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The Veranchetti Marriage

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«The Veranchetti Marriage» - Линн Грэхем

Four years ago, Alex Veranchetti ended his marriage to innocent Kerry when he believed her to have cheated on him. But Kerry had no memory of that night and the hurt caused by Alex during their breakup was almost impossible to bear.But now her husband is back, demanding full custody of their child, or marriage… again!Kerry hardens her heart against the arrogant tycoon, but soon the passion that brought them together reignites, reducing her resistance to ash. Back in her husband's bed, Kerry hopes to prove her innocence… even if it risks her heart once more.
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is one of Mills & Boon’s most popular and bestselling novelists. Her writing was an instant success with readers worldwide. Since her first book, Bittersweet Passion, was published in 1987, she has gone from strength to strength and now has over ninety titles, which have sold more than thirty-five million copies, to her name.

In this special collection, we offer readers a chance to revisit favourite books or enjoy that rare treasure—a book by a favourite writer—they may have missed. In every case, seduction and passion with a gorgeous, irresistible man are guaranteed!

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® 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.

The Veranchetti Marriage

Lynne Graham

Table of Contents

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten


NICKY CAME hurtling through the crowd ahead of his escort and threw himself into his mother’s arms like a miniature whirlwind. “Missed you,” he confided, burying his dark head under her chin where unmanly tears could be decently concealed.

Kerry’s arms encircled him tightly. He had been staying with his father for an entire month. Kerry had watched the calendar through every day of his absence, resenting the unusual silence echoing round the cottage and the emptiness of her weekends. As she slowly lowered her three-year-old son to the ground, she noticed the two dark-suited men lodged several feet away. Nicky’s escorts.

One of them stepped forward coolly to say, “It really wasn’t necessary for you to come to the airport, signora. We would have brought Nicky home as we usually do.”

There was a studied insolence to the roaming sexual appraisal of his dark eyes. Involuntarily, Kerry’s magnolia skin heated. She knew that she shouldn’t allow Alex’s security staff to browbeat her. But she did. She was nobody of importance on their scale. The discarded ex-wife, who didn’t even enjoy a semicivilised post-divorce relationship with their employer. They could afford to be as rude and superior as they liked. They knew better than anybody that Alex wouldn’t even take a phone call from her. The chances of her complaining were negligible.

With a rather valiant effort she lifted her chin. “I wanted to come to the airport.”

“Mr Veranchetti prefers us to see his son safely to the door of your home, signora.

“I’m perfectly capable of driving my own child home,” she muttered curtly, and turned deliberately away, seeking a fast escape from a confrontation in the center of Heathrow.

“Until the little boy reaches home he’s our responsibility.” A restraining hand actually fell on her tense shoulder.

She couldn’t believe this was happening to her. That she was being bullied by a hired security man, who treated her child like Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Nicky was her son. He might be Alex’s as well, but did she have to stand for such treatment? It was totally destroying Nicky’s homecoming. She was aware of her son’s brown lustrous gaze fixed anxiously to her strained face, and she strove to behave calmly.

“When I’m here, he’s my responsibility,” she stated with a forced smile. “Really, this is quite ridiculous. All this argument simply because I chose to meet him off the plane…”

The other man had stepped forward too. In one hand he carried Nicky’s case. A fast exchange of Italian took place over her slightly bowed head. Murderous feelings were struggling for utterance inside her. The past four years had been very tough for Kerry. What she could never accept was that they should continue getting tougher. Alex was zealously trying to wean Nicky from her for longer and longer periods, and she had an absolute wimp of a solicitor, who was always sympathetic but equally trenchant in his view that her ex-husband was not a man to antagonise.

“Mr Veranchetti wouldn’t be pleased.” It was the older man who spoke now for the first time.

He talked as if Alex was God. Or maybe the Devil, she conceded abstractedly. People always employed that impressed-to-death tone when they referred to her ex. It had got to the stage where Kerry’s blood chilled in her veins whenever he was mentioned. Alex had turned into a remote, untouchable figure of power and incalculable influence long before he had divorced her. It was humiliating to acknowledge that Alex’s treatment of her in recent years had left her frankly petrified of him.

