The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(10) by Maxine Sullivan

“Both. I like to win.”

And he would never give in until he did, she was sure.

Suddenly he said, “I can’t help who I am, Sasha.”

She looked at him and saw no apology, just a simple statement that made her succumb to her need for him. No, he couldn’t help being who he was.

“Nick, please. Take me to bed.”

Five

E very evening after that was like a mini-honeymoon for the rest of the week. The weather remained quite warm and Nick would come home and they’d swim in the pool, eat a lazy dinner until dark, then retire to the bedroom.

There Sasha learned she wasn’t really a prude at all. She’d just needed to let go of her inhibitions, and with Nick’s instructions she did.

And her heart was still intact.

Then one morning she ended up walking past Nick’s old bedroom and for some reason she stopped and went in. The room had a large bed and furnishings befitting a teenager of wealth, done out in shades of light and dark brown. On the dresser there were school trophies for cricket, soccer and swimming.

She wasn’t sure what she expected to find, but there was something more here, something that made her believe Nick was much deeper than she had previously believed.

She just didn’t know what that was.

And perhaps it was best she didn’t find out.

Let him be who he was, and leave it at that. She didn’t want any more complications in her life.

And speaking of complications, Sasha got a sinking feeling in her stomach when her mother arrived a few hours later right at lunchtime, supposedly to see how things were going. There was nothing for it but to invite her mother to lunch. Not that she minded. It was just that today she seemed to have an agenda.

And Sasha had the feeling it was to do with her father.

“So, you’ve recovered from the wedding?” Sally asked as they sat down to a light lunch.

“Yes, I have.” Until this moment Sasha hadn’t let herself be upset that her mother hadn’t called since the wedding. Nick’s mother had managed to call several times.

“I’m sorry I didn’t phone you, darling,” Sally said, as if reading her daughter’s mind. “I just thought it best I leave you to…adapt.”

Sasha gave a remote smile. “Thanks.”

“Darling, it’s always good to leave a newly married couple to their own devices.”

“Is that what the wedding manuals say?” she muttered, then felt bad when she saw the crushed looked on her mother’s face. “Mum, I’m sorry. All this has been a bit of a strain. I never expected to get married. Not for a long time anyway.”

Sally nodded. “It’s okay. I understand. But please remember that you’ve made your father and me so happy. I love that he’s smiling again.”

Ignoring the thought that her father probably had a new girlfriend, Sasha squeezed her mother’s hand. “Then I’m glad.”

Sally’s grateful smile turned to a frown. “Darling, there is one thing…” she began, making Sasha tense. “There seems to be some sort of delay in closing the deal with Cesare. Your father can’t wait much longer, I’m afraid.”

“They’re pretty busy with the launch in the U.K. and all, I’d imagine.”

Come to think of it, she wasn’t sure of the reason for the delay herself.

“I was sort of hoping you could ask Nick. Not straight out, mind you. Just see if there’s a problem and what it is. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t so important.”

Sasha swallowed. “Mum, this is an awkward position you and Dad are putting me in.”

Again.

Her mother didn’t seem to notice. “Nick’s your husband. He’ll tell you everything.”

There were just so many things a mother could ask a daughter to do. “Nick and I are not in love, Mum. He keeps things to himself. I can’t guarantee anything.”

“If you could just try, darling.”

Sasha sighed. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

Her mother left straight after the meal, probably in case she said anything to change her daughter’s mind. Sasha saw her off with a heavy heart. She loved her mother dearly but she’d never understand her love for a man, which totally submerged her own personality.

That would never happen to her.

Never.

And to prove it to herself, she would broach the dreaded subject with Nick at dinner this evening.

“My mother stopped by for lunch today.”

Nick looked up from his meal and felt pleased for Sasha’s sake. “Good. I don’t think you’ve heard from her since the wedding, have you?”

“She’s been busy.”

“I’m sure.” No doubt looking after Porter’s every whim.

And at the expense of her daughter, Nick thought with a frown, surprised at the lack of attention Sally had actually given Sasha since their marriage. Wasn’t a mother supposed to fuss over a newlywed daughter? Or was he just being a bit too old-fashioned?

Sasha moistened her mouth. “My mother does have a concern, though. She thought I might be able to help.”

“And that is?”

“My father’s waiting on a shipping deal to go through with the House of Valente, and apparently it’s been delayed. He’s not sure why.”

Nick leaned back in his chair, and his lips twisted. “And he’s sent his wife to ask my wife why?”

Sasha swallowed, looking uneasy. “He just needs to know, okay? Otherwise he might have to look at other avenues.”

“Other avenues?” He almost snorted out loud. Porter was too lazy to go elsewhere when he had Cesare Valente on his side.

“This is business, Nick.”

“Exactly.”

Her chin angled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Stay out of the family business, Sasha.”

She gasped. “I thought I was part of the family now.”

His mouth tightened. “Not the business. That’s got nothing to do with you.”

“I see.” Her green eyes turning cool, she placed her napkin on the table and stood up. “Then perhaps you should have made me sign a prenuptial. Then I won’t be able to touch any of your precious family business if we ever divorce.” On that note she walked out of the room.

Nick frowned as he watched her leave. They’d only just gotten married, so why the hell was she already mentioning divorce?

Or perhaps she really had married him for the money? No, he didn’t think that any longer. Why, he couldn’t say.

Besides, there was nothing to worry about. No way would she ever get any part of the House of Valente. The legal side of the business was wrapped up tighter than a ball of string.

Dammit, she should stay out of all this anyway. She had her job, and he had his. And what the hell was Porter playing at? The man had no scruples in hiding behind his wife and daughter’s skirts. He never had.

It was just a pity the man was so good at detecting trouble. He was obviously suspicious about the delay in signing the contract. And with good reason.

Nick and his brothers couldn’t quite put their finger on it, but there was something not quite right about the deal. None of them liked Porter, though this was more than not liking the man. It was a gut feeling that the wool was being pulled over their eyes. But with no real evidence, and unable to share their concerns with Cesare because of his health, they weren’t going to be able to postpone the deal much longer.

Damn Porter Blake.

Suddenly Nick realized that Alex should be told the latest development. Yet he didn’t want to say any of this on the telephone in case Sasha overheard him and reported back to her father. He grabbed his car keys and left the house.

After that he spent a couple of hours at Alex’s place where they talked over the shipping deal once again, trying to find the reason it just didn’t feel right. Nothing came to mind, and they reluctantly moved on to the upcoming launch in the U.K.

“Another cup of coffee, Nick?” Olivia asked, sticking her head around the study door.

He smiled at his sister-in-law. “Perhaps one more, Olivia, thanks.”

Olivia’s gaze slid to Alex. “What about you, honey?”

“No, nothing for me.”

Olivia’s gaze darted back to Nick, then Alex again, then she smiled oddly and left. Nick knew they were wondering why he wasn’t eager to go home to his new wife.

“Problems with Sasha?” Alex said when they were alone again, a speculative look in his eyes.

Nick rubbed the back of his neck. “Just teething problems.”

“I understand.”

Nick thought about that. “Yes, you do, don’t you?”

There was a moment’s pause, then Alex said, “Sasha’s turned out pretty good, considering what her father’s like.”

Nick shot him a twisted smile. “Whose side are you on?”

“I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

Nick suddenly had the urge to go home. So Sasha had only been trying to please her father. He shouldn’t have snapped at her like that.

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