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SCORNED HEIR

Copyright 2023 Victoria Paige

Chapter 1

Sera

“Bored yet?”

I slid a glance at my friend Ivy Wu. The raucous festivities celebrating Wheeler Corp’s partnership with Conte Enterprise receded while her brother gave a speech.

Ivy Wu was Wheeler Corp. Or rather, her older brother, Daniel, was CEO, and she was its social media face. I met her at the Stanford School of Business, where our rivalry for top honors later transformed into mutual admiration and finally into friendship. We became roommates by the second year.

It didn’t hurt that I harbored a giant crush on her brother.

I sipped my champagne, my gaze riveted on Daniel. “Oh, I don’t know. The view isn’t bad.”

When it was just the two of us, I had no filter about letting her know that I found her brother attractive. The teasing went along the lines of “we’re already friends, why couldn’t we be in-laws?” Around her brother though, I had the good sense to hide it, partly because of pride, but mostly because I valued Ivy’s friendship. It was an unspoken boundary of our sisterhood.

Daniel treated me as an extension of his baby sister anyway.

“Seriously, aren’t you over your crush yet?” In return, she teased me often about the first time I laid eyes on her brother. The “Swoony-Daniel” incident in question was when Ivy and I decided to become roomies. Despite having an empire to run, he took time out of his schedule to supervise his sister’s move into an apartment. Apparently I had a weakness for a man who doted on his sister.

And even if Daniel was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, my crush on him went beyond the physical. Watching him as he gave his speech, I found him commanding without being arrogant, graced with a humility that I found appealing, charismatic, and admirable.

But a crush was all it could be. Keeping discussions of my feelings for him lighthearted was a form of survival.

A mitigation of future heartache.

An arranged marriage loomed in my immediate future, tightening the noose on my carefree days.

The older gentleman standing on the stage beside Daniel was my godfather, Gustavo Conte. Conte Enterprise was the biggest exporter of olive oil from Turkey and Italy. But more than being my godfather, he was the uncle of my prospective groom.

Nothing short of Daniel declaring undying love to me would sway me, Seraphina Moretti, from fulfilling my duty to the Moretti crime family.

“And to my sister, Ivy,” Daniel called. The spotlight swung our way, blinding us. We groaned and shielded our eyes. “Beside her is the lovely Sera Moretti, a longtime friend of the family.”

“Oh God,” Ivy muttered while doing a queen’s wave to the crowd she couldn’t see. “I told them never to use that harsh light on us. It washes out our color.”

“I’m sure your followers will know it’s the lighting,” I said. Ivy had an impressive following on social media which was instrumental to the success of their luxury boutique.

After Daniel finished his speech, he and Gustavo made their way to us amidst the crowd’s roar of approval and clapping. Wheeler Corp provided the cash flow and logistical expertise that would bring my godfather’s olive oil business to an epic global reach. All financial sectors had eyes on this partnership, which would mean unparalleled growth to Conte’s pipeline of the product into North America and Asia.

What wasn’t visible to the public was the positioning of chess pieces in the underworld given the potential merger between our families.

“Sera.” Gustavo clasped my hands and kissed my cheek. “You grow more beautiful each time I see you.”

“Zio Gus, how are you?”

“Getting older,” he said. “I haven’t seen you in months. You should visit our olive oil farms. We’ve totally renovated its equipment and process.”

“So I’ve heard.” I couldn’t help the excitement in my voice. My thesis for my business degree was on the modernization of olive oil production. “No objection from our old-school friends?”

Friends was putting it mildly. There was objection from the adherers to the old methods of hand-pickers and granite stone presses.

“Resistance is dying out.” He waggled his brows and his laughter held a hint of pride. “The projected profits with the new equipment is enough proof.”

Noticing the lack of input from the other two, I realized Daniel had ventured off. Ivy was frowning into her phone, but somehow over the years, we’d developed some kind of sixth sense and she looked up.

