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Pietro has strict rules for his marriage...

And he’s breaking every one of them!

Pietro Morelli is breaking his own rule—seducing his virgin bride! Heiress Emmeline is meant to be a wife of convenience, but the intense chemistry between them is more powerful than either can deny. But while Pietro hides a devastating secret, can they ever have more than a marriage in name only?

CLARE CONNELLY was raised in small-town Australia among a family of avid readers. She spent much of her childhood up a tree, Mills & Boon book in hand. Clare is married to her own real-life hero and they live in a bungalow near the sea with their two children. She is frequently found staring into space—a surefire sign that she is in the world of her characters. She has a penchant for French food and ice-cold champagne, and Mills & Boon novels continue to be her favourite ever books. Writing for Modern Romance is a long-held dream. Clare can be contacted via clareconnelly.com or at her Facebook page.

Also by Clare Connelly

Bought for the Billionaire’s Revenge

Innocent in the Billionaire’s Bed

Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk.

Her Wedding Night Surrender

Clare Connelly

Her Wedding Night Surrender - fb3_img_img_0bdca1a9-812c-5729-8da3-95eec75e64d5.jpg

www.millsandboon.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-474-07196-3

HER WEDDING NIGHT SURRENDER

© 2018 Clare Connelly

Published in Great Britain 2018

by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

By payment of the required fees, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right and licence to download and install this e-book on your personal computer, tablet computer, smart phone or other electronic reading device only (each a “Licensed Device”) and to access, display and read the text of this e-book on-screen on your Licensed Device. Except to the extent any of these acts shall be permitted pursuant to any mandatory provision of applicable law but no further, no part of this e-book or its text or images may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, translated, converted or adapted for use on another file format, communicated to the public, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

® and ™ are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with ® are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries.

www.millsandboon.co.uk

For Kylie Adams,

who has supported and encouraged me from the start.

Contents

Cover

Back Cover Text

About the Author

Booklist

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

EPILOGUE

Extract

About the Publisher

PROLOGUE

‘SO, LET ME get this straight.’ Pietro stared across his desk at the man he’d idolised for the better part of two decades. ‘You’re actually asking that I marry your daughter—a woman thirteen years my junior, a woman I barely know. And why, exactly, do you suppose I’ll say yes?’

Across from him Col shifted in his chair, his own gaze direct. ‘Emmeline is a beautiful and intelligent woman. Why are you so offended by my suggestion?’

Pietro’s scepticism on that score wasn’t something he wished to communicate to his friend. Nor the belief he held that Emmeline was either painfully shy or vapid.

‘I have no intention of marrying anyone,’ Pietro said, neatly sidestepping the question. ‘Ever.’

‘Even better. Marrying Emmeline isn’t going to skittle any lingering love affair for you.’

Pietro’s lips were a gash, scored across his face. He spoke emphatically and with the kind of iron-like command that had his corporate opponents running scared. ‘There will be no marriage.’

вернуться

Pietro has strict rules for his marriage...

And he’s breaking every one of them!

Pietro Morelli is breaking his own rule—seducing his virgin bride! Heiress Emmeline is meant to be a wife of convenience, but the intense chemistry between them is more powerful than either can deny. But while Pietro hides a devastating secret, can they ever have more than a marriage in name only?

вернуться

CLARE CONNELLY was raised in small-town Australia among a family of avid readers. She spent much of her childhood up a tree, Mills & Boon book in hand. Clare is married to her own real-life hero and they live in a bungalow near the sea with their two children. She is frequently found staring into space—a surefire sign that she is in the world of her characters. She has a penchant for French food and ice-cold champagne, and Mills & Boon novels continue to be her favourite ever books. Writing for Modern Romance is a long-held dream. Clare can be contacted via clareconnelly.com or at her Facebook page.

вернуться

Also by Clare Connelly

Bought for the Billionaire’s Revenge

Innocent in the Billionaire’s Bed

Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk.

вернуться

Her Wedding Night Surrender

Clare Connelly

Her Wedding Night Surrender - fb3_img_img_0bdca1a9-812c-5729-8da3-95eec75e64d5.jpg

www.millsandboon.co.uk

вернуться

ISBN: 978-1-474-07196-3

HER WEDDING NIGHT SURRENDER

© 2018 Clare Connelly

Published in Great Britain 2018

by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

By payment of the required fees, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right and licence to download and install this e-book on your personal computer, tablet computer, smart phone or other electronic reading device only (each a “Licensed Device”) and to access, display and read the text of this e-book on-screen on your Licensed Device. Except to the extent any of these acts shall be permitted pursuant to any mandatory provision of applicable law but no further, no part of this e-book or its text or images may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, translated, converted or adapted for use on another file format, communicated to the public, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

® and ™ are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with ® are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries.

www.millsandboon.co.uk

вернуться

For Kylie Adams,

who has supported and encouraged me from the start.

вернуться

PROLOGUE

‘SO, LET ME get this straight.’ Pietro stared across his desk at the man he’d idolised for the better part of two decades. ‘You’re actually asking that I marry your daughter—a woman thirteen years my junior, a woman I barely know. And why, exactly, do you suppose I’ll say yes?’

Across from him Col shifted in his chair, his own gaze direct. ‘Emmeline is a beautiful and intelligent woman. Why are you so offended by my suggestion?’

Pietro’s scepticism on that score wasn’t something he wished to communicate to his friend. Nor the belief he held that Emmeline was either painfully shy or vapid.

‘I have no intention of marrying anyone,’ Pietro said, neatly sidestepping the question. ‘Ever.’

‘Even better. Marrying Emmeline isn’t going to skittle any lingering love affair for you.’

Pietro’s lips were a gash, scored across his face. He spoke emphatically and with the kind of iron-like command that had his corporate opponents running scared. ‘There will be no marriage.’

Col smiled at the swift rebuke. Apparently the commanding tone that Pietro’s business adversaries feared was inconsequential to Col.

‘I love you, Pietro. Like a son. You and Emmeline are the most important people in my life. I need you to marry her.’

‘Why? Where has this come from?’ Pietro leaned forward, analysing every flicker of the older man’s face.

‘I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks.’

‘Why?’ Pietro pushed, certain now that he wasn’t seeing the full picture.

Col exhaled slowly and his eyes dropped away from Pietro’s. ‘Emmeline wants to go to university. She’s found a place in Rome. I’ve told her she may come here to study, with my blessing. But only so long as she marries you.’

‘And she has agreed?’ Pietro snapped scathingly, his impression of Emmeline as a limpet who’d signed her life away on a dotted line increasing.

‘It took some discussion,’ Col admitted gruffly. ‘But, yes, she agreed.’ His eyes held a defiant glint in their depths. ‘Emmeline would do anything I ask of her. She’s always been a good girl.’

A good girl? Pietro had to concentrate hard to stop himself rolling his eyes. Good girls were boring. Predictable. Dull. The description served only to reinforce his dim opinion of the Senator’s daughter.

‘So?’ Pietro laughed, the sound rich with disbelief. ‘I can keep an eye on your daughter without marrying her!’

‘Damn it!’ Col shouted, the words an angry curse on his lips. ‘That’s not enough.’

‘Why not?’ Pietro narrowed his eyes. ‘What am I missing?’

Col’s glare was defiant, his expression rich with displeasure. But after a burning moment of silence he nodded. Just once, but it was enough to signal a surrender of sorts.

‘What I’m about to tell you stays in this room.’

Perplexed, Pietro jerked his head in agreement.

‘Swear it, Pietro. Swear you will keep my confidence.’

‘Of course.’

Pietro had no concept of what he was agreeing to, at that point, so it was easy to go along with the Senator’s insistence.

‘There are only two people other than myself who know what I’m about to tell you. Not even Emmeline knows.’

A frisson of anticipation drummed along Pietro’s spine. He stayed silent, waiting for the Senator to continue.

