Part #1 of Surrender series by Melody Anne
His throat closed up even thinking the word. He was twenty-eight years old and had conquered the universe or thought he had.
No! He had.
Then his picture perfect world had shattered with one single word.
He’d been respectable, always treating women with admiration. He hadn’t jumped into marriage at twenty-one, but dated the same woman for three years, cherished her, gave her everything. He thought he’d found perfection, but he was disillusioned.
Raffaello Palazzo sat straight up, his eyes narrowed.
No! He wasn’t this man.
He wouldn’t grovel.
He barely glanced up as Sharron walked past, her five-thousand dollar purse slung over her shoulder, flaunting the smirk on her face as she slammed the door in all its finality.
A few of her complaints against him were that he worked too much and didn’t give her the attention she thought she deserved. With the simple slamming of a door, she was gone.
He was grateful she was. When he’d walked in the week before, carrying roses, attempting to give her more attention, he’d seen that she wasn’t choosy about where her attention came from. She’d been in bed with his business partner.
Rafe’s eyes closed as he momentarily pictured that moment;
“Are you cutting out on us?”
“It’s my anniversary. My wife’s favorite flower is the Hawaiian Flora. I had them express delivered to the floral shop and I’m picking up her bouquet, then taking her on a surprise trip to Paris where we celebrated our honeymoon. ”
“You’re the most whipped man I know, Rafe,” his assistant, Mario, said with a smile.
“I’m half Italian. My father taught me how to cherish a woman,” Rafe replied, not offended in the least. He only hoped to have as strong of a marriage as his parents for just as long.
“When does Ryan get back? If you’re cutting out, I need one of the business partners here to get work done. ”
“He’s flying in on Friday. I spoke to him a few days ago and he met someone. We’re going to meet her next week. ”
“I can’t take anymore. Get out of here before all the love catches. I’ll see you Monday. ”
“Night, Mario. Thanks for all the hard work this week. ”
Rafe waved to his faithful assistant as he headed for the door. Life was great – his corporation was flourishing without help from his family, and his personal life couldn’t be better.
It didn’t take Rafe long to reach the florist and then arrive home. When he couldn’t find Sharron downstairs, he smiled in anticipation. Hopefully, she was stretched out on the bed in a sexy nighty.
When Rafe opened the door, he found her in bed scantily dressed, but she wasn’t alone. He froze as shock filled him.
“Oh, Ryan,” Sharron screamed, and Rafe’s illusions of happily ever after shattered.
Silently, he stood in the dim light as one of his two best friends screwed his wife. It had been Ryan, Shane and him since middle school, always sharing – always there for one another. Rafe guessed Ryan figured Rafe’s wife was included in what Rafe was willing to share. He was wrong.
Rafe cleared his throat as Sharron cried out again in pleasure. The two of them froze – locked in their torrid embrace – before their head’s turned and looked at him in horror.
Rafe walked from the room and waited downstairs. Ryan scurried from the house. Sharron ran after Rafe, begging for forgiveness.
Rafe shook off the unpleasant memory as he glanced around him. For a single moment, he’d been shattered. He’d sacrificed so much of himself to please her – give her what she wanted, but none of that was enough. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
Rafe walked up the steps and peered warily at his bedroom furnishings as he stood, looking around at where he’d slept beside her night after night. He left the room and made his way toward his luxury kitchen. No memories lingered there. It wasn’t like his wife had known the first thing about cooking.
He had a full staff, which was a good thing or his house would be in shambles and he’d never get fed. Sharron hadn’t been domestic in the least. He hadn’t cared – all he’d wanted was to have the same kind of family with her as he’d grown up with. Before this moment, he’d been under the sad allusion that marriages all had happy endings.
As cold silence hung around him like a shroud of darkness and Rafe was grateful he’d sent his staff away for the day. No one needed to witness his failure.
Failure. Page 2
He rolled the word around on his tongue. It didn’t sound right. How could it? Failure was a foreign concept to him. He’d been born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His mother liked to tease him, saying he was an old soul in a young body. She was the only one who could get away with a remark like that. He adored his mother. Well, to be fair, his sisters got away with it, too.
He had a feeling all his family members would be relieved to hear of the divorce, especially his mother, though she’d never admit it to him. She had tried to get close to his soon to be ex-wife, but Sharron hadn’t had any desire to know his family. Her attitude had gone unnoticed while the two of them were dating. Six months out of the year his family resided in Italy and the other six months in California.
Sharron had been great at making up excuses as to why she couldn’t visit with them. He hadn’t noticed her disdain or he never would’ve become so serious. He’d been raised to believe that family always came first. Soon, he’d stayed behind to please his wife. He’d done a lot of things to make the woman happy.
Apparently none of it had been enough.
With a last glance around the room, he lifted his cell phone. His dialed call was picked up on the other end of the line before it had a chance to ring twice.
