Baby for the Billionaire

By: Maxine Sullivan

Chapter Five

Every evening after that was like a mini-honeymoon for the rest of the week. The weather remained quite warm and Nick would come home and they’d swim in the pool, eat a lazy dinner until dark, then retire to the bedroom.

There Sasha learned she wasn’t really a prude at all. She’d just needed to let go of her inhibitions, and with Nick’s instructions she did.

And her heart was still intact.

Then one morning she ended up walking past Nick’s old bedroom and for some reason she stopped and went in. The room had a large bed and furnishings befitting a teenager of wealth, done out in shades of light and dark brown. On the dresser there were school trophies for cricket, soccer and swimming.

She wasn’t sure what she expected to find, but there was something more here, something that made her believe Nick was much deeper than she had previously believed.

She just didn’t know what that was.

And perhaps it was best she didn’t find out.

Let him be who he was, and leave it at that. She didn’t want any more complications in her life.

And speaking of complications, Sasha got a sinking feeling in her stomach when her mother arrived a few hours later right at lunchtime, supposedly to see how things were going. There was nothing for it but to invite her mother to lunch. Not that she minded. It was just that today she seemed to have an agenda.

And Sasha had the feeling it was to do with her father.

“So, you’ve recovered from the wedding?” Sally asked as they sat down to a light lunch.

“Yes, I have.” Until this moment Sasha hadn’t let herself be upset that her mother hadn’t called since the wedding. Nick’s mother had managed to call several times.

“I’m sorry I didn’t phone you, darling,” Sally said, as if reading her daughter’s mind. “I just thought it best I leave you to … adapt.”

Sasha gave a remote smile. “Thanks.”

“Darling, it’s always good to leave a newly married couple to their own devices.”

“Is that what the wedding manuals say?” she muttered, then felt bad when she saw the crushed looked on her mother’s face. “Mum, I’m sorry. All this has been a bit of a strain. I never expected to get married. Not for a long time anyway.”

Sally nodded. “It’s okay. I understand. But please remember that you’ve made your father and me so happy. I love that he’s smiling again.”

Ignoring the thought that her father probably had a new girlfriend, Sasha squeezed her mother’s hand. “Then I’m glad.”

Sally’s grateful smile turned to a frown. “Darling, there is one thing …” she began, making Sasha tense. “There seems to be some sort of delay in closing the deal with Cesare. Your father can’t wait much longer, I’m afraid.”

“They’re pretty busy with the launch in the U.K. and all, I’d imagine.”

Come to think of it, she wasn’t sure of the reason for the delay herself.

“I was sort of hoping you could ask Nick. Not straight out, mind you. Just see if there’s a problem and what it is. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t so important.”

Sasha swallowed. “Mum, this is an awkward position you and Dad are putting me in.”

Again.

Her mother didn’t seem to notice. “Nick’s your husband. He’ll tell you everything.”

There were just so many things a mother could ask a daughter to do. “Nick and I are not in love, Mum. He keeps things to himself. I can’t guarantee anything.”

“If you could just try, darling.”

Sasha sighed. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”

Her mother left straight after the meal, probably in case she said anything to change her daughter’s mind. Sasha saw her off with a heavy heart. She loved her mother dearly but she’d never understand her love for a man, which totally submerged her own personality.

That would never happen to her.

Never.

And to prove it to herself, she would broach the dreaded subject with Nick at dinner this evening.

“My mother stopped by for lunch today.”

Nick looked up from his meal and felt pleased for Sasha’s sake. “Good. I don’t think you’ve heard from her since the wedding, have you?”

“She’s been busy.”

“I’m sure.” No doubt looking after Porter’s every whim.

And at the expense of her daughter, Nick thought with a frown, surprised at the lack of attention Sally had actually given Sasha since their marriage. Wasn’t a mother supposed to fuss over a newlywed daughter? Or was he just being a bit too old-fashioned?

Sasha moistened her mouth. “My mother does have a concern, though. She thought I might be able to help.”

“And that is?”

“My father’s waiting on a shipping deal to go through with the House of Valente, and apparently it’s been delayed. He’s not sure why.”

Nick leaned back in his chair, and his lips twisted. “And he’s sent his wife to ask my wife why?”