‘There’s no easy way to say this. I’m dying.’

Pietro froze. He felt his body go into a kind of shocked stasis. ‘What?’ he heard himself query after a long moment, and the word was almost sucked out of him.

‘Dying. My oncologist thinks I’ve probably got a few months in me yet.’

He leaned forward, and the determination in his gaze sent shivers running down Pietro’s spine.

‘They won’t be good months, though. I want Emmeline as far away from me as possible. I want her happy. Safe. Protected. I want her blissfully unaware of what’s happening to me.’

Pietro felt as though a slab of bricks had landed on his chest and was determinedly squeezing all the air out of him. He’d lost his own beloved father to cancer twenty years earlier. The idea of going through that again turned his blood to ice.

‘That can’t be right.’ He ran a palm over his eyes and stared at the Senator with renewed interest. He looked so well. Just as always. ‘Have you had a second opinion?’

‘Don’t need one.’ Col shrugged. ‘I saw the X-rays. Cancer everywhere.’

Pietro swore in his own tongue. It had been a long time since he’d felt so powerless. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I don’t want your apology. I want your help. Damn it, I’m begging you for it.’

Inwardly, Pietro groaned. He would do almost anything for the older man. But marrying his daughter...?

‘Surely Emmeline would prefer to find her own partner...’

‘Who?’ Col scoffed. ‘Some fortune-hunter? She’s going to be worth billions of dollars when I die. Billions. Not to mention inheriting the estate and the oil rig off Texas. And she’s got no experience with the world.’ He grunted angrily. ‘That’s my fault. After her mother died I wanted to protect her. I wanted to keep her away from all that was ugly. I did a damned good job. But now I find myself with a twenty-two-year-old daughter who’s about to be orphaned—and, hell, Pietro, I need to know that someone will look after her.’

‘I will,’ he assured Col, meaning it.

‘The occasional email won’t cut it. I need her living under your roof. Emmeline needs looking after.’

‘You say she doesn’t know about the cancer?’

‘Absolutely not. And she’s not going to.’

‘What are you talking about?’

‘I want to spare her this pain. I owe her that much.’

Pietro felt frustration gnawing through him. Of all the requests he’d expected, this was nowhere on the list he’d prepared.

‘It’s the only thing I’ve ever asked of you, Pietro. Promise me you’ll do this. For me.’

вернуться

CHAPTER ONE

‘YOU DON’T LIKE ME, do you?’

She regarded the handsome Italian thoughtfully, taking in his expensive suit, thick dark hair, dark chestnut eyes and lips that looked as if they were made to curse and kiss. Lower, there was the cleft in his chin, then broad shoulders and a muscled chest. Yes, even though he was wearing that suit she knew it would be muscled. There wasn’t an ounce of spare flesh on him—just toned, honed body.

A shiver ran down her spine as she wondered just how the hell she was going to go through with this.

Marriage to this man? Talk about a baptism of fire. No experience—and she had very little anyway—could have prepared her for this.

He didn’t answer. Had he even heard? She’d asked the question quietly, in a sort of stage whisper.

She sucked in a breath and focussed on him anew. ‘I said—’

‘I know what you said.’

His voice was accented. Thick with spiced consonants and mystery. He drummed his fingers—long fingers, with neat nails and a sprinkling of hair over the knuckles—on the arm of his chair.

‘It’s late. Would you like a coffee? Something stronger?’

Emmeline shook her head and her hair, which was long and lay flat down her back, moved a little, like a shimmering curtain. ‘I’m fine.’

He compressed his lips and stood, moving across the room with a stride that spoke of raw, feral power. She watched as he took the glass lid off a decanter and tilted it, filling a round highball tumbler with amber liquid. He threw at least half of it back in one go and then spun the glass in his hand, his fingers moving easily around its circumference as he rotated it purposefully.

‘I know this all seems crazy...’ Emmeline murmured, her eyes large as they found his.

The force of meeting his gaze startled her and she looked away again just as quickly.

His lips curled in an expression of derisive acknowledgement. ‘Un po,’ he agreed. ‘A little.’

‘The thing is, I don’t want to upset my father. I’ve never been able to bear the idea of hurting him.’

Her eyes flicked to his again, and this time she held his gaze, forcing herself to be brave. If she wanted this man to be part of her plan, her bid for freedom, then she needed him to know she wasn’t afraid. Even though the charcoal depths of his eyes made her stomach flip and churn, she kept her courage.

‘Since my mother died he’s wrapped me up in cotton wool. And I’ve let him.’

She bit down into her lower lip. Contrary to his first impression, it was a full, pleasingly shaped lip, Pietro realised distractedly, before throwing back another measure of Scotch.

Emmeline’s sigh was a soft exhalation. ‘I’ve felt for years that I should assert myself more. That I should insist on the freedoms and privileges that any other person my age would have.’

‘So? Why have you not?’

For Pietro’s part, the very idea of Emmeline’s rarefied existence was abhorrent. Virtually from infancy he had bucked against restraint of any kind. He had always wanted more of everything—particularly independence and maturity.

‘It’s hard to explain.’ Even to herself!

She had struggled for years to come to terms with the life she was leading—choosing to lead, in many ways.

‘After Mom’s suicide he fell apart. Keeping me safe, knowing I was protected—it became an obsession for him. I couldn’t bear to see him hurt again like he was when she died.’

Pietro froze, his body stiff, his expression unknowingly wary. The expression in Emmeline’s face touched something deep inside him, tilting him way off balance.

‘Yes,’ she said, answering his unspoken question, interpreting his silence only as surprise. ‘I do know how she died.’

Her face drained of colour and she crossed her slender legs in the opposite direction, her hands neatly clasped in her lap.

‘Your father went to great lengths to...to protect you from the truth.’

‘Yes.’ Her smile was twisted, lop-sided. ‘I just told you—protecting me from everything has become somewhat of an obsession to him.’

When had Emmeline come to realise that her father’s protection was hurting her? That his well-intentioned benevolence was making her miss out on so much in life?

‘How did you find out?’

The gravelled question dragged her back to their conversation, and to a dark time in her life that she tried her hardest not to think about.

‘I was fifteen—not five,’ she said with a lift of her shoulders, her expression carefully neutral. ‘He wrapped me up as best he could, but I still went to school and kids can be pretty brutal. She drove into a tree, sure—but it was no accident.’

Her eyes showed all the emotion that her face was concealing. Perhaps under normal circumstances he might have comforted her. But these weren’t normal circumstances and she wasn’t a normal woman. She was to be his bride, if he agreed to go along with this.

As if he had any choice! The loyalty and affection he felt for Col, combined with the older man’s terminal diagnosis, presented him with a black and white scenario.

‘I don’t think he ever got over losing her, and he’s terrified of something happening to me. As much as this all seems crazy, I can see why he feels as he does.’ She cleared her throat. This next part was where she really had to be strong. ‘So, yes. I think we should get married.’

The laugh that escaped his lips was a short, sharp sound of reproach. ‘You don’t think I’m the kind of man who’d like to ask that question myself?’

‘Oh...’

Her eyes narrowed speculatively and there was a direct confidence in her gaze that unsettled him slightly.

‘I think you’re the kind of man who has no intention of asking that question ever. Of anyone.’ She cleared her throat again. ‘If the gossip pages are to be believed, you’re more interested in installing a revolving door to your bedroom than settling down.’

His smile was laced with icy disdain. ‘Is that so?’

‘Your...exploits are hardly a tightly guarded secret.’

She bit down on her lip again, her eyes dropping to the floor. The lighting was dim, but he could see the flush of pink in her cheeks.

‘No,’ he agreed softly.

The word should have been a warning, but Emmeline had no experience with men at all. And definitely not with men like Pietro Morelli.

