Enemies to lovers.
Diamonds at every turn.
Their business? All about the D… as in diamonds.
But Juliana is no fool. She knows the art of the double-cross, and sees Roman’s cocky tricks — and his generous package — coming at her from a mile away.
Now, he’s about to find out that sometimes, faking it can turn into something real. And when it does, he’s the one who won’t want to let go.
An intensely sinful full-length standalone romance. Hate to Crave You is a modern spin on Romeo and Juliet with twists, turns, and a happily ever after ending that’ll steal your heart, from Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author, Bella Love-Wins.
Eighteen Years Ago
She was so little.That was the one thing that bugged Roman Montrose. She wasn’t a big kid like he was. It was one thing to be eleven years old and be alone in the hospital, but a whole other can of worms to barely hit five or six years of age and not have any family around to visit. He wondered why she didn’t, but he didn’t creep out of his bed to talk to her or find out.
Not yet, anyway.
The nurses in this ward were cranky old bitches. He didn’t have much love for them, or the place, even though he enjoyed not having to sit in a classroom all day. He’d smacked his head pretty hard while they were playing soccer and he had to be admitted because they said he had a concussion. What he had was a headache, and he didn’t see why he was forced to be in the hospital—he didn’t understand why he was in a room with a girl either. He’d asked about that, several times, and finally one of the cranky old nurses had told him.
“We’ve got a problem with strep throat and scarlet fever going through the pediatric ward. You two came in after the symptoms started and we’re trying to isolate all the children who are contagious so that kids like you don’t catch those nasty little infectious diseases.”
It drove him mad the way she started talking to him like he was a little kid, explaining what contagious and isolated meant. What did she think he was? Seven years old?
The girl had come in a few hours after he had, breathing heavily. It sounded like asthma to him. She would make a whistling little wheezing sound sometimes that had annoyed him at first, but then he caught sight of her face and that breathing sound scared him a little. It probably scared her a lot. Her eyes were big and dark in her face, and he was almost positive that it hurt her to even breathe.
Sometimes, she’d start coughing and when it was over, she’d cry a little. She always sounded like she was trying hard not to cry, too.
That was what made him go over and talk to her after the nurses left.
He edged in closer to see if she was still awake, although how could she be asleep after that coughing fit?
She lay in the bed, so little and pale, and he frowned as he eyed her chest falling up and down. She was breathing so fast. That wasn’t normal.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked without even planning on it.
She turned her head to his, her big, brown eyes going wide in her pale face. Two dark braids lay in long thick ropes to her shoulders and she swallowed as she looked at him. “I have asthma,” she said, her voice rough.
“That’s what I thought. So that’s the only reason why you’re here?” he asked, perplexed. One of the kids on his soccer team had asthma and he just had to use his inhaler before he played. It wasn’t like it was any big deal.
The little girl nodded at him. “Yes.”
He cocked his head, studying her. “I guess you got it bad, then.”
She jerked up one shoulder in a shrug. “I got the flu and they said it went to ’monia.”
“You mean pneumonia.” He nodded sagely even though he was only vaguely aware of what pneumonia was. He hadn’t thought little kids could get it. His grandpa had it once, and had been a mean old grouchy bastard the whole time he was sick. Grandpa hadn’t been forced to stay at a hospital either. But then again, his grandpa hadn’t had asthma on top of his pneumonia.
“What’s your name?” he asked softly, casting a quick look at the door. The nurses had actually closed it most of the way this time so he wasn’t too worried they’d come in. They were really big on them sleeping when it was time to sleep. He liked to sleep when he was tired, not just because it was time to sleep.
“Julianna.” Her lips trembled a little. “I want my mom and dad. I don’t like being here alone.”
“Well, you’re not alone.” Poor kid. “I’m here.”
She blinked at him and those big dark eyes made him feel a little funny inside. Almost…sad for her. “I guess.”
“We can be friends,” he added. “That means you’re not alone.”
She plucked at the blanket that covered her thin body and whispered, “I don’t got a lot of friends.”
“Have. The proper word is have,” he advised her.
She slid him a look from under her lashes and he wondered if she’d tell him that he sounded like a jerk. Sometimes his friends back home did, but all the kids at the boarding school he attended here in Switzerland talked like he did, and so did his family. It was always wise to speak properly. It couldn’t hurt for a six-year-old to understand the rules.
