The Marriage Merger

By: Jennifer Probst

Chapter Seven


Julietta stared out the window and looked at the gray, misty scene before her. Motorbikes whipped in and out of the roadways and fought with the crowds. Almost lunch-time. Many people held cups of cappuccino in hand, smok-ing furiously and ducking their heads from the drizzle of rain. The Duomo rose in the distance, and for a moment, she wished she were one of her younger sisters. Venezia would bound toward the elaborate shopping galleries and get lost in Prada, Armani, and Dolce & Gabbana. Carina would take a stroll on the uneven pavements, nibbling on a buttery pastry and enjoying the scene before her, rain and all.

She bit back a sigh and glanced at the massive stack of papers on her desk. Not her. She’d eat again in her office, soothe some cranky egos from the board since allowing Wolfe to be her liaison in the project, and crunch numbers.

The advertising plan needed to be nailed down soon in order to prepare for a quick opening. Sales were down in Firenze for some strange reason, and she needed a conference call with the chef.

She pressed her palm flat against the cool pane of glass and thought again of the other offer before her.

one night with Sawyer.

It had been nearly a week since their encounter. Five full days of no close interaction—just a glance from the end of a conference table. Five days since he touched her and kissed her and boldly propositioned her with sex. Her rational mind raged at his crudity and obvious dismissal of the polite rules of society and work.

The other part of her relished the dark freedom.

She turned from the window and adjusted the few frames on her desk that kept getting misaligned. What was wrong with her lately? Usually work satisfied every aspect in her life. During yesterday’s meeting, she found her gaze attached to Sawyer. especially the tight ass muscles his custom Calvin Klein suit enhanced. And damned if he hadn’t turned around and given her that dirty little smile. Like he knew what she was thinking. Imagining. Fantasizing about.

And what he refused to give her until she agreed to his ridiculous terms.

So embarrassing.

She told herself over and over he played a game of ego and ruthlessness. Why did he want to give her an orgasm so badly? Why did he care? And yet . . . the lure of one night with him taunted her sanity. Maybe if she gave him the opportunity, everything would go back to normal? Couldn’t it be a win/win for her?

She paced back and forth and analyzed the details.

Maybe there was room for negotiation. He’d do his best to give her physical pleasure, and if she couldn’t . . . well, climax . . . she’d have full control over the bakery’s terms in Purity.

Asset number one.

Sure, it could be a bit awkward, but she’d already warned him about her inability to relax, and a few hours of being uncomfortable would be worth the reward. Her mind sliced through the options and switched to devil’s advocate.

What if she did have an orgasm?

Her belly dipped at the tantalizing image of pleasure.

Well, that would be great, right? Maybe she’d finally get her head back in the game of business. After all, couldn’t one orgasm last her a long time? Kind of like inventory.

Her body would be more loose, she’d have the satisfaction she was normal, and she’d move on. yes, he’d still retain full rights of final approval. Unless . . .

What if she raised the stakes? Made it more difficult for him to achieve his goal?

After all, if he was able to rise to the new terms, she’d deserve to lose. Her gut said it’d be an impossible task for him to accomplish. even if he managed to get her to slide over the cliff once, he’d never, ever make her come twice.

right?

She tapped her fingernail against her bottom lip and scanned all possibilities. Could she get him to agree? yes, challenging his ego and giving him an unreachable goal would call to his sense of dominance. A shiver raced down her spine. And she knew he’d be dominant in private. Just the way he’d restrained her wrists and gotten that gleam of lust in his eyes made her wet. She sensed he’d go for the new terms and lose. Maybe she’d get one orgasm and score the contract also.

Win/win.

As if her thoughts conjured him up, her secretary buzzed her. “Mr. Wells is here to see you. Can I send him in?”

Julietta tamped down the girly impulse to check her hair and makeup, though she hardly wore any, and cleared her throat. “yes, please.”

