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Falling for her fiancé?
Tycoon Theo De Angelis lives life by his rules only...until a family debt forces him to propose the only merger he's never chased—matrimony! Beautiful, inexperienced Alexa Caldini may be nothing like his usual blonde-bombshell "type" but that doesn't mean their marriage bed must grow cold...
Forced to marry the son of her father's rival, Alexa is determined to impose certain ground rules for their inconvenient arrangement. Absolutely no emotions and definitely no physical relationship! But wearing the De Angelis ring is easier than facing the unexpected temptations of actually becoming Theo's wife. How long before Alexa's rules go up in smoke?
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Cathy Williams is a great believer in the power of perseverance as she had never written anything before her writing career, and from the starting point of zero has now fulfilled her ambition to pursue this most enjoyable of careers. She would encourage any would-be writer to have faith and go for it! She derives inspiration from the tropical island of Trinidad and from the peaceful countryside of middle England. Cathy lives in Warwickshire her family.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
'You're not going to like what I'm about to say.'
The very second Stefano had called his son and told him that he needed to speak with him as a matter of urgency, Theo had dropped everything and taken the first flight over to Italy, to his father's enormous estate just outside Rome.
Stefano De Angelis was not a man given to drama, and both Theo and his brother, Daniel, had spent the past five years worrying about him. He had never really recovered from the death of his wife, their mother, Rose. The power house who had built a personal fortune from scratch had collapsed into himself, retreating to the sanctuary of his den, immune to the efforts of both his sons to pull him out of his grief. He had continued to eat, sleep, talk and walk, but his soul had departed, leaving only a physical shell behind.
What, Theo thought now, was he about to hear?
Cold fear gripped him.
'Have you asked Daniel as well?' He prowled through the huge sitting room, idly gazing through the window to the sprawling lawns, before finally taking a seat opposite his father.
'This situation does not concern your brother,' Stefano returned, his dark eyes sidestepping his son's piercing green ones.
Theo breathed a sigh of relief. If Daniel hadn't been likewise summoned, then at least a health crisis could be discounted. He had been tempted to phone his brother on the back of his father's summons, but had resisted the impulse because he knew that Daniel was in the throes of a balancing act: trying to close a major deal and a minor love affair at the same time.
The deal, his brother had confided several days ago, when he had called from his penthouse apartment in Sydney, was a walk in the park compared to the woman who had been making noises about taking what they had 'one step further', and didn't show any promise of retreating without putting up a fight.
'So tell me... What am I not going to like to hear?' Theo encouraged.
'As you are well aware, son...' Stefano's hooded dark eyes gazed off into the distance '...things have not been good with me since your mother died. When my beloved Rose went, she took a big part of me with her.'
'Of us all.'
'But you and your brother are young. I, on the other hand, am an old man—and you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. Perhaps if her death hadn't been so sudden... Perhaps if I had had time to get used to the idea of her absence...' He sighed. 'But this is not why I called you here, Theo. To moan and complain about something that cannot be changed. I called you here because during the time that I was...shall we say mentally not present, certain unfortunate things took place within the company.'
Theo stilled. His keen eyes noted the nervous play of his father's entwined fingers. His father was the least nervous man he had ever known.
'There has been some substantial mismanagement,'
Stefano declared bluntly. 'And worse, I am afraid. Alfredo, my trusted co-director, has been involved in large-scale embezzlement which has only recently been drawn to my attention. It's a wonder the press hasn't got hold of it. The upshot, Theo, is that vast sums of money—including most of the pension funds—have been hijacked.'
Theo sat back, his lean, handsome face revealing nothing of what was going through his mind.
It was a problem, yes—but a serious one? Not really. At any rate nothing that he couldn't handle.
'If you're worried about the man getting what he deserves, then you can leave that to me,' Theo asserted with cold confidence, his sharp, analytical brain already formulating ways in which payback could be duly extracted. 'And if you're worried about the lost money, then likewise. It will be nothing for me to return what's been misappropriated. No one will ever know.'
'It's not that easy, Theo.'
And Theo knew that now they were approaching the heart of the problem—the reason why he had been summoned.
'I would never ask either you or Daniel for financial assistance!' Stefano glowered, his fighting spirit temporarily restored as he contemplated the unthinkable. 'You boys have made your own way in the world and my pride would never allow me to run to either of you with my begging bowl.'