“How long are you staying here, Mr. Conte?” Ivy asked distractedly.

It was hard not to wince because it wasn’t a secret that Gustavo was returning to Italy in four days.

“Monday.” His attention was not on Ivy but over my shoulder, probably looking for her brother.

“You’ll have to excuse Daniel, he had to take care of something.”

Gustavo’s face grew troubled. “Hopefully it’s nothing that will distract him from our partnership.”

“I’m sure it won’t,” Ivy replied, but I knew her well enough to detect the slight doubt in her tone.

My godfather’s eyes returned to me. “I need to mingle with the other guests.” He gave me a kiss on the cheek and a hug and then shook Ivy’s hand. “Great job with the event, Miss Wu.”

When Gustavo disappeared into the crowd, I turned to Ivy. “Daniel is spread too thin.”

“That’s nothing new.”

True. Her brother was a known workaholic.

Ivy caught the attention of a roaming waiter. “Is that the Four Seasons’ virgin punch?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She exchanged our empty flutes with two colorful glasses of the bright yellow and red fruity drink and guided me to an abandoned high top.

But I was still offended for my godfather. I didn’t want to let this go. This was such an important occasion for Gustavo, and though admittedly my godfather was more sensitive than most to the smallest slights, even I thought it was disrespectful of Ivy’s brother to disappear right after making that big partnership speech. “What happened to Daniel?”

“Matteo De Lucci gatecrashed our event.”

Chapter 2

Sera

“Just stay with us at the penthouse,” Ivy offered.

We were waiting in front of the Four Seasons hotel for our rides. Tony, my driver and bodyguard, couldn’t find his way out of the mess that was New York traffic. It was his idea to drop me off and pick me up again.

I wish I could have stayed in a Manhattan hotel. But the family was in the middle of a turf war with the Russian mafia and my uncle Luca, the current boss of the Moretti crime family, insisted I used our Brooklyn brownstone since it had security installed and it would be easier to accommodate my bodyguards. Given the tight security at the party with several high-profile entrepreneurs in attendance, my uncle relented about not having my bodyguards with me for the duration of the event.

Daniel pulled up in the latest model Audi SUV.

Ivy opened the door and ducked her head in. “Can Sera stay with us tonight? Her driver is stuck in traffic.”

“I’m not sure Luca…” His eyes narrowed past my shoulder.

Instinct had me spinning around with a feeling like I was about to get ambushed.

Ambushed by irritation, apparently.

“Matteo.” I nodded briefly. I didn’t wait for him to acknowledge me. I was still annoyed at him for marring the event tonight for my godfather and friends. And this De Lucci was living up to his name as the Raptor of Wall Street, especially with his singular focus when he was after something. In this case, and according to Ivy, it was a massive real estate deal that he and Daniel were working on and neither man was in agreement on who should take the lead.

I stepped aside just in case he wanted a last word with Daniel, but warm fingers grasped my elbow, halting my sideways motion.

“Trouble with your ride?” Matteo asked.

“We got this, De Lucci,” Daniel snapped before awarding me a winning smile. “Sure, you can come with us. You know I’ll always make room for you.”

Ivy whipped her head toward her brother. They exchanged a look.

Yes, Ivy. Even I was baffled. Daniel was nice to me, but that was too charming.

“I really want my own bed tonight,” I blurted.

“Then the matter is settled.” Matteo’s hand tightened around my elbow and started leading me away.

“Wait a minute.” My head was spinning. I was still processing Daniel’s reaction and Matteo’s offer…he was offering to take me home, right?

“Don’t fight it,” Matteo said by my ear. “You want Wu to woo you. He needs competition.”

“What are you talking about?” Instead of balking, I huffed a laugh. “That was a lame play on words.” But when I realized he was dragging me straight to his car—a slate gray Jaguar—I protested, “I didn’t agree to go with you.”

“Call your driver and tell him to turn around.” He opened the passenger door.