She didn’t have a magic door, so she settled back in her burgundy leather chair, straightened herself to full height, and pretended to be engaged in her folders. He entered silently, as if he practiced burglary in his spare time, and the only way she knew he was in front of her was the pull of his body heat and the delicious smell of spice he carried on his skin. She lifted her head, a polite smile on her face, and froze.

He was so gorgeous. Would she ever get used to that face?

His smoke-gray cashmere coat set off a red plaid scarf and the golden halo of his wavy hair. His tall, lean length held a restrained strength she found both appealing and intimidating. As if he didn’t need to show off for anyone because he possessed the real thing. The slash of his scar only emphasized the graceful lines of his face, reminding her that underneath his civilized, graceful veneer, something savage lurked. Her throat grew dry as she tried to find some spit and found it had disappeared. Without missing a beat, Sawyer crossed the room, propped two hands on her sprawl-ing mahogany desk, and leaned in. Butterscotch eyes delved straight into hers without hesitation or apology. As if he’d been patiently waiting for her answer and was now done.

“Well?”

Some weird noise squeaked from her throat. She dropped the folders she was holding and rallied. “Well, what?”

His lip quirked. “Have you approved the final layout?

The builders need to set up the proper space for equipment for the pedestrian store.”

Disappointment tweaked at his focus on business.

Stupid to believe he’d come here for something else. She shook off her thoughts and squinted in consideration. “I prefer the right corner. Studies have proven that locations in lobbies propel more impulse buys.”

“Not in this case. La Dolce Maggie owns the same spot in the Venetian and sales are rocketing.”

“This isn’t America,” she retorted. “Milano is a hard city to conquer, especially with a hotel with American in-fluences. you may get the tourists, but pastry buyers prefer a window shop on the right.”

His teeth flashed from the wolfish grin. “Perhaps. But I already have a use for that prime space. you can make it up in other ways—you don’t have to rely on passersby for main profits any longer.”

Irritation pricked her nerves. “An interesting but com-pletely inane opinion.”

one golden brow arched. “Inane, huh?”

She smoothly continued. “The impulse buyer hap-pens to bring a high level of profit we don’t want to lose.

especially since, as you Americans like to say, we have our eggs in one basket.”

“But it’s a hell of a basket.”

The wicked curl of seduction tipped his words. She ignored it, but her heart pounded anyway. “Perhaps. Though a bit small.”

His bark of laughter startled her. Julietta fought a flush of pleasure at her ability to make him laugh. He drew his hands back and slowly unknotted his scarf. Slid off his coat and hung it neatly on the back of the chair. Why did this basic stripping of outer clothes affect her like this? As if she was in his private bedroom waiting for the finale. Her gaze probed his clothes as she wondered what type of body he sported beneath the thin fabric. His muscles seemed tight in all the right places. When he’d pinned her against the wall, everything felt rock hard and powerful.

“Now that was an interesting thought,” he murmured.

This time, she blushed. Hurriedly ducking her head, she pretended to neaten the pile of papers before swiveling the chair around. The massive desk hid most of her body and gave her a layer of protection she badly needed. “So, can we adjust our original location?”

“No.”

She stiffened. “Why not?”

He adjusted his cuffs as if he had all the time in the world. “Because I don’t want to. My plan will work bet-ter.”

“What if I disagree with your opinion?” She rolled the last word around in mockery to make her point.

He gave a half shrug. “I don’t care. Final approval, remember?”

Julietta sucked in a breath. “Are you using this as leverage for your ridiculous offer?”

Humor glinted in his eyes. “I don’t need leverage, Julietta. Personal relationships do not have to affect my business ventures. In this case, I want you badly enough to take a gamble.” His obvious ease with admitting he wanted to take her to bed reminded her she was sparring with an expert. And for one crazy moment, she wanted to play in a different arena. Wanted to leap and take a chance on something that scared the crap out of her.

Her protective stance behind her desk suddenly seemed like a prison. She got to her feet and moved, keeping a safe distance between them. His obvious amusement raised her hackles again and she blurted out the words to push him off guard. “Let’s negotiate terms.”

