Title: Black Skies Riviera
Author: Catherine Wiltcher
Genre: Mafia Romance
Release Date: July 28, 2020
They call
this place the Billionaires’ Playground.
I, Aiden
Knight, staked my claim the minute I arrived.
I crossed
every line.
I painted
their Rococo ceilings with blood. 
Now my
casino is the hottest church in town,
And vice is
the only confession required.
My house.
My rules.
Until the
past comes calling with an offer I can’t refuse:
One week to seduce and break her.
All this
for the name of the man who killed my father.
Issa Dubov
is the queen of cloudy diamonds:
She’s a
hard truth concealed beneath a pall of lies.
I’m an
Armani black suit of spades:
to bury both her and my demons.
I never
asked to see the shape of her heart.
I never
asked for her to fill the blank spaces of
But the
mafia wants her secrets. 
I wasn’t
the first she betrayed.
And Issa?
Sweet, not-so-innocent Issa?
She’s gone
and left me with a debt no sinner can pay.
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Have you ever noticed how the mesh bits in lace look like
the intersecting bars of a prison cell?
I did. Five minutes ago. As I was sat on the edge of a
strange bed in a strange room, in a strange wedding dress, with a strange
perfume smothering my senses like a designer rag.
My fingers won’t stop playing with the delicate trim on the
bodice. It’s as if I’m trying to find a weakness in the yarn so I can plan my
It’s beautiful.
Beautifully oppressive.
It’s a Dorian Gray mirror gone askew. The material is
stupidly fussy and over-detailed, and it makes me look about twenty years older
than I am. Still, at least it covers the bruises…
“Come, Ielena. The car is waiting for you.”
Marie enters the room clapping briskly, as if the force and
sound will unchain my heavy heart from the bed and propel me to my feet. Her
face is a painted mask of encouragement, but it reminds me of a colombina I
bought in Venice once. The initial dazzle concealed the flaws. The cracks in
the porcelain grew wider and more obvious as the truth clawed its way to the
That was the day I learned that nothing is what it seems.
Marie’s claps grow louder in my ears. “Up! Up, lazy girl!
What are you waiting for?”
A knight on a white horse?
A miracle?
Reluctantly, I stand for her inspection. I’m not sure when
or how Marie first entered my father’s life, but her presence is more
front-and-center than my mother’s these days.
I loathe her.
She’s brittle and calculating, and our relationship is a
Ping-Pong match of mutual hostility. Unfortunately, since Karina disappeared,
Marie’s winning most of the shots. She’s subtle about it, though. Her words are
well-fed piranhas. They’ll take tiny bites here and there, leaving me stung and
permanently unsettled.
She stops in front of me, a smoky swirl of coral-pink
chiffon, and I brace myself for more teeth.
“Oh dear.” She casts a critical eye over my wedding dress.
“Oh dear, oh dear… Still, it’s the best I could do at such short notice. You
have no idea the strings I had to pull to get you something suitable in time.”
If she expects me to thank her for it, I’d rather choke on
the lace.
Her assessment moves up to my face and she tuts out even
more disapproval. “Good grief. Your make-up is abysmal. Antoinette!” Her maid
appears in the doorway like a dutiful pet. “She needs less rouge on her cheeks.
And that red lipstick is wrong. She looks like a whore, not a virgin bride.”
There goes my one shot at individuality.
Is this really happening? Has it really only been
twenty-four hours since Papa announced I was to marry a man I’d never even met?
A one-minute, formally worded deposition slotted in between his business
meetings. He takes longer to peruse menus in restaurants.
Come to think of it, it’s the longest conversation we’ve
ever had.
“Dressing table,”
barks Marie, giving me a not so gentle shove in that direction.
Gritting my teeth,
I allow myself to be ‘de-whored,’ by Antoinette. On the plus side, marriage
means leaving Marie behind. Even she wouldn’t dare disrespect the wife of Luca
 I should have known she wouldn’t go out
without a fanfare, though.
“I don’t see why
we’re bothering with this charade,” she mutters, driving an extra pin into the
base of my chignon and scraping my scalp on purpose.
“What do you mean?”
I catch her eye in the mirror, instantly wary of the cruel green glint that I
find there. “This is what my father expects of me.”
I’m rewarded with a
cold smile for my curiosity. “I mean why go to so much trouble to look the part
when the ceremony room will be empty.”