‘I don’t propose you stop...um...that...’ She waved a hand in the air, the dainty bangles she wore jingling like windchimes on the eve of a storm.

‘Don’t you? My, my—what an accommodating wife you’ll be.’

‘I won’t really be your wife,’ she pointed out quickly. ‘I mean, we’ll be married, but it will be just a means to an end. I imagine we can live perfectly separate lives.’

She tilted her head to the side thoughtfully, recalling the details she’d seen of his sprawling mansion on the outskirts of Rome.

‘Your house is enormous. We’ll probably hardly see one another.’

He rubbed a hand over his stubbled chin, somewhat mollified by her realism in the face of such a ludicrous suggestion. At least she wasn’t getting carried away with fairy tale fantasies, imagining herself as a Disney princess and he as her long-awaited Prince Charming.

‘And that wouldn’t bother you?’ he drawled, his eyes raking over her from the top of her bent head to the curved body and crossed legs.

She was the picture of boring, high-society America. No fashion, no sense of style or personality—just a beige trouser suit with a cream blouse and a pearl choker wrapped around her slender, pale neck. Why would any twenty-two-year-old choose to style themselves in such a fashion?

‘Of course not,’ she said, the words showing her surprise. ‘I just told you—it wouldn’t be a real marriage. My father will be comforted by knowing that we’re married—he’s so old-fashioned—but I don’t think he expects it to be some great big love-match. It’s a dynastic marriage, pure and simple.’

‘A dynastic marriage?’ he heard himself repeat.

‘Yes. It’s hard for people like us to settle down. To meet a person who’s interested in us rather than our fortunes.’

She shrugged her shoulders and Pietro had the impression that Col had been fundamentally wrong about Emmeline. She didn’t strike Pietro as particularly vulnerable. If anything, she had an incisive grasp of the situation that he hadn’t expected.

‘I definitely don’t want your money. In fact I don’t want anything from you. Just the freedom our marriage offers me.’

Why did that bother him? Her calm insistence that she would take his name and nothing else?

‘My mother would like grandchildren,’ he was surprised to hear himself say. Baiting her, perhaps? Or trying to unsettle her?

She laughed—a sound that caught him off-guard completely. It was a musical laugh, full of the colour that was otherwise lacking from her.

‘She probably already has several, given your reputation.’

Dark colour slashed across his cheeks. ‘Are you suggesting I have unacknowledged children running about the place?’

She shrugged. ‘Well, I guess it’s a possibility you should consider.’

His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. She had more spark than he’d appreciated. It was hidden deep beneath the veneer of cultured, polite society heiress, but her intelligence and acerbic wit were obvious now that he was actually in a conversation with her.

‘There aren’t,’ he said with finality. ‘The responsibility of parenthood is not one I would abandon.’

Yes, she could tell that about this man. He had a sombre, ultra-responsible air.

‘Then your mother may have to live with disappointment. At least she’ll have the satisfaction of not seeing her son in the society pages for all the wrong reasons every weekend.’

She stood up, pacing across the room thoughtfully, reminding him powerfully of his own back and forth with Col earlier that same evening.

‘You would need to be far more discreet, though. I’m not marrying you just to be embarrassed or ashamed. The outside world would have to think it was a normal marriage. I suppose we’d have to attend some events together, be seen out in public from time to time—that kind of thing. But within the walls of your home you can do what you want and with whom.’

‘So if you were to walk into this room and find me having sex with one of my lovers you would not be concerned?’

Her heart kerthunked but she kept her expression neutral. ‘Only from a sanitation perspective.’

He bit back a smile at her prim response. ‘I see.’

‘Daddy seems to think a quick wedding is for the best, and if we were to get married within the month I’d have time to enrol in a couple of subjects for next semester...’

‘Subjects?’ he asked, a frown marring his handsome face for a moment. Then he remembered her plans to study in Rome. The revelation of Col’s cancer had thrown everything else from his mind, particularly Emmeline’s reasons for pursuing this marriage.

‘Yes. University. I presumed Dad told you?’

‘He did,’ Pietro agreed.

‘Well, then, you see? I’m not going to be in your hair. I’ll be out doing my own thing much of the time.’

‘And there we may have a problem,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘While I appreciate your generosity in agreeing that my social life shouldn’t be disrupted, I would have no such tolerance for you in return.’

Emmeline tilted her head to one side, her eyes meeting his with obvious confusion. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I won’t marry a woman who wants to go out with other men. Who wants to sleep with other men.’

Emmeline pulled a face full of surprise. The possibility hadn’t even occurred to her, but his hard-line stance wrought instant confusion. ‘Why not?’

His eyes narrowed dangerously. ‘Because it might create the impression that I can’t satisfy my wife.’

‘Oh, heaven forbid anyone should cast aspersions on your big macho libido,’ she said, with a roll of her caramel eyes.

‘That is a deal-breaker for me, cara.’

She darted her tongue out and licked her lower lip. She hadn’t planned to go out looking for a boyfriend. The thought had really never entered her head. But, as she spoke to him now, the injustice of his being allowed to continue sleeping his way around Rome but having no such opportunity herself seemed manifestly unreasonable.

‘Then maybe you should abstain as well,’ she murmured, tapping a finger on the side of her mouth.

‘That’s not a very clever suggestion, is it?’

‘Why not? It seems only fair.’

He prowled towards her. Yes, prowled. She felt like a bird pinned under a rock, with an enormous growling lion circling her, waiting for his moment of attack.

‘Because I like sex,’ he said, when he was only a step away from her. ‘I am a red-blooded male and it’s a part of my life. So if you force me to give up sex with other women that leaves only you...’

He left the rest of the sentence unfinished, hanging in the air between them like a plank she would definitely never walk.

‘Okay...okay.’ She lifted her hands in surrender, but it was too late to stem the wave of sensations that were besieging her body. ‘No sex.’ Her voice was thready. ‘I mean, sex is fine for you.’ She closed her eyes softly. ‘And I’ll talk to you if I meet someone I like...deal?’

He compressed his lips, his eyes studying her face. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes wide, her lips slightly tremulous. Fascinating. Was that because she was annoyed? Or were more pleasurable emotions fuelling her physical response?

‘Si.’

She expelled a shaking breath, nodding slowly. ‘So we’ll get married?’

‘There are a few other matters to consider,’ he said quietly, the words thickened by emotion.

‘Such as?’

‘Your appearance.’

She froze, her eyes shocked into clashing with his. Arcs of electricity shimmied and sparked between them. ‘You mean how I look?’

His lips twisted into a tight, displeased smile. ‘That is generally what a person’s appearance means, is it not?’

She nodded, moving further away from him. She needed breathing room if she was going to keep a level head about her—particularly given this subject matter.

‘What about it?’

‘No one is going to believe I chose to marry you.’

He said it simply. So simply that she believed he hadn’t meant to wound her.

‘Why not?’ She narrowed her eyes, hoping her face wasn’t showing the effects of the cruelty his words were lashing her with.

‘Because you’re nothing like the kind of women I date. And, as you so rightly pointed out, there’s more than enough images of me with that kind of woman available to anyone who cares to search for my name on the internet.’

As Emmeline had. And she’d seen glamazon after glamazon in those online images: tall, thin, voluptuous, and all stunning. Pietro Morelli had a ‘type’, all right.

‘I like how I look,’ she said, but her mind cursed her for the lie it was. Concealing her body and playing down her looks was a habit that had formed many years earlier, and she wasn’t sure she had any desire to revise it.

‘It would not take much effort,’ he said quietly, his eyes moving over her dispassionately, assessingly.

A distant memory flashed before him of the first time he’d seen her, and the quick, instinctive desire that had warmed his blood before he’d remembered how young she was. She was naturally beautiful; why did she hide her looks?

Fire and outrage burned in her blood. ‘No.’

