Conquer Your Love(Surrender Your Love 02)

By: J.C. Reed

Chapter 2





TINY GRAVEL STONES crunched beneath the tires as the taxi came to a halt around the corner and parked neatly in the vast driveway of the Lucazzone estate. I paid the driver and exited the car, barely paying attention as he helped with the luggage. He took off down the unpaved private terrain that seemed to be the only way to reach the Lucazzone mansion, unless you didn’t mind a rocky boat ride across the lake on the other side of the estate. Both were secluded areas.

I knew I shouldn’t gawk and yet I couldn’t help myself. From up front, the magnificent building stretching three stories into the sky looked like a miniature of a Venetian palace, stuck in the middle of the countryside. The grand three-opening loggia with pillars and dovecotes on the roof was reminiscent of the fortress-like villas of the early 1500s, but it had a personal flair to it: a beauty that transcended place and time. A warmth that instantly made me feel at home, and at the same time a soft shiver ran down my spine because I realized that one day everything would be mine.

“It’s so beautiful.” Arms stretched out, I resisted the urge to spin in a slow circle. Instead, I inhaled the fragrant air. It wasn’t just beautiful—it was haunting, mesmerizing. So silent I could hear the chirping birds and the soft wind rustling the leaves. Sylvie didn’t answer. I shot her a sideway glance and caught the drawn brows. I didn’t dwell on it because old houses and nature weren’t exactly Sylvie’s thing. A margarita and a nightclub were more her locale.

“Let’s ring the bell,” I said, grabbing her arm and pulling her up the stairs to the front door.

“Shouldn’t the lawyer be expecting us?” Sylvie asked.

“He’s probably inside and didn’t hear the taxi. It’s a huge house.”

Sylvie mumbled something that resembled a ‘maybe.’ I paid her no attention as I pressed the bell. A moment later the door opened and Clarkson’s tall figure blocked the view inside.

“Miss Stewart.” He reached out his hand, and the lined skin beneath his eyes crinkled as though he was genuinely pleased to see me. I shook his hand briefly, then moved aside to introduce Sylvie.

“You’re the lady who wouldn’t open the envelope,” Clarkson said good-humoredly.

“You’re the gentleman who wouldn’t stop pestering me about it,” Sylvie returned. I laughed because they both nailed it. I had been in Italy when Clarkson first called to inform me that I was about to inherit the Lucazzone estate. Naturally, he didn’t disclose that information to Sylvie, but his secretary had sent a form letter, which Sylvie was too scared to open.

“It’s lovely to finally make your acquaintance,” Clarkson said. I could tell he was smitten with her by the way his eyes seemed to linger on her, taking in every detail of her designer-clad body. He seemed like a nice guy—genuine, well-mannered and, judging from the lack of a wedding ring or tan line on his finger, definitely not married. He was too old for her though, at least twenty years her senior, and that gave me peace because I wouldn’t want my best friend to date my lawyer.

“Thanks for inviting us,” I said, drawing his attention back to me. A flicker of disappointment appeared in his eyes and disappeared just as quickly.

“It was Mr. Lucazzone’s wish to meet his heir before—” He dies, I mentally filled in the blank. Clarkson cleared his throat. “Anyway, he’s still in hospital and cannot be with us for another day or two, until his tests are performed. But he’s instructed me to show you to your rooms and make your stay a pleasant one.”

Clarkson helped with the luggage as we followed him down the hall and up the stairs, past several closed doors into what looked like a large drawing room. He tried to maintain a light conversation, asking about our flight and drive over. I let Sylvie handle it as I took in the house.

Outside I had described it as beautiful, but the word did it no justice. It was magnificent and huge with cream marble floors, expensive paintings adorning the walls, and a huge staircase leading to the second and third floor balustrades. Suiting the Mediterranean style, several vases with flowers were set up in the corners, brightening up the minimalist look. It was my style: no clutter, everything neat and orderly, just the way I liked my life.

“This is the west wing. It’s all yours. You’ll find all rooms have a spectacular view of both the lake and the mountains behind,” Clarkson said, keeping up the small talk. “I’ll let you settle in. We can go over the financial reports in the next few days.”

“Sounds perfect.”

He nodded and his eyes twinkled again. I figured many people would have felt at least a pang of jealousy for my unexpected windfall, but not Clarkson. He seemed genuinely pleased for me.

