Bound by their nine mont.., p.1

Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal, page 1

 

Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal
 


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Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal


  Her bombshell: “I’m pregnant.”

  His demand: “Marry me...”

  Painfully insecure and media-shy heiress Pia is duty-bound to marry well. So illegitimate Angelo is completely unsuitable husband material. Yet this irresistible Spanish tech tycoon seduces Pia with an evening of bliss...that leaves her pregnant!

  Pia can’t afford a scandal, but Angelo wants to publicly claim his heir. Now to control the headlines, Pia must wed the only man who has ever made her feel. With Angelo posing a danger to her well-guarded heart, can she step into the spotlight—with the wedding of the century?

  Angelo seemed to eat up all the air as he closed the door behind him.

  He was taller than Pia, which made him well over six feet. His air of watchfulness was intimidating, too, especially when he trained his laser-blue eyes on her again.

  “Your card was very cryptic,” he said.

  Pia had spent a long time composing it. She had many questions, but didn’t ask them yet. There was every chance she would never see him again after she told him why she had reached out.

  Memories of their intimacy that night accosted her daily. It was top of her mind now, which put her at a further disadvantage. Her only recourse was to do what she always did when she was uncomfortable—hide behind a curtain of reserve and speak her piece as matter-of-factly as possible.

  “I’ll come straight to the point.” She hitched her hip on the edge of her desk and set her clammy palms together, affecting indifference while fighting to keep a quaver from her voice.

  “I’m pregnant. It’s yours.”

  One Night With Consequences

  When one night...leads to pregnancy!

  When succumbing to a night of unbridled desire, it’s impossible to think past the morning after!

  But with the sheets barely settled, that little blue line appears on the pregnancy test, and it doesn’t take long to realize that one night of white-hot passion has turned into a lifetime of consequences!

  Only one question remains:

  How do you tell a man you’ve just met that you’re about to share more than just his bed?

  Find out in:

  The Italian’s Twin Consequences

  by Caitlin Crews

  Greek’s Baby of Redemption

  by Kate Hewitt

  His Two Royal Secrets

  by Caitlin Crews

  The Argentinian’s Baby of Scandal

  by Sharon Kendrick

  His Cinderella’s One-Night Heir

  by Lynne Graham

  The Sicilian’s Surprise Love-Child

  by Carol Marinelli

  Look for more One Night With Consequences stories coming soon!

  Dani Collins

  Bound by Their Nine-Month Scandal

  Canadian Dani Collins knew in high school that she wanted to write romance for a living. Twenty-five years later, after marrying her high school sweetheart, having two kids with him, working at several generic office jobs and submitting countless manuscripts, she got The Call. Her first Harlequin novel won the Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best First in Series from RT Book Reviews. She now works in her own office, writing romance.

  Books by Dani Collins

  Harlequin Presents

  Untouched Until Her Ultra-Rich Husband

  Conveniently Wed!

  Claiming His Christmas Wife

  One Night With Consequences

  Consequence of His Revenge

  Secret Heirs of Billionaires

  The Maid’s Spanish Secret

  Bound to the Desert King

  Sheikh’s Princess of Convenience

  Innocents for Billionaires

  A Virgin to Redeem the Billionaire

  Innocent’s Nine-Month Scandal

  Visit the Author Profile page at Harlequin.com for more titles.

  For my wonderful readers. You make this possible. Thank you!

  Contents

  CHAPTER ONE

  CHAPTER TWO

  CHAPTER THREE

  CHAPTER FOUR

  CHAPTER FIVE

  CHAPTER SIX

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  CHAPTER NINE

  CHAPTER TEN

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  EPILOGUE

  EXCERPT FROM CONFESSIONS OF A PREGNANT CINDERELLA BY ABBY GREEN

  CHAPTER ONE

  PIA MONTERO FEARED her sister-in-law’s masquerade ball would be interminable, and it was, but not for the reason she had anticipated.

  The October evening was cool, but dry. Guests had embraced the chance to cast off tuxedos and backless couture for something more exciting. Women twirled in overblown gowns with bell skirts, elaborate wigs and feathered headdresses. Men stalked in colorful brocade jackets with epaulettes and lace cuffs and short pants with stockings. Some even wore the traje de luces of a bullfighter with horned masks.

  The masks were works of art. A few had cat ears and bird beaks, some covered an entire face, others were part of a jester hat with bells dangling from the cockscomb. Some were made from handblown Venetian glass, others were made of lace or satin and adorned with feathers and flowers, beads and sequins.

  There were prizes for best costumes, but Pia had chosen to forfeit. She wore an understated gown in indigo topped with a purple velvet jacket. Her mask was a conservative cat’s eye in molded silk painted with musical notes and roses, ideal for blending in.

  She wished now that she’d chosen a full face mask as she watched a gold-lipped cherry blossom porcelain canvas swirl by. It would have allowed her to hide her thoughts behind a physical mask, rather than having to maintain the aloof expression she had practiced in the mirror at boarding school, back when she’d been hiding hurt feelings over everything, most especially being noticed.

