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Authors: Kate Walker

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BOOK: The Sicilian's Wife
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‘There's more to a marriage than sex.'

Oh, why—
was she still fighting him? Why was she fighting
? Wasn't the truth the fact that it would be so much easier, so much simpler, just to give in and agree? And deep down, wasn't this what she had always wanted all along?

And now, when she was totally unprepared for it, when the last thing she wanted to do was remember it, an image came into her mind of the first time she had met Gary Rowell. Tall and darkly handsome, the visiting lecturer had reminded her instantly of Cesare. They could have been brothers, apart from the fact that the American's eyes were blue where Cesare's were the deepest, darkest brown she had ever seen. And, still smarting from Cesare's heartless rejection of her, the scornful way he had dismissed her declarations of love at the New Year party, she had fallen into the other man's arms like a very ripe plum indeed. A naïve and gullible plum that had believed every lying word of love that had fallen from his lips, swallowing his protestations of devotion and promises of happily ever after because they were what she most needed to hear.

‘I know there's more to a marriage than sex, but,
, Megan, it's a good place to start. It gives us something to build on.'

Maybe she was grasping at straws, but ‘something to build on' seemed to imply rather more than just a business deal. Was she being all sorts of a fool in letting herself hope that Cesare's words implied a chance of a real life together, a future, a real marriage?


Her name was a low, bad-tempered growl as Cesare shifted slightly, adjusting his position on the rug before her.

‘Are you ever going to give me an answer, because if not I swear to God that I'm going to get up off this damnably uncomfortable floor and walk right out of here. And I warn you that if I do, I'll go for good. I'll walk out and never come back, and you can beg and plead for help all you like, but I won't listen. You can kiss goodbye to my promise to bail out both you and your father, because I won't be putting that offer on the table ever again.'

He meant it too; she could have no doubt about that. And the thought of seeing him walk away from her, walking out of her life, panicked her into an unthinking response.

‘Will you really help my father out?'

‘I could hardly leave my father-in-law as a bankrupt. I'll pay each and every debt of his just as soon as our marriage certificate is signed. But only then. And you have to give me an answer now. No asking for time to think, or a chance to sleep on it. It's a once in a lifetime offer. Now or never. Don't hope to get back to me tomorrow because if you do…'

‘I won't need to! I can give you your answer now.'

The words were out before she had time to think if they were wise, or even if she could cope with the sort of future
they represented. She only knew that she couldn't say anything else. She couldn't let him go. She had no idea what the future might hold with him, but a future
Cesare in it was something she couldn't bear to even begin to imagine.

‘So…' Cesare prompted with renewed impatience when, having made her impetuous declaration she froze, unable to go any further. ‘What is this answer?'

The look Megan turned on him was one filled with reproach and a touch of bitterness at the way he had trapped her. Even while admitting that he was right, that she got what she wanted, she wished that she could have had some sort of choice in the matter.

‘You know what it is, Cesare! You know there's only one answer I can give you! After all, you've pushed me into a corner with my back well and truly up against the wall.'

‘So it's yes.'

His tone held no trace of doubt, instead it was full of a dark, ruthless satisfaction and at last he stood up, flexing his shoulders and brushing down the legs of his impeccably tailored trousers.

! I will put things in motion. We will need a special licence, and then…'

‘Put things in…!'

Megan couldn't believe the swiftness of the transformation. One moment, her suitor had been down on one knee, waiting for an answer to his proposal; the next he was back in killer businessman mode once again, planning, organising, making lists, taking her life right out of her hands and arranging it to suit himself without so much as a by your leave.

‘Don't you think—'

The impatient glare Cesare turned in her direction silenced her at once.

‘Megan, we have no time to waste. You are
. If we are to be married before you start to show then we must move quickly. A special licence is the only way.'

‘But does it matter what people think? I mean you and I…'

Once more he quelled her with a slanting, dark-eyed look. ‘It matters to me! I do not want anyone knowing the truth about this marriage. I don't want any suspicion that it is not a love match—a genuine whirlwind romance—entering anyone's thoughts. And I'm sure you'll feel that way too.'

‘Well, it certainly would be one in the eye for Gary to think that I could forget about him so soon, and fall for someone else almost straight away.'

