The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(11) by Maxine Sullivan

He stood up. “I think I’ll give that coffee a miss.”

Alex grinned. “I’ll tell Olivia.”

By the time Nick got home, Sasha was asleep. He showered and slid into bed beside her, careful not to wake her though he was tempted to pull her close. In the end he fell asleep. It had been a long day.

Sasha kept busy the next day going to various stores, but her mind was on Nick and his reaction last night. Stupid hurt had ripped through her at his response. She had hated to ask about the shipping contract but that’s all she’d done. It wasn’t a major crime. So why was he being so defensive about it?

Of course that threat of hers about a prenuptial had been a childish thing to say, but it served Nick right for drawing such a line in the sand. She already knew he didn’t care for her. She hadn’t needed to hear that she should stay in the background like a good little wife. It smacked too much of her father.

“You’re late.”

She almost missed her step as she came through the front door and looked up. Nick was waiting inside and demanding to know where she’d been? After he’d left her wondering last night if he’d gone to see an old girlfriend or two.

She placed her handbag on the hall table. “So we’re keeping tabs on each other now?”

An odd sincerity flickered across his face. “I was getting worried, that’s all.”

Her anger cooled. “Okay, if you must know I’ve been out seeing some contractors. It took longer than I thought it would.”

His eyes clouded and all at once he turned toward the living room, his movements somewhat jerky. “Well, I’m glad you’re home.”

Sasha frowned at his back. Was he embarrassed because he had worried? At the thought, a hint of tenderness trickled through her.

“You could have called me on my cell phone,” she suggested quietly, following him into the room.

“I don’t know the number.”

Her little bubble burst.

“You only had to ask.”

“I know.”

It said a lot for their relationship.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I phoned Iris earlier and told her not to cook dinner. I thought I’d take you out to a local restaurant.”

Was this his way of apologizing?

“That would be lovely.”

He looked pleased, then, “I’m sorry I snapped at you last night, Sasha. I wanted to apologize when I came home from Alex’s, but you were asleep.”

So, he’d been at Alex’s place. Could she believe that now? Strangely, yes. She just wished she’d known that last night when she’d been upset and pretending to sleep.

“I’m sorry, too,” she found herself saying. “I shouldn’t have asked. I was worried for my parents’ sake, that’s all.”

“I understand. I should have understood that, too. I—” His cell phone rang. “Damn. I have to take this call.”

“Then you do that. I’ll go get ready.”

He was answering the call even before she’d finished speaking, but Sasha didn’t mind. She climbed the stairs, excited now about going out to dinner with her husband.

Thank goodness the wedge between them seemed to have disappeared. She’d hated that her parents had come between them. Hated that Nick had stormed out and left her wondering. And hated it even more when he’d come home and hadn’t taken her in his arms.

She was in the shower ten minutes later when the glass door opened and Nick, na**d and somewhat aroused, stood there. “Move over, Mrs. Valente.”

She didn’t need to be told a second time. She willingly moved aside but only a little. Just enough to let him get up close and personal.

Later at the restaurant she and Nick were given a warm welcome by the owner, an Italian man called Angelo.

“I read in the papers that you marry, so tonight I’ll cook you both something very special.” He beamed at them, then hurried away.

“He seems like a nice man,” Sasha said, making small talk as she looked around the restaurant. “You must come here often.”

“I used to date his daughter.”

“And he’s still talking to you?” she joked.

His wry smile conceded the point. “It was very platonic. Angelo knew that.”

“He must think highly of you,” she said, then pondered the comment while the waiter poured their wine. Italian fathers weren’t known for being liberal when it came to their daughters, especially when it came to playboys.

Yet this man had trusted Nick with his daughter? It didn’t add up.

When they were alone again, Nick was the first to speak, “So, tell me about living in London. I know you said you lived with your aunt for a while, but you must have liked the place to stay so long.”

She was surprised by his sudden interest.

“I loved it. It’s such a vibrant city.”

His brow arched. “You don’t find Sydney vibrant?”

“Yes, but in a different way.” She lifted one shoulder. “I guess I was ready to spread my wings and try new adventures.”

“You evidently didn’t try too many new things,” he drawled, hinting at her virginity.

She shot him a smile. “I tried enough to keep me happy,” she said, then laughed to herself when she saw him frown.

Let him wonder.

Then he said, “Your mother must have missed you.”

She felt her smile dim. “I imagine my father did, too.”

His eyes shuttered at the mention of her father. “I’ve been to London quite a few times. I should have stopped in to see you. We could have seen a show together.”

“That would have been nice.”

She pushed aside the hurt that he hadn’t bothered, despite her knowing it was best this way. Having him drop by to see her would have been a painful reminder of the past.

Just then there was a commotion near the front door as people greeted each other with a lot of enthusiasm, giving Sasha the chance to concentrate on something other than the past. Italians really knew how to welcome each other. They were so warm and friendly and—

“Sasha?

She turned back to Nick. “Yes?”

“I said I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?”

“You’ll be happy to know that we’ll be signing the contract for your father tomorrow. Now you can tell your mother not to worry.”

Intense relief washed over her, then as quickly restrained itself. “Thanks, but I’ll wait until it’s signed.”

His glance sharpened. “You don’t trust me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then you don’t trust your father.”

She hardly dared to breathe. “What makes you say that?”

His eyes narrowed. “I’ve just realized something. This deal of his was why you changed your mind about marrying me, wasn’t it? It wasn’t only about merging our two families. Your father wanted to make sure the deal went through, so he forced you to marry me.”

Her brain stumbled. Her father would kill her for admitting this, but she couldn’t lie.

“He was worried, yes. He thought he might be undercut by a competitor.”

“So he made sure he wasn’t,” Nick said cynically.

Sasha couldn’t argue with that. Still, she had to stand up for her father. “I think it’s understandable he’d be worried about losing the tender.”

Nick’s eyes riveted on her, and all at once a mask came down over his face. Perhaps he knew the conversation was leading them places neither of them wanted to go.

He inclined his head. “You’re right.”

Thankfully Angelo appeared with their meal, and Sasha smiled and praised the food but somehow the evening had been spoiled. Talking about their families always caused friction.

They ate in silence for a while.

“By the way,” Nick said eventually. “I’ve invited a couple of people to dinner Friday night. If you could coordinate it all with Iris that would be great.”

All at once she felt a chill. “That’s only a couple of days away.”

“I know, but they’re visiting from Europe and only have Friday night free.”

“So it’s a business dinner?”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to arrange it all and host it as well?”

“Of course.”

Her heart sank at his assumption that she would drop everything for him. Not only did she have a late afternoon appointment with one of the contractors, but it reminded her of her parents, her father snapping his fingers and her mother jumping to it.

She’d sworn never to be like her mother.

“You’re quiet,” Nick said after a few minutes more of silence.

“Am I?”

He looked at her sharply. “What’s the matter?”

Her disappointment in him was immense. She should have known not to let herself get close to him again. She would only get hurt a second time.

“You brought me out to dinner to sweeten me up, didn’t you?”

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