The Marriage Merger

By: Jennifer Probst

Chapter Four


Julietta picked her head up and stretched the kinks from her neck. The stack of files was only half cleared, and her cup of cappuccino had long grown cold. A dull throb behind her eyes warned her time was almost up. Mio Dio, how long had she been working? A quick glance at her watch confirmed four steady hours with no break. A sigh broke from her lips and surprised her. Usually she enjoyed her Saturday mornings in her apartment, taking care of all the loose ends she had no time to close during the week.

Coffee, paper, her laptop, a little music, and she was content. except . . .

She stared out her window. The gleam of sun rarely seen in the moody month of February strained from the thick clouds in a screw-you gesture. Julietta unfurled her legs from her chair and strode over to the window, peering at the scene below her. The roar of motorcycles and mo-peds echoed from the streets in an attempt to squeeze in as much riding as possible on a nice day.

She pressed her palm to the cool pane and pondered the idea. Funny: Since her last encounter with Sawyer, the rare edge of wildness nipped at her usual logical self, daring her to break routine and echo the sentiment of the current weather.

Screw it. Work could wait.

She made the decision and didn’t look back. She was going riding for the rest of the afternoon. Her fingers itched to grab the bars of her bike and stop thinking for a little while. With her consistent workaholic tendencies and slight oCD, she tipped the scales of exhaustion too many times.

At least she’d found an acceptable outlet other than ther-apy.

Motorcycles.

She paused to fix the slight tilt of the three photos on the mantel and headed to the bedroom. She changed in re-cord time, donning supple Prada pants, boots, and a simple cashmere sweater. She shrugged on her leather jacket, took her helmet down from the top of the closet, stuffed her phone in her hobo bag, and left.

She walked the necessary blocks until she came to the small storage garage where she kept her bike. The wind was frisky, but she’d layered enough to stay decently warm for the trip. Mentally calculating the miles she wanted to ac-complish, she decided on an easy route toward Navigli.

Julietta stepped in front of her secret obsession and her skin tingled as if she gazed at a lover.

Perfection.

Naked twisted metal and sleek black made up the machine, which was in a class by itself. The brand-new Moto Morini Corsaro had all the elements she admired and demanded in a bike. Speed. Lightweight. Agility. And raw, sexy, growling hp.

Her tummy dipped, and she tugged on her leather gloves. Her hidden obsession with fast bikes came straight from her brother, Michael, but her sisters just didn’t understand it. especially because she was the straitlaced one in the family. How many times had she picked Michael’s brain about his racecars and tried to steal his motorcycles for a ride? She’d dreamed of having the bike of all bikes on her own terms, and finally she’d achieved her goal.

She lifted her leg to slide over the seat, and her cell rang.

Porca vacca. She almost ignored it, but too many years of habit took over, so she had to at least glance at the ID.

She reached in her bag and pulled the phone out. After looking, she let her finger hesitate on the button only a second before pushing it.

“yes?”

“Ciao bella. Why don’t you sound happier to hear from me?”

She tamped down on her impatience and reminded herself this was the deal of the century. Politeness was key.

“I’m sorry, Sawyer, I was just getting ready to go out for a bit. How can I help you?”

“oh, good. I need to go over something in the contract.

Why don’t you stop by my place and we’ll finish it up?”

Julietta scowled at the phone. “It’s not a good time right now. Perhaps tomorrow?”

Silence hummed. An irritated masculine silence. “I’m not one to invade a business partner’s personal life, but this is a huge undertaking for Purity. I need to know you’re on board in this delicate time. one hundred percent.”

She practically spit into the receiver. “I’ve just spent the bulk of my Saturday at the computer. I’m completely on board, so to speak. Can we settle it over the phone?”

“No. Where are you going? Can I meet you?”

She stared at her bike with a lustful need that shook her bones. “I’m going riding for the next few hours. How about I stop by afterward and we’ll settle the items up for negotiation?”

“riding what? A bicycle?”

She couldn’t help the automatic scoff that came from her mouth. “No: motorcycle.”

He paused for a beat. “Perfect. Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll meet you at the Duomo.”

Julietta gaped. “What? No—no, you can’t go with me.

I’m going motorcycle riding.”

“I heard you the first time. I promise not to bully you with my bike. See you soon.”

The phone clicked.

She blinked and tried desperately to keep her sanity.

