Page 33 of Ruined Kingdom

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The jeweler, something Preston, I can’t remember his first name, prattles on about nonsensical things. He’s nosy, looking around at everything as if taking inventory. Making a spreadsheet of my net worth. My mind is on Vittoria upstairs. Vittoria naked in the tub. She doesn’t shrink away like I expected her to. She also has a smart mouth. I’ll teach her to put it to better use. I do worry that I find her more than a little attractive, but I tell myself that finding a gorgeous woman attractive is human. Even if her last name is Russo.

“There she is,” he says as Vittoria descends the final step into the hallway. “The beautiful bride-to-be.”

She looks my way and gives me a glare. I wink as she turns the corner and shifts her attention to the jeweler.

“Ah.” I wrap a hand around the back of her neck and pull her to me, planting a kiss on her mouth. Surprised, she pushes against my chest, and when I release her, she gasps for breath. “My fiancée is lovely. And so sweet.” I remind her before introducing her to the jeweler. “Vittoria, this is Mr. Preston. He was kind enough to do a rush job on this.”

“Well, when Mr. Caballero called to tell me of his intention, I had no choice. One must help true love along whenever possible, after all.”

“I’m sure the size of the diamond I’m buying didn’t hurt,” I say.

Preston is flummoxed.

“Don’t be gauche, darling,” Vittoria says with a look on her face that makes me think she’s just had a bite of bad fish. She turns to smile at Preston. “He doesn’t need to be here for this part, does he?” She tries to slip out of my grasp.

I tighten my hold on her neck. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Let’s get started then,” Preston says, clearing his throat. He moves to his briefcase, which he’d set on the antique dining table. I’m sure he’s salivating to finalize this sale.

Vittoria and I follow, and he opens it to display an array of sizers, several diamond rings of different cuts and carats with varying bands as well as a few earrings and necklaces just in case, I guess. He’s carrying a fortune, but he’s also accompanied by two armed guards.

“Oh, my goodness,” Vittoria says, laying one elegant hand delicately on her throat. She’s used to this crap. I’m sure Daddy bought her whatever her spoiled little heart desired. “Are you letting me choose, darling?” she asks me, turning wide eyes that shine like sapphires to me and blinking coquettishly.

I squeeze her neck. “I only want the best for you, my little Dandelion.” I release her and kiss the tip of her tiny, upturned nose for the benefit of Mr. Preston, who will have word on the street before we can blink.

If she’s surprised by the kiss, she recovers quickly.

“Well, I know a thing or two about diamonds,” she says.

“I’m sure you do,” I mutter.

She ignores me and turns her full attention to the briefcase while holding her left hand out to Preston as he sizes her finger.

“And I never think a diamond should be alone, do you, Mr. Preston?” she asks the man.

It takes all I have to refrain from rolling my eyes.

“I wholeheartedly agree, dear girl. This one is a princess cut with accompanying diamonds. Ladies-in-waiting, shall we say?”

The two of them giggle at his stupid joke as he slips the diamond onto her finger.

“I think the platinum band. What do you think, Ms. Russo?”

“I love platinum.”

He continues to rattle off details, and I step back to watch Vittoria Russo prove just how much of a princess she is.

“My fiancé is surprising me with a gown for the evening. I don’t even know the color, if you’ll believe it! It’s all happened so fast.” She turns to me and holds out her hand. She chose the most expensive ring in the case, of course. “Darling, I’ll need something to adorn my décolletage and of course my ears. I don’t want Mr. Preston to think me spoiled, though.” Her smile is so wide and her white teeth so bright, it’s almost blinding, and I realize this may have been a mistake.

“Oh, you’re not spoiled, dear girl,” Mr. Preston reassures her. “You are a beautiful, young thing. You should be adorned.” He turns to me for the next part, voice all business. “And this may be the time to add that our shop offers our customers the option to make a donation to a charity to promote the education of underprivileged children all over the world. In a way, it balances the scales of the haves and the have-nots.”

Vittoria lays her left hand with its glaring diamond over her heart. “That is just so wonderful. I’m sure Amadeo will want to make a generous donation. Isn’t that right, darling?” she asks me with a slight edge to her tone.

“For underprivileged children, of course,” I say. “I’m all for leveling the scales.”

Her smile falters at that.

“Let’s get your décolletage and those pretty ears of yours adorned.” I tug on her earlobe. “I can’t wait to see those diamonds and just the diamonds on you later,” I add, leaning toward her cheek so it looks like I’m kissing her. “Really, cannot wait.”

She presses a hand to my chest, and the fun she was having at my expense is gone.

My cell phone buzzes. I take it from my pocket to check the screen and swipe to answer.

“Mr. Preston, my fiancée will finalize things. Send me the bill and double the amount of the jewelry for the donation to the children’s charity. I need to take this call.”

“Yes, sir, thank you, Mr. Caballero. You’re very generous indeed.”

I walk away to take the call. Catching a glimpse of Vittoria’s face just before I turn the corner, I see the expression of the woman from the night before. The worried one. The serious one. I’m pretty sure her intent was to bleed as much money from me as possible with her little game. But considering much of that money will go to a children’s charity, she’ll succeed, but she’ll also lose.

Tags: Natasha Knight Romance