“I told you. The space decision is final.”

“I’m talking about our night together.”

That did it. Surprise flitted across his carved features.

“you want to discuss bullet points?”

She ignored his question and sank into the world where she was most comfortable. Business. Her heels tapped on the polished wood as she paced with slow, steady movements. “of course. I’ve been thinking about your offer. At first glance, it seems like a solid compromise due to my inability to reach certain physical aspects most other women are able to achieve.”

He shook his head, crossed his arms in front of his chest, and stared. “I hear a ‘but’ in there.”

“But I feel it’s too easy of a mark for you to hit. I think by raising the terms to two orgasms, it will be a fairer competition for either of us to win.”

His mouth opened but nothing came out. Satisfaction coursed through her at his sudden inability to speak. About time she finally grabbed the upper hand. He finally found his voice. “We’re negotiating the number of orgasms now?”

She frowned. “of course. I didn’t limit your option clause to specified use of any toys, so really, you may pull out an advantage. And let’s be honest, shall we? Achieving one orgasm may be difficult but achievable with the focus of an estimated eight hours. Two would be much harder and bring us on a more equal playing field.”

“Holy shit. you’re not kidding.”

Annoyance fluttered through her. “I’m sorry, perhaps I was mistaken. Was this a negotiable, valid offer or not?”

He let out a deep belly laugh, the rich tone booming and pumping the room with life. “God, you’re magnificent,” he murmured. Suddenly, the laughter faded and was replaced by a glimmer of hard lust. Her toes curled in her bone-colored pumps. “you are correct, Julietta. This is a valid offer and negotiations are definitely in play.”

Her confidence wobbled. Why did it feel like he was back in charge? She reminded herself to stick to business and not get distracted by his sexiness. After all, he probably used such assets to his advantage. “Very good. I believe we should raise the limit from one to two.”

“Done.”

She blinked. Way too easy. Why did he seem so danger-ous? His tongue wet his bottom lip as if imagining her taste when he finally pounced. “oh. Well, good. Then I guess we have a deal.”

“oh, we’re not finished.” Sawyer moved toward her a few steps and studied her face. “I assume, first off, this will not be a written contract, but verbal?”

She fought the blush this time and won. “yes, I trust your word and would rather this deal not be in ink.”

“Agreed.” one more step in. She slid her foot back in a casual manner and gained another inch of distance. “Time is important. you mentioned eight hours. I think we should be more specific—let’s say eight p.m. to eight a.m. for a full twelve hours.”

“Uh, I don’t think I should be staying overnight. or sleeping in your bed. How about eight to two?”

“Nonnegotiable. I’ll need a certain amount of intimacy to have a fair shot at getting you two orgasms. you will stay the night.”

She hated the idea and had been hoping to scurry out before the morning light. “I’ll agree to six a.m., but no later.”

Was that pride reflected in his face or her imagination?

“Agreed. Let’s discuss location. Where shall this take place?

your apartment?”

Julietta frowned. “No. It should be on neutral territory.”

“I’ll book a hotel.”

She dragged her other foot back. “I don’t want any gossip. Discreetness is key.”

“I promise to take care of it. Do you trust me?”

Did she? Did she trust him to keep her secret safe, along with the use of her body? yes. The word floated from her gut and she didn’t question it. Julietta had learned the hard way to always trust her instincts, whether she wanted to or not. “yes.”

Satisfaction gleamed from his eyes. He moved forward three steps. “Thank you.”

Her fingers curled into tight fists. “Prego. Anything else?”

“yes. Methods.”

Mio Dio. “What type of methods?”

An intimate smile curved his lips. “Am I allowed to use toys? or just my fingers and mouth?”

Her heart thundered so loud she heard the boom, boom, boom echo in the room. The idea of him using a vibrator on her was too much to handle. She shook her head. “No, no toys. It gives you an unfair advantage.”

