‘Niccolo, I don’t think you’ve quite understood what’s going to happen here,’ she told him. ‘You are biologically going to become a father in around eight months’ time, yes, but not—not a hands-on father. Not a permanent, day-to-day fixture in this child’s life!’ she added slightly desperately.
Niccolo shook his head and smiled, seeming totally unconcerned by the vehemence in Dani’s announcement. ‘I think that it is you who does not understand, Daniella,’ he contradicted her. ‘The child you are carrying is a D’Alessandro. More than that, as my son or daughter, he or she will be the D’Alessandro heir.’
She nodded. ‘I do understand that, Niccolo—’
‘No, you obviously do not.’ He sat forward to lean across the table, his face only inches from hers now. ‘As soon as the arrangements can be made, Daniella, you and I will be married,’ he stated.
Carole Mortimer was born in England, the youngest of three children. She began writing in 1978, and has now written over one hundred and forty books for Mills and Boon. Carole has four sons—Matthew, Joshua, Timothy and Peter—and a bearded collie called Merlyn. She says, ‘I’m happily married to Peter senior; we’re best friends as well as lovers, which is probably the best recipe for a successful relationship. We live in a lovely part of England.’
THE VENETIAN’S MIDNIGHT MISTRESS
‘SO, I’VE been having wild, orgasmic sex every day with my tennis coach for over a month now.’
‘What?’ Dani gave a start as she stared across the drawing room at her friend Eleni.
The two women were putting the finishing touches to the décor of the country home Eleni would share with Brad following their Christmas wedding in a week’s time. As an interior designer, Dani had spent the last month helping Brad and Eleni choose both the furniture and décor for the spacious house that she knew the two hoped would one day be filled with their children.
‘Hang on a minute.’ Dani’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. ‘You don’t have a tennis coach, Eleni.’
‘True.’ Eleni, a beautiful Venetian, laughed at Dani’s frowning expression. ‘But it caught your attention, didn’t it?’ She smiled wryly. ‘I’ve been talking to you for the last ten minutes, Dani, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t heard a word I’ve said!’
‘Sorry, Eleni,’ Dani apologised with a grimace.
She had been doing her best, she really had, but obviously Eleni knew her too well to be fooled for a moment. Well, for any longer than ten minutes, anyway.
The two women had first met when they were both fourteen and Eleni had arrived at Dani’s boarding school from her home in Venice, sent there for a year by her brother Niccolo, the head of the D’Alessandro family, in order to improve her English. The two girls’ friendship had been so strong by the end of that year that when it had been time for Eleni to return home she had pleaded with Niccolo to let her come back to the English school for four more years and complete her education there. A battle she had lost…
Dani gave a shudder just at the memory of her first meeting with Niccolo D’Alessandro, after Eleni had insisted that Niccolo take both girls out to lunch so that she might introduce him to her English friend. Intimidating didn’t even begin to describe the arrogantly assured Venetian.
Head of the D’Alessandro banking family for four of his then twenty-seven years, Niccolo D’Alessandro had been imposingly tall, his shoulders wide beneath his tailored suit, his stomach taut, legs long and muscular. Seeing his overlong black hair that he’d brushed back from his aristocratically handsome face, eyes of deep, brooding brown, high cheekbones, a long arrogant nose, a firm mouth that looked as if it rarely smiled, and a hard square jaw, it hadn’t been in the least difficult for Dani to imagine that Niccolo D’Alessandro was descended from pirates as well as princes; she had a little more trouble imagining any D’Alessandro male could ever have been a priest, although she had been assured some of them had.
It had been also obvious what Niccolo had thought of Dani after that single meeting—he had flatly refused to let Eleni remain at school in England, only relenting in his decision when Eleni had reached eighteen and wanted to go to university in London.
‘Man trouble?’ Eleni prompted knowingly now.
Dani shook her head as she dragged her thoughts back from that first meeting with Niccolo D’Alessandro, almost ten years ago now. ‘Not in the way you probably think.’
Eleni, her hair darkly luxurious, her brown eyes warm and glowing, shrugged slender shoulders. ‘Let me guess. Either you have a man and he’s being uncooperative. Or you don’t have a man and you want one.’
‘I had a man, remember?’ Dani pointed out dryly.
Eleni frowned. ‘I’m not sure I would call Philip that.’
‘I was married to him!’
‘Technically, yes.’ Her friend nodded. ‘But in reality we both know that the two of you didn’t even last through the honeymoon.’
To Dani’s everlasting mortification.
Philip had looked like a Greek god, and he had been charming, thoughtful, and funny. Until the honeymoon following their lavish wedding, when the jealousy he had been hiding until that point had suddenly reared its ugly head. He had turned into a monster, accusing her of being too friendly with every man she met, from the elderly porter who had delivered their suitcases to their hotel suite, to the waiter who served them dinner on their first evening in Florence.
The scene that had followed in their hotel suite after that last accusation was something that Dani preferred not to even think about!
The two of them had arrived home from the honeymoon separately. Dani had filed for divorce almost immediately, and since that time she had stayed well away from any sort of romantic involvement, no longer trusting her own judgement when it came to men.
‘I don’t have a man.’
‘Then it’s about time you did,’ Eleni said, having been happily engaged to Brad for the last year. ‘Not all men are like Philip, you know—’
‘I have no guarantee of that,’ Dani interrupted firmly. ‘And until I do, I have no intention of getting involved with anyone again. Well…not by choice,’ she muttered, sighing as the heavy weight of her earlier distraction came crowding back.
Damn her grandfather, anyway. What person in his right mind would put a clause like that in his will, for goodness’ sake? Her grandfather, apparently. If she hadn’t complied with the terms of that particular clause by the time her grandfather died, then her parents were going to lose Wiverley Hall, their home in Gloucestershire, where her father had spent years building up the reputation of his stable for training racehorses.
Eleni raised dark brows. ‘That last statement sounded very intriguing…?’
Dani gave herself a mental shake. It was a problem, yes, but not an immediate one when her grandfather was still so fit and well.
‘Not really,’ she dismissed briskly. ‘So, tell me how your plans for the reception are progressing? Have you—?’
‘Oh, no, you don’t, Daniella Bell,’ Eleni cut in. ‘I’m not going to be put off by a change of subject. Tell all,’ she demanded, her dark brown gaze avid with curiosity.