I dug in my heels physically and figuratively. “Has anyone told you you’re bossy?”

“All the time.” A ghost of a smile played on his lips.

“Look. I’ve had enough dealings with bossy men like my uncle. I don’t want to add you to the list as well.”

Leaving the door open, Matteo rounded the Jag and slid behind the wheel. “Didn’t figure you for a chicken, Sera. Ivy saw you leave with me. I’m not likely to murder you and bury your body somewhere. Besides, I value my life.”

“You’re scared of Luca?”

“Hell no, Aunt Carlotta is scarier.”

This made me laugh a little. Although we were not blood related, we shared the same aunt because she married into the De Luccis.

I checked the phone for any messages from Tony. Nothing.

“All right.” I got into the car.

Matteo made a production of revving the Jag and peeling away from the curb so abruptly that a vehicle honked at him.

Not that it fazed him. Guess he was a typical asshole with a small dick.

My cheeks burned. Why the hell was I thinking about his dick?

He was still an asshole.

As the voices of reason warred in my head, my peripheral vision caught him stealing glances at me.

“For the record, I admit to having a crush on Daniel, but it’s under control. I don’t fawn over him.”

“If you say so.”

“I say so.” I glared at him.

He cast me an amused glance. “Then why are you so defensive?”

“I’m not rising to that bait,” I said. “Now, what the hell is this all about?”

“I think we should date.”

I wasn’t drinking anything, but I felt like liquid had sloshed down the wrong pipe given the chokehold around my throat. “What?”

He glanced at me again before returning his attention to traffic. “I think we should date. Fake dating of course. Just to light a fire under Daniel’s ass—”

“I don’t see why I need any—”

“He’s not going to aggressively pursue you.”

“Did it ever occur to you it’s because he’s more respectful and he doesn’t drag women off and stuff them in his car?”

“If you say so.”

“I’m not his type anyway. I’ve seen him with his women.”

“A woman for fucking is not the same as a woman he’d consider as a future bride.”

“Typical misogynist,” I muttered. It was an odd time for me to notice how his long thick fingers skillfully maneuvered the steering wheel.

“If you don’t know the difference between a misogynist and straight talker, then Luca’s been feeding you bullshit,” he said. “You think the leggy models Daniel dates are not just seeing his bank account? And have you seen him bring them to any business events?”

“There are women who see beyond his bank account.”

“Exactly. Women like you,” Matteo said. “Daniel knows this but he’s not ready for a commitment.”

“And you know him that well?”

“I’m sure I know him more than you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what you think I mean. Daniel likes to keep business and pleasure separate. Even separate from his family, which by extension, includes you.”

“And you’re aware of this separate side of him?”

“Yes, Sera.” He shot me a brief smile, and I caught a glimpse of why he was one of the most sought-after bachelors in Manhattan. Still, my tastes ran to less overbearing men. “I’m just explaining that he’s not an asshole to women. He’s very clear about the non-relationship because his focus is Wheeler Corp.”

I glanced out the window, already shaking my head. “Let’s just say this spurs Daniel to get jealous and make his move on me. What’s in it for you?”

“Daniel is fucking up a business deal because he’s spread too thin. He refuses to let me handle it. He needs to be distracted by something…worthwhile.”

“You mean me.”

“Who else?”

“Don’t you think he’ll become suspicious?”

“I know he will.” The corner of his mouth tipped up. “Besides…I heard a rumor that Luca is marrying you off to Conte’s nephew.”

I glanced at him sharply. “How did you—?”

“Daniel mentioned it—”

“And how did Daniel know and not indicate that he knew?”

Matteo chuckled in a way that made me want to beat him over his head of thick hair with my purse.

“Danny-boy may not be aggressive in his pursuit of his sister’s best friend, but it doesn’t mean he’s not that way in business.”

“How did he come upon this information?”

“Old man Conte might have mentioned it.” He made a turn onto the Brooklyn Bridge. “So is it true?”