“Absolutely,” he said. “All members of the staff will gather later this afternoon to introduce themselves. They come and go as they’re needed so you’ll have the house all to yourself until Mr. Lucazzone’s back. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to call. I’m staying in Bellagio, which is a stone’s throw away.”

“Thank you for everything,” I said, meaning every word.

“My pleasure,” he said, opening the first door. “I hope the ladies will have a pleasant stay.” His look swept from me to Sylvie and lingered there a bit too long as he handed me what looked like a leather pouch with a silver ring dangling from it, which I assumed were the keys to the house. I nodded a ‘thanks’ and Clarkson reached out his hand to shake mine. And then he was gone and the house was silent. For a few seconds I felt disoriented—surreal. We were in Italy. Alone. In a huge house that would soon belong to me.

“You still have time to run,” Sylvie whispered. I smiled at her weak attempt at humor to ease my nerves.

“I think I’ll stay.” I smiled and pointed at the open door. “Now, have your pick before I change my mind.”



***



“What do you think?” I asked Sylvie as soon as we had unpacked our suitcases and opened the balcony doors to let in the fragrant air of the nearby woods. We were sitting on the expensive lounge chairs, soaking up the warm rays of sun as we stared onto the lake. The sun caught in the sparkling water and reflected in a million facets. I sighed with pleasure as I relaxed into the soft pillows, figuring the only thing missing was a big hat, orange lemonade, and an umbrella straw.

She hesitated. “I like it. You’ll be fine. Big old house, plenty of silence and a lake to swim. Let’s hope you have internet, so we can stay in touch when I’m back in New York.”

Her eyes were closed and her face a perfect mask of indifference, but I didn’t fail to catch the slight bitter tone in her voice. She didn’t want to lose her best friend, which was understandable given that we had known each other for so long. I felt uneasy at the thought of not seeing her every day, but I wanted to give this new development in my life a chance. It wasn’t going to be forever; just for a while—until the Jett episode blew over and I managed to get a job I liked—far away from him and his world. How could I make this clear to her?

“It’s not the city life we’re used to but I agree it’ll be a nice change for a while.” Emphasis on while. “You could stay with me. Explore the country. Do all the things people do. You’ve got to admit it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Her head inclined to the side. “We could learn Italian. Maybe attend a cooking course. Get married. Have four kids. And talk about diapers and skin rashes the entire day.”

I groaned, ignoring the sudden urge to roll my eyes. As usual, she was being sarcastic at the outlook of not visiting a club every night. She wasn’t a country girl. She loved the fumes, the stress, the constant mental activity, and lack of sleep. Me? Not so much. If I wanted her to stay with me, I needed a different tactic.

“I’ve heard Italian guys are hot.”

Now I had her attention. Sylvie’s eyes snapped open and her lips curled into a smile. “You’re back on the game? I wouldn’t mind one of those charming, sultry, suave Latinos who can set the room on fire with a single sway of his hips. Imagine the passion, the drama, the intensity.” She threw her head back and took a deep breath, fanning herself with her manicured fingers.

I knew I might be letting the she-wolf out of the cage with my casual remark, and yet I honestly didn’t expect so much enthusiasm coming from her. In Sylvie’s world there was only success, sex, parties, and variety—and any combination of those. No doubt Lake Como could provide any of those but was I really keen on it?

Sensing my hesitation, Sylvie pulled a face, misinterpreting my silence. “No club? What about a bar? I don’t even mind a bit of walking or a long drive, as long as there’s any sort of music and alcohol.” She pouted.

Lie, Stewart.

If I lied and said there were no bars or clubs, Sylvie would leave me hanging within the week. I just knew it. If I told her about Bellagio’s nightlife, I doubted we’d get to see any sights, other than the bottom of a tequila shot.

“To get to a club we’d need to cross the lake, walk up the hill, and then take a taxi to the city,” I said slowly. It wasn’t the shortest way but certainly not a lie.

Sylvie jumped up and regarded me with a smug smile that told me I had just lost the battle.

“Or we could go the way we came. I don’t mind the extra miles.” She pulled a card from her back pocket and waved it in the air, inches from my face.

“What the hell is that?” I tried to grab it out of her hand but she pulled it away and stepped back, pressing it against her chest like a piece of treasure.

“Our very own personal taxi service. I figured it wouldn’t hurt asking the driver whether he offered private trips. Turns out he does. How cool is that?” Her eyes sparkled again and I knew I had, indeed, lost the battle.

“Isn’t that expensive?”

She shrugged. “So?”

