Sneak Peeks

Start reading Annie West’s 50th book!


Start reading Annie West’s 50th book!

Reawakening unresolved passion complicates everything in bestselling author Annie West’s 50th book for Mills & Boon!

She ran from their wedding…now the Italian has found her!

After years of searching, Cesare Brunetti finds his wife Ida, cleaning homes to make ends meet. The Cinderella heiress fled mere hours after their vows, even though he was the one blackmailed into the convenient union!

Cesare intends to finalise their divorce. Yet he hadn’t counted on discovering Ida’s total innocence in their marriage sham. Or on the attraction that rises swift and hot between them, beneath the Tuscan sun…before they say goodbye for good, dare they indulge in the wedding night they never had?


THE FAMILIAR MUSIC began and behind him Cesare heard a hush descend on the packed church. Not a complete silence, for even over the triumphant swell of music came the sound of hundreds of whispers and the rustle of designer dresses as people turned towards the entrance.

Cesare waited, eyes straight ahead, as if taking in the gilded pomp of the renaissance interior.

But his thoughts were elsewhere. On the events which had culminated in today’s ceremony. The circumstances, some predictable, others unforeseen, all compelling. All pushing him to this moment.

A collective sigh gathered behind him, and it felt as if the air in the vast space thickened. The scent from the elaborate floral arrangements grew more intense and the bone-white candles flickered in their silver candelabras.

The priest flicked him a look and Cesare knew it was time to turn.

Finally he swung around, his eyes going unerringly to the figure halfway up the aisle.

Now he understood the sighs.

Ida Montrose looked ethereal, floating down the aisle in a long, gauzy dress that looked held together by wisps of lace.

There was lace too on the veil that covered her face and draped her shoulders. But through it he saw the golden-red gleam of her hair and the huge pools of her eyes.

He hadn’t meant to, but he couldn’t stop his gaze dropping. Pausing at the sweet swell of her breasts, barely covered by white lace, down to a waist so narrow his fingers twitched at the thought of spanning it.

The dress clung to her neat hips then fell in folds of transparent fabric and lace that made her look like a cross between a flower fairy and a lingerie model.

Cesare’s body responded accordingly. With a thudding pulse of heat that plunged from his chest to his suddenly aching groin.

His lungs stopped as he imagined his hands on her. Big hands ruthlessly parting those insubstantial layers to reveal satiny skin. Eager hands palming her pale body and preparing her for his possession.

Heat shot through him like flames through a petrol-soaked bonfire. Moisture beaded his hairline and nape while a jab of pain told him he was clenching his jaw in the effort of control.

This wouldn’t do. He had a solemn ceremony to get through under the watchful gaze of Europe’s oldest families and monied elite.

He yanked his gaze away from his bride to the man walking down the aisle beside her. White-haired, wearing a satisfied grin. Fausto Calogero.

It might be years since the man had frequented Rome, but he nodded and smiled as if he knew half the high-born guests, his chest thrust out in pride.

Cesare took a slow breath and schooled his features.

He didn’t fool himself that after today he’d be able to ignore the man. But as of today, things would change. Cesare would make sure of that.

The pair paused at the bottom of the steps and Cesare’s attention snapped back to his bride-to-be. She was so close he saw the puff of movement as her breath stirred the veil, and the way the pure white lilies and orange blossom trembled in her hands.

But her chin was high, and he felt her gaze on him.

She wanted this wedding and so did he.

Cesare let his expression ease into a smile of pure anticipation.

Soon he’d have exactly what he wanted.

Ida should be exhausted.

She’d barely slept the night before and today’s formalities had gone on for ever.

First, she’d had to run the gauntlet of her grandfather’s eagle-eyed inspection. He’d paid for her to be turned out in style and that gave him the right to bark orders at the coterie of dressers, make-up artists, hairstylists and even the poor florists who’d attended her.

It hadn’t occurred to Ida to suggest how she’d like to look on her wedding day. Or object that the flesh-coloured backing in her diaphanous gown made her look like a raunchy parody of the virginal bride her grandfather had intended.