This was not happening. Her peaceful, stress-blowing bike ride was turning into a business trip with a man she needed to avoid at all costs. She analyzed the options of not showing or calling back to cancel, but she already sensed the domineering man wouldn’t answer. And if she didn’t show up for their impromptu meeting, he could decide to pull the contract.

Julietta blew out a breath of disgust and climbed on the bike. The low thrum of the engine kicked into gear, and she took off toward the center of town, weaving expertly through traffic and keeping her speed down until she hit open turf and let it rip.

She gave him credit. Her watch just hit the fifteen mark when she saw him pull up. Julietta tried hard not to show any surprise at his choice of ride. She’d expected a brash American Harley, but damn him, he’d managed to up his game without even trying.

She flipped up her visor and flicked him a cool glance.

“Nice bike. Where’s your Harley?”

The total hotness of male perfection on the MV Agusta F4CC was criminal. In faded, tight jeans, a leather bomber jacket, and vintage riding boots, he cut a bad-boy-meets-surfer figure that almost killed her. Almost. He slowly un-buckled his helmet and slid it off his head to cradle in the crook of his arm. Then shook out his shaggy blond hair. His quick grin flashed that crooked front tooth. “you’re not cutting up on the American phenomenon of the Harley, are you darlin’? That could get you shot in the U.S.”

She gave a delicate shrug. He never needed to know she secretly loved the American classic. “Good thing I’m not there. How’d you get one of those? There were only one hundred made.”

He dropped his voice to a dirty whisper. “I know people. They owe me favors.”

Her spine tingled with anticipation. The hungry look as his gaze roved over her body caught her hard, but she ral-lied. “What do we need to discuss?”

He laughed low. “Nothing at the moment. Where are we going?”

She drew her brows together and tried to be firm.

“Nowhere. We’ll discuss business, and then I’m going riding.”

“Where?”

She shrugged. “Wherever I feel like.”

“Sounds like a plan. We’ll stop for a break and talk business later. you lead.”

Julietta squirmed with the need to wipe the smug look off his face. “I’m trying to be polite here, but you’re making it difficult. I don’t feel like making social conversation today.”

“Who said anything about conversation?”

Her spit dried up and she held back an actual pant.

Those full lips quirked as if he knew her body’s reaction.

“If you can’t keep up, I’m not waiting for you. This is my time,” she said.

His slow grin taunted and pushed all the right buttons.

or the wrong ones. “I’ll admit my surprise at your choice of The Pirate. But can you handle her, little girl? Perhaps I’ll be the one waiting for you to catch up.”

Julietta snapped her helmet down, kicked her bike into gear, and gave him a pitying look. “See you on the other side.”

She took off.

They rode through the city, battled traffic, and finally hit stride. The streets opened up and spit them out as the city rolled by and the gorgeous hills of the Alps shimmered in the distance like a mirage. The sun fought like the king it was and triumphed over the grayness for a few hours. Traffic was lighter than normal for a Saturday, and she headed toward Navigli. Julietta rode hard, pushing the machine into full gear and squeezing out more horsepower. The flash of the road underneath the wheels, the tug of the cold wind in her nostrils, the whiz of vivid blue and green and yellow of the colorful buildings all rose up and mixed together in a symphony of sweetness to her soul. For a little while, on a fast bike, in her beloved land, she was truly free.

They stopped for a break at a small café near the canal and bought lunch. They parked their bikes and stretched their legs in a leisurely walk. The market was open and bustling, and a boat slugged slowly down the water, charm-ing the tourists with an old-world yet Bohemian influence.

Filled with endless trinkets, clothes, food, and jewelry, Navigli boasted one of the most wonderful markets in Milan. In the evening, the place came alive with a variety of hip-hop nightclubs, cafés, and shopping. With sunset approaching soon, the crowds would build, so Julietta stuffed their water and uneaten wrapped food into her saddlebag and took off again.

She gave him credit. Sawyer never said a word.

But his gaze followed every swing of her hips and caught her sneaky half glances. The man’s ass was compa-rable to David’s, and Michelangelo’s statue had brought her to tears.

Julietta looked at the sky. Not too much longer before dark hit. She craved the bite of adrenaline she usually achieved from the closure of a good business deal. But she’d just found another way to get her hit.

Julietta stopped her bike, cocked her hip, and made the offer. “I’m heading toward Castello Sforzesco. There’s a nice open road to let the bikes breathe. Let’s see who gets there first.”

