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Lorenzo Gage was viciously handsome. Hair as dark and thick as devil’s velvet set off silver-blue eyes so cold and piercing they looked feral. His thin black brows shot into dangerous angles, and his forehead spoke of an ancient aristocracy tinged with corruption. His lips were cruelly sensuous, while his cheekbones could have been carved by the knife he held in his hand.

Gage made his living killing people. His specialty was women. Beautiful women. He beat them, tortured them, raped them, and murdered them. Sometimes a bullet to the heart. Sometimes slice-and-dice. This was one of those.

The redhead who lay in his bed wore only a bra and panties. Her skin gleamed like ivory against his black satin sheets as he gazed down at her. “You betrayed me,” he said. “I don’t like it when women betray me.”

Terror filled her green eyes. All the better.

He leaned down and flicked the sheet from her thighs with the tip of his dagger. The gesture galvanized her. She screamed, rolled away, and shot across the room.

He liked it when they fought back, and he let her reach the door before he caught her. She struggled in his arms. When he grew bored with her resistance, he backhanded her. The vicious snap knocked her across the room. She fell onto the bed, breasts heaving, those lovely thighs separating. He showed no emotion beyond a subtle flicker of anticipation. Then his brutally sculpted lips curled in a cruel smile, and one hand flicked open his silver belt buckle.

Gage shuddered. His stomach was unpredictable when it came to atrocities, and unlike the audience in the movie theater, he knew what was coming. He’d hoped the Italian dubbing would distract him enough from the carnage on the screen so he could actually watch his last film, but the remnants of a nasty hangover combined with a serious case of jet lag conspired against him. It was a bitch being Hollywood’s favorite psychopath.

In the old days John Malkovich had done the job, but from the moment the public had set eyes on Ren Gage, they’d wanted to see more of this villain with a face to die for. Until tonight he’d avoided Slaughter Alliance, but since the critics had only mildly detested it, he’d decided to give it a shot. Big mistake.

Rapist, serial killer, assassin for hire. Hell of a way to make a living. In addition to the women he’d mortally abused, he’d tortured Mel Gibson, slammed a tire iron into Ben Affleck’s kneecap, given Pierce Brosnan a nearly fatal chest wound, and gone after Denzel Washington in a nuclear-powered helicopter. He’d even killed Sean Connery. He’d burn in hell for that one. Nobody messed with Sean Connery.

Still, the stars got even with him before the picture was over. Ren had been garroted, set on fire, beheaded, and castrated-that one had hurt. Now he was being publicly drawn and quartered for driving America’s movie sweetheart to suicide. Except-wait a minute-that was his real life, wasn’t it? His very own, very real, very fucked-up life.

All the screaming was making his head pound. He glanced back up at the screen in time to watch blood spray as the redhead bit the dust. Tough luck, sweetheart. That’s what you get for being taken in by a pretty face.

Neither his head nor his stomach could tolerate more, and he slipped out of the darkened movie theater. His pictures did big business internationally, and as he eased into the milling crowd that was enjoying the warm Florentine night, he glanced around to make certain no one recognized him, but the tourists and locals were too busy enjoying the busy street life to take notice.

The last thing he wanted to do was deal with fans, so he’d taken time to alter his appearance before he’d left his hotel room, even though he’d been functioning on less than two hours of sleep. He’d slipped in some brown contact lenses to hide his trademark silver-blue eyes and let his dark hair-still long and sleek from the picture he’d finished shooting in Australia two days earlier-hang free. He’d also neglected to shave, hoping the stubble would camouflage a chiseled jaw that might have been passed down from his Medici ancestors. Although he’d rather have worn jeans, he’d costumed himself in the elegant garb of a wealthy Italian: black silk shirt, dark trousers, exquisite loafers with a scratch across one toe because he was as careless with clothes as he was with people. Keeping a low profile was a relatively new experience. Generally, if there was a spotlight around, he liked to make certain it was shining on him. But not right now.

