Her Wedding Night Surrender
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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
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
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For Kylie Adams,
who has supported and encouraged me from the start.
‘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.’
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.’
‘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?’
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.
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