Surprise skittered across his face. “you wanna race?”

“Call it what you want. I plan on welcoming you at the gate.”

He threw his head back and laughed long and hard. The sound was sweeter than Mozart and sexier than Pavarotti.

“you’ve got to be kidding. This baby has more balls than most bikes on the market.”

She smiled sweetly. “I’m sure you both do. See you there.”

Julietta’s skin prickled with anticipation, and the blood in her veins heated and rushed with the challenge.

She took off toward Castello Sforzesco in a race to beat the dying sun and the man beside her. Julietta hated to admit he rode like a pro and handled the meatiness of the bike with a grace most men couldn’t imitate. She’d ridden with many men throughout her lifetime: some family, some friends, some lovers. Usually she was disappointed in the aggression and selfishness of the rider.

Not Sawyer. He respected the power of Claudio Castiglioni’s prized possession, never trying to reach the 196 mph the bike was reputed to achieve, and instead using the mechanics like a lover, coaxing the best with a seductive skill that made her soaking wet between her thighs. He was also a dominant driver, fully in control through each bend of the road, fiercely concentrating on his goal.

Brash for brash, he should’ve won. But Julietta had been racing for years, knew the streets like an old lover, and excelled at weaving in and out through obstacles in the bustling city. She eventually took the lead and held it tight, pushing the limit of speed and agility as the rush burned through her and took command.

When she finally reached the castle, she was a few beats ahead. The towering stone ruins dominated the view, but the quiet park behind the structure was her main focus. She cut off the bike, unfastened her helmet, and waited for him to cut his engine.

Sawyer slid off the now-quiet bike. She waited for his response and prepped for a cutting remark. or a joke. or an excuse.

But he didn’t speak. Just grabbed her saddlebag with their lunch and allowed her to lead him through the cobbled pathways to an open area. The ground was still cold, so they settled for the carved benches scattered amidst the towering trees and picked a spot where the Castello was perfectly positioned for study.

She loved riding along the road where the stunning clock tower thrust into the sky, surrounded by a mass of carved stone. A massive water fountain welcomed visitors in, the multiple streams of water spitting out in the marble circle and catching the last rays of light. The cobbled paths wound in an intricate pattern where tourists could stroll, shop, or grab a quick bite from a market vendor. Being close to such antique beauty reminded her that life was long and many things didn’t last, but the things that mattered would.

Sawyer remained silent, as if he too was under the spell of a good ride. He unwrapped their sandwiches, and they shared the food: hard, crusty bread; fat, salty olives; and the delicious small salami strolghino di culatello, paired with creamy sheep’s milk Gorgonzola blue cheese. The scone with strawberry butter added a bit of sweetness to complete the meal.

Her shoulders relaxed even more and she ate in perfect solitude, looking out at the view. Her mind was finally blank, as if she had just departed from the ashrams of India after a weeklong meditation.

“Hell of a bike for a hell of a rider. Mind sharing how you learned to handle that thing, let alone know what it can do?”

Pride etched her face. “My brother, Michael, raced cars on the circuit. His love of good and fast machinery extended to motorcycles, and I got hooked. He was kind enough not to tell me good girls don’t ride bad bikes, and he taught me everything he knew.”

Sawyer shook his head and took a long slug of water.

“Nice. Most women overcompensate for their lack of brute strength. But you used it to your advantage. It was like watching a poetry slam. Heat and beauty and grace at top speed. What’s the best bike you ever owned?”

“I still have it. The classic Moto Morini three and a half Vintage.”

“No. Fucking. Way.”

She leaned forward. “yes way. Bright red, classic lines, and if you ever heard the motor, you’d swear you were dreaming. Took years to restore, and people are begging to buy it all the time.” Julietta pursed her lips. “Like I’d sell to anyone who wouldn’t ride it. That would be a tragedy.”

His gaze dropped and rested on her mouth. Her next breath came at a struggle, but she dug her nails into her palm to ground herself. This man was dangerous, and she refused to mix business with pleasure. even though he had a love and respect for bikes.

“I agree. Beautiful things that are underused is a crime.”

The double innuendo stole her sanity and immediately her nipples peaked to attention. He leaned forward and lifted his hand. Slowly, he closed the distance, obviously reaching out to touch her. Mesmerized by the hunter he was, she took a few seconds to react to his intentions.

