Sneak Peek of Marrying the Frenemy

I had a lot of fun writing this! 

It's features the four Bernardi brothers and their old-school Italian grandfather who decides to impose his wish that all four of his single grandsons get married as a condition of recieving their substantial inheritances after his death.

I'm two scenes away from being done with the first couple's story, so the first of what will eventually be four interconnected stories should be releasing in the next few weeks. In the meantime, here's the first chapter!

Chapter One: Angelo

The first thought that takes over after my grandfather's lawyer finishes reading Nonno's will is what Olivia will have to say when I tell her about its contents. I imagine how her dark eyes will widen. I imagine the sound of her laughter when she tells me that this is the price I pay for being a Bernardi.

I wonder if she'll punch me in the arm while she's laughing, and I imagine playfully punching her back because when we're sparring is the only time I allow myself to touch her.

Then I remember that I'm forbidden from telling Olivia about the will. I'm forbidden from telling anyone.

To my left, my younger brother Luca swears under his breath and slides his expensive wingtips irritably across the lawyer's Persian rug. To my right, my older brother Stephano betrays no reaction, although I'm sure it takes all of the steely determination at his disposal to keep his face as impassive as one of the presidents on Mount Rushmore.

Our youngest brother, Mario, the black sheep of the family, hasn't bothered to show up for the reading of the will at all, although he did at least have the decency to show up for the funeral. To my surprise, he was the only one of us to shed tears at the graveside.

"Nonno must have lost his mind," Luca says to no one in particular as we file out of the lawyer's luxurious office.

"Nonno didn't change his will because he'd gone senile," Stephano says as he presses the brass button for the elevator down. "I'm sure he believed he was acting out of principle."

If any of us brothers resemble our grandfather, it's Stephano, personality-wise. That's why Stephano is running the family business and has no life outside of work. The oldest Bernardi brother is all principle and zero emotion. Or at least that’s how he prefers to present himself.

Our late mother wanted something different for us boys, and with the exception of Stephano, she managed to raise sons that didn't much take after the patriarch of the Bernardi family. I think our collective ambivalence toward the Bernardi family name may be why Stephano tries so hard, although he'd never admit it.

"How is Nonno forcing us all to marry in haste in order to inherit ‘acting on principle?’" I say after looking around to make sure there's no one in the lobby as we pass through it.

"I suppose he expected we'd all be married by now," Luca says.

I refrain from pointing out that the changes to the will were made mere months ago. No, that wasn't wishful thinking on Nonno's part. When he amended that will, he knew all the Bernardi boys were confirmed bachelors. Stephano's pushing forty, and the rest of us are staring at the back of thirty.

"Well, Nonno put it all in writing," I say. "So, he must have been serious about it. His lawyer certainly intends to follow Nonno’s intent to the letter."

"Well, Nonno did give us a whole six weeks to get engaged and tie the knot, so we have plenty of time," Luca says bitterly. "It's ridiculous. What woman in her right mind is going to marry me in six weeks?"

"There’s plenty who’d marry you for the money you’ve got coming to you,” Stephano says.

“Not interested in gold-diggers,” Luca shoots back.

Luca is already rich enough to attract the gold-digging types even without the family fortune, not that you’d know it by the house he lives in.

“Well, then find a woman who’s already rich,” I tell him. “An older one who’ll marry you for your—youth and beauty."

“Speak for yourself,” Luca says. “You’re the one who’s always had a thing for older women.”

It’s actually only one older woman who I’ve always had a thing for, and she’s not that much older. When I was twenty-two and Olivia was thirty, it seemed like a chasm, but now that a decade has passed, it doesn’t seem like such a big gap anymore, at least to me.

But then, I don’t think it’s ever entered Olivia’s mind to think of me as anything other than a junior colleague who’s turned into a friend—even if we do argue constantly—so maybe our age difference would be a big deal to her.

If I ever made a move on her.

Which I won’t because of Darrell, that boyfriend of hers.

I should say manfriend. There’s nothing boyish about Darrell. Did I mention that he’s bald? And short? And has a bad back? None of which I would mention if he were good to Olivia. I know looks aren’t everything.

