Untouched Until Marriage (Harlequin Presents Extra #142)

Untouched Until Marriage (Harlequin Presents Extra #142)

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by Chantelle Shaw
     
 

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When infamous Raul Carducci learns that a little baby may challenge his inheritance he will stop at nothing—a new Carducci heir will not take away what is rightfully his.

To safeguard baby Gino, unassuming Libby Maynard has been forced to pretend she is his mother—but she hasn't counted on having to convince the wolfish Raul Carducci of

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Overview

When infamous Raul Carducci learns that a little baby may challenge his inheritance he will stop at nothing—a new Carducci heir will not take away what is rightfully his.

To safeguard baby Gino, unassuming Libby Maynard has been forced to pretend she is his mother—but she hasn't counted on having to convince the wolfish Raul Carducci of her deception.

And when Raul, with his achingly seductive voice, asks her to marry him, Libby is powerless to refuse…even if their wedding night will blow her cover!

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780373528066
Publisher:
Harlequin
Publication date:
03/01/2011
Series:
Harlequin Presents Extra Series, #142
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Chantelle Shaw enjoyed a happy childhood making up stories in her head. Always an avid reader, Chantelle discovered Mills & Boon as a teenager and during the times when her children refused to sleep, she would pace the floor with a baby in one hand and a book in the other! Twenty years later she decided to write one of her own. Writing takes up most of Chantelle’s spare time, but she also enjoys gardening and walking. She doesn't find domestic chores so pleasurable!

Read an Excerpt

According to the private investigator he had hired, he would find his father's mistress here. Raul Carducci stepped out of his limousine and glanced along the quayside of the Cornish fishing village. Nature's Way—Health Foods and Herbal Remedies sat between an icecream parlour and a gift shop, both of which were shut and, from their abandoned air, would not open again until the start of the summer season.

Drizzle fell relentlessly from the leaden sky and he grimaced as he turned up his coat collar. The sooner he could return to Italy, where the spring sunshine was already warming the sparkling blue waters of Lake Bracciano, the better, he thought grimly. But he had come to Pennmar to follow the instructions set out in Pietro Carducci's will, and without further pause he strode towards the one shop in the parade that was open for custom.

Libby was so engrossed in studying the end-of-year financial report for Nature's Way that it took a few seconds for the sound of the windchimes which hung above the shop door to impinge on her brain. The chimes had not been a regular sound throughout the winter, she acknowledged ruefully as she lifted her eyes from the column of red figures in the accounts book. Customers had been few and far between after visitors to Pennmar had returned home at the end of the previous summer, and now the business was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Opening a health food shop in a remote Cornish village had been another of her mother's hare-brained schemes, Libby thought ruefully. The small inheritance from Libby's grandmother had quickly been swallowed up in refurbishing the shop, but her mother, with typical blind optimism, had been certain the business would be a success.

Thinking about Liz caused the familiar dull ache in Libby's chest, but a customer was waiting to be served, and she hurriedly pushed aside the beaded curtain that separated the back office from the shop. The man had his back to her, so that she was faced with formidably broad shoulders cloaked in a pale suede car coat. He was prowling restlessly around the shop, so tall that his head brushed against the roof beams, and Libby sensed the inherent strength of his big, powerful body.

'Can I help you?' she began brightly, but her smile faltered when the stranger swung round and trapped her with his piercing dark stare. He was not your average tourist, she realised. Indeed, there was nothing remotely average about this man. Hair as sleek and dark as a raven's wing was swept back from his brow. His chiselled features, razor-sharp cheekbones and a square chin were softened slightly by the sensual curve of his mouth, and his olive-gold skin gleamed like satin beneath the bright shop light. He was, beyond doubt, the most stunningly handsome man Libby had ever seen. She could not tear her gaze from him, and blushed when his eyes narrowed speculatively on her face.

Raul trailed his eyes over the shop-girl's purple patterned skirt and acid green top and shuddered. Bohemian chic might have featured on the Paris catwalks recently, but he preferred women to look elegant and groomed in haute couture. The tie-dyed hippy look did nothing for him.

But she was startlingly pretty, he conceded as he studied her oval face with its high cheekbones, surrounded by a mane of bright red curls that tumbled halfway down her back. Her vivid hair contrasted with her alabaster complexion, and even from a distance of a few feet away he could see the sprinkling of golden freckles across her nose and cheeks. Eyes the deep blue-green of the sea on a stormy day surveyed him from beneath long gold lashes, and from somewhere the unbidden idea slid into his head that her soft pink lips were infinitely kissable.

