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The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain

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«The Billionaire's Bridal Bargain» - Линн Грэхем

To love, honour…Cesare Sabatino never intended to marry. But if his thoughts did ever stray in that direction, the lucky woman’s answer would have been a resounding ‘yes’. Imagine his surprise when Lizzie Whitaker turns him down on the spot!…and possess?To get his hands on her Mediterranean island inheritance, Cesare must wed innocent Lizzie…and ensure she’s carrying his heir! Luckily the formidable Italian is legendary for his powers of persuasion. With Lizzie desperate to save her family’s farm, it’s only a matter of time before she gives in…and discovers the many pleasurable benefits of wearing this tycoon’s ring.Bound By Gold, Captivated by PassionLizzie and Chrissie Whitaker: two ordinary girls until they meet two extraordinary men! But these men are renowned for getting what they want…whatever the cost!Book 1: The Billionaire’s Bridal BargainBook 2: The Sheikh’s Secret BabiesPraise for Lynne GrahamThe Secret His Mistress Carried 4.5* RT Book ReviewGraham’s ritzy settings are ideal, her little-boy co-star coaxes smiles and her couple’s tumultuous relationship enthralls.Zarif’s Convenient Queen 4.5* RT Book ReviewGraham’s desert romance is superb. Her dark, intensely handsome, aristocratic hero and innocent with-a-bite heroine are a perfect fit. Their tongue-lashings are spectacular, the lovemaking is as hot as the desert at mid-day and her exotic locales give the read a modern Arabian Nights feel.Christakis’ Rebellious Wife 4.5* RT Book ReviewGraham’s second-chance romance is intensely poignant. Her fluent narrative draws the reader into the absolutely opulent world of her emotionally damaged, controlling hero and her love-starved heroine. Watching them find their way back to love is heartwarming.
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Cesare turned to look at Lizzie only when she reached the altar.

Eyes the colour of melted bronze assailed her and she stopped breathing, gripped by the ferocious force of will in that appraisal. He had no doubts, she interpreted. He knew exactly what he was doing, had come to terms with the drawbacks, and was concentrating on the endgame.

She had to do the same, Lizzie told herself urgently. She had to stop trying to personalise their relationship and stop wondering whether or not he would kiss her after they had been pronounced man and wife. Such treacherous thoughts were far removed from businesslike behaviour and utterly inappropriate, she scolded herself in exasperation.

‘You look fantastic,’ Cesare murmured softly as he threaded the wedding band on to her finger, and she followed suit, copying his manoeuvre with less cool and more nerves.

Indeed, Cesare was taken aback by just how fabulous she looked. The effect she had on him was ever so slightly unnerving. It was his libido, he told himself impatiently. As long as he stuck to his rules of never getting tangled in anything that smacked of an emotional connection he would be fine and perfectly happy.


Captivated by passion

Lizzie and Chrissie Whitaker: two ordinary girls until they meet two extraordinary men!

But these men are renowned for getting what they want… whatever the cost!

Explosive passion and powerful men astound in Lynne Graham’s fabulous new duet!

Read Lizzie’s story in:

The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain

April 2015

Lizzie refuses to marry Cesare Sabatino so he can get his hands on her Mediterranean island inheritance.

But no one says ‘no’ to the formidable tycoon and soon Lizzie is going from ‘I don’t’, to ‘I do!’

Read Chrissie’s story in:

The Sheikh’s Secret Babies

May 2015

Chrissie never told her sister who the father of her twin babies was. When the Prince of Marwan storms back into her life determined to claim his heirs, Chrissie is forced to recognise him… as her husband!

The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain

Lynne Graham

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen romance reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

Books by Lynne Graham

Mills & Boon® Modern Romance™

The Secret His Mistress Carried

The Dimitrakos Proposition

A Ring to Secure His Heir

Unlocking Her Innocence

The Legacies of Powerful Men

Ravelli’s Defiant Bride

Christakis’s Rebellious Wife

Zarif’s Convenient Queen

A Bride for a Billionaire

A Rich Man’s Whim

The Sheikh’s Prize

The Billionaire’s Trophy

Challenging Dante

Visit the author profile page at for more titles



Bound by Gold

Title Page

About the Author














CESARE SABATINO FLIPPED open the file sent by special delivery and groaned out loud, his darkly handsome features betraying his disbelief.