“Don’t.” She jerked her chin away. “I thought we agreed to stick to business.”

He lifted his palm up. “Sorry. you have a smear of butter on your cheek. I was just going to wipe it off.”

She ducked her head to hide the faint blush and grabbed a napkin. Again, that distant amusement emanated from his aura. Like he cared. But didn’t. Like he was above all the messiness of emotion and drama, and she was the current plaything. “What was the issue with the contract?”

“Section B, clause three. you forgot to initial.”

She stared at him. “you hunted me down, bullied me into a bike ride, and it was about my signature? our law-yers could have handled the issue in a second.”

“I like to use a hands-on approach. In all aspects.”

Julietta snorted. “Where do you come up with this stuff? It’s like a landmine of a conversation with you, all roads leading to sex.”

That got him. He lifted his brow and shifted his weight on the bench. “Is there something wrong with sex?”

She couldn’t help it. The dare was all over his face, and his desire to play her for a fool using business as an excuse burned within. Julietta moved in slowly and stopped inches from his mouth. His breath caught, then the sweet rush of air from him released over her lips, smelling of mint and sugar and sin. Her tongue slid out to lick her lower lip, and a tiny groan escaped him. Her hand rested on the hard muscle of his thigh and squeezed. “Nothing wrong with sex.

When the situation calls for it.”

His voice dragged like the scrape of gravel. “How about this situation?”

A husky laugh escaped her. “Not gonna happen when we’re working together.”

“you didn’t initial. Technically, the contract is void.”

She caressed upward over the sweep of denim, hit his belt buckle, and slipped her hand under the leather jacket.

This was now fun. Teasing a man and walking away was a game she rarely played, but he needed a lesson. Washboard abs tightened under her touch, and those amber eyes dark-ened. “Still not gonna happen.”

“Care to tell me why?”

She grinned with pure satisfaction, seduction, and a hint of tart. “The one with the biggest balls doesn’t always win, Sawyer Wells.”

He muttered a curse. “So who does?”

Julietta pursed her lips. “The one who can go the distance.”

Satisfaction poured through her. How was that for an innuendo? Heady with getting the last word, she began to pull back out of the danger zone.

Too late.

He moved so fast she never had a chance. With a strength that amazed her, he lifted her off the bench and onto his lap, holding her arms tight at her sides so she was a bit off balance. Her struggle was instinctual but quickly faded under his calm, implacable demeanor.

She had made a fatal mistake.

And now she was gonna pay.



The woman was driving him mad.

He was uncomfortably hard, his erection tortur-ing the hard denim and roaring for freedom. The wind caught her scent—full of leather and musk and cocoa— and drenched his nostrils, wrecking his brain and his dick in one effective swoop. Her body was trim yet full, from the curves of her breasts to the lush swell of her rear, now firmly cushioned in the notch of his thighs. Her face reflected the uncertainty of her position and a slight regret at pushing him too far. Good. At least the woman sensed his need to dominate and take. A crazy lust swirled through his system from the mind-blowing twist of hidden sensuality, cool snarkiness, and razor wit of the woman on his lap.

He had almost hit the floor when he pulled up on his bike and caught sight of her. Dressed in bad-ass black leather with thigh-high boots and her hair stuffed up in a red helmet, she was droolworthy. He didn’t know any woman who rode a bike, let alone appreciated them. The way she bore down in their race showed the hard-core spirit of a woman who enjoyed winning, and her ability to pick through every obstacle in front of her without slowing almost made him have an embarrassing situation.

Almost.

And she’d won. He revered a good competition and rarely lost. The idea she was even able to cross the finish line before him made him want to rip off her clothes and win in another way. A much more pleasant one.

He tightened his grip. He figured she wanted to taunt him, but now his goal was to make her mad enough to lose some of that precious control. For some reason, his gut told him anger would get past her barriers and allow some of that seething sexual energy to spout out. She held back bigtime, and there was something else other than the obstacle of business between them. Until he found out what, he wouldn’t be sleeping soundly at night.

Her hair had come undone—her clip had broken.

Sawyer had only before seen the coal-black strands neatly twisted up on the top of her head. What he now spotted sealed his decision to get her into his bed at all costs.

A shimmering waterfall of silk spilled past her shoulders and hit her waist. rapunzel hair. He had nasty visions of holding all that hair while she was on her knees taking him deep, of the glossy pin-straight strands brushing his thighs, his stomach, and his chest as she reared up over him.

