The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(3) by Maxine Sullivan

All at once he didn’t want any other woman. “I know my father. He won’t want anyone but you. He can be stubborn.”

“So can I.”

“Sasha, look—”

She sprang to her feet. “Nick, stop it.” Then she straightened her shoulders, her eyes showing a spirit only hinted at while growing up. “Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get on with the job, no matter whom the redecoration is for.”

She hurried out the door, her high heels clicking on the timber floor as she headed down the hallway toward the kitchen.

Nick sat back on the sofa and contemplated what had just happened. There weren’t many women who would actually refuse to marry him. Hell, he didn’t think there were any.

But if he was getting married then so was Sasha Blake.

To him.

He just had to find a way to make it happen.

He smiled grimly. Making things happen was one thing a Valente did extremely well.


S asha finished taking measurements at the Valente mansion, then left as soon as she could. She kept expecting to turn around and find Nick there, ready to pressure her into marriage.

A marriage he didn’t want.

And neither did she.

So why was she worried? With his father giving his stamp of approval she was just a convenience, that’s all. Nick would go find someone else to marry, and Cesare wouldn’t really care as long as it was someone suitable.

Of course if Nick did marry then she’d have to work with Nick and his new wife to redecorate the house. Could she do it, knowing how much she’d been in love with him all those years ago?

Not that she was in any danger of loving him now.

No, it would be a matter of pride.

Unable to concentrate on any real plans for the redecorating until she knew what would happen to the estate, she spent the rest of the afternoon helping her mother around the house. She was preparing dinner around seven when her father walked into the kitchen earlier than usual.

In all the years she’d lived here previously, her father rarely got home before eight. Sasha suspected back then he hadn’t always been working late, and that feeling hadn’t abated since her return from London. She didn’t know how her mother coped with it all.

“I never thought a daughter of mine would be so selfish,” Porter Blake snapped with an accusing glare at her.

Sasha’s forehead creased as she glanced across at her mother, then back to her father. “What do you mean, Dad?”

“Nick Valente. He asked you to marry him, didn’t he?”

Her heart sank. Had Nick gone running to her father? “How did you know that?”

“Cesare told me. And you said no. For the love of God, why?”

She tried not to let him make her feel guilty. “I have that right.”

“No, you don’t. Your mother and I have given you everything, and you can’t even do this one thing for us.”

Sally Blake started toward him. “Porter, what are—”

“Be quiet, Sally,” he all but growled.

Sasha hated the way he talked to her mother in private. In company, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

“Dad, don’t speak to Mum that way.”

Porter made a dismissive gesture. “This isn’t about your mother and me. This is about you and Nick. Dammit, girl. It’s not like Nick isn’t a good-looking young man.”

Sasha could only stare at him in dismay. “I don’t understand why you want me to marry at all.”

Her father’s eyes darted away, then back again. “The Valentes are our closest friends. It would be nice to join the two families.”

That was a crazy reason to get married. Nobody did that sort of thing anymore, or if they did she wasn’t about to do it.

“Dad, I’m not going to marry a man I don’t love just to bring two families together.”

The wind seemed to leave Porter and he sat down heavily on a chair, looking defeated. “If you don’t, then say goodbye to this house and everything we have.”

“What are you talking about?”

“If I don’t close a deal with the Valentes soon, I’ll lose my shipping business. If that happens we lose everything.”

Sasha ignored her mother’s gasp. “But Cesare’s your friend. He’ll give you the deal.”

“He’s a businessman first. If anyone undercuts my offer he’ll go with them.” He paused. “Unless you’re his daughter-in-law and then he’ll want to keep it in the family.”

“You don’t know what you’re asking,” she whispered.

Her father sighed heavily. “You’re right, but it’s the only chance we’ve got.”

Sasha shook her head. No, she couldn’t do it. It was too much to ask of her.

Then she caught her mother’s pleading eyes. “Sasha, darling,” Sally began. “Do you think it would be so terrible to marry Nick?”

She drew a painful breath. “Oh, Mum, no. Don’t ask this of me.”

“Darling, I have to. If not for your father’s sake, then mine.”

Sasha hated seeing how her mother always put her husband first, and no amount of talking on her part could change her mind. It was part of the reason she’d gone to London. She’d had to get away from her parents.

And from the memory of Nick Valente.

She sighed with defeat. “Do you have Nick’s address?”

Her father’s face lit up and so did her mother’s. “No, but I can get it right now.” He jumped to his feet, then hesitated. “Thank you, Sasha,” he muttered, then strode out of the kitchen.

Sasha looked at her mother, who was blinking back tears of happiness. “Darling, I’m sorry. I know—”

“Mum, please don’t say anything right now.”

Her mother flushed. “Okay. If that’s what you want.”

“It is.”

Sasha went to get her purse when her father came back with Nick’s address. It was small comfort to know she could help her parents.

At what cost to herself she wasn’t sure.

An hour later she stood in front of Nick’s apartment and rang the doorbell. Right now the cost seemed much too high a price to pay.

Oh God, if only this had been seven years ago. She’d have given anything for him to ask her to marry him back then.

She remembered that kiss in the gazebo in the summer rain. It had just happened and she’d almost melted in a puddle at his feet. He’d surely felt everything she’d felt, she’d told herself as it ended and she’d moved in closer for another one. He’d realize he loved her and couldn’t live without her and any moment he’d tell her so.

Instead he’d held her back from him, obviously appalled he’d kissed her. She’d seen it in his blue eyes that had turned from light blue to dark in a matter of seconds.

And then he’d left her there, gone back up to the main house to the party and casually taken another woman home, just like he’d been exchanging his Ferrari for another model. It had devastated her, but she’d never let him know it.

Right at that moment the door opened and Nick stood there, devastatingly handsome and undeniably male, and nothing on his handsome face giving away any of his thoughts.

He moved back to let her enter the apartment. “My father said you’d be stopping by.”

“Word gets around fast.”

She stepped through the doorway, trying to shake her feelings of the past. It was the present…now…that should concern her.

He gestured to the leather couch. “Make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink?”

“No, I’m fine.” She couldn’t sit, and if she tried to drink anything she’d probably choke. Her throat ached with pure defeat.

His blue eyes rested on her. “So what made you change your mind?”

“My parents.” She didn’t want him to think it had been for any other reason. “I’m their only child and they really want our families to be joined.” She swallowed hard. “I can’t deny them that.”

Cynicism twisted the corners of his mouth. “I’m sure your father’s delighted.”

Her heart thudded inside her chest. Could Nick know that her father’s shipping business needed this deal?

Then she realized he didn’t know. If he did, he’d have certainly blackmailed her into marriage. Nick wouldn’t hesitate to use any leverage he could to get her to do what he wanted.

Still, she felt the need to defend her father.

She angled her chin. “Why do you say it like that?”

“Your mother’s a nice woman. I’m sure she wouldn’t pressure you into a marriage you don’t want.”

She realized he didn’t know her mother that well. If her father wanted something, then her mother was usually the go-between.

He held her gaze. “I don’t think I can say the same for your father.”

“And that’s so different from your father?”

Surprise flickered in his eyes. “True.”

She briefly appreciated her feeling of triumph. “Both my parents are happy about this marriage, Nick.”

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