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Tall, Dark & Handsome: The Infamous Italian's Secret Baby / Pregnant by the Millionaire / Liam's Secret Son

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CHAPTER SIX

‘WILL I see you in the morning, Daddy?’

Bella’s breath caught in her throat as she waited for Gabriel to answer Toby. She was standing at the bottom of her son’s bed watching the two of them as Toby lay tucked snugly beneath the duvet, Gabriel sitting at his side.

She had absolutely no doubts that Toby had enjoyed his day with his father and grandfather. The three of them had spent most of the morning out in the garden, Gabriel keeping Toby occupied with a number of ball games while Bella sat on a lounger watching them, dark sunglasses perched on the end of her nose as she allowed her thoughts to wander. The problem was, they kept coming back to the same place—Gabriel’s insistence that she marry him…

As the day had progressed—a drive out to look at the Danti vineyard, and lunch eaten outside on the terrace at the magnificent villa there, and then dinner later that evening at a wonderful fish restaurant at Pier 39—it was impossible for Bella to deny that Gabriel was wonderful with Toby.

That he already loved Toby with the same fierceness that Bella did…

And that Toby loved Gabriel right back!

Looking at the two of them sitting together now on Toby’s bed, so alike with their dark curling hair and chocolate-brown eyes, and that cleft in the centre of their chins, Bella couldn’t help feeling that she was fighting a losing battle. That even attempting to fight this harder, more arrogant Gabriel was a waste of her time and emotions.

Gabriel glanced down at her now, the expression in his eyes unreadable. ‘I think that depends on Mummy, don’t you?’ he murmured.

‘Mummy?’ Toby prompted eagerly.

Bella drew in a ragged breath before answering. ‘We’ll see,’ she finally said non-committally.

‘That usually means yes,’Toby confided as he looked up at Gabriel conspiratorially.

‘It does?’ The darkness of Gabriel’s gaze was mocking as he glanced across at Bella.

‘It means we’ll see,’ she insisted. ‘Now it’s time for you to go to sleep, young man,’ she told her son firmly as she moved to tuck him more comfortably beneath the covers. ‘G—Daddy and I will just be in the other room if you should need us, Toby,’ she added reassuringly before bending down to kiss him.

Toby reached up to wrap his arms about her neck as he hugged her. ‘It was a lovely day, wasn’t it, Mummy?’

Emotion caught in Bella’s throat as she looked down into her son’s happily beaming face.

Could she endanger that unclouded happiness by subjecting Toby to the trauma that a legal battle with Gabriel was sure to cause? Could she really put Toby into a position where he would almost be forced to choose between the mother he had lived with all of his young life and the father he had only just met? Could she do that to him?

Surely the answer to all of those questions was no…

‘Lovely,’ she answered Toby brightly before kissing him again.

‘I’ll see you in the morning, darling.’ She ruffled his dark curls before stepping away from the bed.

‘We will both see you in the morning, Toby,’ Gabriel added pointedly as he moved to receive Toby’s hug goodnight.

Gabriel’s arms were gentle, but his emotions were not. Toby, his son, now represented everything to him, the past, the present, and most definitely the future.

‘Sleep now, little one,’ he said huskily as he released Toby to step back.

‘You promise you’ll come back in the morning?’ Toby’s eyes were anxious.

Gabriel doubted that Toby heard the sob in his mother’s throat as she stood just behind him, but Gabriel certainly did. ‘I will come back in the morning,’ he assured the little boy. Whatever it took, Gabriel was determined to be in Toby’s life every morning!

‘What would you have done about this situation if you had already been married to someone else when you learnt of Toby’s existence?’ Bella challenged once the two of them had returned to the sitting-room.

Gabriel’s mouth tightened. ‘Fortunately, that problem does not arise.’

‘But if it had?’ she insisted.

He shrugged. ‘I refuse to answer a “what if” question, Isabella.’

She gave a little huff of frustration. ‘Doesn’t it bother you that I don’t want to marry you?’

It should, and it did. But Gabriel knew from Bella’s response to him earlier today that on one level, at least, she did want to be with him…

Other marriages, he was sure, had begun with less.

‘Not particularly,’ Gabriel dismissed curtly.

Bella continued to glare at him for several more seconds before she gave a sigh of defeat. ‘All right, Gabriel, I will agree to marry you—’

‘I thought that you would,’ Gabriel murmured as he moved to sit in one of the armchairs.

‘If you will allow me to finish…?’She raised dark, expressive brows as she stood across the room from him.

‘By all means.’ Gabriel relaxed back in the armchair. He had won the first battle—and the most difficult, he hoped—and so could now afford to be gracious in victory.

‘Thank you,’ she accepted dryly. ‘I will agree to marry you,’ she repeated, then went on more firmly, ‘but only on certain conditions.’

Gabriel’s gaze narrowed as he easily guessed, from the calmness of Bella’s expression, that he wasn’t going to like those conditions. ‘Which are?’