But today she suddenly found herself deciding that enough was enough. Nicky was hers and they were—;believe it or not—;on British soil. She didn’t have to stand here being intimidated by Alex’s henchmen. There was an angry flash in her copper-lashed green eyes as she stared at both stalwart figures. “Unfortunately, Mr Veranchetti’s wishes don’t carry the same weight with me,” she murmured shortly, and stuck out her hand challengingly for her son’s case.

After a perceptible hesitation it was handed over. The weight of it almost dislocated her wrist. She was a small woman and slenderly built. But, distinctly uplifted by her minor victory, she released a determined smile.

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

“Why are Enzio and Marco cross?” Nicky hissed up at her in a loud stage-whisper.

“Oh, I’m sure they’re not really cross,” she replied cheerfully. “Give them a wave.”

Nicky turned his curly dark head. “They’re coming after us.”

Well, if they wanted to waste time trailing in her wake out to the car park, that was their affair. She should have been firmer before now, she told herself bracingly. She shouldn’t let strangers’ opinions matter to her. But it was her conscience afoot, wasn’t it? The fear that they knew why her marriage had broken up. That creepy, crawling and lowering fear that her sordid secret might be common knowledge among the higher echelons of Alex’s security staff. It was that which invariably kept her silent: shame. Shame and guilt, even after four long years. She no longer felt she was worthy of respect, so she wasn’t likely to be granted it by others.

“They’re gone,” Nicky said in some disappointment during their long trek to the van.

Kerry’s tense shoulders eased a little. She lowered the case and changed it to her other hand. It was a cold, frosty morning, and her ankle-booted feet skidded on the whitened tarmac. She hunched deeper into her electric-blue cord duffle coat and quickened her pace to the blue van parked close to the fence. By the time she had got the case stowed in the rear and had settled in behind the wheel, she was beginning to notice how quiet Nicky was. Normally he was bubbling over with disjointed stories of where he had been, who he had been with and what a fantastic time he had had.

For some reason his usual buoyancy was missing.

“Did you have a good time?”

“Oh, yes.” He shot her a rather apprehensive smile as she reversed out of the space.

“So what did you do?” she encouraged.

“We went fishing ’n’ swimming…and we went up in the jet plane. Nuffin’ special,” he muttered, turning his small, serious face away.

No, she guessed it really wasn’t anything special to Nicky. From no age at all he had been flying round the globe to rendezvous with his tycoon father. When he had been a baby, Alex had flown to London and a nanny had arrived in a chauffeur-driven car to collect Nicky and ferry him away for the day. But, as Nicky became less dependent on his mother and more familiar with his father, the day trips had gradually become weekends.

He was almost four now, an extremely bright and self-assured little boy. There was no nanny in attendance these days, and a phone call or a letter from Alex’s London lawyer heralded arrangements for Nicky’s sojourns abroad. Alex had unlimited access to Nicky. When Nicky had been a baby that hadn’t bothered her. It had soon become clear that Alex did not intend to encroach too much then. The situation had changed quite rapidly over the past year, as Nicky left the toddler stage behind.

In infuriating addition, Nicky openly adored Alex. She had never been able to fathom that astonishing fact. Alex, so cold, so remote, so capable of sustaining implacable hatred for his child’s mother…how could he inspire such trust and affection in Nicky? She could not imagine Alex bending to meet a three-year-old on his level. But it seemed that he did.

“Mummy, Daddy wants me to live with him.”

Kerry’s eyes were in the mirror, dazedly glued to the sight of the silver limousine nosing dexterously in behind the van. Her foot almost hit the brake as Nicky’s statement penetrated. “What did you say?” she whispered sickly. “Say that again.”

“He asked me if I’d like that,” Nicky volunteered less abruptly.

Kerry let oxygen into her lungs again. What a sneaky, manipulative swine Alex was to ask that of a child Nicky’s age! Just a conversation, though. Possibly the sort of conversation she might have had with Nicky had she been in Alex’s shoes—;the parent who got visits rather than round-the-clock privileges. It didn’t mean that she had anything to worry about. After all, Alex hadn’t put up a fight for custody when Nicky was born. Why should he now?

