The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

By: Lynne Graham

 When he’d first arrived, he had hung out with their aging sheepdog, Shep, and had demonstrated a surprising talent for picking up Shep’s skills so that when Shep had died even Brian Whitaker had acknowledged that Archie could make himself useful round the farm. Lizzie, on the other hand, utterly adored Archie. He curled up at her feet in bed at night and allowed himself to be cuddled whenever she was low.

 She was driving back to the yard to refill the slurry tank when she saw a long, sleek, glossy black car filtering off the main road into the farm lane. Her brow furrowed at the sight. She couldn’t picture anyone coming in a car that big and expensive to buy the free-range eggs she sold. Parking the tractor by the fence, she climbed out with Archie below one arm, stooping to let her pet down.

 That was Cesare’s first glimpse of Lizzie. She glanced up as she unbent and the limo slowed to ease past the tractor. He saw that though she might dress like a bag lady she had skin as translucent as the finest porcelain and eyes the colour of prized jade. He breathed in deep and slow.

 His driver got out of the car only to come under immediate attack by what was clearly a vicious dog but which more closely resembled a scruffy fur muff on short legs. As the woman captured the dog to restrain it and before his driver could open the door for him Cesare sprang out and instantly the offensive stench of the farm yard assaulted his fastidious nostrils. His intense concentration trained on his quarry, he simply held his breath while lazily wondering if she smelt as well. When his father had said the Whitaker family was dirt-poor he had clearly not been joking. The farmhouse bore no resemblance to a picturesque country cottage with roses round the door. The rain guttering sagged, the windows needed replacing and the paint was peeling off the front door.

 ‘Are you looking for directions?’ Lizzie asked as the tall black-haired male emerged in a fluid shift of long limbs from the rear seat.

 Cesare straightened and straight away focused on her pouty pink mouth. That was three unexpected pluses in a row, he acknowledged in surprise. Lizzie Whitaker had great skin, beautiful eyes and a mouth that made a man think of sinning, and Cesare had few inhibitions when it came to the sins of sexual pleasure. Indeed, his hot-blooded nature and need for regular sex were the two traits he deemed potential weaknesses, he acknowledged wryly.

 ‘Directions?’ he queried, disconcerted by the disruptive drift of his own thoughts, anathema to his self-discipline. In spite of his exasperation, his mind continued to pick up on the fact that Lizzie Whitaker was small, possibly only a few inches over five feet tall, and seemingly slender below the wholly dreadful worn and stained green jacket and baggy workman’s overalls she wore beneath. The woolly hat pulled low on her brow made her eyes look enormous as she stared up at him much as if he’d stepped out of a spaceship in front of her.

 One glance at the stranger had reduced Lizzie to gaping in an almost spellbound moment out of time. He was simply...stunning from his luxuriant black hair to his dark-as-bitter-chocolate deep-set eyes and strong, uncompromisingly masculine jawline. In truth she had never ever seen a more dazzling man and that disconcertingly intimate thought froze her in place like a tongue-tied schoolgirl.

 ‘I assumed you were lost,’ Lizzie explained weakly, finding it a challenge to fill her lungs with oxygen while he looked directly at her with eyes that, even lit by the weak spring sunshine, shifted to a glorious shade of bronzed gold. For a split second, she felt as if she were drowning and she shook her head slightly, struggling to think straight and act normally, her colour rising steadily as she fought the unfamiliar lassitude engulfing her.

 ‘No, I’m not lost... This is the Whitaker farm?’

 ‘Yes, I’m Lizzie Whitaker...’

 Only the British could take a pretty name like Elisabetta and shorten it to something so commonplace, Cesare decided irritably. ‘I’m Cesare Sabatino.’

 Her jade eyes widened. His foreign-sounding name was meaningless to her ears because she barely recognised a syllable of it. ‘Sorry, I didn’t catch that...’

 His beautifully sensual mouth quirked. ‘You don’t speak Italian?’

 ‘The odd word, not much. Are you Italian?’ Lizzie asked, feeling awkward as soon as she realised that he somehow knew that her mother had been of Italian extraction. Francesca had actually planned to raise her daughters to be bilingual but Brian Whitaker had objected vehemently to the practice as soon as his children began using words he couldn’t understand and from that point on English had become the only language in their home.

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