“Hmm, I’m tempted to fight you on this point. I can further your pleasure and take you higher.”

Perspiration dampened her palms. “No, thank you.”

“Very well. It will give me something to work for.”

Not able to take his closeness, she pivoted and practi-cally raced back toward the safety of her desk. “Good. I think that’s it. I should get back to work.”

His voice was whisper soft. “When?”

She dived into the chair. “Saturday night?”

“Done. oh, and one more thing, Julietta. It’s a rule and I won’t bend on this one.”

Her stomach dropped. “What rule?”

Slowly, he moved toward her. Her haven became a prison as he came around the desk, grasped the supple leather arms of the chair, and swiveled her around to face him head-on. Thoughts emptied from her head and turned her into a wide-eyed idiot. His scent swarmed her nostrils, and he dragged the chair a few inches forward. Leaned in.

Stopped a hair’s breadth from her lips.

“I’m in charge. The moment you enter that door, your body belongs to me. I tell you to do something, you must agree to do it.”

She trembled. “That’s ridiculous. I’m not going to do everything you say.”

“Then no deal.”

His gaze drilled hers and confirmed there was no back-ing down. All or nothing. “What if I’m uncomfortable or scared?”

His face softened. He ran an index finger over the curve of her lip. “I’d never hurt you. I’ll give you a way to slow things down, or stop, but you need to trust me.”

There was that word again. Trust. Trust a man with a savage scar and no past, who was a sexual force to be reckoned with. Again her gut screamed the answer, and the word broke from her lips.

“Va bene.”

The triumph in those butterscotch eyes almost made her withdraw her consent. Almost. He must have known she was tempted, because with one last stroke of his fingers, he pulled back and gave her space. “Saturday night, then. I’ll let you know where to meet me.” He shrugged on his coat, twirled the scarf around his neck, and headed toward the door. “Let me know if you have any problems with Wolfe. I’ll be in touch.”

He walked out without another word.

Julietta shuddered and wondered if she’d just made a bargain with Hades himself.



“I don’t want this kid involved.”

Julietta held back a sigh and faced her long-term, opinionated director of marketing. She’d never particularly cared for him, even if he was good at his job. She found him a bit snobby, with his designer clothes, his perfect posture, and his tendency to pass judgment on everyone. He was probably the biggest gossip in the place, and most of the female employees panted after him. She took in his crisp blue suit, Gucci boots, and stylish Stone rose pink shirt. Dark hair was cut ruthlessly short to accent riveting green eyes and a sculpted mouth.

Julietta found that so-called sensual mouth quite sulky and his voice whiny. He liked getting his way just to say he could.

He adjusted his diamond cuff links and jerked his head toward the closed door of the conference room. “He looks like a criminal. I’m certainly not working with a teenager with an attitude problem.”

Julietta tamped down her impatience. “you don’t have to work with him long term, Marcus. He’ll have little to do with marketing—he’s here to help us transition and get on board with the Purity vision. We sell Purity, we sell La Dolce Famiglia. Simple math.”

The famous pout appeared. “I run my team and don’t need interference. The campaign with your mother as the main draw was a big seller. Moving into the hotel industry and targeting a larger catering, leisure audience will be a challenge, so we’ll need to come up with something fresh. I have an idea in the works.”

“Fine. Can you have your presentation ready for next week?

“Absolutely.”

She nodded. “Let me know if you run into any problems.” He glided out of the office and stopped short as the door swung open before him. Wolfe trudged in. His large gold hoop earring winked, and crazy spiked strands of hair shot toward the sky. The shaven-clean half of his skull only added to the bizarre effect. Funny, she was beginning to like having him around. Besides adding some local color, he seemed amazingly sharp and to the point, and had no ego to deal with.

Marcus backed up as if he was afraid to get pickpock-eted. A sneer curved the younger man’s lips. “Hey, Mark.”

Marcus shuddered delicately. “It’s Marcus.”

