The C.O.O. Must Marry

By: Maxine Sullivan

One


“W hat are you saying, Dad?” Nick Valente asked his father, Cesare, as they sat on one of the terraced courtyards on the Valente estate.

“I’m saying I’ve been retired over six months now and while I’ve loved it here, this place is getting too big for us. Isabel and I have decided to move into an apartment in town.”

The statement sucked the wind out of Nick. This place was home. He’d grown up on this estate in the Hawkesbury district of Sydney. His own mother had given birth to him here before taking off for greener pastures, leaving his father to meet Isabel six months later.

“The estate is yours,” Cesare continued. “If you want it.”

Something leaped inside him. Did his father even have to ask? Of course he wanted it. He wanted it so badly he had to turn his head away and look down over the cultivated lawns, lest his father see how much he wanted it.

And there was the crux of the matter.

He didn’t trust his father.

Cesare was a crafty old devil who’d had a long reign as founder of The House of Valente, an Australian perfume dynasty now branching out in the rest of the world under the control of the eldest son, Alex, with their new perfume, “Valente’s Woman.” Cesare was used to getting his own way.

“And if I don’t want it?” he said, playing it cool, just like he did every day in his job as Chief Operating Officer for the family business.

“Then I’ll give it to Matt.”

Damn.

He was close to Matt, but his younger brother liked living in the center of the city, and this place would end up neglected. Matt would die out here on the far outskirts of Sydney, no matter that he could commute.

He, on the other hand, would appreciate the break away from his city apartment and from the constant round of hard work and equally hard play.

He casually turned his head to look at his father. “Matt’s never liked this place much,” he pointed out coolly.

Cesare inclined his gray head. “I know that.”

“So why give it to him?”

“I haven’t…yet. It all depends on you.”

His misgivings were increasing by the moment. “What’s the catch, Dad?”

Cesare’s lips twisted wryly. “You know me well.” A calculating expression took over the older man’s face. “You can have the estate on one condition. You have to get married.”

Nick straightened in his chair. “What the hell!”

“This place needs a young family again.”

“So I’m supposed to get married and have a family, too?” he said, sarcastically.

“That’s usually the way it goes.”

Nick shook his head. He had no plans to get married just yet. No woman was going to tie him down, and he’d be damned if he’d bring a child into the world whose parents didn’t love each other.

“What about Alex and Olivia?” It was the most acceptable option to him. At least they would give this place the care it deserved.

“No, they have their own house now and wouldn’t want to move. It would unsettle little Scott.”

Yes, that was true. Alex and Olivia had adopted eight-year-old Scott at Christmas. They wouldn’t want to move again so soon, if at all.

Suddenly something clicked in Nick’s brain as he looked at his father. “Tell me you didn’t have anything to do with Alex marrying Olivia.”

Cesare didn’t even flinch. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t.”

Nick’s mouth tightened. “Does Mum know what you’ve been up to?”


He’d always considered Isabel his mother. She was elegant, charming, loving, and quite formidable when riled. She’d been the only mother he’d known—until his real mother had started turning up during his childhood, causing havoc.

“Isabel and I have agreed to disagree. She knows my feelings on this, and I’m not about to change my mind. It’s too important to me.”

Nick swore. “Dammit, I’m not marrying some woman just to satisfy your perverted sense of power.”

“Then Matt gets the estate.”

His stomach tightened. “Matt won’t want it once I tell him what game you’re playing.”

Cesare took a sip of his coffee before putting the cup down on the table. “Then I’ll have to sell, won’t I?”

Nick swallowed hard. His father thought he had it all figured out, did he?

“Just who the hell am I supposed to marry anyway? Should I just pick a woman from my Rolodex?”

“Sasha Blake.”

Nick’s brain stumbled. He hadn’t thought about that name in years…hadn’t thought about her in years…hadn’t thought about that kiss.

Well, rarely.

“She isn’t in my Rolodex,” he snapped, not wanting to think about her at all. That kiss had been a minor lapse in judgment.

“She’s perfect for you.”

“I’m glad you think so.”

Displeasure furrowed Cesare’s brow, then cleared. “You’ll see. Once you marry her you’ll—”

“I’m not marrying her, Dad.” If he was getting married—and he wasn’t saying he would—he’d choose the woman. “Besides, isn’t she in England?”

“No, she’s back. She’s an interior designer now, and I’ve asked her to redecorate this house.”

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