The Millionaire's Deception

By: Wendy Byrne

Get a hold of yourself. Men like him weren’t attracted to women like her.

Francesca Antonia Ritacco was the lanky, frizzy-haired, braces-wearing geek who always smelled like spaghetti sauce. In fact, rather than call her Frankie like her parents did, the boys in high school called her Titi to remind her of what she didn’t have. Luckily in the intervening ten-plus years, she’d lost the braces, learned how to tame her thick, curly hair, filled out—more in some areas than others. She glanced at her chest and sighed. Life goes on, as her mother would say.

She cracked open a few eggs, whipped them to the right consistency, threw in some spices and tossed them into the pan with the simmering mushrooms and onion, and topped it off with some Parmesan cheese. Then she let the custard start to gel before inserting the cast-iron pan into the oven to brown the top. She threw some cut-up potatoes into a pan and allowed them to cook to crispiness before she made her way back to his booth, steaming plate in hand.

His dark hair fell slightly onto his forehead while he texted as she delivered his order. Being a server since she was old enough to carry a plate, she’d learned to be unobtrusive, and slid the food on the table before turning to make her escape.

When he grasped her arm and looked at her with his sultry brown eyes, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Being this skittish wasn’t her normal reaction, but today had been different from the minute he’d walked in the door.

“Is it always this empty here?”

She glanced at the clock. “I’m not expecting anyone until about three thirty or so.”

He held out his hand. “Rafe.”

Reluctantly, she grasped his hand. She didn’t get to finish her side of the introduction before Dustin walked inside.

“Hey, Titi. How’s it shaking?”

“Your name is Titi?” Rafe looked between her and Dustin and raised his eyebrows.

A shiver wormed its way through her as his gaze zeroed in on her breasts. “Nickname from long ago.” She turned her frustration toward Dustin. “What do you want?”

“Is that any way to greet a former fiancé?” He gave her a smooch on the cheek and winked. “Besides, I came to help.”

She rolled her eyes. Now she was really in trouble. Dustin loved to butt his nose into her business. And with a strange man paying attention to her it was like an open invitation. “Back room. Everything is set up by the desk.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He saluted and strolled toward the kitchen.

“I assume the engagement ended badly?” Rafe’s eyebrow quirked and an easy grin spread across his face.

This guy was trouble with a capital T. She could feel it, see it, smell it as it wafted around him like the lure of fresh bread coming out of the oven—eating one slice turned into six, and before she knew it she’d be three pounds heavier, but wouldn’t regret one minute of the indulgence.

She frowned. “You might say that. We were incompatible. He thought getting married meant he could still keep a girlfriend or two on the side.” The whole Dustin fiasco had been a blessing in disguise. “I wasn’t exactly seeing it that way.”

He laughed. “Looks to me like you dodged a bullet.”

“My mama didn’t think so. She thought every nice Italian girl should be married before she was thirty, and preferably a virgin.” She couldn’t help but chuckle. “She was hoping for some grandbabies before she died.”

“Your mom’s dead?” His gaze narrowed as he scrutinized her, a hint of pity in his eyes.

“She and my dad died in a car accident over two years ago.” She gulped down the perpetual lump in her throat as she walked away.

Why was she telling her life story to a perfect stranger? Would someone please enlighten her, or hit her over the head with something, or perhaps superglue her lips? Anything to help this incessant rambling brought about by one sizzling-hot male.

Rafe examined the interior of the small café. Not what he expected at all. The terra-cotta floor and the fresco painting on the walls, paired with the red plaid curtains on the windows, brought the feeling of Italy to small-town Iowa. From the dining area, the kitchen area was visible through a well-designed archway. Despite the drab exterior, the interior was warm and welcoming.

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