You didn’t argue with Fausto Calogero.

Then there’d been the wedding in one of Rome’s most venerated churches, filled to standing with well-heeled, well-connected people she didn’t know.

Finally had come the reception. Hours of polite conversation, exquisite food that she’d been too keyed-up to eat and vintage wines she’d never heard of, but which had made her grandfather nod approvingly.

There’d been dancing till her feet ached and photographs till her face ached and stares from people who didn’t bother to conceal surprise or dismay that Cesare Brunetti had married her.

Yet Ida was too wired to think of sleep.

Because she was in the opulent prestige suite of Rome’s most famous and expensive private hotel. And her husband was in the next room. Waiting for her.

Ida shivered. Not with cold. And only with a little trepidation.

No, it was excitement that rushed through her like a scouring tide. Anticipation that made her skin tingle and her blood pump faster.

She looked in the mirror and saw the hard points of her nipples jutting against the midnight-blue silk of her new nightie. Her hands shook as she smoothed the whisper-thin fabric from her hips to her thighs.

The sensation was unfamiliar, and not simply because she’d never worn a sexy silk nightdress before. The brush of fabric under her palms made her think of his hands on her. Would they be slow and easy or urgent and needy? Her breath quickened, intensifying the unfamiliar, heavy feeling low in her body, like a throbbing ache.

Ida met her eyes in the mirror, and they told the same tale. They were wide and bright, almost feverish with anticipation.

Had she done right to take her hair down? It rippled around her shoulders and even that felt like a caress.

Would Cesare know, just by looking, how she felt?

She frowned and reached for the dark blue silk robe, slipping her arms into it and tying it at her waist. Now her puckered nipples weren’t so obvious.

Ida shook her head. What did it matter? As soon as Cesare took her to bed he’d realise how eager she was.

She hoped her inexperience wouldn’t mar their first night together. Cesare, scion of an ancient, aristocratic family, blessed with stunning good looks, money, magnetism and an aura of power, could have any woman he wanted. No doubt he’d had plenty, even if he kept his romantic conquests private.

It still astounded her that he wanted her.

She wasn’t naïve enough to think he loved her. They’d met because he and her grandfather had become business associates and, as he’d explained, he needed a wife.

But he’d chosen her. Ida Montrose.

Not one of the uber-sophisticated socialites who’d looked daggers at her during the reception. Not the glamorous princess who’d flown in for the wedding and looked as if she’d like to gobble Cesare up.

To Cesare Ida was convenient. But there was more to it. There was an affinity between them, and Ida knew they could build on that to make a success of this marriage.

She’d felt the powerful connection in the way he looked at her. In those rare, devastating smiles. The way he actually listened when she spoke.

There’d even been times, when her grandfather laid down the law about something, when Cesare had caught her eye and she’d felt their connection and shared understanding. She’d felt the impatience he was too well-bred to show, the riposte he was too polite to make.

Cesare…her husband…wasn’t cowed by her grandfather. That, above all else, gave her hope for the future and courage to go through with this. He’d chosen her as his bride because he wanted her.

As she wanted him.

Now he was hers.

She was nineteen and all her dormant female longings had rushed to the surface the moment she met him.

Life hadn’t given her opportunities to date or simply get to know many men. But she was ready to make up for that. Not because she was desperate for a man. That hadn’t been a priority. It was Cesare who made her want to explore the sensual delights she knew he’d share with her.

Ida looked down at the rings weighting her left hand. The gold wedding band and the engagement ring with its enormous square-cut diamond solitaire.

She’d work hard at this marriage. She could imagine the pair of them, years from now, easy in each other’s company but sharing those glowing, loving looks she still remembered seeing her parents share.

Thinking about that lit a tiny spark of hope deep inside where for so long she’d felt cold and unwanted. Orphaned at eight, she still missed her parents’ love.

Her chin firmed and she stood straighter. She slipped off her robe and put it neatly on a nearby chair. Then she breathed deeply and reached for the gilded door handle.