There were two photos included in the file, one of a nubile blonde teenager called Cristina and the other of her older sister Elisabetta. Was this familial insanity to visit yet another generation? Cesare raked long brown fingers through his luxuriant black hair, frustration pumping through every long lean line of his powerful body. He really didn’t have time for such nonsense in the middle of his working day. What was his father, Goffredo, playing at?

‘What’s up?’ Jonathan, his friend and a director of the Sabatino pharmaceutical empire, asked.

In answer, Cesare tossed the file to the other man. ‘Look at it and weep at the madness that can afflict even one’s seemingly sane relatives,’ he urged.

Frowning, Jonathan glanced through the sparse file and studied the photos. ‘The blonde’s not bad but a bit on the young side. The other one with the woolly hat on looks like a scarecrow. What on earth is the connection between you and some Yorkshire farming family?’

‘It’s a long story,’ Cesare warned him.

Jonathan hitched his well-cut trousers and took a seat. ‘Interesting?’

Cesare grimaced. ‘Only moderately. In the nineteen thirties my family owned a small island called Lionos in the Aegean Sea. Most of my ancestors on my father’s side are buried there. My grandmother, Athene, was born and raised there.

But when her father went bust, Lionos was sold to an Italian called Geraldo Luccini.’

Jonathan shrugged. ‘Fortunes rise and fall.’

‘Matters, however, took a turn for the worse when Athene’s brother decided to get the island back into family hands by marrying Luccini’s daughter and then chose to jilt her at the altar.’

The other man raised his brows. ‘Nice...’

‘Her father was so enraged by the slight to his daughter and his family that Lionos was eternally tied up in Geraldo’s exceedingly complex will.’

‘In what way?’

‘The island cannot be sold and the two young women in that file are the current owners of Lionos by inheritance through their mother. The island can only be regained by my family through marriage between a Zirondi and a Luccini descendant and the birth of a child.’

‘You’re not serious?’ Jonathan was amazed.

‘A generation back, my father was serious enough to propose marriage to the mother of those two girls, Francesca, although I would point out that he genuinely fell in love with her. Luckily for us all, however, when he proposed she turned him down and married her farmer instead.’

‘Why luckily?’ Jonathan queried.

‘Francesca didn’t settle for long with the farmer or with any of the men that followed him. Goffredo had a narrow escape,’ Cesare opined, lean, strong face grim, well aware that his laid-back and rather naive father could never have coped with so fickle a wife.

‘So, why has your father sent you that file?’

‘He’s trying to get me interested in the ongoing, “Lionos reclamation project”,’ Cesare said very drily, the slant of his wide, sensual mouth expressing sardonic amusement as he sketched mocking quotations marks in the air.

‘He actually thinks he has a chance of persuading you to consider marriage with one of those two women?’ Jonathan slowly shook his head for neither female appeared to be a show-stopper and Cesare enjoyed the reputation of being a connoisseur of the female sex. ‘Is he crazy?’

‘Always an optimist.’ Cesare sighed. ‘In the same way he never listens when I tell him I haven’t the smallest desire to ever get married.’

‘As a happily married man and father, I have to tell you that you’re missing out.’

Cesare resisted a rude urge to roll his eyes in mockery. He knew that, in spite of the odds, good marriages did exist. His father had one, after all, and evidently Jonathan did too. But Cesare had no faith in true love and happy-ever-after stories, particularly not when his own first love had ditched him to waltz down the aisle with an extremely wealthy man, who referred to himself as being seventy-five years young. Serafina had dutifully proclaimed her love of older men all the way to the graveyard gates and was now a very rich widow, who had been chasing Cesare in the hope of a rematch ever since.

