The Sicilian's Marriage Arrangement(56)

By: Lucy Monroe


Four words she’d longed to hear since she was five years old and lost both parents. They touched her now, healed some things inside her, but could not soothe the pain from Luciano’s rejection and her grandfather’s part in it.

“I love you, too,” she said nevertheless.

He cleared his throat, the sound harsh. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“I can see that.”

They hung up, her grandfather sounding not quite his normal confident, gruff self.

She decided to take a walk and slipped her feet into a pair of sandals. Once she was beyond the formal gardens surrounding the villa, she let her feet wander where they would.

So many things were tumbling through her mind, she couldn’t hold a single thought for longer than a second.

Luciano had been blackmailed into marrying her. She had no right to hold him, even less chance at securing his love. How could he come to love a woman he associated with the pegging down of his pride?

He’d forgotten about getting her pregnant, but now that she was, he wanted to stay married. She’d been humiliated to realize her marriage was the result of little more than a business arrangement between two powerful men, but this made it worse. For him to stay with her, to want her only for the life she carried inside of her was a total denial of herself as a woman.

Luciano had believed she was part of the plot and felt made a fool of because of it. So he had hurt her. He was sorry now and both he and Zia denied having slept together. Hope believed them. She remembered how sexually hungry Luciano had been his first night back from New York. He was hopelessly oversexed anyway, but that night, he had been desperate for her. That was not the response of a man getting all the sex he wanted from his ex-girlfriend.

Where did Hope’s love for him fit into all this? She was pregnant with his child, but was that enough to keep a marriage that was nothing more than an arrangement together?

No.

But her love and his sincerity might be.

He was right. They’d spent too much time alone lately. If he was serious about trying, she didn’t see that she had much choice because to contemplate life without Luciano was to contemplate a pain she did not want to bear.

She headed back to the house, determined to find Luciano and finish their discussion.

She found him on a lounger by the pool. He hadn’t changed clothes and his expression was bleak.

“Luciano.”

He looked up.

“We need to talk.”

He nodded. “Where?”

He was asking her? “Can we go back to our room? It’s the only place we’re sure not to be overheard by your mother or Martina when they get back from shopping.”

He stood up and took her arm. She didn’t fight his touch now and some tension drained from him, not all, but some.

When they reached their small sala, he led her to the sofa where he sat and pulled her down beside him.

“What have you decided?”

“Tell me again why you were with Zia.”

“I wanted you to believe I was having an affair.” He took her hands in his, his grip crushing. “But I swear this is not true. I want no other woman, have not since New Year’s Eve.”

Was he saying he’d been celibate for six months before his pursuit of her? “No other woman…at all…since then?”

“None,” he confirmed.

That meant something, but she wasn’t sure what yet.

“You wanted me to think you and Zia were back together because you wanted to get back at my grandfather and me?”

He shook his head. “I was devastated by the belief you had been part of the blackmail scheme. Hurt. When I hurt, I lash out. I did not think it through, I just did it. By the time I came back from New York, I knew I did not want you to believe I had broken my promise.”

“But you neglected to tell Zia, so when I called and she answered, she played it up,” Hope guessed.

Luciano nodded, his mouth twisting. “Much to my detriment.”

“I want to believe you.” She ached to believe him.

“But,” he prompted.

“You broke your other promise. The one about treasuring my love.” She tried to pull her hands away at the painful memory, but he would not let go.

“No, I did not. In my heart, I always treasured your love and when you stopped saying the words, it hurt more than I wanted to admit. I made love to you frequently to assure myself that if nothing else, the passion between us was real and honest. That you wanted me even if you did not love me.”

The words sounded so like the way she’d been feeling that she choked on her next question. “So, I wasn’t just a convenience you used to assuage your strong sexual appetite?”