Baby for the Billionaire

By: Maxine Sullivan

Chapter Six

Nick phoned Sasha late the following morning to tell her the deal had been signed and that Alex was calling her father now to tell him the news.

Enormously relieved, Sasha thanked him for letting her know, then waited for her mother to call and share in the good news and perhaps say thanks.

Her mother didn’t call.

“No doubt your parents were relieved,” Nick said when he came home.

“No doubt they were.”

He froze. “You mean they haven’t called you?”

A lump lodged in her throat. “No, but they were probably busy.”

“They weren’t too busy to ask you to spy for them,” he rasped.

She sucked in a sharp breath. “It wasn’t like that.”

A pulse beat in his cheekbone. “Not on your part, but they got what they wanted from you. They used you, Sasha.”

He was right, and on one level she was warmed by his concern for her, but loyalty to her mother kept her quiet. “Let’s forget that for now.”

“Can you?”

“No.” If she thought about it the pain would overwhelm her. She’d always known she came second with her mother, but until recently she hadn’t realized just how low down on the scale she was compared with her father.

She pretended to dismiss it all. “Come on. I want you to pick a color scheme for the study. I can’t decide by myself.”

He made a dismissive gesture. “Any color will do.”

“No, Nick. You’ll be using it a lot, so it’s important I get your input.”

“You’ll be using it, too.”

“Exactly. It’s something we need to choose together.”

He suddenly broke into a sexy half smile. “You’re very good at getting your own way. Subtle but very effective.”

She found herself smiling back. “That’s always been my policy.”

The rest of the week went quickly and before she knew it, it was Friday. She was nervous about hosting their first dinner, and of course she helped Iris arrange it all, but there was a difference in doing it because she wanted to and not because it was expected of her.

“You look beautiful,” Nick said when she’d finished dressing in a blue dress that hugged her body in all the right places, her blonde hair up in a chignon, delicate diamond earrings at her ears.

Silly delight rippled through her. “Thanks.” Her eyes slid over his dark suit and white shirt that did him full-on justice. “You’re looking quite spiffy yourself.”

He smiled. “Spiffy, eh?”

She smiled back then saw him fiddling with his tie. “Here, let me do that for you.”

“You don’t mind?”

“No, I like doing up men’s ties,” she quipped as she stepped close to him and began working on the tie.

His smile vanished. “Just how many men’s ties have you done up?”

“The odd one or two.”

He stared down at her, then must have seen her lips twitching because he broke into a grin. “I think you’re making that up.”

“Am I?”

“You’d better be,” he pretended to growl, sending a thought flashing through her mind. He liked being the only man to make love to her.

Well, well, she mused. Who’d have thought he’d be so old-fashioned?

“You’re not nervous about tonight?” he asked, dragging her from her thoughts.

“Yes, I am.”

“You don’t show it.”

“Neither do you.”

One brow rose. “Who said I was nervous?”

“You usually don’t have trouble doing up your tie.”

“Thanks for noticing,” he said wryly.

She finished her task and patted the tie. “There.

That’s better.”

He turned away to look in the mirror. “Perfect.”

Yes.

He was.

She cleared her throat. “So this dinner is important, is it?”

He reached for his jacket. “Yes and no. Alex has already made the deals to launch ‘Valente’s Woman’ in France and Germany. I just need to keep relations agreeable between us until the launch.”

Sasha realized that this must be all quite new to Nick. Previously Cesare and Isabel would have hosted any clients, and then Alex and Olivia, but this time it fell to him. No doubt he would be an accomplished host as a playboy bachelor, but this was the first time he’d be hosting a dinner in his own home as a married man.

She felt bad now for refusing before. “You’ll do fine,” she said, prompting an arrogant smile from him.

“I know.”

And he did.

Extra fine, Sasha thought sourly an hour later as she watched Claudine, the beautiful wife of the French businessman, flirt with Nick from the moment she set foot in the house.

In the meantime the German couple just sat back and smiled, along with Jacque, who didn’t appear concerned by his wife’s behavior.

It concerned Sasha, especially when Nick looked thoroughly smitten by the gorgeous brunette leaning close to him and talking French in a low, husky voice.

“Ooh, Nicolah, you are teasing me,” she said in her accented English, laughing sexily as she squirmed in her seat.

“No, really,” he teased. “If you’re going to the fashion show tomorrow make sure they don’t mistake you for one of their models.”

Claudine preened. “Perhaps I will need you to come with me and protect me.” She looked at Sasha. “Would you mind if I borrowed your husband tomorrow, Sasha?”