“Sell the house. I want nothing in it,” Rafe spoke in clipped tones to his assistant.
“Yes, sir. ” There was no arguing. Mario had been an employee of his from the day he’d started his billion dollar corporation. The man was loyal, efficient, and trustworthy. Rafe couldn’t imagine how much harder his job would become without his favorite employee.
Rafe had learned everything from his dad, Martin Palazzo. His father had made millions in the stock market, then later in smart real-estate investments. Martin had met, Rosabella, Rafe’s mother while he was traveling for business in Italy. The two of them had been inseparable since, but Rosabella couldn’t stand to stay away from her homeland for more than six months at a time, which was why Rafe had spent half his childhood in Italy and half in the United States.
Because of his multicultural upbringing, he was much more prepared to take on the Global Business structure he’d adapted. He was a fierce businessman and loyal to the end for those he loved. After today, trust would be something he held much closer to his heart and only gave away with caution.
Rafe had decided from an early age that he needed to make his own way in life – not just have everything handed to him by his wealthy parents. He wasn’t stupid, though. He’d taken his father’s advice, even did business with him, but Rafe had dreamed big – and turning that dream into reality had taken him less than ten years.
When he walked into his twenty-five story office building in San Francisco, he felt pride. He created jobs for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world, gave them an income, made sure they went to bed each night with a full stomach and the security of more work to be done in the morning.
He gave so much – and unlike his soon to be ex-wife, his employees were grateful and thought he was equivalent to a king. Sharron had
Rafe was finished with women. Well, he thought with an arrogant smirk, finished with playing the good guy. It was his turn to take what he wanted. Never again would he be used – never again would he put his heart out there to be carelessly trampled upon.
Walking purposefully out his front door, he refused to even turn around to watch the final latching of the lock. When he was through with something, it was over, and as far as he was concerned, he was done with the house.
Placing his hand on the cool metal handle on the door of his sleek black Bentley, he heard the familiar click as the door released. As he climbed into the plush leather seat, he was oblivious to the fresh pungent smell of the smooth leather upholstery.
Quickly pulling out of the driveway, Rafe began heading the short distance toward the city of San Francisco where he had a condo a couple blocks from his office building. Luckily, Sharron had refused to stay in the city on the many late nights he’d worked, causing him to sleep there. The apartment was his – his alone.
If she’d so much as tainted the doorway of the roomy penthouse apartment, he’d sell it as well. He wanted no reminders of the woman to remain in his life. He wanted a fresh slate. The last eight years back is what he wanted most of all, but since that was impossible to achieve, he’d simply have to erase her completely from his life.
A few more phone calls and that would be done.
Three years later
“You’re too thin. ”
Arianna Harlow trembled as the man prowled around her, continuously circling her chair. She felt like a caged animal just waiting for him to strike. Why was she still sitting there? Why didn’t she say the job wasn’t for her, that it had all been a big mistake and she’d best be on her way?
She knew why. Reality flooded her mind – how she couldn’t afford to walk away, that was, if he offered her the job. She was barely staying afloat with her bills overflowing. Her mother was about to be removed from the rehabilitation home she was in, shipped to a lesser facility, and Ari didn’t even have a dollar left in her bank account.
She was truly afraid that if her mother was sent to the state care facility, she’d quickly wither away to nothing. Ari couldn’t let that happen – she wouldn’t.
Arianna had already dropped out of school her last semester, her life forever changed because of one brief moment in time, because of one horrendous mistake.
Those two words had haunted her thoughts for the past six months. She had several different endings to those words, but the dominant words were if only…
If only she hadn’t called her mom in panic that night.
If only she hadn’t gone to the party in the first place.
If only her mother had left a few minutes later.
“Are you listening to me?” Raffaello Palazzo’s voice rumbled through the air causing Ari to jump in her seat. She had to think for a moment about what he’d last said to her. Oh yeah, she was too thin.
“Yes, Mr. Palazzo. I just don’t know how to respond to that. ”
“Hmm. ” His voice came out as a hum, drifting across her nerve endings. Rafe was incredibly intimidating as he paced his office, towering over her at a few inches above six feet. Add to that, his jet black hair and stunning eyes and she felt like a rumpled factory worker, totally out of her element in his exquisite office.
As he made another pass around the room and neared her, Ari thought back over the last week of how strange the entire process had been. Never before had she jumped through such hoops during a job interview. She’d found the entire situation quite odd.
She’d applied for over a hundred jobs in the past month. Only three employers had called her back. One had been for a bank, the manager calling her a few days later, saying they’d given the position to another applicant. The second was for an insurance company, and they’d told her she didn’t have enough experience.
The third job… well, she didn’t really know how to describe what she’d been through. The ad had only said;
Looking for full-time applicant for Palazzo Incorporated. Must be willing to work seven days a week, long hours. Must not have any other commitments in your life, no family, second jobs, or school. Female applicants only. Salary 100k a year plus expenses. Hand delivered applications only.
