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Chiara saw it then—the steely determination in his eyes. He wanted the castello badly enough to marry her. He really was that ruthless.

Feeling desperate, she said, ‘But I’m not the kind of woman a man like you marries.’

‘You do yourself a disservice, Signorina Caruso.’

His gaze flickered over her and her

father’s words came back to mock her, ‘She’ll make some man a fertile wife.’

She didn’t want to be a brood mare! She wanted to be loved passionately. This had been a really stupid idea. She should never have thought she could goad him.

She stepped back. ‘I’m sorry. I’ve changed my mind. I can’t do this.’

Chiara had started to walk out of the vast open space when she heard him.

‘Signorina Caruso, wait.’

She stopped reluctantly. Nicolo Santo Domenico walked around her to stand in front of her. He looked incredulous.

‘You would really prefer to walk away with nothing when I can offer you a life of ease and luxury? I am a very wealthy man, cara.’

Chiara didn’t need to be reminded of his single-minded pursuit of success. She was watching it in action. ‘I know. I looked you up.’

‘Well, then, you know I am not making empty promises. I have homes in New York, Rome and London, as well as an island in the Bahamas.’

Chiara’s heart squeezed. She’d longed to see those places all her life. But not like this. Not via a marriage of convenience to a cold-hearted vengeful titan of industry. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what such a thing would be like. Day to day. Waking up next to a man who seemed far too powerful and dynamic to need something as banal as sleep.

She realised to her horror that she must have articulated something of her thoughts out loud when he folded his arms and answered her.

‘I work mainly at my office in Rome, but I travel frequently to the States and London. You would be expected to accompany me when required, for necessary functions and social events. But in the main I see the castello as being my base—which is where you will reside when I don’t require you.’

When I don’t require you. Like an employee.

His arrogance was astounding. And yet the thought of leaving the castello behind for good was excruciating. This can’t be my only option, she thought a little desperately.

‘If I don’t agree to marry you, would you allow me access to the castello? To visit my parents’ and grandparents’ graves?’ At least if she had access she might not feel as if all links had been be severed.

A hard expression settled over Santo Domenico’s features. ‘Why would I when your own family didn’t ever allow that basic access to us?’

Her insides tightened. Her father had been zealous about privacy and had only let staff or estate workers enter the castello grounds. She had a suspicion now that it had been a reflex, handed down from generations, dating back to when they’d had reason to be paranoid about intruders. The rightful owners.

‘In answer to your question, I would afford you the same respect as was afforded to my family—so, no, you would not be granted access. Within a very short space of time, Signorina Caruso, your claim on the castello and this place will be gone for ever. It will be as if you never existed.’

* * *

Nicolo Santo Domenico’s words were horrifyingly stark and brutal. Emotion rose. Terrified he would see it, Chiara whirled around and went back outside to stand at the terrace wall. Her eyes stung and she blinked rapidly.

The view was a view she’d looked out on herself many times, and yet she knew she’d never get tired of it. The scents...the sounds of this place...they were as much a part of her as her own flesh and blood.

She’d actually been born in the castello, because her mother had gone into labour three weeks before her due date. The housekeeper had helped her to give birth, but due to complications after the birth, and the delay in getting her to the hospital, her mother had not been able to have more children.

In spite of that, Chiara had always secretly loved the fact that she’d been born within the castello walls. As if she was as much a part of its fabric as the stones. She’d often wondered how many babies had been born there.

As much as Chiara had always wanted to travel and see the world, she knew she wouldn’t last long unless she could return to this place. It fed her soul. The thought of leaving here and never being able to return was more than she could bear.

Nicolo Santo Domenico would take ownership no matter what—she didn’t doubt that—and soon there would be fancy electronic gates permanently locking her out from her past and her ancestors. Removing her from the anchor of her life.

Chiara forced herself to try and cut through the emotion to think clearly, and her first thought was a churlish one—she’d only known Nicolo Santo Domenico for less than twenty-four hours and already he had an influence on her.