“But Signor
Zaccaria’s family will be in attendance.”
I’ve read all about
mafia families and the eight billion aunts, uncles and associated offspring who
get wheeled out for occasions such as these. Kind of like a Bratva wedding when
a sibling’s disgrace hasn’t double-booked the venue.
Her eyes widen for
a beat, and then the chill in her smile drops a couple of hundred degrees.
“What makes you think you’re marrying into La Famiglia, child? What
makes you think you’re good enough for one of Zaccaria’s precious sons? Your
sister has polluted you, like she’s polluted your father’s reputation, and
today you will pay the price for her disgrace and his resurrection.”
My stomach lurches.
She’s right. My father never actually confirmed who my groom was.
I assumed.
I just assumed.
“Who am I supposed
to be marrying?” I whisper.
She shrugs, as if
the detail is insignificant. “You’ll find out soon enough.”
“I don’t believe
you! He wouldn’t do this! Where’s Papa?” I rise to my feet, but her bony
fingers clamp around my upper arm to stop me.
“Sit down, stupid
girl.” I wince as her grip tightens; her coral pink nails digging crescents
into my skin. “Your father has no desire to see you. He left for Paris an hour
My mouth snaps shut
when I realize I’m gaping at her. “But he’s walking me down the aisle! I’m
playing the role of the good Bratva daughter for him… The least he can do is
guide me through the scene.”
“Be quiet!” Her
mask cracks, just like my colombina did, but this time spite comes pouring out.
“The only things accompanying you to that altar, child, are shame and solitude.
You are all alone in this world now, Ielena. Your sister has deserted you, and
your stupid mother is soaking your memory in gin.”
I have Maxim.
Please tell me I still have Maxim.
“Let go of me,
All alone,” she mouths back.
Shrugging her off,
I sit back down at the dressing table. My hands are shaking as Antoinette pats
away the last of the red Chanel before smoothing on a dash of Vaseline, and
then painting my lips a pale mauve.
Even that seems
wrong. I need a shot of color confidence to bring my fair skin and frozen
expression back from the brink, not something that’ll fade me out even more.
I’m only a half-measure, remember?
An image from
yesterday slams into my mind, one with raging battlements of contempt in his
Aiden Knight.
The man I couldn’t
stop thinking about all of last night. The beautiful cruel memory who tempted
my fingers between my thighs at the break of dawn.
What was it he said
about me again?
“Stupid rich, bored,
empty, unemployable, unsalvageable…”
I am not my mother.
I am not my mother.
Karina’s voice is
in my head suddenly, telling me to hold on to my rainbow, no matter what. We
made promises to each other the night she left. The kind you cross your hearts
with, schoolgirl style, and keep until you die die die.
“Are you finished?”
I catch Marie’s eye in the mirror and hold it. Screw her. Screw my father. They
could marry me off to a beggar on the street and I’d still find a way to paint
us gold.
She scoffs and
“Good,” I say,
firing back a Ping-Pong shot of my own.
I was right to feel
that sense of satisfaction earlier. I’m not some little girl she can push
around anymore. My new groom may not be Luca Zaccaria, but my father’s choice
for me would have been tactical. He’ll be a man of standing in the criminal
“Good?” she mocks.
“You won’t be saying that in an hour’s time.”
“Aren’t you going
to wish me luck?”
Without waiting for
an answer, I rise to my feet and sashay from the room as elegantly as my badly
fitted shoes—thanks again, Marie—will allow.
Heart pounding, I
make my way down the elegant marble staircase, feeling like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone
With The Wind,
but with the whole world, not Rhett Butler, declaring that
they don’t give a damn about me anymore.
I reach the lobby
to find the tall, stoic figure of my father’s Brigadier waiting for me. There’s
another man standing there, too. He has his back turned, his black-suited
shoulders blocking out most of the light from a nearby window. I’m so relieved
to see Maxim I barely glance at him.
 “You’re here!” I take the last couple of steps
too fast and nearly lose my footing.
I knew he wouldn’t abandon me as well.
He turns at my
voice—eyes hooded, expression bleak. “Issa.” He catches me as I stumble into
his arms. “Careful, zvezda moya.” He sets me right before sweeping his
gaze downward. “Why, you look beautiful.”