He compressed his lips, hiding the amusement that shifted through him at her determined recalcitrance. ‘If I’m going to go through with this I expect you to start dressing as if you actually have a figure and some kind of budget for clothing. It is what people will expect of my wife.’

She stared at him, agog. ‘You’re joking?’

‘No, carissima. It’s no joke.’ His eyes roamed her face analytically. ‘This is Roma. Find a boutique and worship your body, then I’ll consider it.’

His arrogance and his grim, scathing indictment infuriated her, but the realisation of her dream, the closeness of her escape were things so close she could smell freedom and liberation and she wasn’t going to let her appearance stop her.

Not for the first time, though, she felt the sharp needling of injustice at the lengths she had to go to in order to earn what most people perceived as a God-given right. What if she refused? Refused not just his request that she start to pay attention to her looks but also her father’s suggestion that they marry? What if she took a credit card and just ran away?

It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought about it. But the thought of what it would do to her father had always brought her swiftly back into line. She couldn’t hurt him. But here she had a way to be independent and make her father happy. She just had to tick a few boxes along the way.

‘Fine.’ Determination and resilience still glinted in her eyes.

‘Good.’ He nodded crisply.

He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. Something small and white. When he handed it to her she saw it was a business card with a woman’s name on it: Elizabetta Ronimi.

‘This is my secretary’s number. She will organise the details with you. Any time in the next month is fine for me.’

‘You want me to organise our wedding?’

He shrugged, as though it didn’t matter one bit to him. ‘I presumed you’d hire someone to do it, actually, but you’ll need to speak to Elizabetta regarding my availability and to co-ordinate your move to my villa. Si?’

‘Si,’ she mumbled wearily. ‘I suppose that makes sense.’

‘Good.’

She stared at him for several seconds before the penny dropped that she was being dismissed. Colour warmed her cheeks as she moved towards the chair she’d occupied and scooped up her clutch purse.

‘I’ll have Remi take you home.’

‘Remi?’

‘My driver.’

‘Oh, right.’ She nodded, but then shook her head. ‘I can grab a cab,’ she murmured.

He stopped her on the threshold to the room, his hand curving around her elbow. Warmth spiralled through her body, making her blood pound. Her gut twisted with something like anticipation and her mouth was dry.

‘He will soon be your driver too, cara. Go with him.’

She didn’t want to argue. She wanted to get out of there by the quickest means possible.

‘Thank you.’

‘Non ce di che,’ he said softly. ‘See you soon, Mrs Morelli.’

Emmeline’s eyes swept shut as she stepped out of his office, one single question pounding through her brain.

What the hell have I just agreed to do?

вернуться

CHAPTER TWO

THE SUN WAS high in the sky and beating down over Rome, but Emmeline barely felt it. She was cold to the centre of her being, anxiety throbbing through her.

In the end it had taken five weeks to get all the paperwork in order, including a swift visa application for Italy, helped in no small part by the last name that had always opened doors for her.

But who was this woman looking back at her now? She had a growing sense of desperation as she studied her own reflection, doubt tangling in her gut.

‘Aren’t you glad we went with the Vera?’ Sophie asked, wrapping an arm around her best friend’s shoulders, her own expression not showing even a hint of doubt. ‘You’re a vision.’

Emmeline nodded slowly. Sophie was right. The dress was exquisite. A nod to nineteen-twenties glamour, with cap sleeves and a fitted silhouette, its beading was perfect, and the shoes she’d chosen gave her an extra lift of height—not that she needed it.

Her hair had been styled in a similarly vintage look, pulled to one side and curled lightly, then held in place with a diamond clip that had belonged to Grandma Bovington. At her throat she wore a small diamond necklace, and vintage earrings completed the look. Her make-up was the work of some kind of magician, because the woman staring back at Emmeline actually looked...nice.

Beautiful?

Yes, beautiful.

‘I guess we should get going.’

‘Well, yeah, we’re a little late—but that’s your prerogative on your wedding day, isn’t it?’

Emmeline grimaced, lifted her head in a brief nod.

‘Honey, you’re going to need to work on your happy face,’ Sophie said quietly. ‘Your dad’s never gonna believe this isn’t torture for you if you don’t cheer up.’

‘It’s not torture,’ she said hastily.

Though she’d kept the truth behind this hasty marriage to herself, Sophie knew Emmeline well enough to put two and two together and get a glaringly clear picture of four.

‘It had better not be. I’ve seen your groom already and—whoo!’ She made an exaggerated fanning motion across her face. ‘He is hotter than a spit roast in hell.’

Emmeline could just imagine. Pietro Morelli on any given day of the week was more attractive than a single human being had any right to be, but on his wedding day...? Well, if he’d gone to half the trouble and expense she had then she knew she’d better start bracing herself.

‘Suit?’

‘Yes. But it’s how he wears it!’

Sophie grinned, and it occurred to Emmeline that Sophie was far more the type of Pietro’s usual love interest. With silky blonde hair that had been styled into a voluminous bun on the top of her head and in the emerald-green sheath they’d chosen for her bridesmaid’s dress, there was no hiding her generous curves in all the right places and legs that went on forever.

Sophie was also a political daughter—though of a congressman rather than a senator—and yet she had a completely different attitude to life and love than Emmeline. She’d always dated freely, travelled wherever and whenever she wanted. For every measure of obsessive attention Col had suffocated Emmeline with, Sophie had been given a corresponding quantity of freedom and benign neglect.

Emmeline had read her emails from Sophie with rapt envy, studying the photographs and closing her eyes, imagining herself alongside her friend. What had Paris on a spring evening smelled like? And how had Argentina been in the summer? And what about that time she’d travelled on a yacht around the Mediterranean, stopping in the French Riviera for a month just because it had taken her fancy?

But all that was ahead of Emmeline now. Soon it would be her!

This marriage was crazy in no small part, but it was also the smartest thing she’d ever done. Marriage to Pietro was freedom—freedom to live her own life without hurting her father. Freedom to explore, travel, to live—away from Annersty and yet not carrying the burden of having let her father down.

Was there any other way? A way that would give her true freedom? The kind of freedom that wasn’t purchased by marriage? The freedom of knowing she could live her own life?

She bit down on her lower lip, her eyes unknowingly haunted. Of course there was. She could have packed a bag and announced that she was leaving home at any time.

So why hadn’t she? Because she’d been with her father when her mother had died. She’d seen the way it had killed a part of his heart, withered it forever, and she didn’t dare do the same to him. She couldn’t hurt him.

She was making the right decision. She’d get what she wanted, albeit in a not particularly easy way, and her father would be placated. And then, eventually, she’d divorce Pietro and all would be well.

A renewed glint of determination shifted through her eyes. ‘Let’s go.’

Sophie nodded her approval. ‘Attagirl. That’s better.’

She sashayed to the door of the small room at the back of the ancient chapel, craning her head out and nodding.

Music began to play—loud and beautiful. A mix of organ, strings and woodwind. It was Pachelbel’s Canon in D, a piece that Emmeline had always loved.

She watched as Sophie disappeared ahead of her, counted the ten seconds Maria her wedding co-ordinator had advised and then stepped out of the anteroom into the back of the chapel.

It was packed. The pews were crammed full of well-dressed guests. Many of her father’s political friends had come, a few of her schoolfriends, and apparently all of Italy’s upper echelons of society had turned out to get a look at the woman who’d finally brought renowned bachelor and commitment-phobe Pietro Morelli to his knees.

She moved along the back of the church, behind the last row of guests, smiling as she caught the eye of someone she vaguely remembered having met once or twice on her visits to the Capitol.

The smile clung to her lips as she saw her father waiting for her. His eyes were moist with unshed tears, his body slim and lean in a fine suit. He wrapped her in a bear hug, almost squashing her, and then kissed her cheek.

His eyes, when he pulled back, searched hers. ‘Ready?’