Her blatant approach took Sasha’s breath away. And Nick, the rat, was sitting there smiling and thoroughly enjoying himself and probably expected she would say yes.

She’d be damned if she’d be humiliated like this.

“I’m sorry, Claudine, but I need him tomorrow,” she said sweetly, smiling at Nick like her very existence depended on him.

“Ooh,” Claudine pouted at Nick. “Another time perhaps, Nicolah?”

“It’s a date.”

Sasha could feel the humiliation rise up in her throat but she refused to look at the others at the table. A date with a married woman? Wasn’t he forgetting something? Like he was now a married man himself? This was going beyond being more than a good host.

Or perhaps he just didn’t care. Perhaps he was too focused on making a conquest to worry about what this meeting was all about. Worse, perhaps this was how he did business as a playboy.

A reputation well earned?

Thankfully the German woman, Freda, asked Sasha about her plans to redecorate and the conversation turned to interior design. She was busy answering questions when she heard Claudine ask Nick if he could show her where she could freshen up.

“That’s okay, Claudine,” she said instantly. “I can show you.”

“Oh but … you are talking to Freda.”

“No, that’s fine. I want to freshen up, too.”

The woman pouted again, but Sasha ignored it, just as she ignored Nick as she passed him on her way out the door. If he dared to chastise her later, then he was in for a rude shock.

“Your name is French?” Claudine asked as they walked down the hallway. It was the first personal thing she’d said to her all night.

“No. It’s spelled S-A-S-H-A, not S-A-C-H-A.”

“You are not French then?”

“No.”

Claudine gave a grunt, evidently not impressed by a non-French person using a French-sounding name.

Then the woman sent her a sideways glance. “Nicolah is so handsome.”

Aah, now they were getting to the main thing.

Sasha just smiled. “Very.”

And he’s mine, she wanted to say.

“Jacques does not like the fashion shows.” She sighed deeply. “It’s a pity Nicolah cannot come with me. I’m sure he would like that.”

Sasha opened the bathroom door. “Family always comes first with Nick.”

And as she shut the door behind the woman, Sasha realized that was the truth. His family did always come first.

Just not his wife.

Nick was glad to see the back of their guests. Now all he wanted to do was go to bed—with Sasha.

“That went well,” he said, coming into the bedroom after he’d turned off most of the downstairs lights. Sasha was sitting in front of the dressing table, taking off her jewelry. She looked so right, so very feminine, and for the first time he felt thoroughly married.

It wasn’t a bad feeling.

“For some,” she said coolly.

Her unfriendly tone dragged him from his pleasant thoughts. “What do you mean?”

She spun around on the stool, and suddenly sparks were flying from her green eyes. “I’m sorry if I spoiled your plans for tomorrow, Nick, but I didn’t think it right you go out on a date with another woman when you’re already married to me.”

He stared in amazement, then snorted. “You didn’t think that was for real, did you? Claudine was just flirting.”

And mild flirting at best. He’d known women who came on a lot stronger than that.

“Is that why she was practically begging me to let you go to the fashion show with her?”

“When?”

“When I escorted her to the bathroom.”

He shrugged. “She’s French. She does things over the top.”

“Not with my husband she doesn’t.”

A crazy thought blew him away. “You’re jealous!”

Her slim shoulders tensed. “Don’t be ridiculous. You promised to be faithful, and I expect you to keep that promise, that’s all.”

Okay, so she wasn’t jealous.

And now he was getting annoyed. His word was good enough for the rest of the world. It should be good enough for his wife.

“Look, I told you I take my marriage vows seriously, and I do. There’s no way I’ll be unfaithful to you.”

“I’m trying to believe that.”

He considered her tight mouth. “You’ve really got a thing about this, haven’t you?”

She hesitated, then, “Yes, I do. I’ve spent a lifetime watching my father having affair after affair and my poor mother putting up with it. Not me. I won’t put up with it. I won’t allow myself to be humiliated in such a way.”

The words were heartfelt, and something kicked inside him. “So you know about your father’s affairs?”

“Doesn’t everyone?” she said with a catch in her voice.

“Does your mother know?”

“We’ve never mentioned it, but I’m sure she does.” She straightened her shoulders. “And I won’t ever let myself be put in that position.”

“I’m not asking you to.”

Her expression clouded. “It’s all about respect, isn’t it?” she said, as if talking to herself. “Respect for another person.”

“You’ve got my respect.”

She focused back on him. “But I didn’t always have it, did I?”

