The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

By: Lynne Graham

 ‘It’s doubtful,’ Cesare argued. ‘It would take many years and a great deal of money to take it to court and the government would naturally fight any change we sought. The court option won’t work in my lifetime. And what woman is going to marry and have a child with me, to allow me to inherit an uninhabited, undeveloped island? Even if I did offer to buy the island from her once we were married.’

 It was his father’s turn to groan. ‘You must know how much of a catch you are, Cesare. Madre di Dio, you’ve been beating the women off with a stick since you were a teenager!’

 Cesare dealt him an amused look. ‘And you don’t think it would be a little immoral to conceive a child for such a purpose?’

 ‘As I’ve already stated,’ Goffredo proclaimed with dignity, ‘I am not suggesting you go that far.’

 ‘But I couldn’t reclaim the island for the family without going that far,’ Cesare fielded very drily. ‘And if I can’t buy it or gain anything beyond guaranteeing Nonna the right to visit the wretched place one more time, what is the point of approaching some stranger and trying to bribe her?’

 ‘Is that your last word on the subject?’ his father asked stiffly when the silence dragged.

 ‘I’m a practical man,’ Cesare murmured wryly. ‘If we could regain the island I could see some point of pursuing this.’

 The older man halted on his passage towards the door and turned back to face his son with compressed lips. ‘You could at least approach Francesca’s daughters and see if something could be worked out. You could at least try...’

 When his father departed in high dudgeon, Cesare swore long and low in frustration. Goffredo was so temperamental and so easily carried away. He was good at getting bright ideas but not so smooth with the follow-up or the fallout. His son, on the other hand, never let emotion or sentiment cloud his judgement and rarely got excited about anything.

 Even so, Cesare did break into a sweat when he thought about his grandmother’s need for surgery and her lack of interest in having it. In his opinion, Athene was probably bored and convinced that life had no further interesting challenges to offer. She was also probably a little frightened of the surgical procedure as well. His grandmother was such a strong and courageous woman that people frequently failed to recognise that she had her fears and weaknesses just like everyone else.

 Cesare’s own mother had died on the day he was born and Goffredo’s Greek mother, Athene, had come to her widowed son’s rescue. While Goffredo had grieved and struggled to build up his first business and establish some security, Athene had taken charge of raising Cesare. Even before he’d started school he had been playing chess, reading and doing advanced maths for enjoyment. His grandmother had been quick to recognise her grandson’s prodigious intellectual gifts. Unlike his father, she had not been intimidated by his genius IQ and against a background of loving support Athene had given Cesare every opportunity to flourish and develop at his own pace. He owed his nonna a great deal and she was still the only woman in the world whom Cesare had ever truly cared about. But then he had never been an emotional man, had never been able to understand or feel truly comfortable around more demonstrative personalities. He was astute, level-headed and controlled in every field of his life yet he had a soft spot in his heart for his grandmother that he would not have admitted to a living soul.

 A business arrangement, Cesare ruminated broodingly, flicking open the file again. There was no prospect of him approaching the teenager but the plain young woman in the woolly hat and old coat? Could he even contemplate such a gross and unsavoury lowering of his high standards? He was conservative in his tastes and not an easy man to please but if the prize was great enough, he was clever enough to compromise and adapt, wasn’t he? Aware that very few people were cleverer than he was, Cesare contemplated the startling idea of getting married and grimaced with distaste at the threat of being forced to live in such close contact with another human being.

 * * *

 ‘You should’ve sent Hero off to the knackers when I told you to!’ Brian Whitaker bit out in disgust. ‘Instead you’ve kept him eating his head off in that stable. How can we afford that with the cost of feed what it is?’

 ‘Chrissie’s very fond of Hero. She’s coming home from uni next week and I wanted her to have the chance to say goodbye.’ Lizzie kept her voice low rather than risk stoking her father’s already irascible temper. The older man was standing by the kitchen table, his trembling hands—the most visible symptom of the Parkinson’s disease that had ravaged his once strong body—braced on the chair back as he glowered at his daughter, his gaunt, weathered face grim with censure.

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