She nodded, smiling brightly at him. She wouldn’t let him think she had doubts. Having agreed to this, she wouldn’t let him live with any kind of guilt over the fact that he’d pressured her into marrying a man she didn’t know—a man called Pietro Morelli, no less!

‘Good.’ He nodded. ‘I’m glad.’

He turned his body slightly and she turned with him, towards the front of the church. She looked past the acres and acres of guests, standing and staring with undisguised curiosity, and there was her groom.

Oh, boy.

Sophie really hadn’t been exaggerating. In fact she might have waxed a little more lyrical about just how freaking gorgeous her groom looked. All other Italian pin-ups—eat your heart out.

His skin was darker than it had been a few weeks ago, as though he’d been out in the sun a lot. Emmeline tried not to imagine him sunbaking on the Riviera, with a suitably gorgeous companion all too willing to rub oil over his body. Was it an all-over tan? Of course he’d have a private spot to go around in the altogether...

Her father was walking, and she had no choice but to walk with him. One foot in front of the other. But as she got closer her trepidation doubled. Up close to Pietro, she was reminded powerfully of that handsome face with its permanent scowl and the dark, intelligent eyes, his chiselled jaw and symmetrical features. The broad body that she somehow just knew would be hard and warm.

His eyes met hers and there was something in them—challenge? Admiration? No, not that. But his look was intent. He stared at her long and slow, uncaring of the hundreds of guests assembled, nor the priest who was waiting patiently.

Col extended a hand and Pietro shook it. This evidence of their firm, long-held friendship gave Emmeline a much-needed boost. A timely reminder that he wasn’t a wolf—well, not just a wolf. He was someone who had every reason and every intention to be just what they’d agreed. A convenient husband. He was simply a very handsome means to a definitely necessary end.

‘Cara,’ he murmured, low and deep, in a husky greeting that set her pulse firing and spread goosebumps over her flesh. He leaned in close, whispering to her through the veil that covered her face. ‘This is more like it.’

Her heart turned over at the compliment, but something like impatience groaned in her chest—impatience that he might think she’d gone to all this effort for him; impatience at the fact that he was right.

She arched a brow and met his eyes without showing a hint of her turmoil. ‘I thought about wearing a suit, but, you know... This seemed more appropriate.’

‘Definitely. I almost wish I was going to be the one to remove it.’ He straightened, the hit having met its mark.

Her cheeks glowed with warm embarrassment at his comment, and the effect it had had on her body.

Traitorous flesh.

Her nipples peaked, straining against the soft fabric of her bodice, and an image of him doing just that spooked into her mind. His suit would be rumpled, his jacket discarded, the tie gone, the shirt half unbuttoned with its sleeves pushed up to expose his tanned forearms. There were seemingly a thousand buttons on her dress—probably actually only fifty—and it had taken Sophie the better part of a half-hour to pull the dress together. Would he move slowly or quickly?

She swallowed, staring straight ahead.

The service itself was surprisingly swift. A simple recitation of vows, just as she’d seen in dozens of movies and television shows, preceded by the question about whether or not anyone objected.

That part had had Emmeline holding her breath, waiting, wondering—and strangely hoping no one would say Yes, this is a sham! She’d waited, watching intently as the priest’s eyes had skimmed over the congregation.

Finally he turned to the couple, smiling brightly.

‘Then without further ado, I now pronounce you man and wife.’

Not husband and wife, she noted in the small part of her brain still capable of rational thought. ‘Husband’ and wife would suggest that he too had been altered in some significant way by what they’d just done. ‘Man’ and wife made all the changes hers.

‘You may now kiss your bride.’

She winced unknowingly. Your bride. A possessive phrase that spoke of ownership and rankled. Well, what had she expected? She’d chosen this path to freedom because it was easy. Because it meant she wouldn’t have to upset her father. She deserved to feel a little objectified.

Her small facial expression of displeasure was easy for Pietro to discern. Seeing it pass across her face like a storm cloud, he wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her closer to his body quickly, easily, giving her no chance to question his actions. His eyes briefly met hers and there was sardonic amusement at the heart of his gaze.

She tilted her chin defiantly, inadvertently giving him the perfect angle of access. He dropped his lips to hers, pressing them against her mouth, separating her lips easily and sliding his tongue inside.

It was an invasion of every single one of her senses.

Did he know it was her first kiss? Yes, her first kiss—at the age of twenty-two and on her wedding day. Shame made her toes curl and yet desire heated her up, right to the base of her abdomen. His fingers on her back feathered across her nerve-endings, and she made a small whimper low in her throat that only her groom could possibly have heard.

He broke the kiss, his eyes meeting hers laughingly.

Was he laughing at her?

Her heart was racing, banging against her ribs so hard she thought it might crack them. Her breath was burning inside her body and she stared at him in a tangle of confusion. It took at least ten seconds for her to remember where she was and who she was with.

‘I would slap you if all these people weren’t watching us,’ she muttered under her breath, pasting a tight smile to her face.

His lip lifted in sardonic mockery. ‘Or would you rip my clothes off?’ he pondered.

But before she could respond, he reached down and took her hand in his.

‘They are watching, so keep pretending this is the happiest day of your life.’

By the time they’d reached the end of the aisle, having paused several times to accept good wishes and hugs of congratulation, Emmeline’s mouth was aching from the forced smile she’d adopted.

A crowd had formed beyond the church and there was a throng of paparazzi. Inwardly, Emmeline trembled at the idea of being photographed. Her husband apparently had no such qualms.

‘Ready?’ he asked, pausing just inside the door, sparing a quick glance at her face.

Then again, why would he hesitate? This was his life. If the number of photographs of him on the internet proved anything it was that he was followed and snapped often. He probably couldn’t walk down the street without someone taking his picture.

But Emmeline’s life hadn’t been like that. A handful of society events had led to her picture sometimes being splashed in the papers, though not often. She was too drab. Boring. Ugly. Why print a picture of Emmeline Bovington unless it was to compare her unfavourably to the renowned beauty her mother had been?

She closed her eyes, sucking in a deep breath, and was unaware of the way Pietro’s eyes had caught the deceptive action.

He studied her thoughtfully. He’d seen panic before, and he saw it now. Was this idea so unpalatable to her? Hell, she’d suggested it and her father had railroaded him. If anyone should be panicking it was Pietro.

Her hesitation annoyed him—probably more than it should. He stepped out through the door, holding her hand and bringing her with him into the brightness of the Italian afternoon. The steps towards the street were empty, but beneath them was a large crowd, and as they erupted from the church applause broke out. Rose petals were thrown high into the air. The noise was deafening.

He smiled, lifting a hand in acknowledgement, and turned towards his bride.

There it was again.

Panic.

Blinding, devastating panic.

Impatience crumpled his common sense and quickly ate up his judgement. He caught her around the waist and this time he tipped her back in a swoon worthy of an old black and white Hollywood movie.

His lips on hers were an assault; it was a kiss that gave voice to his annoyance when he wasn’t otherwise able to. Her hands curled around his neck, her fingers tangling in the hair at his neck, and she made that noise again. That little whimper of confusion that made him hard all over.

That annoyed him even more, and he pressed his hands into her back, lifting her higher, pressing his arousal against her abdomen, leaving her in little doubt of just what kind of man she’d married.

It lasted only seconds, but when he eased her back to stand and pulled away from her the crowd broke out into thunderous applause.

Her eyes were thunderous too. Thunderously pissed off. He could practically hear the storm brewing.

Good. Let Little Miss Refined work on that.

‘I swear to God, kiss me again and I’ll wait until you’re asleep and do some serious damage to you,’ she said angrily, but her smile was plastered on again seconds later as Col came up behind them.

‘I know I wanted this for you both, but seeing you together...’ He shook his head wistfully, tears in his eyes. ‘I could die a happy man right now.’