Cesare’s recollections were tinged with supreme scorn. He would never make a mistake like Serafina again. It had been a boy’s mistake, he reminded himself wryly. He was now far less ignorant about the nature of the female sex. He had never yet lavished his wealth on a woman who wasn’t more excited by his money than by anything else he offered. A satisfied smile softened the hard line of his wide, expressive mouth when he thought of his current lover, a gorgeous French fashion model who went to great lengths to please him in bed and out of it. And all without the fatal suffocating commitment of rings or nagging or noisy kids attached. What was not to like? It was true that he was an extremely generous lover but what was money for but enjoyment when you had as much as Cesare now had?

* * *

Cesare was less amused and indeed he tensed when he strolled into his city penthouse that evening to receive the news from his manservant, Primo, that his father had arrived for an unexpected visit.

Goffredo was out on the roof terrace admiring the panoramic view of London when Cesare joined him.

‘To what do I owe the honour?’ he mocked.

His father, always an extrovert in the affection stakes, clasped his son in a hug as if he hadn’t seen the younger man in months rather than mere weeks. ‘I need to talk to you about your grandmother...’

Cesare’s smile immediately faded. ‘What’s wrong?’

Goffredo grimaced. ‘Athene needs a coronary bypass. Hopefully it will relieve her angina.’

Cesare had stilled, a frown line etched between his level ebony brows. ‘She’s seventy-five.’

‘The prognosis for her recovery is excellent,’ his father told him reassuringly. ‘Unfortunately the real problem is my mother’s outlook on life.

She thinks she’s too old for surgery. She thinks she’s had her three score years and ten and should be grateful for it.’

‘That’s ridiculous. If necessary, I’ll go and talk some sense into her,’ Cesare said impatiently.

‘She needs something to look forward to...some motivation to make her believe that the pain and stress of surgery will be worthwhile.’

Cesare released his breath in a slow hiss. ‘I hope you’re not talking about Lionos. That’s nothing but a pipe dream.’

Goffredo studied his only son with compressed lips. ‘Since when have you been defeatist about any challenge?’

‘I’m too clever to tilt at windmills,’ Cesare said drily.

‘But surely you have some imagination? Some...what is it you chaps call it now? The ability to think outside the box?’ the older man persisted. ‘Times have changed, Cesare. The world has moved on and when it comes to the island you have a power that I was never blessed with.’

Cesare heaved a sigh and wished he had worked late at the office where pure calm and self-discipline ruled, the very building blocks of his lifestyle. ‘And what power would that be?’ he asked reluctantly.

‘You are incredibly wealthy and the current owners of the island are dirt-poor.’

‘But the will is watertight.’

‘Money could be a great persuader,’ his father reasoned. ‘You don’t want a wife and probably neither of Francesca’s daughters wants a real husband at such a young age. Why can’t you come to some sort of business arrangement with one of them?’

Cesare shook his arrogant dark head. ‘You’re asking me to try and get round the will?’

‘The will has already been minutely appraised by a top inheritance lawyer in Rome. If you can marry one of those girls, you will have the right to visit the island and, what is more important, you will have the right to take your grandmother there,’ Goffredo outlined, clearly expecting his son to be impressed by that revelation.

Instead, Cesare suppressed a groan of impatience. ‘And what’s that worth at the end of the day? It’s not ownership, it’s not getting the island back into the family.’

‘Even a visit after all the years that have passed would be a source of great joy to your grandmother,’ Goffredo pointed out in a tone of reproach.

‘I always understood that visiting the island was against the terms of the will.’

‘Not if a marriage has first taken place. That is a distinction that it took a lawyer to point out. Certainly, if any of us were to visit without that security, Francesca’s daughters would forfeit their inheritance and the island would go to the government by default.’

‘Which would please no one but the government,’ Cesare conceded wryly. ‘Do you really think that a measly visit to the island would mean that much to Nonna?’ he pressed.

