Chiara looked at Santo Domenico in shock.
Eventually, she managed to formulate words. ‘Why on earth would you want me to marry you?’
Apart from anything else, she had to be a million miles removed from the type of woman a man like this went out with. She’d pored over glossy magazines for years lamenting her untameable hair and fuller figure. Not to mention her zero fashion sense. She knew her limitations.
‘Like I told you, dealing with the bank would be tedious and time-consuming. It would take months, maybe even longer. Through marriage to you, the castello will become mine within a much shorter space of time.’
Understanding finally sank in. So that’s why he would marry her. He was so arrogant and preposterous she could barely take it in. The thought of even considering any kind of intimate relationship with someone like him was totally ludicrous. And yet…she couldn’t deny the very illicit beat of awareness deep within her. It shamed her. She wanted his disturbing presence gone.
‘I think you’ve said enough. Your proposal – ‘ she stopped for a second as that word rang in her head. ‘It’s not even a proposal…what you’ve just said is frankly ridiculous. I have no desire to marry a complete stranger, for any reason.’
For a moment he looked at her and then he turned abruptly and went to the window. Much to her disgust, Chiara couldn’t stop her gaze moving over his broad shoulders and where the material of his jacket moulded to hard muscles.
He turned back to face her and she lifted her gaze guiltily.
‘I should have expected that you would take this as an opportunity to thwart the Santo Domenicos one last time, but you should know that my acquisition of the castello is going to happen, with your help or not.’
Chiara felt frustrated. ‘I told you, I had no idea about any of this. Why would I want to thwart you? What happens to the castello once the bank repossesses is out of my control!’
‘Not if you marry me.’
He really was serious. For a moment Chiara let herself imagine what it might be like not to have to leave the place where she’d just buried her parents and a wave of emotion nearly felled her. But at such a cost!
It was all too much. Chiara felt Spiro nudge her thigh and she went over to sit down in a chair, afraid her legs wouldn’t keep holding her up.
She looked up at Nicolo Santo Domenico. ‘You can’t possibly mean to marry me. You despise me. My family. And why would I agree to such a union, with a man who has married me solely for the castello?’
Faced with Chiara Caruso, back in this room, Nico was more convinced than ever that his plan was a good one. He knew exactly why she should agree to such a union. To give him what he wanted. To repay some of the huge debt her family owed his family. What better wife could he choose for himself than a traditional Sicilian woman? And one who was indebted to him.
‘You owe me. You are the last Caruso, and I am the last Santo Domenico.’
She stood up, agitated. ‘I don’t owe you with my life!’
‘My deceased ancestors lying outside in the graveyard have had their lives all but wiped out of history.’ Nico realised that if they married, the Caruso name would disappear forever. It called to the devil inside him. Karma.
Chiara’s hands were clasped in front of her and Nico was aware of her breasts, full and high, moving rapidly under her dress. A spike of arousal went straight to his groin and he had to control his response with an effort that was surprising.
He had to admit that the attraction he felt was unprecedented and had inspired this audacious plan. Even though she wasn’t remotely his type. But something about her lush and curvy body called to a very base part of him that seemed biologically programmed to recognise a mate irregardless of what his head might want.
He’d done some research on Chiara Caruso before this meeting and there had been no pictures and little or no information. She didn’t appear to have done much at all. Not attended university, or worked.
She was looking at him now with wide clear green eyes and he felt very warm all of a sudden. It was as if she could see all the way through him and right into his mind. Read his thoughts. It was a very disconcerting sensation for someone who kept his innermost thoughts private.
But it wasn’t disconcerting enough to make him change his mind. He’d come to Sicily to reclaim his family’s legacy and he vowed right now that he wouldn’t be leaving without making this woman his wife. Whatever it took.
He said, ‘What I’m proposing is a marriage of convenience. A business transaction. I will put up the money to pay off the bank and in return, you will marry me and sign a contract that gives me sole ownership of the castello. However, through marriage with me you will have the right to live here for the rest of your life.’
She went pale. ‘Are you totally out of your mind?’