In her designer suits she's Jaqueline Patterson, editor of Gloss! magazine. Yet the moment Jackie arrives in Italy for her sister's wedding, and sees her old boyfriend, Romano Puccini, her groomed facade disappears.
The Puccini family's spectacular palazzo is an idyllically romantic setting! But before she can join in the frenzy of last-minute wedding preparations, and don her exquisite bridesmaid dress, Jackie must brave Romano's heart-stopping effect on her and unburden the seventeen-year-old secret from that fateful, sultry Italian summer...
The Bridesmaid's Secret is book four in the Brides of Bella Rosa series:
THE BRIDES OF BELLA ROSA
Romance, rivalry and a family reunited.
Lisa Firenze and Luca Casali:
for years their sibling rivalry has disturbed the quiet, sleepy Italian town of Monta Correnti, and their two feuding restaurants have divided the market square.
Now, as the keys to the restaurants are handed down to Lisa and Luca's children, will history repeat itself?
Can the next generation undo its parents' mistakes, reunite the families and ultimately join the two restaurants?
Or are there more secrets to be revealed...?
The doors to the restaurants are open, so take your sears and look out for secrets, scandal and surprises on the menu!
No one else must see the contents of this letter, Scarlett! Give it only to Romano.
Her older sister's words echoed through her head as Scarlett ran through the woods on the outskirts of Monta Coretti, her long dark hair trailing behind her. Jackie would be cross if she knew Scarlett had peeked at the sheets of the scrawled, tear-stained writing, but one corner of the envelope flap had been a little loose and it had been too tempting.
Before she went to the piazza to find Romano and give it to him, she had to show Isabella, her cousin and partner in crime. This was way too big a secret to keep to herself. Although she and Isabella were both the same age, Isabella was the eldest in her family and always seemed to know what to do, how to take charge when anyone needed her.
It was totally different in Scarlett's family. She was the youngest of the three sisters. The one who was always left out of important discussions because she 'wouldn't understand'. She was fed up with it. Just because Jackie was four years older she thought it was okay to boss Scarlett around and make her do her errands, which just wasn't fair. So just this once Scarlett was going to do things her way, to make it fair.
There were too many hushed voices and whispered insults in her family already, and no one would tell her why.
She was heading for a small clearing with a stream running through it at the bottom of the hill. No one else knew about this spot. It was her and Isabella's secret. They would come here to talk girl-type stuff, when Isabella could get away from looking after her nosey little brothers. They would build camps out of branches and leaves, and make up secret codes and write in their diaries—which they always let each other read. Sometimes they would whisper about Romano Puccini, the best-looking boy in the whole of Monta Coretti.
That was another thing that wasn't fair!
Just as Scarlett had decided she was old enough to notice boys and develop her first crush, Jackie had got in there first—as always. Jackie had been seeing Romano for weeks and weeks! Behind Mamma's back as well. Just wait until Isabella found out!
Scarlett's breaths were coming in light gasps now and the small sigh she let out was hardly noticeable. So Romano only had eyes for bossy old Jackie! Scarlett hated her for it. At least she did when she remembered to.
A flash of pink sundress through the trees told Scarlett that Isabella was in the clearing already. They'd whispered their plans to meet earlier, in the piazza outside their parents' restaurants.
As Scarlett burst into the clearing, Isabella looked up. Her raised eyebrows said it all. What are you in a flap about this time, Scarlett?
Scarlett just slowed to a walk and held the letter out to Isabella, her arm rigid.
Isabella shrugged as she took the envelope and pulled three sheets of paper out of it. But she wasn't sitting and shrugging and rolling her eyes at Scarlett for long. Once she'd read the first page she was on her feet and joining in the flapping.
After all the exclamations, they stood and stared at each other, guilty smiles on their lips.
'Oh, my goodness!' Isabella finally whispered. 'Jackie and Romano! Really?'
This was the reaction Scarlett had been hoping for. She nodded. She'd hardly believed it herself when she'd read all that mushy stuff Jackie had written to Romano! Okay, some of it hadn't exactly made sense, but she'd got the general gist. She nodded to Isabella to keep reading.
Isabella didn't need much encouragement. She quietened down and carried on, stopping every now and then to ask Scarlett to decipher her sister's handwriting.
