Sicilian business tycoon Carlo Messina is used to getting his way, so when his supposedly biddable fiancée leaves him standing at the altar he’s shocked…and furious.
Annette has spent her entire life trying to be worthy of her family’s love, but she’s never measured up. Her parents and two perfect sisters make up their own little family and she has no place in it, unless it’s as a modern day Cinderella. When she realizes her gorgeous billionaire fiancé expects her to change to fit his idea of family too, she does the only thing she can. She runs.
It’s five years later and Carlo and Annette are living in the same house in charge of their niece while their siblings recover from a terrible accident. The desire between these two passionate people has only grown during their time apart and inevitably, it explodes. Results? An unexpected pregnancy.
For Carlo there’s only one solution: the wedding that never took place. Can a marriage of convenience lead to the love Annette craves and her Sicilian billionaire doesn’t know he needs?
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Cinderella’s Jilted Billionaire Excerpt
by Lucy Monroe
© 2022 All Rights Reserved
For Jadesola James, a new friend, a fabulous author and someone who appreciates a good Cinderella story, but most importantly, loves a truly emotional romance. This story if for you and other authors and readers like you! Hugs!
Annette Hudson rushed around her tiny studio apartment, grabbing last minute items. She was late leaving for the airport, but she’d had a last-minute emergency at work.
Nothing new in that. Understaffed and underfunded, her nonprofit organization expected her to wear multiple hats on a daily basis. Getting the week off for her little sister’s wedding had been nearly impossible, but for once Annette had refused to back down about taking the time.
Joyce was getting married and Annette wasn’t going to miss it. Not only was Joyce the only family who still had anything to do with her, but Annette was one of Joyce’s bridesmaids. She had the dress to prove it.
That she would see the man she’d jilted at the altar five years before, had nothing to do with the discordant concerto playing along her nerve endings. No, of course it didn’t. He was just at the center of the biggest mistake of her life, costing her the family she’d dreamed of and the family she’d grown up with, not to mention the man she’d loved beyond reason.
Although the society pages showed him escorting a bevy of beautiful women to his mother’s charity galas, Carlo Messina was still single. He would play best man for the groom. In a cruel twist of fate, Annette’s baby sister had fallen for, and was marrying Carlo’s younger brother, Fantino Messina.
The similarities between the two couples were uncanny. Joyce was the same young twenty-two Annette had been when she’d left Carlo standing at the altar. Fantino was eerily the same age Carlo had been then as well, twenty-nine.
But there was no chance Joyce would take flight as Annette had done. Not only was she a far more self-assured twenty-two, confident in the love of her Sicilian tycoon, Joyce was also seven months pregnant. The plans had already been in place for the wedding of the century when Annette’s younger sister told their families the happy news.
Their mother had been livid, but everyone else, even Carlo’s conservative Sicilian relatives, had been delighted.
Annette was thrilled for her sister, if a little envious.
Joyce was building the very life that Annette had always dreamed of, and it was no one’s fault but her own that she hadn’t realized it first. Determined to show nothing but happiness for her sister, Annette rushed for the MAX line that would take her to the airport.
Several hours and a plane ride later, Annette dragged her suitcase out of the back of the taxi in front of an exclusive building in Manhattan. She might be willing to travel public transport in Portland, Oregon, but wasn’t as confident of doing so alone in New York City.
You could take the girl away from wealth and privilege, but you couldn’t stop the tapes playing in her head of all she’d been taught by parents who had a distinct us and them mentality when it came to the money haves and have nots. She didn’t want to be afraid to ride the subway alone, but she was.
Would she ever be wholly her own person, leaving her parents narrow view of the world behind completely?
She walked into the lobby of the apartment building and gave the doorman her name. Fantino had an apartment here and Annette was staying there for the week before the wedding. She could have stayed with her parents, but that would have been awkward when they hadn’t had a real conversation in five years.
Not since her father had all but forced her to leave New York, by offering a substantial gift to her organization if they transferred her to their office across country. She’d spent the last five years in exile, very pointedly not invited to family gatherings. Returning for a visit had been out of the question. Labeled an ungrateful daughter who had humiliated her family by standing her billionaire groom up at the altar, Annette had been shunned by everyone except Joyce since that fateful day.
Okay, so there could be a lot of reasons for the butterflies tap dancing in spiked cleats in her stomach right now, and Carlo Messina was only one of them.
The doorman requested her identification and then sent her up in the elevator to Fantino’s penthouse floor. The man himself was there to greet her when she knocked on his door.
Looking so much like his older brother, it hurt her to see him, his teeth flashed white in a warm smile. “Annette! Welcome! Joyce will be so glad you have made it.”