He didn't like her words; the dark scowl on his face told her that, but she was past caring. His businesslike manner hurt. It hurt badly. But what had she expected? Some expression of deep gratitude for the fact that she had accepted his proposal? Some declaration of undying love? A promise to make her happy for the rest of her life?

She would be all sorts of a dreamer and a fool if she had wished for any such thing. What Cesare had proposed was a marriage of convenience, nothing more, nothing less; and she couldn't ask for anything else. But how many women would have just accepted a proposal of marriage and had that followed by a strictly businesslike discussion of all they needed to arrange? Surely she could have expected
? Some touch of affection. A kiss—even a smile?

‘What is it?' Cesare's tone was sharp, his frown growing deeper. ‘You look as if someone had just pronounced your death sentence in a court of law.'

Perhaps someone had, Megan couldn't help thinking. Perhaps by agreeing to Cesare's coldly rational and unemotional proposal,
was the one who had signed the death warrant of her own hopes and dreams of a happily ever after and a lifetime of love.

‘I was just wondering what you'd get out of this arrangement.'

‘I told you—I'll get just what I want.'

‘And that is?'

‘A wife—a child.'

‘A child that's not yours.'

His shrug was one of total indifference.

‘Who'd know? Who'd care? It'd get my parents off my back—and we could have others. I always wanted a large family.'

‘And that would be enough—No?' she managed on a rather strangled gasp as once more he shook his head.

‘Oh, no,
mia cara
, there is no way that could ever be enough. If that was all that I had ever wanted, I could have asked a dozen women—more—to marry me over the years, but I did not.'

The dark eyes locked with hers, holding her gaze with the force of a mesmerist so that it was impossible to look away; to look anywhere but into their depths.

When had he come so close? she asked herself, her heart giving a nervous little flutter against the side of her ribcage. She hadn't noticed him move and yet it seemed that suddenly his body was mere inches away. She could almost feel the imprint of its strength, the hardness of bone and muscle, the heat of skin searing into her at breasts and hips and thighs, all that was most feminine in her leaping in a wild, instinctive response that was as old and as primitive as time.


Her throat was painfully dry and she had to swallow convulsively to ease it. But even then, when she tried to speak again, her voice still croaked embarrassingly, coming and going in the most peculiar way.

‘Why didn't you ask them?' she managed, knowing that it was what he wanted her to say.

Cesare's smile was slow, almost benign, but there was something in his eyes that stopped it from being the tender response it appeared. There was a hint of danger in that look; the threat of something she neither knew nor understood. But as he drew her to her feet, she couldn't pull away. Couldn't move or do anything to distract him or turn aside what she knew was coming.

‘They didn't offer me what I wanted,' he said with a deliberate softness.

Automatically Megan lowered her voice to match his.

‘And that was…?' she whispered and watched his smile grow into a wicked, demonic grin.


She had barely time to catch her breath before his mouth came down on hers, but it was with an unexpected gentleness that seemed to draw out her soul, take it away from her and hold it captive. And in that moment she knew that she was lost. Knew that no matter how hard she tried to convince herself, no matter what stories she made up to explain it, there was no way in the world that she was
Cesare Santorino.

She hadn't been over him at New Year, when he had scorned her love, refusing her urgently offered kisses, shrugging off her clinging hands, and telling her to find a boy her own age to play with. And she hadn't been over him when she had fallen into Gary's arms, lost and alone and desperate on the rebound from that rejection. Looking
for love anywhere, with anyone, and thinking she had found it with quite the wrong man entirely.

And so she couldn't hold back now, but melted against him, letting him plunder her mouth, gentleness changing to demand in the space of a heartbeat. From there demand became heated passion, a passion that she met and welcomed, her mouth opening under his to return the kiss with all the burning urgency that her yearning emotions, the emptiness in her soul clamoured for. Just for a second she felt Cesare's momentary check, the tiny hesitation that told her how her reaction was unexpected, but then he too was kissing her back with that same need, that same hunger, that couldn't be controlled.