My point is that Darrell is a complete zero who doesn’t appreciate the intelligent and talented Olivia, who keeps him around for reasons I’ve never been able to figure out. Every time I see Darrell, which is way too often, I end up wanting to take a swing at him.

“What do you bet Mario is the only one who pulls off getting married and inherits it all,” I say to keep my thoughts off Olivia. “Mario won’t have to worry about attracting any gold-diggers either, seeing how he likes to pretend he’s not even a Bernardi.”

We’re out on the street now, and Stephano stands squinting in the sun as if dazed.

“What do you think?” I dig him in the ribs. “Do you think any of us will pull it off?”

“I will,” Stephano says as if there was never any question of him coming up with a bride on short notice.

“And Angelo might as well go ahead and marry Olivia,” Luca says to Stephano before coming around to look me in the eye. “You know you’re going to end up with Olivia eventually, anyway.”

I wish.

Olivia. I can picture her in a long white dress that skims over her body and a veil partly obscuring that silky, chestnut brown hair that smells of jasmine. Once, when Olivia was between boyfriends, I got up the courage to tuck one of those strands of dark hair behind her ear. I don’t think she even noticed.

Then my fantasy of Olivia in a white dress derails because now, in my mind’s eye, I realize she’s standing at the altar next to Darrell Dunner, who doesn’t even realize how beautiful she is in all that satin and lace because Mr. Dunner, M. B. A.—and yes, he introduced himself to me using his credentials—is craning his neck around to see if any bigwigs showed up at the wedding.

My heart twists a little at the mental picture.

“Olivia’s with Darrell-the-dweeb,” I say. “Besides, lately, everything I do annoys her.”

Olivia and I have always debated anything and everything, even back when I was her graduate assistant, but lately, there’s been an edge to our arguments. I’m at a loss to know why.

“At least you just annoy Olivia. At least Olivia doesn’t hate you,” says Luca. “She doesn’t shoot daggers with her eyes at you the way Daisy looks at me. You don’t know what it’s like to be hated until you’ve lived next door to Daisy Romano for the past thirty years.”

“You could just move,” Stephano points out.

“Too much trouble,” says Luca.

“You could just propose to Daisy,” Stephano says. “That might just do the trick. Doesn’t Daisy supposedly hate you because you’re a Bernardi, and Nonno supposedly cheated her grandfather out of his shoe store or something? Wouldn’t becoming heiress to the Bernardi family fortune right that ancient wrong?”

Luca shudders and contorts his lower lip like the very idea of marrying Daisy Romano gives him the creeps, but I know better. There’s a reason why Luca’s kept that shoddy little house we grew up in. That was all our single mother—who refused to touch Bernardi money—could afford at the time, but now Luca’s a big-shot lawyer and could buy a condo on the river. Probably, a whole block of them.

The thing is, our shabby little childhood home is next door to Daisy’s equally rundown childhood home, and Daisy’s stuck there taking care of her grandmother. Until Grandma Romano passes on, Daisy won’t move away. Grandma Romano is still going strong, despite the dementia, so it looks like Luca’s going to stay put for a while.

All these years, my brother has been head-over-heels for the girl next door, although he’d never admit it.

“Fine, Stephano,” I say, “since you’ve got brides picked out for Luca and me, who are you going to get down on one knee and propose to?”

Stephano doesn’t answer, but when I look over at him, he’s got this yearning smile on his face.

Stephano doesn’t yearn.

He rarely smiles at all unless good manners demand it, and then it’s more a mechanical exposure of teeth than a genuine grin. Something is definitely up with Stephano.

“Stephano Bernardi has a woman?” Luca pounces. “I didn’t think you had time to start a relationship, much less keep one going. If I had to guess, the only female you see on a daily basis is that assistant of yours.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Stephano says. “And I assure you, my relationship with Miss Morrison is entirely professional.”

Then he turns the color of a boiled lobster, and I know. My brother has the hots for his assistant. Kaley Morrison may not be the woman Stephano has in mind to help him satisfy the ridiculous condition attached to our inheriting the Bernardi family fortune, but she could be that woman if she wanted to be. 

End of Chapter One



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