The Sicilian's Marriage Arrangement(7)

By: Lucy Monroe

Wetness splashed down her cheeks.

She’d heard it all while circulating among the guests. People had gone out of their way to speak loudly enough so she could not help overhearing. Some had made jokes to her face. A few of the male guests had offered to take on where Luciano had left off.

Grandfather remained blissfully ignorant, having closeted himself in the study with a businessman from Japan after the official New Year’s toast. If she had anything to say about it, he would remain that way.

Luciano, the rat, had left the party within minutes of his humiliating rejection of her.

Even the joy of being kissed with such heady abandon by the one man she had ever wanted could not overshadow her degradation at his hands in front of a room filled with her grandfather’s guests. She hated Luciano di Valerio. She really did.

She hoped she never saw him again.

“The shares are not for sale.”

Luciano studied the man who had just spoken, looking for a chink in the old man’s business armor, but Reynolds was a wily campaigner and not a speck of interest or emotion reflected in his gray eyes.

“I will pay you double what you gave my uncle for them.” He’d already offered a fifty-percent return on investment. To no avail.

Reynolds shook his head. “I don’t need more money.”

The words were said with just enough emphasis to make a very pertinent point. Whatever Joshua Reynolds wanted in exchange for those shares, it wasn’t money and he could afford to turn down Luciano’s best offer.

“Then, signor, what is that you do need?” he asked, taking the bait.

“A husband for my granddaughter.”

Impossible! “Che cosa?”

Joshua leaned back in his chair, his hands resting lightly on his oversize executive desk. “I’m getting on in years. I want to make sure I leave Hope taken care of. Regardless of what young women these days believe, and young men when it comes to it—that means seeing her married.”

“I do not think your granddaughter would agree with you.”

“Getting her to agree is your job. The girl doesn’t know what is best for her. She spends all her free time working for the women’s shelter, or the local animal shelter, or doing things like answering phones for the annual MDA telethon. She’s a worse bleeding heart than her grandmother ever was.”

And it was unlikely she found the slightest understanding from the ruthless old bastard sitting across from Luciano. “Are you saying that Hope doesn’t know you’re trying to buy her a husband?”

“I’m not interested in discussing what my granddaughter knows or doesn’t know. If you want those shares, you’re going to have to marry her to get them.”

The shares in question were for the original family-held Valerio Shipping, a company started by his great-grandfather and passed through each successive generation. While it rankled, having a nonfamily member holding a significant chunk of stock was not the end of the world.

He stood. “Keep the shares. I am not for sale.”

“But Valerio Shipping is.”

The words stopped Luciano at the door. He turned. “It is not. I would never countenance the sale of my family’s company.” Although his interests in Valerio Shipping represented a miniscule portion of his business holdings, his family pride would never allow him to offload it.

“You won’t be able to stop me.”

“My uncle did not hold majority stock in the company.” But the fool had sold the large block he had held to Joshua Reynolds rather than approach his nephew when gambling debts had made him desperate for cash.

“No, but with the proxy of some of your distant cousins as well as the stock I have procured from those willing to sell, I do control enough shares in the company to do what I damn well please with it.”

“I do not believe you.” Many of those distant cousins had emigrated, but he could not believe they were so lost to family pride as to give an outsider their proxy or worse, sell their portion of Valerio Shipping to him.

His uncle he could almost believe. The man was addicted to wine, women and casinos. He had the self-discipline of a four-year-old and that was probably giving the man more credit than he deserved.

Reynolds tossed a report on the desk. “Read it.”

Luciano hid his mounting fury as he crossed the room and then lifted the report to read. He did not sit down, but flipped through the pages while still standing. Outraged pride grew with each successive page and coalesced into lava like fury when he read the final page.

It was a recommendation by Joshua Reynolds to merge with Valerio Shipping’s number one competitor. If that were not bad enough, it was clear that while the other company would maintain their business identity, Valerio Shipping would cease to exist.