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His Convenient Wife
By Diana Hamilton
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"YOU can't be serious! Are you actually suggesting I marry this Aldo Patrucco character?" Cat's green eyes flashed withering scorn in her grandfather's direction. She pulled herself up to her full five feet nine inches, towering above him, her patrician nostrils pinched with a mix of disbelief and outrage.
Gramps looked oddly shrunken, his clothes suddenly seeming too big for his frail bones as he sat in his favourite armchair. She felt sorry for him, of course she did, very sorry, and she loved him dearly, but no way would she fall in with the insane suggestion he'd just thrown at her.
"Listen to yourself, won't you?" she pushed out through her teeth. "You're asking me to sell myself - it's positively medieval!"
"And you are overreacting as usual, Caterina," Domenico Patrucco objected flatly, his black eyes immediately softening in his lined face as he went on to ask gently, "Why don't you pour the tea and then we can sit and have a civilised discussion? Without shouting."
Cat let out a long, pent-up breath. It would cost her nothing to humour him, would it? Poor old Gramps had had a tough time recently. He had lost both his sister Silvana and his beloved wife Alice in the space of three months. She and Gramps were still grieving for Alice, soshe knew how he felt. She'd never met her Italian great-aunt Silvana, of course, but she knew how much Gramps had looked forward to those long, gossipy letters which had told him of the doings of the Italian side of the family he had split from all those long years ago.
He was all alone now apart from Bonnie, who had been housekeeper here from the year dot. It had been Bonnie who had waddled over to the converted barn in what had once been the stack yard, where Cat had her workshop beneath her living quarters, to announce that her grandfather wished her to join him for afternoon tea.
As she dealt with the tea things Cat wondered if she should offer to move back into the farmhouse to keep the old man company. To stop him brooding and being too lonely. The farmland had been sold off years ago, when he'd retired, and the poor old guy had nothing to do with his time but come up with manic suggestions.
She owed him big time. He and Gran had brought her up since his only child, her mother, had been killed with Cat's father in a road accident when she had been little more than a baby. Their love and care had been unstinting.
Two years ago when she'd left college with a degree in jewellery and silversmithing her grandparents had offered her the use of the barn as a workshop and had reluctantly agreed to her plan to move out of the main house and convert the barn's upper storey into a self-contained flat. She'd been twenty-one and eager to have her own space where she could work or relax, entertain her friends, as the mood took her, be independent.
Keeping him company, keeping an eye on him for a few months, just until he was more himself, wouldn't hurt her. It was, she supposed, the least she could do after all he and Gran had done for her.
The tea poured, she handed him a delicate china cup and saucer and flopped down on the opposite side of the hearth to where he was sitting, her long jeans-clad legs stretched out in front of her, and offered brightly, "Why don't I move back in here for a month or two? We could spend time together."
She could sub-let her booth in the craft centre for three months and put her work on hold, she mentally sacrificed, and because that was not the best idea in the world as far as her career was concerned she flashed him a brilliant, Gramps-deluding smile. "We could take days out together; I'll drive you wherever you want to go -"
"And give me a heart attack!" he interrupted drily.
"The way you drive is as flamboyant and erratic as the way you dress!" And, seeing the way her vivid, animated and lovely features went blank, her wide mouth compressing, he amended gently, "I thank you for your concern, but I assure you I am not in need of such a sacrifice. What you can do to make me a happy man is give serious consideration to my suggestion."
So they were back to that, were they? Cat ground her teeth together. Her diversionary tactics hadn't worked, so the only way to handle this was to get it all out in the open, force him to see that his intention to marry her off to his great-nephew was a complete non-starter.
"If your suggestion had been remotely sane I might have done that," she came back carefully, tenaciously holding on to her patience. "But I'm willing to listen while you try to say something sensible on the subject; that's all I can promise."
Leaning back in her chair, she pushed her untameable mane of chestnut hair away from her face. The room was unbearably warm. It was only mid-September but a huge log fire was burning in the hearth. Her grandfather had lived in cool, misty England for many years but his Italian blood still craved warmth.
His heavily hooded eyes held hers but he said nothing for long moments. Trying to find a form of words that would make something crazy sound completely sensible, she guessed. Well, it wouldn't work, however he dressed it up.
"Family," he said at last. "It all comes down to family. Forget the shares for the moment; they are important but not as important as closing the circle."
Cat could have asked him what he meant by that but didn't bother. And as for the shares she would happily forget them. Forever.
Growing up she'd heard the story so many times it bored her socks off. How her grandfather had been incensed, hurt in his pride, as he put it, when his older married brother had inherited seventy per cent of the shares in the Patrucco family business while he had received a mere miserable thirty. Marcantonio had had the upper hand, made all the decisions, told him what to do. Had control. So the younger and disgruntled Domenico had just upped and left. America first stop, where, hot-headed and determined to show Marcantonio that he didn't need him or the olive plantations and the vineyards, he got into trouble over something to do with a parcel of land.
England next, to seek his fortune. What he had found was love. His Alice.
Excerpted from His Convenient Wife by Diana Hamilton Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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