The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

By: Lynne Graham

 Millions? Lizzie’s mouth ran dry and she lost colour, eyes dropping to focus on the long, lean brown fingers gracefully coiled round the mug of coffee. For a split second she saw her every hope and dream fulfilled by ill-gotten gains. Her father could give up the farm tenancy, and she and Chrissie could buy him a house in the village where he would be able to go to the pub quizzes he loved and meet up with his cronies. Chrissie would be able to chuck in her two part-time jobs, concentrate on her studies and pay off her student loans. Being freed from the burden of the farm would enable Lizzie to go and train for a job she would enjoy. Archie could get some professional grooming and a new collar and live on the very best pet food...

 It became an increasingly stupid dream and she reddened with mortification, hands clenching by her side as she suppressed her wild imaginings in shame at how susceptible she had been when tempted by the equivalent of a lottery win.

 ‘I couldn’t have a child with a stranger...or bring a child into the world for such a purpose,’ she confided. ‘But if it’s any consolation, just for a minute there I wished I was the sort of woman who could.’

 ‘Think it over,’ Cesare suggested, having registered without surprise that the suggestion of oodles of cash had finally fully engaged her in their discussion. He rose fluidly upright and tapped the business card he had left on the table top. ‘My cell number.’

 He was very big, possibly a foot taller than she was, with broad shoulders, narrow hips and long, powerful legs.

 ‘Yes, well, there’s a lot to think over,’ she muttered uneasily.

 He reached for his coat and turned back to her, dark eyes bright and shimmering as topaz in sunshine. ‘There are two options and either will bring in a profit for you.’

 ‘You definitely talk like a businessman,’ she remarked, unimpressed by the statement, ashamed of her temporary dive into a fantasy land where every sheep had a proverbial golden fleece. Could it really be that easy to go from being a decent person to a mercenary one? she was asking herself worriedly.

 ‘I am trying to negotiate a business arrangement,’ he pointed out drily.

 ‘Was it your father who once asked my mother to marry him?’ Lizzie could not stop herself from enquiring. ‘Or was that someone from another branch of your family?’

 Cesare came to a halt. ‘No, that was my father and it wasn’t a business proposal. He fell hard for your mother and they were engaged when she came over here on holiday. Having met your father, however, she preferred him,’ he advanced without any expression at all.

 But Lizzie recognised the unspoken disapproval in the hard bones of his lean, strong face and she flushed because her mother had been decidedly changeable in her affections and there was no denying the fact. Predictably, Francesca had never admitted that she had actually got engaged to their father’s predecessor. But then every man that came along had been the love of Francesca’s life until either he revealed his true character or someone else seized her interest. Her mother had always moved on without a backward glance, never once pausing to try and work on a relationship or considering the cost of such continual upheaval in the lives of her two young children.

 ‘I’m afraid I’m not a sentimental man,’ Cesare imparted. ‘I’m innately practical in every way. Why shouldn’t you make what you can of your inheritance for your family’s benefit?’

 ‘Because it just doesn’t seem right,’ Lizzie confided uncertainly. ‘It’s not what my great-grandfather intended either when he drew up that will.’

 ‘No, he wanted revenge because my grandmother’s brother jilted his daughter at the altar. My great-uncle was in the wrong but plunging the island into legal limbo simply to keep it out of my family’s hands was no more justifiable,’ Cesare countered with complete assurance. ‘It’s been that way for nearly eighty years but I believe that we have the power to change that.’

 ‘The ethics involved aren’t something I’ve ever thought about,’ Lizzie admitted, resisting the urge to confess that the island still seemed no more real to her than that fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that her father had mentioned.

 Cesare smiled with sudden brilliance, amused by her honesty and her lack of pretence.

 His smile almost blinded her, illuminating his lean, darkly handsome face, and she wanted so badly to touch him for a disconcerting moment that she clenched her hands into fists to restrain herself. She was deeply disturbed by the effect he had on her. Indeed, she feared it because she recognised her reaction for the fierce physical attraction that it was. And nobody knew better than Francesca Whitaker’s daughter how dangerous giving rein to such mindless responses could be for it had propelled her mother into one disastrous relationship after another.

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