The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

By: Lynne Graham

 In the smouldering silence, beautiful, dark golden eyes fringed with velvet black held hers and she trembled, fighting reactions she had never experienced so powerfully before.

 ‘My offer’s on the table and I’m willing to negotiate with you. Discuss it with your sister and your father but urge them to keep the matter confidential,’ Cesare advised smoothly, staring down into her upturned face, attention lingering on the lush contours of her lips as he wondered what she would taste like. ‘We could go the full distance on this... I find you appealing.’

 And with that deeply unsettling comment, Cesare Sabatino swung on his heel and strode back out to the limousine sitting ready to depart. The driver leapt out to throw open the door for his passenger and Cesare lowered his proud dark head and climbed in.

 Appealing? Lizzie pushed her hair back off her brow and caught her surprised reflection in the small age-spotted mirror on the wall. He was really saying that he could go to bed with her and conceive a child with her if she was willing: that was what he meant by the word appealing. Her face flamed. She was not willing. She also knew the difference between right and wrong. She knew that more money didn’t necessarily mean more happiness and that a child was usually better off with a mother and a father.

 Yet the image of the tiny boy she had glimpsed cradled in her former fiancé’s arms after the child’s christening in the church had pierced Lizzie with a pain greater than that inflicted by Andrew’s infidelity. Lizzie had always wanted a baby and ached at the sight of infants. When Andrew had left her for Esther, she had envied Esther for her son, not her husband. What did that say about her? That she was as cold at heart and frigid as Andrew had once accused her of being? Even remembering that hurtful indictment, Lizzie winced and felt less than other women, knowing that she had been tried and found wanting by a young man who had only wanted a warm and loving wife. Lizzie knew that, in choosing Esther, Andrew had made the right decision for them both. Yet Lizzie had loved Andrew too in her way.

 Her eyes stung with moisture, her fingers toying with the ends of the brown-tinted hair that Andrew had persuaded her to dye. The dye was growing out, a reminder of how foolish a woman could be when she tried to change herself to please a man...

 But where on earth had her strong maternal instinct come from? Certainly not from her volatile mother, who in the grip of her wild infatuations had always focused her energies on the man in her life. Lizzie had not been surprised to learn of the impetuous way Francesca had evidently ditched Cesare’s father to marry Lizzie’s father instead. Hard Yorkshire winters and life on a shoestring, however, had dimmed Brian Whitaker’s appeal for her mother and within weeks of Chrissie’s birth Francesca had run off with a man who had turned out to be a drunk. His successor had been more interested in spending Francesca’s recent legacy following the death of her Italian parents than in Francesca herself. Her third lover had been repeatedly unfaithful. And the fourth, who married her, had been violent.

 Lizzie had always found it very hard to trust men after living through her mother’s grim roll call of destructive relationships. She had struggled to protect the sister five years her junior from the constant fallout of moving home and changing schools, striving to ensure that her sibling could still enjoy her childhood and wasn’t forced to grow up as quickly as Lizzie had. Almost all the happy moments in Lizzie’s life had occurred when Chrissie was young and Lizzie had the comfort of knowing that her love and care was both wanted and needed by her sibling. When her sister left home to go to university it had opened a vast hole in Lizzie’s life. Archie had partially filled that hole, a reality that made her grin and shrug off her deep and troubled thoughts with the acknowledgement that it was time to get back to work and concentrate on what really mattered.

 * * *

 ‘Marry him and stop making such a production out of it!’ Brian Whitaker snapped at his daughter angrily. ‘We don’t have any other choice. The rent is going up and the bank’s on the brink of calling in our loan!’

 ‘It’s not that simple, Dad,’ Lizzie began to argue again.

 But the older man wasn’t listening. He hadn’t listened to a word his daughter had said since the letter from the bank had delivered its lethal warning. ‘Simple would have been you marrying Andrew. He would have taken on the tenancy. I could still have lived here. Everyone would have been happy but could you pull it off?’ he derided. ‘No, you had to play fast and loose with him, wanting to wait to get married!’

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