Sasha swallowed, looking uneasy. “He just needs to know, okay? Otherwise he might have to look at other avenues.”

“Other avenues?” He almost snorted out loud. Porter was too lazy to go elsewhere when he had Cesare Valente on his side.

“This is business, Nick.”

“Exactly.”

Her chin angled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Stay out of the family business, Sasha.”

She gasped. “I thought I was part of the family now.”

His mouth tightened. “Not the business. That’s got nothing to do with you.”

“I see.” Her green eyes turning cool, she placed her napkin on the table and stood up. “Then perhaps you should have made me sign a prenuptial. Then I won’t be able to touch any of your precious family business if we ever divorce.” On that note she walked out of the room.

Nick frowned as he watched her leave. They’d only just gotten married, so why the hell was she already mentioning divorce?

Or perhaps she really had married him for the money? No, he didn’t think that any longer. Why, he couldn’t say.

Besides, there was nothing to worry about. No way would she ever get any part of the House of Valente. The legal side of the business was wrapped up tighter than a ball of string.

Dammit, she should stay out of all this anyway. She had her job, and he had his. And what the hell was Porter playing at? The man had no scruples in hiding behind his wife and daughter’s skirts. He never had.

It was just a pity the man was so good at detecting trouble. He was obviously suspicious about the delay in signing the contract. And with good reason.

Nick and his brothers couldn’t quite put their finger on it, but there was something not quite right about the deal. None of them liked Porter, though this was more than not liking the man. It was a gut feeling that the wool was being pulled over their eyes. But with no real evidence, and unable to share their concerns with Cesare because of his health, they weren’t going to be able to postpone the deal much longer.

Damn Porter Blake.

Suddenly Nick realized that Alex should be told the latest development. Yet he didn’t want to say any of this on the telephone in case Sasha overheard him and reported back to her father. He grabbed his car keys and left the house.

After that he spent a couple of hours at Alex’s place where they talked over the shipping deal once again, trying to find the reason it just didn’t feel right. Nothing came to mind, and they reluctantly moved on to the upcoming launch in the U.K.

“Another cup of coffee, Nick?” Olivia asked, sticking her head around the study door.

He smiled at his sister-in-law. “Perhaps one more, Olivia, thanks.”

Olivia’s gaze slid to Alex. “What about you, honey?”

“No, nothing for me.”

Olivia’s gaze darted back to Nick, then Alex again, then she smiled oddly and left. Nick knew they were wondering why he wasn’t eager to go home to his new wife.

“Problems with Sasha?” Alex said when they were alone again, a speculative look in his eyes.

Nick rubbed the back of his neck. “Just teething problems.”

“I understand.”

Nick thought about that. “Yes, you do, don’t you?”

There was a moment’s pause, then Alex said, “Sasha’s turned out pretty good, considering what her father’s like.”

Nick shot him a twisted smile. “Whose side are you on?”

“I’m sure you’ll work it out.”

Nick suddenly had the urge to go home. So Sasha had only been trying to please her father. He shouldn’t have snapped at her like that.

He stood up. “I think I’ll give that coffee a miss.”

Alex grinned. “I’ll tell Olivia.”

By the time Nick got home, Sasha was asleep. He showered and slid into bed beside her, careful not to wake her though he was tempted to pull her close. In the end he fell asleep. It had been a long day.

Sasha kept busy the next day going to various stores, but her mind was on Nick and his reaction last night. Stupid hurt had ripped through her at his response. She had hated to ask about the shipping contract but that’s all she’d done. It wasn’t a major crime. So why was he being so defensive about it?

Of course that threat of hers about a prenuptial had been a childish thing to say, but it served Nick right for drawing such a line in the sand. She already knew he didn’t care for her. She hadn’t needed to hear that she should stay in the background like a good little wife. It smacked too much of her father. “You’re late.”

She almost missed her step as she came through the front door and looked up. Nick was waiting inside and demanding to know where she’d been? After he’d left her wondering last night if he’d gone to see an old girlfriend or two.

She placed her handbag on the hall table. “So we’re keeping tabs on each other now?”

An odd sincerity flickered across his face. “I was getting worried, that’s all.”

