as she took in a short breath. “Okay.” She tossed her head up. “So show me your proof.”
Vaguely surprised that she had thrown down the first challenge, without a word he walked over to the television set mounted on the wall opposite their bed and switched it on.
Puzzled as to what was going on, Meredith watched as he used the remote. A picture of their apartment block and its car park flicked up on the screen. Alessandro walked away to remove his jacket while she watched Marco’s silver Porsche drive into the car park and stop.
“CCTV recording,” he provided as Marco climbed out and strolled towards the building. “Keep watching and you will see him enter one of the lifts.”
Not understanding where this was leading, Meredith turned her questioning gaze on Alessandro who was loosening the black bow tie around his neck. Squared chin lifted, sleek golden skin stretched taut, his eyes were cold beneath the heavy veil of his eyelashes.
“Is this supposed to mean something to me?” she asked him.
“Still playing the innocent, Merry?” He threw her a grim smile. “You have been lovers for weeks—maybe longer.” He extended with a shrug that coincided with the undoing of his shirt collar. “Who the hell knows how long you’ve both been cheating on me.”
“We have not been cheating on you!” Merry protested stiffly. “Marco and I work together—and he’s supposed to be your best friend!”
“And I need a drink.”
The way he strode to the door and pulled it open left Meredith gasping in shock. Mutt was lying across the opening. Alessandro stepped over the dog and headed down the hall. Meredith, bewildered as to what had made him just walk away like that, stepped over Mutt, too, as she tagged on behind.
He was in his study pouring himself a stiff drink. When he heard her come in the room, he announced coolly, “I called you back last night after you rung off. You were talking to him.”
Opening her mouth to deny the charge, Meredith thought about it and closed her mouth again.
“No smart comeback?” Alessandro mocked.
“He—he called me,” she confirmed. “I thought it was you.”
“And having assured yourself that I was still safely out of the way in Milan, you invited him around here to keep you company?”
“What are you getting at now?” she cried out.
Those lustrous green eyes did bewilderment so well, Alessandro saw bitterly. The way she was standing there in her ball gown looking like a princess with her hair a veil of fire around her smooth pale beautifully innocent face. “You have just watched him arriving here, Meredith. Stop playing the innocent.”
“You—you mean that recording was made last night?” Her delicate eyebrows drew together. “Well, whoever it was he was visiting it was not me,” she declared outright. “Is that all the proof you’ve got that I’m cheating on you?” she then thought to ask.
“Do you really want me to produce more?” he derided.
“If you have it—yes!” she heaved in a taut breath then let it out again. “And I want you to know that I don’t like what it is you’re trying to pin on me here.”
“You think I do?”
Her temper growing thinner with her deepening sense of injustice, Meredith stalked forward and took the glass out of his fingers just as he was about to drink from it. She slammed it down on the nearest surface then spun back to flare him a look.
“Marco did not visit me in this apartment last night and I expect you to believe that!”
“You want to return to the bedroom and watch him get out of the lift on the floor below then head for the stairwell?” Alessandro threw back. “You want to make me take this all the way to the bitter end before you will stop lying about it?”
“There are twenty other floors beneath this apartment, most of them with several apartments on each! He could have been using the stairs to walk down to any of them!”
“If that was the case, why not use the lift?”
“I don’t know!” This was beginning to turn just a little crazy in Meredith’s opinion. The whole scene felt like a nightmare that refused to make any sense. “If the CCTV system is so clever, it should tell you exactly where he went!”
“He came to see you.”
Meredith balled her hands into two angry fists. “I’m warning you, Alessandro, if you keep insisting on that, I will supply you with real proof just to shut you up!”
“You did that, in the garden at Balfour.”
“With a stupid sympathy kiss?”
His jaw line clenching, he turned away from her. “Guilty lovers stealing a clandestine moment,” he described. “It was very…touching.”
No it wasn’t. She could tell by the way he had said it. And nor was it sufficient proof that she had betrayed him.
“Please, Alessandro, just think about it,” she urged him. “Why would I want to have an affair with anyone when I’m so in love with you?”
As if she’d delivered him the worst kind of insult, he moved violently, swinging round to stride to his desk. A few seconds later he was coming back to her holding a thin wad of notepaper, which he offered for her to take.
Flickering him a warily questioning glance, Meredith saw the ring of fierce tension compressing his mouth and the granite hard cast in control of his face. As she took the paper from him, he spun away to go and recover his drink.
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