Ari thought getting the job would be a long shot, but she had nothing to lose by applying. She’d immediately spruced up her resume, which to that point only included working two years in her local pizza parlor, then working almost four years as a part-time secretary at Stanford for the History Department.
With only one semester away from graduation, her life had changed forever because of the first foolish mistake she’d ever made. Why had she been so careless with only a few short months to go? Now that night would haunt her, be something she'd have to live with for the rest of her life.
With a leather notebook in hand, resume and application inside, she entered the large building and approached the security guard in the lobby who directed her to the secretary on the twenty-fifth floor. In she walked with what she hoped was confidence exuding from her every pore, and she handed over her polished resume.
“Thank you, Ms. Harlow. If you’ll have a seat, Mr. Kinsor will call you in shortly. ”
Ari had sat down amongst a sea of other women, all of them looking far more qualified for whatever office position the job was for. One by one the women had stepped into a room, the door shutting behind them. After about ten minutes they’d walk back out, their expressions confident as they eyed the remaining applicants. This business world was a shark fest and Ari didn’t know if she was up for the swim.
“Right here,” she called as she stood and ambled toward the small man wearing glasses and a gentle smile on his face.
“This way, please. ”
She followed him into the room where a blue screen was set against the wall. There was a table with a paper and pen sitting atop it and nothing more.
“Please have a seat. I’m going to take your picture. ”
Ari didn’t understand the need for a picture just yet. Possibly it was for an ID card or employee badge, but usually that was done after you were hired. Maybe they were running it through security to make sure she wasn’t a criminal. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to protest.
She took her seat and waited for the flash, knowing her smile wasn’t genuine, but her anticipation was so high it was impossible to offer anything bigger than a slight grimace.
“Please fill out this paper and make sure all contact information is correct. If you’ve passed to the second part of our screening process, we’ll call you in three to five days,” Mr. Kinsor said with the same gentle smile.
He didn’t ask her if she had any questions. He didn’t elaborate on the job. Normally, she would’ve just filled out the paperwork and kept silent, but her rising curiosity pushed her with an unknown bravery to ask about what the job position was actually for.
“Mr. Kinsor, the ad in the paper was vague. What exactly does this job entail?”
“If you make it to the next level, you’ll be given more information, Ms. Harlow. I’m sorry but Mr. Palazzo is a very private man and this position is… confidential,” he answered with a slight pause.
“I understand,” Ari said with a brittle smile, though she didn’t understand at all.
She scanned the solitary paper on the table and her confusion only worsened.
What are your hobbies?
Are you in a serious relationship? If not, when was the last one you were in?
Are you available to travel?
What kind of questions were these? She answered as best she could, finally reading a question that actually made sense:
What are your
The sentence caused her to genuinely smile. Before her mother’s car accident, before her life had changed so dramatically, she’d been an honor roll student at Stanford, working toward her Bachelor’s degree in History. She’d planned on getting her Master’s, then a Doctorate so she could be a University professor.
In her heart of hearts she still held out hope of resuming her life one day – accomplishing the goals she’d set for herself. Instant guilt filled her at the thought. Her mother would like to have her life back, too, but she never would. It was only fair that Ari made sacrifices. Ari had to atone for her sins.
Her mother had sacrificed her entire life so that Ari could have what she needed. She’d paid for a small private school for Ari, and then scrimped to save for her to go to the best college. Ari had earned scholarships, but her mother paid for her dorm, her food, even her beloved car.
Ari had never realized how much her mother had sacrificed of herself until the day her mom had been checked into the hospital, circumstances demanding Ari grow up quickly without having her mother to lean on. She was now responsible for her mom’s care – and Ari was failing at her new role in life.
Since the day of her mother’s car accident, their lives had been filled with utter trepidation.
Thankfully, the Palazzo Corporation had called her back and the second interview had been more odd than the first. She’d been put through a fitness regimen. They’d had her run on a treadmill for half an hour, timed her traipsing through an obstacle course, and then tested her endurance.
She’d run track all through high school, and continued her running at college, so the physical aspect wasn’t a problem, but with each step she took in the odd interview process, she felt rising concern about what she was applying for.
All they'd offered at the second interview was that it was a private position for the CEO of the corporation. Maybe she was expected to dodge bullets in other countries he was invading? She’d heard rumors that his businesses weren’t always welcome overseas – that some of the governments thought he was overstepping his bounds.
From the research she had done, the people normally welcomed him as he paid high wages, and offered excellent benefit packages. A lot of the time it seemed it was other businesses in the area he was building that wanted to keep him out as he monopolized whatever area he was pursuing. At least she knew if she got the job that she’d have security. People didn’t tend to quit when they worked for the Palazzo Corporation.
Surrender by Melody Anne / Romance & Love have rating 4.1 out of 5 / Based on45 votes