“What did you tell him?” she prompted carefully.

“Only if you come too. You see, I thought and thought and thought about it,” Nicky assured her with subdued Latin melodrama. “And that’s what I’d like the best of all, an’ then I wouldn’t have to miss you or Daddy.”

Nicky’s solution was touchingly innocent and hair-raisingly practical. He didn’t understand divorce. How could he? He didn’t even understand marriage. He had yet to see his parents in the same room together. Mummy and Daddy were entirely dissimilar people, who lived vastly divergent lives and with whom he did very different things. Her eyes stung with rueful tears, and she wished the limousine containing Enzio and Marco would stop crawling up her bumper. The van did not go at great speed up hills.

“And what did Daddy say?” she couldn’t help demanding.

“Nothing. He looked cross,” Nicky recalled unhappily.

Cross would have been an understatement, she envisaged with bitter humour. Was he trying to take Nicky away from her, or was she being paranoid?

“You still haven’t told me what you did in Rome,” she flipped the subject smoothly. “Did you go sailing?”

“Helena came too. She’s nice. She’s got lots of yellow hair.”

“Oh.” Kerry tried and failed to resist the bait. “Is she pretty?”

“Spectacular. Giuseppe says that. Does that mean pretty?”

She didn’t ask who Giuseppe was. Alex had an enormous family of sisters and brothers and nephews and nieces with whom Nicky played when he was abroad. Veranchettis dotted the world. Milan, Rome, Athens, New York. So Alex had another ladyfriend…so what?

Alex had had one affair after another since their divorce. Vicky was very good about keeping Kerry up to date. Her sister had once been an international model. Although she had now retired and opened her own modelling agency, she still had a passport into high society circles, and in Europe Alex was pretty hot news. Helena…the name didn’t ring a bell. She stifled the knifelike pain scything through her. It was bitterness and bile, not jealousy. Jealousy was what you suffered when you loved somebody, and Kerry had stopped loving Alex a long time ago.

She feared him and she hated him in equal parts. He had almost destroyed her. Alex didn’t have a forgiving bone in his body. She might as well have beseeched compassion from a granite monolith! Her love had been beaten out of her soul, crushed just as he had crushed her with his distaste and his contempt.

The only good thing to come out of their marriage was Nicky, but she had never doubted that Alex looked on Nicky’s conception in a very different light because she was his mother. The fairy-tale marriage had turned into an unmitigated disaster. The dreams had finally turned to ashes, however, in her own clumsy hands. She attempted to dredge herself from her despondent thoughts and listen to Nicky’s chatter. He had relaxed now that he had got Alex’s question off his chest. He liked his world just the way it was. But would it always be like that?

“Daddy took me to the office and showed me Nonno’s picture,” Nicky rattled off importantly.

Kerry grimaced. Dear God, JR had nothing on Alex. Start ’em off young. Show him the empire. Show him the desk. She was darned if she wanted Nicky to become an industrialist like Alex. A sort of superior loanshark with a calculator for a brain and a heart which only beat a little faster in the direction of a balance sheet.

“That was nice,” she said diplomatically.

“I’m going to be a fisherman when I grow up, like Guiseppe.”

Not with Alex around, darling. Alex was a lethal mix of Greek and Italian genes, but they all had pedigreed beginnings. His mother had been a Greek shipping heiress, his father the son of an Italian tycoon. It was an explosive mixture, but not on the surface. Outwardly, Alex was twenty-two-carat gold sleek sophistication. Calm, concise, superbly controlled. Sometimes she wondered how she had ever been dumb enough to see other things in Alex. But eighteen-year-olds thought with their hearts and their bodies, not with their heads. They saw what they wanted to see. In her case, that had been a perfect world whose axis centred solely upon Alex. She hadn’t seen to either side. She hadn’t seen a single flaw. An amount of love which had bordered on obsession had blinded her.

It was starting to snow and she was getting angry about the persistent limousine still purring effortlessly along in her wake. Such nonsense! They had their orders, and like programmed robots they would go to ridiculous lengths to follow Alex’s instructions to the last letter. Her shoulders ached with the tension of careful driving, and that monster rolling along on her trail was an added irritant.

