The Bride Tamer

By: Ann Major

One




Florence, Italy

“Cut them off! Then he’ll suffer!”

Cash’s hand froze on the auditorium door that led to the parking lot and helipad outside when he heard the screams to emasculate him.

Roger, his personal assistant, peered at the swelling crowd from a nearby window and said far too cheerily, “More and more people are streaming into the plaza. Lucky for you, these are modern times and they aren’t wearing swords in scabbards. So, I think it’s safe enough for you to run for it—”

“What’s the matter with them? They’ve had months to get used to my design,” Cash said.

Cash McRay wasn’t a coward. But the roar of five thousand angry Florentines on the other side of the door threatening to cut off precious parts of his body made his blood run cold. His tall angular body felt like an immovable weight as he hesitated. His large, size-twelve feet rooted themselves to the floor.

The death threats grew louder. Hell, maybe he should have played it safe. He’d known the design of the ultra-modern museum was over the top, but had he held back? Hell, no.

“How ironic that the good citizens of Florence want me dead at the precise moment I’d begun to think I might feel like living again someday,” he said wryly. Unable to block the memory that had haunted so many of his nightmares, he saw his beloved Susana and little Sophie, lying so still and beyond his reach in their coffins.

Roger placed a hand on Cash’s broad back and shoved him forward. “Relax. All the cannibals want is you…on a platter.”

Cash whirled, and Roger flashed him the winning smile that had gotten him his job a year ago. Only tonight the kid’s snowy white smile made Cash grit his teeth and ball his hands into fists.

“You talk too much,” Cash growled. “And you smile too much. It’s dangerous. Did anybody ever tell you, you should be a model for a toothpaste ad?”

“Yeah—you! All the time. And it’s getting old.”

“I’d rather grin goofily for a living than have my testicles served as shish kebab.”

“This is good. Finally, a joke from you.”

“Life goes on,” Cash muttered, determined to believe it.

“Especially since you bumped into Isabela Escobar in Mexico City,” Roger said, showing too many teeth again. “Office gossip has it you are going to propose.”

“Why do I have to be cursed with the nosiest staff in the world?”

“There have been a lot of perfumed letters.”

Cash seethed inwardly. Whether he intended to marry her or not was nobody’s business. Aloud he said, “I can’t propose to her or anybody else unless you get me out of Florence alive.”

Roger threw the door open and pushed him hard. “Run for it, loverboy! I’m right behind you!”

Lowering his head and ducking behind his leather briefcase, Cash dove through the throng that was being held in check behind velvet ropes by beefy security men.

It was early April, and the night air chilled him. The parking lot was jammed. The helipad platform was a hundred yards off to the right. Policemen formed a human barricade all the way to the chain-link fence surrounding it.

When strange hands and arms groped angrily at his legs, he sprinted for the ladder to the helipad, where the black rotors of a jet helicopter chopped a violet sky. Deftly he dodged the microphones that were thrust at his tanned, aristocratic, much-photographed face.

“How could you build such a futuristic monstrosity in a city noted for its architectural beauty and history?” a woman yelled.

“Egotist! Deconstructivist! Modernist! Postmodernist!”

A man with oily black hair rushed him. Fortunately, two guards grabbed the ingrate by the shoulders. “Florence glories in its past,” he yelled. “Your museum looks like a crab squatting on a giant toilet!”

Roger smiled and shouted glib answers in his horrendous Italian to the red-faced fellow.

“Did your billionaire daddy bribe the city officials to pick your insane design?” someone else yelled at Cash.

“Avant-garde, please,” Roger corrected, his toothy grin as bright as ever.

Stung by the reference to his father, Cash hesitated on the third rung of the ladder and turned just as a rock bounced off his left shoulder.

“No comment!” Roger yelled from a few feet behind him as a hand yanked one of his expensive Italian shoes off. “Climb, Cash, before the natives down here strip me naked! I’m right behind you.” More fabric ripped. “Ouch! Let go of my trousers! Hey! The bastard almost got me. Climb! You’re not the only one they want to barbecue.”

Chain links chimed as a dozen men fought their way over the makeshift fencing. Before the rabble-rousers could reach the ladder, Cash and Roger were in the helicopter. Dozens of flashes went off in their faces. Then the heavy door slammed as the police pulled the climbers off the platform.

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