Cesare was in the luxurious sitting room. Not ensconced on a sofa, waiting for her, but on the phone, looking out over the rooftops of Rome.

The sound of his native Italian in that rich voice made her think of dark, molten chocolate and she licked her lips, wondering how he’d taste. That peck in the church had been too quick.

A quiver of arousal ran down her spine and she pressed suddenly clammy hands to her thighs.

Maybe she should have worn the robe after all. For he was still fully dressed, right down to the lovingly tailored formal black jacket that clung to his wide shoulders and tapering back.

She’d never seen Cesare in moulded-to-the-skin jeans or clinging polo shirts, yet she knew that beneath his urbane exterior was a virile man. He oozed masculinity just as he radiated confidence. Without the latter her grandfather would have steamrollered him as he did everyone else.

Ida’s gaze dropped to Cesare’s long legs, remembering the way his hard thighs had brushed hers when they danced at the reception. She’d seen heat shimmer in his gaze too.

She might be inexperienced, but she wasn’t totally naïve. It had been a look of sensual promise and she couldn’t wait for him to deliver.

Ida moved closer, bare feet silent on the thick carpet, enjoying the unaccustomed luxury of watching Cesare unobserved.

He swung around, eyes widening for a second, and satisfaction punched low in her abdomen. He’d sensed her approach. And he hadn’t been able to hide his response.

She breathed out, relieved, realising he liked what he saw. She’d aimed for sophisticated and sexy with this nightgown that skimmed rather than hugged her figure. Yet despite the fact it covered her from breastbone to knee, she’d never been so naked before anyone.

Cesare ended the call and pocketed his phone, then shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, surveying her with a stern look that made her smile falter on her lips.


Just that. Yet the way his voice deepened to a low, unfamiliar rumble tickled her senses. Surely that was a good sign?

But he made no move towards her. Nor did he make any move to undress. He hadn’t even undone his bow tie.

She swallowed. Was that something she should offer to do? Her fingertips tingled at the thought of touching him. The prospect of peeling back that snowy shirt to reveal his powerful chest jammed her breath in her lungs.

Gathering her courage, she walked closer, feeling the weight of his gaze with every step.

Did he like what he saw? She was suddenly conscious of how ordinary she was. Her curves weren’t bounteous, her height on the small side.

Mentally she shrugged off her doubts. She’d had a lifetime of her grandfather finding fault. She was determined to start her new life without that baggage.

The future was about her and Cesare. That trounced the flutter of nerves in her abdomen and she smiled.

She’d never been so happy.

She stopped before him, and Cesare felt winded. Her incandescent smile reminded him of the rising sun spilling its golden rays over his beloved Tuscan countryside.

Remarkably he felt it too, like a rush of flame igniting in his belly and shooting along his veins. Heat seared his lungs and groin as he looked into her upturned face.

Everything else vanished. The all-important plans that had to be implemented straight away if he was to achieve his goals. Thoughts of Calogero’s stranglehold on Cesare’s business, and by extension his life, ebbed from his brain as he basked in that dazzling smile and lost himself in Ida’s mesmerising pale green eyes.

She might be Calogero’s granddaughter, but she had the face of a Botticelli angel and the form of a young Venus. Rose-gold hair falling in waves around pale shoulders. A rosebud mouth. Slender curves and an aura almost of innocence that even now intrigued him.


That dragged him back to reality.

She couldn’t be anything like innocent. Not when she’d been a vital part of the old man’s scheme. She was the one who had joined the ancient and proud Brunetti family. As her grandfather’s heir and now as Cesare’s wife, she’d benefited from Calogero’s manipulative schemes.

Cesare spun on his heel and strode to the antique sideboard.

‘I’m having a drink. Do you want one?’

Silence for a second. Then an unexpectedly husky voice made his belly clamp tight. ‘Thank you. I’ll have what you’re having.’

Her voice was pure sexual invitation. That raspy whisper belonged to a lounge singer in some smoky bar, all decadent invitation and sultry innuendo.