It was all Annette could do to summon a smile of acknowledgement to Fantino’s words. She should have it together. She’d been wholly on her own since leaving New York. Annette had stood up to drug dealers who were messing with the kids in her program. She’d stared down cops doing the same thing.
The prospect of seeing Carlo Messina again shouldn’t be so darn scary, much less her own parents.
Only it was.
She was shaking inside but hiding it, and that was the best she could hope for.
“Who is it?” Think of the devil and he will appear. Six feet, four inches of Sicilian male perfection, Carlo stood there looking amazing in a bespoke suit, his dark hair styled perfectly.
No pallor beneath his sun kissed skin to reveal nerves to rival hers. But then, he’d never actually loved her, and she’d never gotten over loving him. He hadn’t had the neatly trimmed facial hair six years ago. It gave him a sexy edge he didn’t need. The man was already sex on a stick with a side of dark chocolate sauce.
The look in his grey eyes when they landed on her was indifferent. So much worse than anger. It indicated that while she hadn’t been able to move on, he had.
“Oh, I see,” he said dismissively. “Joyce is in the living room,” Carlo turned to walk away.
Say something, she instructed herself, but Annette couldn’t get a single word past the obstruction in her throat.
“Don’t mind him. He’s had enough girlfriends since you broke up, he can’t claim he’s been pining for you,” Fantino said airily, leading her into the swank, modern living room of the penthouse.
If that was supposed to make her feel better, it had failed spectacularly.
“Annette!” Her sister’s shout reached her ears only a second before the lithe brunette pulled her into a breath stealing hug.
Joyce was the only member of their family who called her by her full name, Annette. The rest of the family and extended family called her Netta, as if trying to erase the existence of her deceased birth mother, Anne.
“Isn’t that sweet?” a smooth, feminine voice asked. Annette couldn’t see the woman speaking through the crowd of well-wishers attending the prewedding party. “Only I thought Cinderella’s family had disowned her.”
Joyce let go of Annette and spun around. “The past is the past. My sister is one of my dearest friends and nothing will change that.” It was like she was warning everyone in the room.
Annette knew Joyce had fought family pressure to maintain their relationship. Though the younger woman had said nothing, it must have been a battle royal when she insisted on inviting Annette to the wedding. Making her a bridesmaid would have been even worse in their parents’ opinion.
Warmth and gratitude surged through Annette.
“Naturally not,” Valentina Messina said smoothly as she arrived beside them, looking just as put together and lovely as Annette remembered the woman who had been meant to be her mother-in-law. “Family is family.”
“Hello, Signora Messina,” Annette said in a huskier tone than usual, but it was taking all she had to form words.
This was so much harder than she thought it would be.
The gorgeous woman now clinging to Carlo’s arm like a limpet only made things worse.
Annette had never been a liar, so she’d never lied to herself and claimed to be over the man. She doubted she ever would be.
“It is Valentina, as I am sure you remember,” the elegant older woman instructed. “So, you did not marry my eldest son.” She waved negligently with her elegant hand. “Life has its little turns. However, your sister will be marrying my younger son and that is all that matters now.”
Annette just nodded, all the time her focus inexorably drawn to the beautiful brooding man she had so foolishly walked away from five years ago.
“Thank you for the card and flowers when Alceu was in the hospital. The food baskets and coffee deliveries from my favorite barista were lovely,” Valentina went on. “It was a kindness.”
“I…it was the least I could do.”
“What a kind thing to say, but under the circumstances untrue.” She meant because Annette had no longer been a de facto member of the family. “His accident was such a worrisome time for us all and your thoughtfulness was very much appreciated.” Valentina gave her husband a significant look. “I warned him for years to stop driving like he wanted to enter Le Mans. But would he listen?”
The weeks after her failed wedding were some of the hardest of Annette’s life, made infinitely worse when Alceu, a man she’d come to love like a father, was in the car accident and was taken to hospital. She could do nothing but watch from the sidelines, hoping he would recover.
The look on Carlo’s face and her own parents’ expressions said Valentina might be the only person who thought the way she did.
Though she’d had nothing to do with the accident, hadn’t even been in the same country it happened in, they definitely blamed Annette. For all of it.
When Annette hadn’t shown up at the church, the media had a hey day with their awful headlines and salacious innuendo laden articles and it only got worse after Alceu’s accident. There had been speculation that, humiliated by his son being stood up at the altar and the subsequent media frenzy, Alceu had done it on purpose.
Cinderella Jilts Billionaire had morphed to Even Billions of Dollars Can’t Get Cinderella to the Altar.