‘The right to pay her respects again at her parents’ graves? To see the house where she was born and where she married and first lived with my father? She has many happy memories of Lionos.’

‘But would one short visit satisfy her? It’s my belief that she has always dreamt of living out her life there and that’s out of the question because a child has to be born to fulfil the full terms of the will and grant us the right to put down roots on the island again.’

‘There is a very good chance that clause could be set aside in court as unreasonable. Human rights law has already altered many matters once set in stone,’ Goffredo reasoned with enthusiasm.

‘It’s doubtful,’ Cesare argued. ‘It would take many years and a great deal of money to take it to court and the government would naturally fight any change we sought. The court option won’t work in my lifetime. And what woman is going to marry and have a child with me, to allow me to inherit an uninhabited, undeveloped island? Even if I did offer to buy the island from her once we were married.’

It was his father’s turn to groan. ‘You must know how much of a catch you are, Cesare. Madre di Dio, you’ve been beating the women off with a stick since you were a teenager!’

Cesare dealt him an amused look. ‘And you don’t think it would be a little immoral to conceive a child for such a purpose?’

‘As I’ve already stated,’ Goffredo proclaimed with dignity, ‘I am not suggesting you go that far.’

‘But I couldn’t reclaim the island for the family without going that far,’ Cesare fielded very drily. ‘And if I can’t buy it or gain anything beyond guaranteeing Nonna the right to visit the wretched place one more time, what is the point of approaching some stranger and trying to bribe her?’

‘Is that your last word on the subject?’ his father asked stiffly when the silence dragged.

‘I’m a practical man,’ Cesare murmured wryly. ‘If we could regain the island I could see some point of pursuing this.’

The older man halted on his passage towards the door and turned back to face his son with compressed lips. ‘You could at least approach Francesca’s daughters and see if something could be worked out. You could at least try...’

When his father departed in high dudgeon, Cesare swore long and low in frustration. Goffredo was so temperamental and so easily carried away. He was good at getting bright ideas but not so smooth with the follow-up or the fallout. His son, on the other hand, never let emotion or sentiment cloud his judgement and rarely got excited about anything.

Even so, Cesare did break into a sweat when he thought about his grandmother’s need for surgery and her lack of interest in having it. In his opinion, Athene was probably bored and convinced that life had no further interesting challenges to offer. She was also probably a little frightened of the surgical procedure as well. His grandmother was such a strong and courageous woman that people frequently failed to recognise that she had her fears and weaknesses just like everyone else.

Cesare’s own mother had died on the day he was born and Goffredo’s Greek mother, Athene, had come to her widowed son’s rescue. While Goffredo had grieved and struggled to build up his first business and establish some security, Athene had taken charge of raising Cesare. Even before he’d started school he had been playing chess, reading and doing advanced maths for enjoyment. His grandmother had been quick to recognise her grandson’s prodigious intellectual gifts. Unlike his father, she had not been intimidated by his genius IQ and against a background of loving support Athene had given Cesare every opportunity to flourish and develop at his own pace. He owed his nonna a great deal and she was still the only woman in the world whom Cesare had ever truly cared about. But then he had never been an emotional man, had never been able to understand or feel truly comfortable around more demonstrative personalities. He was astute, level-headed and controlled in every field of his life yet he had a soft spot in his heart for his grandmother that he would not have admitted to a living soul.

A business arrangement, Cesare ruminated broodingly, flicking open the file again. There was no prospect of him approaching the teenager but the plain young woman in the woolly hat and old coat? Could he even contemplate such a gross and unsavoury lowering of his high standards? He was conservative in his tastes and not an easy man to please but if the prize was great enough, he was clever enough to compromise and adapt, wasn’t he? Aware that very few people were cleverer than he was, Cesare contemplated the startling idea of getting married and grimaced with distaste at the threat of being forced to live in such close contact with another human being.

* * *

‘You should’ve sent Hero off to the knackers when I told you to!’ Brian Whitaker bit out in disgust. ‘Instead you’ve kept him eating his head off in that stable. How can we afford that with the cost of feed what it is?’