Cesare swallowed, annoyed to find his pulse racing and his collar too tight. As if he’d never had a woman before. As if he were the nineteen-year-old and she twenty-seven.

As if he didn’t know about grasping women.

Or the dangers of letting lust conquer common sense.

Yet, to his amazement, Cesare was in half a mind to dispense with the preliminaries and take her now, hard and fast, right where she stood. Or maybe against the window with the lights of Rome at her back where anyone looking up from the piazza could see him debauching her.

The turbulent emotions he’d held in harness all day were close to detonation point.

That realisation steadied his hand as he poured them both a glass of Sangiovese. Cesare hadn’t come this far to bend at the first provocation. No matter how tempting.

He’d learned the dangers of losing control. If his dead father had done the same, the family wouldn’t be in this predicament.

He swung around, a glass in each hand, to find her still standing in the centre of the room. Did she know the overhead light turned her hair to glorious fire? Or that it revealed her pebbled nipples beneath that shimmering slip of nothing?

Undoubtedly. Ida was an expert at managing her appearance. Demure dresses in pastel shades before their wedding, emphasising her youth and apparent innocence. And today’s bridal dress, a mix of virgin and vamp designed to mess with his head.

Cesare passed her a glass, ignoring the frisson of sensation when their fingers touched. He raised his glass and took a sip, savouring the wine. Its familiarity steadied him. It was from the family vineyard, a reminder of things he’d once taken for granted that were under threat.

Not for much longer, if his plans succeeded.

‘Are you coming to bed soon?’

Her soft voice was pure temptation. She looked at him with big eyes and he wondered how often she’d used that look to get what she wanted.

But he, Cesare Brunetti, was not at her beck and call.

‘No. I have work to do.’

Her eyebrows wrinkled into a frown. To his annoyance that only made her look cute as well as sexy. He felt a growl of vexation build at the back of his throat.

‘But it’s our wedding night!’


He shouldn’t enjoy her look of dismay quite so much. But after the stresses of the past months, it was one tiny pleasure to give in, just a little, to his white-hot anger. She and her grandfather thought they could yank his chain and have him obey like a whipped dog. He’d had no choice about this marriage but, no matter what the temptation, he controlled his sex life.

Cesare took another sip of wine, savouring the rich flavour. That was one success at least. Even if the rest of his plans failed, today he’d secured the vineyard and the jobs of all the workers there. As for the rest of the Brunetti holdings—

‘And…don’t you want…?’

She shook her head as if too shy to speak plainly. The idea would have amused him if he weren’t fed up with pretence.

‘Don’t I want sex, do you mean?’

Cesare let his gaze travel deliberately down her slender body. He reached her bare feet with their pale pink painted toenails, then trailed his stare back to her face. Her cheeks were flushed and her neck blotchy with heat.

So, she wasn’t quite as poised as she appeared.

‘I like sex,’ he said slowly. ‘But I have my standards.’


She flinched and a few drops of wine spattered across the gleaming silk she wore.

Cesare thought of what lay beneath the fabric and paused.

Because he did want her.

He’d felt the tug of arousal the first day old man Calogero had led her in to meet him, looking like some wide-eyed innocent. He’d felt it again and again at every meeting. Never more so than today when she’d become his in the eyes of the world.

Some primal part of him wanted nothing more than to claim her physically, forgetting the debacle of the last six months as he lost himself inside her.

He resented that she made him so desperate. Which was why he would not, could not, give in to that need.

‘I don’t understand.’

He took in the uptilt of her jaw and the way her mouth flattened and registered that she still looked too delectable. What would it take to eradicate the weakness he felt around her?

‘Then let me make it absolutely clear.’

He paused, watching her breasts hitch with her indrawn breath, feeling an answering ache in his groin. In the past there’d been no need for sexual abstinence and Cesare had enjoyed his lovers, but a man had his pride.

‘I have no interest in bedding a woman like you. A protégé of that twisted criminal who’s damaged not just my family but plenty of innocents besides. I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last woman in Italy.’

Release date: 2022-10-19

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