“Okay,” she said, a little spark showing in her eyes. “I don’t have a lot of friends. I have to go to school here now. All my friends are back in ‘Merica.”
He didn’t have the heart to tell her it was America.
She probably had to go to boarding school like he did. He remembered how rough it had been when he’d first left home. But then he’d made a bunch of new friends here and it wasn’t so bad.
“Is that why your mom and dad aren’t here? They’re back in America?” he asked as he moved to the foot of the bed to sit down. He’d already talked to his mom and dad. They’d said they’d try to be on the first flight out to check up on him, but he’d told them he was fine.
Whether or not they’d listen, he had no idea. But he wasn’t a little kid like they seemed to think.
And he definitely wasn’t like this girl. She was really young. Probably too young for any boarding school he was aware of. She should have her mom and dad with her.
She nodded at him, looking kind of pitiful.
“Are they going to come see you?” he asked.
“Mama said they would,” she whispered. “Daddy was saying they didn’t have enough time, but if Mama says so…”
Her heart was in her eyes so he hoped she was right about her mother.
“It’s getting kind of late,” he told her. “Are you having trouble sleeping?”
“It’s too quiet.” Julianna watched him with big eyes. “I can’t sleep when it’s this quiet.”
He nodded, understanding. Even though there was noise out in the hallway, the hospital they were in was in a quiet part of the countryside. He was used to New York, where it was never quiet. It had taken him forever to learn how to sleep at the boarding school. The silence of the mountains around him had been weird.
“Maybe I can tell you a story?”
Her eyes widened and for the first time, a hint of a smile curled her mouth. “I’d like that.”
He’d always liked telling tall tales, and Julianna turned out to be a great audience.
She listened far better than his friends, his parents, or anybody else ever had. Well, his teachers might count. He wrote some of his stories down and the teachers liked those, but nobody had ever listened.
And she liked it best when he told the stories, not just when he was reading her books to her.
He had a deck of cards a friend had given him the day he’d smacked his head a little too hard. One afternoon, he spent a few hours teaching Julianna how to play War. He tried to teach her poker, but that was a little too involved. So instead, he showed her how to play solitaire, and let her keep the cards so if she got bored she’d have something to do.
He was positive he’d be out of there any day—any minute, really.
But one day turned into two and then three, and he was still there. It didn’t help that the headaches weren’t getting any better. A couple of times he had a hard time telling if the nurse was holding up two fingers or four.
One afternoon, the only halfway nice nurse, a pretty blonde who said he could call her Miss Léonie, told him that his parents were on their way.
He rolled his eyes and said, “Fine, whatever.” But he was a little excited to see them. It had only been a month since spring break and he knew he’d see them before too long with summer getting close, but he missed his parents. Well, he missed his mom. Sometimes, not that he’d ever tell them, he kind of wished he didn’t have to go to boarding school. He knew his father had attended this same school and he had fun here, but it wasn’t the same as living at home.
Now, a couple of hours after Miss Léonie had told him about his parents’ impending arrival, he sat with Julianna as she carefully drew another card, studying it before looking at the spread in front of her before choosing where to lay it down.
He grinned at her. “You got the hang of it.”
“It should be I have the hang of it.” She wrinkled her nose as she grinned at him.
He did something he hadn’t done in years—he stuck his tongue out at her.
The sound was cut short by the door opening and they both turned their heads to watch, expecting one of the nurses with another breathing treatment for Julianna.
But it was a tall man with nearly black hair, edged silver near his ears. With him was a slim woman with brown hair, her eyes looking out behind a neat pair of gold-rimmed glasses.
“Mama! Daddy!” Julianna’s face lit up with a bright grin and she held out her arms.
The woman came rushing over and bent over to hug Julianna.
Roman stood up at the side of the bed, politely backing away. He said, “Hello, sir,” as Julianna’s father approached.
The man gave him a polite nod but said nothing as he settled on the edge of the bed, close to where Roman had been just a few moments earlier. “How are you doing, Julianna?”
“I feel better.” She smiled at him. “I hardly cough anymore. Are you going to take me home?”
They didn’t give a direct answer. Roman managed not to roll his eyes about it, but he knew what that meant. She wasn’t going home. Once she was better, she was going back to the boarding school.