Theo shook his head in frustration at his father's pride—which, he had to concede, both he and Daniel had inherited in bucketloads. 'It would not have been a question of—'
'I'm afraid I went to Carlo Caldini,' Stefano said abruptly. 'There was no choice. The bank was not an option—not when there was a significant chance that they would turn down my request. If that had happened, then the business... Well, what can I say? Everything your mother and I built would have been thrown into the public arena to be picked over by hyenas! At least with Carlo we can keep this between us.'
Theo pressed the pads of his thumbs against his eyes.
Carlo Caldini had once been his father's closest friend and now, for longer than he could remember, was his fiercest adversary. The fact that he had seen fit to go to Carlo for help threatened to bring on a raging headache.
There was absolutely no doubt that whatever his father was going to tell him Theo was not going to want to hear it.
'And what's his price?' he asked, because there was no such thing as a free lunch—and when the lunch was with a sworn enemy then it was going to be the opposite of free.
Exorbitant was the word that sprang to mind.
Stefano fidgeted. 'You're not getting any younger, Theo. You're thirty-two years old! Your mother dearly wished that she would see one of you boys settled... It wasn't to be.'
'I'm not following you.'
'All of this unravelled over eight months ago,' Stefano said heavily. 'During that time it proved impossible to repay the loan. It's been an uphill struggle just picking apart the extent of the losses and dealing with Alfredo...'
'And you kept it all to yourself!'
'There seemed little point in worrying you or your brother.'
'Just tell me what ruinous interest rates Carlo has imposed and I'll deal with it.'
'Here is the part you may not like, son.' 'I'm all ears.'
When it came to money there was nothing Theo couldn't buy, and naturally he would pay the bill without complaint—although he was furious with his father for thinking it necessary to seek help outside the direct family circle.
'As you know, Carlo has a daughter. An only child. Sadly there were to be no sons for him.'
Even in the thick of disclosing what he knew his son would not want to hear Stefano couldn't quite conceal the smugness in his voice, and Theo raised his eyebrows wryly. He had never known what had caused the enmity between his father and Carlo, but he suspected that the lifelong grudge stemmed from something ridiculously insignificant.
'What has that got to do with anything?' he asked, frankly bewildered at the tangent his father had taken.
'Alexa... I think you may have met her... Or perhaps not... Well, it seems that the girl is not yet married, and Carlo...' Stefano shrugged. 'He is saddened at that—as I would be had I had a daughter... So part of the repayment schedule—which, in fairness to that sly old fox, is more lenient than at any bank—is that you help him out of his predicament with Alexa. In other words, Theo, I have promised him your hand in marriage to the girl.'
Alexa glared down at the outfit her mother had laid out for her to wear.
Something 'suitable' to meet a man she had no wish to meet, far less marry. A wildly ridiculous frothy dress in startling blue that swept down to the ankles with a plunging neckline and an even more ridiculously plunging back.
She was to be paraded in front of Theo De Angelis like a sacrificial lamb.
She wanted to storm out of the house, head for the nearest port and take a boat to the opposite end of the world—where she would hide out for maybe ten years, until this whole ludicrous situation had been sorted out.
Without her involvement.
At first, when her father had sat her down and told her that she was to be married to a De Angelis, she had thought that he was joking.
An arranged marriage? In this day and age? To a son of the man with whom he had had a stupid, simmering feud for thirty-five years? What else could it have been but a joke?
That had been a week ago—plenty long enough for her to discover that her father had been deadly serious.
'The poor man is in serious financial trouble.' Carlo Caldini had opened up to her in an attempt to pull at her heartstrings. He had looked at her with a sad expression and mournful eyes. 'True, he and I have not seen eye to eye over the years.'
'All thirty-five of them, Papa...'
'But in the end who else does one turn to but a friend? I would have done the same in his position.'
Alexa had been baffled at this show of seemingly heart-wrenching empathy, but if her father had deemed it fit to rush to the rescue of a man he had spent over three decades deriding, then so be it. What did it have to do with her?
Everything, as it had transpired.
She had been bartered like a...a...piece of meat!
She adored her father, but she would still have dug her heels in and point-blank refused had he not pulled out his trump card—in the shape of her mother.