‘Firstly, if we married I would like to continue living in England—’

‘I am sure that can be arranged.’ He nodded, having already considered this problem earlier today when he had decided that marriage between himself and Isabella was the only real solution to Toby’s continued welfare.

It would be a simple enough process to put a manager in charge of the vineyards here, with the occasional visit from him to make sure they were being run properly.

‘The Danti business interests are international, Isabella,’ he informed her. ‘I will simply take over the running of our London office. Your second condition…?’

‘Toby will attend schools of my choice—’

‘As long as that choice eventually includes Eton and then Cambridge, I do not foresee that as being a problem,’ Gabriel drawled.

‘Eton and Cambridge?’ Bella echoed disbelievingly.

‘The Dantis have been educated at Eton and Cambridge for several generations.’

Bella shook her head. ‘Toby will begin attending the local school in September. Following that he will be a day-pupil at another local school.’

Gabriel quirked one dark brow. ‘Then I suggest we ensure that we have already moved into a house close enough so that he can attend Eton school as a day-pupil.’

He looked so damned smug, Bella fumed inwardly. So sure of himself.

As he had no doubt been sure of what her answer to his marriage proposal would be. Proposal? Hah! Gabriel didn’t ask, he ordered; he was arrogance personified!

But, while Toby had been enjoying himself as the centre of Cristo Danti and Gabriel’s attention, Bella had spent most of the day considering her options. Her limited options, she had very quickly realised, considering there was no way now of denying that Toby was Gabriel’s son—even if Bella did attempt to deny it, a simple blood test would prove her a liar!

Just as there was no denying that the Dantis were a very rich and powerful family, both here and in Europe. In reality, what possible chance did she have of ensuring that she and Toby—especially Toby!—came out of a legal battle unscathed? The answer to that was only too clear. Against Gabriel Danti she had no chance.

But if she was forced to agree to this marriage, then Bella was determined to have at least some say in what she would and would not agree to!

‘Thirdly,’ she snapped, ‘the marriage will be in name only.’ She looked across at him challengingly, her eyes widening in alarm as he suddenly stood up.

Gabriel slowly shook his head. ‘I am sure that you are already well aware that will not be possible.’

Because of their response to each other earlier today!

A response that still made Bella cringe whenever she thought about it—which she had tried very hard not to do all day. She never responded to men in that totally wild and wanton way. At least…she never had until Gabriel. Both five years ago and then again today…

Which was why Bella was making this the last condition to their marriage. She could imagine nothing worse than becoming a slave to the desire that Gabriel seemed to ignite in her so easily.

Even now, feeling angry and trapped, Bella was still totally aware of Gabriel in the black shirt and faded jeans. Clearly remembered pushing that shirt from his shoulders earlier so that she might touch the warm, muscled flesh beneath it. Unfortunately, she remembered even more distinctly the way that Gabriel had touched her…

She would not, could not allow her emotions, her life, to be ruled by the desire Gabriel made her feel!

She straightened her shoulders. ‘Without your agreement to that last condition I couldn’t even contemplate the idea of the two of us marrying each other.’

Gabriel looked at her from under hooded lids, knowing by the steadiness of Bella’s gaze, the sheer determination in her expression, that she thought she meant every word she was saying, at least. Considering their response to each other in his study earlier today, Gabriel found that very hard to believe. Or accept.

Bella had come alive in his arms. Wildly. Fiercely. Demandingly. How could she possibly imagine they could live together, day after day—night after night!—and not take that lovemaking to its inevitable conclusion?

His mouth tightened. ‘You wish for Toby to be an only child?’

She shrugged. ‘He was going to be that, anyway.’

Gabriel studied her closely. ‘You are a beautiful woman, Isabella; if we had not met again you would no doubt have married one day and had other children.’

‘No,’ she answered flatly. ‘I decided long ago that I would never subject Toby to a stepfather who may or may not have accepted him as his own,’ she explained simply as Gabriel frowned at her.

The mere thought of Toby or Bella ever belonging to another man filled Gabriel with uncontrollable fury. Toby was his. Bella was his!

His hands clenched at his sides. ‘I agree to your last condition, Bella—’

‘I thought that you would,’ she dryly echoed his earlier comment.

‘Like you, Bella, I have not finished,’ Gabriel replied. ‘I agree to your last condition on the basis that it can be nullified, by you, at any time.

Bella eyed him warily. ‘What exactly does that mean?’

His smile was mocking. ‘It means that I reserve the right to—persuade you, shall we say, into changing your mind.’

Bella had no doubt that what Gabriel meant by that remark was that he reserved the right to try and seduce her into changing her mind any time he felt like it!

Would she be able to resist him? Living with Gabriel twenty-four hours a day, every day, would she be able to withstand a Gabriel bent on seduction?

Did she have any real choice other than to try?

‘You took me by surprise earlier, Gabriel,’ she stated bravely. ‘In future I will be on my guard against—well, against any attempt on your part to renew such attentions!’

She sounded so serious, so firm in her resolve, Gabriel acknowledged with a grudging admiration. ‘I will allow no other men in your life, Isabella,’ he warned her seriously.