The girl came from a rich background; she grew up as part of the upper class society. Of course she had no objections to throwing money out the window—unlike me.

“Come on, chica. My treat.” She rolled her eyes. “Not that you need it.”

I sighed. Just because I’d inherit an estate didn’t mean it came with a bank account set up for nights out.

“Brooke.” Her blue eyes bore into mine and she pouted again. “Let’s go out. Only tonight. You know me. I can’t be this.” She smirked and pointed around her at the stunning house and the setting, like it was a bad thing. “I honestly don’t mind a long drive or a huge taxi bill. Any small club is better than no club. Please.”

Puppy eyes again. My hesitation faltered because, first, I knew a lost cause when I saw one. And second, come to think of it, a bit of fun wasn’t such a bad idea. I was single—I cringed inwardly at the thought—and in one of Europe’s most famous vacation spots. I had sworn off alcohol for good but I could at least dance the night away.

“We’ll be back by midnight?” I asked.

“Sure.” Sylvie shrugged and averted her gaze, which was a dead giveaway that she was lying. In that moment, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pry her away from the clubs with a crowbar—unless the bouncers threw us out.

With a strange sense of dread gathering in the pit of my stomach, I watched Sylvie pull out her cell and dial the number on the card. A moment later she had agreed on a time and hung up.

We hadn’t even fully unpacked our bags yet, and she had already secured a trip to a local nightclub. Talk about priorities!

I followed her inside as she began to rummage through her suitcase, and I sat down on the bed, watching the mess she was about to unleash upon her room. Soon her clothes were scattered all over the floor and bed. Judging from the half full suitcase, there was more to come.

Back home Sylvie insisted we pack everything we might need, which in Sylvie’s dictionary was the equivalent to cramming everything from her overflowing closet to the contents of her bathroom cabinets into the oversized suitcase she wanted to take with her. Needless to say, we had paid the price for extra baggage at customs. But at least she knew how to dress. I stared open-mouthed at one designer dress after another, some barely resembling a dress at all. More like pieces of sheer fabric that left nothing to the imagination.

“You need to get laid,” Sylvie said as she pulled out two short dresses and compared them. “And pronto. Jett might have been hot, but newer is always better.”

Where the hell did that come from?

“I never said I wanted to get laid,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Of course you didn’t.” She smirked and tossed one dress aside, then picked up another. “But I know you want to. Or at least that’s the way to go if you want to rid your heart of him once and for all.”

I slumped against the pillows as I regarded the dress in her hands. She was right about that. In her own way. Ever since I came back from my trip with Jett, she seemed to have recovered from her own heartache. If I wanted to move on, all I had to do was be like her. Forget the world. And just have fun, even if that meant dating lots of men within a very short time. She wasn’t cheap. She didn’t sleep with most of them—she just liked soaking up the attention and then moving on to the next.

She winked. “Whatever you do in Italy, stays in Italy. I promise my lips are sealed.”

Oh, Lord.

She tossed the first dress to me. I caught it in mid-air. “Try this.”

I held up the strapless dress and eyed it suspiciously. The black material felt soft in my hands, almost weightless. It was so tight and thin, I had no doubt people would see my underwear—particularly under the neon lights of a club. Definitely not the kind of dress I had in my wardrobe.

Under normal circumstances I’d have objected to wearing something that daring, but today was different. I wanted to be someone else, preferably someone that wouldn’t remind me of my old boring self.

What do you want to prove, Stewart?

Ignoring my rational mind, I shrugged out of my jeans and casual shirt. Sylvie dangled a pair of black pumps in front of my face.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to walk in them,” I said, slipping into the shoes nevertheless. The heels were so high I almost toppled over and had to hold on to the dresser for support.

“You can’t say no to Jimmy Choo. It’d be a sin. Plus, you look hot. If I were a guy I’d totally do you.” Her dead serious expression told me she wasn’t kidding.

I inspected myself in the large mirror. This was a dress I’d never wear back home, but we weren’t back home. No one knew me here. Besides, Sylvie was right, I looked hot. The dress hugged my body in all the right places, emphasizing my curves, of which I had always been ashamed until college when I realized men liked them. The heels made my legs appear thinner and sky-high. Maybe not as long as a model’s, but I could certainly see the benefit in wearing them.

“Told you,” Sylvie said, grinning. “Now, let’s rock this town.”

Biting my lip, I nodded and averted my gaze. How could I tell her that Bellagio wasn’t exactly a town? More like a village. I was yet to find out just how tiny it actually was.

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