Before I could answer him, I felt the phone in my purse vibrate. “Shit, I forgot to call Tony.”

Indeed it was my uncle’s soldier asking where the hell I was.

I texted him back that I caught a ride. My phone immediately rang.

I had no choice but to answer it.

“Sera. What the fuck? Did you catch a cab?” Tony growled.

“No. Someone is driving me home.”

“Who?”

“If you must know, it’s Matteo De Lucci.”

Profanity erupted over the line.

“So you see, I’m perfectly safe. It might be a good idea not to tell Luca though.”

“I can’t do that,” he sputtered. “Your uncle will have my balls. De Lucci is taking you straight home, right?”

“Yes, he’s really just being…nice.”

“I don’t trust him.”

I side-eyed Matteo. His concentration was on the hectic bridge traffic, but his mouth was curved in amusement. Not that I wanted to cause conflict, but I was a big fan of cards on the table. “Tony says he doesn’t trust you.”

“Put him on speaker,” Matteo said calmly.

“Fucker,” was Tony’s opening salvo. “Not a hair harmed on her.”

“Look, Tony, I’m not the one in the mafia.”

“Who says I am?”

I had to control a snort at Tony’s aggrieved tone like he was accused of something so outrageous.

“It’s just a friendly ride. And I’m sure you have a tracker on her phone. She wouldn’t be with me if you picked her up on time, so stop deflecting. You’re the one failing on the job. It’s your fault. Own it.”

There was silence over the line for a long time. “You bring her straight to Brooklyn.”

“That was the plan anyway.”

“Take me off speaker, Sera,” Tony said.

“I’m fine, Tony. Besides, he’s Carlotta’s nephew.”

“Yeah, but keep in mind that Carlotta’s no longer a Moretti. She’s one of them now. Rocco is waiting for you at home. Text him when you pull up and he’ll fetch you from the car. Do not let De Lucci into the house.”

“I won’t, but why?”

“You know better than askin’ questions.” Tony ended the call.

“Oh my God, they better not…” I seethed, but swallowed the sourness that coated my tongue. It was probably why Tony was late too. They were conducting business at the house. Luca knew what to expect if I caught them. I was born into the mafia. I wasn’t shielded from the family business like most women in that life were. I understood its ways. Found ways to live in it, but it didn’t mean I agreed with every single thing they did.

“Is everything all right?”

I was so deep in thought, I’d forgotten about Matteo. We were at another red light and his regard compelled me to look his way.

“Yes. Just…” I shrugged. “A minor irritation.”

“If it was minor, you wouldn’t have that look on your face.”

“Like what?”

“You were someplace else… I…” From his profile, I could tell he was frowning. “I don’t like being ignored.”

I snorted. “What? Your ego can’t handle it?”

“My ego is just fine. I was concerned for you.”

“Well, that’s a surprise.”

“Is everything okay at your house?”

“Yes.”

“Because I don’t want to leave you there if it isn’t.”

For a second, my heart rate skittered at such sweetness until another thought occurred to me. “Because you’re technically the last person to be seen with me.”

He sighed as he shifted gears. “I’m not sure dating you—even if it is fake—would be such a good idea. You’re so prickly.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. “Excuse me. You’re the one who manhandled me away from my friends. I don’t have to listen to what you have to say and I certainly didn’t get into this car to be insulted.”

His lips were twitching. I studied him more closely, discerning his features wasn’t easy in the compact interior of the sports car. But the light from New York night life confirmed that the pictures in the newspapers were an insult to this masculine perfection.

Straight roman nose. Deep-set eyes with impossibly long lashes that rivaled my own. A mouth that was not thin, not thick but just right. The De Luccis were known for their perfectly chiseled jaw.

“Like what you see?” Matteo said cockily with an even cockier smile that would qualify as a smirk.

“You’re not my type.”

He burst out laughing. “And what’s your type, little girl?”