‘And will that rule apply to you, too?’ she snapped.

Gabriel eyed her mockingly. ‘My own tastes do not run in that particular direction—’

‘You know very well what I meant!’ She glared her exasperation.

He shrugged. ‘There will be no other women in my bed but you, Isabella,’ he taunted.

‘I’m not going to be in your bed, either, Gabriel!’

Bella did not believe she was going to be in his bed, which, as far as Gabriel was concerned, was a totally different matter. ‘You have named your own conditions for our marriage, Isabella,’ he rasped. ‘Now I wish to tell you mine.’

Her eyes widened. ‘You have conditions, too?’

‘But of course.’His mouth quirked. ‘You did not think that I would allow you to have everything your own way?’

‘Forcing me into marrying you is hardly that!’ she scorned.

Gabriel gave another shrug. ‘You have a choice, Isabella.’

‘Not a viable one!’

‘No,’ he acknowledged simply. ‘But it is, nevertheless, still a choice.’

Bella sighed her frustration, just wanting this conversation over and done with now. She was tired, both emotionally and physically, and she needed time and space alone now in which to sit and lick her wounds. While she came to terms with the idea of marrying Gabriel Danti!

How different it would have been if this had happened five years ago. How different Bella would have felt if their night together had been the start of something that had eventually resulted in Gabriel asking her to marry him. She had been so infatuated with him then, so totally seduced by Gabriel’s lovemaking, that Bella had absolutely no doubts she would have said yes.

Instead, what they were now proposing was nothing more than a business transaction. A marriage of convenience because both of them wished to ensure that Toby’s life, at least, continued in happiness and harmony.

‘What’s your condition, Gabriel?’ she asked.

He didn’t answer her immediately, but instead walked slowly towards her, only coming to a halt when he stood mere inches away from her.

Bella eyed him warily, her nails digging into the palms of her hands as she knew herself to be totally aware of the warmth of Gabriel’s body, the clean male smell of him, the golden lights that now danced in the warm darkness of his eyes as he looked down at her.

‘What do you want?’ she snapped apprehensively, to which he gave a slow, seductive smile. A smile Bella took exception to. ‘I was referring to your condition, Gabriel,’ she added hastily.

‘My condition at this moment is one of—’

‘Your verbal condition to our marriage!’ Bella could see for herself, by the languorous desire burning in that dark gaze as it roamed slowly over the firm thrust of her breasts, and the hard stirring of his body, exactly what Gabriel’s physical condition was!

‘Ah. Yes. My verbal condition, Isabella,’ he murmured, ‘is that, in order to ensure the continued harmony of both your own family and mine, I suggest it would be better if they were all to believe that our marriage is a love match.’

Bella gasped in disbelief. ‘You want me to pretend to be in love with you?’

‘Only in public,’ he qualified.

She glared at him. ‘And in private?’

‘Oh, simply in lust will do for the moment,’ he said softly.

Bella’s gaze narrowed. ‘You arrogant son-of-a—’

‘Insulting my mother will achieve nothing except to annoy me intensely, Isabella,’ he warned her.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she came back sarcastically. ‘My intention was to insult you, not your mother!’

Gabriel was aroused, not insulted. Marriage to Isabella promised to be a feast for the senses—all of them!

She had been beautiful five years ago, like a delicate and lovely flower that blossomed to his slightest touch. But, Gabriel now realised, he had plundered only one of her petals then. Motherhood and a successful career had ensured there was now so much more to Isabella Scott, and he found it all desirable…

He smiled slowly. ‘I am not insulted, Isabella,’ he assured huskily. ‘Intrigued, perhaps, but not insulted.’

‘Pity,’ she muttered.

Gabriel’s smile widened. ‘You agree to my condition, then?’

She eyed him, totally frustrated with her lack of anything resembling control of this situation. ‘I assure you I no more want my parents and siblings upset about the choice I’m making than you want to distress your father.’

‘And so…?’

She glared her dislike of him, then grudgingly conceded. ‘And so, in public at least, I will try to ensure that it appears as if our marriage is something I want.’

‘Good.’Gabriel murmured his satisfaction as he lifted his hand and curved it about the delicate line of Bella’s jaw, instantly feeling the way she tensed at his lightest touch before moving sharply away. ‘Neither your family or my own will be convinced of our—ease with each other, if you react in that way when I touch you!’ he growled disapprovingly as his hand fell back to his side.

She gave a dismissive snort. ‘I promise I’ll try to do better when we have an audience!’

‘To merely try is not good enough,’ Gabriel told her coldly.

‘It’s the only answer I can give you for now,’ she told him wearily.

Gabriel studied her through narrowed lids, easily able to see that weariness, along with the air of defeat Bella no longer tried to hide from him.

Yes, he had won the battle by forcing Isabella’s compliance in the matter of marrying him, and in claiming Toby as his son.

But Gabriel felt little triumph in that victory as he sensed that, in doing so, he might have put the success of the entire war he was waging in jeopardy…

.

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