Virgin on Her Wedding Night - Линн Грэхем - CHAPTER ONE Читать онлайн любовный роман

В женской библиотеке Мир Женщины кроме возможности читать онлайн также можно скачать любовный роман - Virgin on Her Wedding Night - Линн Грэхем бесплатно.

Правообладателям | Топ-100 любовных романов

Virgin on Her Wedding Night - Линн Грэхем - Читать любовный роман онлайн в женской библиотеке LadyLib.Net
Virgin on Her Wedding Night - Линн Грэхем - Скачать любовный роман в женской библиотеке LadyLib.Net

Грэхем Линн

Virgin on Her Wedding Night

Читать онлайн

Аннотация к роману
«Virgin on Her Wedding Night» - Линн Грэхем

Already haunted by a youth of illegitimacy and poverty, Valente Lorenzatto has never forgiven Caroline Hales' abandonment of him at the altar.But now Valente has made millions and claimed his aristocratic Venetian birthright, and he’s poised to buy Caroline's family – lock, stock and barrel. So she’ll have to submit to his revenge! Perhaps his new-found wealth and lineage will soften her up when he demands that she give him their wedding night – for which he’s waited five long years…
Следующая страница


‘How could you seriously think that I would marry you?’ he demanded with incredulous bite.

‘Naturally I can understand why you would prefer that option. The divorce settlement would be worth millions, and we both know that although you hide it well there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for that amount of money!’

Barely able to credit that she was having such a conversion with Valente, Caroline fixed affronted grey eyes on him. ‘I thought pre-nuptial agreements dealt with that sort of threat these days. I know you don’t believe it, but I don’t want your wretched money—’

‘There’s no way I would stoop to the level of marrying you!’ Valente spelt out with disdainful emphasis. ‘You’re a lying, deceitful, mercenary little witch. Get the idea of marriage right out of your head now.’

Caroline kept her head high. ‘I’m afraid it’s the only option I could accept—’

‘But what would I get out of it, apart from a sense of self-sacrifice?’ he fielded with unconcealed scorn, outraged by her cheek in even suggesting that idea when she had stood him up at the altar five years earlier.

‘Accept that I will never be your mistress, Valente. Evidently we’ve reached stalemate.’ Tilting her chin, Caroline opened the door and walked out on to the landing with as much dignity as she could muster.

‘I would want a child…’

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.

Virgin on Her Wedding Night


Lynne Graham


‘IT’S all yours, signed, sealed and delivered…the business and the house and land,’ the lawyer confirmed.

When Valente Lorenzatto smiled, his enemies took cover. Even his employees had learned to fear the rough passage that might lie ahead. Darkness invariably shadowed that smile and lent it a wolfish quality of threat. While he contemplated the documents set before him, the set of his wide, sensual mouth gave his breathtakingly handsome face a distinctly chilling quality. ‘Excellent work, Umberto.’

‘It is your own work,’ the older man pointed out. ‘Your acquisition plan was a triumph.’

Umberto would have given more than his annual bonus, however, to learn exactly why his fabulously wealthy employer had devoted so much time and energy to the planned downfall and purchase of an English transport firm and a piece of private property, neither of which appeared to be of sufficient financial or strategic value to justify his interest. Umberto doubted the wild rumour that Valente might once have worked there in the days before his first big deal. It was only after the high point of the latter that the haughty Barbieri family had finally chosen to recognise Valente as Count Ettore Barbieri’s illegitimate grandson.

That particular revelation had caused a public sensation, very much in keeping with Valente’s colourful lifestyle and his even more spectacular rise to prominence with a series of bold takeovers. Valente was exceptionally clever, and extraordinarily successful in business, but he was even more renowned for his ruthlessness. The Barbieri clan had been very lucky to find a golden goose like him in the family tree at a time when their fortunes had been in need of restoration. Valente’s success in that field had proved to be of little comfort to his long-lost relatives, however, when Old Man Barbieri had begun to idolise his grandchild for his dazzling achievements. The Count had ultimately disinherited his other descendents so that he could leave everything he owned, bar his title, to Valente instead.

That development had provided months of tabloid coverage about Valente, who had been asked to take the family name to qualify for his massive inheritance. And, Valente being Valente—a rebel who did not stand for being told to do anything—had gone to court with the argument that he was very proud of his late mother’s unremarkable surname, Lorenzatto, and that it would be an offence to her memory and all she had done for him to discard it. Mothers across Italy had lauded him for his attitude. He had won his case to become one of the most illustrious billionaires in the land, regularly consulted for his opinion by the great and good, with his pronouncements quoted in every part of the media. He was, of course, extremely photogenic and media savvy.