Emmeline laughed, not noticing the way her husband had stiffened at her side. ‘God, Daddy, don’t say that. You’ll tempt the heavens.’

‘Che sera, sera,’ Col said with a shrug.

Emmeline dismissed that attitude. Her father was clearly thrilled that the wedding had taken place, and she wasn’t going to take that away from him. Now there were several family photographs to pose for.

Emmeline had met Pietro’s mother Ria a few times over the years, and it was easy enough to make conversation with her. His brother Rafe was similarly easy. At least five years younger, Emmeline wondered why he hadn’t been suggested as a possible groom by her father. He boasted the same pedigree and was equally handsome. Less established in his career, it was true, but with their family fortune what did that matter?

‘So, you’re now my sister-in-law, eh?’

She returned Rafe’s smile, and felt herself relaxing as they posed in the sunshine for the requisite shots.

Nonetheless, it was a relief when the photographer declared she had enough ‘for now’ and they were free to return to their guests. For Emmeline, that meant Sophie and a hint of normality.

‘Ah, the woman of the hour.’ Sophie grinned, passing her half-finished champagne flute to Emmeline.

‘Don’t remind me.’ She took a sip, and then another, closing her eyes as the cold bubbles washed down her throat.

‘So, Maria was just running through the details with me.’

‘Ugh—there’s still more, isn’t there?’

Sophie laughed softly. ‘The reception. But don’t worry—that’s just a cocktail party at a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the river.’

‘Okay, I can cope with that.’

‘Then you and Pietro will take your leave—insert catcalling and whistling—and the rest of us young, hip and happening people will have an open bar at some club that’s just opened. Apparently your husband had something to do with the financing of it.’ Sophie shrugged. ‘Sounds kind of fun.’

Emmeline pulled a face. ‘Not to me. I can’t think of anything worse.’

‘Yes, well... I’m sure you’ll have your hands full anyway...’

Emmeline sent her friend a scathing look. ‘Yeah, right.’

‘Hmm, I saw the way you guys kissed. I know passion when I see it.’

Emmeline practically choked on her champagne. She coughed to cover it, lifting a hand to her mouth.

‘Trust me—that’s not what this is.’

‘Then you need to get to a hospital, because if you can be in the same room as that guy and not need CPR then you are some kind of cold fish.’

‘Or just a very sensible woman,’ she said quietly.

* * *

The formalities seemed to last forever. Speeches. The cutting of the cake. Their first dance as a couple...

Emmeline stood in Pietro’s arms, trying her hardest to pretend not to be affected by her husband’s touch when a single look had the power to turn her blood to lava.

‘So...’ he drawled, the single word imbued with more cynicism than she’d known was possible. ‘You are my wife.’

The sentence brought a smile to her face, but it wasn’t a smile of pleasure.

‘Don’t sound so thrilled about it.’

He slowed the movement of their bodies, his eyes scanning the crowd. ‘I can name three people who are beside themselves,’ he said coldly.

She followed the direction of his gaze. Her father and his mother stood to one side, each of them beaming with obvious pleasure.

‘Yeah, I guess this is a dream come true for Daddy,’ she said with a small shake of her head.

There was a look of frustration in her eyes that Pietro thought about probing. But the last thing he wanted was to get to know his inconvenient bride any better.

‘And for my mother,’ he said simply. ‘I’m sure she’s imagining a lifetime of calm now that I’ve apparently hung up my bachelor shoes.’

‘Apparently.’ She repeated the word, rolling it around in her mouth, wondering about the practicalities of what they’d agreed to. The idea that he’d be free to see other women so long as he was discreet.

It didn’t bother her. At least that was what Emmeline told herself. And yet a pervasive sense of confusion filled her.

They would be living under the same roof, seeing each other in the hallways, the kitchen, the lounge, the pool. Despite her protestation that they’d be like flatmates, was it possible that she would be able to ignore her husband at such close quarters?

From the first moment she’d seen him she’d found him worryingly distracting, and the years hadn’t stilled that awareness.

And now they were married...

‘You are as stiff as a board,’ he complained. ‘Did you never learn to dance?’

Her cheeks flushed pink and the look she cast him was laced with hurt. ‘I was lost in thought,’ she mumbled, making an effort to pay attention to her husband.

‘Dancing does not require your mind. It is something you feel in your body. It is a seduction.’

He rolled his hips and colour darkened her cheekbones. His body was every bit as fascinating as she’d imagined. All hard edges and planes, strong and dominating, tempting and forbidden in equal measure.

It would be playing with fire ever to touch him in earnest. This was different—a dance at their wedding was unavoidable. But Emmeline had to keep her distance or she’d risk treading a very dangerous path.

‘Relax,’ he murmured, dropping his head towards hers. ‘Or I will kiss whatever it is you are thinking out of your mind.’

She started, losing her footing altogether. She might have fallen if he hadn’t wrapped his arms more tightly around her waist, bringing her dangerously close to his body.

‘Don’t you dare,’ she snapped.

His laugh was like gasoline to a naked flame.

‘Then smile. Relax. At least pretend you are enjoying yourself.’ He dropped his mouth to her ear and whispered, ‘Everyone is watching us, you know.’

She swallowed, her eyes scanning the room over his shoulder. The room was indeed full of wedding guests dressed in beautiful clothes, all smiling and nodding as he spun her around the dance floor.

Emmeline’s heart sank.

Pretending to be married to Pietro Morelli was going to require a hell of a lot more patience and performance than she’d envisaged.

* * *

It was late in the night and Emmeline stifled another yawn. Sophie had found a group of friends—as always—and was charming them with her wit and hilarity. Emmeline listened, laughing occasionally, though she knew all the stories so well they might as well have been her own. Still, sitting with Sophie and pretending to laugh at her hijinks was better than watching her husband.

Her eyes lifted in his direction unconsciously.

He was still talking to her. The redhead.

Emmeline’s frown was instinctive—a response to the visual stimulus of seeing a stunning woman so close to the man she, Emmeline, had married only hours earlier.

The woman had auburn hair that tumbled down her back in wild disarray, and she was short and curvaceous, but not plump. Just the perfect kind of curvy—all enormous rounded boobs and butt, tiny waist and lean legs. Her skin was honey-coloured and her lips were painted bright red. Her nails, too. She wore a cream dress—wasn’t it considered bad manners to wear white to someone else’s wedding?—and gold shoes.

Who was she?

Pietro leaned closer, his lips moving as he whispered in the woman’s ear, and the woman nodded, lifting a hand to his chest as she dragged her eyes higher, meeting his. From all the way across the room Emmeline could feel the sexual tension between them.

She stood without thinking, her eyes meeting Sophie’s apologetically. I’ll be right back, she mouthed.

Sophie barely missed a beat. She carried on with the story of the time she’d got caught flying from Thailand to London with very illegal monkey droppings in her handbag—she’d been sold them at a market and told they would bring good luck...whoops!—and Emmeline walked deliberately across the room towards her groom and the woman she could only presume to be a lover—past or future. She didn’t know, and she told herself she definitely didn’t care.

She was only a step away when Pietro shifted his attention from the redhead, his eyes meeting Emmeline’s almost as though he didn’t recognise her at first. And then his slow-dawning expression of comprehension was followed by a flash of irritation.

He took a small step away from the other woman, his face once more unreadable.

‘Emmeline,’ he murmured.

‘Pietro.’ Her eyes didn’t so much as flicker towards the woman by his side. ‘I need you a moment.’

His lips twitched—with amusement or annoyance, she couldn’t have said. He walked towards her, putting a hand in the small of her back and guiding her to the dance floor.

Before she could guess his intentions he spun her around, dragging her into his arms and moving his hips. Dancing. Yes, he was dancing. Again.

She stayed perfectly still, her face showing confusion. ‘I don’t want to dance any more.’

