The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

By: Lynne Graham

 ‘You don’t need to apologise, cara,’ Cesare parried.

 ‘But I should explain. My parents resented the will—personally, I never think about it. Unfortunately, the island was a sore point in our lives when I was a child because money was tight.’

 ‘Have you ever visited Lionos?’

 ‘No, I’ve never had the opportunity. Mum went once with one of her boyfriends and stayed for a week. She wasn’t too impressed,’ Lizzie revealed ruefully while she scanned his lean, strong face, taking in the high cheekbones, straight nose and hard, masculine mouth before involuntarily sliding her gaze upward again to take another sweep of those absolutely devastating dark golden eyes of his. ‘I think Mum was expecting luxury but I believe the accommodation was more basic.’

 ‘The will endowed the island with a trust and I understand a caretaker and his family live nearby to maintain the property.’

 Lizzie cocked her head to one side, her shattered nerves slowly stabilising at his lack of comment about her father’s outburst. Pale, silky hair slid across her cheekbone and Cesare looked up into those wide hazel-green eyes framed with soft honey-brown lashes, and suddenly he was aware of the heavy pulse of heat at his groin and the muscles in his broad shoulders pulled taut as ropes as he resisted that sirens’ call of lust with all his might.

 ‘Yes. But the trust only covers maintenance costs, not improvements, and I understand that the house is still firmly stuck in the thirties. Mum also assumed that the caretaker would cook and clean for them but instead the man and his wife told her that they weren’t servants and she had to look after herself,’ Lizzie volunteered wryly. ‘All in all she found it a very expensive jaunt by the time they’d paid someone to take them out to the island and deliver food while they were there.’

 ‘Naturally you want to know what I’m doing here,’ Cesare murmured smoothly.

 ‘Well, I don’t think you’ve come a-courting,’ Lizzie fielded with a shrug that dismissed her father’s gibe but completely failed to hide her discomfiture at that crack.

 ‘Not in the conventional sense,’ Cesare agreed, lean fingers flexing round the mug of coffee. It was barely drinkable but he doubted if she expended much concern when it came to the domestic front, which was hardly surprising when it was obvious that she was struggling to keep the farm afloat single-handedly. She was leaning back against the cooking range with defensively folded arms, trying to appear relaxed but visibly as tense as a bow string. ‘But I do think we might be able to come to a business arrangement.’

 Lizzie frowned, dragging her wandering gaze from his lean, extravagantly handsome features with a slight rise of colour, scolding herself for her lack of concentration, questioning what it was about him that kept her looking back at him again and again, long after curiosity should have been satisfied. ‘A business arrangement?’

 ‘I don’t think your sister enters this as she’s still a teenager. Obviously as co-owner of the island, you would have to confer with her, but I’m willing to offer you a substantial amount of money to go through a marriage ceremony with me.’

 Her lashes fluttered in shock because he had knocked her for six. Inexplicably, his cool sophistication and smooth delivery made the fantastic proposition he had just made seem almost workaday and acceptable. ‘Seriously? Just a marriage ceremony? But what would you get out of that?’

 Cesare told her about his grandmother’s deep attachment to the island and her approaching surgery. As she listened, Lizzie nodded slowly, strangely touched by the softer tone he couldn’t help employing when talking about the old lady. His screened gaze and the faint hint of flush along his spectacular cheekbones encouraged her scrutiny to linger with helpless curiosity. He was not quite as cold and tough as he seemed on the surface, she acknowledged in surprise. But she could see that he was very uncomfortable with showing emotion.

 ‘Isn’t circumventing the will against the law?’ she prompted in a small voice.

 ‘I wasn’t planning to publicise the fact. For the sake of appearances we would have to pretend that the marriage was the real deal for a few months at least.’

 ‘And the “having a child” bit? Where does that come in?’ Lizzie could not resist asking.

 ‘Whether it comes into our arrangement or not is up to you. I will pay generously for the right to take my grandmother to the island for a visit and if we were to contrive to meet the full terms of the will, you and your sister would stand to collect a couple of million pounds, at the very least, from selling Lionos to me,’ he spelt out quietly. ‘I am an extremely wealthy man and I will pay a high price to bring the island back into my family.’

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