‘Chrissie’s very fond of Hero. She’s coming home from uni next week and I wanted her to have the chance to say goodbye.’ Lizzie kept her voice low rather than risk stoking her father’s already irascible temper. The older man was standing by the kitchen table, his trembling hands—the most visible symptom of the Parkinson’s disease that had ravaged his once strong body—braced on the chair back as he glowered at his daughter, his gaunt, weathered face grim with censure.

‘And if you do that, she’ll weep and she’ll wail and she’ll try to talk you out of it again. What’s the point of that? You tried to sell him and there were no takers,’ he reminded her with biting impatience. ‘You’re a bloody useless farmer, Lizzie!’

‘That horse charity across the valley may have a space coming up this week,’ Lizzie told him, barely even flinching from her father’s scorn because his dissatisfaction was so familiar to her. ‘I was hoping for the best.’

‘Since when has hoping for the best paid the bills?’ Brian demanded with withering contempt. ‘Chrissie should be home here helping you, not wasting her time studying!’

Lizzie compressed her lips, wincing at the idea that her kid sister should also sacrifice her education to their daily struggle for survival against an ever-increasing tide of debt. The farm was failing but it had been failing for a long time. Unfortunately her father had never approved of Chrissie’s desire to go to university. His world stopped at the borders of the farm and he had very little interest in anything beyond it. Lizzie understood his reasoning because her world had shrunk to the same boundaries once she had left school at sixteen.

At the same time, though, she adored the kid sister she had struggled to protect throughout their dysfunctional childhood and was willing to take a lot of grief from her father if it meant that the younger woman could enjoy the youthful freedom and opportunities that she herself had been denied. In fact Lizzie had been as proud as any mother when Chrissie had won a place to study Literature at Oxford. Although she missed Chrissie, she would not have wished her own life of back-breaking toil and isolation on anyone she loved.

As Lizzie dug her feet back into her muddy boots a small low-slung shaggy dog, whose oddly proportioned body reflected his very mixed ancestry, greeted her at the back door with his feeding bowl in his mouth.

‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Archie...I forgot about you,’ Lizzie groaned, climbing out of the boots again to trudge back across the kitchen floor and fill the dog bowl. While she mentally listed all the many, many tasks she had yet to accomplish she heard the reassuring roar of a football game playing on the television in the room next door and some of the tension eased from her slight shoulders. Watching some sport and forgetting his aches and pains for a little while would put her father in a better mood.

Her father was a difficult man, but then his life had always been challenging. In his case hard work and commitment to the farm had failed to pay off. He had taken on the farm tenancy at a young age and had always had to work alone. Her late mother, Francesca, had only lasted a few years as a farmer’s wife before running off with a man she deemed to have more favourable prospects. Soured by the divorce that followed, Brian Whitaker had not remarried. When Lizzie was twelve, Francesca had died suddenly and her father had been landed with the responsibility of two daughters who were practically strangers to him. The older man had done his best even though he could never resist an opportunity to remind Lizzie that she would never be the strong capable son he had wanted and needed to help him on the farm. He had barely passed fifty when ill health had handicapped him and prevented him from doing physical work.

Lizzie knew she was a disappointment to the older man but then she was used to falling short of other people’s expectations. Her mother had longed for a more outgoing, fun-loving child than shy, socially awkward Lizzie had proved to be. Her father had wanted a son, not a daughter. Even her fiancé had left her for a woman who seemed to be a far more successful farmer’s wife than Lizzie could ever have hoped to be. Sadly, Lizzie had become accustomed to not measuring up and had learned to simply get on with the job at hand rather than dwell on her own deficiencies.

She started her day off with the easy task of feeding the hens and gathering the eggs. Then she fed Hero, whose feed she was buying solely from her earnings from working Saturday nights behind the bar of the village pub. She didn’t earn a wage at home for her labour. How could she take a wage out of the kitty every week when the rising overdraft at the bank was a constant worry? Household bills, feed and fuel costs were necessities that had to come out of that overdraft and she was dreading the arrival of yet another warning letter from the bank.