When she'd finished she looked up. This time there were no guilty smiles. There was no flapping. The look on Isabella's face wiped away the giddiness Scarlett had been experiencing and the spinning feeling moved swiftly south to her stomach.
'What are you going to do?' Isabella asked.
Scarlett frowned. 'Give the letter to Romano, of course.'
Isabella shook her head. 'You can't do that. You need to show this to Aunt Lisa!'
A noise of disbelief forced its way out of Scarlett's lips. 'Do you know what Mamma will do if she finds out? Jackie will be in so much trouble!'
Isabella looked at the sheets of paper between her fingers, now looking less than pristine and just a little crumpled. 'It's too big a secret.' The letter made a crinkling noise as she tightened her grip.
Scarlett suddenly had a nasty feeling about this. Isabella wouldn't, would she? She wouldn't take the letter to Mamma herself? But then she saw the glint of determination in her cousin's eyes and knew that Isabella just might take the matter into her own hands.
If that happened, not only would Jackie suffer their mother's wrath, but she would be in big trouble herself. Jackie had a temper every bit as fiery as Mamma's. Scarlett snatched for the letter.
Isabella was fast, though, too used to dealing with a pair of rambunctious younger brothers to be caught off guard, and Scarlett only managed to get a grip on one bit of paper. They pulled at either end of the sheet. Isabella was shouting that Scarlett needed to let go, because she wasn't going to tell. Just as the words were starting to make sense to Scarlett, as the page was on the verge of ripping in two, Isabella released it. The sheets of pink writing paper and matching envelope flew into the air.
Both girls froze and watched them flutter slowly towards the ground.
Just before it landed in the dirt, one wayward sheet decided to catch its freedom on a gust of air. It started to lift, to twirl, to spin. Suddenly Scarlett was moving, jumping, reaching, trying to snatch it back, but it always seemed to dance out of her fingers just as she was about to get a hold of it.
Now Isabella had finished collecting up the rest of the paper, she was trying to get it too. The wind heaved a sigh and the piece of paper fluttered tantalisingly close. Scarlett jumped for it. Her fingers closed around it.
But then Isabella collided with her and she found herself crashing onto the damp earth of the stream bank. She hit the ground hard and every last bit of air evacuated from her lungs, and she momentarily lost the ability to control her muscles. The page saw its chance and eased itself out of her hand and into the waiting stream.
Isabella started to cry, but all Scarlett could do was watch it float away, the ink turning the paper a watery blue, before it disappeared beneath the surface.
She pulled herself up and brushed the dirt off her front. 'Stop it!' she yelled at Isabella, who was sobbing. And before she could dampen the rest of the pages with her silly crying, Scarlett pulled them from Isabella's fist and tried to smooth them out.
'Page three is missing! Page three!' She glanced back towards the stream, her face alive with panic.
Oh, why couldn't it have been page two, with all the love-struck gushing and rambling? Romano would never have noticed. But it had been page three—the one with the really big secret.
'What are we going to do?' Isabella said quietly, dragging a hand over her eyes to dry her tears. More threatened to fall, but she sniffed them away.
Scarlett shook her head. 'I don't know.'
The icy fear that had been solidifying her limbs suddenly melted into something much warmer, much hotter.
This was all Jackie's fault! Why couldn't she have taken the letter to Romano herself? Why had she involved her baby sister in the first place? Didn't she know that was a stupid thing to do? According to everyone else, Scarlett couldn't be trusted with anything!
She turned to Isabella, her mouth pulled thin. 'We can't give the letter to Romano like this.' Jackie would just have to do her own dirty work and talk to him herself. 'And Jackie will kill me if I tell her what I did. There's only one thing we can do.'
Isabella started to sniff again, mumbling something about it all being her fault, but Scarlett wasn't listening; she was staring at the gurgling waters of the stream.
Slowly, she walked back to the very edge of the bank. Between thumb and forefinger, she lifted another page high and then, in a very deliberate motion of her fingers, let it go. Another page followed, then the envelope. It seemed an almost solemn procedure, as if she was scattering dirt on a coffin. Thick, funereal silence hovered in the air around them as they held their breath and watched Jackie's secret float downstream.
No one must see the contents of this letter, Scarlett.
Now no one ever would.
Copyright © 2010 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. Copyright © 2010 Fiona Harper
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