The muscles at the back of his neck tightened. She’d mentioned respect the other day, too, and he’d let the comment pass. Not this time.

“Why do you say that? I’ve always treated you with respect.”

“If you’d respected me years ago you wouldn’t have gone off with that girl after our kiss.”

The comment staggered him. “What are you saying? That our kiss mattered to you back then?”

She held his gaze for a moment, and her delicate chin rose higher. “You gave me my first kiss, Nick. And yes, it mattered.”

He expelled a breath.

“But you didn’t care, Nick.”

She was wrong about that.

“You’ve got no idea how hard it was for me to walk away from you, Sasha. But dammit, you were only eighteen. You had your whole life ahead of you.”

“So did you.”

“I don’t deny that. I was only twenty-five. I didn’t want a serious relationship. It wouldn’t have been fair to you—to either of us—if I’d taken what you’d offered.”

“I felt humiliated,” she said quietly. “More so when you left with another girl.”

He swore low in his throat. “I’m sorry. That hadn’t been my intention.”

He’d gotten the hell out of there with the other girl—he couldn’t even remember her name now—not to humiliate but because Sasha was a siren … a little witch … who’d suddenly developed a body and a face to die for.

Knowing himself, he would have taken what was offered and moved on.

Knowing Sasha, he couldn’t have done that to her.

She gave a shaky sigh. “That was the worst part. You had no idea how devastated I was.”

His heart jolted inside his chest. Had this been more than Sasha testing out her newfound womanly ways?

“Sasha, did you have a crush on me?”

For a moment their eyes locked.

“Yes, Nick. I did. I was a young girl in love with the man of her dreams.”

Oh hell.

Dare he ask.…

“Are you still in love with me, Sasha?”

Her eyelids flickered. “I’m fond of you, Nick, but that’s all.” As if the thought didn’t deserve any further comment, she spun on her stool to face the mirror again and began brushing her hair.

It was odd but his stomach felt like it had just been hollowed out. She hadn’t missed a beat in her answer. Love definitely wasn’t in her agenda.

Not that he would have known what to do if she had said she loved him. He hadn’t figured on that in their plans. He’d be happy with fondness between them.

And desire.

That was enough.

He walked up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, looking at her through her reflection. “Amazing as it may seem to you, you’re the only woman I want in my life right now.”

And that was the truth.

The brush stilled in her hand. “I … I am?”

Her stutter was charming and made his heart pound against his ribs. She may not be in love with him, but she was so very beautiful.

“Yes,” he murmured, sliding the neckline of her dress aside and kissing her bare shoulder. “Let me show you.”

At breakfast, Sasha was still recovering from Nick’s questions last night.

Are you still in love with me, Sasha?

No, she wasn’t, but the question had made her uncomfortable. Love wasn’t an easy subject to discuss at any time, but talking about it made it seem more real, even possible.

It was a possibility she didn’t want.

Just then, Iris opened the door to the breakfast room and Cesare and Isabel came walking in.

Nick put down his napkin in surprise. “Dad, what are you doing here?”

Cesare’s step seemed to hesitate. “Son, I have something to tell you.”

Sasha saw Nick stiffen.

“What’s happened, Dad?”

Cesare sat down on one of the chairs, his face paler than usual. At the same time, Isabel hugged Nick, then straightened but kept her hand on his shoulder in a comforting gesture. Sasha swallowed hard. This was definitely bad news.

“It’s your mother, figlio mio.” The older man paused. “She fell asleep at the wheel of her car last night and crashed into a parked truck.”

Sasha gasped.

Nick sat like stone. “And?”

“She’s dead, Nick. She died instantly.”

Pain for Nick squeezed Sasha’s heart as Isabel squeezed his shoulder.

Nick didn’t move. “Had she been drinking?”

“We don’t know. Perhaps.”

Nick’s lips twisted. “More than likely she was coming home from a party.”

Cesare inclined his head. “She lived life on her terms, Nick.”

“You don’t have to tell me that, Dad,” Nick said, jumping to his feet and going over to the patio door. He stood looking out over the sunny courtyard.

“At least she didn’t suffer, honey,” Isabel murmured. “None of us would want that.”

Nick let out a deep sigh but didn’t turn around. “No, I wouldn’t have wanted that.”

Seconds passed without anyone speaking as if in deference to the dead.

“They’re arranging the funeral for Tuesday in Melbourne,” Cesare finally said.

“I won’t be going.”

Cesare’s mouth clamped in a thin line. “She was your mother, son.”