And at last his arms closed round her, urgent hands moving over her body, stroking, caressing, teasing, tantalising. Unerringly his knowing fingers found tiny pleasure spots that made her sigh or move convulsively against him. When the strength of those hands slid under the white cotton of her T-shirt and pushed their way up to close over the curves of her breasts which had been aching for just such a touch, she moaned aloud against his tormenting mouth. Her own hands went up, closing over the hard strength of his shoulders, clinging on for support for fear her legs might actually give way and she would fall in a weak, swooning heap at his feet.

But then, just when she thought she could take no more. When she thought she must faint, or cry, or give in to the feelings that were boiling up inside her, and actually put her need for him into words. Just when she had opened her mouth to tell him of her need, of the longing she felt, to beg him to take her, to make love to her right here and now, to make her his, he lifted his proud head and looked long and hard into her clouded eyes.

is what I wanted,' he said, and she felt a sort of
primal satisfaction at hearing the way that his voice had a rough and ragged edge to it, telling her that for all his outward composure, inwardly he was as deeply affected as she had been.

‘That is how I always wanted things to be,' he went on. ‘How I always knew they could be. That's why I never asked anyone else—never even thought of asking them. I knew that's how it would be with you and me, and I knew you'd be worth waiting for. You asked what I would get out of this arrangement—this marriage. The answer is that I get you. And I
you. I want you more than life itself. I always have and I always will.'


pronounce you husband and wife.'

Behind them, the organ music swelled up into the rafters of the church. The collection of family and friends—as many as could be collected together in the very short space of time that there had been between the announcement of the impending wedding and the actual event—turned to each other and smiled at the sound of the familiar words. And Cesare could almost hear the collected sigh of satisfaction that the moment for which they had been waiting had finally arrived.

But it was the woman beside him who held his attention.

Megan Ellis, now Megan Santorino, stood at his side, tall, slender and elegant in the simple sleeveless ivory silk dress, her bright hair caught up at the sides and decorated with a couple of soft cream rosebuds that were just beginning to unfurl in the heat and release their perfume into the air.

From this moment on, the scent of roses would always mean his wedding day, the beginning of his married life. But what future was there in store for that marriage? He had rushed into it impetuously, making up his mind in a second, in a way that none of his friends or business associates would recognise.

Cesare Santorino
rushed into anything. His reputation was that he took his time, collected all the facts, learned everything there was to learn about the contract or the situation before he committed himself to anything. Only
when he was certain that everything was exactly the way he wanted it, did he sign any document.

And yet now here he was, married to Megan on what was little more than an impulse, signing away his life without knowing the full facts about the situation.

‘You may kiss your bride.'

His bride.

Yes, she was his in the eyes of the law, the church, or of the congregation here present, but was she truly
? Did she think of herself as his wife or was he nothing more than the man who'd stepped in to get her out of a tight spot? A husband of convenience. A husband in name only.

Someone who could never, ever, be the husband of her heart.

Had he just made the very worst mistake of his life?

But everyone was watching him, waiting for him to make his move and kiss his brand-new wife. The clergyman was waiting too.

And Megan.

Megan was looking up at him, eyes dark with something he couldn't even begin to interpret. But as she saw his gaze turn to her she managed a smile. A soft, strangely tentative smile. One that started out brave and encouraging, a smile of sharing, linking them like a couple of co-conspirators united together against the world.

But as he watched the smile lost its façade of confidence. It wavered, weakened, frayed at the edges and suddenly faded altogether, leaving Megan's face looking pale and wan, disturbingly young and lost.


In a sudden rush of tenderness, he reached for her, enfolded her in his arms, drew her close. One hand came under her chin, lifted her face to his, green eyes locking with deep, dark brown.

Buon giorno
, Signora Santorino,' he murmured, for her ears only.
‘Buon giorno, mia moglie.'

And bending his head he took her mouth in their first kiss as husband and wife.

And even here, in this public place, with their audience of family and friends just a few feet away from them, her response was everything he wanted. Her mouth softened under his, opening to even the gentlest pressure. Her body swayed towards his like a compass point drawn irresistibly to the north, and she closed her eyes slowly, giving herself up to the caress in a way that made his lower body tighten in an immediate and powerfully primitive reaction that was definitely out of place within the confines of a church.