The whole Cinderella angle was her older sister’s fault, not that anyone in her family would admit it. Lynette’s friends used to make fun of Annette because more often than not, her mother would find fault with something about her appearance, or behavior at a social function they were hosting, and send Annette to the kitchen to help the cook or the serving staff.
She’d say if Annette couldn’t handle her responsibilities as a daughter of the host, she might as well make some use of herself. Lynette’s friends had dubbed her Cinderella and that’s how that whole group referred to her on social media. Lynette had been the one to give an interview after the failed wedding to a gossip rag journalist about Annette, sharing the nickname and what a supposed failure Annette had been as a socialite.
Lynnette hadn’t mentioned Annette’s adopted status either, but then that would have sparked ire from their parents and Lynette was too smart for that. Only she hadn’t been smart enough to realize that her words could be twisted, and they had been. Her family and Carlo had been raked over the coals by the press. They’d said that despite his billions, he was no Prince Charming.
Which was not true. He’d been her prince, she’d just been too insecure to realize it, much less fight for what they could have had.
Regardless of her lack of foresight, Lynnette had come out of the debacle smelling like a rose. As per usual. Completely ignoring her role in it, everyone had acted like it was Annette’s fault the family had drawn censure for making her into a modern-day Cinderella.
It had taken two years of therapy for Annette to realize she had not been at fault. Yes, she’d jilted Carlo at the altar, and she could have handled that differently, but the media frenzy that ensued had not been on her. No matter what her family thought.
“Enough talking of the past, it is time to toast the happy couple,” Alceu Messina announced with authority that would never leave him, no matter that he was officially retired now.
He’d worked hard coming back from his accident, and if she didn’t know he’d spent six months in a hospital bed recovering from terrible damage to his body, she would never suspect it.
One toast followed another and soon the room was filled with laughing, chatting partygoers. If some gave Annette the side-eye, she ignored it. She was here for Joyce and that was what mattered.
Just as he had for the past six years, Carlo did a great job of ignoring Annette’s existence. With his date always there, touching him and flirting with the Sicilian tycoon, Annette was happy to return to the favor and kept her focus on Joyce, Fantino, and their friends that didn’t seem interested in rehashing six years ago.
The rest of the week was more of the same. Annette spent the rehearsal doing her best to avoid looking at either Carlo, or her parents. It helped she was just a bridesmaid and not maid of honor. That position had been filled by their oldest sister, Lynette.
Annette didn’t mind in the least. While she wasn’t exactly an introvert, she really didn’t like being the center of attention among this crowd, and Lynette’s role meant she was the one giving the formal toast to the happy couple at the reception.
Annette didn’t mind a bit when the youth she served focused on her. She was comfortable leading workshops for them, but that was different.
Carlo brought yet another beautiful companion to the rehearsal dinner, much to Lynette’s obvious chagrin. Apparently, her older sister expected Carlo, as best man, to be her escort and complained to both sets of parents loudly enough to be overheard.
Annette would have found it all laugh worthy if she wasn’t fighting her own jealousy over the date’s presence. After five years, she should be more inured to such feelings, regardless of her feelings for the man.
After all, she had been strong enough to walk away when she realized it wasn’t working. Which wasn’t the show of strength she wanted to believe it was, because she doubted that decision almost every day, wishing she’d tried to at least talk to him again, wishing above everything she’d handled the cancelled wedding better.
Texting her parents and asking them to alert everyone else had been a colossal mistake.
Because of course they hadn’t. They’d let everyone think she’d skipped town without a word to them. Why Carlo had shown up at the church when she’d told him to his face it was over, she didn’t understand to this day.
The wedding was beautiful. Joyce’s Regency inspired gown had not been designed to hide her pregnancy and she glowed with joy from the moment she entered the church.
Annette could see not a single sign of wedding jitters.
The reception was held in one of the old grand hotel ballrooms, so exactly the way that Joyce had always said she wanted things to be, Annette couldn’t help smiling. Though she was operating on her last reserves after a week of being her family’s pariah and the recipient of censure from Carlo’s extended family and friends.
His parents were wonderful, and of course so was his younger brother.
Carlo simply ignored her and that hurt most of all.
Done with it all, Annette had tucked herself into a corner of the ballroom away from everyone, just waiting for the bride and groom to leave so she could too.
“I cannot believe you were selfish enough to come to Joyce’s wedding, Netta.” Lynette’s spiteful voice invaded Annette’s solitude.
Sighing, Annette looked up. Lynette was glaring down at her. Nothing new there.
“Don’t you have things you need to be doing as the matron of honor?” she asked.