Cora Caldini, recovering from a stroke, was under doctor's orders to take it easy. No stress, her family had been warned. And, more than that, her father had confided, this last stroke had been the most serious of three... Her heart was weak and all her talk was of her mortality, of her dying before she could see her only child married and settled. What if something happened to her? her father had asked. What if she was taken away from them before her only wish could be granted?
Caught in the eye of a hurricane, Alexa had ranted and raved, had stood her ground with rousing lectures about modern times, about arranged marriages being a thing of the past. She had pointed out, arms folded, that they hadn't had their marriage arranged so why should she? She had waxed lyrical about the importance of love, even though she didn't know the first thing about that. She had darkly suggested that the last thing Cora Caldini would want would be a phoney marriage for all the wrong reasons.
In the end she had gained the only concession that she could. If she married the man then it would be on her terms. After a year of unhappy enforced marital misery she would be free to divorce and Stefano De Angelis would be released from his debt. Her father had quickly acquiesced.
Now, with the man due to arrive at their mansion within the hour, she gritted her teeth and returned the elaborate blue dress to the wardrobe from which it had been removed.
She wasn't going to dress up like a doll for a man whose reputation as a commitment-phobe womaniser spanned the country and beyond. There had been no need to look him up on the Internet because she knew all about him—and his brother. Theo and Daniel De Angelis, cut from the same cloth, both ruthless tycoons, both far too good-looking for their own good.
Despite her privileged background, Alexa had made it her life's mission to avoid men like them. She had plenty experience with the superficiality of men who had money and power. She had been surrounded with them for years. She had seen the way they always took it as their God-given right that they could do as they pleased and treat women as they liked simply because they could.
She disapproved of everything Theo De Angelis stood for. Certainly the sort of men she preferred had always been of the thoughtful and considerate variety.
When she thought about love she thought about her parents—thought about being swept off her feet by someone kind and humorous, with whom she could enjoy the sort of united happiness her parents enjoyed. When she contemplated marriage she knew that there would be no compromises made. She would marry her soulmate—the man whose hand she would want to hold for the rest of her life. She had met sufficient idle, arrogant, self-absorbed and vain rich guys—guys exactly like Theo De Angelis—to know that she would never find her soulmate amongst them.
And look at her now! So much for all her ideals!
She showered, taking her time because she certainly wasn't going to scuttle down to the drawing room to wait for him—like an eager bride-to-be, thrilled to nab a man the tabloid press had once labelled the most eligible bachelor alive.
And she wasn't going to wear the blue dress—or any dress, for that matter. In fact she wasn't going to wear anything that displayed her body at all.
She chose a pair ofjeans and a loose-fitting blouse that was buttoned to the neck and then, taut with suppressed anger at her situation, stared at her reflection in the mirror.
Long, wavy dark hair, pulled back into a no-nonsense bun, framed an oval face. Like her father, she was olive-skinned, with dark eyebrows and thick, dark eyelashes, but from her mother she had inherited her bright turquoise eyes. Her best feature, as far as she was concerned—because the rest did little to excite the imagination. She wasn't long and leggy, and she had stopped being able to fit into a size eight the second she had hit adolescence. Hers, to her eternal regret, was an unfashionable five-foot-four hourglass figure—the sort that personal trainers over the years had tried and failed to whip into shape.
She heard voices before she reached the drawing room because the door was open, and was assailed by a sudden attack of nerves.
It was one thing pouring scorn on the likes of Theo De Angelis from the relative safety of her bedroom.
It was quite another holding on to her self-righteous, justifiable fury when he was perched on a chair, metres away from her, just out of sight.
She had never seen him in the flesh. He lived in London, but even if he had lived in Rome she probably wouldn't have seen him anyway, because she made a point of avoiding society dos whenever possible.
Heart beating fast, she took a deep breath and entered the drawing room.
Drinks were being served and her parents were sitting opposite him, their body language indicating that they were delighted with whatever he happened to be saying.
Conversation came to an abrupt halt.
Alexa had never thrived on being the centre of attention. Along with her background of vast wealth, she had grown up in circles where the girls were catty and where looks counted for everything. Trapped in a figure that had always catapulted her in the direction of baggy clothes, she had learned to leave the attention-seeking to others, and once she had left school had turned her back on it completely.
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