The Sicilian's Marriage Arrangement

By: Lucy Monroe
CHAPTER ONE

“HAVE you heard? He’s trying to buy her a husband.” Feminine laughter trilled mockingly.

“With his millions, it shouldn’t be hard.”

“The old man will live to see a hundred and five and keep control of his company right up until he dies,” the woman said. “That means over thirty years married to a woman who is hopelessly introverted, hopelessly ordinary and probably hopeless in bed, to boot. Practically a lifetime before her future husband will see any fruit for his labor.”

“Put in that light,” the man drawled sardonically, “the return on investment does seem pretty low.”

“Why, darling, were you thinking of applying for the job?” Scornful disbelief laced the woman’s too knowing voice.

The masculine laughter that came in reply grated on Luciano’s nerves. He had arrived late to the New Year’s Eve party hosted by the Boston based multimillionaire, Joshua Reynolds. Nevertheless, he knew exactly whom the cynical woman and her male cohort were discussing: Hope Bishop—an extremely sweet and Si, very shy, young woman. She was also the granddaughter of their host.

Luciano hadn’t realized the old man had decided to procure her a husband. It should come as no surprise. While she had the innocence of an eighteen-year-old, she must be twenty-three or four, having completed her degree at university two years ago. He remembered attending a formal dinner to celebrate.

The dinner, like any other social gathering hosted by Reynolds, had turned into a business discussion and the guest of honor had disappeared long before the evening was over. He had thought at the time he might be the only person to have noticed. Certainly her grandfather had not, nor had any of the other businessmen present remarked upon Hope’s absence.

Luciano turned away from the gossiping couple and stepped around a potted plant easily as tall as most men. Its bushy foliage obstructed his view of what was behind it, which was why he didn’t realize Hope Bishop was standing there in frozen mortification until he had all but stepped on her.

She gasped and moved backward, her corkscrew curls catching on the leaves behind her, their chestnut color a startling contrast to the plant’s bright green shrubbery. “Signor di Valerio!”

He reached out to stop her from landing on her bottom in the big Chinese pot housing the plant.

Wide violet eyes blinked in attempt to dispel suspicious moisture. “Oh, I’m sorry. How clumsy I am.”

“Not at all, signorina.” The skin beneath his fingers was soft and warm. “I am the one who must apologize. I walked without looking ahead of myself and am at your feet in regret for my precipitous behavior.”

As he had hoped it would, his overly formal, old-fashioned apology brought a small smile to tilt the generous lips that had a moment before been trembling. “You are very kind, signor.”

She was one of the few people who believed this to be so. He let go of her arms, finding it surprisingly difficult to make his fingers release their captive. “And you are very lovely tonight.”

It had been the wrong thing to say. Her gaze flitted to the shrub and the still gossiping couple beyond, her expression turning pained. Their voices carried quite clearly, now discussing an adulterous affair between two of their acquaintances. No doubt Hope had heard their earlier words.

She affirmed his thoughts when she softly said, “Not lovely, I think, but hopelessly average,” telling him too that she knew he had heard the unflattering comments.

He did not like the sadness in her eyes and he once again took her arm, leading her toward the library. It was the one room unlikely to have a lot of New Year’s Eve guests milling about. “Come, piccola.”

Little one. It suited her.

She did not demur. That was one of the things he had always liked about the girl. She did not argue for the sake of it, not even with her overbearing and often neglectful grandfather. She was a peaceful sort of person.

They reached the library. He guided her inside, quickly ascertaining he had been right and no one else was present. He shut the door to keep it that way. She needed a few moments to collect herself.

Once again he was surprised by a desire to maintain his hold on her, but she tugged slightly on her arm and he released her. She faced him, her tiny stature accentuated by her three-inch heels, not diminished as he was sure she had hoped.

She really did look lovely in her formal gown of deep purple. The bodice outlined small, but perfectly proportioned curves while the shimmery fabric of the full skirt floated around her ankles in a very feminine way. She was not ravishingly sexy like the women he dated, but pretty in a very innocent and startlingly tantalizing way.

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