“Whatever.” Wolfe bumped into her director without apology and took a seat at the table. Marcus brushed his clothes off and glared. “Listen, enzo doesn’t want to work with me. Says he can’t trust me with the latest sales figures.

Probably thinks I’ll sell them to Princi Bakery and finance my new tattoo.” Julietta bit her lip and held back a laugh at Marcus’s horrified expression. “This isn’t gonna work. I respect you for trying, but I’m not up for a fight every time I go into a new office and ask for information. I’ll go back to headquarters and let Sawyer know.”

Marcus muttered something under his breath in obvious relief.

“Absolutely not.”

Both males turned toward her. She pivoted her headset closer and tapped a button. “I want heads of all departments in my conference room now. Pull them out of any meetings and be here in fifteen minutes.”

Her secretary responded immediately. “yes, Ms. Conte.”

Julietta directed her attention to Marcus. “Do you think I would throw someone I don’t trust into one of the most important deals this bakery has ever made?” Her frosty tone hit the mark. He blanched and glanced down at Wolfe in distaste. “Do you think I care he’s a decade younger and has a penchant for facial jewelry? He’s worked with Sawyer and is willing to help us move forward. He knows the vision we’re after, and I need everyone to get on board.”

Marcus stiffened. “I don’t appreciate his rudeness, un-professionalism, or your willingness to shove a stranger into a tight family circle.”

Julietta nodded. “Fair enough. I respect you, Marcus, and I agree. We need to work together in a strong envi-ronment.” Her gaze settled on the young man currently slouched in his seat and sporting a classic, conservative black suit that only made him stand out more. “Wolfe, you don’t need to like everyone here, but I expect you to respect a department head’s position. Agreed?”

She waited. Wondered if he’d walk out with a surly in-sult. Instead, he seemed to analyze her words with an assessing air that told her he’d be brilliant in the business world when he grew into his own talents. He held the same type of restrained wildness Sawyer did, but Wolfe was young and hadn’t yet been able to weave it into the fabric of society.

The kid turned and faced her director.

“I apologize.”

That was it. No more excuses, whining, or explanations.

Marcus still didn’t look happy, but he gave a curt nod. A strange rush of pride filled her for the boy’s courage. “Good.

Can you leave us alone for a few minutes, Marcus?”

He left the conference room. Wolfe shifted in his seat, obviously expecting some sort of retribution. The uneasy silence thickened the air. Julietta studied the boy. How far could she push? A level of trust was needed in the relationship between them if they were to move forward.

odd, a work bond was just as important as a personal one— sometimes more so. Long hours, stressful situations, and endless decisions regarding money and time were key. She handpicked her employees and made sure they bonded, or the end result was failure and messiness. She had ten minutes to decide before the employees came in.

Julietta plucked the headset off and settled in the chair opposite him. every muscle in his body stiffened as if he were preparing for a beating. Her heart squeezed. She wondered if he had the stamina to push past his distance and give her something precious. Something that might hurt.

“I want to work with you, Wolfe. I’m ready to back you to my team so you’ll never have trouble here again. you’ll be part of the group and be involved in all decisions with La Dolce Famiglia and Purity. you’ll earn their respect if you’re good. But I need to know if I can trust you.”

He gave a bitter laugh. “yeah, sure. Like anyone’s gonna trust me anyway. This whole thing was a mistake. I don’t belong here.”

The ravaged emotion in those blue eyes hit her like a sucker punch. But he didn’t need her pity or her sympathy.

His past was clearly a minefield of crap, and he’d do best if she kept it straight and to the point. “I don’t know your history, and I don’t care to. How you deal with me and my staff is all I care about. Make yourself belong if this is something you want to do.”

Wolfe lifted his head and studied her. She had gained his full attention and didn’t plan on squandering the time.

“Sawyer probably didn’t belong either, but he forced his way in. When I faced a wall of male employees who told me I couldn’t run a business because I didn’t own a penis, I didn’t belong either. I carved my own place. you can, too.”

