The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(5) by Maxine Sullivan

“And you know,” Isabel’s voice cut through Sasha’s thoughts, “when I see how happy Alex and Olivia are now, it appears that Cesare knows what he’s doing.”

Sasha regarded Nick’s older brother across the courtyard. Alex was here today with his wife and their adopted eight-year-old son, Scott. Olivia was the daughter of movie legend, Felicia Cannington, and was just as beautiful as her famous mother, and more than gracious. The love between Alex and Olivia made Sasha catch her breath.

Yet just because last year Cesare had blackmailed Alex into marrying Olivia and somehow the two had fallen in love didn’t mean it would work for her and Nick.

It wouldn’t.

For love to grow there had to be a basic need for love within that person. Nick had no need for love from any woman, and especially not her.

“They certainly look very happy,” Sasha agreed, keeping quiet about her thoughts. Isabel loved Nick and only wanted the best for her second stepson she’d raised since he was a baby.

Isabel nodded. “You know, I don’t think Nick got any sympathy from Alex about it all.” She gave a wry smile. “Especially when he’s marrying you.”

Sasha forced herself to smile back. She didn’t think of herself as a beauty, but she knew her looks were probably the only thing she had going for her with Nick.

“Matt must be getting worried that he’s next,” Sasha said, trying to take the focus off herself.

A worried gleam entered Isabel’s eyes. “He says he’s not. He told his father he wouldn’t be coerced into anything. Of course, when Cesare wants something…” she trailed off, just as Nick came strolling up to them.

“Somebody wants something, Mum?” Nick said, coming up next to them with a smile that must be more for Isabel, Sasha decided. If he ever smiled at her like that…

“Me. I need a drink,” Isabel quipped, shooting her new daughter-in-law a look that said it was time to move on. Sasha wanted to beg her not to leave, but that would look foolish.

“I’ll do that for you,” Nick offered, about to turn away.

“No, honey, that’s fine. I want to see your father anyway. I need to make sure he’s taken his medication.”

The line of Nick’s mouth tightened at the mention of his father. It was easy to see he hadn’t forgiven Cesare for all this.

And rightly so. Both their fathers had a lot to answer for, Sasha knew. It was the one bond they had in common.

Nick turned the charm on for some of their guests who had come up to say they were leaving. A charm that wasn’t false but neither was it for her benefit.

Still, she gratefully accepted the distraction to say goodbye, fielding more questions about not having a honeymoon. No one had dared ask about the haste of their marriage, but if they thought she was pregnant they’d soon find out she wasn’t.

And if they wondered about the lack of affection between her and Nick? Maybe then they would guess the hasty marriage was for convenience. She didn’t want anyone thinking it was for love.

Certainly not Nick.

Once all their guests had departed, Sasha left Nick talking to Matt beside his Aston Martin, but not before she saw the scowl on Nick’s face and suspected he was probably warning his younger brother to watch out for their father. Though by the confident set of his head, Matt wasn’t too concerned for his future.

She almost felt sorry for Matt. Just as no doubt Nick was feeling sorry for himself right now for having to marry her. She felt an instant’s hurt but quickly dismissed it.

She had to keep busy.

Walking into one of the smaller dining rooms, she began tidying up, gathering the few remaining glasses and stacking them at one end of the table for the caterers to collect. It had been a good idea of Isabel’s to use the room for some elderly relatives as a quiet place to get away from all the commotion and noise of the wedding.

And didn’t she know exactly how they felt? If only she could have hidden in here permanently, away from Nick, away from the night ahead.

“Leave it.”

Her head shot up to find Nick standing in the doorway. Panic stirred inside her chest. “But—”

“The catering crew will clean up.”

“I know but—”

“You’ll get that beautiful dress dirty,” he pointed out, his enigmatic gaze pausing over her.

“Oh.” She glanced down at the smooth white satin of her simply styled wedding dress. She’d been so anxious she’d totally forgotten she was wearing it. Any other bride would be horrified at the treatment.

