After a very public divorce from her billionaire Italian husband, Natalia Montalvo returns home to New York City to lick her wounds and try to put the pieces of her shattered heart back together. So why did she agree to attend a charity ball, especially when she knew her ex would be there? When he arrives with his newest love interest, she feels all the pieces she had managed to put together crumbling again.
Jared, owner of the largest, most prestigious architectural firm in the country, rubs elbows daily with the rich and powerful. He can’t stand them. After one too many altercations with a client, his head of public relations forces him to attend the annual charity ball, to schmooze and make nice with the people whom his business depends on. His mission is simple: smile, be friendly, and bid on a few high dollar items in the auction. Thirty minutes after arriving, he was already clenching his jaw and looking for a quick exit. On the balcony, he encounters Natalia Montalvo. He can’t ignore a woman in need, especially when that woman is his best friend’s sister. He devises a plan to save her pride, and in the process save his evening. But, can he convince her to give him more than one night?
Jared hated these functions. Two hundred rich, snobby people pretending to like one another. Behind the fake smiles lurked a vicious ruthlessness Jared despised. Admittedly, he was more ruthless than most, but at least he never pretended to be different. When he had a goal he went after it with a ferocity that both impressed and terrified his business rivals. As a result, he had one of the most successful architectural firms in the nation. Along the way he’d developed a reputation that his public relations team was trying to dispel. His attendance at tonight’s charity ball was an effort to do just that. Kate, his head of PR, had given him firm instructions to bid heavily on a few items during the auction, to smile and schmooze with the other guests, and ‘be his charming self’—whatever that meant.
After thirty minutes of being charming and, dare he say, nice, he’d had more than he could stomach. He needed to escape. A few breaths of fresh air and he might be able to last another twenty minutes. The balcony appeared deserted when he stepped out. He leaned with his back against the railing, trying to talk himself into going back inside, but he couldn’t.
This just wasn’t worth it—he had to get out of here. He’d find some way to make it up to Kate. He was about to leave when a movement at the end of the balcony caught his attention. A woman hidden in the darkness. He would not have noticed her had it not been for the slight breeze rustling her gown. White with threads of silver that shimmered in the moonlight. Her fingers touched her face to wipe at a tear. He should walk away, but something about her called out for him to stay. He took a few steps toward her. She stiffened slightly at his approach.
“Do you mind if I have a seat?” He pointed to the two chairs behind her, the only ones on the balcony.
“No, not at all,” she said with a smile.
He sucked in his breath when she turned to face him. He found himself looking at the most exquisite face he’d ever seen. Her smooth olive complexion and fine-boned features gave her an exotic beauty. Thick dark hair hung in long graceful waves down her back. What he noticed the most were her dark eyes full of life, but also of unspoken pain and sadness. It was then that he realized who she was. The beautiful Natalia Giambelli, as the tabloids called her. Her divorce from Ramon Giambelli last year had made international headlines. She was also his best friend’s sister, who had been living in Italy for the last ten years.
“Bored with the fake smiles. What’s your reason?” he said matter-of-factly.
Natalia wished the stranger would go away, despite the fact that he was tall and handsome, with wavy dark gold hair and broad shoulders that filled out his coat nicely. She just wasn’t interested in conversation with a handsome man tonight. With an inward sigh, she looked at him. “Excuse me?”
“I sought the solitude of the balcony to escape the two hundred fake smiles in the ballroom. I personally despise people who pretend to be something they are not. What’s your reason for being out here all alone?”
Natalia was amused at his description of the guests. He was absolutely right.
“I just needed some air. It was getting a bit stuffy.”
“Yeah, I also noticed the acrid smell permeate the air the moment Giambelli walked in.”
Her gaze snapped to his blue one. How should she answer that? The laughing twinkle in his eyes caused her to answer in her sarcastic manner, a habit she normally tried to restrain. “I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed. I always told dear Ramon he shouldn’t carry sardines in his pocket, but he never listened.”