Two intense and passionate stories in one special volume by two fabulous Presents authors!
Mistress at the Italian's Command by Melanie Milburne
When a ruthless Italian tycoon appears on Ally Benton's doorstep her instinct is to protect her twin sister. But becoming gorgeous Vittorio Vassallo's mistress is more than she'd bargained for!
Italian Boss, Housekeeper Mistress by Kate Hewitt
A housekeeping job in a crumbling villa on Lake Como was a fresh start for Zoe Clark. But she hadn't bargained on her dangerously sexy boss--Leandro Filametti. As the blazing Mediterranean sun heats up, Leandro realizes his one desire is to claim Zoe....
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March 31, 2010
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Excerpt from Her Mediterranean Playboy by Melanie Milburne
'Miss Alice Benton?' The Italian psychiatrist took Ally to one side, speaking in a grave, heavily accented tone. 'Do you have any idea how long your sister has been off her medication?'
Ally swallowed against the dry lump of anguish in her throat. 'I'm really not sure,' she said. 'I don't live in Italy with my sister. I live in Australia.'
'Then you did well to get here so soon.' He looked down at the notes and added, 'She was only brought in yesterday morning by her neighbour.'
'I had a business meeting in Prague,' Ally explained. 'I flew from there as soon as I could. I had no idea she'd had such a bad relapse. She hasn't had one in years. She was fine when I spoke to her from Sydney before I left for my trip. I can't believe--' she choked over a sob '--she would do something like this. She seemed so...so well...'
'This was a very serious suicide attempt,' Dr Bassano said with a sober look. 'She was lucky to survive such a high dosage of benzoates. I suggest that until she is stabilised on her regular dosage of anti-psychotic medication that she be admitted to a mental health clinic and stay there until she receives the therapy and rehabilitation she needs. I should warn you, however, it could take considerable time.'
'I see...' Ally said, feeling her stomach sink even lower in despair. She had desperately hoped the frightening see-sawing periods of mania and dark depression her sister had suffered ever since she was fifteen had finally disappeared, but it seemed they had not. What on earth had happened in her sister's life to bring on such a devastating relapse?
'There is a clinic in Switzerland that has a very good reputation.' Dr Bassano interrupted the painful torture of Ally's thoughts. 'It is a private clinic, but well worth the expense. The staff are all highly trained and very empathetic.'
Ally moistened her parched lips with the tip of her tongue. 'But can't I take her back to Sydney with me?' she asked. 'Surely it would be better for her to be back home? She's been abroad for almost a year. Perhaps that's what's caused this...this...crisis.'
'Miss Benton, I do not think your sister is in any fit state to endure a long-haul flight,' he said. 'In my opinion it would do more harm than good. She is unstable, and I suspect has been so for quite some time. The Swiss clinic is only a short flight or train journey away. We can arrange for a health professional to accompany both of you to settle her in.'
Ally compressed her lips to keep her panic contained. 'H-how long do you think she will need to be at this clinic you have recommended?' she asked.
'It takes time for the medication to kick in again, sometimes several weeks,' he paused, then went on gravely. 'In more difficult cases maybe even months, especially if a drug change is indicated, which I suspect in your sister's case is indeed warranted. There are several new medications on the market now that specifically target her condition. It would be worth a few weeks of trialling one or two of them in a safe environment to see which is most efficacious.'
Ally looked at the specialist in alarm. She only had a couple of weeks' leave. She had been so looking forward to the holiday she had planned with her sister. She had never for a moment imagined it would turn into such a nightmare as this. There had been no warning, no sign of anything untoward during any of their recent phone conversations or e-mails. Admittedly her sister had sounded overly excited recently, but Ally had put it down to the anticipation of spending two weeks relaxing in the sun together. She hadn't dared think of any other explanation. Alex's troubled past had been filed away in Ally's head; the door was not locked but it was certainly not ajar, as it had been for so long during their adolescence and early adult years.
Alex had done some terribly impulsive things during her various manic stages, and Ally was still trying to clear the debt of some of the mad spending sprees her twin had gone on in the past. Her sister's disastrous marriage to Darren Sharpe had been the lowest point. It had taken Ally months to convince her twin to leave her abusive husband, and even longer to rebuild her battered self-esteem once the divorce was finalised.
