The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(4) by Maxine Sullivan

He scrutinized her. “Why do I believe you?”

“Because it’s the truth.” She couldn’t confess her mother was happy for Porter’s sake, or Nick might get suspicious.

“Okay, let’s get down to business. First, I want to assure you that if things don’t work out we can always get a divorce later on.”

She winced inwardly at his insensitivity, or his honesty, as he liked to call it. It was the same this morning when he’d asked if his rejection had hurt her ego in the gazebo that night.

Could a man be so hard-hearted to a young woman in love with him?

Hadn’t he been able to tell she’d put her heart and soul into that kiss?

Of course he hadn’t.

“Are you reassuring me or yourself?” she asked cynically.

He scowled. “I just don’t want either of us to feel totally trapped.”

“How nice.”

He shot her a hard look, then, “Do you want children?”

Her heart skipped a beat and all her cynicism disappeared. “Do you?”

“One day. Not yet.”

“Me, too.” She hadn’t thought about children. They were a lifetime commitment, and one that connected her to Nick for the rest of her life.

She wasn’t sure she could do that.

Wasn’t sure she wanted that.

He started toward a small table where there were a bunch of papers. “Right. Looks like we have a wedding to plan.”

She took a quick breath. “Hold on. I have one condition of my own before we settle this.”

He stopped to look at her, his eyebrow winging upward. “And that is?”

“You remain faithful to me,” she said without hesitation. “I won’t accept the humiliation of you having affairs. If you can’t do it, tell me now.”

Something shifted in his expression. “It’s not that I can’t do it. The question is whether I want to remain faithful.”

She tensed. “I’d suggest you’ve probably had enough affairs to last a lifetime anyway.”

“You know me so well,” he drawled.

She raised her chin. “I’ll accept nothing less, Nick.”

There was a lengthy silence as their eyes held and locked. This was the one thing she wouldn’t relent on, it was too important to her.

Then he expelled a breath. “You may be surprised to know this but I do take marriage vows seriously, and mine especially. I can assure you I will remain faithful.”

She let out a quiet sigh, but wasn’t sure if it was relief or despair. Her only chance to refuse to marry him had just dissolved into thin air.

On the other hand, at least she could do this one thing for her mother. She had to keep remembering that.

“The wedding will be in three weeks.”

She swallowed past her dry throat. “That soon?”

“The sooner we get this over and done with the better.”

“Yes,” she said, giving in to the inevitable.

She felt the same as Nick, but probably for different reasons. She suspected Cesare wouldn’t let his sons sign the deal for her father until after their marriage vows had been taken. Cesare wasn’t a fool.

If only he was.

Nick was pleased with himself after Sasha left his apartment. He’d known he wouldn’t have to do a thing except tell his father she had refused his offer. Cesare had immediately got on the phone to Porter and offered regrets that they wouldn’t be in-laws.

And that’s all that was needed. Porter knew what side his bread was buttered, and the last thing he would want was to offend Cesare.

Nick gave a snort of derision. Porter Blake was a wimp. If the Valente family didn’t have money, the other man wouldn’t be hanging around being Cesare’s friend. No, Porter would be out with his latest lady friend. The man was a rake of the worst kind, his affairs the worst-kept secret.

No wonder Sasha was insisting on fidelity in their marriage. She had to know about her father’s numerous affairs.

Or did she?

He hadn’t asked her straight out in case she didn’t know. Not that he was protecting Porter. It was merely that if Sasha didn’t know, then he wasn’t about to tell her.

He only hoped he didn’t live to regret giving his word. Women were notorious for having an angle for everything, and he suspected Sasha did, too.

Was she marrying him for reasons other than her family?

More prestige?

More money?

Better contacts for her work?

Time would tell, but he’d be ready for her if that happened. No one pulled the wool over his eyes. If they did, it didn’t happen a second time.


A t eighteen Sasha had dreamed about a white wedding to Nick in a beautiful church in Sydney—the perfect setting for their perfect love for each other.

Now at twenty-five, a stylish ceremony on the sun-drenched lawn of the massive Valente estate was more than lovely, but a marriage of convenience to a man who’d never given her a moment’s thought wasn’t quite the same.

And that was never more prominent than on her wedding day. She’d been nervous in her responses throughout the ceremony but Nick hadn’t missed a beat. Obviously she still didn’t affect him in the slightest, least of all by marrying him.

“I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Oh God. Sasha’s knees threatened to wobble, making her grateful for her white wedding gown hiding them from view.

“You may now kiss the bride.”

She swallowed hard as she turned to fully face Nick, looking so handsome in his black tuxedo. She’d melted the last time he’d kissed her all those years ago but until his lips were on hers again she wouldn’t know for sure how she’d react.

His blue eyes gave nothing away as he lowered his head. Their lips touched and Sasha nervously held her breath, waiting for something…anything…to kick in. It was pleasant, but she didn’t melt.

Thank God!

He broke off the kiss and they stared at each other. She was so relieved that she broke into a small smile. His eyes narrowed, making her wonder what he was thinking.

Everyone started to clap, bringing the world back into focus. She turned toward their beaming guests seated on the largest of the private courtyards surrounding the main house. Everyone loved a wedding, it seemed.

Everyone but the bride and groom.

People surrounded them with congratulations and before too long a string quartet began playing music and waiters started circulating with glasses of champagne.

“You’ve made your mother and me very happy, Sasha,” her father said, kissing her cheek, pride shining from his eyes. It was silly but despite everything, Sasha felt teary that she’d done something to make her father proud of her.

“We’re so glad,” Nick responded, his voice holding a touch of sarcasm.

His words spoiled the moment for Sasha and she blinked the moisture out of her eyes in time to see Cesare send Nick a warning glance. She wondered again why Nick didn’t like her father.

Cesare leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. “Isabel and I are very happy, too,” he said, speaking for his wife, who was seeing to their guests. Then he slapped Porter on the back. “We’re all one big happy family now, amico mio.”

And Porter beamed. “Yes, our two families have been joined together at last, my friend.”

Sasha swallowed back a hysterical comment that perhaps her father should have married Nick, but then she saw her mother’s happy face and forced herself to relax.

She had done this for her mother.

After that the late afternoon rolled into evening, drawing the hours closer to when she and Nick would be alone. Thankfully their two hundred guests kept her occupied and stopped her thinking about it too much.

“Everything’s gone very smoothly, don’t you think?” Isabel asked, rescuing Sasha from an older relative and leading her over to the tables laden with wedding gifts beside the open French doors.

Sasha really liked her new mother-in-law. Isabel had always been one of her favorite people. “You’ve done wonders, Isabel. Thank you so much. I know it took a lot to get it all done in time, especially when you had to move into your new apartment, as well.”

Isabel looked pleased. “Anything for you, Sasha. And Nick, of course.” Then as quickly she frowned. “I still don’t condone what Cesare has done, but after his heart attack I don’t want to upset him too much. I’ve tried all I can, but he’s a law unto himself.”

Sasha had appreciated it when Isabel had taken her aside two weeks ago and asked her if she knew what she was doing. The other woman had known her husband was blackmailing Nick into marrying her and for a while she’d been very vocal about it.

Knowing she had to do this, Sasha had hurriedly assured her it was okay, and things had proceeded with alarming speed.

“Being a law unto themselves seems to be a trait of the Valente men,” Sasha said.

“Yes. And Nick has assured me he knows what he’s doing.” She squeezed Sasha’s arm. “I’m so happy to have you in the family.”

“Thank you,” Sasha said huskily. It was lovely to be welcomed so warmly. If she and Nick were truly in love…

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