It was a lengthy drive to the Hampshire village where she now lived. She owned a half-share in an antiques showroom there. Business had never exactly boomed, but she was within convenient distance of her parents’ home. Nicky was very attached to his grandparents. He had strong ties here in England. Alex wouldn’t find it that easy to sever those ties, she reflected tautly.

She rounded a twisting corner, still mentally enumerating all the advantages she had over Alex in the parent competition, and there it was. A big black and white cow stuck squarely stationary, dead centre of the road. A soundless scream of horror dammed up in her throat as she spun the wheel in what seemed a hopeless attempt to avoid collision with both the cow and the limousine behind her. On the icy road surface the van slewed into a skid. The hedge and the sky hurtled in a fast blur through the windscreen towards her. Something struck her head and the blackness folded in.

* * *

“NICKY!” Kerry surfaced with the scream still in her throat, the cry she had never got to make, except in her own mind. Firm hands pressed her back into the bed and her wild, unbound torrent of curly Titian hair flamed out across the pillow, highlighting the stark pallor of her features. “Nicky?” she croaked fearfully again.

“Your son is quite safe, Mrs Veranchetti.” The voice was quiet, attached to a calm face beneath a nurse’s cap.

The breath rattled in her clogged throat. She raised a hand to cover her aching head, and came in contact with the plaster on her temples. “He’s really all right…?”

The nurse deftly straightened the bed. “He has a few bruises and he did get a fright.”

“Oh, no!” Tears gritted her eyes in a shocked surge. “I must go to him. Where is he?”

“You must stay in bed, Mrs Veranchetti.”

“My name’s Taylor, not Veranchetti,” she countered shakily. “And I want to be with my son.”

The door opened. A tall, spare man in a white coat entered. “So, you’re back with us again, Mrs Veranchetti,” he pronounced with a jovial smile. “You’ve been unconscious for a few hours. You had a lucky escape.”

“Mrs Taylor,” the nurse stressed rather drily, making Kerry redden, “wishes to see her son.”

“Your son’s father is with him,” the doctor announced. “You have nothing to worry about. Everything’s under control.”

“F*****-father…Alex?” Kerry gasped incredulously. “He’s here?”

“He arrived two hours ago and your little boy is fine, Mrs…er…Mrs Taylor.” He quirked a brow at the nurse, as if he was humouring some feminist display, and lifted Kerry’s wrist.

Alex was here. Hell, where was here? She couldn’t be that far from home. How could Alex be here? What time of day was it? Spock would have had a problem beaming up this fast! She sighed. Alex would have been informed immediately of the accident, with his own staff on the scene.

“Calm down, Mrs Taylor. I’ve told you there’s nothing whatsoever to worry about. We intend to keep you in overnight purely for observation.”

“I can’t stay in…does that mean Nicky’s ready to go home?”

“His father said he would take responsibility.”

Something akin to panic assailed Kerry. Would Alex blame her for the accident? No, how could he do that? It wasn’t her fault that she had been faced with a straying cow. Or her fault his wretched henchmen had been crawling up her bumper! But Alex, here in the same building…her blood ran cold.

“I think a sedative would be a good idea,” the doctor murmured, as if she had suddenly gone deaf.

“I don’t want a sedative.” She started to sit up again. “I’m sorry, but I’m not ill.”

“You’re still in shock, Mrs Taylor.”

Ignoring him, she wrenched back the covers. Her head was swimming. She ought to be with Nicky. She stilled. Not if Alex was there, too. She wasn’t up to that. After four years, she would sooner face an oncoming train than Alex. Oddly enough, their last meeting had been in a hospital, too, staged hours after Nicky’s birth. Her temples pounded with driven tension. Absently, she righted the bedding again in cowardice.

“Please lie down.” The nurse’s tone was softly soothing, implying that she was some kind of trying hysteric.

“You won’t let him in?” She collapsed back heavily again, the fight drained from her.


“My ex-husband.” She shut her eyes. She was both embarrassed and wretched. It wasn’t adult. It wasn’t normal to be this afraid of a mere meeting. But, nevertheless, fear was a wild creature within her. Nebulous, instinctive, illogical.