Of course, who could call her a typical bride?

“Come on,” he said brusquely, interrupting her thoughts. “Let’s go upstairs. Iris will see everything is put right here.”

Swallowing hard, she placed the glass down on the table and started to walk toward him. “Has Matt gone?” she said for something to say.

His jaw clenched. “Yes.”

Then he cupped her elbow and led her up the sweeping staircase, his touch sending a shiver through her that she tried to ignore. There would be more touching soon, more exploring, molding her softer curves to his hard body.

“Relax. You look like you’re going to the guillotine.”

“Maybe I’ve already lost my head,” she quipped.

His eyes narrowed as he glanced sideways at her. “What does that mean?”

She blinked. Oh heavens. He surely didn’t think she was talking about love?

“Nothing, except that I’d have to be crazy to marry you, that’s all.”

A moment crept by while they continued up the stairs and she held her breath but he said nothing further.

Soon they came to one of the large bedrooms they would use until she could renovate the master bedroom. The bed had already been turned back for them.

Suddenly she felt overwhelmed and she hung back in the doorway. Part of her wanted to know what making love with Nick would be like. Another part of her wanted to run for the hills.

Nick walked over to the large windows and stood looking out for a few seconds, his back to her. “Come here.”

Her breath stopped. This was it.

Not wanting to appear childish or afraid, she started across the plush carpet but when she got close he didn’t reach for her as expected.

He stood looking out over the estate’s magnificent lawns and gardens deeply shadowed by the setting sun.

“Thank you for helping me keep all this,” he murmured, the rough edge of emotion in his voice.

Oh.

Pleasure swept through her. “You belong here, Nick.”

He turned and put his hand under her chin, lifting her face up to him. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

And then his lips descended.

She wasn’t expecting it right then and she didn’t have time to prepare. All at once he was there and the second his mouth touched hers she slid into his kiss. It was soft and slow and she melted for him like a frost in the morning sun.

Just as unexpectedly, he took the kiss deeper, pulling her with him into a world she’d dipped into only once before, many years ago. It was a world that tilted on its axis and began to spin out of control.

His tongue gave her strokes of pleasure, his hands sliding down to her h*ps and pulling her up against him, his body telling her he was a man who wanted, and that she was the woman to give.

And then he eased back.

And the world righted itself…slightly.

He lifted a strand of hair off her cheek. “Want to take a shower?” he asked huskily, his blue eyes holding a dark glitter.

“Er…together?”

He eased into a smile. “Is that an offer?”

She felt her cheeks wash with pink. “No.”

He leaned back further, his eyes softening with understanding. “You’re shy?”

She swallowed past her dry throat. “Only the first time,” she whispered, hoping he’d take the hint so she wouldn’t have to say it in words.

“And after that?” he teased.

“I don’t—”

He chuckled and stepped back before she could finish. “Don’t worry. I’ll shower in my old room so that you can have some privacy.” He strode away but stopped at the door and looked over his shoulder, his eyes no longer teasing. “This time.”

Sasha stood there until she no longer heard his muffled footfall on the carpet along the landing.

She slowly exhaled. Oh God. How could she know if she would be shy after she made love with him? She’d never made love with any man.

She was a virgin.

And a virgin who’d never felt anything for any man what she had felt for Nick all those years ago.

Nick whose kiss had blown her away just now. How could their wedding kiss earlier today have felt so different…so mild…yet this one be so mind-blowing?

This was like the kiss in the gazebo.

And unlike the episode after the gazebo, Nick wouldn’t be going off with another woman. She would be the woman in his bed tonight. And all the nights ahead.

For now.

With a shaky hand she managed to unzip her dress and step out of it, carefully placing it over a chair. Then she headed for the shower, aware she was leaving behind more than her wedding dress. Tonight she was going to be a married woman in every sense of the word.

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