The Secret to Marrying Marchesi

By: Amanda Cinelli

She felt cold humiliation prick at her memory. This was the man who did all the jobs that Rigo wouldn’t lower himself to do. He wore the same disapproving glare now as he had the night he’d guided her across a crowded room, away from his employer’s mocking laughter.

‘I am here to help you.’ He spoke calmly.

‘You have some nerve, showing up at my door.’ She shook her head, moving to close the gap, but found the door blocked by a polished leather shoe.

‘I have orders to bring you under the protection of the Marchesi Group.’

‘I don’t take orders from Rigo Marchesi.’ She crossed her arms in front of herself. She knew whom these orders were from. Knew the kind of ruthless power she was faced with here.

‘Perhaps I phrased that poorly.’ The man forced a smile to his thin lips. ‘I have been sent to offer you assistance. May I come in so that we can speak privately?’

Nicole thought on it for a moment. It wasn’t as if she had a whole lot of other options. Perhaps at least he could organise some sort of protection for them. She stood back, unclipping the latch and motioning for him to come inside.

He moved through the doorway and took in the surroundings of her simple home with quick, disapproving efficiency. He looked back down at her. ‘Miss Duvalle, my team has already contained the area, as you can see.’ He gestured to the men standing guard at the gateway to her property. ‘We would prefer it if you had no more contact with the media until we have a chance to resolve the matter privately.’

‘That’s kind of difficult, considering they are camped out on my doorstep.’

‘Which is why I am here. A meeting has been arranged in Paris to address this...situation. If you choose to cooperate you will be offered every assistance.’

The way he called it that—a ‘situation’—made it sound like such a nuisance. A minor fender-bender in the Marchesi fashion empire’s shipshape working schedule. These people had no appreciation of the fact that her entire life had been upended for the second time in less than two years.

‘I have no control over this situation, Mr Santi, as you can see. So I doubt that I can help anyone to resolve it. All I need is to keep my daughter out of this mess.’

‘The media will not relent—you know this,’ he said gravely. ‘Surely you expected the attention?’

‘Why on earth would I expect this?’

The man shrugged and looked away, making it clear what he meant. Nicole felt cold shame wash over her. Just as she had on the last occasion this man had passed on a message from his employer. She shook her head in disgust. Of course Rigo would think that she had willingly pawned her child off to the tabloids. She was Goldie Duvalle’s daughter after all, wasn’t she?

Shaking off the hurt and anger, she forced herself to speak. ‘Just to be clear—if I decline to come with you will the police stay to protect my privacy?’

‘I’m afraid not.’

Well, there it was. She felt the skin on her arms prickle. It was clear she was being given an ultimatum. Get in the car and go and make a deal with the devil or stay put and be trapped in her home while the vultures circled.

Sure, she could always leave and find some new place. But with this much attention on them she and Anna would never live a normal life again. They hadn’t managed to get a clear photograph of her daughter yet, but they would. And with the scandal of her parentage she would become infamous.

She knew what that life was like. She had lived it. And she would never put her child under that kind of microscope. But now...would she be able to ensure Anna’s privacy with this scandal surrounding them both? She didn’t have the kind of financial power it took to control the media, to keep her daughter’s innocent face off the front pages.

Her chest tightened. Anna was too young to be aware of the drama unfolding around her. But Nicole knew better than anyone that awareness would come with age. Memories of her own childhood threatened to surface. She could almost feel the familiar stifling pressure to perform for the public.

She shook her head and paced to the window once more. The thought of those men outside, wrestling with each other to take photographs of her daughter to sell to the highest bidder... It stirred something deep and primal inside her. This was exactly why she had walked away from her old life in the first place.

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