Frowning at this unwelcome train of thought, he lowered his gaze and winced at her lime-green tights and purple boots before his eyes were drawn back to her face. Her mouth was a fraction too wide, but that only seemed to enhance her appeal. Dressed in a designer gown rather than her garish outfit she would be exceptionally beautiful, Raul acknowledged, irritated by the unexpected tug of sexual interest that coiled in his gut.

His jaw tightened. His business was with his father's mistress, not this girl, and he suppressed the inappropriate urge to cover her lush mouth with his lips. 'I'm looking for Elizabeth Maynard,' he said abruptly.

The man's voice was deep-timbred, as rich and sensual as molten chocolate, and his pronounced accent was innately sexy. Italian, Libby hazarded a guess as she studied his golden skin and obsidian eyes. It was not every day that a drop-dead sexy man walked into the shop. He was, in fact, the only person to have entered Nature's Way all morning, she thought ruefully. Good manners dictated that she should answer him, but she had had an unconventional childhood, where hiding from loan sharks or speaking through the letterbox to the bailiffs while her mother escaped out of the bathroom window had been a frequent occurrence, and she was instinctively wary of strangers.

Another thought slipped into her head that caused her stomach to tie itself in a knot. True, the man did not look like a social worker—and she'd met plenty of those as a child—but what if he was here about Gino?

'Who are you?' she asked sharply.

Raul frowned. He had spent most of his life surrounded by servants whose sole duty was to please him and jump to his bidding without question. He saw no reason why he should explain himself to a shop-girl, and his eyes narrowed as he fought to control his impatience. 'My name is Raul Carducci.'

The girl drew a sharp breath and her eyes widened until they seemed to dominate her face. 'Pietro Carducci's son?' she faltered.

Raul stiffened with outrage. Had his father's mistress discussed the Carducci family with her staff? he wondered furiously. Had she boasted of her affair with a rich Italian aristocrat to the whole damned village?

He glared at the curtained doorway, trying to see if the owner of the shop was lurking behind it, but his view was obscured by the strings of gaudy plastic beads.

He gave an impatient shrug. 'Si, Pietro Carducci was my father. But my business is with Ms Maynard—so if you would please inform her that I am here.' He could no longer contain the bitterness that had eaten away at him like a corrosive poison since he had been informed of the terms of his father's will, and he bit out savagely, 'No doubt she will be delighted when she learns that giving birth to my father's illegitimate son has ensured her a meal-ticket for life. She will no longer have to scrape a living from running this place,' he added, casting a disparaging glance at the array of health foods and potions, the stacks of decorative candles, and the smouldering joss-sticks that gave off a peculiar sickly scent as they burned. 'I fear, signorina, that you will soon have to look for another job.'

Libby stared at Raul Carducci in dumbstruck silence. Her mother had mentioned that Pietro had a son, but Liz's affair with her Italian lover had been no more than a brief holiday fling, and she had learned few details about his family. Her mum hadn't even realised that Pietro was the head of the world-famous Carducci Cosmetics company until she'd read an article in a magazine about him while she'd been waiting for an antenatal appointment, Libby thought bitterly. Liz had agonised over whether to tell her lover she was pregnant, but when she had finally written to him to inform him she had given birth to his child Pietro had not bothered to reply.

But although Pietro Carducci had not acknowledged his child, he must have told his older son about Gino, Libby realised shakily. Raul's harsh words, 'my father's illegitimate son', filled her with a deep sense of unease. He sounded far from delighted about the existence of his half-brother. She did not know what to say, and while she hesitated the silence was broken by the jangling sound of the windchimes above the door.

Raul glanced round to see a woman manoeuvre a pushchair into the shop. 'Here we are, Gino, back in the warm,' the woman said cheerfully, her voice barely audible over the yells coming from beneath the buggy hood. She lifted the waterproof plastic cover, revealing the screwed up face of a screaming baby boy. 'All right, my lovely. I'll get you out in a second.'

Raul's eyes were drawn to the pushchair, and some indefinable emotion gripped him as he focused on the baby's olive skin and tight black curls. The woman had called the child Gino, and even though he was less than a year old there could be no mistaking his resemblance to his father. Dio! Raul thought numbly. He had been determined to demand a DNA test to prove the child's paternity, but there was no need. Indisputably this was Pietro Carducci's son.

He turned his attention to the woman, noting her ruddy cheeks, coarse brown hair and the lumpy figure shrouded in a beige coat. It seemed astounding that Pietro, whose love of classical beauty had led him to build a priceless art collection, had chosen this dowdy woman as his mistress—and it was even more impossible to imagine the woman working in a lap-dancing club!