“Is that in reference to my height, because you’re not much older than me…I think.”

“I’m twenty-seven.”

“I’m twenty-six, but I guess you already know that. And I’m not really tiny.” I was five-two.

He shot me a quick glance, then checked his side mirror to make a lane change, but not before I saw a flash of teeth.

“What? I’m not. I’m five-five. That’s average height for a woman.”

The Jag finally turned on a side road that had less traffic and Matteo awarded me a longer look, amusement crinkling the corners of his eyes. When he returned his attention to the road ahead, he said, “My sister is taller than you and she keeps insisting she’s five-four, so five-five is pushing it. And just saying, I like small packages, so I’m in no way criticizing you.”

“Yes, you shouldn’t really since you need a favor from me.”

“I think we’d be doing each other a favor.”

“It seems you need me more.”

Matteo didn’t respond for a while. It did not surprise me he knew exactly where to drive the Jaguar. Still, I wasn’t letting it pass. “It’s creepy that you know where I live. Courtesy would be to ask me.”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “I’m just not a fan of wasting time.”

“Geez, I wonder what your girlfriends say to that.” Heat rushed up my face. “Don’t answer that. It’s just that, you’re so infuriating.”

“Now is that any attitude to take toward your future boyfriend?”

The sports car was crawling too slowly for my comfort. Normally, I was used to sparring with arrogant men who bulldozed me into making decisions. I certainly had a lot of practice with the men in my family, but I wasn’t prepared for Matteo De Lucci and it was a challenge not to remain off-kilter. “I haven’t agreed to anything.”

“What’s there to think about? It’s a win-win for you.”

The arrogance. “For one thing, you’re making me sound pathetic. If I have a crush on Daniel, I’m not about to get underhanded to gain his attention.”

“You don’t need me to flatter you, Sera.” He tapped the steering wheel. “You’re a regular in the Chicago society pages. You know what you’re worth. What I’m suggesting isn’t being underhanded, it’s a ploy as old as time.”

“What, making a man jealous?” I scoffed.

“Men are competitive. Daniel is competitive. He can go about the pursuit of his business because he can keep tabs on you.”

Keep me on the backburner while he went about sleeping with supermodels. How flattering. It pissed me off. I wasn’t a virgin he needed to keep pure while he sowed his oats. Although my uncle’s reputation about scaring off my admirers might have something to do with it.

“As Ivy’s friend.”

“You got it.” Matteo hitched his shoulders. “He just needs a…nudge.”

“I’ve had boyfriends before and Daniel didn’t seem concerned.”

He didn’t respond immediately, considering my words. “Maybe he didn’t see them as worthy competition.”

I had to laugh. “Are you paying yourself a compliment?”

“Are you saying any of your boyfriends measure up to me?”

The ego, but I was surprisingly not irritated about it, just immensely amused. Matteo De Lucci was an entertaining man. I might not suffer his company after all. Still, I couldn’t be impulsive about this because it challenged my envisioned future.

I must consider the repercussions and risks to family allegiances. A spark of rebellion and a future with Daniel escaped in a breath of hope.

Mrs. Daniel Wu.

A tiny smile formed on my lips.

“I can’t interpret that smile on your face,” Matteo said in the same beat as, “This is you.”

Rocco got up from the stone steps that led into the brownstone. He wasn’t a big man, but he had arms like tree trunks.

“Your bodyguard, I presume?” the man who just offered to fake-date me asked.

“Yes.”

“So, do we have an agreement?”

I didn’t answer him until the Jaguar pulled up right in front of the house. “No.”

I exited the vehicle, heard Matteo curse, which was followed by his door opening and closing.

“Sera,” he called.

I glanced over my shoulder. “If you want a date from me, Mr. De Lucci, that would take more than a car ride. Do better next time.” I shot him a derisive smile. “I’m not easy.”

——-End Preview ——-

Scorned Heir releases September 26, 2023, preorder now!