She loaded the slurry tank to spray the meadow field before her father could complain about how far behind she was with the spring schedule. Archie leapt into the tractor cab with her and sat panting by her side. He still wore the old leather collar punched with his name that he had arrived with. When she had found him wandering the fields, hungry and bedraggled, Lizzie had reckoned he had been dumped at the side of the road and, sadly, nobody had ever come looking for him. She suspected that his formerly expensive collar revealed that he had once been a much-loved pet, possibly abandoned because his elderly owner had passed away.

When he’d first arrived, he had hung out with their aging sheepdog, Shep, and had demonstrated a surprising talent for picking up Shep’s skills so that when Shep had died even Brian Whitaker had acknowledged that Archie could make himself useful round the farm. Lizzie, on the other hand, utterly adored Archie. He curled up at her feet in bed at night and allowed himself to be cuddled whenever she was low.

She was driving back to the yard to refill the slurry tank when she saw a long, sleek, glossy black car filtering off the main road into the farm lane. Her brow furrowed at the sight. She couldn’t picture anyone coming in a car that big and expensive to buy the free-range eggs she sold. Parking the tractor by the fence, she climbed out with Archie below one arm, stooping to let her pet down.

That was Cesare’s first glimpse of Lizzie. She glanced up as she unbent and the limo slowed to ease past the tractor. He saw that though she might dress like a bag lady she had skin as translucent as the finest porcelain and eyes the colour of prized jade. He breathed in deep and slow.

His driver got out of the car only to come under immediate attack by what was clearly a vicious dog but which more closely resembled a scruffy fur muff on short legs. As the woman captured the dog to restrain it and before his driver could open the door for him Cesare sprang out and instantly the offensive stench of the farm yard assaulted his fastidious nostrils. His intense concentration trained on his quarry, he simply held his breath while lazily wondering if she smelt as well. When his father had said the Whitaker family was dirt-poor he had clearly not been joking. The farmhouse bore no resemblance to a picturesque country cottage with roses round the door. The rain guttering sagged, the windows needed replacing and the paint was peeling off the front door.

‘Are you looking for directions?’ Lizzie asked as the tall black-haired male emerged in a fluid shift of long limbs from the rear seat.

Cesare straightened and straight away focused on her pouty pink mouth. That was three unexpected pluses in a row, he acknowledged in surprise. Lizzie Whitaker had great skin, beautiful eyes and a mouth that made a man think of sinning, and Cesare had few inhibitions when it came to the sins of sexual pleasure. Indeed, his hot-blooded nature and need for regular sex were the two traits he deemed potential weaknesses, he acknowledged wryly.

‘Directions?’ he queried, disconcerted by the disruptive drift of his own thoughts, anathema to his self-discipline. In spite of his exasperation, his mind continued to pick up on the fact that Lizzie Whitaker was small, possibly only a few inches over five feet tall, and seemingly slender below the wholly dreadful worn and stained green jacket and baggy workman’s overalls she wore beneath. The woolly hat pulled low on her brow made her eyes look enormous as she stared up at him much as if he’d stepped out of a spaceship in front of her.

One glance at the stranger had reduced Lizzie to gaping in an almost spellbound moment out of time. He was simply...stunning from his luxuriant black hair to his dark-as-bitter-chocolate deep-set eyes and strong, uncompromisingly masculine jawline. In truth she had never ever seen a more dazzling man and that disconcertingly intimate thought froze her in place like a tongue-tied schoolgirl.

‘I assumed you were lost,’ Lizzie explained weakly, finding it a challenge to fill her lungs with oxygen while he looked directly at her with eyes that, even lit by the weak spring sunshine, shifted to a glorious shade of bronzed gold. For a split second, she felt as if she were drowning and she shook her head slightly, struggling to think straight and act normally, her colour rising steadily as she fought the unfamiliar lassitude engulfing her.

