Harlequin Romance

NORTH AMERICA

- AUGUST 2014 -

 

 

 

 


 

 

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~ NOT JUST A CONVENIENT MARRIAGE ~

 

 

When Sally Franklin went to Venice she thought only of getting her irresponsible brother Charlie to a place of safety.  How could she have dreamed that she would end up married to the devastatingly handsome Damiano Ferrone?  Maybe it was Damiano’s captivating charm that made his proposal impossible to resist.

Damiano needed the perfect mother for his little boy – and a marriage of the utmost convenience.  But before long he saw Sally in a whole new light and realized he’s got a lot more than he bargained for – a wife for real.

And perhaps the romantic city of Venice helped them discover each other in many new ways.


   

  

 

 

Sally and her brother Charlie have just arrived in Venice.  They go out to explore the city.

………………………………………………………………………..

At last they reached the Piazza St Marco. One end was dominated by a huge, decorative cathedral, while around the sides were dozen of shops and cafés with tables outside.

‘Let’s sit out here,’ she said.

‘Wouldn’t it be warmer inside?’ Charlie protested.

‘It’s not too cold and I like sitting outside and watching the world go by, especially in a place like this—so many people, so much happening.’

They found a table and ordered coffee, glancing around them as they sipped it.

‘Oh, look,’ Sally said suddenly. ‘That lovely dog.’

She’d fixed her eyes on a brown and white springer spaniel bouncing around, enjoying the puddles.

‘It’s so nice to see them having fun,’ she said.  She struck a dramatic attitude. ‘Wuff! Look at me! That’s what he’s saying.’ She turned to the dog, who had come close enough to hear her. ‘Yes, all right, I’m looking at you. You’re beautiful.’

His ears perked, his face lit up, and the next moment he was flying towards her, bouncing into her lap, sending her coffee flying over her clothes.

‘Hey, look at your jacket!’ Charlie exclaimed.

‘Oh, heavens! Well, never mind. It’s only a jacket. It was my fault for calling him.’

‘And he’s covered you with wet paw prints.’

Suddenly a scream tore the air. ‘Toby! Toby!’

A young boy was dashing across the piazza towards them, waving his arms and screeching. Just behind him was a middle-aged woman, also running, her face dark with thunder.

‘Toby!’ the child shrieked. Vieni qui!’

He reached Sally and flung his arms around the dog so fiercely that she was knocked off balance and would have crashed to the ground if Charlie hadn’t seized her just in time.

The woman began a tirade in Italian. Without understanding the words Sally gathered that she was furious and her manner towards the animal was alarming.

‘It’s all right,’ Sally said firmly. ‘It was an accident, not his fault.’

Hearing her speak English, the woman responded in the same language.

‘He’s a bad dog,’ she said. ‘He’s never been disciplined properly and it’s time something was done about him.’

‘No!’ the child screamed, tightening his arms around the animal. ‘He’s not bad.’

‘Of course he’s bad,’ the woman said. Signor, mi appello a voi.’

The man she appealed to seemed to have appeared from nowhere. Looking up, Sally thought she recognised him as the man she’d seen at the hotel the night before. But it had been so dark that she found it hard to be sure.

‘Papa!’ the little boy screamed.

So this grim, scowling creature was the father of the boy. Only a swift response would help now. She confronted him.

‘It’s all a misunderstanding,’ she said, praying that he spoke English. ‘I don’t know how much you saw—’

‘I saw the dog hurl himself at you and cover you with mud,’ he said in a voice that brooked no nonsense.

‘He’s just affectionate. It was my fault for calling out to him. He was being friendly.’

To her relief he nodded. ‘That’s generous of you. Thank you. Are you hurt?’

‘Not at all. It’s not his fault that it’s been raining.’ She patted the furry head. ‘You can’t help it raining, can you?’

‘Wuff!’

‘There, you see. He agrees with me.’

The boy gave a chuckle. The man’s face relaxed and he laid his hand on the child’s shoulder. The only person not pleased was the woman. The man spoke a few words to her in Italian. She glared and walked off.

‘She hates Toby,’ the boy complained.

‘How could anybody hate him?’ Sally said. ‘He’s gorgeous.’

‘He makes a mess of the house,’ the man said. ‘Usually in a place she’s just cleaned. Pietro, I think you have an apology to make.’

The child nodded, took a deep breath and faced her, with his arm protectively around Toby. ‘We’re sorry for what happened, signorina.’

‘It’s all right. Sometimes accidents just happen, one after another.’ She leaned down to the dog. ‘As long as Toby isn’t hurt.’

As if to answer Toby licked her face. In response, she bumped her nose against his. Pietro giggled in delight. Toby promptly licked her again, then turned to Charlie, who received his attention with pleasure.

‘While they’re occupied, allow me to buy you a coffee,’ the man said. ‘Then I will escort you back to your hotel. And of course I will pay for your clothes to be cleaned.’

‘Thank you.’

‘Where are you staying?’

‘At the Billioni Hotel.’

‘Ah, yes.’

‘Actually I think I saw you there last night. You were calling someone an idiot. Are you the manager?’

‘I’m the owner.’

‘Oh—er—well, it’s a very nice hotel.’

‘But it still needs some work. You don’t have to be tactful.’ He offered his hand. ‘My name is Damiano Ferrone.’

‘I’m Sally Franklin.’ They shook hands cordially.

‘And the young man with you? Your husband?’

‘Goodness no. He’s barely grown up. That’s Charlie, my brother.’