Her anger cooled. “Okay, if you must know I’ve been out seeing some contractors. It took longer than I thought it would.”

His eyes clouded and all at once he turned toward the living room, his movements somewhat jerky. “Well, I’m glad you’re home.”

Sasha frowned at his back. Was he embarrassed because he had worried? At the thought, a hint of tenderness trickled through her.

“You could have called me on my cell phone,” she suggested quietly, following him into the room.

“I don’t know the number.”

Her little bubble burst.

“You only had to ask.”

“I know.”

It said a lot for their relationship.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I phoned Iris earlier and told her not to cook dinner. I thought I’d take you out to a local restaurant.”

Was this his way of apologizing?

“That would be lovely.”

He looked pleased, then, “I’m sorry I snapped at you last night, Sasha. I wanted to apologize when I came home from Alex’s, but you were asleep.”

So, he’d been at Alex’s place. Could she believe that now? Strangely, yes. She just wished she’d known that last night when she’d been upset and pretending to sleep.

“I’m sorry, too,” she found herself saying. “I shouldn’t have asked. I was worried for my parents’ sake, that’s all.”

“I understand. I should have understood that, too. I—” His cell phone rang. “Damn. I have to take this call.”

“Then you do that. I’ll go get ready.”

He was answering the call even before she’d finished speaking, but Sasha didn’t mind. She climbed the stairs, excited now about going out to dinner with her husband.

Thank goodness the wedge between them seemed to have disappeared. She’d hated that her parents had come between them. Hated that Nick had stormed out and left her wondering. And hated it even more when he’d come home and hadn’t taken her in his arms.

She was in the shower ten minutes later when the glass door opened and Nick, naked and somewhat aroused, stood there. “Move over, Mrs. Valente.”

She didn’t need to be told a second time. She willingly moved aside but only a little. Just enough to let him get up close and personal.

Later at the restaurant she and Nick were given a warm welcome by the owner, an Italian man called Angelo.

“I read in the papers that you marry, so tonight I’ll cook you both something very special.” He beamed at them, then hurried away.

“He seems like a nice man,” Sasha said, making small talk as she looked around the restaurant. “You must come here often.”

“I used to date his daughter.”

“And he’s still talking to you?” she joked.

His wry smile conceded the point. “It was very platonic. Angelo knew that.”

“He must think highly of you,” she said, then pondered the comment while the waiter poured their wine. Italian fathers weren’t known for being liberal when it came to their daughters, especially when it came to playboys.

Yet this man had trusted Nick with his daughter? It didn’t add up.

When they were alone again, Nick was the first to speak, “So, tell me about living in London. I know you said you lived with your aunt for a while, but you must have liked the place to stay so long.”

She was surprised by his sudden interest.

“I loved it. It’s such a vibrant city.”

His brow arched. “You don’t find Sydney vibrant?”

“Yes, but in a different way.” She lifted one shoulder. “I guess I was ready to spread my wings and try new adventures.”

“You evidently didn’t try too many new things,” he drawled, hinting at her virginity.

She shot him a smile. “I tried enough to keep me happy,” she said, then laughed to herself when she saw him frown.

Let him wonder.

Then he said, “Your mother must have missed you.”

She felt her smile dim. “I imagine my father did, too.”

His eyes shuttered at the mention of her father. “I’ve been to London quite a few times. I should have stopped in to see you. We could have seen a show together.”

“That would have been nice.”

She pushed aside the hurt that he hadn’t bothered, despite her knowing it was best this way. Having him drop by to see her would have been a painful reminder of the past.

Just then there was a commotion near the front door as people greeted each other with a lot of enthusiasm, giving Sasha the chance to concentrate on something other than the past. Italians really knew how to welcome each other. They were so warm and friendly and—

“Sasha?

She turned back to Nick. “Yes?”

“I said I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?”

“You’ll be happy to know that we’ll be signing the contract for your father tomorrow. Now you can tell your mother not to worry.”

Intense relief washed over her, then as quickly restrained itself. “Thanks, but I’ll wait until it’s signed.”

His glance sharpened. “You don’t trust me?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then you don’t trust your father.”

She hardly dared to breathe. “What makes you say that?”