'I think Alex will do quite well once this crisis is over, but it is important that over the next few weeks she is kept away from any stressful situations,' Dr Bassano said. 'Stress at this point in time will only intensify her condition and perhaps cause another relapse. I have been in contact with her specialist in Sydney. I see from her records she has already had three major breakdowns during her teens. I would like to avoid triggering another one.'
'I understand,' Ally said, fighting back tears.
Dr Bassano took Ally's hand. 'I realise how difficult this is for you, Miss Benton,' he said. 'I understand you have been responsible for your sister since your mother's death. You have done an amazing job of supporting her thus far. You must not blame yourself for this latest relapse. It is always hard for close relatives. You cannot possibly be with her every minute of the day. You have your own life to lead and must be allowed to do so.'
Ally blinked back the moisture in her eyes. 'Thank y-you,' she said, her voice catching slightly. 'I don't want to lose her...she is all I have...'
'Take care of yourself,' Dr Bassano said gently. 'Your sister is still sleeping, but should wake in the next hour or so. Please call me at any time if you have any further questions.'
Ally went back to her sister's bedside and looked down at the pale, thin and wan mirror image of herself, curled up like a helpless infant on the narrow bed.
How could two identical people be so dissimilar? she wondered. Alex had always been the outgoing one, the extroverted talkative one, the girl men flocked to like bees around nectar-laden blossom.
Ally, on the other hand, had always preferred her own company to that of other people. With the same figure and features of her twin, she had her fair share of male attention, but no one had come close enough for her to let down the guard around her heart. The emotional blunting in her childhood had seen to that. Living with an unpredictable mother had made Ally naturally cautious. She found it hard to trust people and kept herself aloof and on guard--unlike her twin who, like their mother, often leapt in feet first with little regard for the consequences.
The sheets on the bed rustled and a croaky voice asked, 'Ally...is that you?'
Ally leaned forward and took her sister's hands in hers, squeezing them gently. 'Yes, darling, it's me. I came as soon as I could.'
'I'm sorry...' Alex's face began to crumple. 'I've really done it this time. You're going to hate me...I just know it...I've ruined everything...'
'No, darling, don't talk like that,' Ally soothed, still desperately trying not to cry. 'I could never hate you. You know I would do anything to make you well again.'
'He told me he loved me...' Alex said, so softly Ally had trouble hearing her.
She leaned even closer. 'Who told you he loved you?'
Alex's eyes closed and a soft whimper escaped from her lips. 'I don't want to talk about it...it hurts so much...'
Ally stroked her sister's hand. 'Don't upset yourself, honey. We can talk later. The important thing now is to get well. That's all that matters.'
'The doctor said I have to go to a clinic,' Alex said, biting her lip like a small, insecure child.
'Yes, it will be for the best,' Ally said. 'Don't worry about the expense. I'll see to it.'
Tears sprouted from Alex's eyes. 'I wanted to die...I felt that if I couldn't have him what would be the point in going on?'
Ally felt yet again the tight fist of panic knocking hard on the door of her heart. The doctor had warned her not to allow her twin to suffer any unnecessary stress, but clearly something had been going on with a man while Alex had been living abroad.
'Honey, you should have told me you were having trouble coping,' Ally said gently. 'I thought everything was going so well for you since you moved to London.'
Alex's sapphire-blue gaze shifted to stare blankly at the hem of the sheet covering her chest. 'I didn't want to tell you because I knew you'd disapprove.'
'Why would I do that, darling?' Ally asked, although deep down she felt sure she already knew the answer.
'He's married,' Alex said, confirming Ally's suspicions. 'I didn't realise that until I'd thrown in my job and followed him to Rome. He told me he loved me. He even told me he was going to leave his wife. But it was all a lie...'
Ally inwardly sighed. She needed more than her fingers and toes to count the number of affairs with married men her sister had been involved in over the years. Alex seemed to misread the signals, or something. She was so easily taken in by a charming smile and ended up disappointed and betrayed time and time again. But this one seemed to have had a much more devastating effect, and Ally wished she could press for more details. But she knew it would probably do more harm than good at this point.
'When did you stop taking your tablets?' she asked, diverting the subject.