“If that’s your wish.” The older man met the nurse’s eyes. Neither of them saw the point of telling the patient that her ex-husband had already been in for a considerable length of time while she still lay unconscious.

Kerry breathed again, although she was still trembling, wrenched by the knowledge of Nicky’s distress and her own absence from his side. A needle pricked her arm and she shuddered in reflex reaction before her lashes slowly dipped.

“She’s terrified of him,” the nurse said in an avid undertone. “Did you notice that? I wonder what…?”

“Ours not to reason why, nurse,” he parried drily. “And Mrs Veranchetti is obviously a very emotional woman.”

The blonde staff nurse continued to study Kerry with overt curiosity. Her narrow-boned and slight body barely made a decent impression on the bed. She looked too youthful to be a divorcee, but the masses of flamboyant and beautiful hair and the delicately pointed face were undeniably stunning. Though Alex Veranchetti was equally worthy of remark, the nurse allowed with a reflective smile.

She had never met a more staggeringly attractive man. Those eyes, she recalled, that delicious growling accent. But she hadn’t fancied him quite so much when he stood silently staring down at his ex-wife, not a muscle moving on his face, just staring in a set, uncommonly intent yet unemotional fashion, as if she was nothing whatsoever to do with him. Only when he had enquired if a specialist had been called had she noticed his pallor. But while he had consulted with the doctor he had studiously removed his eyes from the bed, and he had not looked back there again.

It was early evening when Kerry awoke. Light was fading beyond the uncurtained window high up in the wall. Memory came flooding back. Nicky. Alex. She glanced at her watch and found it missing, a patient’s plastic identity tag clasped to her wrist in its place. This time she registered that she was in a private room, and she wondered how she would settle the bill.

Steven would be worrying about her, too. Her partner in Antiques Fayre was a furniture restorer. He used the workshop at the rear of the showroom, and by now, although time frequently had no meaning for him, he would be wondering where she was. She had promised to call in on the way home. A drone of voices could be heard beyond the door. She resolved to ask for her clothes. She had to get home, find out about Nicky…oh, a dozen things!

As the door opened she sat up, wincing at the renewed throb behind her temples. A light came on, momentarily blinding her before she froze in astonishment, the colour draining from her cheeks.

“I see you are awake,” Alex commented, glossing over her incoherent gasp of shock at his appearance. He shut the door, and for several unbearably tense seconds he simply remained at the foot of the bed, studying her.

Dull-eyed and trembling, she dropped her head. He was etched in her mind’s eyes with the utmost clarity. He looked so damnably beautiful. It wasn’t the usual word to describe the male of the species, but it was particularly relevant to Alex. He had the dark, perfect features of a fallen angel, and the lean, honed-to-sleekness elegance of a graceful leopard. He was unchanged. He hadn’t dropped the remorseless, glittering stare which looked right through her, either.

She could not help but relive their last meeting. “I have made arrangements for you to return to England with our son,” he had delivered coldly then before leaving her again, impervious to the tears and the agony he must have seen in her face as he destroyed her last hopes of a reconciliation. Her hands clutched together convulsively. Pull yourself together, a little voice warned. He had pulled her apart. She was still a heap of jittery and torn pieces, unlikely ever to achieve wholeness again. To do that, you had to forgive yourself first. You had to like yourself. You had to put the past in its proper place. And Kerry hadn’t managed any of that.

The gleaming, amber-gold challenge of his gaze imparted one undeniable message. He hadn’t forgotten. She hadn’t forgotten, either. How could she forget that she had wrecked their marriage by doing something quite beyond the bounds of forgiveness?

“I am told that you didn’t want to see me.” The heavy silence buzzed back into her ears.

It was cat and mouse. Go on, snap me up, Alex. You’ve done it before, you’ll do it again. What’s holding you up now? She threaded a nervous hand through the wild tumble of her hair. Accidentally looking up, she caught his magnificent lion-gold eyes following the careless movement of her fingers.

“I hardly thought that you’d want to see me.” She chickened out of a direct attack. She didn’t really have the right to condemn. It was that sense of being in the wrong, that enforced acceptance of blame which had almost driven her to the brink of a nervous breakdown when she was pregnant with Nicky.