She was his, he told himself with grim satisfaction, pushing away all the doubts and uncertainties of moments before, and, damn it, he would make sure she stayed that way. She was his to have and to hold and he'd
her all right. He'd hold her tight and never let her go. And perhaps one day, when the pain of loving Gary, and the other man's—the rat's—betrayal had eased, maybe then she'd come to care for him.

! He swore in the privacy of his thoughts, he'd make bloody sure she did! And perhaps, after all, from this most imperfect of beginnings, they could build something worth having, something worth keeping.

Buon giorno
, Signora Santorino.' The words echoed inside Megan's head.
‘Buon giorno, mia moglie.'

Was it possible? Was she really and truly no longer simply Megan Ellis, but Megan
—Cesare's wife?

Just the thought of it made her heart turn over, her pulse race. The thought of what she'd done, and its implications for the future were simply terrifying. She and Cesare were married, committed for life, and she had no idea what he truly felt about the situation.

In the moment that the celebrant had murmured the traditional encouragement to ‘kiss the bride' she had turned to face this new husband of hers, trying to smile through her nervousness, to communicate something of the way she felt, to let him know that they were a couple now, facing the future and what it might bring together.

But the look he had turned on her had been so blank, so distant, the ebony depths of his eyes withdrawn and impenetrable, so that she had known she hadn't touched him. Hadn't reached through to his mind, let alone his heart, which remained as closed and locked from her as ever. Her feelings, her
, were clearly not what he wanted from her, nor, she doubted, would they ever be.

But her passion, her sexuality, her body—that was another matter entirely.
he had made only too plain was what he wanted, and he emphasised it again now in his kiss. It was a kiss of fire, white-hot and burning, stamping the brand of his possession on her lips in a way that made her blood run molten in her veins in equally heated response. In the moment that their mouths met and locked and fused, all her senses woke and sang in soaring reaction in Cesare's lightest touch and she knew that she was lost. That no other man had ever made her feel like this, and that if, for now, this was all that Cesare could give her then for now she would let it be enough.

But somewhere way down, in the furthest, deepest part of her soul, a small, lonely voice, lost and forlorn, cried that it was not enough. That she needed more and without it she would starve, emotionally.

But Cesare had lifted his head, his hand had closed firmly around hers, warm and hard and possessive as his kiss. The moment was gone, time moved on, the marriage service taking the usual path to its conclusion. In a daze she followed her husband's lead, moving with him to the vestry,
signing the register where she was told, though her eyes would barely focus on what she was writing. All she was conscious of was the bold, firm slash of her husband's signature, hard and confident and sure as the man himself.

Cesare Santorino. And below it, slightly shaky and far less assertive in every way, her own name, Megan Ellis, for the last time.

‘Congratulations, Mrs Santorino,' someone said, and automatically she looked round, searching for some sight of the woman being addressed because she had understood that, only just out of hospital after an appendix operation, Cesare's mother had decided against travelling to England for the wedding.

‘Where…?' she began then belatedly realised that the registrar who had spoken was holding his hand out to her. That
was the Mrs Santorino he was speaking to.

And suddenly that
made the ground frighteningly unsteady beneath her feet, the down-to-earth English term hitting home in a way that Cesare's Italian had not.

She was
Mrs Santorino

The blood leached from her cheeks, her legs took on the consistency of cotton wool, her head swam, her stomach clenched painfully. If Cesare hadn't seen her sudden pallor, the way she swayed where she stood, she might have actually given into the weakness she felt and fallen, fainting to the ground.

But he had been watching her like a hawk since the moment they had kissed out there in the church and he saw the change in her face, the way her eyes clouded, the lost and frightened look on her face. And suddenly he was there at her side, his strong fingers coming round her elbow, supporting her until he could tuck her hand under his arm and hold it there. Almost seamlessly he covered her nervous hesitation by putting out his own hand to take the regis
trar's, which Megan had dazedly ignored until now, shaking it firmly and switching on a warm, appreciative smile.

‘I think my wife's a little overwrought,' he inserted easily, squeezing Megan's arm against the hard wall of his ribcage under the perfect fit of his sleek, grey morning coat. ‘It's all been rather too much for her—especially when she's been feeling rather delicate just lately.'

‘Of course.'