Raul's mouth tightened as he recalled his meeting eight months ago with the lawyer his father had appointed as executor of his will.

'"This is the last will and testament of Pietro Gregorio Carducci,' Signor Orsini had read aloud. '"It is my wish that control of my company, Carducci Cosmetics, be shared equally between my adopted son, Raul Carducci, and my infant son and only blood heir Gino Maynard."'

Seeing that Raul had been struck dumb by the revelation that Pietro had a secret child, the lawyer had continued reading. '"I leave to my two sons, Raul and Gino, equal share of the Villa Giulietta. It is my wish that Gino should grow up in the family home. His share of the company and the villa are to be held in trust for him until he is eighteen, and until he is of age it is my wish that his mother, Elizabeth Maynard, will live at the villa with him, and will have control of Gino's share of CC."'

At that point Raul had sworn savagely, shocked beyond words at the news that he would not have sole control of the company he had been groomed for most of his life to run. He had found the expression 'blood heir' deeply wounding. He had been seven years old when Pietro and Eleonora Carducci had collected him from an orphanage in Naples and taken him to live at the Villa Giulietta. Pietro had always insisted that his adopted son was his rightful heir, who would one day inherit Carducci Cosmetics. Father and son had been close, and the bond between them had deepened after Eleonora's death ten years ago.

That was why it was so utterly unbelievable that Pietro had had a secret life, Raul thought bitterly. The man he had called Papa, the man he had wept for at Pietro's funeral, was suddenly a stranger who had deliberately withheld the fact that he had a mistress and a baby son.

'There is a clause in your father's will that I think you will find interesting,' Signor Orsini had murmured. 'Pietro has stated that if Ms Maynard should marry before Gino is eighteen, control of the child's share of CC would pass to you until he is of age. I imagine Pietro made this stipulation to protect the company should Ms Maynard make an unsuitable marriage,' the lawyer had added.

'Carducci Cosmetics will need all the protection it can get if I am forced to share the running of it with a lap-dancer,' Raul had growled savagely. 'My father must have been out of his mind.'

At that, Bernardo Orsini had shaken his head. 'Despite the fact that Pietro had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, I am absolutely certain that he was of sound mind when he made his will. His main concern was for his infant son.'

Raul dragged his mind back to the present and stared at the woman who had entered the shop. According to the lawyer, Elizabeth Maynard had worked as a lap-dancer at a club called the Purple Pussy Cat, but six months ago she had disappeared from her South London flat, owing her landlord several thousand pounds in rent arrears. Raul had visualised his father's mistress as a bleached blonde tart, but even though the drab woman who was lifting the baby out of the pushchair looked nothing like he had imagined, he still balked at the idea of her moving into the Villa Guilietta, while the prospect of sharing control of Carducci Cosmetics with her would be frankly amusing if he had not been consumed by rage and resentment at his father's dying wishes.

'I knew he'd stop crying the minute he saw his mummy,' the woman said cheerfully, and handed the child over to the young shop assistant.

Shock ricocheted through Raul. He stared—at first uncomprehendingly, and then with a growing sense of rage—as the flame-haired girl kissed away the tears from the baby's cheeks and settled him comfortably on her hip. His brain finally accepted what his eyes had seen.

'You are Elizabeth Maynard?' he demanded harshly.

The girl lifted her head and met his gaze. 'I am—although most people call me Libby.'

Raul did not give a damn what most people called her. He was still struggling to comprehend that this stunningly pretty girl had been his father's mistress. She could not be more than in her early twenties, and Pietro had been in his mid-sixties. Revulsion swept through him, and with it another emotion that filled him with self-disgust when he recognised it as jealousy. Dio! No wonder his father had kept quiet about this flame-haired siren. He had no problem picturing her working in a lap-dancing club, Raul thought as his eyes focused on the rounded contours of her breasts outlined beneath her stretchy top. An image flashed in his mind of her dancing in a skimpy costume, tossing her mane of fiery hair over her shoulders as she unfastened her bra and slowly let it drop…

He bit back an oath, infuriated by his body's involuntary reaction to his wayward thoughts. 'You are Gino's mother?' He sought clarification, aware that he had initially jumped to the conclusion that the older woman had been his father's lover.

Libby hesitated. Margaret was making a show of hunting through her handbag for something, but she was conscious of the older woman's avid curiosity. Her neighbour was a kindly woman, who often babysat Gino, but Margaret was an inveterate gossip. If she overheard that Libby was not Gino's mother, as everyone in Pennmar believed, but his sister, the news would be all around the village within the hour.

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