For a second, his mind blanked, and he didn’t know if he was capable of not taking her right here in the public park.

Her clipped words dragged him back to the moment.

“What do you think you’re doing? Let me go; this is unprofessional.”

Damn, she was hot. He kept hold and chuckled. “And what you did was professional? Taunting me?”

She stuck out her chin. “you deserved it. you need to stop talking about sex in hidden meanings.”

“Fair enough. you’re wet, aren’t you?”

A combination of shock, outrage, and lust glimmered in her eyes. “you did not just say that to me,” she hissed. “you go too far.”

“your body gives you away.” He slid a hand over her rear, under her jacket, and around to her front where he cupped her breast. Her nipple stabbed into his palm past the fabric of her sweater, past the barrier of her bra, and demanded freedom. “I can see your pulse hammering at your neck. your nipples are stiff, your pupils are dilated, and you can’t catch your breath.”

“It’s cold and the ride was hard.”

His dick twitched. She was fucking magnificent, refusing to surrender even a bit. She could be his greatest challenge.

“I know another thing that’s hard,” he muttered.

“See! Another innuendo. Let me up.”

“one kiss.”

She stilled. Was that fear or regret on her face? What was she so nervous about? “Why?”

“Prove it. Prove you’re not interested right here, right now.”

She rolled her eyes. “you’ve dated too many blondes.

This has ‘sucker’ written all over it.”

Sawyer fought a grin. “you kiss me. Just once. you’re not into it, or me, I won’t push anymore. you hold the reins.”

“you won’t try to touch me?”

“Nope.” regretfully, he removed his hand from her breast and dropped his arms to the side. She shifted her weight so she wasn’t off balance, and Sawyer swallowed a painful groan.

“My terms? Then you leave me alone?”

“yes.”

A tiny frown creased her brow. He waited patiently until she finally nodded. “okay. Then we move on as business partners. No weird stuff.”

“Agreed.”

As if preparing for a test, she dragged in a breath, shut her eyes, and leaned forward. Her lips touched his, super soft and sweet, like the spun cotton candy he lusted after as a kid and beyond. Tentative. Honest. Pure.

Her body softened on his lap, and all the signs of her arousal flared to life. It took every ounce of power in his being to accept her kiss on her terms, but when she finally lifted her mouth, the surprise in those dark eyes told him more than he’d learned about her so far.

oh, yeah, she was afraid. of him. of her reaction. She wanted him as badly as he wanted her. But she didn’t know what to do with it, and there was a major blockage in the way of her physical reaction, as if she didn’t allow herself to ever slip over the edge of not being in control.

Another piece of the puzzle slid into place.

She drew back. Her tongue slid over her bottom lip and probably caught his taste, since her body gave a tiny little shudder. Sawyer realized that chaste kiss was sexier than an openmouthed, tongue-mingling mating, because it was the first time she’d given him something on her own.

He swore she’d be giving him a hell of a lot more.

“okay? Satisfied?”

“yes.”

She hesitated, as if not trusting him to give up so easily.

But she quickly pulled herself together, scrambled off his lap, and began packing up the bag. “We better go. It’ll be dark soon.”

He didn’t answer. They threw out the trash, walked to their bikes, and donned their gloves. “Thanks for letting me ride with you. I’ll express the page to your office and have my assistant come get it when you’re done.”

“Fine.” She tried to stuff her glorious hair back into the helmet, and Sawyer caught the tremble in her fingers. “I assume you’ll stick with your word and not bother me again in a—personal way?”

“No.”

Her head shot up. “What?”

He rocked back on his heels, enjoying the hell out of her. “I said if you didn’t respond to that kiss, on your terms, I’d leave you alone. But you did. you want me just as badly as I want you.”

Her mouth dropped open, then closed with a snap. She fisted her hands. “I didn’t respond! I told you I’m not interested in taking this relationship into the bedroom, and you need to respect that. Porca vacca, you are unbelievable!”

He grinned. “That kiss proved a lot of things, including your interest. Something’s holding you back though; I’m just not sure what it is. But your comment made a lot of sense to me. It’s not about having balls.”

“Huh?”

He gave a wink. “It’s about going the distance. Which I intend to go with you. See you Monday.”

He slid onto his bike, revved it up, and roared down the pathway, leaving her standing by the castle in the dying sun with a shocked look on her face.

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