Baby for the Billionaire

By: Maxine Sullivan

Chapter Two

Sasha 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.”

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.

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