The C.O.O. Must Marry (The Valente Series #2)(8) by Maxine Sullivan

She swallowed. Was he asking her to join him?

“Um…I want to finish something here first. I’ll freshen up in a minute.”

A knowing look in his eyes, he turned toward the door. “Don’t be too long.”

“I won’t.”

They both knew she wasn’t about to follow him upstairs. As much as she suspected being in his arms was addictive, she had to keep her distance or risk becoming his sex slave.

She smiled to herself. Would that be so bad?

Reality returned. Perhaps she ought to remind herself that she hadn’t even warranted an “I’m home, honey” kiss. Whether he wanted her in his bed or not, it was clear he wasn’t going to treat her like a real wife outside the bedroom. Not when they were alone anyway.

Shades of her parents’ marriage?

No, she wouldn’t think that.

The thought was too painful to contemplate. Sasha looked down at her designs and started working on them again. Work had always helped her concentrate on the moment, holding unhappy thoughts of the past or the possibility of a lonely future at bay. Work had been her salvation.

Now, if only she could get the color just right for…

“Dinner’s almost ready,” Nick said, startling her again.

She looked up and saw he’d showered and changed and she wrinkled her nose at herself. “I totally forgot the time again, didn’t I?”

“Obviously you’re not falling over yourself to be with me?” he drawled, not looking in the least put out about that.

No doubt he’d have plenty of women who would fall over themselves to be with him, she mused. Well, she wasn’t one of his women.

She held her head high. “No, I’m not.”

He considered her. “You’re not like other women, are you?”

Was that a compliment? She wasn’t sure.

“I guess not.”

His face closed up. “You’ve got ten minutes,” he said gruffly before striding away.

For a moment she just stood there. What was all that about? Her virginity? Was he feeling guilty about it? There was no need.

After that she hurried to shower and re-apply a light coating of make-up, leaving her straight blonde hair to fall loose past her shoulders. Taking her cue from Nick’s dark trousers and polo shirt, she didn’t dress up too much for dinner, instead slipping on a summery dress made from soft material that fell just above her knees.

Fifteen minutes later she joined him in the dining room. The hint of pleasure in his eyes made her heart race as she walked to where he held the chair out for her.

They sat down at the table. Iris served dinner before mentioning that Cesare had called to remind him about the English launch of “Valente’s Woman.” Then the older woman left them to eat.

Sasha was curious. “When is the U.K. launch?”

“In a couple of weeks.”

“It’ll do well over there.”

He nodded. “It’ll do well everywhere.”

She had to smile at that.

“What are you smiling at?” he asked.

“Your arrogance.”

His mouth quirked at the corners. “It’s the Valente way.”

“I know.”

Some lazy moments passed while they ate in silence. Sasha was still amazed she was now actually married to Nick Valente. Who would have thought it?

Not her.

Aware she needed to move away from such thoughts, she made herself reflect on how much effort went into launching a new perfume. “You should go with Alex. He may need you with him.”

“Alex can handle it. He and Olivia will make sure it goes off with a bang.”

All at once she didn’t want him staying home for her sake. “Just because we’re newly married doesn’t mean you have to stay home with me.”

His lips twisted. “Are you trying to get rid of me so soon?”

“Of course not. I’m just thinking you have other commitments and being married shouldn’t change that.”

He held her gaze for a moment, then, “If I thought Alex needed me, I’d go. But he doesn’t and frankly, I’d prefer to stay home.”

She noted he didn’t say “stay with her.”

Strangely she was rather glad he wasn’t going away and leaving her alone. She seemed to have had too much aloneness these past few years.

Had he?

She didn’t think so.

They began to talk about the wedding—was it only yesterday?—and before too long Iris was serving dessert, and then not long after, they finished their dinner.

She wondered what was next….

Coffee?

Tea?

Bed?

“Would you like to watch television?”

She ignored the look in his eyes. He’d known what she was thinking. “That would be nice.” She got to her feet, and Nick stood, too.

“You go ahead and I’ll be with you shortly. I’ve got a couple of calls to make first.”

She felt a smattering of disappointment, but she quickly pushed it aside. Time alone would let her pulse slow back to its normal beat.

An hour later she was still waiting for Nick to join her. Her favorite sitcom hadn’t held her attention, and now a rather boring program was about to start. She could go get her designs and continue working, but she needed a break from them. What’s more, she didn’t want to interrupt Nick in the study. He could be on an important call.

She yawned.

She felt so tired.

Perhaps she’d just close her eyes for a moment or two.

The next thing she knew a pair of strong masculine arms were lifting her up and carrying her. She tried to clear her mind but she felt warm and protected and she just wanted to snuggle closer.

“Nick?”

“Yes.”

It was so hard to open her eyes. “Put me down,” she murmured. “I can walk.”

“No.”

She let out a small sigh. It was too much trouble to argue, especially with her cheek pressed against his chest, his heartbeat beneath it.

He was climbing the stairs now and he smelled so good, his clothes fresh but mixed with his own male scent, his breath retaining a hint of coffee. She’d never been carried by a man before. There was something to be said for all those movies that made it look so romantic being swept off her feet like this.

And then she realized something and she started to giggle. She couldn’t help herself.

At the top he paused to look down at her. “What’s so funny?”

“You’re a little out of breath.”

A gleam of amusement twinkled in his eyes. “Are you saying I’m too old to carry you up the stairs?”

“Would I dare?”

“Yes.”

All at once she noticed his firm mouth curve up at the corners.

His eyes held a certain glitter. “I’m not too old…or out of breath…to make love to you, my sweet,” he murmured, then carried her into their bedroom, kicked the door shut and stood her up against it.

His blue eyes smoldered for her in the lamplight as he bent his head and kissed her. And he kept right on kissing her until it became a game between them that neither would give up. In the end she had to break away to catch her breath.

He gazed at her triumphantly and before too long he’d stripped the clothes from her body and kissed her again in much more intimate places.

And if he was out of breath by the end of it, he didn’t show it. The only thing he showed was a passionate hunger for her that took her by surprise.

Sasha was in the pool when Nick returned early from work the following evening. She’d meant to be showered and changed by now but summer was almost over and she’d wanted to take advantage of the warm weather.

He sat down on the deck chair and loosened his tie, looking handsome but with dark shadows beneath his eyes. She felt guilty for keeping him awake last night, even if it had been mutually beneficial.

She trod water in the middle of the pool. “You look tired.”

He seemed surprised she’d noticed. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

She frowned. “All that driving into the city and back is taking a lot out of you.” Commuting to the city took an hour and a half each way, not to mention putting in a full day’s work.

He shrugged. “I’ll get used to it.”

“You shouldn’t have to, Nick.” She tilted her head at him. “Why don’t you get yourself a driver? Your father’s had one for many years.”

His brow creased in consideration. “Hey, that’s not a bad idea. I could hire a permanent driver and that way I can work while I’m in the car and not waste time.” He gave her a smile. “Good thinking.”

She gave a quick shiver as a late afternoon breeze skipped over her. “Thanks, but I’m sure you would have thought of it yourself.”

His gaze dropped to the water lapping at the top of her br**sts. “Probably,” he said, his distracted tone giving the comment less arrogance.

Her ni**les tightened beneath the pink bikini top at the sudden sensual look in his eyes.

He stood up and started undoing his shirt.

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