The Secret to Marrying Marchesi

By: Amanda Cinelli

She self-consciously tugged the hem of her plain white cotton shirt down lower on her hips.

Rigo leaned casually against the bar in the open-plan kitchen. His arms were crossed over his impressive chest and he continued to stare at her, waiting.

‘Nothing to say, Nicole?’ he asked.

‘I would say it’s nice to see you again, but we both know that would be a lie.’ She avoided his gaze, staring at a point to the left of his shoulder. ‘I suppose I should be honoured that you’ve even bothered to speak in person.’

His brows raised a centimetre. ‘Believe me, I have a thousand things I would much rather spend my time doing than this.’

‘At least we’re being honest.’ She shrugged, telling herself not to be hurt by that statement. She had no reason to be hurt. They were practically strangers. He might be her daughter’s biological father but they had only ever spent one night together. She felt heat reach her cheeks as she thought of what that night had involved.

Rigo didn’t seem to take any notice of her heightened colour. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t say we are being honest at all, Nicole,’ he drawled. ‘If you’re angling for more money, then I am afraid you are wasting your time. You’re lucky I am offering you anything at all and not dragging you into court for slander.’

‘I don’t want a single cent from you.’ Nicole crossed her arms defensively. ‘All I want is for the press to back off and give me back my privacy.’

Rigo let out a harsh bark of laughter. ‘Oh, that’s your play, is it? We both know you threw away any right you have to privacy the moment you dragged my name through the mud.’

‘I had nothing to do with this.’ She met his eyes without hesitation.

‘This is not a game, Nicole.’ His voice took on a dangerous tone. ‘I made it clear the last time we met that I am not a man to mess with.’

‘I would have been quite happy never to lay eyes on you again. Your ego is so large it’s amazing you can even get out of bed in the morning.’ She narrowed her eyes, the anger she felt finally rising to the surface.

Rigo took a step forward, a half-smile breaking across his harsh features. ‘Now, this is interesting. So far I’ve witnessed Nicole, the innocent temptress, followed by Nicole, the damsel in distress.’ He raised one brow. ‘But I think this passionately angry version is my personal favourite.’

Nicole was speechless. The way he looked at her, his eyes filled with such disdain... It made the hair on the back of her neck prickle. How had she ever thought that this man had felt anything close to what she’d felt that night? He was a complete stranger right now. The idea that they had ever been anything so romantic as lovers was poetic nonsense. The harsh reality was that they were simply two people who had had sex.

Once upon a time she might have thought they shared a connection. That for one night in his bed she had somehow been special.

She had been so naive.

‘Rigo, you are threatening to sue me because of gossip that I have no control over.’

‘Then, why have you not tried to deny it?’ he countered.

‘My silence is the most you’re going to get. I don’t deal with the press anymore.’

‘You will make a public statement that the child is not mine, Nicole.’

His mere presence was so commanding that she would be a fool not to feel intimidated by the demand. She fought the emotion welling up in her chest. It was ridiculous to feel hurt at his words after so long. After all, he had made his position on fatherhood quite clear. But still, a part of her had always hoped he would come in those weeks afterwards.

Even as she’d lain in hospital, terrified to hold her tiny premature daughter, she’d held hope that his world had shifted as profoundly as hers had. That he would instinctively know he had become a father.

Indignation won out over the sadness, and she stood up a little taller, meeting his gaze head-on. ‘I told you that I was pregnant with your child. You chose not to be a part of it, and that is fine. But I will not publicly tell lies and go against my principles as a mother just to protect your damn family name.’

He shook his head with disbelief. ‘Do you honestly think I would have let you run off like you did unless I was completely sure that I was not the father of your child?’

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