“Can you believe our sister wanted to make you maid of honor?” Lynette asked derisively, as if the distinction between maid and matron was a negative one.
Annette didn’t see it. Yes, Lynette had married since Annette left New York, but she had also divorced. That made them both single, if not technically maids.
Unlike Annette, Lynette had a busy social calendar though. She’d never landed the catch she really wanted to, however. Carlo Messina showed no more interest in Annette’s older sister than he ever had. Despite being best man and Lynette being the matron of honor, Carlo had managed to finagle a change in the dance partner line up and Annette’s sister had been stuck dancing with a cousin while Carlo had escorted his grandmother around the floor.
It had been the highlight of an otherwise miserable few hours for Annette, seeing her grasping older sister thwarted.
“I believe you owe me this dance,” Carlo’s voice startled both women.
Lynette turned, her expression going form sour to sweet in a heartbeat. “Do I?” she asked throatily.
But Carlo was looking at Annette, his hand extended to her.
Without really thinking of what she was doing, she reached out and took it.
He pulled her from her chair, the cornflower blue chiffon of her bridesmaid dress floating around her legs. The three-inch heels of her delicate silver strappy sandals bringing her petite height to average.
Lynette said, “Netta? By why would you want to dance with her?”
Carlo ignored the remark and pulled Annette toward the dance floor.
“What did Lynette ever do to you?” Annette asked as Carlo pulled her into his arms for a slow dance.
He looked at her like she had to be kidding. “She leaked that you broke things off. She’s the one that got the whole media storm going in the first place, doing that tabloid interview.”
“No one else blamed her.”
“In her jealousy, she made an already difficult situation worse.”
“My parents believe she was just trying to get ahead of the story, to protect the family, but it backfired.”
“Your parents wear blinders where that one is concerned.”
Annette agreed, but didn’t realize anyone else saw the truth.
“So, you’re mad she did the interview? But I’m the one that didn’t show up at the church.” Why had she said that? Why bring up her own culpability?
Because therapy had only increased Annette’s need to live honestly. She’d hated the subterfuge and subtle untruths that permeated her childhood hiding her adopted status like it was something to be ashamed of.
“I am aware.” With that, Carlo pulled her in close, making talking difficult.
Unless she wanted to speak into his shirtfront. Annette didn’t complain. Her body was responding as it always did to his nearness and it was all she could to not to melt into him. She inhaled his delicious masculine scent, knowing this was probably the last time she would ever do so. She had no idea why he’d asked her to dance after avoiding her all week, especially if, as it seemed, he didn’t want to talk.
He still wore the cologne she’d picked out for him while they were dating. She wondered why. Did he like it that much? He had to overlook his antipathy toward the first person to have bought it for him every time he put it on. Or had he simply forgotten it was her?
What a demoralizing thought.
Soon any thought of cologne or gifts floated right out of her head as controlling her libido became her overriding concern. Desire bloomed deep in her belly and spread throughout her body so that everywhere they touched zinged with the electric current of need.
One song bled into another and rather than let her go, Carlo simply pulled her that much closer. Close enough that she could tell the dancing was having the same effect on him as it did on her.
“You want me,” she whispered in shock.
He chuckled darkly, like laughing at himself. “We often want what is not good for us.”
“We should…” she made a feeble attempt to step back.
He held her firmly. “Continue dancing, I agree.”
He separated their bodies only when the music had shifted to something with a faster beat. Annette looked around them and realized he’d maneuvered them away from the crowded dance floor, toward the back of cavernous ballroom.
“We must have looked ridiculous dancing back here by ourselves.” Not that Annette really cared about things like that.
“I doubt anyone even noticed.”
Catching the glare of both her sister Lynette, and their mother, Annette had to disagree. Even Joyce was looking at them, but she was giving Annette the thumbs up and grinning.
Going on the principle that if she couldn’t see them, her mom and oldest sister couldn’t ruin the moment, Annette smiled back at Joyce and then turned so the only person she could see was Carlo.
“Why did you dance with me?” she asked baldly.
“Because I want you.”
She stared. How was she supposed to respond to that? With honesty. She wasn’t a naïve virgin, neither was he. “I want you too.”
He passed her a black and gold keycard. “I have a suite here. Meet me there after Fantino and Joyce have had their sendoff.”
Annette took the keycard automatically, but then immediately regretted doing so and tried to shove it back at him. “No. I can’t. What about your girlfriend?”
“I do not have a girlfriend. I had a date.”
“I sent her home in a car.”
“Won’t she be angry?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps, perhaps not. She got entrée to the event and the chance to make the connections she wanted.”