“How?”

His honest question gave her hope. “I’ll give you my full support on one condition.”

A frown marred his brow. Suspicion laced his tone.

“What condition?”

“Give me one reason to trust you. Just between us, and everything stays here at this table. Why should I let you help lead a multimillion-dollar deal?”

He flinched. “What kind of question is that? you either trust me or you don’t.”

She shook her head. “No. Trust is earned. Give me something—a piece of truth—an admission no one else knows.

Tell me why you should stay on your own accord and not because Sawyer is letting you play on the business ground.”

Seconds ticked. His face clearly showed the struggle to either share something he didn’t want or walk away.

He shifted in his chair, got to his feet, stopped, and cursed under his breath. Julietta made her own leap and gave him the push he needed.

“I was twenty-two when I started working with my brother. I knew I had a lot to prove, and I swore I’d make him proud of me. I worked harder and longer hours than anyone else, studied the industry, and took a lot of crap from the executives who didn’t think I belonged here. one night I was working late and an exec from advertising fol-lowed me into my office.” God, she still remembered the scent of his overpowering cologne and the fake smile on his lips. His eyes gleamed with a coldness that froze her in place. even as he pretended to make small talk as he sat on the edge of the desk. Touched her hair. Focused his greedy stare on the edge of her skirt. Hot breath against her mouth and grabby hands on her thighs.

“He tried to force himself on me. I got lucky. one of the cleaning people heard me and burst in before anything hap-pened.” Her composed tone contradicted the deep shudder that wracked her body. “I pressed charges, but they were dropped. The executive got fired. And I learned the lesson.

It didn’t matter if I was smarter, worked harder, or was even more deserving. It only mattered what he saw—a silly female sex object not worthy of this company or his respect.”

She shrugged. “That episode made me stronger. I can’t change anyone’s opinions, but I sure as hell won’t let them screw me just because they think they can. That’s my truth.”

Wolfe didn’t move. She locked her gaze with his and waited. His fingers fisted, and she watched as the memories struggled to surface—watched his internal struggle—and the control he used to compose himself. He clenched his jaw.

“I’ve been to hell. I got out. I’m never going back.” Wolfe swallowed. “I had no place to go, so I tried to steal from Sawyer and got caught. Most rich guys would’ve locked me in jail and pressed charges. Instead, he offered to take me in. Gave me a job and a chance to learn the business. He didn’t even know anything about me, yet he gave me more than anyone had in this lifetime. A chance. you can trust me because any other way is back to hell.”

“Is it just about a job? or something more?”

Again, he gave her the priceless gift of truth. “It started as the job, but now it’s more. We’ve been together almost a year now. He’s the smartest man I’ve ever met, and he’s fair.” He ducked his head and his voice broke. “I don’t want to disappoint him.”

Her chest hurt, so she breathed carefully, kept her face impassive, and nodded. “you won’t. you show the skills of someone much older and wiser, and you’ve seen the other side, so you’ll never take anything for granted. you’re the type of man I want on my team.”

He looked up. Nodded. She caught the tiny smile on his face as he sat back down in the chair, making his own decision to stay. “Grazie.”

Damn, she liked him. Bristly and honest and real.

“Prego.”

“Julietta?”

“yes?”

“What’s the name of the guy who hurt you? Maybe someone should pay him a visit?”

Startled, she laughed with delight at his sudden protectiveness so ingrained in the male species. Another thing to like about him—once he trusted, he’d be loyal to the core.

“No worries. Michael allowed the charges to be dropped for a good reason. Let’s just say my older brother knows people. At least the exec’s hospital stay was quite short.”

“Good.” He gave a half grin. “Italians are definitely the best in the area of payback. I’ve watched the Godfather and Goodfellas a bunch of times.”

She was still laughing when her employees streamed into the room. They threw odd glances at both of them as they took their seats and waited for her to speak. Julietta moved to the head of the table and smiled.

This was going to be fun.

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