‘No, I’m not lost... This is the Whitaker farm?’

‘Yes, I’m Lizzie Whitaker...’

Only the British could take a pretty name like Elisabetta and shorten it to something so commonplace, Cesare decided irritably. ‘I’m Cesare Sabatino.’

Her jade eyes widened. His foreign-sounding name was meaningless to her ears because she barely recognised a syllable of it. ‘Sorry, I didn’t catch that...’

His beautifully sensual mouth quirked. ‘You don’t speak Italian?’

‘The odd word, not much. Are you Italian?’ Lizzie asked, feeling awkward as soon as she realised that he somehow knew that her mother had been of Italian extraction. Francesca had actually planned to raise her daughters to be bilingual but Brian Whitaker had objected vehemently to the practice as soon as his children began using words he couldn’t understand and from that point on English had become the only language in their home.

, I’m Italian,’ Cesare confirmed, sliding a lean brown hand into his jacket to withdraw a business card and present it to her. The extraordinary grace of his every physical gesture also ensnared her attention and she had to force her gaze down to the card.

Unfortunately, his name was no more comprehensible to Lizzie when she saw it printed. ‘Your name’s Caesar,’ she pronounced with some satisfaction.

A muscle tugged at the corner of his unsmiling mouth. ‘Not Caesar. We’re not in ancient Rome. It’s Chay-zar-ray,’ he sounded out with perfect diction, his exotic accent underlining every syllable with a honeyed mellifluence that spiralled sinuously round her to create the strangest sense of dislocation.

‘Chay-zar-ray,’ she repeated politely while thinking that it was a heck of a fussy mouthful for a first name and that Caesar would have been much more straightforward. ‘And you’re here because...?’

Cesare stiffened, innate aggression powering him at that facetious tone. He was not accustomed to being prompted to get to the point faster and as if the dog had a sensor tracking his mood it began growling soft and low. ‘May we go indoors to discuss that?’

Bemused by the effect he was having on her and fiercely irritated by his take-charge manner, Lizzie lifted her chin. ‘Couldn’t we just talk here? This is the middle of my working day,’ she told him truthfully.

Cesare gritted his perfect white teeth and shifted almost imperceptibly closer. The dog loosed a warning snarl and clamped his teeth to the corner of his cashmere overcoat, pulling at it. Cesare sent a winging glance down at the offending animal.

‘Archie, no!’ Lizzie intervened. ‘I’m afraid he’s very protective of me.’

Archie tugged and tugged at the corner of the overcoat and failed to shift Cesare an inch further away from his quarry. To the best of his ability Cesare ignored the entire canine assault.

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, Archie!’ Lizzie finally exclaimed, crouching down to physically detach the dog’s jaw from the expensive cloth, noting in dismay that a small tear had been inflicted and cherishing little hope that the damage would not be noted.

Whoever he was, Cesare Sabatino wore clothing that looked incredibly expensive and fitted too well to be anything other than individually designed for its wearer. He wore a faultlessly tailored black suit below the coat and his highly polished shoes were marred only by the skiff of mud that continually covered the yard at damp times of the year. He looked like a high-powered businessman, tycoon or some such thing. Why on earth was such a man coming to visit the farm?

‘Are you from our bank?’ Lizzie asked abruptly.

‘No. I am a businessman,’ Cesare admitted calmly.

‘You’re here to see my father for some reason?’ Lizzie prompted apprehensively.

‘No...I’m here to see you,’ Cesare framed succinctly as she scrambled upright clutching the still-growling dog to her chest.

‘Me?’ Lizzie exclaimed in astonishment, her gaze colliding with glittering eyes that gleamed like highly polished gold, enhanced by the thick black velvet fringe of his long lashes. Below her clothes, her nipples pinched almost painfully tight and a flare of sudden heat darted down into her pelvis, making her feel extremely uncomfortable. ‘Why on earth would you want to see me? Oh, come indoors, if you must,’ she completed wearily. ‘But I warn you, it’s a mess.’