Having dismissed Umberto, and other members of his personal staff, Valente took the air on one of the splendid stone balconies that overlooked the busy thoroughfare of Venice’s Grand Canal. The Barbieri family had been hugely shocked when he’d taken the ancient Palazzo Barbieri back to its medieval merchant roots and renovated it to act as his business headquarters, just as it had been originally used in the fourteenth century. He had retained only part of the vast, imposing property for accommodation. Valente was a Venetian born and bred, before he was an Italian, and he had kept faith with his late grandfather, Ettore, in doing what had to be done to preserve the palazzo for future generations when money might not be in such liberal supply.

Valente drank his black coffee and savoured the moment for which he’d had to work five long years to bring it about. Now he owned Hales Transport, which had finally been brought to its knees by the toxic effect of Matthew Bailey’s fraudulent and incompetent management. Valente had also become the owner of a crumbling old house called Winterwood.

It was a deeply personal moment of boundless satisfaction for him. As a rule he was neither a patient man nor a vengeful one. After all, he had not sought revenge on his own family, who had left his ailing mother to work as a maid in order to feed and clothe her son. Indeed, if asked, Valente, who generally lived very much in the present, would have said that acts of revenge were a waste of time, and that it was better to move on and forget the past, for the future should hold a more exciting and worthwhile challenge.

Unhappily, however, Valente deliberated, with a harsh expression etched on his bronzed features, even after five years he had yet to meet a woman who excited him anything like as much as his former English bride-to-be, Caroline Hales, once had. His tiny artist, with her pale hair and mist-coloured eyes, who had wept inconsolably when anyone had been cruel to animals but who had, without apparent hesitation or apology, jilted him at the altar for a richer man from a more socially acceptable background.

Just five short years earlier Valente had been an ordinary working man, a truck driver, who’d worked long hours while struggling to complete a business degree in what time was left over. Life had been tough but good—until he’d made the very great mistake of falling head over heels in love with the daughter of the owner of Hales Transport. And Caro, as her adoring family called her, had played him for a fool from the outset, he acknowledged bitterly. She had strung Matthew Bailey and Valente along. And had, regardless of her claims to love Valente, ultimately married Matthew at a big, showy wedding.

Valente savoured the prospect of extracting punishment for those offences against him. He was no longer poor and powerless. Indeed, it had been the rage and aggression incited by the thought of the woman he loved lying naked and willing in another man’s arms which had made Valente so fiercely determined to succeed. Soon, however, Caroline would be lying naked and willing in his arms, Valente reflected with a saturnine smile. He could only hope the grieving widow he had seen pictured clad in the unrelieved black of mourning would prove to be worth the effort and expense he had already expended on her behalf.

Still, at least he could ensure that when he peeled off the mourning clothes she was at least dressed to his taste. He unfurled his mobile phone and called the owner of Italy’s most exclusive lingerie atelier to put in a special order—a Caroline-sized order, in pastel colours that would enhance her pale skin and dainty curves with the finest materials and trimmings available. Even the thought of her parading her sublimely graceful little body in such flimsy apparel for his entertainment caused a painful tightening in Valente’s groin. He reckoned that he was a little too sexually hungry for comfort and coolness. He would pay a visit to his current bedmate, Agnese, before he flew to England to take possession of his new mistress and everything precious to her.

It was time.

His moment had come.

Valente punched out some numbers on his mobile phone and made the call he had been working towards for five years…

Twenty-four hours before Valente made that phone call, Caroline Bailey, formerly Hales, had been engaged in an increasingly upsetting dialogue with her parents. ‘Yes, of course I realised that the firm was in trouble last year! But just when did you mortgage the house?’

‘In the autumn. The firm needed capital, and pledging the house as security was the only way we could get a bank loan.’ Joe Hales settled his portly frame down heavily into an armchair. ‘There’s nothing we can do about it now, Caro. We’ve lost the lot. We couldn’t keep up the payments and the house has been repossessed…’

‘Why on earth didn’t you tell me about this at the time?’ Caroline prompted in disbelief.

‘It was only a few months since you had buried your husband,’ her father reminded her. ‘You had enough to cope with.’

‘We’ve only been given two weeks to move out of our home!’ Isabel Hales exclaimed. A small blonde woman in her late sixties, with a tight lack of facial lines and movement that suggested a good deal of surgical enhancement, she was the exact opposite in appearance of her tall, heavily built husband. ‘I can’t believe it. I knew the business was gone—but our home as well? It’s a nightmare!’