“You’re the
sweetest liar.” I step back to break his embrace, embarrassed by my lack of
poise. What’s worse, there’s a masculine scent in the air that’s aiding and
abetting that emotion, whipping up memories I’d rather forget. “Marie chose the
dress so you can draw your own conclusions from that.”
“Tsch, Issa,” he
chides. “She chose well.”
“Liar, twice over,”
I say with a shy smile.
“She’s right, it’s
hideous,” drawls a deep voice in perfect Russian. “But it’s nothing a bottle of
Saint-Émilion couldn’t fix.”
All the damn colors.
The same man from
the bar and my late night fantasies is smirking down at me, his cerulean-blue oceans
churning with the same derision. My lungs stutter and lose function as I
finally place the scent in the air.
“You,” I gasp out.
“Me,” he says
“W-what are you
doing here?”
“My presence was
requested so it’s a good job I had another suit to wear.”
I can’t seem to
process his words. It’s not just the size of him that’s throwing me off kilter.
Those oceans are shark-infested, and I’m the bloody bait. 
My head swings to
Maxim for answers, but the scars on his face offer me nothing so I find it
swinging back to him. It’s magnetic. I couldn’t stop it if I tried.
“Monsieur Knight,” I say, pulling myself together. “How
lovely it is to see you again.”
He barks out a rough laugh. “You could strip paint with the
acid in your voice, princess. Your insincerity is corrosive.”
“Who knew a gentleman could be so vulgar,” I counter
“Who knew you had the brains to come to that conclusion all
by yourself.”
“Have you two met before?” Maxim looks confused, trapped
here in our blazing crossfire.
Aiden Knight cocks his handsome head and grins at me, but
his eyes are like chips of ice. “Let’s just say we had a difference of opinion
over some home truths and a bottle of red yesterday.”
Instantly, my heart
is a drum and bass beat inside my chest. I hate how British men have the whole
archetypal bastard thing down to a fine art. His accent is a poisoned arrow
with a fin-shaped fletching of contempt. He’s dressed in black Armani again
today, though he’s swapped the black dress shirt for white.
Colors. Colors. He wears them like a warning.
His necktie is a brilliant crimson, the same red as the
lipstick I chose for myself until Marie instructed Antoinette to scrub it off.
He’s stolen it. How dare he! I find
myself hating him more for that than I do for his insults.
“Is it true Papa left for Paris an hour ago?”
I mean to direct it at Maxim, but I can’t seem to tear my
gaze away from my nemesis. He’s coolness personified, with the kind of hard
arrogance that hazardous men exude. I don’t like the way he’s looking at me
either, as if I’m a cornered fox and he’s the Master of the Hunt.
“Why? Are you worried he took his credit card with him?”
“That’s enough, Knight!” growls Maxim.
I blush right to my roots as my father’s confidante proceeds
to curse in both French and Russian at my English invasion.
It’s a bi-language of reproach, but Knight just shrugs it off. Clearly, his
ninety-nine problems don’t include Bratva Brigadiers who’d be more than happy
to use his head as target practice.
Is this man completely impenetrable or just plain
“Jesus, you talk a lot of shit, Maxim,” he says in a bored
voice, cutting him off mid-flow. “If you’re quite finished, her chariot
I watch him stalk through the open front door, down the
stone steps and into one of the waiting Escalades without so much as a backward
glance at me.
Who is this vile, rude, arrogant man?
I meet Maxim’s heavy stare with unspoken questions in my
eyes. “Marie told me I’m not betrothed to Luca Zaccaria anymore.”
“No, zvezda moya.”
“Then, who?”
“Please, Maxim,” I beg. “If our friendship means anything, I
need you to be straight with me. Who the hell am I marrying today?”
My only ally in this world curses and swipes a hand across
his jaw. It’s as if he’s disinfecting his next words for an unclean revelation.
I then watch in mounting, escalating, soul-crushing horror as his gaze shifts
to the vehicles outside. Or rather, to one in particular…
© Catherine Wiltcher
Author Bio
Catherine Wiltcher is a bestselling author of ten dark
romance novels, a former TV producer, and a self-confessed alpha addict. Her
writing is best described as sinfully sexy, and her characters always fall hard
and deep for one another.
She lives in the UK with her husband and two young daughters. If she ever found
herself stranded on a desert island, she’d like a large pink gin to keep her
company. Cillian Murphy wouldn’t be a bad shout either…

For book and blog updates, please visit www.catherinewiltcher.com

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