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Devoured (Melody Anne’s Billionaire Universe)
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Scarred and disillusioned by his ex-wife’s betrayal, gorgeous and powerful billionaire Luca Valencia has become even more ruthless in the corporate arena and unapologetically heartless when discarding women who mistakenly think they’re the ones to change him.
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“And then we lived happily ever after,” Rafe drawled mockingly in conclusion, having shared how he had eventually won back his woman’s trust. “Or at least we will tomorrow, assuming I get out of this bachelor’s party alive.” The famously handsome CEO of Palazzo Enterprises surveyed his surroundings with lips thinned in annoyance. Although Rafe appreciated his best friend’s efforts at organizing tonight’s gathering, if he had to be honest, there was nothing he wanted more than to spend the evening with his fiancée.
“Too late for regrets, Palazzo,” Luca said wryly. “Now that you’re here, you know Shane won’t let you leave until everyone’s smashed.”
Rafe grimaced. “True.”
Luca raised his glass. “To your fortune, amico.”
Knowing that his friend was not referring to his material possessions, Rafe raised his glass in return, murmuring quietly, “I wish you the same luck, amico.”
After downing his third shot, he put the glass back down on the table and leaned back against his seat, silently contemplating the story his friend had shared with him. He had gotten to know Rafaello Palazzo years ago through a mutual acquaintance: they had the same divorce lawyer, and afterwards they also found out that they had filed for the same grounds.
Even now, the word left a despicable taste in Luca’s mouth. He had grown up in an extremely conservative Italian family, with a strict but loving father who had done his very best to raise his only child to know right from wrong. Even though his father had passed away in his late teens, by then Luca’s character had been fully developed, and with his mother’s gentle, soft-spoken guidance, he had grown up to be honorable and hardworking, a man without any pretensions of himself and with no desire to sow his wild oats.
Unlike many of his peers, Luca had looked forward to starting his family young, and at that time, he could not imagine himself loving or marrying anyone else than his childhood friend Maria. They had grown up together, gone to school together, and he had been her first lover – as she had been his.
It had not mattered to Luca that she was the daughter of one of the countless servants employed at the Tuscan winery that his family owned or that she had only finished high school before leaving the countryside to work as a secretary in town. It had not mattered to Luca that her manners had been rather coarse, which then he had considered more charmingly refreshing than anything else, or that she occasionally showed wild bursts of temper. At least she was being honest with him, Luca had thought then. It was better than those women in college who had constantly thrown themselves at him and pretended to be the kind of girl they thought he would like.
For Luca, everything about Maria was perfect because he had been in love.
And so he had married her, even knowing of his family’s tacit disapproval of her. It was not that his mother and their relatives had been snobs. Rather, they had simply cautioned him about not knowing Maria well enough to make her his bride.
Their concerns then had sounded ludicrous to him, and Luca’s lips twisted at the memory. How foolish he had been, he thought with self-contempt, to believe that knowing another person was a matter of years.
He had grown up with Maria, his brash twenty-five-year-old self had rationalized. So of course he knew her inside and out.
The first few months of their wedding had been bliss, and with hindsight, he realized it was Maria doing the same thing he despised other women for, which was to pretend to be someone she was not. The only difference was that where others had failed, Maria had managed to succeed, and he had considered himself the luckiest of all men. He had loved her so much that by the time Maria began to exhibit gradual but significant changes in her behavior, Luca had tried damnably hard to accept all of them.
First were the demands. She had wanted to spend more and more of his money and had thrown tantrums and threatened to leave him when he had forbidden her to do so. It was not that he couldn’t afford her expenses. He could. But it was the sheer frivolity of her purchases that were anathema to him. It went completely against how his parents had raised him.
Then there were the late night outs, the way she had attended one party after another, dancing the hours away until the driver would be forced to take her home, drunk and incoherent. Luca had found Maria’s behavior increasingly disturbing, but because he loved her, he tried hard to understand her wild ways. Because he had been raised to honor his wife and stay with her through thick and thin, he had forced himself to swallow his anger and told himself that in time, Maria would grow weary of the party scene. In time, she would realize that she would be happiest when she was with him.