‘No, but you want to speak to me. It is easier to do that if we dance. So dance.’

‘I...’ Emmeline shook her head. ‘No.’

He slowed his movements and stared at her for a long, hard second. ‘Why not?’

‘Because it’s not my...thing,’ she mumbled, looking away.

Mortification filled her. So many things she’d never really done. Experiences she’d blindly accepted that she would never enjoy. She’d made her peace with that. But now, surrounded by so many people who’d all lived with such freedoms as a matter of course, wasn’t it natural that she was beginning to resent the strictures of her upbringing?

Her voice was a whisper when she added, ‘As you so wisely pointed out.’

‘Then let me show you,’ he said.

And his hands around her waist were strong and insistent, so that her body moved of its own accord. No, not of its own accord; she was a puppet and he her master.

Just as she remembered—just as she’d felt hours earlier—every bit of him was firm. His chest felt as if it was cast from stone. He was warm too, and up close like this she could smell his masculine fragrance. It was doing odd flip-floppy things to her gut.

‘You told me you’d be discreet,’ Emmeline said, trying desperately to salvage her brain from the ruins of her mind. ‘But you looked like you were about to start making out with that woman a moment ago.’

‘Bianca?’ he said, looking over his shoulder towards the redhead. Her eyes were on them. And her eyes were not happy. ‘She’s a...a friend.’

‘Yeah, I can see that,’ Emmeline responded, wishing she wasn’t so distracted by the closeness of him, the smell. What was it? Pine? Citrus? Him?

‘Are you jealous?’

‘Yes, absolutely,’ she said with a sarcastic heavenwards flick of her eyes. She leaned closer, lowering her voice to a whisper. ‘We have a deal. I just don’t want our wedding guests to see you with another woman. What you do in private is up to you.’ She let the words sink in and then stopped moving. ‘I’d like to go home now.’

Pietro wasn’t used to being ashamed. He was a grown man and he’d lived his own life for a very long time. But something about her calm delivery of the sermon he really did deserve made a kernel of doubt lodge in his chest.

He knew he should apologise. He’d been flirting with Bianca and Emmeline was right: doing that on their wedding day wasn’t just stupid, it was downright disrespectful. To his bride, sure, and more importantly to their parents.

He stepped away from her, his expression a mask of cold disdain that covered far less palatable emotions. ‘Do you need anything?’

‘No.’

‘To say goodbye to anyone?’

She looked towards Sophie, enthralling her newfound friends, and shook her head. ‘I’d rather just go. Now.’

Silence sat between them and she waited, half worried he was going to insist on doing a tour of the room to issue formal farewells.

But after a moment, he nodded. ‘Okay. Let’s go, then.’

He put a hand on her back but she walked away, moving ahead of him, making it obvious she didn’t need him to guide her from the venue. She’d walk on her own two feet.

She hadn’t made this deal with the devil to finally find her freedom only to trade it back for this man.

Emmeline Morelli was her own woman, and seeing her husband fawning all over someone else had simply underscored how important it was for her to remember that.

вернуться

CHAPTER THREE

SHE’D EXPECTED A LIMOUSINE, but instead Pietro directed her to a low, sexy black Jaguar, parked right at the front of the restaurant.

He reached for the front passenger door, unlocking it at the same time, and Emmeline sat down quickly, stupidly holding her breath for some unknown reason. What did she think would happen if she breathed him in again?

He closed the door with a bang and a moment later was in the driver’s seat. The car throbbed to life with a low, stomach-churning purr, and he pulled out into the traffic with the consummate ease of a man who’d grown up in these streets and knew them well.

Silence stretched between them and it was far from comfortable. The car had a manual transmission and required frequent gear changes from the man with his hand curved around the leather gearstick, his strong legs spread wide as he revved the engine, his arm moving with the gears.

There was an athleticism in his movements even when simply driving a car.

Emmeline ground her teeth together and focussed on the passing view of starlit Rome. Her new home.

She hadn’t thought about what it would mean to leave Georgia behind. At most she’d contemplated the sadness that would come from not seeing her father so often. But there was so much more than that. Annersty was the plantation she’d called home all her life, in the town where she’d grown up, with all the people she knew...

‘Tell me what you see for yourself, in the future, pumpkin?’ her father had asked her.

‘I don’t know, Daddy. This. I like it here...’

‘But one day I won’t be here.’

His voice had been soft, yet it had cut like glass through her flesh.

‘One day,’ he’d said to calm her, and the words had been reassuring, referring to a time that was distant-seeming. ‘But I’d want to know you’ve got a family of your own to make you happy.’

‘I hardly know Pietro—and what I do know I don’t think I like.’

He’d given a laugh of genuine amusement. ‘He’s a good man. Do you think I’d be pushing for this if I didn’t thoroughly believe that?’

Her eyes had met his and she’d seen the truth in them. She’d nodded then, sealing her fate with that single gesture.

A soft sigh escaped her lips. She had agreed to this and there was no sense in getting all remorseful now. She’d married Pietro Morelli and they both knew it was a marriage in name only. She held that reassurance close like a talisman.

Yet what was that vitriolic acidity in her gut? It frothed angrily when she remembered the way he’d been looking at that redhead—Bianca—as though he wanted to lick her all over.

An angrier sigh pressed from her lips and Pietro turned his head, studying her in the intermittent light cast by the streetlamps they drove beneath. She looked pretty damned good, despite his assertion weeks earlier that she was far from the kind of woman he was attracted to. It wasn’t as though she’d made any major changes—only it was the first time he’d seen her in a dress, wearing make-up, heels, and with her hair done in a style other than a plain ponytail.

He fought the urge to ask her how she was feeling. It wasn’t his business and he sure as hell didn’t care.

He pressed his foot harder onto the accelerator, chewing up the miles to his home.

The gates swung open as they approached and he eased the car along the curving drive, pulling it up outside the garage. His fleet of vehicles was housed inside and his mechanic would be waiting to give the Jaguar a once-over. He cut the engine and turned to say something to his bride, though he wasn’t sure what.

There was no point, in any event. Her hand was on the door and she was pushing it outwards before he could articulate a thing.

She stood tall and proud, her eyes running over the façade of the building, studying it as if for the first time.

‘Nothing’s changed,’ he said, the words darker than the night that surrounded them.

She flashed him a tight smile. ‘Yes, it has.’ Her eyes looked bigger somehow, and the moon was drawing out flecks of amber and gold from amongst their caramel depths. ‘I live here now.’

Pietro’s expression was grim, and Emmeline flinched inwardly. Her own shock at the fact that they were now married was dwarfed only by his, and yet he made a decent show of pretending normality.

‘I’ll show you to your room. Come.’

She thought about making a joke—wasn’t it a tradition to carry a bride over the threshold of her new home?—but the tightness of his back as he walked away, the firm angle of his head, showed how little he wanted to laugh about this situation.

Emmeline followed, her gaze wandering over the façade of his house as she went. It was an impressive building. If she had found her host...no, her husband...less intimidating she would have asked him a little about it. Still, a place like this had to be in the history books; she could do her own research. Especially once she was at uni and had access to a fantastic library.

She breathed in, imagining the scent of all those books. Renewed purpose reassured her. There was a reason she’d married him. She had to keep that firmly in mind and then all would be well.

‘It’s late. I won’t give you the tour now. Tomorrow the housekeeper will show you where things are.’ He stood with his hands in his pockets, his attention focussed squarely ahead.

‘That’s fine, only...’

‘Si?’ It was an impatient huff.

‘Um...where am I supposed to sleep?’

His expression contorted with irritation but he moved forward, down a long corridor, then turned left and took her up a flight of stairs.

‘These rooms are for your use.’

He pushed a door inwards, showing her a practical space that had been set up with a desk, a bookshelf and a treadmill. The latter made her smile, though she covered it with a yawn.

‘Very good.’