  Even when girls had stuck up for her back then, saying, “She’s shy. Leave her alone,” Pia had blushed and burned behind her breastbone, wishing herself into a hole in the ground because someone had looked at her.

  Misery did not love company, as it turned out. She’d been lonely her entire childhood, too awkward to make friends and ridiculously smart, which had made her an academic rival, bookish and superior on top of all the rest.

  Her saving grace was her bloodline. She came from Spain’s aristocracy. Her parents were the Duque and Duquessa of Castellon, her father an innovator in industrial metals who had become a well-respected, elected member of parliament once his sons were old enough to take the reins on what was now a multinational corporation.

  Pia was also reasonably attractive—not that she played it up. She eschewed makeup and designer wear, seeing little point in trying to attract a boyfriend when her mother would ultimately assign her a husband.

  Which La Reina Montero was trying to do right now, turning a perfectly tolerable evening into something Pia struggled to bear.

  “I’d prefer to wait until January, after I’ve defended my dissertation,” Pia said, and braced herself, but it still stung when she received the expected tsk of tested tolerance.

  Pia’s brothers were chemical engineers, both unmarried until they were thirty, but Pia’s accelerated study pace and soon-to-be-achieved doctorate only “wasted her best years,” according to her mother.

  “These things take time,” her mother insisted. “Signal your interest. Was that the Estrada heir?”

  Please no. Sebastián was decent enough, but he talked nonstop.

  “His outgoing nature would balance your introversion. Yo
u’ll have to work on that so you can host galas like this.”

  Say it louder, Mother.

  “Perhaps if we go into the marquee, we can match names to the silent auction bids.” La Reina tilted away her mask, which was mounted on a stick like a lorgnette. “I shouldn’t have agreed to anything so childish as a masked ball. Very inconvenient.”

  “Most people seem to be enjoying themselves,” Pia said mildly, noting laughter and noises of surprise as they approached the bustling tent where guests mingled while perusing the fund-raising items.

  Ever the observer of animal behavior, especially human, Pia considered why a disguise would instill such high spirits. Was it the nostalgia of youthful play? She wouldn’t know. Her childhood had been so rigid as to be a form of conditioned adulthood.

  “Poppy is doing well.” La Reina acknowledged her new daughter-in-law with reluctant approval as she glanced over the bids for rare vintage wines, antique jewelry, spa packages and VIP tickets to shows on Broadway and London’s West End.

  Did the masks reduce caution and provoke a willingness to take risks, Pia wondered? Similar to the way social media provided a removal from face-to-face interactions, thereby emboldening people to behave more freely?

  Pia certainly felt at liberty to stare more openly. From behind the screen of her mask, she watched a couple debate a bid for a certain item. The woman protested it was too extravagant while the man insisted he loved her and wanted her to have it.

  Pia was fascinated by interactions like that. They reminded her of the tenderness and indulgence that existed between her older brothers and their wives. They had both started their marriages in scandal, but had turned them into something meaningful, making her yearn for something like it for herself—as she repaired the family name by way of a low-drama, civilized marriage that was more a contracted merger with a dynasty of equal rank and prestige.

  She bit back a sigh. Taking up the mantle of duty wasn’t a sacrifice, she assured herself. It was a sensible course of action that benefited everyone, including herself. Her few attempts at dating had been failures, something the perfectionist in her loathed. Love and passion were foreign concepts. She wouldn’t recognize either if she tripped over them.

  She turned from spying on the couple and ran straight into a man setting down a pencil.

  Physically the impact was light. With wistfulness blanketing her, however, the collision felt monumental. Life altering.

  His opera cloak opened like dark wings that threatened to engulf her as his hands came up to grasp her upper arms and steady her.

  Their masks had caused this, her confused mind quickly deduced. They interfered with peripheral vision. She wasn’t clumsy or blind and doubted he was, either. He was too vital and controlled.

  She recognized those traits in him instinctively, even though she wasn’t usually sensitive to such things. Or sensual either, but she found herself taking in nonvisual elements even more swiftly than the sight of him. The heat of his body radiated around her. The strength in his hands was both gentle and firm. The scent of fresh air and orange blossoms clung to his clothing as though he’d arrived from a long walk through the grove, not from the stale air of a car.

  Who was he?

  His black tricorn hat had simple white trim. She glanced down to his black-on-black brocade vest over a black shirt, his snug black pants tucked into tall black boots.

  A pirate, she thought, and looked back to his porcelain mask, white, blank and angular. It cast a shadow onto his stubbled jaw, his beard as black as the short hair beneath his hat.

  She couldn’t tell what color his eyes were, but as he looked straight into hers, her pulse shot up with the race of a prey animal. She held that inscrutable stare, arms in his talon-like grip, skin too tight to contain the soar of emotion that rose in her.

  Most people skipped past her in favor of more interesting folk, which she preferred. Sustained eye contact was never comfortable, but her mask gave her the confidence to stare back. To stare and stare while her whole body tingled in the most startling and intriguing way.