His eyes narrowed. “I’ve just realized something. This deal of his was why you changed your mind about marrying me, wasn’t it? It wasn’t only about merging our two families. Your father wanted to make sure the deal went through, so he forced you to marry me.”

Her brain stumbled. Her father would kill her for admitting this, but she couldn’t lie.

“He was worried, yes. He thought he might be undercut by a competitor.”

“So he made sure he wasn’t,” Nick said cynically.

Sasha couldn’t argue with that. Still, she had to stand up for her father. “I think it’s understandable he’d be worried about losing the tender.”

Nick’s eyes riveted on her, and all at once a mask came down over his face. Perhaps he knew the conversation was leading them places neither of them wanted to go.

He inclined his head. “You’re right.”

Thankfully Angelo appeared with their meal, and Sasha smiled and praised the food but somehow the evening had been spoiled. Talking about their families always caused friction.

They ate in silence for a while.

“By the way,” Nick said eventually. “I’ve invited a couple of people to dinner Friday night. If you could coordinate it all with Iris that would be great.”

All at once she felt a chill. “That’s only a couple of days away.”

“I know, but they’re visiting from Europe and only have Friday night free.”

“So it’s a business dinner?”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to arrange it all and host it as well?”

“Of course.”

Her heart sank at his assumption that she would drop everything for him. Not only did she have a late afternoon appointment with one of the contractors, but it reminded her of her parents, her father snapping his fingers and her mother jumping to it.

She’d sworn never to be like her mother.

“You’re quiet,” Nick said after a few minutes more of silence.

“Am I?”

He looked at her sharply. “What’s the matter?”

Her disappointment in him was immense. She should have known not to let herself get close to him again. She would only get hurt a second time.

“You brought me out to dinner to sweeten me up, didn’t you?”

His brows drew together. “What are you talking about?”

“Actually I’m surprised you even did that,” she scoffed. “Did you think I would say no, Nick? Well, you’re right. I am saying no.”

His face hardened. “No to what?”

“To arranging your business dinner and playing your hostess.”

“You’re my wife.”

She bristled. “Yes, not your slave to be told what to do and when to do it.”

He sat back, his eyes assessing hers. “Where’s all this coming from?”

“I’m sick of being expected to drop everything for everyone else. First my parents expect me to give up my freedom for them, and now you think I should just fall in with whatever plans you make.”

And truth to tell, she was sick of being a nobody to Nick. Because that’s what it all came down to. He hadn’t been interested in her years ago. He still wasn’t interested in her.

Not as a person.

A pulse began to beat in his cheekbone. “I didn’t mean to treat you like your father does.”

She gave a silent gasp. Clearly he thought of her as her father’s lackey as well. “Thanks very much.”

“You know what I mean.”

Hurt gnawed at her. “Unfortunately, yes, I do.”

His gaze rested on her face with a hint of regret. “Sasha, I’m sorry. I’ll take them to a restaurant in the city. You don’t need to come.”

She sighed, suddenly feeling bad yet knowing she shouldn’t. “Nick, if you were to ask me, then I don’t mind hosting the dinner. I just don’t like the expectation that I have to do it.”

He considered her across the table. “Then would you mind being my hostess on Friday, Sasha? I’d really appreciate it.”

Her heart thudded at the sincerity in his tone. “Yes. I’m happy to help.” She would reschedule her appointment with the contractor.

His shoulders relaxed a little, and there was an odd amusement in his eyes. “You’re quite fiery when you’re upset. I never noticed that when you were growing up. You were always quite shy.”

Shy and in love.

Her stomach did a flip at the thought. “Perhaps I didn’t want you to notice back then,” she lied.

“And now?”

She took a moment to answer as past hurts rose in her throat. “I’m older. I want respect.”

“You always had my respect, Sasha.”

“No, Nick. I didn’t.”

He went still, his eyes probing hers. “Then I’m sorry if I made you feel that way. It wasn’t intentional.”

“I know.” And therein lay the crux of the matter. It was another example of her meaning less than nothing to him.

Angelo reappeared to check that their meal was enjoyable and Sasha welcomed the interruption. She’d said more than enough. If Nick didn’t think she mattered, then she wasn’t going to force him to change his mind.

She had her pride after all.

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