He should go back to the hotel and sleep till noon, but he was too restless. If his cronies had been around, he might have headed for a club, but then again maybe not. Club life had lost its appeal. Unfortunately, he was a night owl, and he hadn’t yet figured out what to do instead.

He passed the window of a butcher shop. A stuffed boar’s head stared at him through the glass, and he looked away. The last couple of days had been a bitch. Karli Swenson, his former girlfriend and one of Hollywood’s favorite actresses, had killed herself the week before at her Malibu beach house. Karli had a long history with cocaine, so he suspected that her suicide was drug related, which pissed him off so much he still couldn’t mourn her. One thing he did know for sure-she hadn’t killed herself because of him.

Even when they were dating, Karli had cared a lot more about what was going up her nose than she’d ever cared for him, but audiences adored her, and the tabloids wanted a sexier story than drugs. No surprise, they’d decided he was it. Hollywood’s career bad boy whose heartless ways with women had driven sweet Karli to her grave.

Since those bad-boy stories had helped build his career, he couldn’t blame the media, but he still didn’t like how exposed this was making him feel. That was why he’d decided to go to ground for the next six weeks or so, until shooting for his next picture started.

He’d originally planned to call up an old girlfriend, head for the Caribbean, and get down to the serious business of resuming the sex life he’d put on hiatus a few months before filming on his last picture had started. But the uproar over Karli’s death made him want to put more distance between himself and the States, so he’d decided to go to Italy instead. It was not only the country of his ancestors but also the place where the initial filming on his next picture would begin. He’d get a chance to soak in some atmosphere, slip into the skin of a new character. And he wasn’t bringing along any publicity-hungry old girlfriends to get in his way.

What the hell. He could tolerate his own company for a few weeks until the heat from Karli’s suicide died down and he felt more like getting back into the swing of things. For now, the idea of moving around incognito was novel enough to keep him entertained.

He looked up and realized he’d wandered into the center of Florence, the crowded Piazza della Signoria. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been alone. He made his way across the cobblestones to Rivoire and found a table under the awning. The waiter appeared to take his order. Considering his hangover, he should stick with club soda, but he seldom did what he was supposed to, and he ordered a bottle of their best Brunello instead. The waiter took too long delivering it, and Ren snarled at him when he reappeared. His ugly mood came from lack of sleep, booze, and the fact that he was tired all the way to his bones. It came from sweet, sad Karli’s death, and a general feeling that all the money and all the fame still weren’t enough-that no spotlight could ever shine bright enough. He was jaded, restless, and he wanted more. More fame. More money. More… something.

He reminded himself his next film would give it to him. Every actor in town wanted to play the villainous Kaspar Street, but only Ren had been offered the job. It was the role of a lifetime, the chance for top billing.

Slowly his muscles unwound. Making Night Kill would involve months of hard work. Until filming began, he intended to enjoy Italy. He’d relax, eat well, and do what he did best. Leaning back in his chair, he took a sip of wine and waited for life to entertain him.

As Isabel gazed up at the pink and green dome of the Duomo outlined against the night sky, she decided that Florence’s most famous landmark looked garish instead of grand. She didn’t like this city. Even at night it was crowded and noisy. Italy might have a tradition as the place where soul-bruised women came to heal, but for her, leaving New York had been a terrible mistake.

She told herself to be patient. She’d arrived only yesterday, and Florence wasn’t her ultimate destination. That had been determined by fate and her friend Denise’s change of mind. For years Denise had dreamed about coming to Italy. Finally she’d applied for a leave of absence from her Wall Street job and rented a house in the Tuscan countryside for the months of September and October. She’d planned to use the time to begin work on a book about investment strategies for single women. “Italy is the perfect place for inspiration,” Denise had told Isabel over the glazed pear and endive salad at Jo Jo’s, their favorite lunch spot. “I’ll write all

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