Engaged in giving her father’s heavy shoulder a comforting squeeze, Caroline resisted the urge to try and comfort her tear-stained mother with a hug. She was a touchy-feely person, and always had been, but her mother was not. While her father had grown up secure as the son of the major employer in the district, her mother had been raised by socially ambitious parents who’d been resentful of their lowly status and lack of money. Isabel was their daughter in every way, with the same aspirations and the same reverence for wealth.

Ill-matched though Joe and Isabel might initially have seemed, the only disappointment in their marriage had proved to be Isabel’s infertility. The Haleses had been in their forties by the time they’d adopted Caroline at the age of three. As their only child she had enjoyed an excellent education and a stable home life, and would never have dreamt of voicing the reality that she was much closer to her kind-hearted father than her often sharply critical and pushy mother. In truth she had never shared her adoptive mother’s aspirations or interests, and was uncomfortably aware that the opinions she held and the choices she made had dismayed and disappointed both her parents.

‘How can we only have two weeks to move out of our home?’ Caroline exclaimed, in a voice weakened by incredulity.

Joe shook his balding head wearily. ‘We’re lucky to get that long. A surveyor viewed the whole place last week and went back to our creditors with an offer. It wasn’t a great offer, but the administrators snapped it up. They’re only interested in paying off the debts and trying to save jobs. I was relieved they had found a buyer for Hales Transport.

‘But too late to be of any help to us!’ Isabel Hales snapped angrily.

‘I’ve lost my father’s business,’ her husband responded heavily. ‘Have you any idea how ashamed that makes me feel? Everything my father worked so hard for and achieved, I’ve lost.’

Tears washing her eyes at his pained speech, Caroline bit her lip and restrained the urge to lament the fact that her parents had not chosen to confide in her before taking out a loan against their home. She would have warned them not to throw good money after bad. She wondered if her mother, who was profoundly attached to her imposing home and comfortable lifestyle, had put excessive pressure on her father to save the business at all costs. Sadly, sound financial judgement had never been one of her father’s talents.

Her father had inherited Hales Transport from his own father, and until recently had never known what it was to worry about money. Her mother’s snobbish belief that actively running a transport firm lowered their social standing had prevented Joe from assuming much of a hands-on role in the family business. Instead, urged on by his wife, Joe had hired Giles Sweetman, an excellent general manager, to take care of the firm, and had learned how to play golf and fish. For many years the firm had brought in an excellent income. It had taken just two misfortunes to bring about the current crisis.

First, Giles Sweetman had found another job and left with very little warning, and Caroline’s late husband, Matthew, had replaced Giles. Although nobody had yet said it to her face, he had been a disaster in the role. The second blow had been the appearance on the local scene of a rival transport firm, hungry for business. One by one Hales had lost the contracts on which it depended for survival to Bomark Logistics, and reducing its workforce had done nothing to halt that downward slide.

‘Two weeks is a ridiculously short amount of time,’ Caroline protested. ‘Who is the buyer? I’ll ask if we can have a bit more time.’

‘We’re not in a position to ask for anything. We no longer own this house,’ her father pointed out wryly. ‘I just hope that the buyer of Hales isn’t planning to make our remaining workers redundant and sell off the firm’s assets to the highest bidders.’

Caroline studied her parents, painfully aware of the march of advancing years and ill-health that made them poor candidates to deal with so much stress and upheaval. Her adoptive father suffered badly from angina, and on bad days her mother’s arthritic joints made even a walk across the room a painful challenge. Where on earth would they go without the cosy cocoon of financial security which they had enjoyed for so long? How would they cope and survive?

Winterwood was an enchanting, crumbling old house, built at the turn of the century for a large family with domestic staff. It had always been far too big for her parents, but Isabel Hales had been determined to impress everyone in the neighbourhood with visible evidence of her new status as the wife of a wealthy man. The new owner might well be planning to simply knock down Winterwood and redevelop the site. Even in the midst of more serious issues Caroline experienced a sharp pang at the prospect of her childhood home being razed to the ground and the gardens bulldozed.

‘You should never have moved out of Matthew’s family home and come back here to live with us,’ Isabel Hales told her daughter thinly. ‘Now you’ll have to come with us, and goodness knows where we’ll end up living!’

‘I still find it hard to believe that Matthew left you with nothing but debt,’ Joe admitted with a shake of his head. ‘I thought more of him than that. It’s a man’s job to ensure that his wife has something to live on when he’s gone.’

‘Matthew could hardly have expected to die so young.’ Caroline made her usual soothing response to comments of that nature; she’d had a lot of practice in keeping the secrets of her unhappy marriage to herself. ‘But I do wish he had been willing to buy a house, because then I would at least have had a home for the three of us.’