Alex strolled fluidly over to the window to stare out, presenting his hard-edged profile to her. “Naturally I wish to discuss the accident with you.”

She shut her eyes on an agonising surge of bitterness. Of course, what else. Four years ago he had refused even to see her to discuss their marriage. He had denied her calls, returned her letters and made it cruelly clear to her that he no longer considered her as his wife. But…naturally…he could pitch himself up to the contaminated air she breathed now to request an explanation of an accident.

“You find something amusing in this?” Alex shot her a grimly implacable glance.

She went even paler. “No, there’s nothing funny about any of it. It’s quite simple really. I went round a corner and there was a cow in the middle of the road. When I tried to avoid it, the van skidded and went sideways, making it virtually impossible for the…car behind us to avoid hitting us.”

“And this is all you have to say?” Alex prompted.

She had no doubt that he had heard a different story from his security men. A story which showed her in the worst of lights. Perhaps they had implied that she had been driving too fast on icy roads, recklessly endangering Nicky’s life.

“Yes, that’s all I have to say,” she agreed heavily, pleating the starched white sheet beneath her hand with restless fingers. “I don’t believe I could have avoided the collision.”

“My staff did not mention an animal…”

Her control snapped. “Well, I can assure you that there was one, but I know who you’re going to believe, don’t I? So it would be a waste of time pleading my own case!” she threw at him bitterly. “Now, if we can cut the kangaroo court, perhaps you’d tell me how Nicky is.”

Disconcerted by her abrupt loss of temper, his straight ebony brows drew together above his narrowed eyes. “I will not have you speak to me in such a tone,” he breathed icily.

She hadn’t intended to shout, but she found that she didn’t feel like apologising. They weren’t married now. The past could not permit them to be even distantly polite with each other. Alex had made it that way by shutting her out and communicating with her only through third parties. His unyielding hostility had killed the love she had once had for him. She had accepted the new order. He had no right to subject her to a face-to-face meeting now.

“There’s nothing very much that you can do about it, Alex,” she dared. “I don’t jump through hoops when you tell me to any more, I don’t…”

“Do continue. You’re becoming extremely interesting,” he derided softly, but his tone was misleading.

Kerry’s voice had trailed away to silence under the smouldering blaze of fury she had ignited in Alex’s eyes. Nobody talked to Alex like that. In all probability, nobody ever had. And certainly not the wife he had repudiated. Her fiery head lowered again. What had got into her? If her solicitor had been here, he would have been white to the gills over such reckless provocation.

“I’ve got nothing more to say,” she muttered through compressed lips.

His gaze rested on her rigidity, then sank to her unsteady hands, and an expression of bleak dissatisfaction tautened his hard bone structure. “Nicky is with your parents. There was no need for him to remain in hospital.”

“My parents?” Kerry echoed in dismay. “He’s with my parents?”

Alex elevated a brow. “Did I not say so?”

“But…but that means…” She swallowed hard, but her face was full of unconcealed horror. “You must have gone there as well.”

“Yes, and what a fascinating experience that was.” Alex savoured the admission visibly. “You never told them the truth, did you? They have no idea why we are divorced. They also appear to be under the illusion that you chose to divorce me.”

Her heartbeat was thudding in her ears. She had no defence against his condemnation, and could only imagine how her parents would have greeted Alex’s sudden descent. They would have been polite and they would have been very hospitable. Her father was a retired vicar. Neither of her parents approved of the divorce, or of the fashion in which Nicky was being raised by parents who never even spoke to each other. They had never left Kerry in any doubt that they still regarded Alex as her husband. For better or for worse. Vows taken for a lifetime and not to be discarded at the first hiccup in marital harmony. Stricken nausea churned in her stomach at the idea of Alex and her parents getting within talking distance of each other.

“I couldn’t tell them!” she burst out on the peak of a sob which quivered through her tense body. “It was bad enough when I first came home. The truth would have shattered them.”

“The truth shattered me as well,” he delivered harshly, and turned aside from her. “But to return to the present…had you given me an opportunity to speak earlier, you would have realised that I do not blame you for the accident.”


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