  Sexual attraction? He possessed the attributes that typically drew female interest—height and broad shoulders, a firm physique and a strong jaw. She was stunned to learn she was human enough to react to those signals. In fact, as the seconds ticked by, the fluttering within her grew unbearable.

  “Excuse me.” Someone spoke behind her, jolting her from her spell.

  A woman wanted to place a bid on Poppy’s framed, black-and-white photo.

  The black satin lining of the man’s cloak disappeared as he dropped his hands from her arms. The noise around them rushed back, breaking her ears.

  Pia moved out of the way. When she looked back, the man was leaving the tent.

  Still trying to catch her breath, she moved to the bidding sheet where he’d left his pencil. She knew all the names on the list and none of those men had ever provoked a reaction like that in her.

  At the bottom, in a bold scratch, was a promise to quadruple the final bid. It was signed Anonymous.

  “How does this work?” Pia pointed to it as her mother finished speaking to someone and caught up to her. Pia’s hand was trembling and she quickly tucked it into the folds of her skirt.

  “It happens occasionally,” her mother dismissed. “When a man wants to purchase something to surprise his wife.”

  Or didn’t want his wife to know at all, Pia surmised. She wasn’t a cynic by nature, but nor was she naive about the unsavory side of arranged marriages.

  “He’ll leave his details with the auctioneer,” her mother continued. “It’s a risky move that becomes expensive. Other guests will drive up the bid to punish him for securing the item for himself.”

  “The price one pays, I suppose.” Pia’s witticism was lost on La Reina.

  “This is one of the paintings from the attic,” La Reina said. “A modest artist. Deceased, which always helps with value, but not the sort of investment I would expect to inspire such a tactic.”

  Pia studied the portrait. The young woman’s expression was somber. Light fell on the side of her round features, highlighting her youth and vulnerability.

  “Do you know who she is?” Pia picked up the card.

  “Hanging pictures of family is sentimental.” Her mother plucked the card from her hand and set it back on its small easel. “Displaying strangers in your home is gauche.”

  “The final bid is sewn up,” Pia pointed out. “I was merely curious.”

  “We have other priorities.”

  A husband. Right. Pia bit back a whimper.

  * * *

  Angelo Navarro nursed a drink as he clocked the rounds of the security detail, picking his moment for the second half of his mission.

  He could have sent an agent to bid on the portrait, but along with not trusting anyone else with the task—loose lips and all that—the opportunity to slip onto the estate undetected had been far too tempting.

  He hadn’t expected such a bombardment of emotions as a result of visiting his birthplace, though. Anger and contempt gripped him; fury and injustice and a thirst for vengeance that burned arid and unquenchable in the pit of his belly.

  These people prancing like circus clowns, making grand gestures with extravagant bids to benefit victims of violence, were the same ones who had ignored a young woman’s agonizing situation. They hadn’t interfered when her child had been taken from her and had continued to revere her persecutors.

  Angelo felt no compunction whatsoever at infiltrating this private fund-raiser with the intention of retrieving what his mother had stolen. Or been given. He’d never been clear on how she had obtained the jewelry or exactly which pieces had gone missing. That part didn’t matter. He would happily have gone to his grave with the knowledge that she’d fought back in her own way.

  However, when this chance to add a fresh blow had
arisen, he hadn’t been able to resist it.

  Did it make him as soulless as his father that he was willing to commit a criminal act to continue her retaliation? So he could show his half brothers how it felt to be toyed with and abandoned to poverty?

  Perhaps.

  The thought didn’t stop him. He casually made his way to the corner of the house, waited for the guard’s attention to turn and slipped into the dark beyond.

  He came up against a Family Only sign on the first step of the spiral staircase and smirked with irony as he slipped past it to climb to the rooftop patio.

  The stairs gave a nostalgically familiar creak as he reached the top—where he discovered someone had arrived ahead of him.

  The sound and light from the party were blocked by the rise of the west wing of the house, casting the space into deep shadow. He could only see a silhouette and the lighter shadow of her mask as she turned from gazing across the moonlit Mediterranean. Even so, he recognized her as the woman who had careened into him as he was bidding on the portrait of his mother.

  For one second as he’d steadied her, he had forgotten everything—his thirst to punish, his purpose in coming here. Something in her uninspired costume gave him the impression she didn’t belong here any more than he did. That she was hiding in plain sight. His male interest had been so piqued, he had nearly asked her to dance.

  “Oh.” The lilt in her voice told him she had identified him from their brief encounter as well, which also told him she had found it as profound as he had.

  “Were you expecting someone else?” He adjusted his mask to peer harder into the shadows. The rickety bench where his mother used to read to him was gone, replaced by a dark shape that suggested a comfortable, L-shaped sectional.

  “I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

  That was good news. On many levels.

  “Did you follow me?” she asked.

  “No.” He would like to think he would have timed things differently if he had known she was up here, but he wasn’t sure. Nor was he as dismayed as he ought to have been that she was now an obstacle to his goal.

 
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