‘The Baileys should have helped you more than they did,’ her mother contended bitterly. ‘Of course you didn’t even have the sense to ask for a financial settlement from them.’

‘It wasn’t their fault that Matthew didn’t take out insurance cover, and they did settle all his debts…And let’s not forget that they had a stake in Hales as well, and have also lost a good deal of money,’ Caroline reminded the older woman ruefully.

‘What does that matter now, when we’ve lost everything we possess?’ Isabel Hales demanded shrilly. ‘They’ve still got their home and their household help. But we’ve got nothing! My friends have stopped phoning me. Word’s got around. Nobody wants to know you when you’re broke!’

Caroline compressed her lips and kept quiet. It was an unfortunate fact that her mother’s friendships were of the shallow sort that relied on status and money and show for fuel. Stripped of what she had once taken for granted, Isabel had been struck off the guest-lists of the well-to-do and socially prominent. It was sad for a woman of her mother’s age to suddenly find out that she had become a social pariah, but there was nothing that could be done about it. The spendthrift days of lavish entertainment, designer clothes and fancy holidays were gone for ever.

That same evening, Caroline got back to work in her studio—a converted outhouse in the courtyard behind her parents’ home. There she hammered shaped and soldered silver and precious stones into the jewellery she designed and sold on an internet website. It was painstaking, delicate work, which required a keen eye and full concentration. While she worked, her elegant seal point Siamese cat, Koko, sat like a sentinel on the bench by her side. When Caroline felt a familiar tightening round her brow she knew that one of the nasty migraines she occasionally suffered from was threatening. Soon afterwards she finished off for the night, tidied up and went up to bed.

Of course by then, even though she’d taken her medication to dull the migraine, she was still too stressed to sleep. Tomorrow she would have to start looking for accommodation, she decided, fighting to stave off a growing sense of panic. Finding somewhere suitable to live would not be easy, because she needed space to work as well. Her jewellery business was currently her family’s only means of support, aside from their small state pensions.

‘Caro?’ The next morning Isabel Hales limped painfully into the kitchen where Caroline was preparing breakfast. ‘Do you think Matthew’s parents would be willing to give us a loan for your sake?’ she asked hopefully

Caroline went pale and tensed. ‘I don’t think so. Settling Matthew’s debts was a matter of pride to them. But they’re not the type to splash out their cash unless it’s likely to benefit them in some way.’

‘If only you’d given them a grandchild everything would have been so different,’ the older woman replied, in a sharp tone of reproach.

‘I know.’ Stinging tears burned the back of Caroline’s lowered eyes. The Baileys had thrown that omission at her as well while she’d still lived with them. Evidently her failure to produce a child had been her worst flaw as a daughter-in-law, but the Baileys had also insinuated that, had she been a better wife, Matthew would have spent more time at home. She’d had a mad desire to tell them the truth about her marriage, but had mercifully contrived to keep a still tongue in her head. She could not even bear to think about the years she had lost to her unhappy marriage, and nobody would benefit from her talking now about what she had kept hidden for so long. It would only devastate Matthew’s parents and shock and upset her own.

‘I expect you never thought about the future,’ Isabel sighed. ‘You were never very practical.’

Caroline’s troubled gaze rested on her mother’s slight figure as she braced her weight on her walking stick and walked slowly away. The older woman looked horribly small and vulnerable to her daughter. Her parents were already sleeping in a room on the ground floor because of their health problems. Joe was on the waiting list for a coronary bypass. The house really was no longer suitable for them, Caroline conceded ruefully, searching for a silver lining to their situation. But for her parents to be forced out of their home of forty-odd years was a very different matter from making that decision themselves on the grounds of health and common sense.

Koko coiled round Caroline’s ankles, loudly crying for attention, and she talked indulgently to her pet while serving breakfast. She skipped eating in her eagerness to write down the urgent list of things to be done that was already unfolding inside her head. But the first list only led into the making of a second. Time, cost and location were crucial factors. At their time of life her parents would not want to move out of the area. It would take ages to track down the right property and save up enough money for a standard rental deposit.

It was fortunate that Caroline adored her adoptive parents. Whilst on one fundamental issue they had once given her what turned out to be very bad advice, they had always sincerely believed that they were putting her best interests first. And now that the elder Haleses were reliant on her financial help, she was happy to repay the debt that she felt she owed them in any way that she could.

The phone rang while she was washing the dishes. ‘Can you get that?’ she called to her father, who was reading his newspaper in the room next door.

The phone was answered. An instant later Caroline heard an urgent low-voiced exchange between her parents that she couldn’t follow and, recognising that they sounded upset, she dried her hands to go and join them

‘Caro…will you come here for a moment?’ her mother asked stiffly.