The registrar nodded smiling understanding.

‘I usually find that the ladies get more nervous about these events than their husbands do. Pre-wedding nerves and all that. And there is always such a lot to arrange beforehand with a wedding, especially with one that had to be organised as quickly as this one did. It must have been quite a whirlwind romance.'

‘On the contrary.' Cesare's tone was as smooth as his smile. ‘Megan and I have known each other for years. It's just that when she finally decided to take the plunge, she didn't want to hang about. And as I'd already waited years for her to realise the way I felt about her, I was more than happy to go along with her preference for a very short engagement.'

And as I'd already waited years for her to realise the way I felt about her…

Megan didn't know which hurt most. The lie or the ready ease with which Cesare produced it, the smooth confidence that gave it a false, dishonest ring of truth.

“‘I was more than happy to go along with her preference for a very short engagement”,' she repeated in a bitter undertone when the registrar was once again out of earshot. ‘And I'll just bet he'll have no trouble in working out exactly what was behind that particular remark! I don't know why you didn't just go ahead and tell him I was pregnant,
and that was why we were dashing to the altar in this decidedly unseemly haste.'

The look Cesare turned on her was cold to the point of glacial, something that only incensed Megan further. After all, he was the one who had engaged in the ‘all men together' bonding, the ‘nudge, nudge' hint of ‘she just couldn't keep her hands off me' in his tone.

‘They're going to have to know the truth sooner or later, Megan. You won't be able to keep that slim-line figure for many more weeks. In a very short time, your condition will start to show, and then people are going to start counting on their fingers and coming to the natural conclusion.'

But she had hoped to have a little time before then to try and adjust. To accept what had happened to her and come to terms with it. Everything had happened so fast. It was barely ten weeks since she had been at university, trying to tackle her exam revision in the aftermath of Gary's bombshell that their affair was over; he didn't want to see her any more. Four weeks later, she had first begun to suspect that something was wrong. And after that, there had been weeks of anxiety, of counting the days, of suspecting, but not knowing.

Then in swift succession there had been the painful realisation that she was pregnant. Her mind flinched away from the memory of the day she had gone to confront Gary, the careless way he had tossed his rejection and the truth about his marriage into her face. His final, callous declaration that if she was sensible she'd ‘Get rid of the thing' before it messed up her life for ever.

And now here she was, married to a man who didn't love her. Who had made his physical desire for her plain enough and had offered her a cold-blooded marriage of convenience in order to be able to indulge that passion to the full.

And that was the bitterest blow of all, leaving the burning taste of acid in her mouth so that she felt sick and ill. Her insides had still not settled down from the shock she had felt earlier, and the nauseous ache low down in her stomach only added fuel to the already smouldering anger deep inside.

‘I don't know why you didn't go the whole hog if you really wanted to make a good job of it—and told him that the baby wasn't yours, but you were prepared to take it on if it meant you could get me into your bed. After all, that's “the truth” as well, isn't it, and if you're so insistent on everyone knowing…'

‘Megan, be quiet! This is neither the time nor the place for this.'

Cesare barely lifted his voice above a whisper but it still had enough force to quell her instantly, driving all the fight from her mind and replacing it with a sense of shock at the way she was behaving—and where. She could only be grateful that the others in the vestry—the registrar, the celebrant, her father and the other witnesses—had tactfully moved away for a moment, clearly thinking that the newlyweds needed a little time and space to themselves.

Heaven alone knew what they thought she and Cesare had been talking about! But perhaps, being too distant to be able to hear what had been said, she supposed they might just have thought that their intent concentration on each other, the way they had looked nowhere but into each other's eyes, was the result of deep and loving devotion rather than the angry spat that was the real truth.

But now the priest moved forward, his smile encompassing the two of them equally.

‘It's time we went back,' he said easily. If he had suspected anything about the content of their conversation, there was no hint of it in his tone. ‘Are you ready?'

‘Perfectly,' Cesare assured him, turning to follow and holding out his arm to Megan so that she had no option but to rest her hand on it again, an electric tingle running along every nerve as she felt the strength of bone, the bunch and play of muscle under the fine material of his elegant jacket.

BOOK: The Sicilian's Wife
10.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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