Julianna’s mother looked over at him finally and offered him a smile. “Hello,” she said in a pleasant, soft voice. “I’m Mrs. Castle. I hear you’ve been keeping Julianna company—strep throat is making its rounds.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded at her, his eyes straying over to Julianna.
She was trying to still smile, but the glow had left her eyes. Apparently, she knew what that lack of answer meant, too. Poor kid.
As her father looked me over, he remained quiet.
“What’s your name, son?” he asked.
“It’s Roman, sir.”
He nodded at Roman. “Sounds like you’re from the States, just like Julianna. Are you attending school over here?”
“Yes, sir.” Roman offered the name of the school. “I’ve attended since first grade.”
“It’s an excellent school, I hear.”
They spoke a few more minutes, the polite small talk that adults make with children they don’t know, then Roman rubbed at his head, claiming that his head was hurting. Retreating to the bed, he stretched out and grabbed the blanket that was neatly folded at the foot of the bed.
He wasn’t tired, but he could fake it.
Rolling over onto his side, he tried not to listen as Julianna’s mother fussed over her.
It had been a long time since his mom had fussed over him…
At the sound of raised voices, Roman jerked awake.
A quick look out the window showed a sky awash with the colors of sunset. Getting late, but not quite night. He wasn’t sure what time it was other than that. He must have fallen asleep. His head wasn’t hurting much at all and he might have been grateful for that, except the sound of a young girl’s labored breathing had him scowling.
Julianna’s asthma was acting up.
She’d been doing so much better.
What the eff was wrong?
He kicked his legs out of bed and stood, ignoring the spinning in his head as he strode to the foot of his bed so he could see around the partially drawn curtain.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “You’re upsetting Julianna.”
“Roman, go back to bed,” his father bit off.
He jerked to attention at the sound of his father’s voice. Earlier he’d been thinking that he’d almost missed his parents, but now he wished his mom and dad were on the other side of the globe. “Hello, sir,” he said politely, ignoring the order. “How are you?”
“Son,” Michael Montrose said stiffly. “I asked you to go back to bed.”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded again, but couldn’t stop himself from looking over at Julianna. Her shoulders were rising and falling rapidly with the struggle it took to breathe. “She’s having trouble breathing. She probably needs the nurse to get her another breathing treatment before she starts to wheeze.”
He expected Julianna’s father to snap at him judging by the way the man’s face looked, but all he did was give him a short nod. The mother reached out for the call light and hit it before turning her gaze to the two men.
As Roman retreated to his bed, she said in a cool voice, ‘Surely there’s a better place for the two of you to do this.”
Roman lay in bed, struggling to make sense of what was going on.
He’d heard a little bit before he’d gotten out of bed, but the raised voices had woken him up. No telling how long they’d been talking before they woke him.
He curled back up on his side, but this time, he faced the curtain that separated them as he waited for the nurse to arrive with Julianna’s breathing treatment. Miss Léonie would be gone by now, if he had their shifts right. It would be Nurse Schmid. She was the worst of all of them, but the good news was, she was mean enough she just might scare Roman’s dad into behaving. Roman’s dad and Julianna’s father with his stiff jaw and shoulders.
Why were they fighting?
He had no idea, but he’d ask Julianna about it as soon as everybody was gone.
He never had the chance.
Less than a half an hour after Nurse Schmid brought a breathing treatment for Julianna, one of the hospital orderlies arrived with a wheelchair for Roman.
He eyed it narrowly.
“Do I get to go back to school?” he asked, glancing at his parents as he sat up on the side of the bed.
“No.” His mother brushed his hair back from his face while his father stood by the window, staring out over the quiet countryside. “You’re going to a private room. Both of you are ill. You need room to rest and heal.”
“I’m fine,” he bit off. “I get headaches. And Julianna gets scared—”
“She’s not your concern,” Father snapped, turning around to glare at him. “You’ve got no business being roomed with that girl and that’s all there is to it. Do you understand me?”
Roman lapsed into silence, rising at the prodding look from his mother. He moved into the wheelchair and sat down. On his way out the door, he glanced at Julianna’s parents, then once more at Julianna.
“Get better,” he said, not knowing what else to say.
She stared at him miserably, her big, dark eyes looking almost black in the pale circle of her face.
That image lingered with him. For a long, long time.
Like so many characters in my novels, I enjoy action, romance and unexpected love connections that take your breath away. For the next while, you’ll find me plotting and writing about my latest stories on my Macbook.