‘There is a bathroom through there. And your bedroom is here.’

He nodded towards a third and final door and she turned the handle and pushed the door inwards, her eyes scanning the room with interest.

It was not dissimilar to a particularly lovely five-star hotel. A king-size bed made up with nondescript white bed linen and silvery grey throw cushions, a white armchair near the window and yet another book case, and double doors that presumably concealed a wardrobe.

With increasing interest she stepped into the room, the thick beige carpet soft underfoot.

‘No books?’ she murmured, eyeing the almost empty shelf. The sole book in its midst was a tourist guide to Rome and she refused to believe its placement had anything to do with her husband. He wasn’t thoughtful like that.

‘This has been used as guest accommodation in the past,’ he said softly. ‘The décor is neutral in order to accommodate the guests I’ve had staying here. You are free to add your own touches—furnish it with whatever books you wish.’

She fluttered her eyelids exaggeratedly. ‘Even if I want to paint the walls lime-green?’

His smile was dismissive. ‘Your choice. It is not as if I will ever be in here to see it.’

She laughed, but there was a thunderous rolling in her gut that she didn’t want to analyse. Anxiety, she told herself. She had taken herself out of the comfiest little nest in the world and dropped herself like a stone into the deep end of a raging river.

‘So, hot pink then?’ she joked, walking towards the window.

She hadn’t noticed at first, but as she got closer she saw that it was in fact French doors, and beyond the window was a small Juliet balcony.

Her heart fluttered as she turned the handle and opened the door, feeling a warm breeze breathe in off the city. They were far enough away that she could make out Rome’s landmarks with ease, see their place within the cityscape.

‘Your suitcases are in the wardrobe,’ he said, definitely impatient now, calling her attention back to the important business of getting settled. ‘I wasn’t sure if you’d find it invasive for the housekeeper to unpack for you. Let me know if you’d like me to send her up...’

Emmeline waved a hand in the air dismissively. ‘I can manage.’

‘Fine.’ A curt nod. ‘My room is down at the other end of the hallway. Last door on the right-hand side. If you need me.’

As in, Don’t bother me unless you’re on fire, your room is falling away from the building, and there is no one else you can think of to call.

‘Okay.’ She smiled—out of habit rather than happiness.

He paused on the threshold for a moment, his eyes glittering like onyx in his handsome face. ‘Buonanotte, cara.’

‘Goodnight.’ The word came out as a husky farewell. She cleared her throat but he was gone.

Emmeline stretched her arms over her head and then moved towards the door to her room, pushing it shut all the way until it clicked in place.

This was her home now.

She shouldn’t think of herself as a guest, nor of this arrangement as temporary. She’d married him—for better or for worse—and, while she wasn’t stupid enough to imagine they’d stay married forever, this was certainly her place in life for the next little while.

The doors did open on to a wardrobe, as she’d suspected, and her two suitcases sat in the centre. She’d unpack in the morning, she thought, when she had more energy. She pushed one open and pulled out a pair of cotton pyjamas and the prospectus for her university course, putting them on the foot of the bed.

Her feet were aching, her body was weary, her mind was numb. What she needed was a hot shower and the pleasant oblivion of sleep.

She reached around to the back of her dress and groaned out loud. The buttons. The damned buttons.

The mirrors in the wardrobe showed exactly what her predicament was. There were what seemed like hundreds of the things; they’d taken Sophie an age to do up, and without help Emmeline would never get out of her dress.

Obviously she could sleep in it. Sure, it was heavy and fitted, and she wouldn’t exactly be comfortable, but it would save her any embarrassment and she could simply ask one of the staff to help her the following morning.

Or... a little voice in the back of her mind prompted.

She grimaced. Yes, yes. Or...

She pulled the door inwards and peered down the corridor. It was longer than she’d appreciated at first, and somewhere at the end of it was the man she’d married.

Refusing to admit to herself that she was actually a little bit scared, she stepped into the hallway and walked down it, paying scant attention to the artwork that marked the walls at regular intervals. At the end of the corridor she waited outside the last door on the right, taking a moment to ball her courage together.

She lifted her hand and knocked—so timidly that she knew there was no way he would have heard the sound.

Shaking herself, she knocked harder:

Once.

Twice.

Her hand was poised to knock a third time, and then the door seemed to be sucked inwards. Pietro stood on the other side, his face unforgiving of the interruption.

‘Yes?’ It was short. Frustrated.

‘I...’ Emmeline swallowed. ‘Am I interrupting?’

‘Do you need something?’

Her eyes clashed with his—angry gold against unreadable black.

‘This is in no way an invitation...’

His lips flickered for the briefest second into a genuine smile. It was so fast she thought she might have imagined it.

‘Fine. What is it?’

She spun around, facing the wall of the corridor directly opposite. ‘There’s a billion buttons and I can’t undo them. I guess wedding dresses are designed with the fact in mind that a bride won’t be undressing alone...’

‘Apparently,’ he murmured, moving closer.

She knew that because she could feel him, even though he didn’t touch her. His warmth seemed to be wrapping around her like an opportunistic vine up an abandoned wall.

‘Would you mind?’ she asked quietly, keeping her attention focussed on the bland whiteness of the hallway wall.

‘And if I did?’

‘I suppose I could find some scissors somewhere...’ she pondered.

‘No need.’

And then, even though she’d come to his room for this express purpose, the sensation of his fingertips brushing against her back made her shiver. Her nipples strained against the fabric of her gown in a new and unexpected sensation.

‘Are you cold?’

The question caught her off-guard. She bit down on her lip, willing her body to behave, her pulse to quiet, her heart to settle. But her body had its own ideas, and it continued to squirm, delighting in his closeness and his touch.

‘I’m fine.’

His laugh was soft, his breath warm. It ran across her back like a wildfire she should have paid better attention to.

He pushed at the first button, flicking it open expertly. One down, nine hundred thousand to go, she thought bleakly. He dragged his fingers down to the next button and her stomach rolled with awareness.

Emmeline sucked in a deep breath.

He wasn’t trying to turn her on; this was just how he was. The man oozed sensuality from every pore of his gorgeous, perfectly tempting body.

Still, as he undid the second button and moved on to the third the dress parted an inch at the top, and she was sure it wasn’t an accident that his fingertips moved across her skin as he lowered them to button number four.

He worked slowly, and for every second she stood in front of him she felt as if her nerves were being pulled tight, stretched and tormented. At button number twenty he wasn’t even halfway down her back, and a fever-pitch of heat was slamming through her.

Had he undone enough for her to take the dress off? She wasn’t sure, at this stage, that she much cared if the dress got torn, so long as she could get it off without subjecting herself to another moment of...this.

Oh, maybe one more moment, she conceded weakly, sucking in a deep breath as his fingers grazed the flesh near where her bra should be. She hadn’t needed one in the dress; its boning was sufficient.

Lower still, and the next two buttons came apart slowly. His fingers were achingly close to her lower back, to the inches of flesh that dipped towards her rear.

No man had ever seen her there, let alone touched her. His fingers lingered on her flesh, not moving downwards, just stroking her skin. Her pulse hammered and her eyes drifted shut on a tidal wave of imagining and longing, on hormonal needs that had long ago been relegated to the back of her mind.

‘I... I...’ The word stammered out as a dubious whisper. ‘I can cope from here,’ she said quietly, even though her body screamed in silent rejection of her comment.

He ignored her. His hands moved lower, to the next button, pushing it through its beaded loop, separating the fabric, and then his fingers were back, lingering on the flesh exposed by the undone dress.

‘That’s enough,’ she said again, with more strength to her words, and she backed them up by moving a step forward, away from him, and slowly turning around.

His eyes almost electrified her. They were full of something—some strange emotion she couldn’t process. His jaw was clenched tight and there was displeasure lingering in the harsh curves of his lips.

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