“You’re saying she only dated you for the access you could provide her? I don’t believe that.”
“The sex was a bonus,” he said cynically.
Annette winced. It hurt to hear that cynicism in his voice, but it hurt even more to think about him having sex with another woman.
“You don’t like the idea of me in bed with her.”
“No.” Again, honesty was her only fallback. Not a naïve virgin, but a possessive ex. She’d like to sink through the floor as she acknowledged that maybe honesty was not always the best policy.
“Then, you be that woman tonight.”
“You’re not some playboy who has a different bed partner every night.”
“You sound very sure about that.”
“It’s not who you are.”
“It has been five years. You don’t know who I am.”
“You could be right.” She would have turned to leave, but something in his expression arrested her. “You want to make love with me, tonight.”
“I want sex with you, sì.”
Annette really didn’t care what terminology they used. If they joined their bodies, emotion would be involved. Whether he acknowledged that emotion, or not, didn’t mean it wouldn’t be there.
The question was, could she live with all the emotion being on her side?
She’d spent five years unable to get over him. Maybe having sex with him without any commitments or even the tenuous tie of dating would give her what she needed to move on.
They said that if what you were doing wasn’t working, then you should change it. Being deprived of his company for five years hadn’t given her the ability to let him go, but maybe this would.
Besides, Annette’s body was already at nuclear meltdown levels, just from dancing with him. She’d been celibate so long, she hadn’t bothered to have her IUD replaced when the time had come to remove it. Her body craved what her heart told her only he could give her.
By tomorrow morning, maybe both of those things would have shifted.
Determined to see through the sensual promise in his expression, she nodded to herself. “All right.”
His gorgeous eyes flared infinitesimally, like she’d surprised him.
Annette tucked the keycard away in a hidden pocket in her dress and headed back into the ballroom.
Carlo watched Annette walk away from him, her honey blonde hair coming down from its formal updo, her beautiful curvy body moving enticingly in her blue dress, and wondered if he’d just made the biggest mistake of his life.
He’d known since sending Cynthia home that he was going to do it.
Annette had made it easy, but even if she hadn’t, Carlo knew he would have pursued her with everything in his arsenal. Because he wanted what his brother had. A wife who wanted children with him. A wife who wanted to raise those children herself and not leave it up to others.
Someone unlike his own mother. As much as Carlo loved her, he wanted a mother for his children who would make time in her life for them.
And he wasn’t going to find that until he’d worked Annette Hudson out of his system. Five years. It had been five years since she had jilted him, made him the butt of every kind of joke.
And in those years, Carlo had had sex with exactly two other women, one time each. On both occasions he’d been left feeling hollow and unsatisfied, regardless of the physical climax they’d both achieved. He could not forget the way it felt to make love to Annette.
He still dreamt about the woman who had as good as thrown his ring back in his face.
After the debacle, she’d sent the custom-made diamond and sapphire engagement ring back via her father. Carlo still had it stored in his wall safe. Maybe he could get rid of it after he finally got her out of his system.
Because he wasn’t just being pedantic, he intended to have sex with her tonight, not make love. And in so doing, exercise the demons that would not let him go.
The rest of the reception was a blur for Annette. She couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to happen after. She’d meant to return to her spot out of the way, but Joyce had called Annette over, insisting she take Lynette’s empty matron of honor seat.
“Lynette isn’t going to be happy if she comes back and finds me here.”
“I don’t understand why she resents you so much,” Joyce said with a familiar younger sister eyeroll. “You always did everything she didn’t want to, making her life easier.”
And been made into a meme because of it.
“Mom was lucky you were so accommodating. Lynette never would have been,” Joyce said warmly.
She called Annette Cinderella with affection, finding it a great joke. She would never understand how much all the publicity that had circulated around Annette getting that moniker had hurt. Joyce had been a sunny dispositioned teen when it had happened and Annette wasn’t about to go into old hurts now.
“I saw you with Carlo.”
“I know.” Annette shook her head. “Don’t go getting romantic ideas. That man despises me.”
“It sure didn’t look like he hated you when you were dancing.”
It hadn’t felt like it either, but Annette knew something Joyce didn’t seem to want to realize. When the sex happened, it wasn’t going to be because Carlo wanted to start again with Annette.
They’d always been sexually compatible. Combustible more like.
The sex had been amazing, and Annette thought Carlo just wanted some more of it. Five years ago, she’d mistaken amazing sex for love, but she wouldn’t make that mistake again.
She was looking for closure.
If her heart accused her of lying to herself, Annette ignored that too savvy inner voice.
She had a keycard to his room, and she intended to use it.