‘And you are here on holiday together?’

‘Yes, we decided to explore the world a little. I know most people don’t take holidays in January—’

‘But Venice is beautiful all the year round. We get many visitors in winter. But perhaps you regret the rain.’

His glance indicated the damp paw marks on her jacket.

‘I don’t regret anything that lets me meet such a gorgeous dog,’ she said. ‘I just love them.’

‘So I saw. You immediately became my son’s favourite person.’

They laughed together. It was remarkable, she thought, how his face, though formed in stern lines, softened when he spoke of the child.

‘Does his mother mind the muddy paw marks?’ she asked.

‘He has no mother. My first wife died giving birth to him nine years ago. He used to have a stepmother but she left us.’

‘Doesn’t she ever come back to see him?’

‘Never.’

A shriek of laughter interrupted them and made them turn to where the others were playing.

‘I remember when I had a dog just like that,’ she mused. ‘Full of vim and wanting to be the centre of attention all the time.’

‘He belonged to Pietro’s real mother. He’s the only legacy he has of her.’

‘So of course he treasures him. Yes, over here!’ She raised her voice as Toby raced back towards her, hurling himself once more into her arms while Pietro jumped up and down with delight. Damiano smiled fondly at the sight of his child’s happiness.

‘I think Toby is trying to tell you something,’ he observed.

‘Well, he certainly seems to like me,’ she ventured.

‘Enough to invite you to our house this evening for dinner—as a way of apologising for ruining your clothes. Please say you’ll come.’

Pietro looked up into her face, nodding eagerly, and she guessed he was the one Damiano was trying to please.

‘We’d love to come,’ she said, ‘wouldn’t we, Charlie?’

‘Sure, fine.’

‘I’ll just go back to the hotel and change,’ she said.

‘There’s no need,’ Damiano declared.

‘But look at the mess Toby’s left me in,’ she said, comically indicating the paw marks. She put her face close to the dog’s. ‘This is all your fault.’

‘He’s very sorry,’ Pietro said, ‘and he’ll make it up to you at dinner. But you must come with us now.’ He nudged Toby. ‘Tell her she’s got to come now.’

‘Wuff!’

‘Well, if Toby commands, I can’t refuse.’ She laughed.

It was the right answer. Both Pietro and his father beamed. And Sally found herself overtaken by a sense of exhilaration, caused by the sheer unexpectedness of the situation. For someone who spent her life analysing figures and making careful plans there was strange delight in being swept away without warning. When Damiano offered her his arm she took it with pleasure.

From St Mark’s Piazza it was a short journey to the water, where they found a taxi that took them along the Grand Canal.

‘Is your home far?’ she asked.

‘You can see it now.’

She gaped at the sight of the building that they were nearing. Knowing he was rich enough to own a hotel, she’d expected a substantial home, but this was huge and elaborate.

‘There?’ She gasped. ‘But it looks like a palace.’

‘It’s a hotel.’

‘Another one of yours?’

‘Yes, I own it. I live in the building next door.’

His home was smaller than the hotel but still impressive, with a broad stairway leading up from the great hall to the upper floors, where tall, decorative windows let in the light.

Bustling towards them was the woman who’d been in St Mark’s.

‘You’ve met Nora,’ he said. ‘She runs the house and she’ll show you around.’

Sally thought she detected a puzzled look in the housekeeper’s eyes, after the way they had met. But she greeted her cordially and showed her to a room on the ground floor.

‘You can be comfortable here until dinner is served,’ she said. ‘There is a bathroom next door.’

The room was magnificent, with furniture that looked antique and expensive. On one wall was a large picture of a women luxuriously dressed in eighteenth-century clothing. Gold hung around her neck, and much care had clearly been lavished on her appearance.

Probably to impress the man who had paid for it, Sally thought.

‘Who is that?’ she asked Nora.

‘That was the Duchess Araminta Leonese, three hundred years ago,’ Nora said with a smile. ‘She was a very notable woman. The duke married her in the face of much opposition. His family wanted him to marry an aristocrat, but he said it had to be her and nobody else.’

‘Wasn’t she an actress?’ Charlie said.

‘She was a lady of the stage. And in those days—’

‘In those days that was a big scandal,’ Sally mused.

‘Oh, yes. Very big,’ Nora agreed.

As she turned to leave Charlie murmured to her, ‘I could murder a drink.’

‘Follow me, signore.

They departed together.

On the wall was a mirror where Sally could study her appearance. Her jacket was a mess. The clothes beneath it were undamaged but they were plain and frugal, and she felt self-conscious at how they would look in these wealthy surroundings. But then she thrust the thought aside. Everything was happening out of her control, and it was pointless to worry about it.

She went to the window, which had a small balcony overlooking a narrow canal where she could see a gondola making its way along the water. Smiling, she turned back into the room.

Then she froze at the sight that met her eyes.

The figure standing there was small but alarming. It had a monstrous head. Horns reared up from the forehead, the eyes were huge and threatening, and the great nose was more like a beak. This terrifying creature had crept into the room unnoticed, and now stood there in a silent, deadly challenge.

At last it spoke.

‘It’s only me,’ said Pietro.

 

From the book NOT JUST A CONVENIENT MARRIAGE by Lucy Gordon.

Copyright 2011 by Lucy Gordon

 ISBN 9780373743018

Cover Copyright © 2011 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. ® and tm are trademarks of the publisher.  The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
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~ a taste of italy at home ~