“Really?” Nick turned around to face them, the lines of his face rigid.

“I know how you feel, but the world is made up of different people. We have to accept that.”

“You accept it.” Nick tilted his head. “Actually, you accepted that years ago, didn’t you?”

Cesare stiffened. “Your mother wasn’t the woman I thought she was when I married her, I know. But I did learn to accept that’s how she was.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t be so generous.”

Cesare’s gaze held his son’s. “The best thing that came out of our marriage was you, Nick.”

Sasha’s throat thickened.

A muscle ticked in Nick’s cheek. “Emotional blackmail won’t work this time, Dad. I won’t go to the funeral. I don’t owe her anything.”

Cesare was having none of that. He straightened his shoulders. “Julieann was a Valente, if even for a short while. She should have someone from the Valente family go to the funeral.”

“You go then.”

Cesare glanced at Isabel then back. “I can’t. I would if I could, but—”

“His doctor won’t let him go,” Isabel said. “He’s worried it will be too much for your father.”

Cesare made a dismissive gesture. “The doctor’s just being too cautious. He thinks you’ll sue him if I die.”

Isabel tutted. “Now, you know that’s not true, Cesare.” She looked at Nick. “For what it’s worth I don’t think you should be forced to go either.”

“Thanks for your support, Izzie,” Cesare muttered.

She looked at her husband. “I don’t care what you say. I don’t think anyone should have to go if they don’t want to, Cesare.”

For some reason, Sasha thought of her own father and how she’d feel if he’d walked out on them years ago. Would she have been forgiving of him?

Probably not.

Of course, it may have turned out better if her father had left them. Her mother may have had a chance at a decent life.

“I’m not going, Dad.”

Cesare got to his feet, his mouth firming with purpose. “Then it’s up to me.” He shot Isabel a look. “And no more about it from you, my darling wife. I—” Suddenly he turned pale.

“Dad?” Nick raced over while Isabel gasped, then took some tablets out of Cesare’s jacket pocket.

“Here, darling. Put this under your tongue.”

A short while later Cesare started to get his color back and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. If the older man had been hoping for effect, he couldn’t have chosen a better moment.

Nick stood looking down at his father, his eyes unreadable. “Okay, Dad. You get your wish. I’ll go to the funeral.”

Cesare looked relieved. “Thank you, figlio mio. This means a lot to me.”

“I’ll go with him,” Sasha said, wanting them to know she’d be there for Nick.

Nick spun toward her. “No.”

“But—”

“No.” Without another word, he turned and walked out of the room.

Sasha’s heart sank, but she wasn’t about to give up.

“Go with him, honey,” Isabel said. “He needs you.”

Sasha nodded. He needed someone, but she wasn’t sure it was her. “I intend to, Isabel. Don’t worry.”

After that, the older couple left and Sasha saw them off. For all that she understood why Cesare wanted a Valente at the funeral, like Isabel, she did think it unfair to ask Nick to go. Did they really need someone to represent the family? Wasn’t Cesare showing the woman more compassion than she’d shown him and their son?

But it wasn’t her place to say anything.

She knocked on the study door and went in.

“Nick—”

“No, Sasha.”

“But—”

“I’m going alone.”

She stopped in the middle of the room and glared at him across the desk. “Would you let me finish a sentence or are you taking a page from my father’s book now?”

He flinched.

“Nick, look. I know we were forced to get married, and I know we didn’t marry for love, but I … care about you. I’m your wife, and I should go with you at a time like this.”

A nerve pulsed near Nick’s temple. “It’s a funeral for a woman you didn’t even know, Sasha. There’s no reason for you to attend.”

“I may not have known the woman, but I know her son very well. He’s reason enough for me to go.”

His eyes darkened as silence hung in the air. She meant every word. She wouldn’t back down over this.

Something shifted in his expression as he looked at her. Finally he said, “As you wish.”

Her heart thudded with relief. “Thank you.”

He picked up the phone. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have some arrangements to make.” Clearly he wanted to push her out, both of the room and emotionally.

Still, she hung on. “Would you like me to do all that?”

“Thanks, but my PA knows my requirements.”

She inclined her head and went to leave the room. It was obvious he’d given all he had to give right now.

“Sasha?”

She stopped and turned. “Yes?”

“Thank you,” he said brusquely.

She nodded and shut the door behind her, not sure what he was thanking her for—wanting to go to the funeral with him, or offering to help. Her heart swelled inside her chest. Nick really did appreciate her efforts.

He had finally noticed.

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