Trudging to the side of the house, Lizzie kicked off her boots and thrust the door open on the untidy kitchen.

Cesare’s nostrils flared as he scanned the cluttered room, taking in the pile of dishes heaped in the sink and the remains of someone’s meal still lying on the pine table. Well, he certainly wouldn’t be marrying her for her housekeeping skills, he reflected grimly as the dog slunk below the table to continue growling unabated and his reluctant hostess removed her coat and yanked off her woolly hat before hurriedly clearing the table and yanking out a chair for him.

‘Coffee...or tea?’ Lizzie enquired.

Cesare’s entire attention was still locked to the wealth of silver-coloured silky hair that, freed from the woolly hat, now tumbled round her shoulders. It was gorgeous in spite of the odd murky brown tips of colour that damaged the effect. Dip-dying, he thought dimly, vaguely recalling the phrase being used by one of his team who had showed up at the office one day with ludicrously colourful half-blonde, half-pink locks. He blinked, black lashes long as fly swats momentarily concealing his bemused gaze.

‘Coffee,’ he replied, feeling that he was being very brave and polite in the face of the messy kitchen and standards of hygiene that he suspected might be much lower than he was used to receiving.

In a graceful movement, he doffed his coat and draped it across the back of a chair. Lizzie filled the kettle at the sink and put it on the hotplate on the ancient coal-fired cooking range while taking in the full effect of her visitor’s snazzy appearance. He looked like a city slicker who belonged on a glossy magazine cover, the sort of publication that showed how fashion-conscious men should dress. To a woman used to men wearing dirty, often unkempt clothing suitable for outdoor work, he had all the appeal of a fantasy. He really was physically beautiful in every possible way and so unfamiliar was she with that level of male magnetism that she was challenged to drag her eyes from his lean, powerful figure.

Dredging her thoughts from the weird sticking point they had reached, she went to the door of the lounge. A businessman, she reminded herself doggedly. Successful businessmen—and he looked very successful—were cold-blooded, calculating individuals, ready to do anything for profit and divorced from sentiment. He certainly emanated that arrogant vibe with his polished image that was so totally inappropriate for a male visiting a working farm. ‘Dad? We have a visitor. Do you want tea?’

‘A visitor?’ Brian Whitaker rose with a frown from his chair and came with shuffling, poorly balanced steps into the kitchen.

Lizzie removed mugs from the cupboard while the two men introduced themselves.

‘I’m here about the island that Lizzie and her sister inherited from your late wife,’ Cesare explained calmly.

The silence of astonishment engulfed his companions. Lizzie studied him wide-eyed while her father turned his head towards him in a frowning attitude of incredulity.

‘It’s a rubbish inheritance...nothing but a bad joke!’ Lizzie’s father contended in a burst of unrestrained bitterness. ‘It stands to reason that an inheritance you can’t use or sell is worthless... What use is that to anyone? So, that’s why you’re here? Another fool chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?’

‘Dad!’ Lizzie exclaimed in consternation at the older man’s blatant scorn.

She wished she had guessed why the Italian had come to visit and scolded herself for not immediately making the association between his nationality and the legacy left to her and Chrissie by their mother. Over the years the island that couldn’t be sold had been a source of much bitterness in her family, particularly when money was in such short supply. She lifted the kettle off the range and hastily made the drinks while she wondered what on earth Cesare hoped to achieve by visiting them.

‘I’ll put your tea in the lounge, Dad,’ she said, keen to remove her father from the dialogue, afraid of what he might say in his blunt and challenging way.

Brian Whitaker stole a glance at the Italian’s shuttered dark face, not displeased by the effect of having had his say. ‘I’ll leave you to it, then. After all, the only reason he could be here is that he’s coming a-courting!’ he completed with a derisive laugh that sent a hot tide of colour flaring below Lizzie’s pale skin. ‘Good luck to you! Lizzie was ditched by the neighbour a couple of years ago and she hasn’t been out on a date since then!’


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