Alex closed her eyes. 'I don't remember...a few weeks ago, I think. I didn't want him to know I was taking medication. I thought he wouldn't love me if he thought I wasn't...you know...normal.'
'Alex you are normal,' Ally insisted. 'If you had asthma or diabetes you'd have to take regular medication. How is your mental condition any different?'
Alex's eyes remained closed. 'But I feel crazy. My head is full of racing thoughts. I feel out of control, and that's why...' She gave another defeated sigh. 'What's the point? What's done is done.'
'Darling, remember the doctors back home told you how important it is for you take your tablets regularly?' Ally said, trying to remain patient and calm. 'This time in the clinic will be just the thing for you. You'll be able to get on top of things, both medically and personally.'
Alex turned her head back to look at Ally. 'Do you really still love me, Ally? Even after all I've put you through? I'm a terrible person. I hate myself. I can't do anything right. I ruin everything.'
'That's rubbish, Alex, and you know it,' Ally said. 'You'll come through this. I know you will. You know I love you, and nothing can change that. You and me together against the world, right?'
Alex bit her lower lip and shifted her gaze again. 'I don't really want to end up like Mum...but I just can't seem to help it. It must be genetic--but then you have the same genes and you're fine...'
Ally pushed aside the giant wave of survival guilt that instantly swamped her, and grasped her sister's hand again. 'Mum didn't get the help she needed,' she said. 'She was sick for a long time, but we were too young to realise it. Her up-and-down moods and her erratic behaviour seemed a part of who she was. There's a fine line between personality and mental illness, Alex. It's hard even for the professionals to know when patients cross it.'
Alex turned her head on the pillow to look at her. 'I've done some terrible things,' she said, her eyes swelling with tears. 'I just couldn't seem to stop myself. I wanted to get back at Rocco for...for everything...'
'Rocco was the man you were having an affair with?' Ally asked, trying to string the pieces together without pushing too hard.
Alex's eyes welled again with tears and her bottom lip began to tremble uncontrollably. 'I can't talk about it...I just can't...'
Ally stroked her sister's hand. 'That's fine, honey. I understand. We'll leave it for another time, when you're feeling better.'
Alex let out a defeated sigh and closed her eyes wearily. 'I'll go to the clinic,' she said. 'I want to get well. I can't go on like this. I know I've been a dreadful burden for you in the past. I wanted to make you proud of me, living independently and working abroad. I thought I could do it. But...but I guess this is my last chance to put things right.'
'Darling it's not your last chance. There is no such thing as last chances,' Ally said, pressing a tender kiss to her twin's forehead. 'Besides, what if the shoe was on the other foot?'
Alex opened one bleary eye to look at her. 'What do you mean?'
'We're identical twins,' Ally said. 'Like you said before, we share exactly the same DNA but by chance you have developed an illness that needs carefully managed treatment. It could just as easily be me in that bed, not you.'
Alex opened both of her dark blue eyes and looked at her sister with gravitas. 'You should be thanking God you don't have to step into my shoes,' she said. 'I wouldn't wish my life on anyone, not after what I've done. I feel so...so guilty.'
'I don't have to step into your shoes to understand what you are going through,' Ally said. 'But let me tell you if I had to I would do it, and do it gladly.'
Alex attempted a smile, but it was a bit crooked and tinged with aching sadness. 'Just as well we're the same size, then, huh?'
Ally had not long returned to Rome from her trip, having settled her twin sister into the quiet sanctuary of the clinic in Switzerland, when the doorbell of her sister's rented apartment sounded. She had come back there to do a rudimentary clean-up, knowing Alex would be out of town for possibly weeks if not months on end, and had decided a refrigerator clean-out was probably a good idea, not to mention a load or two of washing and a bed linen change before she arranged to travel back to Zurich.
What she hadn't expected to find was a rather nasty eviction notice and a demand for six weeks' rent in arrears, with a letter written in Italian that looked as if it was from a lawyer. But what Ally couldn't understand was why her sister had neglected to pay the rent, for as she was folding Alex's clothes in the bedroom she had come across a large amount of money, tied in neat bundles and placed inside a jacket pocket. Uncertain of what to do with such a sum, Ally had placed it in her handbag until she could consult her sister.