The phone was extended to her almost as though it was an offensive weapon. ‘Valente Lorenzatto,’ the older woman pronounced between tremulous lips.

Caroline froze like a wax dummy, her face wiped clean of expression. It was a name she had not heard spoken in all the months since she had become a widow, but it still had the power to make her lose colour and shiver as though a cold wind was cutting through her clothes. Valente, whom she had once loved beyond bearing; Valente, whom she had contrived to wrong beyond all possibility of forgiveness. She could not credit that he would have any reason to contact her. Gripping the cordless phone in a damp palm, she walked out into the hall and turned in an aimless circle.

‘Hello?’ she said, her voice a mere whisper of sound.

‘I want to arrange a meeting with you,’ Valente breathed in his dark, deep-accented drawl which danced teasing fingers down her taut spinal cord. ‘As the new owner of Hales Transport and your family home, I have our mutual interests to discuss.’

It was too shattering a claim for Caroline to accept all at once. ‘You own Hales…and the house?’ she questioned in stark disbelief.

‘It’s staggering, isn’t it? I made my fortune, as I said I would,’ Valente murmured with a surreal cool that mocked her quivering tension. ‘Sadly, you backed the wrong horse five years ago.’

Caroline almost laughed out loud—for she had found that out the hard way, and not for reasons he would ever comprehend. What snatched her out of the mesmeric hold of the past was the sight of her parents, staring at her across the hall, evidently having heard what she’d said. Their faces betrayed their profound shock and dismay. The merest mention of Valente Lorenzatto put them on edge, never mind a personal phone call and the suggestion that he might be the new possessor of what had so recently been theirs.

‘It can’t be true!’ Isabel Hales protested in a jagged cry of disbelief.

Caroline very much hoped that it was not true. But she had once, long ago, read about Valente’s first big business deal, which had netted him millions on the stock exchange. She had paid a high price for that knowledge, too, when Matthew had found out that she had done a Google search for Valente on their home computer. She had never allowed herself to succumb to that unhealthy streak of curiosity again—not even after she’d become a widow. The past, she believed, was more safely left where it belonged.

‘He was only a lorry driver…it’s impossible that he could have made so much money!’ Joe Hales proclaimed loudly.

‘It ought to be impossible,’ his wife agreed, tight-mouthed.

Caroline kept the phone crammed hard up against her ear to prevent Valente from overhearing these embarrassing comments. The fact that her father’s father had also been a lorry driver, a self-made man who’d built up his business from nothing by dint of hard work, was never ever mentioned in her home. The older Haleses were ashamed of the humble beginnings of their families and had hugely admired Matthew’s parents, who had enjoyed private education and were distantly related to titled people. Joe and Isabel Hales were snobs, had always been snobs and would probably be buried as unrepentant snobs, Caroline thought sadly. Valente had never stood on a level playing field with them. He had been judged for what he did and where he came from rather than as the highly intelligent and motivated individual that he was.

Caroline wandered into another room to gain privacy. ‘Why do you want to see me?’ she asked half under her breath.

‘You’ll find out when we meet,’ Valente delivered with impatience. ‘Eleven tomorrow morning, in what used to be your husband’s office.’

‘But why on earth…?’ Her voice faltered to a halt as the connection was cut without warning.

‘Let me have that phone, please,’ Joe Hales urged his daughter, and she listened while the older man contacted his solicitor to demand the name of the new owner of Hales Transport.

‘That Italian boy…’ Isabel Hales wore an expression of furious distaste. ‘I imagine he’s finally found out that you’re a widow. It’s typical of him—why can’t he leave you decently alone?’

‘I have no idea.’ Caroline could not even be amused by her mother referring to a six-foot-three-inch male of thirty-one years of age as a boy. Valente had never been a boy, she reckoned painfully. He had always had a maturity way beyond his years. She was no more entertained by her mother’s ludicrous suggestion that Valente might still cherish a romantic interest in her.

A look of astonishment on his face, her father replaced the phone. ‘Everything that was once ours has been bought up by a very large Italian-based collection of companies known as the Zatto Group,’ he proffered dully.

Valente had turned the tables on them, reversing the natural order of things in her mother’s opinion. Of all of them, Caroline was the least surprised.


Получить полную версию книги можно по ссылке - Здесь

Следующая страница

Ваши комментарии
к роману Virgin on Her Wedding Night - Линн Грэхем

Комментарии к роману "Virgin on Her Wedding Night - Линн Грэхем" отсутствуют

Ваше имя


Введите сумму чисел с картинки